What's In A Label


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Scene Title What's In A Label
Synopsis Elliot and Merlyn go on a date at a fancy restaurant and puzzle over what to call each other in this new relationship.
Date May 20, 2021

A Yamagato Altum is far from out of place rolling into the underground garage of Brighton Beach’s newest hotspot for the very wealthy and culinarily inclined. With increased ashfall, no person of means should be made to dirty their clothes between the curb and the front door, and as such, Cloth’s strategic placement has sent its name through the upper-echelon like wildfire.

The driver doesn’t exit, that sort of labor naturally being performed by the valet staff. The first to exit is a tall man in a bespoke black suit, the only other color being a blue and purple paisley pocket square. This is a man who prides himself on always being anywhere five minutes early, satisfied that they are exactly as late for his reservation as he planned to be. He ignores the valet, stepping to the side to offer an arm out to his companion for the evening.

Brighton Beach

Thursday, May 20th
8:03 PM

“I’ll be livid if the foie gras has already been depleted,” he says, and it almost certainly has.

"At least they'll have plenty of champagne, I'm certain they won't run out of that," she replies, stepping out of the car to take his arm. The long blue dress she wears shows only a little leg as she steps out, the cut in the side allowing a view of the matching heels. They were most certainly custom, the color being a perfect match to the dress. As she takes the offered arm, she flashes him a warm smile, then turns her gaze towards the building in front of them.

Elliot smears half-heartedly as he allows the valet to step around them before leading Merlyn inside. “I suppose it’s better than nothing at all. They have vintages even I can find on my own here.” He won’t be partaking, but all of this dialogue is for the staff’s benefit, really.

“I know they’re making an effort by providing us with this garage entrance, but couldn’t they do something about the smoke smell?” In this day and age. Appalling, really.

The dialogue, in fact, is something Merlyn has carefully crafted. After all, this isn't the type of place she goes on a regular basis. Or ever has, most likely. She turns up her nose just slightly at the smell, then flashes another smile to her companion. "Of course they'll have something to clear the air in there, I can't imagine they could possibly do business without something," she pauses. "And if they don't, I'm certain we can find reservations somewhere better if necessary."

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Elliot sighs, already exhausted by the though of it. He greatly enjoyed coaching Merlyn on the finer points of being just annoying enough to be accepted as a person who belongs here without being so self-entitled that they cause a scandal.

The doors are opened for them, and he neither looks at nor thanks the masked entry servants. He doesn’t look back at the vehicle he rented for the evening, that sort of thing also the responsibility of his lessers. The walk to the maître d' is blessedly short. They’re greeted pleasantly, something he doesn’t pay attention to, waiting only until there’s silence to announce himself. “Rosen,” he states. “Reservation for two.”

As they’re led into the dining area proper he turns his attention down to Merlyn. “You were right of course, I can barely smell the smoke in here.

Merlyn, on the other hand, inclines her head just the slightest bit as thanks to the doormen. It's barely an acknowledgment, but just enough of one. She squeezes Elliot's arm gently, her head in the direction of the server, though she lets her eyes roam the room. She wants to get a good look and remember this, but she doesn't want to gawk and look out of place. They are, after all, a fancy couple at a fancy restaurant having a fancy dinner. Her glances around the room are quick, just a glance here and there at patrons and surroundings alike. It's the same little glances she would likely do if she was checking a place for safety's sake.

"Naturally, efforts must have been made for such things," she states.

Elliot, feeling old fashioned and romantic, draws out Merlyn's chair for her before attempting to take his own. "Your server will be with you in a moment," the host who led them here says. It finally earns a smile and a nod of appreciation from Elliot, who's momentarily caught out of character as he's focused on Merlyn in her exquisite dress.

Seating herself on the offered chair, Merlyn manages to suppress what must have been a grin. Instead it comes off as a slightly playful smile, especially once she notices her dining companion is looking at her. She also manages to suppress the color from entirely flushing her face, but some of it manages to creep up anyway. She isn’t used to being looked at like that, and she straightens herself up in her chair before she murmurs in a low tone.

“How am I doing? Convincing?”

Elliot rounds the table and takes his seat with a casual demeanor that covers the rapid pace if his heartbeat. "Convincing, entrancing," he says, not speaking quietly but not loud enough for the closer tables to hear. He tries to remain in character. "I'd also say beautiful but I don't want to reduce your qualities to just how attracted to you I am. But you were born for high society, and I'm worried someone will sword fight me for the chance to win your favor. You'll be rich by the time we leave."

“I’ll be rich if I charge for front row tickets to a sword fight,” Merlyn replies, her voice still low enough that the conversation can be quiet. She focuses on keeping her head high, chin lifted just slightly in an attempt to look the part of the upper crust woman that she is not. “Somehow, part of me almost expects you to know how to sword fight. You always manage to surprise me with something, for all I know you’ve been waiting for this chance to duel.”

"Knife fight maybe," Elliot says, leaning back in his chair with one arm on the table to look a little too rich to behave himself in public. "But even then most of my knife fights have been one-sided and unexpected." He smiles as a woman brings two glasses to the table and fills them with ice water.

"Would you throw me a rose to show your favor in the off chance somebody does insist on swords?"

She also flashes a smile of thanks at the woman, sipping from her glass of water as she waits for her to walk away. Once they’re in their relatively quiet moment once more, Merlyn is able to reply. “If given the opportunity, I will certainly make sure your favor is evident,” she says, setting her water back down. “Please don’t get in a knife fight, though. I don’t get evenings out like this and I’d like to enjoy it without worrying about if you’ll get blood on my dress.”

She glances down at her outfit before looking back at him. “This is clearly a very expensive designer dress that I certainly didn’t get a knock off of. Besides,” she continues, “I don’t think anyone would get close enough to read the label. I’d still like to not deal with blood on my dress.” She flashes him a smile that should have been a grin if she were not pretending.

Elliot keeps his own smile moderate. "I will not get into any fights," he promises, pausing to take a sip of his water. "Though I don't suppose there's another way to see… evidence of your favor?" He can't help but investigate her shoulders, collarbones, and other such favors. The not-a-knockoff dress, almost certainly.

Merlyn looks across the table, noticing the gaze. “I’m sure we can come up with a suitable indication of my favor,” she replies, a softer smile. “After all, I’m sure we’ll avoid any sword fights to earn my favor should it be obvious who I’d pick in a fight.” She glances at her water glass briefly before her gaze moves towards his. “A title, perhaps,” she says with the slightest raise of an eyebrow.

Ahh, yes, Elliot says with a look. It's not a new topic, they've been performing this dance for a month. He isn't blameless in their current title stalemate.

"I think I recall that we both agreed that partner didn't feel right,"

Elliot's Townhouse

Wednesday, April 21st

Elliot has no idea, in retrospect, how the fuck he got here. He's in his bedroom, though that isn't the 'how he got here' that he's marveling about. Two days ago he expected to never see Merlyn again, yet here she is, in his home. In his bedroom, no less.

He's already dressed in blue fleece pajama pants and a t-shirt. It's cool in the room, though he doesn't start a fire. Two people in one bed will produce enough heat to keep them comfortable as they sleep. Even without doing anything that he isn't ready for right now.

On the downside, the jeans Merlyn wears are a but tricky for sleeping, but she doesn’t ask for something to wear at first. Mostly it’s because she doesn’t want to be intrusive, especially given that the plan is sleep. She’s shed her shoes and coat, they are neatly folded and tucked out of the way. It’s her good coat, after all. It does occur to her that the sleeping in jeans really is a bad plan, so she flashes a sheepish smile in his direction. “Have anything I can wear? I don’t want to impose, but I think things might be more comfortable for the both of us.” Once she’s awkwardly gotten over the question, she sits on the edge of the bed, watching him as she takes a moment to marvel at the situation herself.

“If you’d like some pajamas that are too long, Wright does have clothing in her dresser in the other room,” he says, then decides to just go get some as Merlyn asked for them. “Be right back.” He returns in only a moment, neatly folded gray jersey fabric pants in hand. “She won’t mind at all,” he assures her, offering the clothing.

“Thanks. And be sure to thank Wright for me too,” she says. While she doesn’t leave the room to change, she does turn away towards the corner as she sheds her clothes in favor of something more comfortable. It does give her a moment while she’s turned away to reflect on things.

The walls Merlyn had put up over the time Elliot left to the time she ran into him again had suited her well. That vulnerability was safely kept locked away, making it easy for her to focus, to do business, to interact without it getting to her. The apology was what broke her. Suddenly it was like he had easily opened a door and walked through and she found herself just as vulnerable as she had been when they were together.

Once she’s dressed and clothes neatly folded, she turns back in Elliot’s direction, catching his eyes. “You okay?”

Elliot smiles in a way that still shows that he doesn't quite believe they're both here. "I'm very okay," he says, lowering himself onto the edge of the bed.

"How about you? This has moved fast, I'll understand if you're hesitant to share a bed," he says, then realizes he's giving her excuses to leave again. That's the last thing he wants. "I want to. Like a lot. And I'll behave myself." He does have to work in the morning, after all.

“I’m not hesitant. To be honest, it makes me comfortable. Safe, happy.” Merlyn’s smile is a bit of one of disbelief as well, but it brightens after a moment of watching him. “You’re the one who has to wake up, I’ve got no obligations tomorrow. So behaving yourself is all on you.” She grins, a playful look for a moment before it returns to a soft smile.

“Wouldn’t mind if you’re close, though. I miss it. Kind of feels like so much happened in between but somehow things are right back where they were before. It’s fast, sure, but these are feelings that never left. I didn’t move on, not really. Sorry if that makes you feel guilty or anything.”

Elliot does look unhappy, though not at Merlyn. He doesn’t feel he has the right to tell her that he never got over what they had either, despite it all becoming entangled in his guilt. “I’m happy. I’m grateful we’re able to hit the ground running,” he says. “I’ll deal with my guilt. I’d like to be close.” He waffles on the idea of keeping the night tame, but his desire to be with her physically is at odds with his desire to be here for her emotionally. He needs to work on the latter first.

He stands only to turn around and pull down the covers for both of them. He looks up as he slides onto the mattress but remains upright. “I realize I also pivoted away from the earlier talk of what to call what we have here,” he says, patting the center of the mattress to invite her to bed.

“You did,” she agrees, climbing on the bed to sit next to him. Merlyn leans against him slightly as she seems to be in thought. “Sorry, I may have awkwardly jumped the gun about phrasing. I’m just… really not sure what to call this. I’ve never really been in a situation like this so I’m not sure what fits.”

Elliot leans into her as well, resting his head atop hers. The scent of her hair is maddening, but he keeps his attention in the moment. "It's not jumping the gun," he assures her, moving one hand around her hip then pulling the blanket up over their legs. "You're correct that it's not an easy choice. But there's time for experimentation." Not a lot of it, but this isn't something he wants to rush.

"You suggested partner earlier, which I'm not against," he says. "I do already call Wright my partner, and I would never do you the reductive disservice of referring to you as my other partner to anybody who already knows her. You're not a second-tier person in my life."

“Partner just seemed like the most basic way to explain it, and it implies some kind of closeness,” she agrees, slipping her arms around him as she settles comfortably. “I do really like the idea of not being second tier… I like that a lot. I enjoy the thought of meaning something important. We’ll have to brainstorm, I guess. I’m sure there’s something to describe us, and if there isn’t we’ll make up a clever word for it and get people to start using it.”

“I like that,” Elliot says. He pulls away from Merlyn to plant a kiss on her temple, then her cheek. Realizing he may follow this trail south forever if left unchallenged, he pulls away entirely, slithering under the blanket and holding it open so she can join him there.

The peck to the cheek is mirrored by Merlyn’s own as she lets herself linger close for just a moment longer. She shifts positions, crawling under the covers and settling into the bed close to him. She’s careful not to snuggle in too close given he’d have to get up for work in the morning. Resting her head, she murmurs in just a small enough voice to be heard. “Good night. And it really was.”

Brighton Beach

Thursday, May 20th
8:13 PM

“Partner is off the table, that doesn’t fit, I agree with that, but I’m having some difficulty determining what fits. This is something different and deserves something to reflect that,” Merlyn says, an honestly thoughtful look on her face. “But it should be something that shows my favor. After all, we’re trying to scare off people with weapons.”

“Agreed,” Elliot says. He's poised to say more when their server arrives.

"Good evening, my name is Angela," the woman says, setting a handful of small plates of appetizers at the center of the table; a curated selection of what they had available when Elliot made the reservation. She sets each plate down while explaining what each dish is. "Here is the mahogany clams in a white sauce, asparagus tempura with a balsamic reduction, and manchego and quince." The last being a plate of sliced hard cheese and an apricot-colored fruit paste over water crackers. "Traditionally these are paired with wine, but the reservation requested no wine. Can I get you any other drink while the entrees are prepared?"

“Sparkling water will be fine, thank you,” Merlyn replies. Normally that’s something she doesn’t go for, but when in Rome… you order something that sounds fancy for a regular drink. She glances across the table briefly at Elliot before she takes a moment to study each dish with interest. Most of it she’s never had, or at the very least had it prepared like this.

“The same,” Elliot says, and Angela politely dismisses herself.

“Feel free to dislike any of these,” Elliot continues in their renewed privacy. “I won’t think less of you. Most of these you will enjoy—” he gestures at the things that aren’t clams “—whereas these are the wildcard.”

He picks the meat from one of the many open clamshells with a small fork, then deposits it and some of the accompanying shallots and mushrooms on a small toast point that lines the bowl. He eats it thoughtfully, then nods in appreciation. “Savory and a touch sweet from the caramelized shallot.”

“I believe we had some similar reservations about girlfriend and boyfriend,” he says, returning to the topic at hand.

Merlyn goes for cheese and crackers with fruit-paste to start, mostly because it’s the simplest and a good place to go on from. “These all look delicious, honestly. Little works of art. I’m going to try a little of everything, especially because this is the nicest place I’ve ever been and who knows when this sort of thing will happen again.” She carefully starts gathering a few of the appetizers onto the small provided plate before she looks back to Elliot.

“We did, in fact, decide it didn’t fit.”

Elliot's Townhouse

Tuesday, May 4th

The walk had been a little far for Merlyn from the direction she originated from. A brisk pace meant no one bothered her and she got to her destination at a faster pace. As she arrives at the townhouse, she’s spotted Elliot just unlocking the front door.

“That’s funny, I didn’t expect to almost beat you here,” she says as she continues walking the last bit of distance between her and the door. And Elliot.

Elliot smiles as he hears Merlyn’s voice call out behind him, and turns to see her as the lock clicks open and the key is removed. “You probably would have,” he says as she closes in, “but I was excited to get home to see this really awesome girl.” He didn’t have much time to text today, this shift covering the PD was actually busy for once. By the end of it, his biggest frustration was that he couldn’t continue the novel they’d been writing to each other on their phones.

"Huh, I don't see any awesome girls around here, she must be late," Merlyn says with a grin, stopping near him at the front door. "I will say my day was a little boring not talking to you all pretty much all day. I hate when that happens. You might have a guess I like being able to keep you company. You'd be right." She tucks her cellphone away in her pocket, ready to move into the townhouse after him as soon as he enters. "I take it you were busy then?"

Elliot smiles in return. “I very much enjoy keeping you company as well,” Elliot says, pushing the door into the breezeway and stepping through. “And I have a mirror inside if you need to find that awesome girl.” He holds the door open to allow her in after him.

“But yeah,” he says. “There were a lot of false starts; so while I didn’t get to do anything impressive while wearing my armor, I had to spend all day walking back and forth not doing it.” He deposits his keys in a jacket pocket then shrugs himself free of it, letting it slide down his arms.

"I'd rather look at you, thank you very much," Merlyn says as she enters the breezeway after him. "That at least sounds like you were ready and prepared, though it is an awful shame I didn't get to hear from you more. The least they could do is give you something to do that would involve a story you could come home and tell an awesome girl since you couldn't text her." She smirks. "Yeah, yeah, I'm admitting it's me. But just this once, you won't hear me actually compliment myself again in our lifetime."

She carefully pulls an arm out of her jacket before catching it before it slips entirely down the other. To make up for her tiny motion of awkwardness, she gracefully hangs her coat as soon as she's out of it. "Well, you got your exercise for the day then, it sounds like."

Elliot’s jacket is hung quietly as he listens to Merlyn. He smiles when she admits that she’s awesome, and he will not discourage future such self praise by agreeing with her statement that it will never happen again. Instead he closes the door with one foot, waiting until he hears the latch click before taking Merlyn’s face in his hands and kissing her unannounced.

While caught off guard by the unexpected kiss, it's not an unwelcome one. Merlyn leans into the kiss, taking advantage of their closeness to wrap her arms around him. Even if he breaks off the kiss, he'll still have an armful of Merlyn. There's even the softest sound of contentment. Perhaps it was unannounced and unexpected, but she's making the most of it.

Eventually Elliot does break away. He doesn’t break free, merely allows himself the chance to crouch a bit, getting one arm beneath her and standing back up. He turns her toward the door, opening it and carrying her inside with a contended hum.

There's a bit of a muffled sound of laughter as she's picked up, her face buried in against his chest as she hugs him tightly. It's not that she thinks he'll drop her, it's more that the sensation of being carried like that is a little exhilarating. Merlyn tips her head up to look at him as she's carried inside. "You know, every time I think I know what you're going to do, you surprise me. And I love that. Usually surprises can be a little alarming, but I've never disliked your surprises."

“Glad to hear that,” he replies, kicking the inner door shut behind him. After a couple of steps, he deposits her on the back of the couch, making sure she’s balanced before pulling back. He lifts her leg by the ankle and begins to remove her shoe. “Can’t have the couch getting all sooty now, can we?”

The laughter returns, this time with a flush of color in her face. Merlyn moves her hands to further support her balance on the back of the couch, her head tilted to the side as she tries to predict exactly what his plans are. The shoe gets a small giggle, followed by her trademark wide grin. "No, you are correct there, I would not want the couch to be all sooty. I feel like a reverse Cinderella, having a shoe taken off instead of put on. I suppose that's even more difficult to know if I'm the girl who the shoe fits if it was already on. Is it even the right shoe?" She watches him, a smirk resting on the corner of her mouth as she watches him with renewed interest.

“Does that make me Cinderelliot?” he asks, thoughtful. “Is that how Disney princesses work? Are we both the princess? I don’t mind if we both have to wear the same glass shoe at the same time.” Her shoe, not being made of glass, is removed and dropped unceremoniously, her leg is released with a bit more care in order to move onto the next.

She lowers her leg to keep her balance as he moves to remove the other shoe, the bright smile on her face an expression of joy that only a small handful of people in the world have seen. "I'm not quite sure that's how princesses work, but I like the idea of a Cinderelliot. I'm quite happy if we are both princesses, but I don't think glass shoes would have been practical in the first place. Probably easily shattered and therefore entirely useless unless they were treated with the most delicate of care. I do not think that feet were meant for glass. Imagine the dancing, and if it breaks while you're wearing it? Disney princesses would never have been so bloody. Perhaps it's a horror flick and I didn't know about it."

She realizes after a moment that she's started a ramble again and the color comes to her face again. "Sorry if I'm waxing poetic about glass shoes, it's likely because I'm nervous. In a good way, of course, but it's always uncharted water. I never know if you're going to decide to pick me up and kiss me or surprise me with some kind of dessert you know I like. I've missed this. I've missed you. I think I miss you even when you're not sending me rambling text messages like the rambling I'm doing now. Especially then."

“I’ve missed you too,” he admits seriously, though he throws her second shoe over his shoulder as he does. “Achingly.” Her shoes seen to, he kicks off his own, then pushes her backward onto the couch.

A sputtering laugh comes from Merlyn as she falls back onto the couch, safely cushioned as to her landing. Instead of being startled by the sudden loss of balance, the only sounds out of her are joyful laugher, and she turns her head to try and get a look over at Elliot. She opens her mouth to speak, to ramble about something to break up any sense of nerves, but she refrains. Instead, she watches him, half-laughing still as she does.

He can’t help but smirk as she lays there laughing. He makes his journey to the couch the normal way, saying nothing. He kneels, then reorients Merlyn on the couch from a haphazard, upside-down slouch to a graceful laying down more appropriate for a Disney princess. He sighs contentedly. “I’m sorry if I worried you,” he says softly, busying himself combing her hair from her eyes with a careful hand. “I missed you all day.”

He kisses her briefly, laying a hand just below her neck to deny her access to a more extended kiss should she go looking for one. “I’ve been thinking that girlfriend has some of the same problems as partner,” he says just as quietly. “I don’t want you to be my other girlfriend to people who know Rue. And I don’t want people who know us to ask, ‘Isn’t she your ex-girlfriend?’” His hand doesn’t move away, though he does trace a finger over her collarbone.

"I know," Merlyn agrees, looking back up at him. "I wouldn't want Rue to feel like I'm replacing her so girlfriend does kind of feel a little disrespectful to me. I'm starting to think we're going to have to end up with some strange mashup of words that won't make any sense except to the two of us." She reaches her hand up to trace lightly along the curve of his jaw, a simple brush of fingertips against skin. "I'm certain I'll forever just be viewed as the 'ex', but that will be my curse to bear."

Elliot's eyes close at the contact, and he sighs before opening them again. "No," he says.

It seems he might let the word sit without elaborating before a look of frustration briefly crosses his face. "This isn't ex anything," he finally explains. "This is now and it's new and it's important. And I want it, all of it, everything we can be in the time we have. You're not my ex. We'll find the label we're looking for and everybody else can accept it or move on." His hand starts to clench into a fist, the neck of her shirt being pinched between his fingers, as he professes his desire in more concrete terms than he has before, but he quickly lets go.

"But I'm also not trying to rush you for closer physical intimacy," he says, his demeanor returning to peaceful though embarrassed by the outburst. "I'm happy to take our time to do it better. I don't want there to be any doubt."

"It's new and it's old," Merlyn murmurs, her fingertips still tracing lightly, regardless of the outburst. "This wouldn't be like this if we hadn't had something before. It's new, but it's built on the foundation of something we never let go. At least, that's what it's like for me. I can't speak for both of us, I'm not in your head, but I certainly feel as if it must be a similar experience for you." She shifts her weight, just so she can brush a light kiss across his lips before she continues. "I don't doubt, and we'll find our sense of timing in whatever we have. I don't plan on wasting it, even if some of it needs a little more time than other bits of it. I'm not an ex anymore and I don't want to be in the eyes of anyone."

He kisses her then, calm and in control of himself and with no intention of stopping.

Brighton Beach

Thursday, May 20th
8:19 PM

Elliot busies himself by enjoying some of each of the appetizers. "A good call," he says honestly. "Not that I would mind being called your boyfriend if the mentioned connotations were more favorable."

Merlyn helps herself to the appetizers as well, doing what she said and sampling some of each, almost all of which seem to please her palette. "Were the connotations different, I'd be honored to call you that. Right now, I'm honored to be able to call you some word incomprehensible by human speech. It can only be translated by direct eye contact. Pretty sure we've both used that one a number of times. It would be nice to be able to call you something to others. A title you've claimed." She flashes a smile in his direction, managing to keep her grins under control. Today she's a fancy lady of the upper crust and has to curb her playful energy. It's hard to keep some from escaping, but she seems just as content to play the role of someone she's not to experience something she'd ordinarily never get to.

"That is one of my favorite words," Elliot says, making the direct eye contact necessary to say it. The look that he gives her now is hungrier than it has been; he needs them to settle on something tonight. He needs her.

They've been playing a game of 'are we going to have sex' chicken far longer than he'd originally imagined. Always wanted but never rushed, never the right time but always hanging in the subtext. He doesn't regret it; keeping their relationship chaste has given him time to honestly evaluate how he feels about her in all of its complexity. He's sorted through his guilt and even though it will be a while before it truly fades—before either of them can truly forgive him—he knows without a doubt now that he has changed. That he won't waste this. That he loves her as a promise.

"I'm almost sad that lover didn't make the cut."

Elliot's Townhouse

Sunday, May 16th

"Thank you for coming over," Wright says, looking relieved. "I realize it's very late."

She hadn't wanted to go into much detail on the phone other than that Elliot had a very bad day and could use the company. "I was originally going to spend the night here, and I will if you don't want to stick around," she continues. "But it occurred to me that you can do more good here than I can tonight." A half-truth. She knows that Elliot is feeling vulnerable and might actually let some walls down.

“You don’t even need to thank me,” Merlyn’s voice is calm, but Wright’s seen enough of her to know that there’s that hitch in her voice of concern. “I’ll stay, you don’t even have to ask.” She hesitates for a moment, looking to Wright for direction. “Should I know what happened? If it’s something personal, that’s fine. I’m happy to provide support without knowing details.”

She’s very aware that there are things safer for her not knowing.

"It is personal," Wright says, combing her hair back as she thinks it over. "Though not something you can't know. We were exercising at the pool and he had a sudden and serious PTSD flashback. He can fill you in on the details if he's comfortable doing that. He's in his room."

She sighs, relieved, and it's her hand on Merlyn's arm. "I realize you just told me I don't need to thank you," she says, "but thank you. I'm going to hang out down here for a bit just in case… whatever. I'm sure it will be fine."

“I’ll come get you if I think he needs you,” Merlyn flashes a quick smile to Wright before she’s off, headed to the bedroom. When she reaches it, she taps softly on the door. It’s not a knock or something startling, just a gentle announcement of her presence before she cracks the door open slightly so he can hear her voice before she makes her way in. The last thing she wants to do is startle him.

“Elliot, it’s Merlyn,” she says, loud enough to be heard as her entrance, but her tone is soft to round out any harshness the volume brings.

"Hey," Elliot says quietly, levering himself up into a seated position on the bed. He looks haggard, surprised to see her, and mildly embarrassed that she's suddenly here to see him like this. "I didn't realize that you were coming over. I'm assuming that is Wright's doing?" He seems to already know the answer to that question, and he's not upset that Merlyn is here. He holds out a hand to beckon Merlyn closer.

Merlyn smiles sheepishly. "Wright thought I could do some good. So I'm here." She moves over towards the bed to take a seat beside him. "I don't know the full details, Wright didn't tell me too much, but she said it was a bad flashback. We don't have to talk about it at all if you don't feel like it. I'm just here for whatever you need me for. Hell, if you just want me to be close until you fall asleep, I'm good for that too."

Elliot smiles, settling in with arms wrapped around her. "I'm happy you're here," he says. After a moment he sighs, relieved for the company but puzzling over where to begin.

"Today is the ten year anniversary of the day I was supposed to be extracted from my assignment in the Ark," he says finally. "For the Ferrymen. Which is not what ended up happening." His tone is light, but he doesn't go all in on the comedic deflection.

"I don't know how much I've ever told you about that," he adds.

"I know you've mentioned a little about the Ferrymen, but not about this assignment in particular," Merlyn says, leaning her head against him as she holds him gently. "Anniversaries of things never get easier, the farther you get out from it. Every year after the Bomb I've had difficulty on the day. Still not used to it. I don't think I ever will, but I know that these things mean something." She shifts a little so she can look at him. "Like I said, if you don't want to talk about it, you don't have to, but I'm not going anywhere. If you would like to talk about it, though, I'm here to listen."

She adds, quietly, "I'm glad you're safe."

Elliot lets her look linger, smiles sadly. "I'd like to talk about it," he says, nervous but not wanting to hide this from her. He can talk around what he has to.

"I only joined the Ferrymen because of the bomb," he says, feeling guilty that the thing that killed her mother saved his life. "Not a direct association, exactly. But back when I was still in the group home, the worst of the bullies had it in for me and he was going to push me off the roof. He'd been telling me that he was going to kill me for years, but this was the day. I could see it in his eyes. But another kid came up and told everybody that Manhattan had been nuked and he let me go. So I packed my shit and headed into the city without talking to anybody."

Merlyn listens, her arms staying around him and her weight resting against him enough to make sure he'll know she's there no matter what. She squeezes him tighter when he mentions the roof, and she looks up at him. "I'm… glad something came out of that, honestly. A lot of bad shit happened, but I'm glad to know it prevented something for you." It's still hard to think about at times, but it's clear she's relieved that he's okay from it all. "I've got you, so I'm glad for that." Maybe it's a hard thing for her to work through mentally, but that's something she doesn't have to worry about now. Now it is about him.

"So what was today like for you? With the Ark?"

"I was kind of blindsided," he says, seeming somewhat curious about it. "Like obviously I was thinking about it abstractly—or trying not to think about it anyway—and then it kind of came out of nowhere." Along with a handful of other broken memories from the same era, in closing one he doesn't remember indexing in the Palace, and as such doesn't know where it was this whole time.

"I'd done a few infiltration and intelligence jobs at that point back then," he says, realizing he should set the scene. "Before that I was in logistics. Getting Expressive kids to Canada and other jobs in that vein. But I moved to intelligence one Wright and I found each other on one of those jobs. We hadn't seen each other in six years. Hadn’t talked in three.”

“The next year, the Ferrymen learned of the existence of the Ark,” he continues. “Year after that I took the job and was successfully installed inside. I was there for a couple weeks.” He stops there, realizing he’s suddenly very close to the memory that was dislocated earlier. The Hammer.

He's not interrupted while he talks, Merlyn listening carefully. There's no attempt at humor, or much of anything other than her making sure her presence is sort of grounding. When he stops talking, she shifts one of her arms so her hand can just lightly rub across his back in an attempt to soothe. "You don't have to go on if it's hard. Remember that I'm here."

He’s silent a moment longer before he leans the side of his head against hers. “I got caught,” he says. It was inevitable. “Got shoved into an ACTS, which is like a life support sarcophagus that suppresses Expressive abilities. Then the mad science began. There’s a lot of it that I don’t remember.”

“Not all of it was awful, until it was,” he says quietly. “We escaped during the Ferrymen raid. Me and the others in the mad science project they had us in.”

There’s silence, then tears and a ragged breath. “Not all of us. One got left behind because his ACTS was in storage; Bastian. He was twelve.” Up to this point his voice hasn’t quavered, but it begins to. “Tala and Yancy and I made it as far as the culvert, then the drones killed both of them.”

He sniffles, allows one hacking sob to escape but reins in the rest. “We were never supposed to die,” he whispers when the lump in his throat is finally gone.

The gentle rubbing continues until he breaks a little. With the sound of a sob, she moves her other arm to rest around him a little more, an embrace to keep him focused, grounded, and with her. She tries to open her mouth to speak, but no words come out. She doesn't want to try and comfort him with words he's probably heard before. Instead, Merlyn focuses on the nonverbal, a bit of a change from her usual. This isn't exactly a usual situation anyway.

With another small squeeze, her hand rubs again, but this time his arm. It's so she doesn't stray far from the embrace, which she seems unwilling to break at this point.

Elliot is content to lean into Merlyn’s embrace and sniffle for several minutes. He eventually wipes his eyes and clears his throat. “So yeah,” he says, “I remembered getting caught and being stuffed in the ACTS.” And the scintillating black abyss, he thinks but doesn’t add. He never forgot that part of the nightmare, it isn’t possible to, all things considered.

“Fun for the whole family,” he says, attempting to deflect comedic as it’s his only coping mechanism. “Also I think I swallowed pool water.” The rest he can try to push down into the BLACK BLACK BLACK. Maybe it’ll stick this time.

Merlyn's familiar with the comedic deflection herself, so when he does it he receives a gentle squeeze in return and a small smile at his attempt at humor before she relaxes again, returning to the calm expression of concern and care. "I'm sorry you had to go through that. It's not fair to you or anyone else who was there. You're okay now, though, even if remembering is hard. You're here. I'm here. Wright's even downstairs probably worried. You've got people around you and you're safe."

I’m not okay, he thinks. “Thank you,” he says with a sigh. “For being here, for listening. I don’t talk about this much because I try not to think of it much.”

He rearranges himself to get comfortable, then rearranges Merlyn as well to take comfort. With her gathered up between his arms and tucked safely beneath his chin he has a moment to think. About her, and what this has meant to him in what little time he has left with her. About how much he needs her. About the fact, clear as crystal and digging through the core of him, that he loves her.

“Do you think lover is too gaudy?” he asks, stroking at the back of her head with his thumb where he holds her to his chest. “I feel like it’s kind of throwing it in people’s faces for some reason.

"You don't have to think about it much," Merlyn replies. "Sometimes we shove stuff we don't want around away and I honestly think that's okay from time to time. You can talk about it when you feel like it, or when something like that happens." She seems content in the new position, more comfortable than before, and she shuts her eyes as she rests against him. "Usually lover has the connotation of sex," she says with a small chuckle. "Like a torrid love affair or person on the side. Maybe throwing it in someone's face is only because it brings to mind passionate affairs and less of something where you come and be with someone when they need you to just be there."

“You’re right of course,” Elliot says, not continuing the playful tone that set up this admission. “I’m happy that you are willing to come be with me just because I need you to just be here.”

He pulls away even as he says it, holds her face the way he does when it’s important, meaningful, honest; not breaking eye contact to ensure he keeps this memory forever. He’s so nervous he doesn’t know why his hands aren’t shaking.

“I love you,” he says.

“So do I,” Merlyn says, then blanches as she realizes how it’s coming out. “Not love me, I mean you. I love you.” She’s trying to recover, looking a little sheepish. “Sorry, I got nervous.” The last is murmured, but she doesn’t break eye contact, trying again.

“I love you,” she says, this time without embarrassment or discomfort, just warmth.

Elliot’s grin grows shamelessly as she rambles through trademarked awkwardness. It turns warm to match her own, and he feels something inside him finally fall into place. He can hope; that he’ll live, that they’ll save the world, that he won’t end up killing everyone even though they were all just saved from a solar flare. That Rue will come home and forgive him for the parts of this that will hurt her.

He kisses Merlyn passionately as he’s been holding her face too long to not do something with it.

The kiss was mostly expected but her switch from the awkwardness from before causes her the briefest moment of tension before she leans into the kiss. Merlyn seems content for a few moments to enjoy the kiss, but she doesn’t linger in it too long. Eventually she leans back just enough to rest her forehead against his. “You need some sleep,” she notes, her tone still warm and genuinely happy. “You have definitely had a long day. But I’ll stay here with you if you’d like me to stay while you rest.”

She offers him a grin. “But resting.”

Elliot doesn’t want to rest, but she’s not wrong. He leaves his forehead pressed to hers even though he usually reserves this for Wright. He chuckles, caught, and nods.

“I have an idea,” he says, releasing her and being released. “Lets go on the fanciest fucking date you’ve ever been on. I’ll find the most pretentious restaurant I can and we’ll pretend we’re rich and awful. Then, we come back here and we do not rest until we literally cannot stay awake any longer.”

The grin returns brighter at the suggestion, and Merlyn looks back at him. "It doesn't take much to be the fanciest date I've been on, but I'd love to do something over the top. Plus being a rich asshole does sound kind of fun. You'll have to tell me what half of the food is, though, because I can almost guarantee you I've never had any of it. As for the after dinner plans… I like it. I get the whole entire evening and dessert too." She gives him a sly look. "Entire evening."

Brighton Beach

Thursday, May 20th
8:40 PM

"I'm starting to think the incomprehensible word is going to be our only option," Merlyn says, though it's with a straight face and delicately through bites of food. After all, they are rich, awful assholes and she's not breaking that cover. Not entirely. Occasionally, though, a sly look slips through because she's enjoying herself. "We should find a…" She pauses, trying to think of the word. "… that book that's like a dictionary for other words." She does her best to hide the sheepish look on her face for not even finding the word for that, ironically enough.

"You know, if I like all this food, you're going to be in trouble because then I'll want it again."

“A thesaurus,” Elliot says softly to not be overheard being nice. He’s been lax in his disguise upkeep, finding himself being as polite as one should be to the wait staff. The only thing he’s kept in check perfectly is how nervous he is about the possibility of everything not going as planned tonight. “And don’t worry, I can make all of this at home.”

He considers as he eats. “Companion?” he suggests between bites. “For some reason that makes me think of escort, which you certainly aren’t. I’d hate to have to fall back on significant other, though.”

Merlyn looks up from her food to offer him a grin before she manages to cover it up again. "Companion is either an escort or the person that the elderly get to sit with them and talk about good old times. You know, like the grandkid who got roped into spending time when the grandparent was lonely." She manages not to chuckle before she goes back to her food, mulling over the 'significant other' as an option.

Eventually, she looks back up. "Significant other isn't the worst, but it sounds kind of pretentious like you're the significant one and I'm just the other." She can't hide a grin fully this time, but manages to get back into character by straightening her back and taking a very dainty bite.

Elliot can't help but be amused as Merlyn alternates between the character and her authentic self. He worries his stare is obvious, that he's over the moon and blushing the way his character shouldn't be.

"Also other cleaves close to objections to other partner," he says with a small, weary sigh.

"Since you've introduced the stipulation that you must have a title before any…" he pauses, quirking an eyebrow, "showing of favors, do we need a firm decision on this title by the time I'm able to remove your dress? Or will you accept the incomprehensible word communicated through eye contact in exchange for said undressing?" The word his eye contact is currently communicating is just as as sincere as their incomprehensible word, though though it seems said in a tone best reserved for a private conversation.

"Significant other other would seem a little rude to both Rue and I, and I'm not about to make things terribly awkward by someone having to pick who's which other," Merlyn still seems to creep back into her amusement helplessly. She can't fully stay in character, not when she's enjoying herself this much. The blush creeps into her face once more, mostly because the eye contact is held, and it's making her very distracted from her character. In the end, she decides to give up the act and instead enjoys just looking across the table at him, eyes making contact.

"I'll concede that the title must not be solidified, as I am not certain we'll be able to settle on a winner for this naming contest before we get to the dessert," she replies, ignoring the rest of the restaurant. "So I think I'll settle for the secret wordless word until such a replacement is found."

"Oh, thank God," Elliot exasperates, character abandoned, eyes turned up to the ceiling as he successfully buys himself some time. He's chuckling as he looks back down to her, but there's no less hunger in his eyes than before.

"The only question now," he says, a sly smirk playing at the corner of his mouth, "is whether or not you want to stay and order dessert before we retire for dessert."

No elbows on the table, but Merlyn looks like she'd love to put her head on her hand and gaze at him even if she's dropping the act. "I mean, a dessert does sound good, but you did say you could cook some of this, so I'd be willing to put a hiatus on dessert in favor of dessert. But you'll have to owe me some fancy chocolate thing… if you're in favor of that change, of course."

"We also have the option to order our dessert to go," Elliot suggests, placing his knife across his plate to signal that he's done with this course. "That way we could have post-dessert dessert. Perhaps… one of everything?"

"You know, I think you're the brilliant one of the two of us. I'll fight you on who's more attractive, though," Merlyn grins, moving to properly move her own utensils onto her plate. After all, it is a fancy restaurant and he did teach her how to eat at one. "I'd love to try everything. I don't know when I'll get the chance to dress up like this again, but at the very least I'll get post-dessert dessert." She does take a moment to glance around, mostly because she's almost forgotten that they're still in the midst of a bunch of people. Merlyn blushes before she clears her throat a bit.

"Right. Yes. Uh."

“Well, you’d better be fighting for yourself then,” Elliot says, falsely snide and in character, “because you’re fucking gorgeous and I’m ready to die on that hill.” Ready to fight in the attractiveness war on the side of his opponent.

Service in this restaurant is quick and efficient, and Angela is at their table in an instant. “Can I get one of every dessert to bring home?” Elliot asks.

Elliot’s Townhouse

9:22 PM

The rental car rolls away quietly as Elliot unlocks the door of his home. He feels like he’s been living in this moment for a month, always on the threshold of possibility. Merlyn is carrying their stack of take-out desserts and looking radiant in the porch light. His heart is hammering, not just because he’s nervous about the intimacy that lies ahead of them; not just because of how badly he needs her, but because of how badly he needs her to live.

“Shouldn’t it be others significant, though,” he jokes, trying to calm his nerves. “Like attorneys general?”

Merlyn, happily holding the containers of desserts, looks back to Elliot as they're ready to head inside. "Mm, I'm not sure if that works right. Only if you were referring to both Rue and me, I think. I suppose that works if you're talking about a selection of others, so I think that might work, but only for us as a group." She grins slightly, shifting the bag from one hand to the other. "I'm pretty sure we're going to get fat off these desserts," she states, her smile broadening. "Have to work off those calories, right?"

"Fair point," Elliot agrees as they enter. "I promise you that tonight's exercise will be vigorous." After peeling off his jacket and kicking off his shoes he takes the food from Merlyn to slow her to do the same, then heads toward the kitchen.

"Maybe it's as simple as replacing other with also" he wonders, talking over his shoulder loudly enough to be heard from the entrance. "This is my also girlfriend Merlyn. This is Merlyn, who is also my girlfriend?" He hums noncommittally, still not perfect.

She lets Elliot take the bag while she focuses on removing her shoes and jacket, continuing the conversation from where she's at, only raising her voice a little to make sure he can hear her just fine. "I mean, also gets across the idea that there are at least more than one of us, but when you're saying also like that you're still having to pick one of us first and then the other as also. Competitions aren't nice, especially in relationships. Unless it's the fun kind that involve desserts or something."

With the removed shoes and jacket neatly hung up, Merlyn moves to head in past the breezeway.

"This is one of my girlfriends, Merlyn, with whom I am in a non-hierarchical, non-monogamous relationship?" he tries, setting the bag in the refrigerator. "It does kind of roll off the tongue."

Merlyn steps inside to head towards the kitchen to follow him. "I mean, you specified when you met me how Wright was your non-romantic non-sexual life partner. So I think you're good at those 'non' phrases. I suppose that could work if we were really in a pinch about it, but I'm still kind of finding it hard to just easily explain to someone your significance. It sounds so… sciencey."

"Very true," he admits. He's amused now, which only serves to amplify his nervousness as his heart races for a moment. "Though we could just make up something new every time as a bit, getting progressively longer, sillier, and obnoxious."

He returns from the kitchen to meet her, stunned again by how she looks in the dim lights that line the dining room. "This is Merlyn, a woman who is one of my girlfriends and I can't call her tiny girlfriend as opposed to talk girlfriend because my non-romantic, non-sexual life partner Wright already claimed that bit."

"I think Shakespeare was the one that said tiny women are fierce," Merlyn notes, bridging the gap between them so she's closer within reach. "So be careful, I am clearly fierce. I do think you're right about making them more lengthy and ridiculous. We can see how long it takes for people to be exasperated as we start rambling off whole run-on sentences made of words to describe our relationship. You know, it's better that way though. I like words and I love when you're awkward so I think I win."

"Happy to provide you with reasons to love me," he says. There's a moment of silence and he looks away, trying to think of exactly what to say to move this date to its final destination. His mouth works but no words come out until, finally, "I love you. I'm sorry I wasted so much time." That we have so little left.

“I’m happy with what I have for as long as I can have it,” Merlyn moves so she can take his hands in hers. “I love you and I hate that we missed time, but I’m happy. Legitimately happy which is a little bit weird for me but… I’d rather have you now than not at all. You’ve got me here, now, and I’ll do anything I can for you.”

There’s a moment where she just watches him wordlessly, trying to capture the image in her head. This is what she wants as her memory of him the most.

Elliot, unbeknownst to her, is doing the same. "For the time we have left," he agrees, releasing one of her hands. He's nervous, worries that she's nervous, for some of the same reasons he is. "Shall we?"

Merlyn pauses for a moment, leaning in to wrap her arms around him. If he weren’t so much taller than her, she’d probably have buried her face in against his neck instead of where she’s got her face. It’s to break the ice a little, hopefully so they aren’t awkward about it, something to calm nerves. When she breaks away, she reaches for his hand again so they can head upstairs.

“We’ll make the most of our time, and I’ll make sure there’s plenty to motivate you to come back.”

She can’t see Elliot’s smile when she holds him, and it does dispel some of the worry.He lets her lead him up, glad she can’t see that he gets even more nervous the closer they get to his room. Not because he isn’t ready for sex; he wants that very badly. But because of what awaits them in the room.

They’re both silent for the climb, and pause at the door for only a second before Merlyn turns the handle and pushes it into the room. The interior is not how they left it when they went to dinner. The room is still neat, but on the nightstands and the hearth there are an assortment of white candles and arrangements of flowers. The bed has been turned down, something Elliot didn’t ask for but Wright found amusing.

Merlyn instinctively grins. “You had another surprise for me. I knew I liked your surprises.” The hand still holding his squeezes gently before she steps fully into the room so she can admire the display. “This is really romantic, honestly.” Her eyes scan one of the candles on the nightstands, then admiring the flowers. “This is definitely the most amazing and romantic date I’ve ever been on.” Her warm smile, the one usually reserved for him is flashed in his direction as she looks towards him.

“Thank you. No one else has ever done this kind of thing and it feels really nice. I didn’t know I wanted to be romanced a bit, but it turns out I like it.”

Elliot steps into the room behind her, feeling ignited by her approval. He’s already seen the setup, but he’s here to make memories he can never forget, so he meanders past Merlyn, letting her hand slip free of hers. He turns, gaze lingering on her; not just her body in an attempt to imagine what he hasn’t seen in years, but everything about her all at once.

“I’m happy to be romantic,” he says. “This has moved so fast but it has all felt right to me, even the waiting. I need you in my life for as long as you want to be.” I need you to live.

A small blush creeps onto Merlyn’s face, leaving its warmth there as she smiles. “I’d apologize for moving so fast but it has felt right to me too. Like picking up where we left off and building on that foundation. Plus I know you have limited time right now, so feeling an expedited process seems applicable.” She reaches up to feel her face with the back of her hand, then lets a small laugh escape.

“I can’t believe you’ve made me blush so much. I want you to know I’m always around. I’ll be here in your life as long as you’ll let me. I’m here now and I’ll be right here when you return. I know you’ll make it back,” her voice is softer as she speaks in the vulnerable moment for both of them.

I can’t lose this, Elliot thinks. His expression is bright, hopeful, relieved. But inside he knows the world may end soon; that everybody who doesn’t make it into the Ark will die. He doesn’t know he’ll ever make it back even if their job is successful. But the job guarantees him a space in the new Ark. It feels strange to him now, relying on surviving in an Ark after what happened in the last one.

He steps forward, runs a knuckle down the side of Merlyn’s arm, eyes on the shoulder of her dress. He could move that just as easily.

“You know,” he says. “I had another idea for the title you requested.”

Wright’s participation in this operation guarantees placement for her and her family in the Ark. It seems strange to think of living in an Ark with people other than Bastian and Tala and Yancy.

His other hand traces a line from her shoulder to her neck, a more direct admission that he could free her of her dress’s confines.

“I was too nervous to suggest it earlier,” he admits.

Seren is working on the Ark itself for their admission. Rue will come home and have a place for her inside as well. This will hurt her deeply; he hopes some day she’ll forgive him.

One hand rises, cupping her jaw, fingers running over and past her ear but not holding her. He can’t have her feel trapped by his touch.

“Merlyn Alabaster King,” he says softly, confidently, with absolute surety. “Will you marry me?”

Because he loves her, and he needs her to live.

Merlyn doesn't do her usual quip of humorous deflection or add her own commentary to the situation–because it's too important not to do, even if that's a root of part of who she is. It's a serious, vulnerable question, and one she didn't expect anyone to ever ask. It's enough for a look of surprise to cross her face, though nothing negative, there's still a smile there. It's less a surprise and more being startled.

"Yes," she replies. "For a brief second at first I wondered if you might just be teasing me because of the title thing but you're… I looked at you and I knew." She pauses, then offers a sheepish smile. "Careful or I'm going to babble again out of excitement."

Elliot sets down a weight he’s been carrying for the last month. He sighs, relieved as he’s ever been, as clear and bracing as Coalescing. “It will have to be soon,” he says. “No time to plan a service. My deployment is looming and I need to know you have access to my job benefits while I’m gone.” It’s not a lie, it just leaves out the end of the world.

“As for worrying about babbling,” he continues, fingertips drifting back down her neck but becoming stuck in the shoulder of her dress, “I have an idea that might make it harder to do that.” Smiling, deeply happy despite the hurt he’ll cause, he leans in and down, ready to be kissed and leaving it to her.

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