Remember the epic days of hella long RPs on the old wiki? This is one of those.

This takes place between Eberhardt's heart attack and Part 1 of Mission 3. Before Robert's interrogation, before Amelie's death, before Mission 3 even started. Way back to a(n) (only slightly) happier time!

Dr. Eberhardt rubs the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut, tiredness affecting every feature of his face. “Feel a bit sluggish” was the pretty way that Dr. Ballard had used to say he was going to be as useless as a brick, permanently tired and unable to concentrate longer than an hour on what he was reading. He could only think of his state with barely containted anger, how it was affecting every single thing he did, however insignificant it was. And that sickening anxiety that oppressed his chest and stomach every time he remembered he needed a smoke. Sitting in the closed office with no patients needing a check up before the storm arrived, he was constantly bringing his fingers to his lips, missing the warm ember near his face and that intoxicating air filling his lungs. Gritting his teeth and checking for the millionth time in that minute that he had been there for 3 hours, he stands up and opens a small closet, grabbing a dark, khaki coat from the inside. His old uniform coat from the Wehrmach, only it was missing the red cross band from his left arm. He steps out of the medbay with the coat in his arm and walks through the corridors, avoiding steps and voices when he could until he reaches the fresh afternoon air of the outside. Sliding his arms in the old garment, he checks he’s alone and starts to roam the deserted fields. His steps and absent mind bring him near the old wooden warehouses and rusty mine rail. He follows it, at the shade of the huge water silo that blocked his view of the nearest BLU building. As he digs his hands in the coats pockets, his knuckles hit something cold and metallic as well as some small wrinkled papers. As he walks near what he recognizes to be point A, he takes a look at his latest discovery, just to find an old gasoline lighter. The wrinkled paper turned out to be what could be called the oldest cigarette he had ever seen, and by the brand printed in it with Cyrillic characters, he guessed it was Russian. “Zhe only smoke I have in days, and it’s a piece of Kommunist Scheisse…” he murmurs to himself. Still, the temptation is big, too big, and without shaking even a little bit, his fingers snap the lighter and bring the crippled cigarette to his dry lips, holding it still as the yellow flame lights the old paper and tobacco herbs. Clear grey smoke fills his hands and face and lungs. It tasted quite like tar and rust, but to his hungry body, it tasted like the sweetest of Havanas.

Ardette hasn't had a proper night's sleep in days. It's an idle thought, not quite fully formed into syllables and words that could be said out loud, but just a concept she feels wafting through her conscience as she trots, invisible, back to RED. It's the eve of Mission 3. And even though Ardette has now found herself with the enthusiastic Dennis, and Amelie has decided to stop being so fiercely worthless, she still carries on like she's the only spy RED's got. She's just been snooping around Point F - at the very heart of BLU territory - scoping for potential Sniper nests and short-cuts, where a sentry might best be erected and wondering who she'll be up against tomorrow. She feels hasty and anxious, uncomfortable in her own skin. She's - if she didn't know herself any better - nervous. She scowls to herself and slows her trot to a tired saunter. Well within RED's boundaries, she drops her cloak and makes the rest of the walk completely visible. It's nearly five in the evening and the color of the sky has grown dusty-looking with nightfall. Shadows look softer now and the air has a distinct bite to it. Ardette's looking forward to being inside, to drinking a hot tea and taking a sleep aid and forgetting things until the morning. She's not looking forward to the morning. She sighs heavily, passing under the shadow of a large rock formation when a reddish dot of light catches her eye. She freezes. Sniper dot? One of ours? She takes off her mask and pushes her bangs from her eyes as she squints forward. No, a sniper would be useless on the ground like this, and as Ardette walks forward she sees a dark yet familiar hulking figure. She narrows her eyes and starts walking faster, wanting to confirm her suspicion. And then she starts walking even faster.

Dr. Eberhardt ‘s whole being currently concentrates in that small point of orange warmth. Fire attracts him in a certain manner and he could admit finding certain beauty in bigger bonfires and higher flames. He knows the soothing feeling that now spread through his chest was a stupid illusion caused by the sudden flow of nicotine in his system which would ask for more later that evening. Yet he savors it as if it were the last in his life. Although all his senses are focused in that small guilty pleasure, his ears catch the sound of gravel grinding under footsteps, the rhythm increasing every couple of seconds. Maybe his smell and taste were battered after years of heavy smoke, but his hearing was beyond perfect. He looks up to where he sound originated and finds a familiar silhouette against the setting sun, walking briskly towards him. He raises a hand to catch her attention “Frau Bombaerts, good afternoon!” he says, not knowing if she had heard him, or simply not minding it, because the expression he reads in her face isn’t exactly “friendly.” To Hell with his break.

Ardette 's eyes are dangerous, glinting slits now as she storms over to him. Her anger has reached a low boil and now it's getting stronger and hotter, roiling and furious and she cannot believe him. His greeting goes ignored; she marches right up to where he's standing and without so much as a "hello" she takes his cigarette in her gloved fingers and rips it from his hand. "What the hell is this?" she snaps, holding up the soft and battered stick.

Dr. Eberhardt’s back stiffens and rises in his full height when Ardette snatches away the only source of peace he had that afternoon. Although he has the terrible urge to punch her and snap that cigarette away from her thin fingers, he grits his teeth until they hurt and growls in reply, sarcasm dripping from every word, “Soviet tobacco, from beyond zhe Urals. Mahorka brand, 1943… If you wanted one you could have asked nicely for it”. His eyes meet hers, feeling the anger building up and the air almost ignited between them.

Ardette exhales forcefully and has to look away from him in disgust, lest just seeing his face make her so angry she can't speak. What was he thinking? She shakes her head, biting on the inside of her cheek so hard her mouth goes sour. This stupid, bloody stubborn old man-- "Have you forgotten," she says, voice strained, "that you had a heart attack less than two months ago?!"

Dr. Eberhardt glares down to her, finding her avoiding his eyes even more irritating, not being able to change his point of attention to the slowly smouldering cig between her fingers. Who did she think she was? His mother? Ballard? “And have you forgotten,” he answers back in a dry growl, “zhat I’m old enough to take care of myself? I demand what’s mine back. Now...”

Ardette glares up at him and holds the burning stick away from him. Would anyone else be stupid enough to take a cigarette away from an easily-angered battle-medic who's the size and temperament of a bear going through nicotine withdrawls? Would anyone else be stupid enough not to? "Does Ballard know you're out here?" she snaps, ignoring his demand. "Where did you get this? Are you just a hypocrite or are you an idiot too?"

Dr. Eberhardt sighs, rolling his eyes white. “Ballard is busy, preparing for battle, so he has bigger concerns right now…” he sneers , matching her bubbling anger with his short temper “… as you should, instead of worrying about where a cigarette came from.” He takes a step forward menacingly; all his system screaming and punching his guts asking for another drag of that tar-like stick “Give it back, Bombaerts.”

Ardette holds the stick even further away from him and points a finger in his face, too angry to acknowledge the danger of him reaching out and breaking it. "One condition," she says sharply. Jesus, she's spent all her time agonizing over ever finite detail of the upcoming mission that she's completely ignored the goings-on beyond it, and this is what happens. God damn it, Eberhardt, you stupid, stubborn old man! "I will give it back to you on one condition."

Dr. Eberhardt frowns, his mouth curling down in the angriest of grimaces. He had too much of that silly game already, and he wants it to stop. Who did she think she was? Who? “I don’t have time for this…” He’s starting to sweat under the thick coat and his muscles tense even if his body looks still as a rock. Until he snaps. He jumps forwards; slapping Ardette’s pointing hand away as his other hand reaches to her fist holding the cigarette.

Ardette feels an awful jolt of adrenaline and ducks under his arm. "Nom de dieu, homme!" she yells, swiveling on her feet and snaking her thin body away from his giant form until she ends up somewhere behind him. In her anger she shoves at his back and staggers away from him a few feet. "Pretend it's me!" she shouts, red in the face and finally sounding as angry as she feels. "Pretend I just had a bloody heart attack and you found me outside, in the cold, smoking." She takes a deep breath, her own chest starting to hurt from breathing in the chilly air for the past several hours. "Would you ever let me touch a cigarette again?" she says, shrilly. "Ever?"

Dr. Eberhardt growls as she slides from his grasp, barely feeling he whap of the flat of her hand against his back, as the thick wool coat shielded it from the delicate tissue of the knife scar that ran across his shoulder blades. A trigger point that goes luckily unnoticed. He digs his right heel on the floor and pivots to find her, face to face again. “Difference is…” he growls as he strides in her direction, now managing to grasp her nearest wrist and hold it tight, bringing her face closer to his so she doesn’t avoid his eyes now “… I know I can stand it. I’ve been through worse without any help. And I still WILL, even if you all think I’m senile enough not to…” and then he stops, his brain running dry of arguments because he knows she’s right, his anger eating up any words left. He sighs, his hand shaking a little bit as he lets go her wrist.

Ardette chokes a bit on her breath and stares up at him; this fear is old and familiar, dating back to the day they first met, and she hates feeling fear like this again. But then he stops, and he lets go, and she takes in his old and weathered face, the deep lines cut by age and anger and combat, and the only thing she feels for him is... pity. "It's not a matter of being senile," she says bitterly. She sniffs a bit and rolls her wrist, massaging the pain away. "It's a matter of being human." She looks down at the cigarette, almost completely burnt down in her fingers, looking short and pathetic after the ash fell off during that brief tussle. She sniffs again (when did it get so cold all of a sudden?) and brings the cigarette to her mouth. She pauses, licks her lips, glances at him, and takes a drag of it. She exhales the smoke out explosively, eyes downcast. "This tastes like shit," she croaks quietly, dropping the spent cigarette to the ground and crushing it under her toe.

Dr. Eberhardt skips a breath when Ardette throws the remains of the cigarette and crushes it. Luckily he had one more left and could smoke it somewhere more secluded. But now, he could do nothing but admit what the young woman said. “It’s Russian, what do you expect?” he growls, but less menacingly and more tired than before. “And believe me, no human is free of zheir personal vices. Not when zhey’ve been part of your life for so long...” He gives her a deep look, noticing how contorted her face was. He sighs as words leave him again, his mind feeling clouded and obtuse, so he just rises his hands and lets them fall to his sides, showing how ridiculously useless he feels.

Ardette looks at him miserably. Out here, in the cold, with the taste of a cigarette that was almost as old as she was bitter in her mouth, standing before a man who should never make a defeated gesture like that... Christ, she needs a bloody cigarette to deal with this. She stuffs her mask in her pocket and pulls out her cigarette case, taking out a stick and shoving it between her lips and producing her lighter in a series of sharp, agitated gestures. Yes, she's a hypocrite, but the dead weight of reality makes her not much care. "Ah, nom de dieu," she mutters to herself, flicking her lighter a few times.

Dr. Eberhardt sighs again, arching an eyebrow. He had been so used to smoke decent cigars for years and he mere taste of a simple cigarette left his mouth dry and tasteless… yet he preferred that to feel a constant hunger boiling in his chest and the fidgeting with his fingers. Hell, he had even started to bite his own nails to distract himself. The whole thing was so pathetic that it annoyed him beyond what he could stand. Back to reality, he sees Ardette’s failed tries to light his own cigarette and, with a gesture so natural in him, he extends his arm towards her and fires his own lighter with a still hand “Allow me…” he says.

Ardette shoots him an unappreciative glance, but leans forward and cups the feeble flame with her gloved hands until the end catches. She takes a deep drag, losing herself for a second in the warmth that fills her lungs, like an actual glow that she can see if she closes her eyes. She sighs it out and watches the smoke disappear against the backdrop of that dusty indigo sky and she feels, strangely, sad. Sad for the Doktor, sad for herself, listless and tired and hypocritical. "How long have you been out here?" she says, jerking her head at him to follow as she sits down against a small outcropping of rock.

Dr. Eberhardt beholds her expression for a moment and wonders what’s contained behind it. She’s beautiful indeed, he thinks, but still she shouldn’t worry about him, she had no right to worry about him. He follows the trail of smoke she leaves behind with his eyes, inhaling deep and filling his lungs with the scented, cold air. Breadcrumbs for the hungry. He snaps back to reality again – his mind tended to crawl away too often lately – when she asks him. “Probably half an hour walking, I don’t know. But I arrived here not a minute before you did…” he answers, following her. “It was too… claustrophobic. I’ve been in zhat office all day…” he groans as he sits down on a near rock next to her.

Ardette nods at the sky. "I know the feeling," she says quietly, and that's the last thing she feels like she can say. What else could they talk about? His health? The weather? Certainly not the mission starting tomorrow. RED will be down a medic, and that's the last thing the good Doktor needs reminding of. She hunches over her legs a bit to fend off the chill and examines the lit end of her cigarette. "I'm... sorry I haven't come by to see you lately." She looks up at him. "How are you?"

Dr. Eberhardt shakes his head as a way to say she shouldn’t worry. “You have been busy, mein Fraülein, just too busy…” he says. Just as everybody else, he thinks. But it was true he had secretly missed her these last weeks since the third mission had been announced. “Tired. Permanently. Constantly. And if I’m not careful, I start to fall asleep even if I have had 8 hours of rest at night…” he notes he trusts her enough to be talking about such things as the state of his health. But that trust didn’t cover telling her he wasted his dream time with constant nightmares, or even the sound of his heart beating irregularly stealing the little sleep he could get. That he thought he could see people that weren’t really there or that he avoided harder tasks, just to avoid the shame of not being able to accomplish them in public. She didn’t have to know all those unnecessary details. They only concerned him. “And I’m…” he sighs. “… my apologies for zhat… I hope I didn’t hurt you,” he murmurs, pointing to her wrist.

Ardette presents her slender wrist and turns her gloved hand over and back a few times. "You didn't. You never do." Now that the moment's past, she realizes she's gotten so used to his anger that such gestures from him don't faze her anymore. Not really. "Well, not badly, anyways." She takes another drag of her cigarette and reflects on the feeling of the cold rock pressing up against the backs of her legs. Now that she's stopped moving, the chill of the evening has caught up with her and she shivers a bit. She's fully aware of the fact that she's smoking next to the one person on base she doesn't want near a cigarette at all. And in the dullness of her mood, she dismisses this as one of their shared moments of hypocrisy. They tend to have a lot of those.

Dr. Eberhardt nods, his eyes lost between her wrist and somewhere on the ground. A few minutes of silence pass as he ponders her statement. You never do. He had always considered that he managed to hurt everybody that was at his reach, sooner or later, so these three words left him thrilled for a moment. "How about you?" he asks on a softer tone. "I haven't seen you around zhe medbay for a couple of weeks, so I guess you're in good health at least..." he smiles a little, trying to get back some cordiality into the situation and to forget about the cigarette that her fingers were holding. "Everything alright?"

Ardette shrugs noncommittally. "As 'alright' as things can be, I suppose..." She shifts in her seat, leaning her elbows back against the rock and glaring up at the darkening sky. "The mission starts tomorrow. I'm stationed at Point F. BLU territory." She shakes her head and takes another drag. On the exhale: "I swear, I've memorized every bloody inch of it that I walk through it in my dreams."

Dr. Eberhardt doesn’t takes his eyes from her as she speaks, memorizing in which point she was going to fight. It could be useful in the near future, just in case... He shakes his head slightly, pushing that reckless plan out of his mind. “Hmm, zhat’s a good thing. To know zhe field you walk on is as useful as knowing zhe enemy…” he says, resting his elbows over his legs, his eyes still on her expression. “Who will be in your team?” he asks, and then, has to let it fall, unexpectedly. “Not zhat Herr Thompson, I hope…”

Ardette snaps her head to him with an uncertain smirk. "And why not? Mr. Thompson is perfectly competent." She smiles quickly and flicks some ash from the end of her stick. "A pleasant surprise, really." She takes an almost-drag of her cigarette and winces. "No, instead I get Sinclaire," she sighs ruefully. "Tailor. Brilliant." She makes an impolite sound and shakes her head, rolling her eyes to the sky. "O'hannigan-- a scout will be good, and Hazner, as long as he knows which direction to run. And Ulloa." She nods absently. "Here's hoping BLU doesn't send out any spies; he's the only sniper we've got."

Dr Eberhardt snorts in response to her comment about her fellow spy. The closeness that had been forming between him and Ardette wasn’t of his liking at all, as he considered Thompson quite inexperienced on the battle field and too shy and kind of dopey to even be seriously considered competent. Then again, the other names weren’t much of a better option. “Well, I’ve heard zhat Ulloa is quite a good marksman. Quiet men tend to work well on zheir own.” He says, almost to himself “O’hannigan has been with us for a longer time, it’ll be easier to work with him…” Two spies, a scout, a sniper and a medic. Their tactic should lie on the quiet, stealthy side, he thinks. But then again… “And Tailor, eh?” he groans, as he finally lays his eyes on the horizon instead of her, watching the darkening sky above them. “It should be me in his place…” he says. The lack of nicotine and his general tiredness makes him particularly insolent, and he’s not used to biting his tongue.

Ardette nods. The bitterness in his voice is impossible to miss, and she feels it again: that completely novel pity for the man next to her that makes her want to reach out and squeeze his arm. In one day the man had gone from being invincible to being... well... an old man. "It should be," she agrees quietly. For a moment she just stares at the horizon, sharing the same spot of sky with him, until a chill rushes through her and she huddles over her knees. Without looking at him, she offers him her cigarette.

Dr. Eberhardt registers the small movement out of the corner of his eye. At first he thinks it’s just her arm moving. He turns and looks at her face, then at her extended hand. He reaches out and takes the cigarette, his fingers brushing her knuckles for a fraction of a second. He examines the ember of the stick once it’s close to his face and then takes a long, slow drag out of it, making the orange dot glow. The texture was soft and delicate, the smoke not as dense as the Soviet tar-like stick he had tried moments ago. He can’t help but notice the slight wetness at the end of the filter, and the long forgotten taste of lipstick, suddenly his chest aching with affection for the woman that was poisoning him right now. He sighs, exhaling a cloud of smoke above them. “By zhe way, I never got to thank you…” he croaks after a long pause.

Ardette closes her eyes and smiles ruefully, letting him take the cigarette - tiny by comparison - into his big hand. She's a hypocrite, the grandest of hypocrites, and she accepts that, if only to see him look relaxed for the first time in months. She watches the smoke rise and disappear, and when he speaks, she blinks at him and stares. "For what?"

Dr. Eberhardt coughs a little, his throat becoming dry because of the smoke. He takes another drag to warm up his lungs again. “For returning back my gramophone,” he says, smiling slightly towards her. He had lent it to her months ago, before his infarction, so she could listen to some records of his recommendation. “It was really kind of you to leave it in zhe medbay... and leave without waking me up to thank you, mein Fraülein” he chuckles, feeling a little bit more relaxed now that all the initial tension had dissolved in the cold evening. As he recalls the vision of his old gramophone next to his bed, after the first days of sleeping in the infirmary and Clark watching over him like a guard dog, he feels he has to thank her even more, for providing any sort of projection he could hold onto the darkest moments of his recovery. Yet, the only thing he feels he can do right now is offer her cigarette back, still looking at her and say a quiet “Danke.”

Ardette takes her cigarette back and treats him with a tiny yet sincere smile. "Bitte." She sighs and taps a length of ash from the end of her stick, shaking her head as though at a loss for what to say. "I just... thought it would be something nice to see when you woke up." She laughs softly and looks down at her hands. "And I don't think Clark was about to argue the point with me, so..." She shrugs somewhat smugly and takes a drag without hesitation, forgetting about the cold for a moment.

Dr. Eberhardt shrugs at the mention of the RED boss’ name, and then smiles, remembering a small anecdote. “Ballard was quite angry when he saw zhe old thing sitting near my stretcher. But I don’t know what frustrated him more: zhe fact of someone sneaking under his nose and leaving mysterious objects behind, or zhat I knew less about what was going on zhan him… at least apparently, heh…” He says, remembering not without amusement Clark’s stern, almost offended grimace at the sight of his gramophone. And again, he felt insolent enough. “Yet… I think I would have seen something nicer if you had woken me up, mein liebe Fraülein…”

Ardette 's cheeks grow warm, and she holds the smoke in her lungs and stares at the horizon. His words settle and let their weight down on her conscience, and suddenly she feels a little less certain of herself. She sighs out the smoke and suppresses a shiver. "And truly invoke Clark's wrath?" She lets out a soft laugh - more of a hum - and glances at him with a modest smile. "I wouldn't dare," she says quietly, handing him the cigarette. "You needed rest, Doktor. I wasn't about to wake you up."

Dr. Eberhardt nods and takes the cigarette from her hand, less than half its size already. “Indeed I did… still…” He brings it to his lips while not lifting his eyes from her. He notices how beautiful she looks with this light; he could almost reach out and kiss her as insolently as he was speaking, but he resigns himself to the slight taste of lipstick that impregnated the filter. He breathes in and fills his lungs, coughing a little. “You know? Sometimes I think I still haven’t woken up yet… as if… I just stepped out of bed and I still feel a bit numb and sleepy…” He breathes out all the smoke through his nose. “… and zhen I realize half zhe day has passed and I’m still not fully awake…” he says, his voice dry.

Ardette snaps her head to him when he coughs. Little things like that have begun to panic her, in ways that she knows he would hate if he knew about them. She rests her elbow on her knee and props her head up, just watching him as he speaks. The things he's saying to her - personal things that are about his health but really actually speak for his pride - do not touch her so much as the fact that he's willing to share them with her. She shivers again and, as though on the same impulse, she reaches out and lays her hand on his arm. "That would be the beta-blockers," she mutters, glancing up at him. "It will pass." She doesn't know that for sure, but she says it because it because she wants to believe it. "These things take time, Doktor. You should know this better than anyone."

Dr. Eberhardt could tell her that it was not only the beta-blockers. There were a thousand biological reasons why he felt as if his energies were constantly watered down. Ardette shouldn’t know about them, otherwise she would constantly worry about his health – more than she was doing already. And yet, he felt deeply flattered by that worry. His train of thoughts stop when he feels the warmth pressed against his upper arm, and sighs. “Time… too bad we are running out of it, ja?” he says, quietly, and then turns his head towards her, holding her sight for a moment. And then he chuckles, shaking his head, amused at his own whining. “Ach, my apologies, Bombaerts. I shouldn’t be bothering you with zhese old man’s laments.” He extends the hand where he’s holding the remains of the thin cigarette and leaves it suspended near her face, offering the filter. “You should worry about more important matters right now.”

Ardette stares at his rough hand, just inches away from her face, and gives him an unimpressed little smirk. She leans forward and takes the end of the cigarette between her lips and pulls away with it. "Give me that," she growls playfully around her cigarette, and then she takes one last, long drag of it - not because she wants it, but because she doesn't want him to have any more than she's already given him. What a hypocrite. She sighs out the smoke and flicks the butt into the sand with a smile. "What's important right now," she says, standing up and crushing the cigarette under her toe. "Is getting this old man inside." She offers him her gloved hand.

Dr. Eberhardt follows all her movements with a thin smile across his face. That woman never stopped fascinating him, even in the simplest details. “Ach, Bombaerts, don’t call me old… only I have zhe right to do so…” He chuckles under his breath as he stands up, taking her hand even if he doesn’t really need it, just to squeeze it with a certain affection, and then notices how cold the glove is. He curses mentally at his own selfishness as he shrugs his long coat off his shoulders. “You must be freezing… zhere…” he says, sliding the arms off and swinging it over Ardette’s shoulders. “It’s going to be colder now zhe sun is almost gone…”

Ardette makes a small sound of protest but then thinks better of it; he should be better protected in the cold, but the man has always been chivalrous without shame, so she can accept this lack of good sense. "Danke, Doktor," she says quietly but sincerely, hugging the coat around her. The thick fabric weighs down heavily on her shoulders and - warmed by his body heat - she's astounded by how comfortable she feels all of a sudden. But at the same time, a part of her feels so very small and childish, wrapped up in a coat that fits her like a circus tent, wearing a World War II relic... She just stands there before him for a moment, admiring the weathered fabric of the coat , thinking thoughts of years and years ago and right this second and a few hours from now... She looks up at him suddenly, eyes clear in the dim light. "Where will you be tomorrow?"

Dr. Eberhardt looks how Ardette sinks in the heavy layers of greyish-green fabric. It’s almost comical and charming at the same time. “Bitte,” he says, bowing a bit, and reaches out to fix the battered lapels around her neck and shoulders. It was an old coat, one of the three he had used in France around the ‘40s, though it was the newest one by far. There was a darker band around the left-upper arm, where the red cross armband had been attached several months. Her eyes steal his memories for a second and he doubts, humming as he rests his right hand on her shoulder as he thinks over and over her question. “I don’t really know. I guess Ballard will make me stay underground with zhe medbay, ready for any serious wounded zhat come during battle. Or maybe wait in zhe main entrance to help carry zhem below if zhey’re too wounded to walk by zhemselves…” he says, as he starts walking slowly towards the base, his hand resting slightly now over her shoulder blade, a gesture to invite her to walk at his side.

Ardette walks forward to meet him, matching his long strides. The tips of her toes pinch with cold in her heels, but she's so warm and enclosed in Eberhardt's coat that she doesn't really care. She's very aware of herself: of the speed of her walking, and of the cold air as it enters her lungs, and of Eberhardt's hand pressing lightly into her back, and of the peculiar, singular smell of his coat. The threads smell dusty and seasoned with age, like an old book might if you added soot and gunpowder. She hums a bit and shakes her head. "There's six of us on the point, and I can only assume six of them," she muses. "No, this battle will be brief and bloody. I'd be surprised if you saw any of us make it as far as the medbay before moving on to 'part two'," she drawls, comfortably cynical about it. "Either way," she sighs, looking up at him with a wry smirk. "I hope I don't see you."

Dr. Eberhardt nods, of course, with the respawn restriction, this time it would be different. He still wouldn’t understand why the rules changed in every scenario they stepped on. It was a stupid pantomime what they dared to call “war.” Only similarity he found that it was a game people higher above them adored playing. His superiors suggested him to worry about the physical battle and not the politics behind, and so he did. That didn’t mean the whole business didn’t smell worse and worse with each step he took. He growls briefly as a reply, back to reality again. “Zhat would be zhe best, my dear Fraülein,” he says, nodding again, his hand still resting over her back almost confidentially. They form the strangest of shadows across the dry land: a huge, wardrobe-like shape and a smaller not-so squared one, with a little rounded form that, he thinks, corresponded to Ardette’s head, buried in the fabric folds. The dear creature. “I hope at least zhe rest of zhe groups have a capable engineer, if zhey lack a medic…” he adds, suddenly remembering he doesn’t know who’s in Nicolas’ team.

Ardette snakes her arms into the giant sleeves of Eberhardt's coat and slips her hands into the pockets. She finds herself toying with the objects in his pocket: two cigarettes and... oh, that would be the lighter he'd used earlier. Hm. Her steps drift to a thoughtful halt as he speaks - the entrance to RED proper is in sight - and she puts her hand on his arm. "We'll be fine,Doktor," she says firmly, looking up at him with a cool expression that will not suggest otherwise. And then she pulls out the... yes, cigarettes (she knew it) out of the coat pocket. Two of them are resting in the center of her palm, soft with age and abuse; she's shocked the tobacco doesn't just fall out of the paper tube when she holds them up. She takes one and, smiling serenely, rips it in half. She lets it fall to the ground. "Are you planning on keeping this?" she says with a smirk, holding up the other one. "For sentimental value? A souvenier, perhaps?"

Dr. Eberhardt stops just next to her and frowns when she breaks one of the eldest cigarettes on Earth with her slender fingers. That was unexpected. For a moment in her company he had forgotten about them, and now they were back in question. “Now zhat I recall… zhose were from a Russian sergeant zhat was in charge of kicking our arses out of Berlin when war was over.” He drawls as the cold desert air dries his throat, “I would keep it as if it were zhe most valuable piece in a museum. But…” he reaches out and his palm closes over Ardette’s knuckles, making her fingers fold inwards. “…I feel weaker zhan I thought, and a constant temptation could wreck zhe strongest men at zheir best,” he adds, as he moves her hand away a little and smiles softly. “Keep it, and I may ask it back once I’m out of zhis Hell. For sentimental reasons, of course.”

Ardette simply looks at him, an expression of peaceful fascination softening her features. His history, his heart attack, his hand closing hers... How could she ever look at him and see a two-dimensional creature? "It is in safe hands," she says with a gentle smile, and she lays her hand over his over hers, as something of a promise to him. She doesn't bother wondering too hard which 'Hell' he's referring to. She admires his face for a moment and then cracks with a smirk and a flippant toss of her hand. "But temptation or not," she drawls, a wicked glint in her eye as she gestures to their hands with her chin, "your punishment for smoking this sorry excuse for a cigarette would be having to smoke this sorry excuse for a cigarette."

Dr. Eberhardt can’t contain a hearty laugh, Ardette’s wit always so fresh and amusing. “If only all men could choose zhe poison which would kill zhem, I wouldn’t for sure choose Russian tobacco. Believe me, it tastes worse zhan dry guano…” he says, still chuckling a bit until it dies away. He notices every time he exhales, there’s a little cloud of steam coming out of his mouth, visible only in the dim light. He notices the effort he has to perform to read her face, which was sinking between two big lapels. His hand still closed around hers gives him the chance he needs to do what’s natural in him. He bows, bringing her closed hand up and kisses her knuckles. “Thank you”, he says, low, just for her to hear, his eyes as sincere as his words.

Ardette sniffles a bit with cold and, still watching his face with a neutral smile, lets him kiss her hand. An encounter with him feels incomplete without it now, the chivalrous, charming old bastard. "You're welcome," she says, nodding, her chin disappearing into the giant collar of his coat as she does so. She wasn't sure what their first proper conversation since he left the medbay would be like, but she's grateful it went the way it did. That blow to his health dealt just as horrible a blow to his ego, and while it's obvious his pride is wounded, Ardette feared that some part of the Eberhardt she once knew would be entirely lost. But he is not lost to her, just changed. Let him complain; she’s simply grateful he's alive. "Now," she says briskly, sniffing again. She loops her arm with his and looks up at him. "Let's get you inside before Clark kills us both."

Dr. Eberhardt nods, warmly squeezing the arm that clung to his, as if to ensure it was really there and it wasn’t a product of his hallucinating episodes. He was probably going to sleep now and wake up the next morning wondering if it had been true. Right now, he feels a bubbling pride to be accompanied by a woman like Ardette and that she’s wearing his coat against the cold. He starts to walk, matching his strides to her long steps. “Herr Ballard may be intimidating, but it’ll have to be zhe end of zhe World as I know it before a man like him can scare us both, heh…” he says, lying a bit to himself. He hadn’t been “scared” when Clark had threatened him to be fired and change bases. There were people of higher status than him that controlled such matters. But still, he didn’t feel brave enough, or stupid enough, to test his luck. “Truth is, I can’t be scared by someone zhat has to break his neck backwards to look at me in zhe eye…” he lies, but it sounds convincing enough.

Ardette finds herself smiling as they walk towards the base arm in arm, watching their long shadows against the gritty earth as he talks. She counts this evening as a victory. In what battle, she doesn't know, but she finds herself relieved to have reached some sort of balance with him before the mission begins tomorrow. "Oh?" She smirks and squeezes her arm around his. "You don't find me terrifying, Doktor?" she says, voice warm with amusement.

Dr. Eberhardt cocks his head to one side as he hums, falsely pondering her question. “Terrifying? More like fearsome, dreadful, ghastly even… but terrifying? Not really…” he says, that permanent tone of amusement never leaving his voice as they walk towards the back door of the base. “Zhe only thing I find dangerously murderous on your persona are zhose heels…” he laughs, soft and deep, watching the steam clouds rise. “Mein Fraülein, I’m sure you could cut a man’s throat with zhose…”

Ardette snerks - too comfortable to be offended - and slides her arm free of his elbow to stride forward to the entrance. "For all you know," she says delicately, looking back at him over her shoulder with a dangerous smirk. "I already have."

Dr. Eberhardt clicks his tongue when she walks away and frees her arm from his, suddenly feeling empty. He stops on his tracks, raising his hands as if in self-defense, in false helplessness . “Ohohoh, I stand corrected, I’m petrified with fear now, oh Assassin of zhe Deadly Heels.” He says jokingly, waving his hands as he resumes his walk towards her.

Ardette rolls her eyes hugely. "Oh, don't be smart," she scolds, and when he approaches her again she takes his arm as if it belonged to her. They resume their walk in silence for a few moments, until she pipes up: "I have thought about it, you know... If I find myself with no weapon and a few minutes, find a sharp edge and carve the heel down to a crude point," she muses, gesturing with her hands. "With enough force you could jam that--" She makes a sharp movement with her arm, "--right into a man's jugular."

Dr. Eberhardt holds her arm with affection. It sounded strange that she decided to share such gruesome details with him, but it was a ground common for both of them. And he liked the subject very, very much. “If it were me, I would go straight for zhe trachea. Piercing zhe jugular would produce a too slow death. Problem is…” he adds, looking down at what he could see of her perfect feet. “… I still wonder how you manage to run in zhose. Seriously, your ankles must be reduced to a pulp after each mission.”

Ardette pouts up at him in mild outrage. "Mais non!" she gushes. "I exercise them every day, and I take that ridiculous cocktail of supplements that you--" She pokes his arm "--might I add, prescribed to me. And they're very good shoes. I wouldn't be wearing them if they weren't. And besides!" She shrugs and smiles up at him, feeling conversational and open tonight, "My feet have been through worse. I used to be a ballet dancer. Did you know that?"

Dr. Eberhardt arches an eyebrow towards her, aware of her finger poking him. “Well, well, well… ballet?” he says, sincerely surprised. “I had zhe knowledge of some injuries related to dancing, but zhis is quite a surprise.” He had noticed she had the body of a dancer, with long strong legs and a straight back only ballet dancers and horse riders possessed. Difference was that Ardette was much more graceful in her movements than any rider Eberhardt had ever known. “How long did you dance?”

Ardette frowns at the air in front of her, as though peering at her own timeline in her mind. "Hm, merde alors..." she mutters thoughtfully. She doesn't know exactly why she even brought it up so easily with him. So few people knew because she didn't feel the need to tell them. But with Eberhardt, it just fell into place as the next stepping stone of natural conversation. "Fourteen-- Fifteen years?" She shakes her head, amazed with herself. "Fifteen years."

Dr. Eberhardt whistles admiringly. “Zhat’s almost half a life, mein Fraülein…” he says. For a moment he reflects on the number of years and his own past, and realizes those were the same years he had been playing the cello before the war. But he will not say it, not this afternoon. Today it was her talking. “As far as I can remember, I’ve seen very few ballets… I’ve always preferred concerts, but… I guess you endured a very hard training during those years?” he asks, still remembering the several injuries on her medical record, indicating there had been a really serious effort put in it.

Ardette hums in reply. "You could say that, yes." She rarely finds herself thinking about those parts of her life when she's alone, but when she does, she feels so very far away from herself. But talking about it is easy, somehow. Like a learned motor skill, it's natural. "But you already knew that, didn't you," she drawls, looking up at him from under her brows. "How many back sprains does my medical record say I had?"

Dr. Eberhardt clicks his tongue again. “Three,” he says, maybe too quickly. With this much free time, he has had time to memorize everybody’s medical records to detail. And he had a good memory for that kind of data, even for a medic. “And you have a sensitive toe due to a fracture of one of zhe phalanges…” he adds. And two or three more things he won’t say, as they’re not related to the subject.

Ardette nods along with him, confident in her assumption that he would know. Of course he would know. His specific attention to her should annoy her, but by now she's learned that Eberhardt pays specific attention to everything. "Bah, but that one doesn't count," she grouses, flapping a hand. "That one wasn't dance, that was my desk." Why is she telling him these mundane, silly things? Well - she sniffs against the cold and watches her breath disappear in the air - why not?

Dr. Eberhardt frowns slightly. “Well, zhat’s shit…” he says, feeling that language wasn’t that out of the question. Shit was walking over a landmine and having bits of your flesh scattered over a snowed field, but for a dancer a broken toe would be equally bad. And again, it was Ardette talking about herself, not him. A few moments of silence envelope them as they approach the base, and when there’s only a few meters left, he speaks again. “You must have been good.”

Ardette just hums again; not a yes, certainly not a no, but a thoughtful personal commentary on her feelings on the subject. And then she starts laughing. It bursts from her lips and carries sharply through the chilly air, honest and uncorked. It was the fabled Doktor Ebershark grumbling 'well, that's shit' about a ballerina's woe, and a Spy still bitter about her ballerina years, and how ridiculous she must look in this coat, and how she hasn't gotten a full night's sleep in days, and she just smoked a cigarette with Dr. Eberhardt. Oh, she laughs. She stops just a few feet from the entrance and lets go of his arm so she can face him, still chuckling helplessly. She shakes her head in apology, sighing away her giggles with a grin.

Dr. Eberhardt watches her move and stop in front of him. Her laugh, crystal clear, fills the cold air they both breathed. He liked her laugh, it sounded so sincere in her, a woman who kept her own thoughts to herself under a facade as secret as a spy should be. It felt so true. “What? I’m sure you were…” he says, half a smile across his lips. He takes half a step forwards towards her, just to take a better look of her smile, laying a warm hand on her shoulder. And she must still be good, he thinks.

Ardette coughs and covers her mouth with a gloved hand, suddenly aware of her grin, and that awareness just makes her keep on grinning. She sucks in a deep, deep breath of that cold air and sighs it out, smoothing down the corners of her smile. She simply shrugs, holding her arms out and letting them flop back down, the same gesture he made before. "It doesn't matter," she sighs happily.

Dr. Eberhardt lets her giggles wash over him, passing it to him as a benevolent disease, and he’s soon grinning too. For the first time in that day, he feels something like happiness calming his nerves. Maybe it was a secondary effect of the nicotine in his system. Nevertheless, he owed it to her. His hand moves upwards and brushes away a rebellious lock of hair from her forehead, and hooks it behind her ear, resting his fingertips now under her jaw. For a still moment, he leaves them there, feeling her pulse and looking at her eyes. The sun was down, and the sky was darkening. “We should get in, before we catch a cold…” he says, breaking the silence and gesturing with his eyes to the door behind them, although his hand doesn’t move and inch.

Ardette clears her throat and lowers her eyes, more out of a sense of propriety than anything else; she doesn't mind his hand being there. "We should," she says, taking his wrist gently with both of her gloved hands. Her expression is still warm with laughter; she was so angry before, it feels absurd. "Allez," she says smartly, leading him inside by the wrist. "Before you trick me into giving you another cigarette."

Dr. Eberhardt sighs and leaves his arm limp, for her to pull it and drag him where she wanted. “Ah, mais non, I wouldn’t dare to…” he groans as she directs him inside the building, the change of temperatures sending a shiver down his spine. The entrance was one of those old mine train rails that led to the inner corridors and rooms. The medbay was just around the corner, once they left the entrance, but he has had enough paperwork for today. “I think… I’ll be going back to my room. What about you?” he asks, a step behind her, her hands still holding his wrist. “You’re not going back to BLU, are you?”

Ardette finds herself skirting the wall, staying close to the reddish stone, just as she does when she's running through these passages while cloaked. She lets go of his wrist so she can trail her hand along the gritty surface as they walk. "Oh, god no," she scoffs. Her other hand is in the coat pocket, still holding on to that ancient cigarette. "I've been there all day. I won't be going back there until the mission starts." ...which is in a deceptively short amount of time, when you put that time to numbers. "No, I think I want to get a solid night's sleep tonight." She glances back at him. "Or try to, at least."

Dr. Eberhardt nods. “Zhat would be zhe best. Restore all the energy possible for tomorrow…” he says, noticing the emphasis she puts on the at least. It was going to be a hard night for the whole team, especially those who took their job seriously. “I have several sleeping pills back at the infirmary. But I think you’ll do just fine if you have a light dinner and drink some lime tea.” He tries to make the subject move to a nicer ground, even if he knows it’s futile. It is a different restlessness, but he knows perfectly well the tension she feels right now. I should be up there tomorrow with them, he keeps thinking.

Ardette smiles at him faintly. "Maybe," she says mildly, in a tone that suggests 'but probably not.' The further they walk, the warmer and more gentle the air in the corridor gets, until their feet hit concrete and her cheeks and fingers are no longer nipped by the chill. "I still have a few pills left from the last prescription you filled out for me," she says, slipping off her gloves and massaging the ache of the cold out of her hands. "Thank you for that, by the way," she says, slowing down enough to let him catch up with her. "I know how hesitant Clark is to just... hand those out to people, and I can't get a thing out of Tailor without him asking me questions."

Dr. Eberhardt sighs. “Ja, Ballard has no trouble with zhe rest of prescriptions, but zhose involving sleeping drugs will always make him dismiss zhe treatment,” he says. The RED leader had turned even more wary after losing several teammates not long ago. In the permanent meaning of the word. “Still, you know where to find me in case you need more.” He sighs again and looks back from where they came. “Good thing zhat in zhis place, you can sleep before a battle. Zhat sure changes a lot of things…”

Ardette stops and looks in the same direction with a rueful smirk. Three years with RED have granted her the right to speak of battle with authority, but that right feels almost comically diminished when she's standing next to Eberhardt. Yes, sleep changes a lot of things. But only because a lot of things have changed. "It does," she says dully, not wanting to agree with him, because who was she to say she knew what war was really like? "Well," she sighs briskly, turning to face him. "Is this where I leave you, Doktor?"

Dr. Eberhardt turns to face her too, leaving the idea of the team being outside for tomorrow’s worries. “I think so, Ja,” he says, pointing to the right. “Just around that corner you’ll find zhe way to your corridor, I have to keep walking straight ahead,” he adds, pointing to said direction. His hands drop to his sides and looks at Ardette once again, a slight smile crossing his lips. “Well,” he sighs, again, “Thank you for your company zhis afternoon. You can’t imagine how much good it has done me.” Indeed, more good than he could have expected.

Ardette smiles at him. "I'm glad," she says. "I missed our talks." And she reaches out to pat his arm, and that's when she realizes she's still wearing his coat. "Oh--" She smirks apologetically and has some trouble shrugging the bulky, heavy fabric from her shoulders. "You want this back, I think."

Dr. Eberhardt opens his eyes in surprise. “Yes! Yes, indeed, here, let me…” he doesn’t end the sentence as he reaches out to grab the coat’s lapels and slide the heavy garment off her shoulders. Suddenly, Ardette looks half her size, at least in with, and notices again how straight and slender her body is. The body of a dancer, he remembers. “I hope it has kept zhe cold out of your bones,” he says, as he folds the coat neatly over his forearm, realizing he speaks just to keep her attention a little bit longer.

Ardette feels half her size, now, without that enormous coat pressing in on her shoulders and selfishly keeping her body heat. She finds herself hoping idly that it kept him just as warm when he was only just a young man wearing it, and then she finds herself smiling sadly because hoping for things like that mean nothing, now. "It's a good coat," she says with an impressed laugh. "I did miss this, you know," she feels the need to repeat.

Dr. Eberhardt smiles warmly down to her, bowing when she compliments his dear coat, and when she refers to their talks. “I did, too, mein liebe Bombaerts. Alas, less and less time left for zhese little pleasures,” so mundane, yet so essential, he thinks. He raises one hand to tap with two fingers over his chest, the left side of it. An uncomfortable silence flies in and nests itself between them, until he speaks, low, “Time. What a huge bastard, ain’t he?”

Ardette 's chest suddenly swells and she makes a sound that wants to be either a laugh or something else. She spent so much time and energy reminding him he's not invincible, and right now a little part of her hates him for reminding her. Her brow twitches uncertainly over her smile and - because she can't disagree with him - she simply takes his hand and guides it away from his chest. "Shut up."

Dr. Eberhardt feels how his hand is powerless against her hold. Yet it manages to slide away from it soon and move down and reach out his coat’s pocket, finding the cigarette. He’s about to pull it out and give it to her -- until he realizes that he has reached this point he has nothing to lose, as tired as he is. “Zhen kiss me,” he whispers.

Ardette stares at him, and she feels something flicker in her chest: the distant echo of the panic she felt when they first met, or maybe because she simply hasn't been spoken to like that by a man in so long. Her eyes dart around his face, and his eyes really are that blue behind his glasses, and she realizes she's wringing her leather gloves in her hands. She lowers her gaze with a clear of her throat, and then raises one hand, unfolding her fingers like a flower, and presents her palm. "Then give me that cigarette," she says lowly.

Dr. Eberhardt gazes at her for a silent moment, he can see her eyes even though she had just lowered them -- pupils widening for a microsecond, the white knuckles strangling her gloves, the parted lips indicating a stream of thoughts flooding her mind... He shakes his head and sighs, reciting a long list of inner swearings and blasphemies directed to himself and damning his pride and arrogance; always jumping up and smashing everything it found. He takes out the cigarette with two fingers and leaves it on her open palm.

Ardette carefully monitors his movements, watching his face, and then the path of his cigarette from his coat pocket, into her hand, and she manages to ignore the thumping of her heart until it quiets and she pockets the cigarette, ears buzzing with silence. And then she puts her fingers to his jaw, rises up on her toes, and kisses his hollow, stubbly cheek. "Sleep well," she murmurs. She admires his face for a few seconds more and then walks away, disappearing around the corner.

Dr. Eberhardt was about to retire and admit his bad move. Until she rises on her toes and gives him a chaste kiss. His heart skips a beat, though not for medical reasons. Even after she’s turned around that corner, he can still feel the warmth of her fingertips and lips. And as he promised, he shuts up, any words he could say completely useless now she is gone. He just breathes in again, closing his eyes, as if he were making the biggest of efforts not to walk after her and demand more. After a moment of silence, until her steps weren’t echoing in the distance anymore, he regains a bit of self-consciousness and walks to his room, wondering if he had just replaced a drug for another.