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The Way Forward

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The party has persisted for three hours, and Rita has been drinking for all of them. She started slow and easy, sipping the provided champagne conservatively over the course of endless conversations she didn't want to be having, surrounded by starry-eyed soldiers and the occasional reporter who'd been granted entry to the decadent hotel room for this hallowed victory celebration. After two hours a Kentuckian Sergeant produced an American whiskey that was moderately more drinkable than flute after flute of expensive bubbly; in the last half hour, General Brigham finally grew fed up with what he described as 'muddy bloody water' and introduced a very respectable ten year old Tullamore Dew to the mix—officers only, he declared. By now the mood of the room has shifted from jubilant to rowdy, and the General and Sergeant are relaxed enough to hold a loud, vigorous debate on the merits of American and Irish whiskeys.

Rita, meanwhile, would kill for a good glass of scotch. Or a ride home. Not that 'home' is home, not yet. The absurdly high class London flat was one of many gifts from her government for her role at Verdun, and it still feels like a foreign space that isn't hers, all minimalist furnishings and vertiginous views. A bed too comfortable to sleep in. It would be difficult enough to adapt as a soldier even without the hundreds of invisible days fitted into the framework of her war experience.

Still, though. It would be better than here. Here everyone treats her like she's some kind of celebrity, or they stare from across the room and talk about her behind their hands. Between all that and the fact that multiple people have actually addressed her directly as 'Angel of Verdun', it's a miracle she hasn't laid anyone out yet. If someone drops her other war-given epithet, she's fairly certain she'll start a fight.

There is, of course, one person in the room who hasn't been staring or getting over-familiar or clamoring for her attention. He's been nestled in with a few of his own, studiously avoiding eye contact. At first Rita was relieved by his maintained distance, but the longer it went on and the more she drank, the more irritable she became, convinced that he was somehow glancing over whenever she wasn't looking, like a bloody glancing ninja; or worse, that he was avoiding her as a ploy to get her attention. Now she finds herself staring at him, challenging him to go on ignoring her. Who does that bastard think he is, anyway?

The reasonable part of her knows that he is likely attempting to be diplomatic, and that all his colleagues are rather monopolizing his attention. They are fascinated with him. She can see it in their eyes, regarding him with varying levels of shock and bewilderment as he fumbles his way through conversation, speaking, acting, carrying himself differently than whatever it is they know. Going on what little she's been able to discern about Major Bill Cage, Rita would be willing to bet he's ordinarily a bright and sociable sort of man, a gifted raconteur, the thrumming center of these kind of settings. Like many who ended up in public relations, a man who likes the sound of his own voice. The sort of person she tends to hate. But now he's this. Whatever this is.

When she emerged from her looping prison, new blood and bleary eyes, most didn't detect much change in her, or what change they saw could be chalked up to what she'd done during her last crack at that battlefield. But as far as everyone knows, Cage arrived in Paris an entirely different person than he'd been when he boarded his flight. She's still not clear on exactly how a desk officer managed to get onto the battlefield and mix blood with an Alpha, but... well, she's still not clear on a lot of things.

They've got to sort that out at some point, haven't they.

The day victory was declared, just before the news reached her, Cage appeared before her wearing a peculiar and rather disarming smile, laughed in the face of her impatient demand for his purpose, and then said, quietly and with very familiar exhaustion, "I'm—I was—you, before Verdun."

When she tried to take him to Dr. Carter, he stopped her. "No, wait. Rita. You don't understand. It's over. We did it. We beat the Omega."

But how, she demanded, how did we do it, how did we survive, how could the reset have happened if it's over? She wanted details, and details she got—clipped and to the point, a broad-brushed approximation of what had happened in Paris. The sudden loss of the reset ability, the hurried conscription of J Squad, their own deaths. A bit of Omega blood and back to square one, minus the Mimic infrastructure. For him, a payoff god knows how long in the making. For her, hey, just like that.

It was all they had time for before news of victory hit Heathrow, and things became too raucous to continue a private conversation. No one knew how victory had been achieved, and no one had been terribly prepared for it either, so there followed a period of confusion during which time both Rita and Cage stayed silent, neither apparently willing to step up to the plate and try to explain themselves. And before she knew what was happening, Rita was avoiding him.

It isn't because she wants to be clear of him. Far from it. She wants to know everything—what he knows, what had happened, what all they'd said and done. But she knows from too much experience how brutally difficult that conversation can be. And she knows that his impression of her will be irrevocably colored by her being his sole confidante for nearly the entire miserable adventure. She remembers what that was like. She wishes she didn't. And she's not sure she's ready to confront it with him.

But she and Cage are the only people in the world who understand what they each went through. They can't escape that, not even if they wanted to, and she knows well enough neither of them do. So if she avoids him, it's for trepidation. And if he avoids her—it's not for fear or even patience, she realizes; it's because he doesn't want to rush her. That kind of careful consideration is grossly unfamiliar territory, and she's not sure how she feels about it.

She's going over all this in her head, her eyes still fixed on the cluster of PR officers. He's still not looking at her. And then, suddenly, likely drawn by the hardness of her stare, he is. They lock eyes, and the grand irony is she has been caught staring at him. The abrupt, mortifying intrusion upon her swirling thoughts is enough to throw her entirely off balance; she nearly drops her drink in her effort to look elsewhere, to become preoccupied. By then it's too late. She sees him murmur Excuse me to the people he's with, and they all follow his gaze right to her. She turns her attention sharply to her whiskey, finishing the remainder in one ambitious swig.

He's coming this way.

"Rita," he says as he closes the distance, giving her a little nod.

"Cage," she retorts, wincing a little from the burn of liquor, and promptly realizes that no one has actually spoken to her in a while—her efforts to glower and scare everyone off have done the trick—and she had no idea how drunk she'd become. This is an immediate disaster. She has to flee at once.

She turns around but has nowhere to go. He's still standing there, watching her.

"You all right?" he asks softly.

She wheels back to him, staring at him with a vaguely affronted expression. "No I am not all right," she says decisively. "I have not been all right in a very long time. There was a bloody war. And then... Verdun. And then more war. And then you." She tries to drink more whiskey, but she's just finished it. A glance toward the room's bar tells her the Tullamore Dew is out in general. Well... bollocks.

"General Ishida went to find some sake," Cage volunteers. "Last I heard."

She sniffs as if unimpressed, although she's quite game to put away a good sake right about now. "Doesn't this hotel have anything of its own more than champagne and cheap wine?" she mutters.

"I think people have been drinking everything that was left," he says. "Can you blame them?"

"Well. No. But what am I going to drink?" She looks at him for a few moments, then finds she can't maintain seriousness and gives way to a sputtering little laugh. She presses a hand to her forehead, wishing for both sobriety and more alcohol.

"Rita?" he says, sounding a little worried.

She flaps a hand at him, uninterested in his concern. "I don't know about you," she says, "but it's been a fucking long time since I had this much to drink."

"Oh, it's not just you," he says, grinning a little. There it is, those bright American teeth, just like when she first met him. She wonders what it was like all the other times she first met him. Probably no smiles. Smiling is so strange to see. Stranger still to feel herself doing it. Those muscles haven't been used in an even longer time.

"I think everyone's a little out of practice," he says, passing a glance around the room.

She considers letting this miserable small talk continue, just leaving the rest for later when they're both in full possession of their wits, but then she finds herself saying, "Cage. Cage, I need to talk to you."

"Yeah?" His eyes move back to hers. There's no surprise in his expression, no tension. He's been expecting this. What else is there to expect?

"I need to know... what happened. Everything that happened. I..." She trails off as General Ishida returns holding not just one but several bottles of a very respectable-looking junmai daiginjo. Her eyes follow him, or rather the bottles, all the way to the bar, internally debating whether she should risk mingling with people to get at one.

Cage, it seems, has been watching her. "Do you wanna get out of here?" he says suddenly.

She blinks, then looks at him. "And go where?" she says, not bothering to hide the suspicion that creeps into her voice.

He shrugs. "I have a room down a couple floors."

"Hell no." She laughs outright. "Don't be ridiculous. This whole hotel's a deathtrap of paparazzi. It'll be all over the news tomorrow if we go into your room together. No thanks."

"I—" He chuckles awkwardly, and she does a quick double-take and discovers that he is blushing. "That's not what I—"

"I would certainly hope not," she says, her tone slightly edged. "But it doesn't matter. You're in public relations, you know they'll read into it all on their own."

"I know they will. Sorry. I wasn't thinking." The error seems to be sticking with him. He's fidgeting, rubbing at the back of his neck, looking anywhere but at her. She wonders if he'd have given it a second thought as the man he used to be. Perhaps he'd even have meant the implication.

"I would like to go somewhere," she admits, deciding to let him off the hook a bit. "I just don't know where that would be."

"Well, I dunno, a bar, or something." He shrugs. "If we can get out of the hotel, we'll find a place."

"Might be able to get an exit that isn't being watched," she muses. "Be better sober."

"Nah." He smirks. "I bet it'll be more fun this way."

She meets his eyes and allows herself a little grin. Look at them, scheming and plotting like they're on their way to war. She imagines this was how they spent most of their time in his memory, minus the mischievous tone. Certainly not a bad way for things to go now. And yeah, if she doesn't get out of this hotel room soon she's liable to start some shit that doesn't need starting.

"Okay," she says with a decisive nod.

"C'mon." He jerks his head in the general direction of the liquor. "We should get something for the road. In case we don't make it to a bar."

"You're not suggesting we steal a bottle," she says, laughing at the idea. It's not a bad one, in fact. If anyone could get away with it, it's her.

"I'm suggesting we steal two," he says lightly, and saunters over toward the bar. "Sergeant Farell," he says brightly, affecting a sudden too-friendly news-anchor sort of voice, addressing the Kentuckian. "How are they responding to the victory over in Science Hill, sir?"

Farell's face is slack as he regards Cage without familiarity, visibly trying to account for Cage's rather particular knowledge of his roots. Rita smiles to herself and slips up to the bar behind Cage. She's in full view of a few soldiers, but they're in no position to tell a celebrated war hero what to do. She reaches out and takes a bottle of sake from the counter; one of the soldiers laughs and throws her a relaxed salute.

"Well, I don't mean to interrupt," Cage is saying, smoothly plying his way back out of the conversation. "Say, you don't mind if I borrow one of these?" He reaches not for the daiginjo, but one of the hotel-provided bottles of cheap red.

"Take it," says Brigham gruffly, and Cage tilts his head in a sort of performatively mild-mannered way. Rita rolls her eyes and makes for the door, bottle tucked firmly inside her jacket.

"Sergeant Vrataski!" someone says as she passes by.

"Just nipping out for a smoke," she says without a backward glance.

"I'll go with you," says Cage easily, still playing his part, falling into step beside her. He opens the door and lets her pass before following, shutting it neatly on anyone who might try to tag along.

The first thing Rita sees is reporters, a whole cluster of them over by the elevator bay. For the moment they're engaged with their phones, probably trying to access the hotel's incredibly spotty wireless. "Oh fuck," she hisses.

"This way." Cage grabs her arm—normally a punchable offense, but she'll allow it—and steers her up the hall to the stair access. They slip inside the empty stairwell, snickering like a pair of teenagers, and hasten down to the next level. Cage is halfway through the door before he reels back, letting it close. "Dammit," he says. "Here, too. I think there's parties happening on a lot of floors tonight."

"They're probably swarming the lobby," Rita says, deflating slightly.

"Not to mention the street." Cage chews his lip and fixes the floor with a stern gaze, allowing Rita a second or two to examine him. Beneath that punchy exterior he looks tired as hell. Hunched shoulders, weary posture, the weight of a long, lonely struggle bearing down on him. Just like her.

He looks back at her and she flinches ever so slightly. Can't tell if he noticed.

"I got it," he says, and grins again, pushing that tiredness to the edges. "Follow me."

"This better be good, Cage," she says, hauling after him, back up the stairs.

"It'll be great," he says. He leads them past the party floor and up one more, to the very top. There's one more flight here, narrower than the rest, blocked off. Rooftop access.

"Oh my god." She snorts out a laugh. "You're mad."

"No cameras up there," he points out.

"It'll be fucking freezing," she says, but she's not about to say no. She looks around before her eyes settle on the security camera in the corner. She steps toward it, motioning him over. "Give us a boost."

He obliges promptly, lacing his fingers together in a makeshift footstool. She places her boot neatly in his hands and he hoists her up. She braces one hand against the wall and fumbles blindly with the camera for a moment before she finds the switch to turn it off. Not exactly covering their tracks, but it's doubtful anyone's attention is going to be on this tonight.

"Bet we get in huge trouble for this," she mutters as he lets her back down.

Cage rolls his shoulders back, giving her a relaxed smile. "Who's gonna tell the Angel of Verdun she can't go up on the roof if she wants to?"

"Ugh," she groans. "Don't. I'm serious. I hate that Angel stuff."

"Oh. Right." He hesitates, the smile fading halfway, his conspiratorial enthusiasm momentarily halted. "Sorry."

All that sincerity. What does she do with it? She waves him off hastily, attention back on the way forward. "You know, I don't think this blockade is actually wired to an alarm system?" she says. "I think it's just meant to deter us."

"The door's probably armed," says Cage.

"Yeah. There." She points out a keypad on the door beneath the knob. "Don't worry, I got this." She lifts a leg up and hoists herself over the barricade, trotting up the stairs and setting the sake down gingerly on the top step as she pauses to inspect the keypad.

"Do you," says Cage with palpable curiosity, following her up.

"Never told you about that stuff, huh," she notes. "Or are you just being coy."

"We didn't actually talk much about personal stuff." He shrugs and slips his hands into his pockets. "Most of our interaction boiled down to training, planning, and you shooting me in the head."

She snorts at that; can't help it. He's retained enough humor about the situation to chuckle faintly. She crouches down and reaches into her jacket, withdrawing a small set of tools.

"Wait," he blurts. "Is that—"

"Good to know there's still some mystery about me," she says wryly, taking a very small screwdriver to the keypad. This is delicate work and she's quite drunk, but that's half the fun. She works fast and just shy of sloppy, unscrewing the cover of the keypad and lifting it off to expose the wires within.

"Soooo," Cage says slowly. He's standing over her, watching with—she glances up to catch a glimpse—a distinctly agog expression.

"So." She smiles, quite pleased with herself—both with herself as she is now, and with the many iterations of herself that Cage has met, none of which apparently saw fit to tell him about that period in her early twenties where her survival became a constant game of B&E and petty theft. Not a detail she tells lightly. Good to know she has consistency across all repetitions.

"You brought a lock-picking kit to a hotel party?"

"I'm a woman of many talents," she says, fiddling gingerly with the tangle of wires, tracing them to their connections, searching for the one she wants. "I'm good for operating both heavy and delicate machinery. Sometimes while intoxicated. I contain multitudes."

"But why did you bring it?" he persists. "Did you think this was where the night was gonna go?"

"I always used to carry my kit around," she says, finally locating the wire she needs and tugging it out. This done, she pulls out a torsion wrench and a hook pick and inserts them carefully into the mechanism. "Didn't have a good pocket for them in the exo-suit."

He snorts at that. She smiles, distracted, chewing her lip as she focuses on the lock. "Now it's... just an old habit. Lucky for you, too."

She's expecting more questions, an inquiry about why this was ever a habit, but instead she gets silence. She feels a satisfying click as she picks the first pin, pauses and turns to look up at Cage.

He's just watching her with another strange smile—smaller, warmer than the drunken smirking and grinning he's been doing tonight.

"What?" she says uncertainly, turning back to the lock.

He's quiet for a moment longer, watching her work, then finally replies, "I'm just glad I can finally get to know you."

Rita stalls out and nearly loses her place, but then resumes the work with even harder focus. The urge to get out of this stairwell and into the chilly London air with the noisy street and the howling wind and the freedom to drink is suddenly overwhelming. Everything here is too close and quiet.

At last the final pin lifts, and she turns the plug and opens the door. "Et voila," she says in a rather silly voice, treating him to a devious smile. If she'd been sober at any point during this interaction she'd probably have felt the need to establish boundaries or something, been wary of going at the conversation drunk. Thank God that wasn't in the cards. This is much easier while altered.

Cage smiles fondly and nods in a laughably cordial display of gratitude as he steps through the door into the blustery night. "You'll have to show me how to do that sometime," he says. "You taught me just about everything else I know."

She hums her amusement and follows him out, sake in hand. "Fuck me it's cold," she whispers, tugging her jacket tighter around herself. "So, wait, you mentioned training."

"From the ground up," he says, wandering out across the hotel roof in search of a place to sit. "I didn't know anything when I met you the first time. Could barely move in the suit, had to figure out how the weapons systems worked through trial and error. Mostly error."

"I've been wondering how a public relations officer wound up on the front lines," she says, drawing him over to a small alcove that might stand a chance of blocking the wind some. She pulls the hood of her jacket up and settles down against a ventilation shaft, uncapping the bottle of sake and treating herself to a bracing swig.

"Yeah..." Cage sits down beside her, unwrapping the foil from the wine. "It's not a story I'm proud to tell."

"Is that right." Rita coughs softly and angles her gaze toward him, quietly expectant.

He heaves a sigh, not quite smiling, more of a grimace. "General Brigham brought me in—was bringing me in, I guess—to have me get the story from the front lines. A propaganda piece from the thick of it." He pulls the foil off the wine and crumples it slowly in his hand. "I didn't much like the idea."

"Mm." Rita's not sure she likes where this is going, but she reserves judgment for now. "I might be able to get the cork with my screwdriver," she offers.

"No need." He produces a swiss army knife and pulls out the corkscrew. He keeps his attention on the bottle as he twists the cork out, taking his sweet time with the story. "I tried to turn him against the idea, and when that didn't work, I tried to bribe him."

"Oh my god," she declares, staring at him him with a scrutiny that is both seriously felt and mitigated by the haze of alcohol.

"Yeah, I know." He sighs again and tugs the cork free. "He arrested me for desertion, of course, and I got stripped of rank and sent to the front lines as a disgraced private. And then I met an Alpha, and then... I met you."

He's not looking at her, perhaps wanting to avoid her judgment. He gazes out over what's left of London's skyline and tips the wine up to his lips, taking a generous swig of his own. "Never told you that before."

"I'd probably have shot you on the spot," she says bluntly.

He laughs, but it's half-hearted at best. After an uneasy silence he offers her the bottle.

"Oh, no." She waves it off. "I'm not much for wine."

"Oh." He hesitates, which catches her attention more than anything.

"Why does that surprise you?" she demands.

He shrugs and pulls the wine back. "Oh, no, it was just... something you said once."

"I said what?" She keeps her eyes on him, tracking his movement, trying to read into every little fidget. "About... wine? In the middle of war I stopped to talk about my drinking preferences?"

"Not—not exactly," he says, his eyes flicking over to her, taking in her hunched posture and hawkish stare. She's been told it's hawk-like, anyway. "It was just kind of a throwaway comment. You were making fun of me, actually."

"Can't imagine that," she says with a smartarse little grin.

Cage smirks at her and holds the gaze for a moment longer than what feels normal before twitching away. Her eyes snap forward and then down, both of them looking at their respective bottles.

"Definitely never got to see you like this," he remarks.

"I was definitely never drunk during the war," she replies.

"Well, I like it." He doesn't seem to know where to look—at her, at the ground, at the view—but she keeps her focus solidly on the middle distance. "Not the you-being-drunk part. Just... you being yourself. Relaxed."

"M'not relaxed," she says. "You've never seen me relaxed. I haven't been relaxed since 1993. When I was ten."

"Well... not at war, then."

"Doesn't matter." She takes another swig and winces as a gust a wind hits her full in the face. She leans over, raising a finger to gesture, for drunken emphasis. "You and I, Cage, we're pretend people. Don't really exist. Not the way anyone sees us. All this happened to us, all this... this rubbish we can't even explain... not even to each other. I want to know what... what you know about me and how it all—But it doesn't matter, because no matter how you tell it, that won't make it real. It didn't happen to me. Just like nothing that happened to me happened to anyone else. It's all a big fucking secret. I don't even know who I am anymore." She pauses and looks at the sake as though it is personally to blame for this existential predicament.

"I know how you feel," he says after a moment.

She hesitates, then finally allows herself to look at him again. He meets her eyes, and they manage to hold eye contact without one of them flinching for the first time all night.

"Yeah," she says softly. "S'pose you do."

And then, perhaps inevitably, the moment shifts, and the casually held gaze becomes unbearable, and she looks away.

"You still don't know anything about me," she mutters.

"I know a few things," he says, quiet, non-confrontational.

She sighs, trying to tell herself she shouldn't go down this rabbit hole but too drunk to listen. "Like what?"

He takes another drink of wine and then sets the bottle down, rubbing his hands together against the cold. "You told me a little about Hendricks," he says finally.

It doesn't hit as hard as it would have had she been sober, but it's still a lot all at once. She curls inward a little, arm wrapped tight around her gut. She's been getting so good at not thinking about Hendricks.

"What did I tell you," she says in a monotone.

"Not much," says Cage, speaking with care, a thoughtful drunk. "That you were... close, and.... You didn't want to talk about it."

"I still don't," she says. She raises the bottle to take another drink, then thinks better of it and sets it aside, pressing her hands to her face. She can only speculate what that conversation was like, or why it came up, but it's easy enough to guess. She recognizes in him what she saw in herself, knows it too well. The difficulty of connecting to someone who doesn't remember doing it a hundred times before.

She drops her hands, but before she can speak another blast of wind hits them, and she shudders violently.

"You're really cold," he observes.

"Indeed," she says dryly, then spots him starting to fiddle with his jacket. "Oh, for—Don't take your jacket off, Cage. It won't make me warmer, it'll just make you colder."

"Well..." He looks down at himself for a contemplative moment, then raises an arm, offering.

"No," she says flatly.

"Rita, your hands are shaking."

"We're not huddling for warmth," she says, stuffing her hands into the too-small pockets of her jacket.

"Why not?"

"Because," she says, "you have—" She pulls one of her hands back out into the crisp air and flails it at him for a few evasive beats; "—feelings for me."

He pauses, and she puts her hand back in her pocket, stares grimly elsewhere, and wonders if she shouldn't have said that.

"Yes," he admits finally.

"So," she says.

"I'm not trying to..." He breaks off, seeming frustrated, though not by her refusal so much as his own inability to find the right words. "I just..."

"Look, I understand, all right?" She exhales slowly, watching her breath turn to mist and dissipate before her eyes. "I know what it is to grow close to someone who doesn't know it's happening. And to watch them die over and over again, knowing you can't do anything to stop it. I lived it. I know exactly how you feel, but I don't know you, Cage. You start thinking of them as this other person and expecting them to be a certain way, but it's not... it's not that simple." Words are starting to slip away. She's too addled with liquor and cold for this. She concludes with a brusque gesture.

He nods, accepting this, allowing a lull to fall between them before he ventures to speak again. "There was one time," he says, "we got further than usual, but I couldn't get past that point without... without losing you. I told you I wished I didn't know you."

She grimaces and nods in return. She wished that frequently about Hendricks. She wishes it even more now, now that he's gone forever. Cage doesn't know, or maybe he does, how fortunate he is, getting her back after everything. Lucky goddamn bastard.

"You told me something else, and I always... well, I guess I thought it was like a message, or something. You told me your middle name was Rose, and... I don't know, maybe it sounds stupid, I just felt like you were trying to tell me something with that."

As he talks, Rita's gaze shifts back to him, and she lets it linger, watching as he struggles through the story. It feels so strange, like a description of something she's supposed to remember, but the mental image just won't form.

She opens her mouth to speak, but another howling gust of wind has her shuddering and cursing a blue streak instead.

"We could go inside," Cage offers.

"No," she says tightly, wrapping her arms around herself. "I want to stay here a bit longer. We go back and, and it's all real again, all that, where we have to pretend none of this ever happened. Out here it's not like that. We don't have to pretend, we can just... be this. Just a little longer."

Even as she says this, she can't stop her teeth from chattering. Cage is looking at her with some sort of vaguely maternal disapproval, and finally she rolls her eyes and relents, scooting in closer to him. "All right, fine," she says. "For warmth."

"That's all I ever meant by it," he says mildly, and wraps his arm around her shoulders, pulling her in close. The warmth afforded by proximity is minimal, but it is something, and it is nice. For a moment they just sit there, staring out at all the lights in the dark, and then she huffs out a laugh and says, "Cuddled up over a nice view, I see how it is, this was all part of your nefarious scheme."

"You got me," he chuckles.

They share a shivery little giggle, and Rita sighs and says, "Look, Cage, maybe I did tell you my middle name as some kind of... code. But even if I did, it... it doesn't mean anything now. I can't just blindly accept that at some point I may have felt some way about you."

"I know," he says quickly. "I don't expect you to. I don't want you to. I meant what I said earlier. That I'm glad I get to know you. That's all I want, Rita, is a chance to get to know you, properly, outside all that. I just... want to try... this."

She considers that for a few moments. "I suppose that sounds nice," she says, peering up what she can see of him from his shoulder. "You're not even my type, you know."

"You weren't my type," he says, grinning again. "I just think it would be nice to... have someone to, you know, talk to. About all this."

"Yeah," she says. "It would."

They resign themselves to another period of listening to the wind whistle around them before Rita finally says, "All right, fuck this. We're going back inside. If I get pneumonia it's your fault."

"I'll accept that," he says dutifully, getting to his feet and helping her up. He looks her up and down. "Back to the world?"

"Back to it," she sighs, and follows him toward the door, leaving the bottles behind. She keeps her eyes on his back as they go, and doesn't bother trying to stop herself smiling, which is as good a victory as any.