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Generated: Jun 29, 2019 5:52 PM
Post last updated: Jun 29, 2019 8:39 PM
hope comes from the smallest places
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He'll follow after her, not entirely steady, but mostly not looking in danger of falling over.

(They don't encounter anyone, and Erie is a steady stream of technical specs in Lee's ear.)

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She hesitates outside the ship for a moment, before leading him in.

"...the other cabin, at least until that is out of your system," she concludes, as they make their way though the passages. (It's... dark. She hadn't really noticed before. She stays close to Star.) "Do you know what it is?"

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He doesn't seem entirely there, barely processing the half of the conversation he can hear.

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'Pri's got a couple of guesses based on the drugs some of the others are on. But she isn't sure enough to try a counteragent without being sure of what it is. Ms Adareif might have more.'

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"You trust her to help?" Lee asks Erie, and then, of Star, "Star, do you know what they gave you?"

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He hesitates as he thinks through the answer to that. 'She seems sound,' he says carefully. 'And intelligent enough to know the consequences of harming him. And she seemed genuinely distressed you were hurt earlier.'

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He shakes his head. "M'sorry. Needle?"

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"Not your fault," she replies, immediately. "They used a needle, that's something. Do you remember anything else about it?"

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"Made it hard to keep track of...real."

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Lee swears quietly. "Okay. Okay." She repeats what Star said for Erie, her voice shaking a little.

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He still flinches when she swears.

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Apparently Erie's learned to swear in new languages. 'I'll let Pri and Ms Adareif know, 'kay? See if they can figure something out without needing to...get blood or something.'

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She flinches at Star's reaction. "Star, I'm not upset at you, okay?" she says, quickly.

The door to the cabin is just ahead of them, now.

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He knows that, he does (he thinks). He nods quickly.

The door slides open unprompted as they reach it.

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She leads him inside, and sits down on the floor, positioned so Star can sit near her and be able to watch both doors. She pats the floor beside her gently. "Safe, okay, Star?" (Erie will keep them safe.)

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He sits down just outside of arm's reach (that should be familiar enough that it isn't too distressing, a response whenever he wasn't entirely sure).

He nods, slightly vaguely.

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She makes soothing noises, quietly. "'Mhere, Star. It'll be okay now."

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Not too long later, there's a ping on Envy's frequency.

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'Lee?' You ready for this? (He has to be sure.)

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"Within reason." (If it's really bad I might not be, but otherwise yeah.)

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'Go ahead, Pri.'

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'Alright, Av tracked down their drug store. From what you've told me about symptoms and administration method, I know what it is. Even better, I have a counteragent in the medlab. The cooler. Second shelf. Green bottle. Do not use the red one. That'll make things worse.'

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'Not colour blind, Pri.'

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'My variant is injection only, but I've talked it over with Ms Adareif, she says she can probably synthesise an oral or inhaled version of it.'

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'You get that, Lee?' Unsaid, but Lee'll understand: Talk it over with Star?

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"Okay, Star, we can get you something to make the drug stop doing what it is, but -- easier to get form is injected--"

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He jerks back, head shaking violently. "nonononono!"

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"Okay. Okay, Star, no one is going to make you, alright? You don't have to."

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His breathing is still rapid, but he stops shaking his head, stops repeating 'no'. (Lee will keep him safe.)

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"It's okay, Star," she repeats, gently. "There are other options, or we can just wait for it to wear off on its own if you want," (she sounds unhappy about this but willing to work with it), "okay?"

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He's silent for a moment. "don't like."

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"Yeah. Okay. Other options are something you swallow, or something you breathe in. Either of those sound much better or should I ask more about them?"

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He makes himself smaller. "breathe?" It's half question, half answer. He's not sure just how easily he could swallow right now.

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"Okay. It's okay, Star."

She takes a moment, breathing, and then: "He wants the inhaled version?"

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'Get that Pri?'

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'I'll let Ms Adareif know,' Pride confirms.

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'Lee, I've left clothes on the other side of the bathroom door. You might have my softest shirt, but this one's a close second.'

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"Okay. Star, I'm going to get you some clothes. I won't go out of your sight, okay?"

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Star watches her closely, but nods.

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Nicole gets up and goes over to the door -- it opens on its own -- picks up the clothes, carefully staying within Star's line of sight, and brings them back over to him, setting them carefully down next to him.

"Do you want me to leave--"

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He makes a distressed noise, half reaches out for her before snatching his hand back.

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"Hey, hey, it's okay, I won't if you don't want want me to, Star, okay?"

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He breathes a little easier, makes a sound that Lee will definitely be able to translate to 'good'. He reaches for the clothes again, and then pauses, eyes darting to Lee, and then back down to the clothes.

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"Yeah, that's why I asked. I can turn around?"

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He nods. It's better than her leaving.

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She nods, and turns around.

"How long?" she asks Erie.

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'Five-ten minutes. Not long.' (Too long, but not long.)

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Star dresses quickly, wraps the blanket back around himself, and clears his throat quietly.

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"Done?" she checks.

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He nods, remembers she can't see him, and hums an affirmative.

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She turns back to him, and sits back down where she was before.

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He's still mostly a small ball of blanket, although his face is a little more visible than it was. He shuffles the barest inch closer.

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Eventually, Erie lets her know that the counteragent is outside the main door this time, along with some of the broth Gluttony had made for the other slaves.

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"Okay, it's here. Right outside the door we came in. I'm going to go get it, okay, Star? Won't leave."

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He nods again, resting his chin on his knees and rocking slightly.

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She stands and steps over to that door -- doesn't need to pause for it to open -- picks up the bottle and thermoses, and carries them back over to Star. She places one thermos by her spot, and the other and the bottle by Star. "Instructions?" she asks (Erie, do you know? If not can you get someone who does?).

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'Ms Adareif?' he pings. 'Instructions?'

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"Place the nozzle in one nostril, breathe out, squeeze it as you breathe in, slowly and deeply. Repeat with your other nostril, and then rest. Call me back if the symptoms do not at least begin to reduce after five minutes."

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Lee relays this to Star.

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He fumbles for the bottle, fingers slightly uncoordinated, but he manages to follow the instructions. Then sets the bottle down - it falls over, unsteady from his still shaking fingers.

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Lee picks it up when it rolls near her, and puts the cap back on. "It's going to be okay, Star."

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Lee doesn't say things she doesn't mean. And she won't hurt him. No matter what else happens, she won't hurt him. (Whatever she wanted would be fine. It would. It was Lee.)

Slowly, he stops feeling like he's looking at things through smoke, starts feeling like he can actually trust his eyes.

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"Star?" she asks, tentatively, after a little while.

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"...Lee?"

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She nods, looking a bit worried. "Yeah, it's me, Star."

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"Lee!" he half reaches out and then sort of stops. "...Safe?"

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"Safe, yeah. E--" she stops, takes a moment to rephrase. "--no one will get in here without our permission."

She reaches out toward him a little, tentatively.

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He flinches back from her automatically.

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She freezes.

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He hesitates, and rocks slightly. "Don't wanna be touched," he doesn't sound happy about that, more distressed than anything else.

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"Then I won't," she says, gently. "I -- if you also want -- you could have a blanket in between? And -- I don't. Mind you touching me?" This part is more broken up -- she's clearly distressed, although trying to hide it.

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He still doesn't quite move towards her, but he seems to want to.

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"...I'm going to move my arm so you can reach it more easily," she says, and, in the absence of an objection, extends her arm further.

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He reaches a little closer, hesitates again. "I- you. Won't touch?"

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"I'll be careful. I -- don't want to touch you if you don't want touched?"

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He jerks forward to wrap around her arm. "Please don't."

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She holds very still.

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He leans a little against her, just...basking. In the safe feeling.

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She breathes, very carefully. "Hey, Star," she says, softly.

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"Hey." He actually looks at her, blinking slightly.

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"Hm?" she asks. (She seems perfectly fine with him looking at her.)

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"You. Got me? Out?

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"Mhm. I had help," (she sounds a little worried about that, under the surface) "but -- we got you out. You're safe now, Star."

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"You got me," he repeats. "...how?"

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"Like I said, I -- I had some help."

She goes quiet for a few moments, and then: "What do you remember about -- about the, the person who found you, before I got there?"

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He shrugs a little. "Not- sure. Quick. Vicious. I- glowing? Maybe? Not sure."

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Lee shivers. "Sounds right."

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He manages to shuffles slightly closer, blinking at her in concern.

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"I was so scared for you," she murmurs, and then: "It's -- it's okay, it's okay, we're safe, Erie'll, he'll keep us safe."

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Star's eyes go slightly panicked, and he starts searching her arm for injection sites. "Who got you?"

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"--I'm pretty sure the only thing I'm on is the painkillers Pin stole me," she says. She seems confused, but holds still for him to examine her. (There are no obvious injection sites on her arm, although part of it is bandaged.)

And then: "--shit, that wasn't how I meant to tell you -- I -- Star, Erie's alive -- he's who I've been talking to -- I could back up or -- if I know him he's probably right outside?"

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"I- you're- hurt?" He's obviously worried. "...infected? Seeing things?"

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She swallows. "I -- don't think I am? I -- Erie, you outside?"

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Star does not look particularly convinced.

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'Uh...yeah?' Where else would I be?!

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"How about you come see him for yourself, Star?" she says, gently, and then: "--I either need you to move with me or let go, okay?"

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'Uh...Wrath's currently...kinda sleeping on me?'

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Lee freezes for a moment, and then squares her shoulders. "--Star needs to see you." I need to see you, she doesn't say.

As she speaks, she slides her necklace out from under her (Erie's) shirt, showing it to Star (and herself).

(It's the one he made for her, rather than the one he made for Erie.)

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'Yeah, yeah that's fine. Just. Making sure you knew.'

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She...she hasn't worn that since. Since they lost Erie. He fumbles abruptly at his wrist because...

He makes a distressed, keening sound as he finds only bare skin, because he hadn't quite realised that the slavers had actually taken them. (Even if it would've made no sense for them not to.)

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Oh no. Oh no.

She makes a distressed noise, too, and moves a little as though to hug him before stopping herself (she wants to, she wants to, but he doesn't want to be touched)

"We'll -- we'll try to find them, okay, Star? And if, if we can't, we'll make you new ones?"

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He rocks, and latches back onto her arm. "M'sorry. Didn't- didn't want them to. Tried to stop them."

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"I know. I know. It's not your fault. Lemme get up, Star?"

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He reluctantly lets go.

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She stands, and heads for the door, holding out her hand tentatively to him.

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He stumbles to his feet, still a little unsteady, but probably more from his curled position than anything else. He can't quite bring himself to take Lee's hand, and hates himself a little bit for it.

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"Not your fault," she pauses to say, softly, before stepping up to the door.

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He's sat against the wall opposite the door, humming absently, and slightly tunelessly, as his fingers braid...

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...Wrath's hair as she dozes with her head in his lap.

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Lee goes still and tense in the doorway, and tries to focus on Erie. (ErieErieErie -- and he seems like he feels safe but -- and Star is right there -- but she's been there for a while and --)

(And she knows if she steps back the door will close and she and Star will be safe but Erie--)

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He stares, not daring to believe his eyes.

(Was that the woman who...stopped the men? He's not sure.)

But that's Erie. And it can't be.

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Who has apparently decided it is a fabulous idea to poke the sleeping Wrath.

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She makes a sleepy noise, and stretches, catlike, in his lap. (Doing so reveals a long healing gash up her arm, and a deeper one in her side.)

"L go pick S up yet?" she asks, pushing herself to sitting.

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Lee goes even stiller when Wrath moves.

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"Yeah, once all hostiles were gone."

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This can't be real. It's...

Too good.

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Wrath gets to her feet, stumbling slightly. "M'gonna go fall asleep on him," she declares, weaving off down the hallway, falling into the wall at one point, before righting herself and continuing out of sight.

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When Wrath is out of sight, Lee takes a breath, and then steps forward tentatively, holding out her arms to Erie.

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He stares at her, not quite able to bring himself to move. More question than anything else. You sure? His eyes flicker to Star - who doesn't look well, but doesn't look bad.

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She seems confused by the question, more than anything else. "Erie," she says, softly. I trust you and I don't want you to be unhappy.

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He pushes himself to his feet, but doesn't quite reach for Lee, or Star, as much as he wants to.

"Perhaps move this back in there," he nods back to the cabin. "Drafty corridors and all?"

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She nods, tentatively, and steps back into the room, one arm still extended toward him. (She looks more than a little lost.)

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She's not the only one. Star has backed up, staying just out of touching distance, not willing to let either of them out of his sight, looking a little wildly between them.

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He follows, the door sliding shut the minute he steps through, nearly catching him in its haste.

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Lee relaxes immensely when she is inside and the door starts to close, although she flinches when it nearly catches Erie, and starts to step forward to check he is uninjured, before catching herself, and looking at him for permission. You okay with me coming near you?

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"M'fine," he says, holding up his hands and wiggling his fingers. I never wouldn't be if that's where you want to be.

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She steps forward again, quickly checking that he's unhurt, and then, watching his face carefully, wraps her arms around him.

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"Said I was fine, Lee," he repeats, a tiny bit disgruntled (no more than he would've been before this entire mess happened), and wraps her in a hug, pressing a kiss to her forehead.

Then he looks past her shoulder to Star. "Hey, Star," he says softly. "You doing okay there?"

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Star just stares at them, shakes his head as though trying to clear it, and then stares some more. "How's this real? S'real right?"

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Lee relaxes into Erie, trembling a little as her muscles relax.

"'sreal" she says, into his shoulder, and then lifts her head a little and repeats. "It's real. It -- it better be."

She squeezes Erie slightly, as if to reassure herself of his solidness.

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"Too real," he mumbles, a little bitter. He half wants to pull away, but he's not going to rob Lee of this. He readjusts his hold slightly so he can offer one arm to Star, hand still carefully held so it can't be construed as a threat.

"See for yourself?" he offers. "Pretty sure you never had solid hallucinations?"

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He moves a bit closer, stops, doesn't seem to know what to do with himself, can't quite bring himself to reach out. (Doesn't want to find this is just a dream.)

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"--worth trying to fix," she says, softly (she could feel Erie shift, and not just from rearranging to hold his hand out to Star). "You're worth it, Erie."

She takes a breath, leaning her head against Erie, and then: "I was solid, earlier, remember, Star? It's -- it's not a dream."

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He reaches out to touch Erie's hand- and it's-

He recoils.

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"Shhh," he soothes them both. "S'okay. M'real, m'here."

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He makes a lost noise, and latches onto Erie's hand, but is looking to Lee, needing something from- but he can't ask. He just- Doesn't know what do to.

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She unwraps a hand from Erie, telegraphing her movements carefully, and offers it to Star.

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He's still for a moment, both his hands are busy being latched onto Erie and how is this real?!

But. But-

He makes a distressed noise and manages to move one hand from Erie to Lee, and- he shakes slightly, and his grip tightens, to perhaps painful levels.

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He makes a soothing noise in the back of his throat, a low croon that he normally uses when he's coaxing the Cardinal into doing something she doesn't really like. (A sound that comes from way back before this nightmare started.)

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Lee squeezes Star's hand back, not even really noticing the painfully tight grip. "We're here," she murmurs. "We're here, Star."

(She can feel Erie's heartbeat against her and it's so so good.)

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He looks at the thermoses. "Y'know, you two were supposed to eat," he manages to sound very gently teasing.

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She leans into him. "Other priorities," she says, softly. "We could --" she pauses. "Star, Erie's cabin is through the bathroom -- where I got clothes earlier, door that doesn't go to the hall -- if you'd like to go there? There's a nest."

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He shrugs a little helplessly. He's a bit more focused on Lee and Erie to make any decisions right now.

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Erie looks at Star, and then at Lee. Star's in no state to be making decisions right now, and the nest was more comfortable. "Lee, how 'bout you take Star through and I'll grab the thermoses? I'll be right behind you?"

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Lee hesitates. "As long as you keep talking and Star's okay with that?" she says, after a moment.

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"Well, I've run out of technical specs, believe it or not," he says sounding more amused, and shifting very slightly so that Star could easily transfer his hand to Lee if he wanted to.

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Star is still, still clutching both of their hands, shaking very slightly.

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"'Ll be right behind you," he repeats.

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"We'll be right here," Lee agrees. (She hasn't let go of Erie, though.)

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"I will be right behind you both," he promises. "Blankets and pillows await?"

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Star's still for a moment, and then manages to lurch his hand from Erie's to Lee with a quiet, bitten off sound that isn't quite distress.

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"Hey," she reassures, very reluctantly removing her own hand from Erie. "C'mon, this way, he'll be right behind us. Erie please talk, or whistle or something."

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"Two minutes tops till we're in our nest," he assures, and settles into whistling, sharp, and not quite as tuneful as he previously would've managed. (His tongue won't curl in quite the right way, but it works.)

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Star will shuffle after Lee, but doesn't seem quite capable of making himself move without encouragement or guidance.

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Lee encourages him through the empty bathroom and into Erie's cabin on the other side.

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He's almost terrifyingly pliant, but the grip on her hands is anything but pliant, so that is, perhaps something.

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And sure enough, right behind them, Erie follows, whistling all the while, and carrying the two Thermoses.

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Lee adds "You don't have to do anything you don't want to," and "it's okay to prefer things, we're not going to hurt you, Star," to her stream of reassurances, her voice shaking a little.

She guides Star over to the edge of the nest (Erie expanded it, good, she's not sure how they'd manage this if he hadn't), "You can curl up here, there's enough room for us to not be touching you unless you want, it's okay, Star."

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...

"But-" He doesn't want to let go of Lee. (Of them.)

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She considers the nest.

"I think we can manage it so you don't have to let go even for a little if that's what you want," she reassures.

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He watches them, a little sad somehow. "Here-" he says quietly, slides past them easily, and slips into the corner of the nest. "Easier?"

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"Please." (He doesn't want to let go.)

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"Okay," she says, gently. "This is a little tricky, I need you to..."

After some directions, she's curled up against Erie and Star is also in the nest a little ways away, their hands still clasped.

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"Alright, you're gonna have to free up one hand each to drink these," he says quietly, "but once that's done, you can have my hand, or Lee's again, or whatever you want, okay, Star?"

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He makes a low, keening sound that isn't quite distress. He can do this, he can do this. (He doesn't manage to let go of Lee's hands even a little.)

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"You'll still have my hand," Lee soothes, gently.

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He manages to peel one of his hands away, pressing his eyes closed at the loss. (He's still got her with the other hand, she's still here.)

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Erie nudges Lee's shoulder with one of the thermoses, nods to Star. (You were always better at getting him to eat.)

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She takes the thermos and holds it out to Star. "Erie got us food," she says, gently.

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This is old, this is familiar, he can do this. He reaches forward, fingers stopping just as they brush the thermos.

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She pushes it a little closer to him, making soothing noises all the while.

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He manages to take it, and despite his hand shaking, manages to start sipping on it.

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He nudges Lee again with the other thermos. (You need to eat as well.)

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When Star starts sipping his soup, Lee accepts the other thermos from Erie, and starts on it.

(She's not hungry. But she should eat.)

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He watches them quietly, a content, if sad smile on his face.

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He knows he's not going to be able to finish the soup, even if it is possibly the best food he's tasted recently.

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"It's okay," Lee soothes. "When you're full you can close it back up, save the rest for later."

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"We can reheat it and everything," Erie adds gently. "We got the kit to do that easily." He hands Lee the lids.

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Lee accepts them, smiling up at Erie a little, quickly, and continues eating, keeping her attention on Star.

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Erie brushes a brief kiss to her hair.

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Predictably, Star can't finish the entire mug, but he manages about half of it, which is pretty good.

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(Lee snuggles closer against Erie.)

"You don't need to make yourself sick trying to eat it all now," she soothes Star, when she notices. "You can finish it later, it will still be there."

She shifts her own mug, and offers him one of the lids.

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Okay. Okay, he can- It's okay. Lee said it was okay. Lee wouldn't lie.

He shifts enough to balance the mug while he takes the lid, and puts it on the mug, before looking around for somewhere to put it.

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"Here," Erie offers quietly. "I can get it onto the table behind me."

Star carefully hands it over, and Erie twists slightly to put the mug onto the table - there's a slightly metallic chink, like a magnet engaging with a surface.

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Lee finishes eating fairly quickly after that, and closes up her mug and hands it to Erie as well.

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He puts that up on the table as well, and shifts slightly, offering the arm not wrapped around Lee to Star if Star wants it.

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After a momentary pause, Star latches back on to his hand as well.

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"We're here," Lee soothes. "You've got us."

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-Yeah, he did, and that was good, it was so good. (And still felt half like a dream.)

"-They took. They took my-" He stared at his wrists, a little forlorn.

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"I know. I know. We'll make you new ones, Star. And it's not your fault."

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"Should've- Should've stopped- them- tried and-"

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Erie hides his expression in Lee's hair. "Star, they-" He doesn't have the words to explain that Star should've not fought, that that obviously would've made them hurt him more, and Erie couldn't bear that thought-

(As much as he knew how much those bracelets meant, they were replaceable, Star wasn't, Lee wasn't.)

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"Star, it was a good call. They would have taken them anyway, and --" her voice cracks. "We can make new ones, we couldn't have if we lost you, Star."

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He leans a bit more into them, nearly in Lee's lap at this point. "I- I. Yes. But-"

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"We're not upset with you, Star. You kept yourself alive, and that was the most important thing."

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"You're not replaceable. Neither of you are."

And then, through the comm still in Lee's ear. 'I'll double check with the guys. They'll keep their eyes out. If they've survived, they'll find them.'

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Star sobs a little, and leans his head against Lee's shoulder.

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Lee nods marginally to Erie, and just holds Star. "We're here. We're here. I've got you."

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He's quiet for a moment. Then: "M'tired. M'so tired."

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"Yeah. You can rest now. We'll keep you safe."

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"We'll keep watch," Erie promises.

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Star hums a little, and shifts a little, so that his head is pillowed a little more comfortably on Lee's shoulder.

Hesitates. "I- talk to me? Please?"

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"Okay. What do you want to hear about?"

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"I don't- anything-"

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"How about that old story about the winged horse?" Erie suggests.

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This gets a very brief flicker of a smile. "Sure," she agrees, and takes a breath and begins.

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As she speaks, Star's breath evens out as he slides into sleep.

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Lee continues to the boy successfully fixing the horse's wings, and building himself his own pair, before she stops, and looks up at Erie.

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He's watching her quietly, and kisses her forehead when she looks to him.

'He's going to be okay. We're going to be okay.' (He might actually believe that.)

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"I hope so," she whispers, still in the same tone she was using telling the story.

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He squeezes her gently. (No matter what Star and Lee decided, Erie would make sure they were somewhere safe.)

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Lee is watching his face. "We," she says, a hint of firmness in her voice. "Always."

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"You know I can't argue with you," Erie says, tone teasing.

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"Then believe me," she says, softly.

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-That's harder. That's asking something he's not sure he can do. (Because he loves them so much, and if they want to leave, he's never going to stop them, but he's not sure he can go with them...)

"I'll try."

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"That I want to stay with you, that I think Star will too," she clarifies, pressing into him as much as she can without risking disturbing Star.

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"Yeah. I know. It's just. Hard. Sometimes." He kisses her hair.

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She makes an unhappy-but-acknowledging noise.

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After a moment, she looks up at him again. "I'll keep reminding you, if that helps?"

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"-Yeah, you might need to."

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"I love you, and I'm so glad I'm with you again, and I wish you were -- hurting less -- but you're still here, and you think we're safe and I know you wouldn't say we would be if you weren't sure? And you matter so much to me, I don't even have words for it -- "

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The faith she has in him is overwhelming.

(But nothing in that is new.)

"I- I love you too. And-" And of course they're safe, of course they are, he doesn't have the words, really, to explain why, or how, he just knows that they are.

(But safe or not, this still might not be the best place for Star and Lee, and he knows that, as much as it hurts.)

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She seems to think the best place for her to be is with him.

But she doesn't argue further, just leans her head back against him and sighs, softly. "Love you," she repeats.

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He leans his head against hers, silent for a a while.

"-How do we even explain this to Star?" he asks eventually.

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"...lead with reminding him that we are safe," Lee says, after a moment. "And then -- I don't know if it's better to go through the broadest strokes of how or -- just skip to the present, like you did with me. I don't think he'll -- react as strongly to what you've been up to as I did, but he will to what happened to you, and -- I expect he'll need the reassurance that we're safe, about the others. Not about you." Never about you.

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"-Yeah, yeah, that's probably best." (Is it bad that he wants to put telling Star off?)

(Except not really, because he's never liked lying to them. Not about the important things.)

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"We'll see how he is when he wakes up, but I think he'll be enough better to, then, and it is -- better not to leave it too long. I can tell it, if you want?"

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He's quiet for a moment. "'D appreciate the help."

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"Seems hard to tell," she says, softly, pressing her head against him slightly.

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"Some yeah. Get- caught up. Words are your thing."

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"You're plenty good, too, Er'e. Just. This. It's hard."

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"Be nice if things were just- easy. For once."

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"Yeah. But. Here." (We're here, we're together, it'll get better.)

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"I- Yeah. Yeah." (He was glad to have them. Even for a short time.)

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"Erie. I want to stay with you, and Star does too, and -- I don't think all of -- this -- will outweigh that?"

She goes silent for a little, and then: "If it does -- which. I think is very unlikely but -- if it does -- we'd work out a way to communicate. I -- I'd talk to you every day. It's not the same, but -- "

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"Yeah, yeah- we'll- figure something out."

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"We would," Lee agrees. "I don't think we'll have to, though, okay?"

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"We might need to figure out how to expand this nest."

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That gets a tentative smile. "You got it big enough we could all fit, but it could probably use some more attention, yeah."

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"We'll figure it out."

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"Yeah."

"...should let Pin know we got Star," she observes, after a little.

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"-Maybe wait till he's not sleeping on you?"

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"It was either that or asking you to type for me, yeah."

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"Let's wait. Star might want to say something."

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She nods, and leans back against him again.

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'We're leaving. Now. Round up folks.'

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'What, no five minute warning?'

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Erie keeps Lee in the loop. 'You got takeoff, L?"

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'Got you covered! You stay curled up.'

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Lee listens, a little tense and nervous, but reminding herself that Erie will keep them safe.

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Erie strokes her hair. We're fine. We're safe. I'm here.

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She looks up at him, and relaxes a little, and smiles a little. I know. I know. "Just hard," she murmurs, softly.

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"-I know," he agrees.

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'Hey, E, I think I mighta found what you were looking for. Let me know when you want them, huh?'

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Lee breathes in sharply, and looks up at Erie.

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'Send my tablet images?' he requests. Cause he doesn't want to get his hopes up. Or Star's. Not about something this important.

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'Sure thing. Give me ten.'

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Lee nods, and looks down at Star, curled up on her, again, while she waits, thinking.

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Erie meanwhile, twists carefully so he can grab his tablet so that when, ten minutes later, the images come through, he can open them, and show Lee.

(It is the bracelets, some of the beads missing or cracked, but it's them.)

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"--We'll have to fix it," Lee says, smiling a little, "but -- "

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"Probably better than having to make a new one. Think Star'll take it a little better."

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"Yeah."

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Which is about when the Cardinal takes off, not quite as smoothly as when Erie is at the helm, but smoothly enough.

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Star jerks awake, and away from Lee, for half a moment he's not quite there and everything is bad and-

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"Star," Lee says, softly. "Star, it's okay, you're safe, you're with us."

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-Lee. Yes. That's right- That was good right? Yes, yes it was.

He slumps a little, hand tightening briefly on Lee's arm, fingers sliding to find the pulsepoint.

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Her pulse is elevated, but slowing down.

"You okay?" she asks, gently.

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He isn't sure, half-shrugs.

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"Just the ship taking off," Erie assures quietly. "No-one can touch us now."

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Lee nods, starts to say something, stops, and presses against Erie.

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He kisses her forehead. (I know, but we are, we are, I'll make sure.)

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-Star's with it enough to notice Lee's hesitation and reaction there, and he tilts his head slightly.

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"It's. Complicated. But Erie wouldn't say that if he wasn't sure of it."

She looks down. "I can explain more, but it's -- hard -- and not urgent and you're still recovering. I will if you want, but -- "

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"I- whatever you- S'fine. I- S'fine."

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"If you want to know I'll tell you," Lee repeats, gently. "I think it would be a better idea to wait until you've gotten more sleep than that, but it's your choice."

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Star shakes his head - and it isn't so much disagreement as exhaustion warring with confusion and concern.

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Erie taps the tablet beside him. Let him know we found them? Message to Pin?

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Lee nods to Erie, slightly, and slides the tablet over to show Star.

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He tilts his head, not quite understanding what he's seeing.

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"We found them," Lee says, softly, gently. "And we'll fix them, but -- we have them. I thought you'd want to know."

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-He starts crying. He doesn't know why, it's not entirely bad, more overwhelmed than anything else, but he can't stop.

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-Yeah, tears are not something he's ever been good at, not really. Not even Lee's. He tries, but he always feels like he gets it wrong.

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"It's okay," Lee soothes. "It's -- it's okay, it's going to be okay, Star -- "

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"No, it's-" He doesn't know how to explain that it's okay, that it's not bad tears, doesn't know how to-

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"Okay. Okay. I get it, Star, you don't have to try to explain."

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He relaxes a little against them, still crying a little, but he's calming down.

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Lee continues to make reassuring noises as she waits.

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Eventually, he seems to have cried himself out.

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Lee pauses in her murmuring to look Star over thoughtfully. "More sleep? More food? Just rest for a while?" she offers.

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He shrugs tiredly, still kind of lost. "Dunno."

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"Alright," Lee says (looking kind of sad). "If you're cold or hungry or -- anything, we'll try to help, if we know?

"And -- if not, or if you don't -- want to tell us -- I can tell another story?"

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"I know you will."

(And he does, he just doesn't know what he needs or wants right now).

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This gets a quick, if tentative, smile. "Good. I -- good. Would a story be good, while you work it out? Or quiet?"

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"I- a story. Would be good? I think?"

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So she tells one.

It's not, exactly, a happy story, but it's not a sad one either; it's about growing and learning and overcoming challenges.

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He relaxes against them as she speaks.

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Lee smiles at him, and keeps telling the story.

Eventually, though, she finishes it.

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Star shifts a little, so he can lean against her a little less awkwardly. "Thank you."

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"I'm glad it helped."

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Erie watches them for a moment, before clearing his throat slightly. "Pin?"

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"--Right. Star, do you have opinions on what I tell Pin, or have a message for her?" She looks up at Erie. "I -- I'm guessing you still don't want to tell her about you?"

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"Too much to explain," he says with a shrug. (Why he hadn't gone back, how he was still alive, all the crap that had happened in between.)

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"I don't- know. I-"

(It wasn't that he disliked Pin, it was that he didn't know (trust) her like he did Lee and Erie.)

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"It's okay, Star. I get it. -- I would just tell her that we got you and you're safe now? But only if that's okay with you."

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He nods slowly.

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"I should send her something as an update or she'll think something happened to me, but if you weren't okay with it it wouldn't have to mention you," she clarifies.

With that handled, she shifts a little against Erie, and squeezes his hand with her free one.

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"No. S'okay."

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He squeezes back.

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Lee looks between her occupied hands and the tablet, and then shrugs, as if to say 'eh, it can wait'.

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Erie makes an amused sound and loops his arm carefully around Lee's waist instead.

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She leans back, and smiles up at him.

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"We can accommodate you typing. It won't take long."

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"True.”

She reluctantly removes her hand from Erie's, pressing against him a little, takes the tablet, navigates, and types her message to Pin with one hand, leaving the other with Star.

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(Star is pretty obviously relieved that she does.)

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Erie just leans his head against hers.

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It takes her a bit to finish the message with one hand occupied, but it's worth it.

She sends it, and wraps her hand around Erie's again.

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He squeezes her hand, presses their heads briefly tighter together.

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She relaxes against him, and smiles.

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After a bit, Star speaks again. "Earlier? What- what was it? That upset you?"

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"Right. Yes." Lee rubs her face, and then immediately latched onto Erie again. She glances up at him: You want me to tell this?

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He nods, a little hesitant, but still resolved.

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She squeezes his hand. "So the -- first of all, he got away, he's away now, he's safe, he's here -- the reason we never found a body was -- some people were taking people they thought wouldn't be missed."

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He goes still. (The kind of still that is an attempt at control, at reminding himself that he's safe.)

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"Safe," Lee says, gently, reassuringly. "It's okay, we're safe, Erie's safe -- "

She continues in this vein for as long as he seems to need it.

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Erie offers his spare hand as well - contact might help make it more real.

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He doesn't exactly relax, but after a couple of minutes, he gives a tense nod.

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"We can finish this later, if you want, Star."

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"No. Now. Please."

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"Okay. So -- they got away. Took that place down. But some of the implants -- were affecting them in ways they didn't realize? One of the things was it -- made it -- hard to see that people they weren't close to were people. And --"

She swallows, shakes her head. "We're safe, Star. But -- they killed a lot of people, and --" her throat closes. "They're -- we've heard of them -- "

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Star tilts his head, silently waiting for her to continue.

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He closes his eyes briefly, squeezes Lee a little tighter. (I'm here. I can do this. If you can't.)

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She leans into him, and takes a few moments, breathing deeply, before opening her eyes again. "We're safe. Erie won't let anyone hurt us. But they're -- they're the Sins."

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-He knows that should terrify him. He knows, logically, that that is a horrifying, and terrifying thing. And yet...

Erie is still Erie. And Lee wouldn't have them here if she thought they were in danger.

(And no-one can touch them if the Sins have them, the Sins are strong, insanely so...)

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Lee -- breathes, and holds their hands, and murmurs reassurances.

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He doesn't, really, want to draw attention to himself, and yet...

"We're safe," he murmurs. "We're fine."

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"I know. I know. If anyone can do that, it's you."

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"I've got you, both of you. You're safe here. I promise. I promise."

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Lee makes a soft, tired, assenting noise, and leans into him. "With you."

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"Together. All of us. Always."

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"Mhm."

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"Yeah. Yeah. Always." (And maybe... maybe he'd get to keep this? Ms Adareif and Pride were going to fix this. Maybe he'd get to keep them.)

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Lee and Erie decide fairly quickly, after Lee wakes back up, to delay expanding the nest; as small as the adventure to get more materials would be, Star needs more stability than that right now.

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And that's fine. He improves, doesn't need to be the on initiating the contact, can accept touch again. Stops being quite so unsure that things aren't real.

Until it kind of isn't fine.

Star is taking watch when he's suddenly, bitterly cold. It's not exactly a new feeling. It's hard for him to feel warm. (Except when there's flames wrapped around him.)

He's not even consciously aware of deciding to leave the nest (he'd have woken Lee or Erie if he was), but there's- something. Warm. Nearby. And all he can think about it getting to it.

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Lee stirs a little in her sleep, but Star isn't a reason to wake (and he's good at that, not waking them); she snuggles tighter against Erie, and settles again.

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Sometime later, he's woken by a ping to his comm, and a confused Wrath.

'What is it?' he starts to straighten.

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'I think there's someone that belongs with you in my engine room. Could you come and retrieve him please?'

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Lee stirs, beside him, "What...?" she murmurs, blearily.

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He tightens his grip on Lee looking around and-

Yup. No Star. 'We'll be right down.'

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She notices, too, jolting to full awakeness abruptly. "Where -- " she says, trying to sit up rapidly.

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"Engine room," Erie tells her, already getting to his feet. "He's okay."

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She's on her feet shortly after him, despite some winces, her breathing rapid.

She takes his hand, once she is, and holds it tightly.

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"He's fine," he repeats, squeezing her hand gently, and starting to lead the way.

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'He is,' Wrath confirms to Envy. 'I gave him a protein bar, and he's curled up fairly near the entrance.'

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Lee acknowledges Erie's words with a slight nod as she follows him, and after few moments she starts trying to regulate her breathing.

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It doesn't take them long to make it down, but he hesitates outside the door. '...Wrath?'

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'Well back. Not in sight of the door, don't worry.'

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And he palms the door open, his hesitation this time because of the sheer heat that emanates from the room.

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"oh," Lee says, softly. No wonder Star went here, really.

Her hand tightens further around Erie's, as she looks around what she can see from the door for Star. (Erie wouldn't have brought her here if he thought she would be unsafe, she knows, he would have asked her to stay -- but, but -- )

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"We're safe," Erie tells her, starting to draw her inside - Star isn't immediately visible from the door, but he can't be too far back, or Wrath would've given them directions.

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"You brought me," she agrees, letting him lead her inside, looking around for Star.

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"Yeah. 'Zactly."

He leads her a little deeper.

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And there's Star, half dozing against part of the engine.

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"Star?" Lee murmurs, softly.

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He jerks fully awake and blinks at them, like he isn't entirely certain where he-

"Oh. Sorry."

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Lee crouches down, near him, still holding tightly to Erie's hand. "Hey," she says, softly. "Were you cold?"

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He blinks, and then nods slowly. "I- should've- I don't- remember-" (Deciding to leave, leaving...)

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Erie squeezes her hand. (Got your back.)

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"Okay," Lee says, gently. "We're okay; we can worry about that later?"

She takes a breath. "Erie, what can we do about the cold?"

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"More nest materials immediately," he says. "Long term... I'd need to talk to the others. Got a few ideas, but need help."

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Lee takes a breath, and nods.

She's shivering, a bit.

"Star? You hear that?"

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Star nods slowly, but deliberately.

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"Do you know what you want to do?" she asks, softly.

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"I- no. I don't-"

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Lee makes a soothing noise.

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"I guess- room? I don't-"

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Lee makes another soothing noise. "We'll make it warmer," she promises.

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He nods, and half reaches out for her.

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She holds out her free hand to meet his, not quite touching, letting him take the initative.

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He takes it, relaxes a little.

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This gets him a tentative smile, and then she looks back up at Erie.

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"Back via the store?"

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Lee nods.

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Well then, he'll usher for them to go ahead of him.

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Lee lets Erie guide them, holding tightly to both their hands.

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And he takes them back to the store-room with all the bedding in it.

"Have at," he says, waving his free hand.

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Lee very reluctantly releases Erie's hand, so he can stand watch and she can help carry.

She looks at Star assessingly, trying to judge whether asking him for preferences will strain him further.

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He looks a little awestruck, but not necessarily overwhelmed, and is thoughtfully stroking what looks to be a very soft blanket.

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"You want that one?" Lee asks softly, smiling tentatively.

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He's quiet for a moment, a brief, internal struggle. "I- Yes. Please?"

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Lee nods, and waits for him to be done before she picks it up.

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This might not be the most efficient way to collect nest materials, but it's definitely effective for getting Star to make choices.

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Well, if Star isn't in a hurry to get back to their room, she isn't either. Erie will keep them safe.

"...wow," she observes, softly, of the blankets.

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"We're a tactile bunch," he offers quietly.

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Lee nods, distantly, apparently still distracted by how soft the blanket is.

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Eventually, Star seems to be done with looking at all the potential materials.

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And Lee has gathered up the materials he showed particular interest in, rigging a sling out of one of the blankets when she starts to get overloaded.

She gives the collection an assessing look, and then takes a few more pillows, balancing them precariously.

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"Ready?" Erie asks, still at the door.

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She smiles at him, if still a little shakily. "If Star is," she agrees.

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Star nods, a little uncertainly, but more because there's not many things he's entirely certain about.

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Lee makes a soft, reassuring noise, and nods to Erie.

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He pauses for a moment, eyes slightly distant, then rescues a couple of the pillows, opens the door, and leads them back towards their room.

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Lee is more tense in the hallways, especially with her arms full (but Erie wouldn't put them at risk).

She follows him, keeping an eye on Star.

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He seems okay.

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Outside the door there's a box. Erie shakes his head slightly. "Hot water bottles," he explains.

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Lee gives it a thoughtful look, and then slips inside the room to put down her bundles.

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Star follows close after Lee.

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Erie nudges the box into the room with one foot, following it in and letting the door close and lock behind him.

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Lee relaxes some when she hears the door lock -- not dramatically, but noticeably, at least to them. Safe.

She sets the bundles down, glances at Star and Erie, and tilts her head toward them: Do you want to help?

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Erie seems to be distracted by the box of hot water bottles.

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Star puts his bundle down with Lee's, shrugs.

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...he seems overloaded, still.

She tries to include him, as she sets to work on expanding the nest.

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-Yeah. He can do things he's pointed at. It seems to help him unwind somewhat.

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Lee asks Star's opinions of various arrangements, as well as giving suggestions for what he could do, although she doesn't seem to require answers she takes his reactions into account.

She keeps half an eye on Erie, and tries to draw him in as well when he's done with the hot water bottles.

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He smiles at her - he's not separating himself, but he's pretty sure that Star and Lee have the nest expansions covered.

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-- she keeps asking for his opinion on things, here and there -- it's his nest, too -- but doesn't push.

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Their nest. And honestly, Lee's always been a better nest builder.

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Well, Lee thinks he may be underestimating his skill at nest-building.

In any case, they do, eventually, finish expanding the nest.

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Well then. Everyone back in? With added hot water bottles for Star.

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Sounds like a good plan.

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Yes. Good. This is good.

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Erie watches them, smiling fondly.

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Lee reaches over to pull him in with a quick smile.

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He gives a quiet laugh, and goes willingly enough, tucking himself around Lee.

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Lee snuggles them contently.

"Better?" she asks Star, eventually.

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He nods, and hums an affirmative.

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"Good," she says, and slowly lets herself relax.

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And Star, leaning into Lee, starts to drift off.

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Erie continues to watch them, still smiling.

(He should tell Lee that Wrath was still in the engine bay, but he doesn't want to disturb this, he can leave it for now.)

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Lee doesn't fall asleep again.

Eventually, she looks up at Erie. "I'll take watch?" she offers, softly.

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"I'm not particularly sleepy," he replies, "besides which, L's resting some, keeping an eye on things for em."

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"mm," she replies, leaning against him. "'kay."

She hadn't thought she could sleep, but the reassurance Erie will be watching helps her settle, and her exhaustion rapidly catches up with her.

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Okay. That's good. They both need more sleep.

He contacts Gluttony to thank her for the hot water bottles, and asking if she can also deliver more food supplies when she gets a moment. Then he settles into keeping an eye on the Cardinal's systems and path, and keeping watch - even if he doesn't really need to.

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Eventually, Lee wakes, snuggling into Erie as she does.

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"Hey," he murmurs, pressing a kiss to her hair.

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She smiles up at him. "Hi."

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"How're you feeling?"

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"Less tired. A little hungry. ...is something wrong?" she adds, peering at him a little.

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"Not wrong. We've got meal bars, and Gee's gonna get us something warm when we're all awake?"

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"Okay," she agrees, tucking against him.

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"Do you want a bar?"

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"Sure," she agrees, with a hint of a smile. "Star will probably be asleep for a while longer."

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"Yeah, hopefully."

Erie reaches into their stash and pulls a few bars out, offering them to Lee so she can pick which one she wants.

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She glances at them, makes a softly amused noise, and takes the nearest.

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He keeps one for himself, and tucks the others away for now.

He'll talk to Lee once she's eaten.

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She eats, leaning against him, balling up the wrapper and tossing it into the bin when she's done.

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"I do have something to tell you. But I promise it isn't bad, not really."

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"Okay," she says, watching his face closely.

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He's not really sure how to explain this, but...

"Just...remember that Star was safe. That you were safe. That I wouldn't put either of you in harms way."

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"I know you wouldn't," she says, softly, squeezing him. "What --" she falls silent.

"-- was -- someone there?" she says, after a few moments. "or...?"

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"Yeah," Erie hugs her a little tighter. "Uh...it's kind of. Wrath's domain? And she's...weird about people being in there when she isn't. People who she's not sure would survive the engines fucking up that is."

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Her breathing goes fast and quick, and she presses against him. "You said -- safe," she manages after a moment, half reminding herself, and then: " -- but -- but how?" (how were the safe, how was that possible--)

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...He doesn't know how to explain this.

"We don't hurt each other," he says slowly. "And you and Star...you're kids. Star especially. And-"

-And he's not sharing what he knows about Wrath and Lust, not right now, not without asking them.

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She presses her face into his shoulder. "You wouldn't put us in danger," she murmurs, as much to herself as to him. "You would have -- tried to get us to leave, after we rescued Star, probably -- you think we're safe, I know that, I just -- it's -- hard to think of -- the others -- as something where that's -- possible? Especially -- her."

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"I- know." He hugs her tighter. "It's- hard to...see it the other way. Sometimes. I just- they won't? Hurt you? And- I- I think they're trying to be better?"

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She leans into the hug. "Yeah. I -- it helps, so much, that you're so sure we're safe?" (She doesn't know where she'd be without that, but it wouldn't be good.) "It's just --"

She shakes her head slightly. "I -- I don't even know how much of this is, them, and how much is just -- me? Star's doing much better with it --"

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"Helped you rescue me," Star points out, snuggling closer, still sleepy, but obviously awake enough to be tracking the conversation, shrugs a little. "'Nd they're- People who did this were..." He doesn't know how to finish that sentence.

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"Yeah," she says, quietly, reaching out to wrap her arms around both of them. "I -- it just --" she shakes her head, wordlessly.

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"S'a lot," Star mumbles.

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"Yeah," she agrees, wearily.

(But she has them, and it's more than worth it for that.)