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Give and Take

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            They're sitting by the campfire when she notices him scooting closer to her in a way that he probably thinks is surreptitious.  It reminds her of the first time they met, which makes her wonder whether he's about to give her a present.  It's very sweet the way he and AR keep doing that, but it's starting to make her just a bit uncomfortable because she has nothing to give them back.  Her wheelbarrow contained only food, which she is already sharing; the mailboxes, which have been commandeered for building up Can Town; and the letters, which no one but she is allowed to touch under any circumstances, and which she doubts they would appreciate anyhow.  Apparently this time WV does not have a gift for her, though, because while her mind is caught up trying to think of some way to reciprocate he reaches out and lays his hand on top of hers.

            PM punches him in the face and draws her sword.  They spend the next three minutes attempting to out-apologize each other.

            "Just ask before you touch me," she says finally, because the most important thing isn't that he accepts she's in the wrong here, it's that this doesn't happen again.

            "Okay, I will definitely do that," WV assures her.  Then, after a beat:  "Can I give you a hug?"

            PM considers it.  There were many times in the wasteland when she was cold or hurting that she wished for someone to hold her and hated that it was impossible.  She likes WV, appreciates his kindness and his courage and the leadership that made the three of them into allies.  But somehow, just at this moment, the idea of having someone else's arms wrapped around her body makes her feel claustrophobic.

            "Maybe later," she says, and can tell how hard he is trying not to look hurt.

---

            When she tells him what the ring does, he tosses it into the air like it's burning his hands, and she makes a dive to catch it as though she thinks it would break if it hit the sand.  PM is sure they look incredibly silly and not at all dignified like a Queen and her Champion should.

            Only, it turns out that WV doesn't want to be her Champion.  He's had nightmares about that sort of thing.  He's been on the Battlefield, but he's never wielded anything more deadly than a banner, and he can't properly wield the ring because he isn't a killer.

            When PM responds by slipping it onto her own finger, it's as good as a confession that she is one.

            He flees when he sees the green sparks arcing across her body.  She can't blame him, not really, but it hurts all the same.

            It doesn't matter what he thinks of her, though.  It can't matter.  She has a job to do.

---

            She's finally found a present for him.

            The Black Queen's ring is splattered with blood, and she wipes it off on her clothes before handing it over because she doesn't want to scare him.  He already looks a little afraid of her, but he's standing his ground this time, and he relaxes when she takes off her own ring and hands that to him, too.  She tells him he can throw them in the Forge, or bury them deep beneath the sand, or carry them with him like before so that he'll always know where they are — anything it takes for him to believe that the nightmare is over for good.  None of this would have been possible if he hadn't borne Prospit's ring so diligently for so many years.  He's earned it.

            (And more than that, she doesn't say, she's glad to have something to give him after everything he's given her:  not just some chalk and a package to deliver and a weapon to use, but hope, and purpose, and a way to set things right.)

            He tells her he's sorry for running from her earlier.  She tells him he shouldn't be, there are times she would run from herself if she could.  For some reason, his immediate response to that is another, "Can I give you a hug?"

            "Okay," she says this time.  She's hurting from the fight and she wants to be held.  She wants to be held upright.  Her adrenaline levels crashed the moment the ring came off.

            She nearly knocks him over falling into his arms.