elaine2_icon.gif rhett_icon.gif

Scene Title Sundae
Synopsis A planned meeting on Sunday leads to new developments and chocolate syrup.
Date December 8, 2019

Elaine’s Apartment, Cresting Wave Apartments, Yamagato Park

There wasn’t a lot of preparing food that Elaine could do ahead of time. Last time she had been able to absorb herself in hours of cooking chili. This time, he was bringing the food for her to cook. She’d laid out ingredients she might use as well as a few cookbooks, but she was mostly left to anxiously putter around her apartment while Inger would occasionally meow her confusion.

Dessert, though, that she had covered. She spent far too long on Saturday hunting around for her prize but eventually she had found a few small containers of ice cream. That would be her secret weapon, tucked away in her freezer. She needed all the help she could get, even if that help was wet and cold.

She settles herself on the couch to wait. She is, unsurprisingly, wearing an outfit he’s never seen. This one’s a violet colored knee-length dress, nothing too fancy, but pretty in a ‘business professional’ type of way, as it’s likely in her work clothes wardrobe. Inger crawls into her lap and she’s content to pet her until she realizes, too late, that she’s going to get cat hair all over her.


As if summoned by that, there’s the knock at the door. Rhett’s not on time: he’s early. Not by a lot, but enough to potentially cause a little extra flare of anxiety - or a launched cat, if the cat is spooky about sudden door noises. She might get a scratch to go with that cat fur if so.

Rhett’s dressed cleanly, though similar to last time, as he still lacks expensive clothes. It’s a black theme: black snug jeans this time, and a black buttoned long sleeve shirt, under the same jacket. A warm, soft gray and white striped scarf warms his neck against winter. He doesn’t have the range of closet that rich denizens of the tower might, but wears it well enough.

He has a parcel, in a tote bag looped over one arm; presumably the item for cooking.

When the door opens he is distracted - laughing politely to a neighbor that he rode the elevator with. The woman flashes a smile as she heads past, disappearing, and Rhett orients immediately to Elaine. His expression shifts from general polite pleasant to a natural smile that comes up into his eyes.

“It’s Sunday,” Rhett declares.


It didn’t matter that Elaine was waiting well in advance, she was not mentally prepared. Nor was she physically, as she nudges Inger off her lap and rapidly tries to shake her dress free of cat hair, cursing the whole time. She gives up, hoping it doesn’t look bad, and moves to the door, opening it to allow him passage.

While a little breathless, she returns the warm smile upon seeing him before she steps aside. “It’s Sunday,” she says, sounding almost relieved.

Rhett takes note of her breathless state and quickly looks st his watch, with a wince. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to rush you, I’m early,” Rhett apologizes. He does enter, though, as she did clearly indicate he should come in by stepping aside.

“I have,” Rhett begins proudly, “the pork tenderloin promised.” He lifts the parcel and looks rather pleased with himself, offering it to her. The inside of the parcel contains the meat and a compact of ice to keep it chilled.

“But no other surprises today,” he admits, with a lift of one hand. His eyes are on her, pleasant; he’s in a good mood.

“Nonono, it’s okay,” Elaine assures him. “I was just distracted and I didn’t want to leave you waiting in the hall so I kind of…” Well, she rushed. “Anyway, the pork tenderloin should be perfect. I glanced through some recipes to see how we might prepare it so I have a vague idea of what could be done.”

When he mentions no surprises, she absolutely beams. “Don’t worry, I’ve got at least two surprises for you up my sleeve.” The idea of surprising him seems to be one bringing genuine happiness to her features. “One of them is for later, but if you’re nice I’ll give you the first one now.”

She’s a little vague about what nice means in this instance.

“Nice,” Rhett repeats, as if contemplating a difficult problem indeed. He tilts his head up, angling a look down at her judgingly. He slowly unwraps his scarf, and the softened smile resurfaces. The jacket comes off also.

“I can be nice.” Rhett settles, watching her with interest, charmed by her excitement and pleasure: that actually seems linked to his arrival. “Let’s see; don’t keep me in suspense, then, Elaine,” Rhett encourages. His tone moved slightly deeper over saying her name: subtle but there.

Elaine doesn’t seem to need to determine if he’s fulfilled the quota of nice. He’s good for it, she’s certain of that. “Well,” she starts, then moves for the kitchen, expecting him to follow. She wants to get the pork going, so having it ready in the kitchen is important. It also allows her to lead him in closer to the dining room table, where a package wrapped in holiday paper sits. “So it’s really hard to find normal wrapping paper when all anyone has is green and red and snowmen. So you get this.” She clears her throat. “Happy birthday.”

She gestures towards the box. “That’s yours, if you didn’t guess.”

Rhett comes along with her, indeed coming to the kitchen to observe her putting the pork down, but then there’s a curious detour towards the table instead. He doesn’t quite know what to make of the holiday-wrapped item at first: it surely is too early for Christmas gifts - unless she doesn’t expect to see him until after the new year, which could be plausible —-

But while Rhett is thinking about that, she’s talking, and has explained that it’s from his birthday, from the previous week. His expression is entirely surprise: he most definitely didn’t expect that. There’s a shift of emotions in sequence: possibly interesting to watch. From surprise, he shifts to a sort of flushed pleasure and embarrassment, and then moves to a comfortable place. He’s touched.

“I thought — you didn’t need to,” Rhett chides her fondly.

And it comes with a natural ease; that before he thinks much about it, he steps sideways and attempts to pull her towards his side in a one-armed hug. It’s entirely automatic, and his gaze is on the present, not her, as he does it. He’s warm, particularly from just having taken his jacket off, and smells just a little of saltiness.

Elaine watches his expression, looking pleased that the surprise went over so well. But it’s her turn to be surprised when she’s pulled in closer for a gratitude hug, but the surprise quickly fades and she moves her arm to give him a squeeze back. She stays there for a moment longer before she releases her arm so as to allow him to return to his freedom of movement. It’s hard to unwrap a present while hugging someone, after all.

“I know I didn’t need to, but I wanted to. Like I said, everyone deserves some kind of present for their birthday and I wasn’t just going to allow you to go without one.”

When he gets around to opening the package, inside is a scarf. It’s a deep shade of black, tightly woven, and most importantly incredibly soft. Simple enough to go with anything but comfortable enough to want to wear all the time.

Rhett smiles but then a flush emerges when she hugs him back, and he’s aware of the proximity. He doesn’t shy at first, he remains there, and she’ll be the first one to pull away. When she does, though, he’ll unwrap the present, without making too much of a mess of the paper. Such a luxury is a bit expensive these days, to wrap something in something other than waxy paper, anyway.

He opens it, and settles his hands into the scarf, examining it. His expression has closed off, making him suddenly very unreadable, other than that he’s looking at it with a very thoughtful intensity.

“I hope this isn’t a hint to cover up my neck,” Rhett asks, his tone a little deadpan. He flicks his eyes to her sideways but gives her a gentle little smile, to show he’s just playing with her. “I’m not serious. I like it a lot. Thank you,” he says, genuinely, drawing it open to look at the length of it. He is self-conscious, hyper aware of his neck, but he didn’t take it poorly: he took the gift with the intention that was meant.

“I like your neck,” Elaine says, momentarily hoping that didn’t sound as weird as it did to her as it came out. “But sometimes there are parts of us we don’t always like to show to others and I just wanted you to have a way to hide comfortably.”

Elaine offers him a smile, this one gentle as she explains the gift… and its double meaning. “Anyway, I’m glad you like it, I’ll probably buy you another one next year.” With that, she smoothly makes her way over towards where she’d set the pork tenderloin. “I think I know what we’ll go with here… mustard and brown sugar rub, I think. Really basic and then we can just throw it in the oven.”

She looks at the cookbook she has open nearby. “And then you’re stuck with me for about thirty minutes, if you can handle that.”

“So do I, I find it useful, this neck,” Rhett sighs. “The scars I could do without.” He attempts to brush off the situation as nothing, or something that doesn’t bother him: maybe he’s successful, maybe not. He loops the scarf over his shoulders once — just a drape, not actually covering his neck, and moves the trash from the present off of the table.

“Sounds like a plan to me.” Rhett gave his vote of confidence. He stays out of the way of the immediate kitchen area she is using, holding up a far counter by leaning a hip against it. “If there’s something I can do let me know, or I’ll just stand here and watch you creepily.”

“Creepy entirely depends on the intent and how it’s perceived. As long as you aren’t wanting to stuff me in an oven and eat me, you can watch me cook all you want,” Elaine gives him an amused look as she moves to gather the ingredients together. It certainly looks simple as she mixes together mustard, brown sugar, salt, and pepper before she places the pork tenderloin in a pan and dumps the mixture over the top of it. She then proceeds to work the mixture into the pork with her hands.

She takes a moment, as she does, to just stare right at Rhett and grin.

“That meat should be as fresh as it comes; I made the deal just before I got here for it,” Rhett observes, gesturing to the tenderloin she is now giving a massage. It’s not really a look of jealousy: he doesn’t need to be stuffed in the oven /either/.

“I’d….” Rhett starts to joke, but censors himself hard. His mouth moves instead, and he adapts what he was going to say after a little pause as he comes up with something a bit less ‘direct’. “I’ll watch, then. I’m learning.” He stares back, with a lift of brows: very similar to their staring contest from just a few days before. This time, though, he has no apple crisp to pull his attention away.

The amount of time Elaine manages to keep eye contact while continuing to apply the rub to the pork tenderloin is admirable, but the humor of it is too hard to resist. Eventually, her lips curve into a playful grin and she bursts out laughing, looking away from him to focus on the meat in front of him. “Well, that was a thing,” she comments once she’s done laughing. She rinses her hands off in the sink before sliding the pan into the oven. The finishing touch is simply using her phone to set a timer.

With that completed, she looks back over at him with the empty space of the kitchen between them.

“Certainly something.”

Cue the awkward silence thing again. He isn’t sure what to say either, after watching her show of applying the marinade to the pork. He uncurls the scarf from his neck, smirking at her a little bit and shaking his head, crossing to where he put his jacket, to add the scarf to those items. It’s too warm to wear it inside - much the same reason that he took the other one off in the first place.

Still, he smiles at it after he puts it down, and moves his hand back through the side of his hair with a rake of fingers, an automatic attempt to sort of groom, and makes sure the scarf being pulled away didn’t cause his hair to fluff sideways. He need not have worried, though.

He comes back over more directly to hang out near where she is, though he doesn’t bridge into her personal bubble.

Elaine seems more satisfied with the reduced distance, leaning against the counter a bit as looks back over at him. The silence and lack of words are painfully aware to her—this isn’t like when they just were silent together and it was relaxed, this was more of them not talking because neither of them knew how. Mustering up some courage, she starts with something she’s very comfortable doing: rambling.

“So the other surprise is pretty great, but I can’t show it to you yet. I mean, I could but I feel like it’s a better surprise to use when it’s time for it to be used. It’s good, though, really good. You’ll like it, though I don’t think it’s nearly a surprise on the level of a birthday present.”

Rhett is aware of the change to the silence as well. He’s usually more comfortable in the quiet than this situation, though deciphering exactly what’s caused the strange quality isn’t something he’s certain of. He has some guesses: and suspects that he’s causing a lot of it. He’ll have to figure out how to relax out of it.

“I intend to be entirely thrilled, then. I’ll do my best to restrain myself, as it does sound so very good,” Rhett ‘promises’, with a partial smile. Then something clicks, and she may notice him more directly looking at her - rather, her dress. His head tilts a little. “You look very nice in violet, by the way,” Rhett extends.

“I’ll settle for you just enjoying it, even if it isn’t as good,” Elaine says with a smile. “It’ll still be its own brand of good.” As he notices her dress, her eyes light up, though her face is as casual as it was before. “Thank you,” she looks back over at him. “I wanted to wear something you’d never seen me in before.” This time, though, she’s smiling a little more playfully.

“I guess I’m lucky that everything we’ve made so far required very little in the way of my full attention. I imagine you’d get bored pretty quickly waiting around while I was prepping something on a stove. Not terribly exciting. At least with an oven there’s,” she pauses to gesture between the two of them, “this.”

“I’m an adult, I’m fully capable of entertaining myself if I have to; I could wander the complex, find myself a pool to drown in,” Rhett teases her in return. He comes over a few steps to get a closer look at her dress while he says it. He pauses, extending a hand out near her hip, and plucks off what looks like a cat whisker. He gives her a little quizzical look, regarding his finding, but there’s only amusement there. She does own a cat, he knows this.

“Yes, that’s what I had in mind. Pork tenderloin equals more of … this.” He’s teasing, but also not teasing. Though whatever ‘this’ is? That’s hard to define also. Or even if it’s a good or a bad thing. It’s a mire of blushing, rambling, and uncertainty. And he’d come in with such courage in his heart. To be a good friend to her, that she needs right now while she’s struggling with letting go of her complications.

“And I think this is a far better site for cooking than what I have available to us; best to do this here.”

“No drowning yourself in my pool, Aquaman,” Elaine chides with amused tone, but looks surprised when she finds him bridging the distance. She seems confused as to his sudden purpose when he plucks the hair from her dress and her face flushes. “Inger was being affectionate, and who am I to deny an affectionate creature the attention they deserve. I was rather hoping you wouldn’t notice, but it figures that you would. You’re very perceptive, don’t think I hadn’t noticed.”

Perceptive in some ways, maybe not in others. “I mean, ‘this’ is better than drowning, right?” There’s a bit of laughter as if it were actually in question. “But you know, I think I’m already getting used to ‘this’.”

Perceptive, but perhaps overly analyzing of things that don’t mean exactly what he thinks they could mean in his pessimistic, and sometimes overly cautious worldview.

Rhett pauses, in the same way he usually does when he carefully censors, but there’s been some encouragement. And he ventures it on out, uncensored. “No, I don’t think an affectionate creature should be denied the attention she deserves,” Rhett says, with a care to his phrasing. That care, though, signals a far more broad meaning: and that he knows damn well exactly what’s suggestive of what he’s said.

While she doesn’t speak on it right away, Elaine’s eyes quickly shift their attention to Rhett’s at his reply to her mention of affectionate creatures. Perhaps, after all, she had meant a broader meaning as well. She smiles, a soft one, but she doesn’t move her attention from him, not in this moment. “It’s good to hear that. It sounds as if you aren’t opposed to the idea of affectionate creatures.”

She’s watching him very carefully now.

“No; I might be one myself, but don’t tell anybody if it turns out to be true,” Rhett teases smoothly, his tone adaptive, tongue silver for a moment as he adjusts his tactics. It’s more similar to play, now, and a cover for a slight blush that’s come into his cheeks and neck. He glanced around as if to be sure he wasn’t being overheard about that.

Rhett suddenly shifts some against the counter, rotated more towards her, and puts a hand against the side of the counter. He clears his throat. “Look, Elaine—-” Rhett says, a little bit abruptly. He pauses, free hand moving to rub his chin and a little bit into his neck, feeling self-conscious. The pause extends out, perhaps a little too long.

“You seem like you would be, but that can be our secret,” Elaine laughs a little, her tone still gentle as she gazes back over at him. Her own cheeks are warm at this point. So it’s when he says her name that she, too, turns to face him a little more though she looks slightly puzzled. She’s definitely unsure if he’s about to say something good or something bad. It’s easier to assume bad.

“Look, if I said something wrong, I can take it back and we can pretend it never happened.”

Elaine’s offer to diffuse and throw all of ‘this’ away gets a confused look from him: that wasn’t the direction, it seems, that things were going into. And seeing his brows move as he’s impacted by her withdrawal may have an effect on her, as well.

“What?” Rhett asks, puzzled. He watches her with that distracted expression, but then shakes his head. “I mean, I might say something wrong, here,” Rhett asides. “If I do, then yes, pretending.” But onward.

“I feel like it’s better to just air it out,” Rhett begins. “I've been interested in you since we'd met. But I don't want me saying that to make you feel uncomfortable. I know you're going through some pain. And I'm able to bury it. But there it is."

“Oh,” Elaine says, looking relieved. “I thought you were going to…” She trails off, legitimately having thought things were abruptly going the opposite direction. She laughs, just a small one, before she reaches over, putting a hand on his arm. “You said nothing wrong, I was just being worried for no reason. I just wanted to make sure you were comfortable and that you stay that way so I thought if I…”

Her hand stays on his arm. “The point is, it doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable. At all. I’ve just been stumbling all over myself because I don’t know how to say what you just said myself.”

“Okay,” Rhett says, simply, quietly. His quiet is not always full of tension, it can relax out, as it is doing now. His smile is subtle, there’s more of a serious quality to it at the moment, because this is socially very stressful. Nobody likes leaving their emotions out on the line to face rejection, and he had just done that.

And, much like his move in their previous staring contest from days before, he is willing to give. At least, in the way that he thinks will alleviate tension. He moves his hand to her hand and wrist that is on his other arm, and guides it up, to set her palm up just above his pectoral on that side, below the collarbone, and gently holds it there, if she permits.

“Then we’re okay,” Rhett tells her, his voice calm with assurance.

She does permit, with an ease that betrays a reduction in tension on a broad scale. Elaine looks back at him, eyes searching his as if trying to figure him out with one look. It’s not possible, but it doesn’t stop her from trying. “We’re very okay,” she replies, but then she cracks a bit of a grin. “I feel a hell of a lot better now.”

She stops herself, after a second or two, suddenly unsure if she should be speaking in this moment. Things had been different when they were quiet before. So she tries it, taking in a deep breath and releasing it before looking back at him, her smile softer instead of that playful teasing smile. A smile that not just anyone sees.

Rhett watches her search him over, and just smiles a little, letting her do that without too much obvious embarrassment. He drops his chin, mouth closed, though his jaw is flexing some underneath that. Still, that smile evolves, as some of his restraint eases back. Not all of it - but much as her softened smile is coming to the front, his own smile, a more honest one, is surfacing too.

Rhett lets her hand go, though there’s no sense of pushing her away: just of freeing her to do as she will, whether it is to leave it where he’d drew it close, or whatever else she prefers, if she’d rather withdraw.

Rhett also starts to breathe again. He’d sort of stopped doing that for a little while there, only evident as his chest rises and falls under her palm now.

“And if you’re not ready—-” Rhett trails off. Ah, the self-sabotage that Elaine herself was doing, it’s infecting Rhett, perhaps…

Elaine’s hand remains where it is, comfortable where it rests. It’s a point of connection, and while it remains there it contains a sense of security. He’s there. They both are. It’s grounding. Whatever soul searching she was doing before seems to be done in favor of the slightest hint of a furrowed brow—she’s worried for him.

“I appreciate the easy out but it’s not needed,” she says, her tone firm but not unkind. “Rest assured I meant what I said when I told you I’d be here. That hasn’t changed.”

Rhett moves his other hand forward to catch her free one, but doesn’t guide or do anything with it other than to find a second point of connection with her. It’s respectful, not pushy or grabbing: like most of his behavior, both physical and verbal.

That the heaviest point is now out of the bag is a relief, though it only spawned more questions or nerves, perhaps. Still, maybe now they can restabilize to a new relaxed place, even if there are a few more tense moments to come, tension doesn’t always mean bad.

“I’d like to be able to try to make you happier,” Rhett finally says.

For a moment, there’s a well of emotion behind Elaine’s eyes, but it disappears quickly and she simply offers him that soft smile again. “That means a lot to me.” She can’t remember the last time someone offered that, much less the last time she let someone. Her hand rests in his, though she grips it a little tighter, some kind of anchor, perhaps to make sure the water hasn’t made him drift away.

“I’d like to see you happy. I’d like to see…” She trails off, words failing her once again. “I want to help you in whatever way I can.” She seems more content with those words. “Just… don’t run.” It’s a simple reminder, but an important one. Probably the most important one.

The shift of emotion isn’t a romantic one, it’s something aside from that. It’s a place where worry and loneliness dwells, the anxieties and stress. He sees it in the flash of the deeper emotions shown in her face, and an echo from himself.

Rhett lacks appropriate words to reply about running, so instead, he closes the gap physically, letting go of her hand to attempt to curl his forearm instead around her upper back, and offer an embrace instead. He doesn’t make any flirtations as he does this; this is just an offer to hold her through this spark of worry that caused her to grip his hand tighter. He’s breathing deep and evenly, though there’s tension through his arms and stance that can be read by touch more easily than visually. He’s uncertain too, despite his portrayal of being calm: about if this is the right path, or if he’s doing the right actions, saying the right things.

Perhaps he’s uncertain about his actions, but the moment Elaine finds herself without any physical space between them, the change is immediate and obvious both visually and by the feel of her against him. There’s not even a brief moment of surprise, she sinks into the embrace almost naturally. All the tension seems to leave her, even the usual residual ones present when you’re figuring out another human being and trying not to fuck it up. Her now free arm and the hand that was resting on his chest both shift and she wraps her arms around him.

Were she still thinking, she might have looked at him. But in this moment, she doesn’t, she opts instead to rest her head against his chest, creating another point of contact. She’s made this whole space her own and it’s instantly visible, from the first second, that he did, in fact, do exactly the right thing. It couldn’t be more right.

Rhett wasn’t sure if she’d accept this move, or what he’d pick up in her body language. Some people accept a hug but then immediately signal some resistance to be freed from it. That’s hardly the message her, as he feels her arms shift to come around his center. His breathing catches a little and he clears his throat to mask it; a quiet, natural little sound. His heart will betray him a little, it’s something of a hammer at the moment, as she sets her head against his upper chest.

However, even with his uncertainty, things are going a very positive way, in his view — he draws the embracing arm more securely across her back as she closes all of the distance to rest against him, and his other hand come up to curl fingers gently into the hair at the back of her head and neck, finger gentle there, a forefinger brushing the back of her ear.

Unusually for him, he feels a light pressure to say something, instead of remaining silent. “I can do that,” Rhett says quietly.

“Good,” Elaine replies softly.

Unusually for her, she feels as if her silence were more important to display. There’s no rush to cover up embarrassment with words or to distract from unsure feelings or otherwise use words in a coping mechanism. She doesn’t need to fill the silence. Instead, she takes in the moment, the details. The sound of his heartbeat, the strength of his arms, the tickle of a finger near her ear—these are her words, for now.

So she doesn’t move. She’s content to stay, at least for a little bit more, just like this.

Over the next little while, Rhett begins to relax down as well. There was a tightness, and it’s slowly resolving out, as he coaxes himself into opening up a little more: that this is acceptable and fine. That it’s not just nice, but could be more than ‘nice’. Rhett nods a little, his head ducked forward, his exhaled breathing light near her forehead. The stubble of his jawline is slightly rough. He brings the hand from her nape in and up a little more from her ear, in gentle, slow motions in her hair at her temple, moving hair away from her face.

These are attentions for an affectionate creature, though it isn’t really deliberate: it just felt right to do. Similar to following the instinct to hold and comfort her - and himself - that led to where they are now. He releases a slow, deep breath, eyes closing for a time: similarly taking in the scent and feel of her, with a sort of amazement: he didn’t expect to be here, not really.

It’s a good moment, and certainly one Elaine needs. Finally, everything was easing up, she was relaxing, and it just felt right. She was content to just stand there, aware of him and everything he was doing without overworrying for once, instead just letting it be a moment. There were no words to be said, only—


She freezes, lifting her head from his chest to look up at him. “Well crap,” she mutters, her gaze shifting from him to the oven. If it was any consolation, it certainly smells good.

His face is right there when she lifts her head to look at him, and he orients to meet her eyes. She’s nearly as tall as he is, which sets their faces close.

Rhett… ends up laughing, softly. His gentle hand at her ear switches into a ruffling movement, messing up the side of her hair a little. Entirely on purpose. It’s comfortable, though. “Crap? I’m glad to eat,” Rhett answers, drawing his arms back to give her room to step away without restraint. He’ll make the transition easy.

“Go ahead,” he suggests, resuming position by the counter, but doesn’t adjust otherwise, he doesn’t withdraw. The moment has ended, sure, but it’s a moment that did unlock a closed door - and that door is still standing open.

Elaine laughs, just a touch, but there’s the brief frustrated look that crosses her face as she reluctantly pulls herself from him and steps away. “This better be worth it,” she says, glaring at the closed oven as she moves to fetch the oven mitts. Once on, she opens the oven and pulls out the pork tenderloin. As she sets it on the counter, it certainly looks finished, complete with a crisp exterior thanks to the brown sugar.

“Oh, I entirely forgot, I was going to make something to go with this but then this happened.” ‘This’, of course, is a certainly reasonable reason to be distracted, so she doesn’t seem too out of sorts by it. “I’ve got some of those powdered mashed potatoes that only take a few minutes, so I can make some as a side really quick if you want to slice that up once it’s cooler?”

In spite of being in the midst of cooking again and the shift in scenario, she seems overall more relaxed, almost more in her skin.

“Yes, ‘this’ did happen,” Rhett agrees with an amused, rueful quality. “I can slice it in a minute, sure.” Rhett stretches one arm and pushes away from the counter. He’d paid attention to where the knives were the last time he was here chopping apples, so he’s able to find an appropriate knife, as well as a long-toothed fork for the project at hand.

Rhett has focused on the new objective, but he really isn’t different overall, not really: he’s still calm and easygoing. There isn’t some special version of Rhett: it’s the same consistent one that has been around and helping all along.

She seems less afraid than she did before, more certain. Just enough seem that there was at least one thing she just let go in that moment. But now she’s busy fishing around in cabinets. Elaine allows him free reign to find what he needs to handle his end of things while she pulls out a box of instant mashed potatoes and a pot to mix them up in. At first, she’s completely absorbed in what she’s doing, pouring everything into the pot and stirring it as she puts the heat on. But once there’s less to do, her gaze ever so slowly drifts in his direction.

Now, she’s just watching him.

Rhett is just beginning to slice the roasted tenderloin now, since he needed to give it a little time to sit. He senses her eyes on him and glances up at her after cutting a few slices. He pauses, with a quiet askance of if she disapproves of his cutting method, but then smiles slyly and continues to cut the meat up evenly.

“Pity I didn’t think to bring some real potatoes. A favorite, those. Particularly fries, with garlic,” Rhett says. It’s said mostly just to bring some conversation to the fore: so they aren’t only staring at each other. There’s a thoughtfulness to his remarks, they aren’t hurried or coming out of a place of anxiety. Though, of course, the goal to impress her is still quite strong… stronger now, even. Perfectionist cutting of that meat was a thing.

Elaine notes the cutting display and smiles, giving only the slightest inclination of her head that she approves of the method behind the slices.

“I might have a few real potatoes hiding around but those take much longer to prep than these do and I’d like to eat while the meat is still warm. Not that we couldn’t reheat but still, it’s the principle of the thing,” she says, watching him as she stirs the potatoes. “Fries with garlic. I’ll remember that.” She moves to get a large bowl to put the mashed potatoes in, turning away fom him for just a moment. “So, given I’m going to make a holiday feast, what sort of foods do you want?”

The holiday thing has definitely been on her mind lately.

Rhett nodded once at her approving of his cutting style. They’ll sort out their nonverbal cues over time, but for now, it’s still very careful and unsure.

“Yes, would have had to plan that,” Rhett shrugs. He’s finished slicing the meat, and comes over to look into the mashed potatoes - meaning she’ll find him there when she comes back with the bowl to put them in.

“For a feast? Hm. My family used to do a ham, but I couldn’t tell you more than that. It’s been a very, very long time,” Rhett says, gaze distant into the potatoes as he works to remember. “Fresh salad, that I was never a fan of, but would probably enjoy now that I’m not a grumpy teen,” he adds, with a soft chuckle. “What would you normally make?”

Elaine returns with the bowl, setting it down as she carefully starts to transfer the potatoes from pot to serving bowl, her gaze keeping him in her periphery. “Definitely ham. Potatoes, too, but it was a toss up between scalloped potatoes and mashed potatoes. Cans of corn and peas. Some kind of fluffy rolls.” She’s trying her hardest to remember what they had when she was a kid. “Some kind of fruity punch. Something like all of that, I think.”

She sets the pot down. “I’d almost say a holiday party would be fun but I’m pretty sure everyone I know is already going to have one and I’m pretty sure I uninvited myself.”

She distances herself from that thought by scooping up the bowl and moving to where the rest of the food is. “Sorry I don’t have much more than this, I suppose I just wasn’t as prepared for tonight as I thought I might be.” She smiles wryly, and shoots a glance at him. “You’re very disarming.”

“I’m not having sushi by myself again. I’ll survive,” Rhett answers her apology evenly. “Speaking of survival: that’s my trick. Just to always try not to be a target.” A hand comes up to his neck, though he masks that move by rubbing the back of his neck with his palm. “I wasn’t always following that rule. Paid for that education.” Rhett gives her a brief little bleak smile: there’s a sad place under it, but he moves on, attempting to help by serving the pork onto two plates, and then passing them along the counter towards her so that she can add the potato servings.

“I only disarm those that don’t want to fight in the first place,” Rhett answers gently.

“That’s not the best way to go about things,” Elaine admits. “You get burned once and you learn not to touch a hot stove. But it doesn’t mean you avoid the stove, you learn to cook on it.” She offers him a small smile, looking between him and the food she’s serving up. Once they have a decent amount of potatoes on their plates, she picks them both up and moves towards the table.

“I think there’s more of a balance. If you aren’t a target you’re missing out on half of the fun things in the world. Sometimes you have to ignore safety a little and go for something big. As long as you aren’t overextending so much you’ll never come back from it, you’ll probably be okay. Especially if you’ve got someone to keep an eye on you, just in case.”

She’s imagining most of the things she’s done and just how much of it would have been different if she’d been a bit less of a target.

“Sure. I didn’t say it always happens,” Rhett chuckles. “Just that I do try to talk to someone before it comes to violence, or something else.” While she’s finishing with serving he procures glasses, fills them. He sighs, though, following her to the table, picking the spot that the food was clearly set out for him, and puts the glasses down by each setting.

Seated, his smile to her words is mild; he’s really good at the calm, disarming thing: and it may be more apparent than ever now that she’s called him on it. “Because there is what I /try/ to do, and then when happens,” Rhett adds. “But yes, I’ll do calculated risks, if the gain is worth it. For the most part I don’t go for a dangerous existence, though. The thrills find me on their own without me hunting.”

There’s a move of hand to try to gently poke her upper arm with a finger, implying she’s a thrill.

“Hey, trust me, I get the whole talking to someone before things escalate. That’s about the story of my life,” Elaine says, certain of her experience in that area. She darts away briefly to grab some silverware before she returns to the table. She carefully lays it out before she looks at him, a sly grin on her face.

“A thrill, huh?” She returns the small poke. “Am I also a calculated risk?”

She’s still smiling, glancing at the nicely set out meal on the table by them. “I’ll do my best not to let my crazy life get in your way too much. I’ve been through and seen a lot more things than I’d like and I’m certain at some point something will spill over unexpectedly.”

“You certainly were a calculated risk. Whether or not you still occupy that… remains to be seen,” Rhett says with a slow, watchful look at her, eyes narrowed just a little, as he makes a judgment about her risk factor.

“I feel like we all have been through some nasty things, Elaine,” Rhett reassures her, waiting for her to sit before reaching across to fold his warm palm over her hand. It’s brief, just that, before he draws it back and looks with interest to the meal.

“But for now, this smells and looks wonderful. I’d like to find out if the taste matches.” A quick little cheeky smile is flashed, a hope in it to see her relax and not go to the dark place - at least, not yet - but to stay there with him in a comfortable one while they eat.

“Fortune favors the bold,” Elaine says, smiling genuinely at that. She sits, enjoying a moment of his hand on hers before she takes her fork in hand. “Let’s hope that I massaged that pork well.” She barely manages to keep a straight face with that comment before she proceeds to follow his implication and go with the food instead of elaborating on just might threaten their comfort and peace.

There would be plenty of time for that later. Instead, she spears a piece of pork and gives it a try.

“Were I that meat, I think I would have said it was done well,” Rhett replies, not trying to keep his face straight for the answer to her hope.

“But that can be confirmed later.” Yes, plenty of time for it later. Rhett is doing his little calculated risks— in the form of not censoring his little cheeky comments. Rhett starts into the food with apparent hunger and gusto.

The cheeky comments seem to go over well, and Elaine grins and gives him an amused look while she starts in on her food. “Not sure exactly how I want to take that, but consider it taken.” She digs into her food, wanting to at least get a few bites in and try things out before she might be distracted by him again. She’s noticed he’s very good at distracting her.

“You know,” she says after she finishes a bite. “This is pretty good, even if we really didn’t have to do much to prepare it. Feels like cheating.”

“Not everything has to be frustrating and difficult,” Rhett declares evenly. “Though I get that something can be better if you’ve really worked hard for it.”

Rhett is eating, though he doesn’t talk with his mouth full of food. “Do I need to be harder to get?” He asks. There’s less of a cheeky quality there, more of a real question. IS this too easy? Is there something wrong with it?

There’s a tiny snort. “I meant the meat,” Elaine says before grinning in his direction. “But if you want to play harder to get you’re still entirely welcome to. I certainly don’t feel like ‘this’ is cheating. I mean, the amount of work we put in was certainly tangible even if it might not look like it on the surface. There were certainly many hours of thought put in.”

Well, at least for her as she’s now revealing.

She returns to her food after clearing her throat for a moment.

“I know what you meant,” Rhett assures. He did know, he just warped it into being something more playful, because it was fun.

“No, I don’t think I’ll do that. Feels dishonest, to act differently than I feel like acting,” Rhett says, with a serious quality. “I enjoy teasing you, but.” Rhett looks down at his plate and shrugs his shoulders, gaze fully dropped into his food, leaving her an open time to look at him without him watching her.

He evades more talk about what is being created between them, the ‘this’. It’s still extremely new and delicate; he doesn’t want to harm it before it’s had even any chance to continue to form. He’s eating efficiently, he doesn’t dawdle when it comes to food.

Elaine’s cheeks flush a bit, though her lips remain curved in that amused smile. She watches him while he digs into the food, taking note of the speed he’s eating and quickly resuming her own meal—she’s starting to get behind. “I don’t mind the teasing,” she says in the space in between bites. “But don’t think I won’t return the favor.”

She looks back down at her food, thoughtfully.

“Oh, I noticed that I’m ‘Aquaman’, yes,” Rhett replies starkly, lifting his fork to point it at her, with a slight narrowing of his blue eyes. He chuckles though, shaking his head a little, as he resumes eating.

Soon enough, though, the pair of them will finish dinner, and Rhett stretches back in his chair, with a pleased sound. “Well worth the effort. Of which was not minor on my end either, I’ll remind you, procuring that fresh cut.” It’s teasing, he’s not really looking for credit there. He looks around slowly, as if deciding where to move to: kitchen, couch, or staying at the table. Choices, and they all convey different messages to their ‘this’. Relationship building is complex.

“What, my dear Aquaman, do I owe you for your delivery, then?” Elaine’s tone is the verbal equivalent of her hands on her hips. But she seems to be in the same predicament as he—what path do they set upon, and she looks over at him, trying to determine what he’s leaning towards doing. As much as they’d broken a wall there were certainly more to navigate around.

She glances at their finished plates, then at the kitchen. That’s an option.

“This meal. I’ve been paid in full,” Rhett answers, with brief surprise. He was not attempting to leverage his effort: more to extend that he had cared about it, and had spent time to try to make their meal better.

Rhett opts for his comfort zone: in this case, the safety of what happened last time. He collects his plate, and moves to attempt to steal hers also, to abscond with them into the kitchen and sink. Putting the food away and cleaning up is good busywork for them both, while they socially circle each other.

As they return to the kitchen, Elaine’s smiling slyly again. “You may have exchanged the pork tenderloin for a meal, but you’ve forgotten my secret weapon. I… still have a surprise.” She doesn’t act on said surprise at first, simply letting the weight of the situation linger in the air as she helps to clean up the dishes. She does the food cleanup and leaves the washing to him, as it seemed to work so well last time.

She positions herself in front of the fridge, leaning her back against it and watching him as she simply waits for him to be completely unoccupied, smiling like she’s got a secret… which she does.

“In addition to the considerate birthday gift?” Rhett asks, looping an eyebrow up as he looks sideways to her. He’s cleaning the dishes much the same way he did at their last meeting, leaving putting the food itself away to her. He isn’t particularly concerned about leftovers: he ended up with excellent ones last time.

“You wasted no time in trying to one-up yourself in gift giving.”

Rhett puts the cleaned dishes aside and comes over to stand in front of her, just a little into her space. “So?” Rhett asks quietly, with a little smile.

Elaine creeps forward, invading his space for a moment. She’s there for half a second before he’d be able to realize she was scooting just that extra bit closer to make sure she could wiggle the door of the freezer open. She places one hand on his chest, for balance, as she reaches into the freezer to grab something. Once done, she holds up her prize.

“I found ice cream,” she explains. “And I think I might even have a jar of maraschino cherries hiding in my cabinet. So we get sundaes.”

Rhett sees her creep forward, curious but not retreating: then he hears the freezer open and he blinks down at the revealed prize.

Rhett laughs immediately: he didn’t expect sundaes: a dessert sure, but not that one.

“You /did/,” laughs Rhett, bringing one hand to her shoulder, his smile natural and pleasant. “You’re entirely charming,” he chuckles. His eyes are on her: not really meeting her gaze, though: he’s looked from her eyes to her smile, her lips.

There was a thoughtfulness there, of possible action— but he doesn’t lean in, he just smiles. “Does the cocoa work on those too?” His tone is a little deepened, and roughed from the aborted thought.

Beaming up at him, Elaine seems quite pleased with the idea of of ice cream sundaes. Though it almost seems like the reaction was what she wanted more than having some ice cream herself. “I will take that compliment and wear it with pride.” The container of ice cream is in one hand and she slowly removes her other hand from him to gesture towards the stove.

“If you’re in no rush, I can make chocolate syrup out of that cocoa powder. It’ll take a few minutes, though. You’ll have to find something to occupy yourself with until it’s done.”

“All right,” Rhett says, leaning towards her to reach behind her and reopen the freezer so she can put it back until they are ready for it.

“What if you teach me to make it? That will occupy me,” Rhett suggests, close now, glancing down at the container between them then flicking eyes up.

Elaine turns just a bit to slip the ice cream back into the freezer, though she hasn’t quite moved from her position near the fridge. She tilts her head to the side at the suggestion of teaching, then her lips curve into a smile. Whatever went through her head just then was something she liked. She taps on his chest lightly before glancing towards the stove again.

“I’ll teach you, but I’m afraid it won’t be terribly exciting. A lot of stirring.” She smiles again. “But I’ll try to be entertaining.”

“Well. I can just watch this time, and stir next time, if you rather,” Rhett replies, with clear language of there being more times in future. He draws one hand up to try to capture her tapping hand. He squeezes it with a smile but also doesn’t immediately seem to intend to let her go.

“Don’t feel pressured to /entertain/, though I won’t tell you not to.”

Her hand is captured and she twists it just enough to return the grip. Still, Elaine makes no movements towards leaving where she’s standing. She’ll stay there, for just a moment or two more. Ice cream can wait. Her eyes, though, briefly glance towards the stove then back to him.

“I’ll start it, and if the mood strikes you, you’re welcome to stir. It’s not hard.”

When she finally does move, her hand grips his tighter and it’s a fluid motion. She’s moving towards the stove and tugging him along, not breaking that contact unless necessary.

“Okay. Go team stirring,” Rhett concurs, rotating his wrist as well as she tugs him with, joining her where she leads. There’s a silliness to this, of what their little game would look like from the outside.

The flirt sense of it low key yet strong; it’s reciprocated in the evidence present. But shy.

He settles in at her side, instead of his more usual post across the kitchen that he’d taken up in the past.

The subtlety is there. Their interactions might not be obvious, but Elaine had become hyperaware of the little things that might contain meaning. Words, hands, looks… they all had their own language and it was not one that Elaine could fully translate. This was tricky. She was torn between thinking about what was going on and just being in the moment. It ended up being a mix of the two.

The ingredients are pulled out, just as simple as she suggested. The cocoa powder he had so kindly brought her, sugar, a little water, and the bottle of vanilla he had also acquired. This recipe, though, she’s doing less from a recipe and more from experience. She pours a bit of everything in save for the vanilla, which sits to the side by itself. She turns on the heat and then flashes him a grin.

“And now we stir.”

“Very high tech measuring method,” Rhett teases her. He might have a hard time copying this recipe!

“Stir. Yes, I remember,” Rhett extends to the whisk and begins to do that; he had had to release her while she was working the other ingredients but does bring up one hand to touch the back of her waist as he tolerantly begins the first shift for Team Stirring with his other.

“Oops. I guess I’ll have to teach you again,” Elaine doesn’t sound particularly apologetic. “I’m sure if I show you a few times you’ll get the hang of it.” She allows him to do the stirring, leaning slightly in against the touch on her back. She observes, adjusting the temperature to low.

“You have to constantly stir, we’re looking for the liquid to slowly thicken up. Should only take like five minutes though. It’s really all about what consistency you want it to be.”

While he’s made a captive prisoner by the stirring, she takes the opportunity to look up at him. “So I didn’t scare you off, in all of this. I thought I might.”

Rhett does seem to be taking in the instructions; it isn’t like any of it is complicated and most of his attention is on her, certainly, even if he puts his gaze mostly into the pot he’s stirring.

Just means he can shoot her some side-eye and wry smile. “Your fearsome plans of intimidation by ice cream were foiled?” Rhett asks her slyly.

“I mean, I was hoping for a good reaction, but beyond that I had no idea what weight the ice cream would hold. No one can resist a sundae, after all.” Elaine glances to the pot briefly before her gaze turns and remains mostly on him.

“I just mean that I’m not terribly good with ‘this’. I thought I knew what I was doing. I’ve worked years to look professional and elegant and come off as a confident and intelligent person. You’re doing a good job of making me feel… and if you’ll pardon the term, a fish out of water.” She laughs. “But somehow you’re still here so some part of me luring you in worked.”

She looks at his hand as it stirs the syrup. “It was the chocolate syrup, wasn’t it?”

“I haven’t had ice cream in any form in years,” Rhett answers. “I just didn’t expect it. I like that you’re surprising me.” There’s a softened kindness, real appreciation for her kind little gestures and surprises, that is quite real, and coming from an honest place.

“You tricked me into thinking you were professional, elegant, as well as those other things,” Rhett says, slowing in the stirring but not stopping, since he’s turning out more towards her, and the stir is now on autopilot. Hopefully she’s keeping track of it some, since he’s looked to her with full attention.

“I’m not good at this either. Just like the ice cream - it’s been a while.” There’s a quiet shame or dismay in the admission. “Lack of mermaids, I suppose,” he teases himself. “I feel like… this is as difficult as we make it,” Rhett says, more softly, but unsure.

“I’ve probably got a few surprises for you, though I’ll try and keep them all good ones.” Elaine seems pleased that the thought she puts into them seems to have the desired outcome. “But I’m a little softer than I might appear in public. Inger knows I’m an affectionate creature.” While she too has most of her attention on him, she’s still keeping a careful eye on the syrup.

“I’m not much of a mermaid, you’d have to teach me how to swim like one,” she says, but she nods, slowly. Opportunity was always a factor. “I agree with that, a little. I think we’re both a little unsure. Not unsure about intent, I think we’re both on the same page with that, but unsure as to how to go about this. I won’t lie, I’m really scared I’m going to fuck this up somehow.”

She continues. “This is really, really nice and I’m afraid I might say or do something wrong and mess it all up when all I want to do is have you over for dinner and eat ice cream and go places with you and drag you to all my dumb work events because you’ll have an excuse to see me all dressed up…” She lets out a breath. “I know part of this sort of thing is just going with it but it also requires some thought, some attention to what the other person needs. So I’m going to try and please tell me if I get something wrong, alright? Even if it’s something tiny.”

The stirring slowed, but didn’t entirely stop; he’s just not rapidly whisking. He’s moving it around to not burn it, at least, and that’s the objective, so maybe the distraction level is fine. Or she can intervene on behalf of the chocolate mixture.

“I know it’s easier said than done, but …” Rhett considers how to phrase it. It’s something of an unsure struggle. “I’d like to just… relax about it. Be here with you,” Rhett explains. He draws his hand from her back and instead brings it up with the intent to gently touch the side of her hair, and then maybe her cheek, with the edge of his palm. It’s very soft and tentative: he doesn’t want to mess up or do a small wrong thing any more than she does!

“You’re fine so far. Really.”

“I think it’s alright,” Elaine says, moving to take the whisk from his hand. She checks the texture briefly before turning off the heat and moving the pot to a cooler burner. It’s forgotten there, in favor of her putting her full attention to the moment. “I think… we’ve both established how we feel about this. It’s safe. That gives us the freedom to just do that, just relax and be here.”

And she does that. As his hand makes a delicate trace against her skin, she leans into it, no clearer indication that the gesture was alright. In fact, her eyes drift shut and she takes a moment to just enjoy the affectionate gesture.

Is it appropriate to lean in and express more? Rhett picks up on the cues; his empathy is one of his better senses. It’s a good time. But that risk, balanced with gain, that’s another piece, as is the tangle of tension he’s suppressing.

That she shut her eyes helps him a little, and now that he has two hands, he can bring the other up to her other cheek, a mirror to the first side, to cradle her face softly. His fingers have a calloused work feel to them, from his usual uses of his hands that involve dragging heavy objects around, though his palms aren’t too rough; he usually protects those more in fingerless gloves.

There’s some direction here that he’s implying: touching her cheeks in this way, stepping in, inclining her head up: it’s all suggestive of something incoming. But he doesn’t quite do that, he sort of aborts that mission, smiling at her gently instead, though he’s gotten very close. Just looking at her face, the brush of eyelashes, the relaxed shape to her lip.

She fights against the part of her that wants to question and analyze what she should do next. She used to act more on instinct, so why not now? Elaine isn’t entirely sure of the answer, but she has a vague idea. So she acts against that. She takes in the moment and lets her instincts and feelings drive her rather than worrying if she’d done it wrong.

Elaine’s eyes open once his other hand meets her skin and she breathes in deeply, gazing at him with a look of comfort. She follows the way he sets things up, but as he pauses to just look at her, her hand goes up to his head, fingers tangling in his hair, and she’s the one to bridge the gap between them.

The kiss is no mere brush. It’s firm enough to be decisive, bold, but soft enough to convey the feelings she has wrapped up in the moment.

Rhett is not extremely receptive at first: his reserved quality, that wall, is up. It creates a kind of cautious inaction on his end. His hands drew into her hair, away from her face as she leaned in to bring her lips to his. He doesn’t pull away at all, he was most certainly watching her, pale eyes full of her approach.

Rhett is just quietly accepting at first, giving her full control of steering where this is headed for the moment, feeling through where she’s guiding. He set up the opportunity, and gave it to her to decide if it would happen.

But now she’s stepped across the line he toed in the sand, and after a little pause as he feels the emotion and hope in the kiss, he comes through. Hands adjust, one to neck, the other still in her hair; still gentle, but directing now, as he comes back strongly into the kiss.

Rhett doesn’t really taste like the meal they’d had: his water purification ability took care of that. So most all of the experience is in feel, instead: of climbing interest from an internal place that Rhett usually locks down behind those walls.

Without a warm reception Elaine’s worry clicks into gear. She’s instantly worried that she somehow read the signals wrong. But he wasn’t unreceptive, just a little slow to warm up. Her tension eases quickly, instead returning to her natural line of thinking.

She settles in against him, feeling out the kiss with the care and precision of a perfectionist. She doesn’t do it consciously, more reflexively, testing a little and determining what to do based on his responsiveness. One hand stays in his hair, her nails lightly scratching against the skin of his scalp, while the other rests around him, keeping the distance between them very minimal.

And it very much seems like she’ll wait for him to end the kiss. She was the one who started, after all.

That could be dangerous: Rhett might drown her without meaning to.

There are other things on her mind, probably, but Rhett isn’t actively really breathing; his powerful system is just holding the current air, without a need for it for the moment. He’s a kissing cheater; he won’t be breathless. Not physically, anyway.

A shiver is given in response to the fingernails in his hair, a little shift in neck and through his right shoulder: entirely positive, she got a response with that one.

Rhett steps forward, though that means he’s probably moving her backwards, too, since she’d leaned up snugly against him, and there’s a brief impact to the side of the counter. The slight stumble cracks the mood a little, and he smiles suddenly into the kiss.

That causes a break in the kiss, as well, though he doesn’t pull away; he’s just smiling a lot, as he inclines his head more to one side, still lingering very close, brushing lips against the side of her mouth now. His eyes open, checking over her expression on the side of her face that he can see.

“No, I’m not in a hurry to leave,” Rhett murmurs to her, swallowing heavily.

There’s the slightest sound of a chuckle when they meet the counter, Elaine’s eyes opening reflexively to make sure everything’s okay. Her arms don’t move, staying where they are and she makes no move to pull away either—she’s getting used to being in his space. She’s getting comfortable with it. With her eyes open, though, it’s easier to see his smile. It brings out one of her own. “That was okay then?”

It’s a trick question. She just wants to hear him say yes.

Rhett doesn’t say yes. Not in so many words. His brows move a little bit together, the smile dissolving away. It changes into a strange, new look though: a tender, gentler aspect to his light colored eyes, before he initiates the kiss this time.

There’s her yes.

It’s a lingering kiss like the other one, though overall shorter. “Except for the counter part,” Rhett whispers to her, dropping one hand to her hip, to tug her aside, away from it.

She accepts the yes, even if it was not at all what she was expecting. Elaine catches the look in his eyes, feeling it stir an odd sort of protectiveness in her that causes her arm around him to tighten, just slightly. The kiss, while shorter, leaves her a bit breathless, mostly because she hadn’t even realized she’d forgotten to breathe for that moment at all.

Even with the kiss completed, she’s hesitant to create any distance between them. She’s eased aside from the counter, looking back up at him. “I still have ice cream. And chocolate syrup.” It’s an offer, but one she’s not really concerned about the answer to.

Rhett was focused on her and the kiss. The statement and reminder about eating chocolate on ice cream gets a little blink, and he looks away now, to the stove. The scent of the warmed chocolate is strong in the kitchen now, and he finally registers it.

“Hate for it to be wasted,” Rhett remarks, giving her a slow smile, and finally lowers his hands entirely, one now to the counter, the other just light at her hip. He isn’t really retreating; he doesn’t want the distance to grow either. Still, he doesn’t feel like a gap has opened up, even as he lets go. They’ve made a bridge, and so far it seems to be holding, to his view.

“Where are the bowls?”

Elaine removes the hand from his hair, gesturing to a nearby cupboard. “The bowls are there.” She extends the hand towards a nearby drawer. “Scoop is there.” For a moment she seems to be puzzling out how to keep the closeness and somehow get the implements needed for ice cream, but she decides it’s worth taking a brief hiatus. She slowly and reluctantly steps back, moving over to retrieve the ice cream from the freezer.

“Good, I did go through the trouble of finding some.”

Rhett moves, after she’s stepped back, to reach up and collect bowls, setting them out. He also checks on the syrup they’d made, stirring the thickening chocolate, and waits by the counter, scoop now in hand. The little container, when she produces it, doesn’t look like what he remembers: but why would it? Many companies are changed, the packaging has changed. And ice cream is a decadent thing, to those with limited refrigeration capacity: power isn’t always a certain thing.

Rhett extends the scoop when she’s ready, and will help by putting ice cream into the bowls, and passing them to her for the syrup addition. “I’m glad the cocoa has been such a hit.”

Once he's done scooping them each some ice cream, Elaine lifts the sauce pan and very gently starts to drizzle a little syrup on top. "The cocoa was a good choice for sure. Lots of uses for it, and I'm partial to desserts and sweets." She carefully finishes with the syrup, having poured a decent amount, but not enough to overload the ice cream.

Setting the pan aside, she then moves to a high cabinet. She has to go on her tip toes to reach, but she manages to procure a jar of maraschino cherries. Popping it open, she pulls out two cherries, one for each bowl, then snags spoons for them.

"Table or couch?" She asks.

“Let’s try a new landscape; couch,” Rhett directs. He snares the bowl and collects his spoon from her - and speeds up to cross to the couch first, so to move his jacket and scarf pile off of it to a different location - one of the other chairs - one-handedly. Which means she will probably beat him to sitting on the couch tiself unless she’s moving particularly slow or loitering to let him set the pace of the situation there.

Either way, Rhett has an objective to sit near her, and will subtly orchestrate that goal to welcome her to lean against his side. The kisses in the kitchen opened up some of the caution into allowing his easygoing side to apply here.

"Good choice." Elaine makes her way over to the couch, a casual place, but one that does allow her to sit before he does. She places herself where he can settle in next to her on either side without being squished. She doesn't wait for him to sit before she sticks a spoonful of ice cream into her mouth. This, thankfully, goes much better than the apple crisp.

"We make a pretty good syrup."

Rhett doesn’t eat his; he sits with it, and gives her an obvious obvious watchful STARE. “How do you feeeeeel?” Rhett asks, measuringly. Obviously there could be poison. He holds his bowl with one hand, the other arm coming up to the top of the couch edge behind her, his body turned almost fully toward her, to observe and check for possible signs of poison.

His smile is evident, though: self-satisfied in type, mildly regal. If Rhett weren’t so scruffy, he might pull off a decent kingly appearance. Less a golden lion, more a tarnished one.

She sets the ice cream in her lap, straightening herself up as she puts on a very thoughtful expression. She remains silent for a moment or two more, drawing it out, and then she proceeds to start to eat her ice cream again.

"Your food is unpoisoned, my liege." Elaine states, lips curving up into a warm smile. "We'll both live another day." She does set her spoon down for a brief moment, allowing her to reach up to brush her fingertips across his cheek before returning to the desert.

“I tease, anyway,” Rhett admits to her lightly. “This isn’t something I could be poisoned with,” he confides. He dips a finger into his ice cream, and marks two stripes of the chocolate syrup deliberately on either of his own cheeks, as if he were going into battle or to a football game. He lifts his brows a little bit, sucks the extra chocolate off his finger, and drops his eyes to the ice cream he’s eating.

Over the next few seconds, the chocolate starts to turn transparent, fading out. It slowly begins to disappear, as if it were evaporating, except that the shine is still there of the substance that is gradually turning to water on his cheeks.

Elaine watches, with rapt attention, marveling a little bit at the utility of what he's capable of doing. "I'm afraid I don't have any party tricks like that, unless you want me to talk to you in another language and tell you all my secrets. Not quite as dramatic looking, I'm afraid."

As she takes a moment to gather more ice cream into her spoon, it occurs to her that, for once, she does have secrets. Before, she didn't have any because everyone she was close to was in the middle of everything she was. The realization is a big enough one that her expression changes to one of confusion and surprise.

“I don’t attend parties, but I believe you,” Rhett answers. He’s being slower with the ice cream than with the food earlier: a deliberate thing, to try to slow down. Not that that will last: as soon as he’s distracted he’ll eat it quickly again.

“Hey,” Rhett says, more seriously, moving the arm that was behind her more around her, drawing the hand up to the far side of her head, her hair, intending to gently stroke fingers through her hair near her ear on that far side. “You’re welcome to do that. I’d probably prefer something I can understand, but I don’t mean to rush you on any of it. I have my own secrets,” Rhett says.

“I’m already worried I’m rushing you out of your other… complication. And I don’t mean for that,” Rhett admits, slowly easing his hand back down and away from her hair.

"Hey. If you had seen what it was like and for how long, you wouldn't be worried about it." As his hand moves away, Elaine retaliates by scooting in closer. "What you saw was me finally having the chance to fight back and be honest. You came along at the right time, I honestly believe that."

Her hand comes back up to his cheek, her fingers just brushing there in a light motion. "As someone pointed out to me recently, life is short. You have to try for the things you want."

His hand returns as she indicates that things are, in fact, going well, and not too quickly for her. Her fingers find a light moisture only at his cheek, a single droplet dripping down like an odd tear from where the chocolate had been. It’s just water, nothing more, by now, starting to evaporate naturally.

“I like you fighting back and being honest,” Rhett encourages her, tone once again serious, though just in his own supportive honesty. “I’m flattered you want to try for me. To make ‘us’.” He is, too; there’s a small battle to be had, to draw him out of his guarded ways.

"I'm going to succeed is what I'm going to do. Trying implies I'm accepting a chance of failure, which I'm not." Elaine's voice is firm, and she sounds more confident than he's ever heard her. There is, however, a hitch in her voice as she continues.

"I know I was joking about scaring you off before but I have to warn you there's a very real possibility that I could cause trouble for you in a serious way. It's just a possibility and I'm probably blowing it out of proportion but I want you to know what you're in for. I can elaborate on it but… it's kind of a little hard to understand."

“Who are we talking trouble with? Are you in some kind of criminal activity?” Rhett asks. He doesn’t pull away or act accusingly about it. “Are you suggesting someone would come after me to get to you?” Rhett questions, slightly skeptical but trying not to judge what that could mean.

“I guess it’s up to you to give me information, about that, if it’s for my safety.” Rhett watches her now, concerned, pausing with his ice cream to see what he can glean about the situation from her expression. “Enemies of Yamagato?”

“It’s less like a mob thing… “ Elaine laughs. “Perhaps I should have phrased it differently. It’s more like I know things and people that are mixed up in some strange stuff and while I’m not involved in things, there might be some spillover. Maybe that clarifies a little bit.” She takes a bite of her ice cream, mostly to give her enough of a pause to think a bit.

“I’m not sure it will become a problem there’s just that chance and it’s not one I want you stuck in.”

“‘Strange stuff’? That really doesn’t clear it up, Elaine,” Rhett chuckles at her, amused by the attempts. It sounds far too vague to make much sense to him, really. “Is this like knowing a friend of yours that can see the future?” he asks, intending to be humorous about it. “And therefore you might know to avoid a particular plaza on a tuesday?”

Rhett isn't really sure what to make of her strange warning about strangeness, but doesn’t seem to be bothered: not yet, anyway. “But consider me warned. I sometimes run afoul of others that are trading goods - usually more dangerous ones than I stock - but that is less often these days. There was a time where that would be far more dangerous, and could almost cost you everything,” Rhett says, drawing a hand towards his neck - deliberately this time - to call attention to the scars there. “I earned these from trying to discourage criminals out of a work site, sewer tunnels they were using. I didn’t… want them to dump corpses there anymore.”

“Actually, a little closer to that than you might think,” Elaine looks at him seriously. “I do no someone who sees the future but it’s way more complicated.” It’s his neck that captures her attention, though, and she moves her own hand to try and gently trace the scars with her fingertips should he not bat her hands away.

“We’ve lived through the war, it’s not as if we’re completely unaffected by danger all around us. It’s just that some of the stuff I know, it’s tied into stuff that’s bigger than a war. It’s kind of save-the-world drama that you see in movies. But it’s real stuff. I’ve seen proof.”

There’s very clear evidence of the scars being something he’s highly self-conscious of. Plus that the location is right next to his throat already makes it something of a sensitive area for someone to touch. He swallows heavily, adam’s apple moving, but he doesn’t shy away, he holds his ground. His gaze flicks down and aside while she inspects, though: a telltale of him not being happy about being the owner of the cruel scars. They run in parallel down both sides of his neck, as if someone were trying to cut gills into him with something sharp.

“I can beleive that. I’ve been fortunate to stay out of any save-the-world drama… at least, that I know of. Or unfortunate, I guess, if it comes with these wonderful apartments,” Rhett says, though the tease is low wattage; he’s got a lot of attention on the neck thing, as it’s a soft spot for him, the ugly scars there.

Rhett sets his mostly emptied bowl aside and makes an attempt to partially draw her to him, lean her to rest against him, if she’s agreeable. “It’s just life, big or small events. One day at a time, right?”

Elaine frowns at the sight of the scars, then looks back to his face, her fingertips still trying to trace along his neck. Her bowl is also set aside and she nestles herself in against him. “I guess I wanted to give you a chance to run before we get any more attached. I just want to make sure that… if things do inevitably get weird, you’ll at least know they might. And that I’ll do my best to keep you safe from it.”

She’s not even sure what she needs to keep him safe from.

“But you’re right, it’s life. We just take it as it comes and try to make the most of it.” She shifts, just slightly, leaning her head in closer to gently press her lips to the skin making up one of his scars. “And we get stronger with everything that shapes us.”

I’m pretty hardy, give me some credit,” Rhett answers her oddly devoted claim to protect him and keep him safe. He sounds a little distracted: again, the touch to neck is really pulling an extreme amount of his attention, so the focus is there. He’s unsure about when she leans her face in towards his neck, though he only tenses when she’s touches her mouth there.

It’s not on purpose, it’s involuntary, but connected to the situation of somebody doing something to his neck and throat. There’s some dark memories around that which he’s working to suppress. Trauma.

“It’s okay,” he tells her, verbally, though, his breathing a little rapid, but hugs her firmly with one arm while cradling her head gently with the other, turning his head to kiss her ear. He’s trembling a little but not fighting her: any fight is inward.

The attempt was one that she hoped would go over well—replacing the bad memories with something more affectionate and safe. It unfortunately seems to be a bit much and she pulls back, just a bit. Elaine wants him to see she’s backing away, but she’s not leaving. Even with his verbalization, regardless of exactly how he meant it, she’s decided that it’s enough and she’s not pushing that point. The fear and terror of doing something wrong briefly well up inside of her and she forces that aside in favor of just offering him a smile.

“It’s okay.”

When a kid scrapes their knee and is crying, it’s easy to want to comfort the child. You reinforce that something was wrong and they have a reason to cry. But if you don’t make a big deal about it, if you tell the child, ‘you’re alright’, they might cry less and recover faster, even if it really wasn’t okay. Regardless of who the kid is, Elaine is certainly pushing forward and ignoring any awkwardness that might arise.

“It /is/,” Rhett insists. There’s a little flare in him that might be entirely unusual to see: Rhett is always so mellow, so willing to just step down. There’s this little flare of will showing up, that informs that he is not, in fact, always a doormat. He guides one of her hands up towards his ear or neck area — loosely, but focuses mostly on dropping his face to hers and kissing her eyebrow, then down to the side of her nose.

That little bit of control from him steadied him out: it was more that he wasn’t active, having something ‘done to’ his neck while he was passive. As a willing participant, he’s adjusted what things feel like, and the tension changes: sure, he’s tensed a little, but for reasons related to kissing, not traumatic experiences.

"Just making sure of that," Elaine murmurs, her fingers brushing lightly over his ear. "I'm very familiar with the memories a scar can keep and how hard it is to heal over." She takes a moment, staying close, and runs her nose affectionately against his.

"I thought I might help." It's the thought that counts, right?

“You’re helping,” Rhett says quietly. “My scar on my elbow will be smaller from you helping,” Rhett reminds her, with a smile near her nose. His eyes are still open, looking at her at the close proximity near him. “No word yet on other scars. Hope you’re patient,” Rhett says thoughtfully.

“But I’m not so broken. I hope you don’t think that.” Rhett settles as he is, nose near hers, finding unusual comfort in the physical closeness. It’s different than he’s used to.

She rests, her forehead to his forehead, her eyes meeting his. Elaine still smiles at him while her fingers move from his ear to his hair. "I never figured you to be broken at all. You'd been hurt but it's not something that can't healed. I trust you'll be patient with me too."

For a moment or two she just watches him, unsure of what she wants to express. Finally she murmurs, "I've got lots of patience. And we've got lots of time."

“We might need to work out some extra meetings, instead of just once a month; I’m patient, but that’s maybe pushing it,” Rhett proposes.

“For today, though, I’ll stay until you’d like to kick me out.” Rhett smiles into her eyes, tilting his head against her hand and touch, appreciative and leaning to it.

"I figured with recent developments you might want to be around me a little more," Elaine's fingers continue through his hair, nails raking his scalp. "I can certainly grab dinner and meet you at your boat sometime. Or we can go out if you'd like a real date."

There's a moment when she contemplates her words before continuing. "What if I don't kick you out? There's nothing that says you can't. It doesn't have to be anything." She does seem to be trying to be careful with how she's phrasing the offer.

“I’d like any of those,” Rhett answers: the dinner, the boat, the date. There’s a moment where he closes his eyes as she rubs her fingers into his hair, just for a moment, with a quiet emotion on his face.

As to the contemplated, careful words, he looks at her again for those, catching the care and deliberate quality of how she’s going about it. Much like the last time she asked him to say yes, he brings his head down, instead, and kisses her lips, soft at first, then more lingering. He’s cautious too, but he wants to stay, he’s unwilling to leave the closeness they’ve created. He’s blushing a lot, though.

Staying in her arms, though? Currently an irresistible offer, one he doesn’t want to resist.

“Then we’ll do it all,” Elaine agrees. “I’ll make time. It’s worth it.” For once, she actually looks forward to getting off work. But the words are barely out of her mouth when she meets his gaze and his lips meet hers again. Whatever thoughts she had gathered quickly vanish, and she stays in the moment, letting him draw it out for as long as he wished. When her lips are free to talk again, she does, but remains close.

“It doesn’t have to be anything but you staying. We can just stay here and fall asleep on this couch, if you want.”

“I’m interested in —- raising the stakes, here,” the trader smoothly barters, the initial silver tongue that she’d found on the producer of her interesting food supplies returning. It’s subtle, gentle though. He’s good at finding agreements that both sides are comfortable with.

“So you know where I stand, and whether or not you’d like to meet me there.” One hand remains where it is, the other dropping down against the side of her leg where her dress is pulled aside. He doesn’t do anything other than set his warm palm there, though.
But shyness descends, and he coughs a little, smiling in embarrassment near her cheek. “Sorry; I made it awkward.”

It’s a nice mix, the way he moves from suave back to shy. Elaine laughs, though she tries not to make it sound like she’s laughing at him. It’s more of a delighted sound with the way the situation is turning out. Her fingers slide through his hair, an affectionate gesture, as if to soothe him from the sting of his shyness and embarrassment.

“Nonono, don’t say that. You weren’t awkward, you were very charming. Consider me seduced.”

While that’s probably not exactly the best way to express it, it’s what Elaine’s currently got. As her nails rake his scalp again, her other hand moves to rest atop the hand on her leg, just barely inching it upward. Just enough to encourage him to overcome the wall of shyness he’s hiding behind.

That earns a surprised little flick of eyes, as she gracefully lets him off far easier than she could have on the awkwardness. She could have certainly left him to soak in that for a little while! Instead, his eyebrows move down just a hair, eyes narrowing, as he judges if she’s playing /back/ at him, or if she means it.

Rhett laughs, suddenly, soft and deep, with a comfortable relief. “All right. I will.”

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