“David?” she asks, in the middle of the night, lying in their too-soft bed in their too-quiet room in their too-perfect house. It’s all quiet and calm and polite and peaceful here, no Director and no missions and no rankings, just manicured lawns and nine-to-five jobs and neighbors with kids running around shrieking until sunset. It’s overwhelmingly, oppressively normal, and sometimes she just wants to scream and run away from it all.
He shifts next to her, and rolls over and slides an arm around her waist, and just from the cadence of his breathing she can tell he hadn’t been asleep.
“Yeah?” he answers. She lies there, feeling him close to her, and then she turns away, his arm falling from her as she rolls onto her side.
“Just getting used to it.”
There’s silence for a moment. There is, most times, when she says things like that. It’s as if he’s not sure what to do with her, and has to think of how to respond.
After awhile, he shifts again, pressing up against her back and reaching his arm over her to find her hand with his. He rests his forehead against the back of her neck (soft and smooth and free of scars) and speaks quietly.
“Are you ever going to tell me yours?”
She doesn’t answer, but she doesn’t pull away.
She doesn’t need hers, is the thing. She can be Connie here, and everyone accepts it, assumes it’s short for something awful like Constance, she guesses, and she fits in and no one asks questions. No one knows she’s named for a state. No one knows anything about where she comes from and who she was, and they don’t ask. They cheerfully fill in the blanks themselves, answering their own questions before she can think of a good lie, creating a story about a life she never lived, about a girl named Connie who grew up and fell in love and got married and came to live here.
It works, but Washington doesn’t, and so he has to be David.
She catches him watching her sometimes, when she’s scrubbing the countertops or putting the milk away or carefully arranging her hair, one side hanging down and the other side swept up, just like always. He’ll just look at her with a tiny smile on his face, his eyes soft, and when she turns to face him he always turns away, as if he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t.
She doesn’t know whether it’s the smile or the fact that he pretends it doesn’t exist that makes her mad, but whenever it happens she has to stop what she’s doing and go for a run, feet beating against the pavement until there’s no room left in her brain for thinking anymore, or go down to the gym they’d set up in the basement and take swings at the punching bag until the sweat drips down, stinging, into her eyes.
They’ve been here for almost six months now, and she’s still not really sure how it had turned into so long. Back at the Project, the days had been structured and planned out ahead of time, packed to the brim with missions and training and meetings. Every week, every day was significant.
Here, it’s quiet and not much happens. Here, the days blend into one another and slip away, one after the next, and CT (Connie, she’s Connie once more) finds herself watching the sky, wondering about the ones they’d left behind.
It’s because of Carolina that they’re here at all.
She hadn’t been the first to get an AI, but she’d been the first to start having problems. A unique opportunity, the Director had called it, but even through her haze of envy (why wasn’t I chosen, why wasn’t I good enough) CT had known, she’d known that two AI in a single mind was just asking for trouble.
(and one of them could have been for me - )
She’d deteriorated fast, York unable to hold her together no matter how he tried, Delta quiet and sober, hovering over his shoulder as the leader they’d all depended on retreated further and further into her own head. CT had wandered among the rest, watching for the signs, wondering who would be the next to fall to pieces. Texas, angry and aloof and meaner than ever with Omega whispering plans in her head. Wyoming, who’d never exactly been friendly but had never lied to their faces before now, either. Maine, who’d gone from relying on brute force on the training floor to pulling moves on them that no one could predict, leaving them rigid with paint or flat on their backs.
She’d watched, and she’d listened, but for all that CT prided herself on seeing things that no one else saw, noticing clues well before anyone else picked up on them, she’d never guessed it would be Wash.
It had been late, and she’d snuck quietly out of her room - there were no actual rules against being out of bed this late, but Carolina didn’t sleep so well anymore, tossing and turning and muttering to (them?) herself, too indistinct to make out, and the last thing CT needed was to wake her.
She’d gone down to the common room, to see if maybe there was anything left of the package of cookies York and North had been sharing there earlier. Instead, she’d found a dim blue glow, and a figure sitting with his back to her on the couch, not moving.
The light had disappeared immediately, as Epsilon winked out, and Wash had turned his head slowly to look at her, moving like an old man and just staring for a moment before his brain seemed to catch up and he recognized her.
She hadn’t corrected him, hadn’t said it’s CT now, she’d just moved forward, watching him the whole time. He’d been quiet since the implantation, more withdrawn than usual, but she’d thought that was just Wash, adjusting to the new voice in his head.
She hadn’t wanted to talk about it. She didn’t have one, after all.
But that had been before she’d found him sitting alone in the dark in the common room, his face pale and drawn, almost eerie in the dim light. CT had stopped in front of him, uncertain, looking down at him.
“--I’m fine,” he’d said, even though she hadn’t asked, and her brows had knitted together further as she’d moved around him to sit down next to him. Wash’s eyes had followed her as she moved, but he hadn’t seemed to see her at all.
“You’re not fine,” she’d told him, after studying him a moment more, her tone bald and frank. She’d tilted her head, as if it would help her see what was wrong inside his own. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing. Everything. I don’t-- I don’t know anything.” He’d smiled, then, and met her eyes, eerily calm. “No one remembers.”
She remembers how much it had scared her, seeing him like that. She’d looked at him and it was like she could see exactly what was going to happen. He’d get worse. He’d start losing it, just like Carolina had lost it. Epsilon hadn’t changed the way Wash acted, the way Sigma had changed Maine, and he hadn’t (yet) started ripping Wash’s mind apart the way Chi and Psi were doing to Carolina. But the AI had started wearing on him, all the same, and it’s only now that she really looks at him that CT even realizes it.
Not Wash too.
She’d studied him for a moment, her lips pressed together in a thin line, and then she’d moved forward on impulse, wrapping her arms around him and burying her face in his neck.
When she’d pulled away, her face had been solemn and pale with resolve.
She’s not stupid; she knows how this works, so when she’d taken his hand (he’d been quiet by then, docile and obedient and looking around as if something was missing) and led him into the mental hospital and given them a fake name, there had been only one thing to do. They’d take him away if she said he’s a friend, we worked together, something went wrong and she couldn’t let that happen, she couldn’t let them take him away and lock him up in a room and not let her see him anymore.
Not after they’d done the same thing to Carolina.
Not when she’d rescued him and run away, and they’re each all that the other has left.
So she’d checked him in, and she’d said I’m his wife, and it had sounded ridiculous and she’d known they were going to laugh in her face and probably arrest her and send her right back to the Director on top of it, except they didn’t. They’d taken him away and locked him up in a room, but they’d let her visit, and on Sunday afternoons she’d sat on the hard plastic chair in his room and Wash had sat on his bed and mumbled to himself, watching shapes that weren’t there.
After a while, he’d started to get better.
After a while, he’d started to remember who she was.
He’d been in bad shape by the time she’d finally worked it all out. Escaping during a mission hadn’t been an option, because Wash was in no shape to go on missions, not anymore. He’d tried to hide it, but they could all see he was going crazy in there.
Carolina had been long gone by then, and no one talked about it much. York wandered around with a troubled look on his face. He’d still smile and act friendly if anyone approached him, but he always seemed distracted, and his warmth and desire to put people at ease was gone, or at least on hold.
Maybe he could have helped Wash, if he hadn’t been so worried about Carolina, or if CT had thought to ask him. But she’d never been much good at asking for help, and then South had started kicking up a fuss over not getting an AI, and North had turned to York in his frustration, and it had all fallen to her.
(she didn’t understand - how could South still want one now, after seeing what it was doing to them all?)
She’d sat with him in the common room, handing him manuals and pretending not to notice when he just sat there and stared at the same page for hours, and she’d taken them back and put them back on the shelf when it was time for bed. She’d hacked her way into the security system, sending transmissions to the contacts she’d reached out to before. It had been almost a game, back then, seeing what she could get away with, how close she could get to (treason) disobedience right under the Director’s nose without him catching on.
It didn’t seem like a game anymore.
The Director had been cold and distant, more focused on Tex than ever (what made her so special?) and he’d hardly seemed to notice when Carolina started falling to pieces, much less Wash. It had been a slap in the face to most of them, seeing how little he really cared about them once they were of no more use to him. To CT, it was a blessing. She still had to be careful, watching every step, but with his focus elsewhere she’d at least had a chance at getting herself and Wash out.
After weeks of waiting, that chance had finally come. There’d been a mission planned, an important one, and everyone but Wash (and Carolina, of course) was needed on deck. The Director had been nearly obsessed, entirely focused on making sure it went off without a hitch.
There’d also been a supply run scheduled, a small, fast ship docking with the Mother of Invention and dropping off food and medical supplies, and CT’s contacts had just happened to know the pilot. She’d feigned sickness the morning of the mission, knowing the Director would be annoyed but knowing just as well that he’d be too busy with the mission itself to spare much time for her.
She’d found Wash in his bunk, lying in bed and staring up at the ceiling, and had sat on the edge of the mattress, just looking at him for a moment.
“Wash, it’s CT.”
There’d been no answer, and she’d sighed, reaching down to take his hand and guide him to a sitting position. He’d obeyed without question, just as he always had, and she’d frowned as he’d blinked and finally looked at her.
“It’s CT,” she’d repeated, and her frown had grown deeper. “You need to come with me, Wash.”
“Allison,” he’d said and she’d shaken her head, frustrated and not understanding. “No,” she’d said, “no,” and she’d stood, pulling him up after her and looking up at him. They didn’t have much time - the supply ship would be there soon and they had to be on it.
But there was one thing she had to do first.
He hadn’t resisted when she’d sat him down again and moved around behind him, leaning down and examining the back of his neck. He’d jumped a little when her fingers had first brushed over the slot there, making an anxious little noise of protest, and she’d known she couldn’t delay or he’d realize what she was up to and try to stop her.
It had been a risk, she’d known that - he and Epsilon were already so dependent on each other, scarily so, and taking the chip out now could leave Wash permanently damaged. But leaving it in wouldn’t be a risk at all. It would be a guarantee, a surefire way to lock him into the same fate as Carolina.
She’d popped it out and Wash had yelled as if he’d been burned, the cry anguished and lonely in a way that had made her flinch. She’d shoved the chip into her pocket and run around to face him, grabbing his shoulders and calling his name. “Wash - Wash -”
He’d looked up at her, eyes wide and pleading, and managed a single word, barely loud enough for her to hear.
CT had bitten her lip, so hard she’d nearly drawn blood, and shaken her head, mute. There was nothing she could do to make it easier, and he’d stared after her, lost, as she’d backed away out of the room.
It had taken only seconds to drop the chip on the floor, to look down at it, at the thing that had driven Wash crazy, that could - would - do the same to someone else. There had been only one thing to do, and she hadn’t hesitated for an instant when she’d lowered her heel and crushed it into fragments.
She’d kicked the pieces into the air vent on the floor and turned away, and when she’d gone back to Wash she’d found him sitting and staring blankly, nearly catatonic. He’d been all too easy to lead to the ship, so docile and obedient she’d been afraid he’d never be the same again.
She spends the first month, it seems like, looking back over her shoulder, waiting for the Director to send someone after them. It hadn’t been easy, working out how to get them out, planning it out and making sure there were no loose ends. She’d planned for every contingency she could think of, covered all of their tracks and gotten far away, where the Director could never find them, and yet she still can’t bring herself to believe it’s that simple. She can’t believe they’re really safe.
But as time passes, as Wash eats his Jell-O and talks to the counselors in the hospital about his problems (and they can’t understand, she can’t let them understand, and sometimes she wonders whether she should have let him talk to anyone about Epsilon at all, but she knows she can’t help him by herself) CT slowly starts to relax.
She has to do something to keep herself occupied while he’s locked away in his room (spilling all the secrets of the Project but there’s nothing she can do about it now, nothing, and when she visits no one ever seems to suspect anything) so she finds an apartment, and then a job. She works in network security, and while the irony doesn’t escape her, who better to find and patch up all the holes in security systems than someone with so much experience exploiting them? York would be proud, maybe. Or maybe not.
But it gives her something to do, and a source of income that can’t be traced back to her military pay, and it lets her keep an eye on the network, and any sign that they’re being sought out. There’s nothing.
Eventually, Wash comes home from the hospital.
He’s too thin and pale, after so long inside, and he’s a little jumpy, but his eyes are clear, and he’s Wash again. CT stands in the living room of the house she’d bought once her work had started to pay off, her hands jammed in her pockets and her shoulders tense as he looks around.
He’d been so out of it at the hospital that no one had questioned it when he’d been confused at first, and then (miraculously) he’d been smart enough to accept it when she’d pushed it (no, David, I’m your wife, remember, as she’d taken him by the shoulders and stared at him, trying to send him a message she couldn’t say out loud). Now, he sets his small bag down on the carpet and just looks at her, curious.
She shrugs, a sharp jerk of her shoulders, and glances down so that her hair obscures her face. “It was the only way they’d let me see you.”
Wash nods, accepting this as quietly as he’d accepted everything else - the hospital, coming back here with her, all of it. She’d tried to explain it to him when she’d visited him, in terms that she hoped wouldn’t pique the interest of his therapists - we had to leave, he’s not here anymore, it’s just us now. You’re safe.
She waits for him to ask now. It’s not clear how much he remembers of what happened between implantation and his slow recovery, and she has a feeling he’d just give her that bitter, ironic little smile if she dares to mention it herself.
But he doesn’t ask. He walks around the room, looking over every last stick of furniture and picture on the wall, taking it all in, and ends up flopping down on the middle of the couch, long legs sticking out in front of him. He rests his arms on the back of the couch and raises his eyebrows at her expectantly, a smile quirking his lips.
“Honey, I’m home.”
Anger flares up inside her, sharp and sudden, and she turns to face him, her hands balling into fists. “It’s not a joke. I had to, Wash. They wouldn’t let me see you otherwise, I didn’t know what else to do -” She’d been scared, terrified both for him and for herself, that they’d get caught, that the doctors would see through the lies, that they wouldn’t be able to help him at all. Hearing him joke about it now is both frustrating and frightening - she doesn’t want to be teased about it, simultaneously afraid of him reading too much into it or laughing at the very idea.
Wash raises his hands in surrender, the smile disappearing from his face. “Okay. Okay, I’m sorry -” He sighs, raking a hand back through his hair. “Sorry. Bad joke, I just -” His shoulders slump a little, and he doesn’t have to say anything else for CT to understand. There’s too much - Epsilon, the hospital, all the (friends?) people they’d left behind, and after a moment CT moves to sit on an armchair across from him, perching on its edge.
He nods, and they sit there in silence for a while, feeling the weight of it all settle between them. CT’s eyes dart around the room, looking everywhere but at him. She’s not sure what to say now, or what to do, and she’s just about decided that she can’t stand it anymore and made up her mind to make an excuse and flee when Wash speaks, sounding like he can’t quite believe what he’s saying.
“You saved me.”
She glances up at him, startled. He’s looking at her with something like wonder and undeniable gratitude, and she looks away from him, shrugging awkwardly.
(when’s the last time anyone thanked you for anything, Connie?)
She hadn’t thought of it that way - not as saving him, certainly not as anything he had to be grateful to her for, and she shakes her head, pushing herself up from her chair in a single impatient motion.
“We had to get out of there.”
“You had to get out of there.” He stands, moving across the room to stand in front of her, catching her eye. “Connie? Hey. You could’ve just gone.You didn’t have to risk yourself for me.” He pauses, watching her. “Thank you.”
“It’s CT now,” she says, because she doesn’t know what else to say, but Wash just shakes his head, a little sadly.
He’s right, she realizes. She’s not CT here; she’s not a soldier, not a Freelancer, not Agent anything. She’s just Connie, and somehow she’d started to get used to it during those long months he’d been in the hospital.
Getting used to him being out is a new challenge entirely. She’d fallen into this life by accident, waiting for him, and she hadn’t given much thought to what would happen once he got out. All she’d been focused on, all she’d wanted, was for him to get better, and now he is. Mostly.
CT goes back to work, and Wash starts sleeping on the couch, and it goes like that for a full three days before she wakes up in the middle of the night to his screaming. She doesn’t think - she just runs out to the living room, standing in the doorway, paralyzed with fear. He’d stopped screaming by the time she gets there, but he’s curled up on himself, shaking and pale.
She fights back the old flood of panic (what do I do I’m not trained for this I can’t help him) and steps into the room, flicking the lights on.
For a moment, she’s afraid that it’ll be like before: he won’t recognize her, he’ll be lost in his own head again and all that treatment will have been for nothing. But he raises his head, and she almost sags with relief when he looks at her instead of through her.
“Just a dream,” he tells her, but he shivers again, violently, and CT finds herself moving forward, sliding down onto the couch next to him.
“Epsilon?” she asks, and he nods, and looks so sad and alone and miserable that she leans over, hesitant at first, reaching her arms up to slide around him carefully, as if he’ll shatter or explode at her touch. Instead, he just sits there, and leans back after a moment, and she slides in under his arm, pressing in against his side, as solid and reassuring as she can be.
The same thing happens the next night, and the night after that, and by the night after that she’s so exhausted that she knows she can’t keep doing this. She takes his hand and drags him into the bedroom after her, and shoves down the blankets, climbing in and curling up into a ball.
“Lie down,” she commands, but Wash just stares at her, blinking stupidly.
“Lie down,” she says, and scowls at him, punching the pillow into place. “This is stupid, I’m not gonna keep running in there every time you -” She cuts herself off abruptly; Wash’s bad nights are one of many things they don’t talk about, but it’s enough. His expression is a weird mix of abashed and scandalized, and he slides in next to her gingerly, like he’s afraid she’s going to change her mind and yell at him, but he does it. CT shoves herself over, eyeing him and giving him space, and after a while, she falls asleep.
When he starts tossing and turning in the middle of the night, muttering agitated words too quiet for her to make out, she doesn’t hesitate to slide over and put her arms around him, holding him until he calms down. The next night, he comes into the bedroom without her having to ask, glancing at her as if to say are you sure this is all right before pulling back the sheets.
The night after that, he’s more sure of himself. It becomes a routine, the way they start out on opposite sides of the bed with a wide expanse of mattress between them as much a part of it as the way she ends up shushing him and pressing against him at four am, keeping the nightmares at bay. Sometimes he’s able to move past it without waking, and sometimes he opens his eyes with a quiet gasp, relaxing into her arms after a moment with a murmur of thanks, but either way, she never says a word, and neither of them ever acknowledge it in the morning.
They sleep in the same bed, but they don’t do anything more than that. Sometimes Wash wants to, CT thinks; sometimes he just looks at her like he wants to ask, and sometimes CT thinks she might even say yes if he did. But she can’t bring herself to let it show; she just stares him down, and Wash crawls meekly into his side of the bed with a murmured night and keeps his hands to himself.
Once they’ve started, it’s hard to stop.
All she’d been thinking about was making sure she’d be able to see him in the hospital. All she’d been thinking about was how they’ll take him away if I say anything else, they’ll take him away and I’ll never see him again.
They hadn’t taken him away. They’d done the opposite: they’d fixed him, made him better, and then they’d given him back. And now they’re here, and everyone in this small colony on this faraway planet knows them as Mr. and Mrs.
They could leave, of course. There’s nothing tying them here, or, for that matter, to each other. They could pack up and go, separately or together, go where no one knows either the truth about them or the lies they’d told to hide it, and start anew.
But for some reason, neither of them suggest it. Wash is still recovering, still waking up at night, and she doesn’t know what traveling would do to him, and as for CT, she’s discovering slowly that civilian life just may suit her better than the military ever had. She’s good at her job, and she likes knowing what she’s doing and why, and not being forced to take orders without question. She likes coming home at the end of the day, to a house rather than a bunk on a ship, and she even likes having Wash there when she does.
And part of her just doesn’t want to ruin a good thing. There’s been no indication that the Director is looking for them, nothing that suggests they’re going to be found here. Maybe the fragments of the chip had been discovered; maybe he’s decided that without his precious AI, they’re not worth going after. Or maybe he’s just waiting for them to resurface, and moving again is a risk it’s better not to take.
And so they stay, and they don’t talk about it, and they act like they’re normal people again. Wash doesn’t ask questions about how they’d gotten out, or what had happened; occasionally he reaches back to the scars on the back of his neck and looks at her, but he doesn’t say anything, and she doesn’t offer any information. It’s enough to pretend, for now.
She still forgets sometimes, all the same, giving Wash a strange look when he puts his arm around her in public, or staring with a blank expression when someone in town asks after her husband. David, she reminds herself, his name’s David. She’s still getting used to it.
He kisses her one day.
They go out for walks fairly often, because they can, because they live on a planet with trees and grass and sunshine instead of on a clean, antiseptic ship, and they’d stopped to sit down on a bench and watch the geese on the lake. CT likes the geese. They’re not like the ducks, quacking uselessly and gobbling up bread and taking flight as soon as anyone gets too close. The geese are tall and slender and just a little bit mean, defending their territory and themselves, and CT respects them for it.
The sun is setting and there’s no one else around, and CT glances up at him to tell him about the geese only to find him looking back down at her, almost studying her. He leans in before she can think twice, pressing his lips to hers, and she freezes, her entire body tensing up.
He pulls back immediately, looking mortified, his cheeks coloring. “Sorry. Sorry, I thought -”
“We’re not really married, Wash,” she says, her voice harder than she’d meant it to be, and stands. “It’s just an act.”
“I know,” he says. “Connie, I just thought -”
“It’s CT,” she cuts him off, unsettled and confused and offended for reasons she can’t explain. And she turns and heads for home, crossing her arms over her chest, not looking to see if he follows.
She goes into the bedroom and shuts the door, and Wash doesn’t follow. He sleeps on the couch, and if he wakes in the night she doesn’t hear.
There’s no sign of him in the morning, but the house is spotless, and when she goes into the kitchen there’s a book on the table, one of the old-fashioned paper ones that she loves, and a note that’s just a single word, scribbled in small letters on a scrap of paper: sorry.
She pockets the note, and curls up next to him on the couch that evening, just turning the book over in her hands and stroking over the soft cover before she opens it up to run her fingers across the pages.
He still has bad nights, even now. She’d gotten Epsilon out, before it was too late, before the AI could damage him permanently, but the effects on his mind haven’t been erased completely, and she wakes sometimes to find him sitting up in bed, curled around himself and speaking in quiet, anxious tones to the voices that linger in his head. She pushes herself up and kneels beside him, putting her arms around him and trying to hold him together the way York had tried to hold Carolina together, but she doesn’t have York’s confidence (and he failed anyway, a cynical voice inside her whispers, he couldn’t save her and what makes you think you can save him?).
She’s too small to protect him, and she’s too scared of being wrong to tell him it’s okay. She doesn’t know what she’s doing, but she knows she’s terrified of losing him now.
So she just hangs on to him, and doesn’t let go.
But despite all that, Wash is improving; it doesn’t take a psychiatrist to recognize it. He’d been nervous and uncertain when he’d first arrived from the hospital, still figuring out what was real and what wasn’t, and he’d needed her sometimes just to be there, to sit with him and hold his hand and keep him grounded.
She’d been patient with him; even if she didn’t always know what to say and had to fight back her own doubts that she could really help him at all, she could at least do that, she could sit with him and listen to him and remind him of the truth. It had taken time and a lot of appointments with his therapist, but eventually he’d started to relax, to stop focusing on Epsilon and the past and start living in the present again.
He’s still not steady enough for a job, but he’d found ways to keep himself busy, all the same. He’d started with small projects around the house - repainting the bedroom, building a shelf for the bathroom - and had gradually grown more and more ambitious. They have a new kitchen sink now, and the china cabinet is one he’d built and sanded and stained himself. Now he’s talking about what it would take to build a patio, and CT can only listen in amazement, barely able to believe the difference between this Wash and the one she’d brought to the hospital, the one who could barely even remember his own name.
It’s not Freelancer. It’s not the best of the best, fighting the Covenant and saving the galaxy, but it’s not untested, unregulated experiments that drive people insane, either. It’s safe, and Wash is good at it, and he’s content. He’s happy, settling in here even quicker and more successfully than CT’s been able to, and when she catches him bent over his workbench, so focused he doesn’t even notice her, she smiles, because he’s Wash again.
Or if not Wash, he’s David, at least. And maybe that’s enough.
He still wants something more, though. She can tell, just from the way he looks at her, the way his face lights up every time her fingers brush over his arm. She can tell, and maybe it’s unfair not to confront him about it, to pretend like nothing’s happening and keep sharing a house and a bed and a life with him.
But he never complains, and he never asks for anything else, not even when she starts to let herself relax more around him, laying her head on his lap and letting him stroke her hair as they watch vids together, or curling close in bed for warmth when the weather gets colder. He starts to get a bit more daring, pressing kisses into her hair when he hugs her and taking her hand in his sometimes even when there’s nobody else around.
He comes up behind her one day, and puts his hands on her shoulders and sighs into her hair. “Connie,” he says, and she doesn’t correct him, because that’s who she is now. She doesn’t say anything, and he sighs again, hands running across her shoulders slowly.
“Connie, I -” he starts, and then seems to lose his nerve. She waits, somehow knowing what’s going to come, but not yet knowing how she’s going to react.
“I - listen, I want to ask you something. I’ve been thinking, and...” He swallows. “I think - I want things to change. I don’t want...I don’t want to keep pretending.” He squeezes her shoulders, and leans forward, careful as though she might break, pressing his cheek against the top of her head. “I want - I want this, Connie.”
His hand moves down, gently taking hers, and he lifts up both, their rings clinking together quietly. There’s a moment where they both just look at them, “I want to make this real.”
She closes her eyes. She hasn’t moved an inch since he started talking, and she still doesn’t, just standing there, listening until he’s through.
Make this real. She thinks of him kissing her in the park, reaching out to take her hand, sliding an arm over her to pull her close late at night.
(are you ever going to tell me yours?)
David is still talking. “I don’t mean - I mean, I’m not asking you to do anything you don’t want to do,” he continues. “Or go faster than you want to, or do anything at all if you don’t. If you want things to stay the same, that’s...it’s fine.”
His voice cracks a little at the end, but he recovers quickly, pressing a little more against her shoulders.
“I’ll wait as long as you need,” he says quietly. “I won’t push. You don’t have to say anything right away, just -” He lets his hands fall, and steps back, giving her her space. “Just - know I want this.”
She’s silent and still, long enough that he starts fidgeting, obviously convincing himself that he’d said the wrong thing. She can tell the moment before he’s about to open his mouth and say never mind, forget it, I shouldn’t have said anything, and she turns, speaking before he can.
“As long as I need?”
His expression brightens, though he tries to hide it, the worry on his forehead clearing, and he nods quickly. “Yeah. Yeah.”
She looks at him for a moment, just studying him, and then she nods.
Connie goes outside to the front porch, later, sitting on the stoop with her arms on her knees and looking out at the street. It’s almost sunset, parents just starting to emerge from their houses to call their kids for dinner. It’s still so quiet and calm and normal that it makes her want to scream sometimes, but other times, she thinks maybe it’s just what she needs. At least for now.
She knows he must be looking out the window at her, waiting for her answer, wondering what to do with her and still trying to figure her out, but that’s okay.
They both have time to do that.