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The Fateful Heart



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Thu Jan 14, 2021 6:47 am
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soundofmind says...



"I like it," he said, adjusting the bow so it had even loops on both sides. "It's a nice color for you."

And with that, he was done. He patted her shoulder to let her know he was done and got to his feet.

"It's a shame you can't really see the braid. This might be my best work yet."
  





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Carina says...



Evaline reached up to touch the braid with her fingertips. It certainly felt different to have her hair down into a half-braid, and she could feel it was there, but it was too bad that she couldn't see it.

"Well," she began, also getting up to her feet and giving him an appreciative smile. "I guess I'll have to value your opinion, then."
if carina were a soda, she'd be a white claw. refreshing, but a bit alcoholic.
—veeren

dare u to ask me a question in Ask an Engineer >:)
  





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James couldn't help but smile at that, and he met her eyes for a second before averting them to the ground. Something fluttered in his stomach, and he wanted it to go away.

"I guess so," he said quietly, before walking over to Elliot.

"Want to have breakfast on the road today?"
  





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Carina says...



"Sounds good to me," Evaline said, fingertips still gently running down her braid, down to the ribbon. "Can you pass me an orange?"

They walk for a few hours side-by-side, and conversation went by naturally, with occasional comfortable silences between them. Evaline noticed this a while ago, but it seemed that she and James liked to maintain a certain balance of conversation and silence. She appreciated it.

The both of them eventually walked through a small field with thinning trees, and James suggested that she go through a quick horse riding lesson. Of course, Evaline happily agreed; she wanted to get better at riding Elliot, and she knew she still had a long way to go. Every small lesson helped.

"We'll repeat the riding test," James said, leading Elliot to the field. "I already told you what you could improve. Before I move to the next lesson, I want to make sure you can do the basics."

Evaline was determined to do this correctly, of course, but a tiny part of her did think that the test was a fluke. Something about wanting to prove herself to go to the town really did a number on her performance.

But once again, she continued to surprise herself. She went through the same orders and obediently followed with little to no troubles, making sure to pay extra attention to the tension in the reins. And when she finished, she gracefully jumped down without hesitation.

"I did it!" she exclaimed, giddy despite already knowing she could do this.

She turned to James, and there was a sudden burst of desire to repeat the events of the last test with a kiss to show her thanks, but she decided to push it down, instead flashing him a grin through rosy cheeks.

"Congratulations," James said with a smile, and she couldn't help but notice that his cheeks copied the same rosy tint. "You passed."

They continued to walk for several more hours, and James detoured towards a lake so that Elliot could rest and they could fill up on water.

"And so we can use our soaps," Evaline said. A thought at the back of her mind swelled as she remembered that Reed's dog seemed to sniff something on her. She didn't know if that meant anything, but she was still anxious for the both of them to smell different, just in case.

"Let's try to be quick about it," James said. "If we can."

About another hour passed, and they reached the lake. Unfortunately, the lake was a lot smaller than James thought; it was more so a giant pond than a lake, really. James sighed and mentioned that it had something to do with getting closer to the desert, but Evaline didn't seem to see why this was a problem. They could still wash up and use the water, but maybe James was hesitant about bathing without privacy.

"We could always just turn our backs towards each other, if that's what you're worried about," she said, sitting in front of the water.

James sighed, and looked down at the bars of soap she'd gotten for them, turning it over in his hands.

"We can do that," he conceded.

"Okay," she said, getting up and glancing at the other side of the lake. "I'll go over to the other side. Soap?" She let out her hand and he handed it to her.

She gave him a nod and started walking towards the other side. "How far are you going to go in?" she asked out of curiosity.

"If you're not looking, why does it matter?"

She let out a laugh. "I'll try not to run into you, then," she said, but she didn't plan on going further in than her waist. As much as she wanted to have her hair smelling like lemon and basil, she didn't want to undo the braid James did, especially if he said it was his best work yet.

As promised, she kept her back towards him the entire time, and she stopped after she reached the other side. She undressed and entered the water, but it took James a bit of time to splash in. There was something oddly vulnerable about being able to hear each other this time, even if out of sight.

She got into the water, letting it spash up to her stomach. The soap foamed and let out its aromas, but she was careful to not use any more than necessary. The longer they could stretch out the soap, the better. It certainly helped that she enjoyed the scent, too.

A few minutes pass and she decided to break the silence.

"So," she casually said. "Spearmint and rosemary. Did I pick the right one?"

She heard a little splash. "I'm not too picky about scents," he said. "But it is a nice one."

"Hmm," she hummed out loud. "I'll get you a rose scented one next time, then."

"I'm assuming you like that smell?"

She paused lathering for a moment. "If you're asking me what my favorite flower scent is," she said slowly, "it's lilies. Specifically the lily of the valley."

James hummed in reply. "Good to know."

Evaline smiled, raising an eyebrow. "Should I be expecting a bouquet now?"

"Were lillies to grow in the desert, you wouldn't have to wait."

She paused again, suddenly feeling the heat rush up to her cheeks. She almost wanted to let the conversation die off, but she let herself keep talking. "Oh," she said softly. "I guess I'll have to get a cactus bouquet instead, then."

She heard him laugh. "There are less prickly alternatives than that."

Evaline splashed some water in her face before speaking up again, letting the cold water wash away whatever thoughts raced in her mind. "I don't know of any non-prickly flowers in the desert, so you'll have to show me."

"I guess I will."

She smiled, biting her tongue so she wouldn't say anything she'd come to regret. The rest of the bathing session went by quietly, and she followed his lead when she heard James splash out of the water.

"Good to look?" she asked after she finished drying and dressing.

"Just about," James replied.

"Alright," she said softly, but then realized that she didn't know if he meant 'just about done, but I'm still not ready yet' or 'just about, you can come over now.' She didn't ask, either, as she peeked behind her to see that he was sitting and wrapping up his bandages on his chest

So, probably 'just about done, but still not ready' was what he meant. She quickly turned back around and looked up, pretending to be none the wiser.

"Just let me know," she said.

"Okay... just give me a minute."

He eventually gave her the okay, and she got up and walked towards him, seeng him dry and fully dressed, save for parts of his hair. She wanted to know if he smelled like the scent of the soap, but she didn't exactly want to just go up and sniff him.

He was holding a long skinny stick for whatever reason, but she didn't think much of it, instead passing him with a gentle smile as she headed towards Elliot to put the soap away. She met his eyes for a brief second, and in that short time, their previous conversation kept repeating over and over in her mind.

Standing in front of the saddlebag, her thoughts were interrupted as she felt a few light jabs on her side. She looked over her shoulder to see James grinning, stick in one hand, the end of it hovering a few inches over from her arm.

"Very funny," she said with a smile, half-rolling her eyes as she turned back around, wrapping the soap with cloth before putting it away.

James seemed to think so since the jabs didn't stop, and he was poking her at various sides of her body. First, her waist. Then, her arm, Then, her thigh. Then, her other thigh. It was actually kind of impressive how he was able to move so fast. She even felt the air brush past her skin. Then she remembered that he knew how to use a sword, and it dawned on her that he was pretending to use one.

She turned back around to give him an unamused stare, and her suspicions of him using the stick as a sword were confirmed. He was frictionlessly swinging it around, able to gracefully strike different parts of her body with ease.

"I bet you think you're real slick right now, pretending you have a sword," she said, gesturing towards him, only to immediately get her palm smacked with it.

She glared at her palm where the stick just was, but of course, it flew out before she could close down on it. She let her arm drop to her side as she blankly stared at James with half-lidded eyes.

And of course, James simply continued grinning, even pacing around her to show off his technique.

Well, fine, two could play at this game.

She felt the beginnings of a smirk as she set her palm out again as a trap. Maybe James recognized the challenge, because he immediately tried to swat it again, but this time, Evaline quickly tried to close in on the stick and grab it, but she was once again too slow.

For a second, they looked at each other and wordlessly accepted each other's challenge, sharing the same playful glint in their eyes.

And then James resumed, but not without resistance; Evaline was quick on her feet to catch up to his quick movements, but she was not fast enough. Whenever she was close to grabbing the stick, he would quickly move to the side so that she'd miss. And whenever she was close to grabbing him, he would quickly move the stick so that she couldn't come any closer. The few times she did get close, he would still dodge her moves, and his ego was probably getting bigger.

Evaline found herself giggling the few times she got close, but she didn't lose the competitive spark. Although James was fast and skilled, she was observant. The few times that she tried to stagger her repeated tactic to grab the stick, he would end up using the same leg and arm movement on her to deflect her hand away. It was only a matter of time before she used this against him, predicting his move so that she could dodge his stick poking attack and finally firmly hold on to the other end.

James gave her an expression that looked to be a cross between being challenged and impressed. "Not bad," he said.

"You're not bad yourself," she said with a smirk.

He then suddenly tried to yank the stick away, but of course, Evaline also predicted this, and held on.

"Tell you what," she began with a big smile. "We'll fight for this stick. Whoever pulls it the hardest is clearly the strongest, so they should have it."

"Oh yeah?" James said with a raised eyebrow. "I'm up for the challenge."

"Alright, we'll start on the count of three. Ready?"

He firmed his stance and tightly wrapped his hand around the stick, nodding.

"One... two... three!"

She felt the resistance of James's pull, but she didn't know just how strong he pulled since she immediately let go, causing him to fly backwards and land on his butt.

Evaline let out a whimsical laugh. "I can't believe you fell for that," she said, walking towards him and standing with her hands on her hips. "Does that make me the stronger one then?"

She barely had time to finish her sentence, because James immediately pounced to wrap his arms around her knees, causing her to lose balance and fall backwards on the grass.

She grunted as she fell, but luckily the grass padded the fall. Without a moment's hesitation, she craned her neck to see James smiling victoriously down at her, hands still around her knees.

"Now, does this make me the stro--" he began in a mocking tone, but was interrupted when Evaline pushed herself forward and wrapped her legs around his chest, letting the momentum bring him down to the ground.

She quickly unwrapped herself from him and pinned his shoulders to the ground, looking down at him with triumph. She could smell hints of the spearmint and rosemary on him. It smelled nice. It suited him.

"Now for the final move," she said a bit too tenderly, unpinning her right hand from him. Her eyes softened as her index finger slowly and gingerly traveled from his shoulder, to his collar bone, and then down his shirt on his chest, taking a winding path as she avoided his wounds, like she knew it was there. Because she did know it was there.

She could feel James tense up just a little, but he didn't seem to move, and she didn't look at his face to gauge his reaction.

Her finger stopped at the edge of his belly button. And then she paused.

And then she poked it.
if carina were a soda, she'd be a white claw. refreshing, but a bit alcoholic.
—veeren

dare u to ask me a question in Ask an Engineer >:)
  





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Fri Jan 15, 2021 5:29 am
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soundofmind says...



James froze, and he felt like all of the heat in his body rushed to his face. One moment, he'd been teasing and running around, but now - this wasn't quite just a playful fight anymore. He sat up quickly, shielding his belly with his arm.

"I really should've just kept that irrational fear a secret," he said, his voice wavering in pitch. "You're really not letting me live that down."

Evaline leaned on one arm, head tilted towards him as she lightly shook her head. "Nope," she said softly, gently smiling.

James glanced at her, but his face was burning, and that only made it worse. He felt his stomach turning over and over as his mind tried furiously to forget her fingers dancing down his shoulder. He wasn't quite sure what he was feeling. Anxiety. Regret? Something?

"Um--" he started, getting to his feet. Was he trembling? No. Maybe it only felt like it. He glanced down at himself quickly in an attempt to assess, but he couldn't tell. He hoped it wasn't obvious. He faced forward, for him, pointing just slightly away from her.

"I see you kept the braid in," he said quickly, changing the subject.

Evaline seemed to hesitate. "I did," she finally said in a cool voice, but James could hear that she was nervous. "I didn't want to ruin your work."

James glanced down at her, attempting a smile, but he could feel the tension between them - tight and uncertain. He swallowed.

"Um. Look," he started, staring down at the ground. "I know I - I started this, and maybe I just need to be more honest."

Evaline interrupted his thought. "It doesn't mean anything," she seemed to blurt out, and James heard her get up on her feet. "Don't worry about it." It was hard to read her tone this time.

"But I wanted to say--"

"No, it's okay," she interrupted again, and she started towards Elliot. "We should move anyways. We've stayed here too long."

James watched her for a moment, glued to the ground. He clenched his jaw and took in a deep breath before hurrying after her.

"Just let me finish what I wanted to say," he said, more insistent this time.

She stopped walking and sighed, hesitating before turning around. "Okay," she said quietly. She looked detached from her words. "What is it?"

James took in another deep breath and tried to set his resolve, and find the courage to be both honest and kind.

"You can tell me if I'm wrong - because my assumptions very well may be," he started. "But I think it would be safe to say that based on where you come from, and the environement you grew up in, you're very comfortable... physically, with people. Touch doesn't mean much besides, maybe a very normal, casual expression of affection." He paused, trying to make sure he put this in the right way. The problem was, he didn't really know how to without being open about things he'd intentionally been trying to avoid talking about their entire time together.

"Where I grew up - well, here, in Nye, but specifically in the Moonlight Kingdom, it's very normal for people to comfortably hug, or hold hands, or - I don't know, things like that. And I don't know why, but that's just... not how I like to show my affection. Or recieve it. And it's not because I don't care about people, like you, or someone else. And it's always been that way, as long as I can remember. But - I - well --"

He'd managed to look at her for the entirety of his explanation up until this point, and now all he could do was look at the ground. Almost hoping she couldn't see him either.

"Things just haven't been the same since I was caught by Butch," he said quietly. "I don't know. Everything feels... different. One moment, I think it's okay, but then it's not. I know I can't expect you to just know that, and I'm sorry if sometimes, it seems like I'm sending mixed messages."

He crossed his arms over this stomach, almost like he was hugging himself.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is - I know it may not mean much to you. Certain... types of... contact. But it does to me."

Evaline paused for far too long than what was comfortable.

"Can I hug you?" she said quietly, almost a whisper.

James swallowed down his nerves. Or her tried to. "I don't know," he answered, even quieter.

He didn't really want to say the resounding thought that was ringing through his mind. Constantly. All of the time. Especially in moments like this.

He didn't feel safe. Even if he was.

"That's okay," she softly said. "Thank you for telling me." She paused. "I won't touch you again."

James dared to look back up at her, hoping his face didn't look as ashamed as he felt.

Evaline was smiling just a little, but her eyes were filled with pity.

"It--" he started. "I don't mind... the little things. If that makes sense. It's hard to tell, sometimes. Sorry." He looked away again. "I know that's probably not helpful."
  





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Carina says...



Evaline was beginning to realize how badly she messed up.

And not just in this instance... In all the instances. From the dance, to the belly poking, to her kiss, to today's teasing—did she misinterpret James the entire time? He had been unreadable, or at least, showed little to no resistance. He even hugged her twice. She assumed it was okay.

The only time he seemed to speak up against it was when she had went through his injuries the night Marsha visited. She assumed he was mostly upset that she didn't ask for his permission first, but maybe it was deeper than that. Maybe he felt uncomfortable with her touching him. She could understand that, now.

James said he was okay with the little things, but he wasn't even comfortable with a hug. What was that supposed to be, then? A pat on the back?

She didn't know how she felt about this, but she couldn't shake off a familiar feeling. Like she had gone through this before. How was it resolved?

She didn't want James to be uncomfortable.

It was better if she avoided touching him, then.

"It's a start," she finally responded, trying to sound positive. It was hard to try to sound this way when she just felt so... well, what did she feel? Defeated? Confused? Ashamed? ...Deceived?

"I guess, for me, I don't know -- it's just easier, sometimes," she said, ending the thought there, also staring at the ground.

What should she say to defuse this terribly tense conversation? It wasn't like they could just walk away from each other. After this conversation, they were literally going to go down the same path.

"I'm sorry for all the times I may have made you uncomfortable. But don't worry. I'm a fast learner. I won't do it again."
if carina were a soda, she'd be a white claw. refreshing, but a bit alcoholic.
—veeren

dare u to ask me a question in Ask an Engineer >:)
  





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Fri Jan 15, 2021 6:13 am
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soundofmind says...



James closed his eyes, just for a second, and forced himself to uncross his arms, and put them in his pockets. To seem less like he was protecting himself.

“It doesn’t have to be never again,” he said. “I think - well, if you asked, like you did just now. And I can tell you if I’m okay with it, that would help.”
  





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Fri Jan 15, 2021 6:18 am
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Carina says...



"Okay," Evaline said softly, looking up at James again. "I'll be sure to ask beforehand for you."
if carina were a soda, she'd be a white claw. refreshing, but a bit alcoholic.
—veeren

dare u to ask me a question in Ask an Engineer >:)
  





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Fri Jan 15, 2021 6:22 am
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soundofmind says...



James managed a small, shy, but genuine smile.

“Thank you, Evaline,” he said just as gently. “For... listening.”

He stood up straighter, and took in a deep breath as he looked ahead to where Elliot was. Waiting patiently.

“You were right though,” he added. “We really should get going.”
  





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Fri Jan 15, 2021 6:45 am
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Carina says...



"You're welcome," she said, but it felt like hollow words. "Let's go, then."

The rest of the day went by uneventfully, but Evaline found it hard to maintain conversation. She just wasn't in the mood to talk, but James seemed to sense this and filled the silence with random facts about animals and Nye and other things. She wasn't sure if this was a good or bad thing. She almost preferred the silence.

Eventually, night fell, and they both stopped to rest for the night near a canopy of brown-leafed trees. The ground was getting dryer and sandy, but tufts of yellow grass were still present.

James almost finished setting up a fire. It was getting a bit chilly, even with her jacket.

"How far are we to the Outlands?" Evaline asked, knees hugging chest.
if carina were a soda, she'd be a white claw. refreshing, but a bit alcoholic.
—veeren

dare u to ask me a question in Ask an Engineer >:)
  





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Fri Jan 15, 2021 6:48 am
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soundofmind says...



James stoked the flames, blowing on it as it stirred to life.

“A few days, still,” he said. “The borders of the Outlands aren’t set, like the kingdoms are.” He blew again on the flame and wafted it.

“It’s the nature of a land without laws, I suppose.”
  





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Fri Jan 15, 2021 6:54 am
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Carina says...



Evaline watched the fire lick its way up the wood, breathing to life.

"What's it like up there?" she asked, deciding to keep the conversation going.
if carina were a soda, she'd be a white claw. refreshing, but a bit alcoholic.
—veeren

dare u to ask me a question in Ask an Engineer >:)
  





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soundofmind says...



James glanced up at Evaline, before looking back into the fire, stoking it just a little more with a stick.

“I can’t tell you from experience, because I’ve never been. But... the only stories I’ve ever heard come out of there are violent, and they usually don’t have happy endings.”

He paused, and sighed. He wasn’t trying to scare her. It was just how things were. It was better to prepare her for it, mentally.

“We’ll have to be on our guard.”
  





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Carina says...



Evaline kept her eyes on the flickering fire, listening.

She paused.

"Sounds like a fun place," she finally said, delivered with a blank face.
if carina were a soda, she'd be a white claw. refreshing, but a bit alcoholic.
—veeren

dare u to ask me a question in Ask an Engineer >:)
  





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Fri Jan 15, 2021 7:01 am
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soundofmind says...



“I’m sure,” James said slowly, deadpan as well. “We won’t get very bored.”
  








Why do we only rest in peace? Why don't we live in peace too?
— Alison Billet