It was strange. They have all adjusted well the past few days, but considering all the events that happened beforehand, it felt like they should still be in shock. But Eve certainly didn't feel like that. James had that allure to him; just being with him made her feel more at home and more like herself, regardless of the time and space.
They had a world of possibility ahead of them. Eve was joking when she said that all they had to do was profess their love in front of each other whenever there was a villain around, but was it really a joke? Was that really how it was going to be? James was right. It wasn't all too bad... cliche, yes, but for once she was glad it was going in this direction.
And there was so much they hadn't discovered yet. What were the limits of their powers? Was it just love, or could it be other emotions? Did they always have to work together? What if only one of them was away or in danger? Were there are consequences to this magic?
Eve wanted to know, but they had time. Ironically, for having a newfound power of pausing time, they had a lot of it. And she was excited for it too.
Eve once thought that time was a curse. It used to be something she could control, but a responsibility she beared alone. She went as far as trying to remove her power, but even when that backfired and it left her comatosed, she found her life greatly improved.
Because time wasn't a curse after all. Not when she was with someone she deeply cared about.
And for now, she would appreciate the time she had with James and live in the present with him. She hadn't always learned to do this, but she had a lot of time to make it her everyday philosophy.
Since the two of them were still fairly wet, they stripped out of their clothes to let it airdry in the sun. They didn't really know the nuances of time-pausing - like would the sun and air allow the clothes to dry, or would that be paused too? But they decided to give it a try anyways, letting nature do its work as they sat by the edge of the water, the peaceful silence of nothing fill the air between them.
It was strange to see everything so still around them. The waterfall was still unmoving, and the air almost felt stale. There were no crickets, no wind, no rushing water, nothing. No ambient noise. Just pure silence, aside from each other.
Eve almost preferred it, since she spent a considerable amount of time observing James and memorizing every detail, but not enough time observing the auditory side of him. As the minutes ticked forward, Eve picked up a pattern to his breathing and even his movement. It was comfortably predictable, in a way.
Although she had been getting better at living more in the present, she would be lying if she said she didn't often think of the future. There was still a lot of uncertainty in the air. What was the long-term plan in Nye? Neither of them knew.
She also couldn't help but wonder about the past. Earth was only a memory to her and the others now, and she didn't have a real desire to go back since everyone she cared about was here with her now, but she still wondered what life was like over there. Did her parents wonder where she was? Were Tula and the others still looking for her? What about Hendrik and all the others? Were they all worried? She wished she could somehow send a message - like a magical note - back to them too, but that was impossible.
All of this coursed through her head while sitting closely to James. They both likely had a lot going through their minds right now. She wondered if they were sharing any of the same thoughts.
"What's running through your head?" Eve decided to ask, breaking the silence.
"A lot at the moment," he said quietly.
They sat shoulder to shoulder, and he tilted his head, resting it against hers.
"I have a lot in my mind too," she said as she rested her head against his as well. "Maybe it would put us both at ease if we think out loud."
"You first?" James asked.
Eve took a silent deep breath. "I was thinking of a lot of things... I think it stems from inevitably wondering about the future, but also wondering about the past. I think there were a lot of unresolved questions back on Earth, like if Hendrik and the others are worried, or if anyone is still looking for us."
"I've been wondering the same," James said. "Though I'm not sure worrying about it will do us much good in the long-run. I'm afraid, as far as I understand it, bringing us to Nye was irreversible. And even if we wanted to see back into what was going on back on Earth... I don't think we can."
"Yeah. You're right," she said as she snuggled a little closer to him. "I'm less worried and more curious, but ultimately, there's still nothing we can do. I still wonder, though... And not just that, but also other factors too, like the last note appearing when we needed it the most. It was awfully convenient and makes me wonder if that's the last we'll ever see of it again."
"It seemed like if was the final note," James said. "In its wording. But... I don't know. If there was another one, it'd be just as much of a surprise to me as it is you. The notes we received in the past all seemed tied to us, and our future together. Though they did prove helpful in some ways, I don't know what more they'd have to say. And honestly, I don't really want them to have anything more to say."
Eve didn't either. She would be perfectly happy living the rest of her life here on Nye. If they saw another note, she would be concerned.
It was inferred that James thought the same thing. She wondered, though...
"It's nice that we don't need notes to dictate our future together. We can decide it ourselves." She paused for a moment. "What do you think that looks like for us? Ignoring our friends and your wanted status, though."
James was quiet for a moment, clearly thinking it over.
"The most realistic course to take," he said. "Long-term, at least, would be to settle down somewhere. The wilds are an option. Though they are in the middle of the continent, there's but one road anyone dares to pass through to go north, and the rest of the land is free for the taking, as long as you don't mind fending off monsters and wild animals when necessary. If we wanted less trouble with predatory animals, we could chance a life in Ewhein, though I don't know how the harpies would feel about humans trying to settle down there. But the chances are better with harpies than goblins... though, perhaps, in light of recent events, that could change."
Eve smiled as he continued on. James was thinking out loud, but he must have put some thought into this beforehand as well. She only wished that she could offer ideas of her own, but she was still fairly limited in her knowledge.
"Wherever we do end up," he said, "I would like if we could stay there. I'm very well accustomed to life on the road, but... it would be refreshing to find a place of rest. We could build a home. A life. We would still be isolated from society, but it would be ours, and our friends would be with us. I hardly see any problems with that. Challenges, sure. But... it would be nice to have a home."
A home. Neither one of them were too familiar with the security of a long-term home, but now, it was entirely possible. There were challenges, yes, but it was still possible. Eve could add this to the growing list of things to be excited for in the future.
"It would be nice to have a home... but I know we're both unfamiliar with that idea. What does it mean to you?" she asked.
"Home?" he clarified.
"Yes. Not just a place to stay. It's more than that, as you know," she said.
"If I had to define home, and you were to allow me to be as cheesy as I wanted, I would tell you that home is wherever I'm with you," James said. "It's with the people you care about. It's not within the confines of a building."
He paused, then went on.
"That said. It is nice to have a roof over your head that you can return to every night," James said. "Soley from a practical point of view. It especially makes winters easier."
"That was pretty cheesy, but at this point, I'm embracing it," Eve said with a smile. "That's a good definition. I'd say the same thing. And from that definition alone, it seems that we do have a home."
She paused, thinking it through. Their situation still didn't feel right. There was too much uncertainty... but not just any uncertainty. Life or death uncertainty. There wasn't room for error, and just that thought alone could derail the idea of a home.
"Of course... we have to consider our situation as well," Eve continued. "So, what if there was always a looming danger ahead? Would you still classify being together as being home?"
"Does home have to be a place without trouble?" James asked.
"I don't think it's a place, per se, but more of a peace of mind. Is it a home if we don't feel at peace?"
"I feel like this isn't just a conversation about what a 'home' is anymore," James said. "You're talking about the lingering threat of my wanted status, aren't you? Or is there something else?"
Eve sighed in a defeated way, but also it was weirdly endearing that James was able to read between her words. She may have once found this annoying, but she didn't mind it so much now.
"You're right. I am worried about that. I'll always worry about you and our lingering threats," she said. "I know there's not a whole lot we can do about it now besides maximize our distance. But I still can't help but worry."
"I'm afraid that as long as I'm alive, and as long as the Moonlight Kingdom is the way it is, that's a threat we'll never be rid of," James said quietly.
She thought the same thing about the threats on Earth too. And then they all came to execute them.
"A year ago, I had come to terms with it," James said quietly. "But my circumstances were much different. I was alone, and... admittedly, didn't have any hopes for the future. I'm... sure it wouldn't surprise you if I told you I was... planning to put an end to the hunt myself."
Eve quietly reached out to take his hand and give it a gentle squeeze. He held her hand tighter in return.
She knew she didn't need to vocalize that she was glad he was alive. She was sure he knew that a thousand times and more. They could only control the present, but still, her heart ached for him, wishing he didn't have to carry all that pain by himself all those years ago.
"It's different now," he said softly. "Though, after a year of being gone, I no longer have a frame of reference for where my pursuers may be. Nor do they - so I'd imagine - have any idea where I'm at in return. It's a peculiar circumstance, but I do think it's fortunate. If we stay under the 'radar,' so to speak, we're at a great advantage. Over a year of no sightings could lead people to believe I'm dead. And for our sakes, it may be best to let them believe so."
Eve felt her stomach twist as her mind jumped to what she knew they had to discuss next. It wouldn't be an easy conversation, but it was a necessary one.
"I think it's safe to assume that, yes... But..." She sighed, sitting up straighter so she could look at him more squarely. "I don't want to dwell on the negatives too much, but I think it's important we talk about it, especially since so many are affected. What do we do if we do come across your pursuers?"
James was quiet again, this time longer than his first pause.
"How we'd react practically would be dependent on the context," James said. "If, for example, I recognized them in a town before they recognized me, we could simply turn around and flee. If they spotted me without any of us noticing and confronted us in public, we'd have to get away without using our magic. At least... as much as can be managed, with everyone re-learning what their magic can do. If I'm spotted and we're followed out into the wild--"
"James," Eve interrupted, feeling a bubble of familiar anxiety return to her chest. He was going through possibility after possibility, but she wanted to know the worst case.
Because it had happened once before, and it could happen again.
"There are a million ways to come across a bounty hunter. But what if the worst case happens? What if they capture you? What would you like us to do?" she asked, trying to keep her voice calm, but not knowing if she was doing a good job of it.
Instead of hearing James respond, there was a sudden rush of water.
The waterfall was flowing again. The wind was blowing. The sounds of nature returned.
Time had returned back to normal. The sound of silence sounded loud before, but time resuming was louder.
Eve wasn't sure if a natural length of time had passed for it to return back to normal, or if it somehow had something to do with their mood. She wasn't exactly keeping track of time, but it felt longer than ten minutes - not to mention that the timing was a bit uncanny too.
After all, she had essentially asked James what they should do if he was caught and forever separated from her and the others. That was the epitome of strong negative emotions, which was unlike the strong positive emotions that caused time to pause.
James had tilted his head away from hers, and was instead looking down into his lap, his eyes distant, and expression deeply sober.
"You know... back on Earth, when you and I were both captured," James said quietly. "But the moment they decided you were no longer useful, they tried to... get rid of you? Just like they did to Arima?"
Eve felt her heart twist up trying to remember that moment. For all of these months, she had actively tried to repress that memory and forget it. A part of her thought she did, as there were serious holes in her memory that she didn't care to remember.
"If I were to be successfully captured, and delivered all the way to King's Peak, the kingdom capital... you would not be brought with me," he said. "If the bounty hunters who captured me saw you and the others had magic, you would be reported, and hunted by mage hunters, if the bounty hunters didn't decided to deal with you themselves. Unlike me, none of you will be shown mercy. And if you were to escape the confrontation alive, even if you made it to King's Peak..."