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You've Got A Friend In Me

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"And I TOLD her, I said to her, 'look Angie, we've had this conversation already, Wednesday is my day to bring snacks, not yours, especially now that you're on this low-tato diet -- they're kids, Angie, they don't -- are you even listening to me?"

"Hm?" Janice says, guiltily putting down the newspaper. "I -- look, Ellie, the brownies will keep for a day, and -- "

"But Angie took Thursday too!" Eleanor wails, stamping her foot -- she knows she's being ridiculous, but damn it, Wednesday was her day! "And they were cupcakes, last week was brownies! I left the lab early for those damn -- darn -- cupcakes, and if I have to wait until Friday then everyone will call Katie the girl whose mother brings stale cupcakes, and I don't have time to remake them and I have a seminar on Friday -- "

"El, El, sweetheart, look at me," Janice says. Eleanor is about to argue, but catches a look at her wife's slightly panicked face and obeys. Janice takes her hands and gives them a quick squeeze.

"Ellie, hon, everything will be okay," Janice says soothingly. "I'll tell you what, you take your cupcakes into work tomorrow, and I'll trade shifts with Danny and I'll make snacks for Friday, okay? I'll be there, so you can go to the seminar, and I'll make small-talk with Angie for you, and everything will be fine."

Eleanor nods miserably. "I know," she wails, "I just... Jan, I hate her so much."

Janice hugs her tightly. "I know, but don't worry, it'll all be okay."

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Eleanor is perversely pleased when Janice comes home Friday night, looking harried. "She's... a difficult woman to get along with," is all Janice will say; Eleanor knows what she means.

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In retrospect, Eleanor should have seen this coming. Janice has been spending more time than usual with her radio, and Eleanor has caught her staring thoughtfully at her father's old hat and gun. Janice digs up the shoebox of family photos and shows Katie snapshots of Quincy. Still, when Janice comes into the kitchen, cracking her knuckles in the way she does when she's nervous and announces the Minutemen are being reformed, it feels like -- missing the last step going down the stairs, or a snowball being shoved under her collar.

It takes a second before she can formulate a thought, and then they all come spilling out of her in a torrent. "The Minutemen? And you're moving to Quincy?" she asks. "Jan, they were all killed -- it's dangerous out there, what if something happens to you? I know your father was one, but... I need you, and Katie is still so young, she needs you!" She knows the next part is below the belt even while she's saying it but she says it anyway -- "I don't want to have to explain to our daughter that her mother is never coming home," she says, and abruptly is swallowing hard around a lump in her throat; Janice looks like she would be less surprised if Eleanor reached out and slapped her. If she says anything else she's afraid she'll start crying, so she doesn't.

Janice looks mulish. "Look, I know you don't understand -- " Eleanor bristles at this, but doesn't interrupt. " -- and I know you don't want me to leave, but this... El, this is really important to me."

Janice, injured. Janice, dying, Janice, lost somewhere far from home, where Eleanor can't get to her.

"Absolutely not," Eleanor says, and turns and leaves before Janice can say anything else.

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The first fight about it takes place the next day -- the two of them have a whispered argument in the kitchen about what's best for Katie, safety and stability, or her mother getting her fool self killed and breaking her heart, as their daughter gets ready for school.

The next fight happens the same day -- Katie is away at a sleepover, so they have all the privacy they need for a proper screaming match. It only ends when they go to bed -- Janice rolls over and immediately goes to sleep, but Eleanor stays awake, alternating between staring at the back of her wife's neck and at the ceiling. She reaches out and touches her fingertips to the base of Janice's neck, feeling her shift and sigh in her sleep at the touch.

They don't fight for two days after that because neither of them are speaking to each other; once the absolute necessities are out of the way, the rest of the day passes in perfect, frosty silence.

Eleanor cracks first. On the fourth day, she catches Janice's hands as they pass each other in the kitchen. "I could go with you," she offers. "If -- if -- you agree to move to one of the safer settlements, not Quincy, or, or... wandering about the countryside like some kind of itinerant. Katie and I could go with you, and you'd have to come home every night -- "

She cuts out with a squeak as Janice literally sweeps her off her feet. After a bit of confusion, they end up in a heap on the floor, tangled up together. "Done," she says. "Anything else?"

"Home for dinner," Eleanor specifies.

"Done. And?"

"And you have to promise me you won't die," Eleanor says, around a hard little knot of worry in her throat.

Janice kisses her forehead. "Done," she says again.

"And," Eleanor adds -- it's a weak joke, but it makes her feel better -- "at least this way, snack night will be mine!"

Janice laughs and kisses her. "You'll have the best cupcakes, and the best brownies -- "

"And," Eleanor adds, putting an exaggerated scowl on her face and miming shooting a gun, "I'll be the meanest, toughest frontier wife around -- PTA varmints had better not mess with me!"

Janice reaches over and grabs her father's old hat and plops it on Eleanor's head. It's too big for her, and she's sure she looks ridiculous, but she doesn't mind -- Janice is looking at her like she's the only girl in the world, and there isn't room for anything else.

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Sunshine Tidings Co-Op is... well, it's not that nice; she has a suspicion Janice might have stretched the truth a little when she was selling it to Eleanor in the first place. They have to shield Katie's eyes from the pile of dead feral ghouls as they come into the main settlement itself -- apparently this place was only cleared out recently. Still, it's safe now, which is good.

Better yet, there are a couple of other families here, and a teacher, too -- well, a doctor, really, a tall young man from out west. He's a little odd, and clearly not entirely comfortable with children, but he was trained by the Followers of the Apocalypse, so if nothing else, Katie will get a solid grounding in English, history, and basic medical care.

There's still one family with another young daughter Eleanor hasn't met yet, but she... well. She feels good. Optimistic, even. The people she's met have been kind and friendly, and she feels confident they'll be able to make a good life here.

She smiles to herself. And she'll never, ever, have to see that wretched woman again!

And then she hears a voice. A voice she has literally heard in her nightmares. "Eleanor? Oh, Ellie, it's so good to see you again! I had no idea you were moving out here, you should have told us!"

No. No, absolutely not. Eleanor turns stiffly to see Angie bearing down on her like a herd of tastefully dressed super mutants. This cannot be happening.

"Angie... you're here?" Eleanor croaks out, her voice weak.

"Of course I am!" Angie folds Eleanor into a hug, refusing to acknowledge that Eleanor doesn't even pretend to try to hug her back. "I'm so glad! Oh Ellie, we're going to get to be such good friends!"

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That night, once Eleanor manages to wrest herself free of Angie's clutches, she stalks back to their house and flings open the door. Janice and Katie look up from their game, clearly startled.

"So!" Eleanor announces brightly. She can feel her face stretching into a manic grimace; Janice looks frankly alarmed. "I hear Quincy is nice this time of year!"