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Importance

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There were certain things that were considered important, such as water, food, shelter. Weapons could be considered important as well. Blankets for the cold, along with firewood and matches were also necessities. A good night's sleep was incredibly vital, as not getting enough sleep lead to mishaps in every day life such as hunting or cooking or repairing. However, if Doug had to rate the things in his life on most to least important, Chell would be at the top of that list. Without Chell, there would be little to no food, no reason for water, no point in shelter. She was the reason to fight for another day. Without Chell, where was life's meaning?

Himself, on the other hand, was disposable. He helped where he could, repairing Chell's weapons and being an extra set of hands in the garden. He also filtered the water they gathered from a nearby stream. However, these were all things Chell could do for herself if she needed. He was useful only because she made him that way.

So when Chell decided to say otherwise, Doug had a difficult time following her meaning.

“I'm sorry?” he asked, blinking in confusion at her words.

“You're important, you know that, right?” Chell asked again, her voice calm and quiet, yet you could still tell how full and strong it was through her present softness.

Doug huffed and shook his head. “I don't know what you mean,” he said, becoming quite preoccupied with his shoes.

“I'm serious,” Chell insisted. “You tell me all the time, and I never tell you. So I'm telling you now. You're important.”

The ridges in their wooden floor had suddenly become very interesting, Doug now feeling the urge to count every one of them and see if he could calculate how many ridges there would be in their entire home based on the one section of floor in his view. It was a brilliant distraction to his present situation. “You're just saying that,” he eventually murmured, having counted at least sixty ridges now.

“Why would I say it if I didn't mean it?” Chell challenged, crossing her arms and giving him a stern look.

Doug continued counting the ridges, muttering the numbers under his breath as he tried to sum up just how many square measurements of space he needed to calculate in order to equal the exact amount of flooring in their home. Chell waited patiently for him to finish.

He could feel her eyes watching him, waiting for him to give her some sort of response. She wasn't angry, not even irritated, but he knew very well she was giving him that stern look that meant she cared too much and he hated it. He didn't deserve that amount of attention from her, especially over something as silly as this.

Chell continued to watch him, his eyes darting back and forth between the different planks of wood and his brows furrowing in frustration as he tried to calculate the numbers in his head. He was going to tire of this eventually, she knew that. At some point he was going to have to respond.

Slowly, he stopped counting, but he still kept his eyes glued to the floor. “I believe you believe yourself,” he began, speaking cautiously. “However your belief is wrong, I'm sorry to say.”

Chell tilted her head to the side, raising an eyebrow at him in questioning. “Why do you say that?” she asked.

His foot began tapping, and in his mind Doug carefully counted out each tap. “I'm not important,” he told her simply.

“Of course you are,” Chell argued. “Why would you say a thing like that?”

“I'm stating the facts,” he explained, still tapping, still counting.

Chell put her hands on Doug's shoulders, nearly making him jump in surprise. “Doug, I want you to look at me,” she told him, her voice commanding, yet still holding that note of gentleness she usually kept when speaking to him.

Doug kept counting, reaching the next fifty before looking up at her, his eyes having trouble meeting her own, and battling the constant need to look away.

“Whatever reason you have for thinking you aren't important is wrong,” she began. “You were important to someone before, and you're important to me now. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you.” She took a pause, as if to gather her thoughts and taking deep breath. “And to this day I still need you. You're still important to me. Without you here . . . I don't know where I would be.”

Her voice lowered, barely grazing above a whisper at the last few words. Even after she finished speaking Chell still held his shoulders firmly, matching the intensity in her eyes. She needed him to understand her words, to not just sit back and nod politely but to agree with them.

Doug had stopped tapping his foot, his eyes finally settling to rest meeting Chell's own. They stared at her widely, unblinking, unbelieving. He took a shaky breath, almost laughing, but it didn't meet his eyes. He covered his mouth with his hand, trailing his eyes back down to the floor.

He shook his head, finding a new spot on the floor just beyond their feet at which to stare. “You aren't making sense,” he informed her, his voice shaky and hushed.

“Does it have to make sense?” Chell questioned, still holding him firm and trying to once again meet his eyes.

“Nothing you've ever done makes sense,” Doug replied. “You're too impossibly unreal for that.”

“So why is this any different?” Chell pressed, her expression softening.

Doug shuffled his feet, trying to work up the courage to look back up at her again but not finding it within himself. “I would rather not answer that,” he admitted.

Chell stared at him for a moment, the gears clearly turning in her head. Without letting another moment pass, she carefully pulled him close into a tight hug.

“You don't have to explain yourself, but please hear me out when I say how much you mean to me,” Chell murmured, resting the side of her head against his.

Doug didn't know what else to do but stand there, awkwardly holding his arms tightly by his side. He wanted to argue that it wasn't right, that everything happening in that moment was wrong, but he couldn't bring himself to say the words. Chell's actions seemed important to her somehow, and he wasn't going to take that away from her, no matter how much he disagreed.

But he couldn't lie, it did feel nice.

It wasn't the contact, or even just her words, but rather the motivation behind them. The fact that she felt the need to express herself in this way, that she found it important enough to share with him. That she wanted him to know any of this at all spoke volumes. It didn't matter if he believed it or not, Chell did. And she was going to continue to act upon this belief, no matter how much he argued with her. Her actions alone showed that, for some unimaginable reason, she cared. He couldn't remember the last time a real person had cared. Maybe she was the same?

His shoulders trembled. He couldn't help it, but it felt as if the entirety of her words were hitting him at once. Slowly, carefully, as if she were a dying flower that would fall apart at the slightest touch, he lifted his arms to wrap around her, burying his face into her shoulder.

The words he spoke next weren't supposed to come out. They weren't ever supposed to leave his thoughts, but whatever emotion he was currently under rendered his inner filter from operating correctly. And without a second thought, they were spilling out.

“I love you, Chell.”

If he had expected any reaction, what she gave wasn't it. If anything he would have expected her to separate from him that very moment, pushing him to the side and glaring down at him with those cold gray eyes of hers. How dare he even think of speaking to her in that way. How dare he even consider the possibility of such feelings being reciprocated. He was in over his head, and she had every right to refuse him.

Yet her actions followed in no such way. She barely reacted at all, only moving a hand to rest against the back of his head, gently stroking his hair. “I know,” she said quietly, and though he couldn't see it, he could hear the smile in her voice. “I love you too.”

Some part of him dreaded that reaction, and when she spoke those words his shaking only increased. He couldn't let himself believe it, but he knew Chell would never lie. She was too perfect for that. There was no response he could give her, nothing he could say or do that would properly express his feelings of gratitude in that moment. Instead, he allowed himself to remain in that position, a comforting embrace that served to keep him grounded. For now, maybe he could allow himself this much kindness.

Of course he would find a way to argue with her later, but that was a battle for another day. On this day, he was willing to let it slide, allowing himself to play her words over and over again in his head, as if for added reassurance that they had in fact been real.

He smiled. Through the tears that were past threatening to stream down his face he allowed himself a simple smile. So this is what it felt like to be happy. Truly happy.

Really, it had been so long.