Mithian King is beautiful and sharp and doesn't talk very much while Arthur introduces her to Elena, and Elena feels like Arthur's messy little cousin, which is sort of what she is, but it would be nice not to feel like it while being introduced to one of the three most beautiful women she's ever met.
“I guess you want to see the flat,” says Elena, since that's ostensibly why Mithian is here. “There isn't much of it.”
“I don't need much,” says Mithian, giving her a brief, polite smile, and Elena sort of wants to die a little bit. “From what I can see here in the doorway it seems fine.”
Elena closes her eyes for a mortified second. “God, I haven't even let you get through the door, I am awful, Arthur, why didn't you remind me of my manners?”
“Because we can exchange pleasantries in the doorway, but yes, do let us in.” Elena steps out of the doorway and finally gets her hug from Arthur, who holds on tighter than he ever likes to admit he does for a minute before he lets her go and shucks off his coat, looking around for where to put it. “I am certain you had a coat rack the last time I was here.”
Elena takes both of their coats, since that's polite, and dumps them on the kitchen table. “I had a flatmate the last time you were here, she took some things with her when she moved out. Fucking Ireland, just because she's dating an Irishman … I mean, nothing against Ireland.”
“It's never convenient to lose a flatmate,” Mithian supplies, giving her another smile and looking around the room. “Though I admit it's convenient for me.”
“I'll make tea, you show her around, Ellie?”
Elena nods at Arthur, because there isn't much else to do, and starts rattling off information about the flat for Mithian, all the little idiosyncrasies of the building that she's come to accept and even enjoy in her year living here that Vivian never did quite get the hang of, the blinds that never quite close and the creaky boards that only ever seem to creak when someone is trying to sleep on the couch and the wobbly sink. “And here's your bedroom, or the spare bedroom, one of those things,” says Elena when Mithian just follows her and makes encouraging noises, and pushes the door open.
Mithian steps in and looks around. Elena and Vivian cleaned it together before Vivian moved out, so it doesn't feel like Vivian's room anymore, just a spare room with an IKEA bookshelf and an armchair Vivian didn't want to take with her. There aren't blinds on the windows, but Mithian walks into the patch of sunshine in the middle of the room and doesn't squint because apparently she likes to make a point of her perfection. “It's nice,” Mithian says after a few long seconds. “I like it here.”
“And then there's me,” Elena says, and winces at her phrasing.
Mithian looks at her curiously. “What about you?”
“Just, I mean. I know you're Arthur's friend and you know I'm Arthur's cousin. But you should know how I am to live with, I guess?”
That makes Mithian blink. “Right, of course. I can—”
“I work a lot of nights, I'm still fairly new at the hospital and the new nurses get the worst shifts, but I can sleep through pretty much anything so that shouldn't be too much trouble for you. I bake when I'm stressed, which is probably my best trait as a flatmate. I'm great about cleaning up spills but not great about just putting things away, which drove my last flatmate mad. I don't bring people home often. Honestly don't have the time.”
“Okay.” Mithian glances out the window. “I'm unemployed at the moment but have plenty of funds to cover my part of the rent, you won't have to worry about that. I'm a light sleeper, but as long as you aren't banging in and out it shouldn't be a problem. I'm good at fixing things, not a very good cook. I don't bring people home either. I already know I like your baking, Arthur shared his cookies once or twice when you sent care packages.” She frowns. “I'm probably fairly boring.”
Elena shrugs. “So am I. And, I mean … this sounds awful, but we don't need to be best friends, do we? We just need to get on, and I think we can. Unless you're secretly a criminal mastermind? In which case I guess it's fine as long as you pay the rent and don't make me an accomplice.”
Arthur would laugh, but Mithian just gives her the same polite smile. But then again, Mithian hasn't known Elena her whole life, and she seems like a serious sort of person anyway. “I think if I were a criminal mastermind I probably would afford better than this, not that the flat isn't lovely. I think the tea will be ready, if you want to go and put Arthur out of his misery.”
Since Arthur isn't very good at pretending he isn't invested in the outcome of this (he'd called Elena before Vivian had even moved completely out, before Elena could do more than dubiously ponder Craigslist, to tell her that a member of his old unit was moving to London and that she'd need a place to stay), Elena smiles and nods. Sure enough, Arthur is in the kitchen with what are probably three perfectly-made cups of tea because Gwen trained him well, and he gestures for them to sit down even though it's Elena's own table. “What do you think?” he asks, doing a very bad job of sounding casual.
“I think you're hovering like a ridiculous matchmaker,” says Mithian, but she sounds fond about it, and that's enough to make Elena relax. Maybe Mithian is just uncomfortable with her, though Elena doesn't think of herself as a particularly intimidating person.
“He does that,” says Elena. “He decided years ago that since Morgana won't let him be an overprotective brother, the burden falls to me.”
“Doesn't really explain what his excuse is for me,” Mithian says with a sideways smile that seems a lot more real than any of the polite ones she's given since she came through the door.
Arthur beams at them and then pretends to look horrified. “You're ganging up on me already, I don't know what I'll do.”
“It's your own fault,” says Mithian, and takes a sip from her tea. She likes it a good deal hotter than Elena does, apparently, Elena always leaves hers sitting for ages before she bothers with it. Tea preferences are probably an important thing to know in a flatmate.
Arthur is still somewhere on the edge of impatience, so Elena puts him out of his misery, turning to Mithian and smiling her brightest. “I'm up for it if you are.”
“As I said earlier, I already know I like your cookies.” Mithian blows on her tea and takes another drink, looking around the kitchen with its creaky cupboards and the fridge covered in magnets that Elena can't help picking up every time she finds a funny one. When she turns back, her smile is a lot warmer, and Elena sees Arthur relax out of the corner of her eye. “I think I'll like it here.”
It's afternoon, early morning Elena's time since she's on the night shift, and she's sitting on the couch with a mug of coffee clutched in her hands. She obviously missed most of Mithian moving in while she was sleeping, and she feels bad about it, but she also told Mithian when she'd be awake, so maybe Mithian just didn't want help moving things in. “It's good. I was never good at knitting, three people have tried to teach me but I'm forever dropping stitches and it's hopeless. I wanted to make Arthur a hat, but I never managed it, and he was in the desert anyway.”
“Knitting doesn't work for everyone. I don't do it as often as I do some other things.” Mithian stares around the room, box braced against the top of her armchair, balanced against her hip. “What's your favorite color?”
Elena blinks at her, a little bleary. “Yellow, I suppose.”
“Yellow.” Mithian says it like it needs mulling over, still staring at the blinds letting the afternoon light in. Elena never regrets them being broken more than she does when she has to wake up for an evening shift and isn't ready for it to be as bright as it is. “Not easy, but I can work with that.”
Mithian keeps staring at the window. “We need curtains,” she finally says, decisive, and hefts her box up and goes into her bedroom. She doesn't come out again until Elena has levered herself out of her seat and started work on something resembling a nutritious breakfast.
They're yellow gingham, pulled over the blinds, with lots of folds so the sun doesn't shine right through the yellow. The whole room feels homier with them, and Elena's headache abates a little without the sun beating down on her. “You got curtains,” she says, a little stupidly.
“I made curtains. They're not that hard, just a few seams. You like them?”
“They're great. You didn't … that already sounds awful. I mean, thank you, I owe you a few batches of cookies or something.”
“It was something to do.” Mithian frowns at her. “Are you okay? You seem a little … I don't know.”
“Work was hard last night. Some nights are like that. You probably get that better than most.” She winces, but that doesn't seem to bother Mithian.
“I suppose I do.” Mithian washes the last of the suds off her hands and turns off the water. “Have you had supper? Or breakfast, or whatever you call it. I went out for a run and bought some bread at the bakery down the street when it opened, I could make you a sandwich.”
“Oh, God, you're an actual angel. I had a granola bar at some point, and usually I'm still awake enough to make myself a real meal when I get home but I had insomnia yesterday and then work was shit, and ...” And Mithian is watching her expectantly, with bread already out of its bag on the counter and a knife out. “One sandwich will do it, some kind of dairy product and some kind of meat product and vegetables if there are some pre-cut.”
“Sit down, then.” Elena does, half-collapsing in a kitchen chair because if she sits down on the couch she's going to fall asleep, and she'd like to make it to her bedroom. Vivian was tolerant of Elena falling asleep wherever she fell but she's still trying to make a good impression on Mithian.
A few minutes later, Mithian deposits a glass of water and a sandwich in front of her, cream cheese and turkey and lettuce and tomato, and she eats the whole thing in under five minutes even though she probably looks like a barbarian. “You're my new favorite flatmate, I don't know what I did to get Arthur to send you to me but he is the best cousin ever.”
“It's just a sandwich.” Mithian goes over to the kettle and puts it on. “Herbal tea?”
“No thanks, water is good.” Elena clears her throat when Mithian keeps fussing with the kettle. “Seriously, thank you for all this, though. The curtains and the sandwich.”
Mithian turns around and smiles, a little tentative, not quite the polite smile from the first day Arthur introduced them. “I'm just making myself at home and getting to know my flatmate, really. But you're welcome.” She looks out at the living room. “Maybe I'll try fixing the sink next, I think I've got the tools for it.”
“Actual angel,” Elena insists, too-sincere and awkward for it, but Mithian just smiles again and goes back to worrying about the tea.
“You don't have to do that,” she says sort of helplessly. “I mean, if it were that bad we could have just called the landlord, only Vivian and I never bothered. I feel awful leaving you to take care of the place when you've just moved in.”
“I like it. It makes me feel at home, to fix things up how I like.” Mithian puts her tool down (it isn't a hammer, that's pretty much the only one Elena can reliably identify). “If it makes you uncomfortable, we can work something out, but I don't see why … well, as I said, I like it. I like this flat and I like the thought that I'm making it better to live in. And it's something to do while I look for a job.”
“Okay. It's not like I'm going to say you can't because I am not an idiot, I just don't want you to feel like you're the only one contributing to the household.”
Mithian smiles at her. “How tired are you from work?”
“Not very, it was a fairly quiet shift last night. Why, do you want me to make you some muffins or something?”
“You can come down here and hand me things, if you like.”
Elena eyes her. “I am a danger to myself and others with tools.”
“Yes, Arthur's told me. He talks about you a lot, and he let me read a few of your letters while we were away.” Mithian pats the floor next to her. “Come on, I'll help you out and neither of us will end up with a head injury.”
“You say that now,” says Elena, but she drops her purse and jacket in the entryway and goes to sit on the floor, where she isn't very much help at all but makes Mithian laugh twice giving her the wrong tools. She calls it a win, in the end, and makes them both eggs for dinner (or brunch, in Mithian's case) before she goes to sleep.
She bakes bread, first. She doesn't take the time very often, but this time she does, fussing over it while it rises and bakes and making sure it's as delicious as she can manage. Her nanny used to have a sourdough starter and Elena misses being able to work with it, but she makes a respectable loaf herself. Mithian still isn't back, so she leaves it to cool on the counter and goes out to the shops, where she picks up a few groceries she's low on, a tin of Mithian's favorite tea, and coat hooks to install on the wall in their entryway, mostly on a whim.
Of course, when she gets back, Elena is forced to admit to the fact that she doesn't actually have any idea how to install the coat hooks, so she leaves them on the table and cleans instead, before she gets bored and sits down to watch television sometime around midnight, with toast from her fresh bread and tea in front of her.
Mithian gets back soon after, and Elena can hear her deep inhale from the living room. “I made bread, you're welcome to as much of it as you want,” she calls.
A second later, Mithian appears next to the couch, a smile on her face. Elena is coming to recognize the difference between Mithian smiling because she means it and smiling because she can't think of anything else to do or wants to be polite, and this one is definitely genuine. “Thank you, it smells delicious. I won't have any right now, I was out with Arthur and Leon and a few other friends from the service—Arthur says hello, by the way—and ate far too much, but I'll be glad to have it for breakfast.”
“Great.” Elena knows she's beaming and can't bring herself to regret it. “I'm glad you had a fun night. Oh, and I—I'll figure it out or ask Arthur if you don't want to, but I brought home hooks to put on the wall in the entryway, for our coats. The landlord is okay about holes in the wall as long as they get fixed before he has to show it to anyone else.”
Mithian leans against the couch, still smiling. “I'd be glad. It's a good idea, Arthur will be less annoyed when he comes over. You know how neat he is.”
“We should have him over for dinner sometime. He never would when he was in town and I lived with Vivian because Vivian terrified him and there was ill-advised long-distance dating during his first tour, but he likes you, and he can come over sometime and I can have breakfast and the two of you can have dinner.”
Mithian grins, properly, a step or two up from her usual smile. “I first met him when he was still dating Vivian, I heard about her before I heard about you, so I can see why dinners would have been awkward. I'd be glad to have him over. Although it might be breakfast for you and me both, actually, I have a job interview for nighttime security at a museum.”
“That's great! Right? I mean, presumably you applied for it so you'd like to do it.”
“Not forever, maybe, but for now, to keep me occupied so I don't end up renovating our whole flat until it's too nice for us to afford, I think it would be nice. Plus if we're both working the night shift we don't need to worry about waking each other.”
Elena bites her lip. “I haven't actually been waking you, though, have I? I've been trying so hard to keep quiet, I know you sleep lightly.”
“I wake up a few times a night regardless of your noise, and I'd honestly rather have it be friendly noises from around my own flat than sirens going by outside or something. So don't worry about it.”
“If you're sure.”
“I'm definitely sure.” Mithian yawns. “And I'm so sorry, I ought to push myself if I'm going to work the night shift, but I'm going to get some sleep. Are you working tomorrow?”
“No, it's a miraculous two days in a row off for me, I think I'm finally starting to get enough seniority for that. Maybe eventually they'll put me on the day shift, but night is fine for now.”
“Wouldn't that be funny, if I got put on the night shift right as you go on the day shift?”
“Funny in the same sense that Alanis Morrisette thinks things are ironic, I think.” Mithian laughs, and Elena beams again. “Go on, go to bed, don't worry about waking me tomorrow, though I may indulge myself and stay up late so I may catch your morning.”
Mithian wanders off, going back and forth from her room to the bathroom until she finally shuts the door and turns her light out.
Elena waits for half an hour, catching up a bit on television she's behind on, before she gets up and goes back to the kitchen to put away her bread. She makes a pie afterwards, just because canned cherries were on sale at the shop when she went, and then spends the rest of her day in front of her computer, watching things online until Mithian wakes up.
Mithian wakes up sometime around five, obviously exhausted but obviously not going back to bed either, and smiles when she sees the kitchen. She makes herself toast and a piece of pie and Elena a sandwich and a piece of pie, and comes to the living room and sits on the couch next to Elena instead of in her armchair. “You can help me put the coat hooks up once it's late enough that our neighbors won't hate us forever,” Mithian offers.
“Sounds great,” says Elena, and takes her plate when Mithian offers it to her.
“Not bad. Not the most interesting job in the world, but it's fine for now. I was going to get an art history degree before I decided to enlist instead, I may go back and do it now, take some night classes or something.” Mithian takes a drink of her tea, humming happily. Despite the circles under her eyes, she's probably happier than Elena has seen her yet. “I'll have time to read in between patrols around, I should lay in a stock of good books to keep me occupied. Or maybe start a big knitting project, I'm not going to bring my sewing machine to work.”
“Let me know if you want to borrow books, I have quite a stack, although it isn't exactly great literature.” She decides not to explain that Vivian picked her up a new medical romance every few months, though Elena has no idea where she ever found them all.
“I may take you up on that.” Mithian yawns so wide that Elena is pretty sure she hears her jaw creak and then drinks the rest of her tea in a chug that Elena has previously only associated with wild parties and people particularly desperate for coffee. “I'll take you up on it after I've had some sleep, though. Getting on a nighttime schedule is going to be brutal.”
“It's hard, but it should help that I'm already on one even if our shifts don't overlap completely.”
Mithian stands up, taking her dishes into the kitchen but not washing them immediately, which is a good sign of how exhausted she must be. “You're going to be a great help. Good … night? Morning?”
“Either works. It's morning for the uninitiated, anyway.”
“Uninitiated,” Mithian says, like she's tasting it, and then nods. “Good night, then,” she says, and disappears into her room, not even bothering to come out again to brush her teeth like she always does.
“So you're … getting revenge on each other for doing too much around the flat by doing more around the flat?” Vivian says when she calls, full of stories about Dublin and never talking about Gwaine quite as much as Elena thinks she wants to, because Vivian has never in her life been able to accept being in love with someone without denying it pretty much forever (which is why the whole thing with Arthur was doomed from the start), even though moving countries to be with Gwaine is quite telling.
“You have to admit it's a pretty effective way of getting things done.”
“You're getting along, though? I mean, she's one of Arthur's friends, she must be a bit older and if she's always just wandering around fixing things she can't be fun.”
Elena rolls her eyes. “You left, you don't get to cast aspersions on my new flatmate. Who is wonderful, and not at all boring. Reserved, maybe, but not boring. She likes my bread.”
“You could start a restaurant if you gave up the nursing thing on the strength of your bread alone.”
“Is that your way of saying you want a care package?”
There's a pause. “I'm glad you're getting along with Mithian. I'll have to come back and check her out sometime, make sure she's good enough for you.”
“Good enough to be my flatmate? That sounds a little overprotective.”
“Oh, Mithian is wonderful! She likes my baked goods! She sings in the shower and works the night shift and fixes sinks like we've already been married for twenty years!” says Vivian, clearly meaning to mimic Elena, who holds that she does not sound a thing like that. “Tell me she's hot, anyway,” Vivian adds, in her normal tone.
“She's more gorgeous than anyone has a right to be,” says Elena, lowering her voice even though Mithian is out on a jog. “But she's Arthur's friend and my flatmate and since when do you advocate seducing my flatmate?”
“Since you went from zero to married in four seconds flat.”
Elena thinks about her quiet meals with Mithian, and their one-upsmanship about chores that if she's honest Mithian is always winning despite all her baking, and how Mithian is a lot less quiet and polite than she was that first week, more inclined to swear when her alarm wakes her up and complain about nighttime tube service when she gets home from work. She thinks about Mithian's smile, and how it would probably be very, very easy to fall into it all, and how she isn't sure she doesn't want to. “I don't know,” she finally says. “I'm not in a hurry.”
“Good.” Vivian pauses, one of her about-to-change-the-subject-but-doesn't-want-to-be-rude ones. Elena knows them very well after years of being friends. “You should come visit us here,” she says after a few seconds, sure enough. “Gwaine wants to see you too.”
“Tell me all about the two of you,” says Elena, and by some miracle Vivian does while she starts making breakfast for herself and Mithian, who's due back in a few minutes.
Arthur raises his eyebrows when he looks around. “It hardly looks like the same place.”
“Mithian fixed it all up and made the curtains,” says Elena, because Mithian doesn't seem to have much to say to that.
“And Elena bakes all the time,” Mithian says from where she's setting the table. “It never stops smelling delicious in here.”
“Clearly I should have moved in with you, Ellie, I can fix things and I could always use more baked goods.”
Mithian snorts, which doesn't seem at all like her, but Arthur isn't fazed in the least so perhaps it's just something she does with him. “Don't listen to him,” she tells Elena. “I've seen him try to pitch a tent.”
“You've seen me succeed,” says Arthur, and then looks mortified at Elena when she can't help her embarrassed giggle. “Anyway, camping has nothing to do with my ability to install coat hooks and fix sinks.”
“Of course.” Mithian grins over at Elena, and then back to Arthur. “I'm sure you couldn't make curtains as nice as mine, though.”
“I will admit to that, though you taught me to mend yourself so you know I'm not terrible with a needle.”
“Sit down,” says Elena, and hands him a glass of wine. He'll be the only one drinking, since there's no real good time to drink when you work the night shift, as normal drinking hours are her morning and people judge when she drinks in the actual morning and now Mithian is in the same boat, but Arthur appreciates things being just so, probably because of his father, so he smiles and makes appreciative and pretentious noises about the bottle.
It's easier to realize what a routine she and Mithian have of putting meals on the table when they have a guest watching them do it. Elena finishes up taking things out of the oven and off the stove while Mithian pours water for them all and asks Arthur about work, and the two of them get it on the table more efficiently than Elena is expecting given that more than half the time when they eat at the same time they just do it in the living room.
“This is cozy,” Arthur says when Elena finally sits down, leaving Mithian to dish out food onto their plates because she is always neater about that.
“We do our best,” says Elena. “You're our first guest, though, you'll have to tell us how we do. Vivian is making noises about visiting and she'll probably expect a dinner party.”
“Gwaine won't,” says Arthur. “Thanks, Mithian. This looks great, you two.”
It's remarkably easy to just sink into conversation from there. Arthur is what she and Mithian had in common first, after all, even if they know him in very different ways, and he keeps them busy asking about work and telling them about his, and the new man at the office who's driving him absolutely up the wall from what Arthur says, and who he probably has a crush on by Elena's estimation.
Arthur stays until he's yawning, through dessert and a second glass of wine for him, and ends up frowning at them. “You two have hours of energy yet, I don't think that's very fair.”
“That's what comes of working nights. You could join our wonderful exclusive little club.”
“The thought is tempting, but unfortunately for now I have work in the morning, and I hate you both a little for having the night off.” He stands up, and Elena and Mithian stand up with him, getting him to the door and letting him rib them gently about their coat hooks (a few of them are a little crooked because Elena was the one to put them up, and he seems to guess that) while he puts his jacket on and hugs them both goodbye. “I'm glad this is working out,” he says when they're all standing at the door, in his awkward too-earnest way. “I was really hoping it would.”
“It's working out great,” Elena assures him, after a quick glance at Mithian, and he smiles at them both and kisses Elena on the cheek before he leaves.
“Not a bad dinner party,” says Mithian once he's gone, still standing in the entryway a few inches away from Elena. “We should have him over again when we both have the night off.”
“We're going to make him jealous of our uni-student lifestyle.” Elena goes to the table and starts clearing it, packing the leftovers away in containers. Mithian comes over a second later, turning on the sink to start the hot water going. “I'm glad he introduced us,” Elena finally adds when Mithian doesn't seem inclined to say anything else.
Mithian smiles at her and reaches across their tiny kitchen to touch her shoulder. “I am too.”
Sometimes, the world feels like it's narrowed down to the two of them, probably because of all the nights the two of them work. Elena gets home from the hospital and Mithian gets home from the museum and the rest of the world isn't quite awake, or it's just getting ready for work, so it ends up being the two of them on their couch more often than not, eating dinner and watching movies on their computers and talking about little stupid things, and sometimes bigger things.
Mithian isn't her best friend, but Mithian is wonderful and Elena is going to kiss her someday, most likely. She won't even mean to, but Mithian will make more curtains when these ones fade or get a daytime job or ask how to make muffins and Elena will do it. The question is really only if Mithian will kiss back, and she doesn't know how to ask, not and get the answer she wants.
Sometimes, she thinks about asking Mithian if it feels like an inevitability to her too, if she looks at Elena when it's getting dark outside and they're barely awake and wonders what it would be like to kiss her, wonders which bedroom they would go back to in the end. (Elena's, if Elena gets a choice about it—Mithian's room still feels too much like Vivian's for her to be quite comfortable having sex in it.)
One morning, when they're both close to sleep and only not in their bedrooms because they're too lazy to get off the couch, Elena almost asks, less a matter of bravery and more a matter of not being able to keep it to herself anymore. “Is something the matter?” Mithian asks before Elena can figure out how to phrase anything she wants to say.
She could say it. Mithian would listen, and respond, and Elena doesn't even think things would be weird if Mithian said no. It doesn't feel like the right time, though, so she just smiles and shakes her head. “Absolutely nothing at all.”
A few weeks after their dinner party with Arthur, Elena finds her sitting out there, wearing a sweatshirt far too big for her and squinting as the afternoon sun shines through the curtains Elena pulled back the night before so she could clean the blinds. “You okay?” Elena asks, because Mithian always says she is but she likes to ask anyway.
“Mostly.” Mithian looks over at her, and Elena doesn't say anything to that, just goes to the kitchen and starts putting together a coffeecake, since it's quick enough and she knows Mithian likes it. “I'm not very hungry.”
“Then you can have coffeecake for lunch at work, but you should eat anyway.” She takes the mixing bowl out of its proper cabinet and starts in with her ingredients. Mithian is still watching her, frowning a little, and Elena makes sure she's absorbed in what she's doing before she speaks again. “I'm not going to ask, you know? Not anything you don't want me to know, I know better than that.”
“Of course. I do know that. I'm just a little stressed, that's all.” She pauses. “The kettle should still be hot, there's enough in there for you to have a cuppa.”
“Thanks.” Elena stops in the middle of her stirring for a minute to put her tea together so it has time to cool before she drinks it.
“You take good care of me,” Mithian says when Elena puts the coffeecake in the oven, already turning on the faucet to do her baking dishes.
It could be the moment. Elena could turn off the water and go over to her and kiss her and blurt out some kind of declaration of feelings even though she isn't really sure what level those feelings are at. Instead, she smiles down at the mixing bowl and then turns to make sure Mithian is looking at her when she answers. “We take good care of each other.”
Instead, she finds Mithian in the entryway, just in the act of hanging up her coat. “The staff came in early to supervise a delivery so they let me off,” she says before Elena can even ask, and then she stops, startled, when she gets a proper look at Elena's face. “Sweetheart, what's the matter?”
“It was a very bad night,” Elena says, and her voice cracks enough to make her embarrassed, or it would if Mithian didn't instantly come right over to her and give her a hug, holding on so tight it's a little hard to breathe, but Elena is glad of that, for someone solid to hold on to. “I'm going to be bad company tonight,” she manages after a minute where she can't even manage to hug Mithian back, just stand there tucked against her still clutching her purse and getting her breathing under control.
“That is fine. You don't have to be company at all if you'd like, I can go out or stay in my room, or you can go to your room. I know I don't always want company when I've had a bad night of it. But you can talk to me, if you like. Or we can just eat and sit and watch movies.”
“Movies are great. Do you think anyone is still delivering food at this hour? I don't want to cook.”
“I'll find somewhere. You take a shower or something, wash the night off you.”
Elena does, barely remembering to hang up her purse and coat before she goes to her room, grabs her most comfortable and threadbare pajamas, and goes into the bathroom for the longest, hottest shower she can stand. By the time she gets out, her fingers are pruney but she feels a little less like collapsing on the couch and weeping, so she calls it more of a win than a loss. When she gets out into the main room Mithian is wearing workout clothes and fussing with the kettle. “Did you find somewhere to deliver?”
Mithian jumps a little and then turns to her with a soft smile. “I did. It might not be the best curry we've ever had, but they deliver twenty-four hours a day, so I'm not going to object. Feeling any better?”
“Please.” Elena doesn't sprawl on the whole couch, but that's only because she wants Mithian to have space to join her, which sure enough she does after a few minutes, holding two mugs of tea and putting them down on the coffee table that's somehow mysteriously appeared in the past few weeks. “Thank you.”
“Pick a movie,” Mithian says instead of anything else, though Elena wouldn't expect anything different of her.
Elena does, and they get it started, only interrupting it when the food (certainly not the best she's had, but better curry than she was really expecting to get a bit past dawn) arrives. Once they've eaten and Elena's insisted on putting the dishes in to soak herself, she finds herself on the couch with her head on Mithian's lap, Mithian playing with her hair while they argue quietly over the merits of various movies and which they ought to watch next.
It's ten in the morning, late for both of them, before Elena finally gives in to her yawns, levering herself up until she's sitting, still closer to Mithian's space than she usually allows herself. For a second, she thinks that's it. They're close, and she's so tired, and Mithian has been so good, not asking about the hospital, and she thinks she could. She thinks Mithian would say yes.
“Not tonight,” Mithian says to Elena's surprise, and they both stay still for a few seconds. Mithian swallows and goes on when Elena can't make herself keep speaking. “Not when you're upset. I want this to be a good thing, for both of us, I really do. So, I think … I think we both know where this is going, but I want it to happen when it's going to be good, so you won't have to think of it as me kissing you because you're unhappy. Is that okay?”
Elena should be blushing, maybe, or embarrassed, but instead she just feels warm all over, and she lets herself clasp Mithian's hand because neither of them can begrudge the other that. “That's okay. We can wait. I'm glad to wait for you, if that's what it takes. Maybe not long?”
“Just not tonight,” Mithian says, and Elena knows her well enough by now to know that's a promise.
“You and Mithian are finally together?” she asks, sounding exasperated and fond and all those other things Vivian always is that Elena has been missing, and it makes Elena smile.
“Not quite, but getting there.”
It always takes Vivian a little while to manage sincerity, but when she does this time she sounds really, properly happy, not like she's worried or guilty about having left Elena at all, which has been sort of a theme with her, judging by how often she says Elena should come visit. “I'm really happy for you two. And I really have to meet her.”
“Yeah. I think you'll like each other. I hope you will. I like Gwaine, it's only fair.”
“So it is … on a Gwaine level?”
Elena knows what that means, even if probably no one else would, not even Gwaine himself, even though he's living with Vivian and they're stupidly, if contentiously, in love. “We already live together. There was pretty much no hope of it ever being casual.”
“I definitely need to meet her, then,” says Vivian, and makes her tell her all about it, and only judges her a little when Elena admits that they're all but there and just having kissed each other yet.
On her third night off, Mithian has a free night, and Elena makes them both breakfast and then cooks for half the night to make sure that when Mithian comes home there's a delicious dinner on the table as well. Mithian eats the food. They talk about their days. It's normal, for them, just conversation and food, Mithian talking about the pattern for a pair of mittens she wants to try knitting and Elena talking about a new recipe for brownies she stumbled across online that looks delicious.
Mithian kisses her while they bustle in the kitchen doing the dishes and putting away the leftovers, since Elena always manages to cook too much for the two of them. She doesn't ask (doesn't need to, not really, not with the conversation they had so recently). She just puts her hands on Elena's shoulders when Elena's hands are empty and kisses her, gentle and searching and perfect.
Elena kisses back just long enough so Mithian can't mistake that she feels the same way, and then they stand there in the kitchen for a minute, Mithian's hands on Elena's shoulders, Elena's eyes closed because she doesn't quite want to open them, not yet.
“Good,” she finally says, like that's an actual coherent response to anything, and opens her eyes. Mithian is smiling, bright and real, the smile Elena has only gotten out of her a few times, though more frequently as time goes on. Maybe she'll be able to get it almost all the time now, and that's a good thought, enough to make her grin wide enough that she probably looks a little silly. “Are we doing this?”
“Yes.” Mithian kisses her again, pulling her closer this time, and Elena puts her arms around Mithian's waist and tugs until they're flush against each other, indulging in a kiss that feels leisurely and exciting all at once, learning the taste of each other's mouths. “Arthur is going to be very smug,” she whispers when they pull far enough apart to speak. “He's been telling me to do this from the beginning.”
“He can be smug all he likes, this is good. And also, that isn't fair, he didn't tell me to do it, why'd he just tell you?”
“You'll have to ask him yourself, but probably it's because he likes to pretend there's at least some illusion that his little cousin isn't having sex because he told her to.”
Elena smiles, then laughs, burying her face in Mithian's shoulder while she giggles, and only stops when Mithian tips her face up to kiss her again.
After breakfast, Mithian insists on doing the dishes and leaves Elena and Arthur in the living room on the couch, Arthur pretending not to yawn since he hates getting up on his days off. He taps her ankle where she has it drawn up on the couch after a few minutes. “It's good?” he asks, all bluster and silly protectiveness.
“It's good,” she assures him. “I'm not … I know you, you've already given her the talk telling her she isn't allowed to break your cousin's heart, but in case you were wondering, you shouldn't worry about it the other way round either. I know things are tough for her sometimes, I'm not going to make them worse.”
He squeezes her ankle gently, smiling at her. “I'm really glad, Ellie. I wasn't aiming for this when I first brought her over to meet you, but I'm pleased it worked out this way.”
“I am too. Obviously.”
“If you two are done telling secrets,” says Mithian from the kitchen, “I'm about finished here. Would you want to go for a walk or something? It seems to be shaping up into a beautiful day and I'm fairly sure we don't get enough daylight, Elena.”
“A walk it is,” she says, standing up and waiting for Arthur to nod and groan and make a theatrical complaint of them dragging him from his bed at terrible hours of the morning.
They walk long enough for Elena and Mithian to get tired, the two of them holding hands whenever they can manage and ignoring Arthur's smug looks at them, and when he gets a text and excuses himself, they take the long way back to their flat even though they're exhausted by the time they get there. “I heard you and Arthur talking, earlier,” Mithian says.
“I wondered if you might have. Arthur's not great at subterfuge. Is there anything you have to say based on it?”
“Just that I'm pleased too. And that … that you could only have ever been a good thing for me, Elena, and I am very glad Arthur convinced me to try living with his cookie-baking cousin.”
“You're a good thing too,” Elena says, ducking her head and feeling a little silly saying it like that.
But Mithian smiles, wide and so warm, and Mithian says “Do you want to spend the day in my room?” like she hasn't before, and Mithian kisses her, and it's hard to keep feeling silly in the face of that.
“Yes,” says Elena. “And then I'll make us muffins for breakfast.”
Mithian's smile only grows, and she takes Elena's hand to lead her to her bedroom. “I can't wait.”