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Fate's Hand

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Mon May 29, 2023 1:46 am
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soundofmind says...

When they returned to the inn, Adina quickly ran up to them, like she'd been waiting in the lobby. (It was possible she had).

Skipping to her feet, she came up with a bright, though nervous, smile.

"Eve!" she said. "Do you have any plans for the morning?"

"Hi Adina," Eve said with a smile, then glanced at James. "Um... I don't think so, no."

James shrugged in confirmation. He slipped his hand out of Eve's and pecked her cheek with a small kiss.

"Have fun with whatever you two end up doing," he said as he pulled away.

Eve smiled. "I'll be back later," she said before shifting her attention back to Adina to ask what plans she had in mind.

"So, I was thinking..." James overheard, but he walked away before he could catch much more, wanting to let them be alone.

Leaving the lobby, he found himself wandering back to their room, sitting at the desk.

At this hour, sunlight was coming through the window. It was still a bit of a surreal experience, since the sunlight wasn't as direct as being above-ground, and there were always some dead spots in the city. During the day, the light came in pretty evenly, but there were always some odd shadows cast by the pillars.

Still, it was sufficient to see, and in their room, at least, they got decent light.

He decided to pull out his and Eve's shared journal, knowing it was getting crowded in their pages, but he had a lot to think about, and he needed to process it all.

Namely, he found that he needed to take a good look at himself. And he really didn't mean it in the way that he'd done that sort of thing before.

He was accustomed to introspection, but he felt like he was regretfully beginning to realize that maybe what he'd considered to be self-awareness, was really just self-flagellation, because even though he felt he was well aware of all of his faults, that was the only thing he ever focused on. He was never very good at having a whole, unbiased picture.

Not that anyone was without bias, but he knew his bias always leaned towards the negative. And it was so familiar, he had grown used to it - but now he was beginning to see how his naval gazing was beginning to harm his relationships.

Ever since he'd talked with Mel, it had been something stewing inside of him.

Something wasn't right, and he hadn't even considered that it could change.

For so long, he'd just been resigned not only to his condition as a wanted criminal in the world, but he'd been just as resigned to his state of mind: which seemed to be in a perpetual state of despair.

But he saw how it was getting in the way of him growing. If he kept wallowing in self-pity, he'd never grow. And he wanted to grow. He didn't want to stay like this forever. He wanted to be better for Eve. He wanted to be better for his friends. He didn't think he could live with himself if he dragged them all down with him, continuing on the path he was on.

He knew there were so many things he didn't feel quite ready to face. And he was honest that he didn't feel ready.

But if he never did... he'd never be able to move forward.

He just felt helpless to know what to do. He didn't know where to start. He didn't know where to begin. He wasn't even sure what he needed. He just knew he needed help, and he sure as hell wasn't going to be able to help himself.

He found himself staring down at the journal, rereading his own words he'd written down.

... There were ways to get help, now. Weren't there? He was in a city.

It meant he had more options than he'd ever had before.

James went on a run, deciding he needed to think, and he needed to move. He knew he had to think about the future: and he'd been avoiding it for two months. It wasn't going to be sustainable, and he couldn't avoid it forever. Not if he wanted to have a real life. Not if he wanted to stay with Eve, and move forward with her. He didn't want to be the reason she was dragged behind, and he didn't want to keep her from being able to live up to her full potential. He was sure there were things she wanted to do too, and he wanted them to be able to dream together.

But if he was going to allow himself to dream, he was going to have to have hope for himself. Otherwise, he was only ever going to be his own stumbling block.

It also meant he'd have to finally accept the fact that for the first time in his life in eight years, he actually had enough stability to settle down.

The thought still terrified him, but he found that there were conflicted feelings inside.

He was afraid of losing it. Afraid of investing in something that would just get taken away. Afraid he always had to be ready for the worst, and always had to be on guard. He didn't know what life looked like to have true peace and safety - and he somehow couldn't even imagine it being that simple.

It wouldn't be. It couldn't be. Even in New Haven, he'd hardly escaped all of the conflict and controversy that surrounded him. Only now, instead of being constantly on guard that he'd get caught, he was constantly aware that people would recognize him and see the face of their oppressors.

To mages, he was their biggest threat. Him being a criminal didn't change that. To them he was still a soldier, and no one knew the truth of his story. He doubted any of the mages would even want to hear it.

Why would they? He could only imagine the skepticism and bitterness he'd be met with - because he'd already said every insult he could think of to himself.

James pinched his eyes shut, just for a moment, and he paused in his run, breathing hard and leaning forward, hands on his knees.

There he was again, already slipping back into that spiral of thought.

Damn it, he needed help. He wasn't going to grow without it.

It was a harder pill to swallow than he thought, but for the first time since he'd been on the run... he actually wanted it. He didn't know if it was for all the right reasons, but at least it was something.

When he made it back to the inn, he was drenched in sweat, realizing he'd probably pushed himself a little too hard. He'd been caught up in his thoughts and hadn't realized how far he'd traveled until he had to go back, and the way back was far more tiring, as it had largely been uphill.

When he hit the showers, he felt like he'd finally accepted it.

Letting the water of the showerhead hit his face as he closed his eyes, he sighed. It was kind of depressing to think that it'd taken him eight years to stop being in denial and finally realize he wasn't by any means alright, but... he wanted to give himself the grace he knew he would extend to others in a similar situation.

He had to try to remember that for the majority of those eight years, he'd been running for his life. He'd hardly had the time to reflect like this in a productive way, and he surely hadn't had enough resources or even positive influences to speak into his situation. Five years ago, he didn't have a Mel. Four years ago, he didn't have an Eve. And for so long he hadn't let anyone get close enough to even have an opinion, nevermind voice it to him.

After grabbing lunch in the kitchen and eating it alone in a quiet corner, James finally returned to his room.

He stopped halfway through the doorway when he saw Eve was back, and... wearing a blue floral sundress.

"Oh... hi," Eve said, already looking flustered as she was changing out the sheets of the bed. "Adina took me shopping."

James smiled, closing the door behind him.

"I see that," he said. "It looks great on you."

Eve looked down at herself, sheepishly smiling and blushing. "Thanks," she said. "Did you go for a run?"

James glanced up, though he couldn't really see the top of his head where he'd tied up his wet hair in a bun.

"Yeah," he said. "It was good. I've had a lot on my mind. Helped me think."

"Yeah?" Eve said as she finished setting the sheets on the bed, patting it down and then throwing the blanket on top. "Do you want to tell me about it?"

James smiled, though a little less brightly. With a nod, he looked at the bed.

"Should we sit on the bed?" he asked, knowing she, quite literally, just made it.

Eve glanced between him and the bed, but then leapt into the bed, bouncing a little before she sat with her legs folded behind her. She smiled at him.

James felt his smile grow again, and he hastily kicked off his shoes before he jumped onto the bed, landing beside her. The two of them bounced, rolling into one another, and James couldn't help but laugh. Eve laughed as well, playfully pushing him when he rolled to her side.

She was still sitting as he rolled away onto his back, looking up at her. Eve beamed at him then laid beside him, on her side so she could face James.

"Mood has been set," she said. "Now you can tell me everything."

"Everything," he said, his smile fading naturally into a faint grin. "I suppose it's not much, now that I think about it, but..."

He looked down at the bed.

"I think I need therapy," he said with a weak laugh.

The playfulness seemed to melt away from Eve's face, replaced with sudden seriousness and worry.

"Sorry, I know you set the mood, and I kind of ruined it," James said.

"No, no," Eve said quickly, wriggling closer with her brows drawn together as she took his hand. "Don't apologize for that. It just took me by surprise, is all. I think that's a great idea."

"I didn't really know how to preface it," James said. "Besides the fact that I've been doing a lot of self reflecting and... I know I need help, but I don't know where to start. So it just seemed like therapy might be a good start. They can usually help with those kinds of things."

"Yeah. That's a really great idea, James," Eve said again, squeezing his hand. "I support you."

James offered her another small smile, but it was a little sad, too.

"It's... the first time it's really been an option," James said. "I guess it only hit me now that I don't have to rely on only myself or even you, or our friends."

"I'm glad," Eve said softly. "I think it doesn't hurt. It can only help."

"I know... Bo made Tula go to required therapy," James said. "And she's admittedly still a piece of work. But, there is a difference. So..."

He sighed.

"Sorry, she's probably the worst baseline for the fact that therapy can help," James said with another weak laugh. "I only mean that if Bo was able to arrange that - that there have to be therapists out there who could... I don't know."

Handle him, was what he wanted to say. But it felt too self-depricatory to voice it aloud.

"Everyone's story is different. If there's a therpaist for Tula, I'm sure there's a therpaist for you," Eve said in an assuring voice. "Have you looked into this at all? I'm sure there's someone you could talk to."

"Not yet," James said. "I really only just officially landed on this conclusion when stepping out of the shower. So, you're the first to hear it."

"Ah." Eve smiled. "I'm really glad you're telling me."

"Of course I'd tell you," James said with another small laugh. "Imagine if I decided to take therapy in secret. That'd be... such a strange course of action, considering therapy is generally supposed to benefit your relationships too."

"I can't say I'd be mad, but I'd definitely be surprised," Eve said. "Regardless, I think this would be good not just for your relationships, like you mentioned - but yourself, too." She picked up her hand to playfully poke his nose. "That's the most important part, you know."

James felt his face burn a little as Eve poked his nose, and he smiled, a little embarassed.

"Yeah," he said, not sure what else to say.

Eve smiled wider, letting hre gaze linger on his face for a moment before she closed the gap between them, hugging him tight.

"I'm proud of you," she said over his shoulder, giving him a gentle squeeze.

James tried to let that sink in for a moment before he hugged her back, just as tightly.

"Thank you," he whispered quietly before he let go and pulled away.

When he met her eyes again, she was smiling softly. James let a small silence linger between the two of them, and he took her hand, intertwining his fingers with hers.

"How was your time with Adina?" James asked.

"Oh... it was really nice," Eve said, resting her head on the crook of his shoulder and then rolling to her back. "We went for a short walk around the downtown shopping area. Adina seemed to know her way around, so she acted as my tour guide. She took me to a charming tea shop, and we sat and chatted outside for a bit, drinking tea. Afterwards, we browsed a few shops, but we spent the most time in a dress shop. We both tried on different dresses then each bought our favorite. I didn't have any money, of course, so Adina gifted this one to me. It was really nice of her."

James smiled softly as he listened.

"It sounds like a really good morning," he said.

"Yeah... it was. It definitely brought me to a better mood. And to think that it's only the afternoon now," Eve said.

He understood that she was referring to the disappointment from earlier that morning, when Elias had refused to see them. He was glad Adina could cheer her up.

"Well, we've got a whole half a day ahead of us," James said. "Do you... want to try looking into, uh. If they have resources for therapy? Maybe we could start at the front desk."

Eve turned to him to smile again. "I'd love that. I didn't know if this was something you wanted to do yourself, or if you'd like me to tag along... but I'd be glad to help out. I think Mel Aradis would know something too, if we run into dead ends."

"True," James said.

"But it also doesn't hurt to just stop by a clinic to see what resources they have. If not for therapy, then just to know where it is, and to at least meet a doctor," Eve continued.

James nodded, trying not to feel overwhelmed.

He was glad Eve was willing to help him with this.

"We can do that," he said.

"If it's not... weird, then asking Deidra is an option too. But I don't know if that's the best idea, considering how close she is with Tula. I think Bo and Mickey would be our best resources to truly ask, but..." She trailed off, shaking her head. "We can figure it out."

"Maybe... we can start with Mel," James said. "She's a doctor, so she probably has connections."

Eve nodded. "Do you want to visit her today?"

James paused to think about it.

"Maybe?" he said.

Eve paused to think about it as well. "Hmm. Elias and Elise are occupying her house right now. I'm sure Elise knows where she's staying, but I wouldn't want to bother her again, and Mel could be occupied anyways. Maybe we could look for the clinic first, then Mel second? It doesn't hurt to have different opinions, anyways."

"That sounds like a good idea," James agreed. "Let's do that."
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Mon May 29, 2023 3:28 am
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soundofmind says...

James and Eve spent the rest of the afternoon doing research. They stopped by the clinic, got some information for different therapist offices to reach out to, and also found out Mel was staying in the townhouse right next to her own, which was convenient. It appeared that she and her brother had townhouses right next to each other, and she was simply staying with Raj.

Mel had some more specific recommendations, and she was able to narrow down the people she thought would be good to reach out to.

It left James still with quite a few options, but at least it was something. He still didn't feel like he knew what he was doing, and though he was still nervous about it all, he did feel relieved. And it helped that Eve was supporting him along the way.

By the time they met back in the kitchen for dinner, James's head felt full.

It felt good. The steps he was taking. But it was also very different.

He and Eve sat at a large table, surrounded by their friends. Alistair was beside him, and with him, Clandestine and Mel. Adina sat on the other side of Eve, and Jordan pulled up an extra chair to squeeze in.

"Sheesh, we've all been so busy lately! It feels like it's been a long time since we all came together again," Mel said with a laugh.

"It's nice," Clandestine piped in. "I really like you guys."

"Yeah! Even when we all get our own place, we should still meet up like this. Maybe once a week somewhere, minimum. Anyone know of any good spots?" Mel said.

"There's this big buffet I like," Jordan suggested.

"Oh, are you talkin' about Peach Tree?" Clandestine asked.

"Yeah!" Jordan agreed.

"I love their food. That's a good pick," Clandestine said.

"I bet James would like that too. He might run them out of business, though," Mel teased.

"On the contrary," James said. "I would keep them in business."

"Not after you eat all their food," Mel said with a grin.

"If I did so that would be a feat worthy of praise," James said. "But I do not think anyone could actually do so without exploding."

Mel crinkled her nose in disgust. "Eugh. You say some weird imagery."

James shrugged.

"Tis the curse of being burdened with knowledge," he said.

Afterwards, the conversation switched to Mel asking what everyone was up to today, but it was mostly dominated by Clandestine's and Alistair's painting adventures. Alistair seemed embarrassed when it was revealed it was actually his idea, and he kept telling Mel that he didn't have anything to show, even though Clandestine said that both of their portraits were in their room. Apparently, Alistair painted in splashes of red, oranges, yellows, and browns - meant to represent fire. Clandestine painted different monsters she had fought in the past.

The conversation naturally took different turns again as they continued to eat, and eventually, night fell.

Just as everyone was finishing up their meals, and most of the kitchen was clearing out, everyone's heads snapped up when they heard the kitchen door slam open.

Staring, James watched as Hendrik stomped into the kitchen, looking worn, tired, and like he'd been crawling in the dirt of the wilds.

James knew that Hendrik had been recruited by Mickey two days ago, but seeing Hendrik look like he was still ready to murder someone... could not be good news.

James's heart sunk even more when he saw Mickey following behind him, his face sullen and bleak.

"Frank! Get me a pint of your strongest drink," Hendrik said over to the kitchen window, angrily screaming and waving over the cook, Frank, to get his attention.

"On it!" Frank shouted back from the kitchen.

Mickey, however, simply walked over to the table and pulled up a chair, looking briefly over all of them. He said down with a heavy sigh.

There was a brief, deadly tense silence that hung in the air as they all looked at him expectantly.

"We couldn't find him," Mickey said.

The silence that preceded him grew even more somber after as they all stared at Mickey in shock.

They couldn't... find Bo? At all?

Hendrik then came back with a short glass of a brown aged liquor - likely bourbon or scotch - dragging a chair behind him as it screeched across the floor. He heavily sat near the empty space closest to Mickey, taking in a long swig of his drink before he slammed it down on the table, splashing some of its contents.

"We stayed up for two nights looking for Bo, and we couldn't find him," he said through his teeth, seething and visibly upset by their failure.

"They were strategic," Mickey said lowly. "They had at least a dozen small groups of mages spread out over the wilds, all going in different directions, and all moving fast. Any of them could've had Bo with them. We tried to cover as much ground as we could... but... we caught up to everyone we could find, and still. Nothing."

"What does this mean?" Mel asked quietly. "Is he... is there anything that can be done?"

"It means that Bo's been caught," Hendrik said crudely. "Captured. Drugged. And probably going to be tortured to all hell, since they know he's a dragon. And there's not a thing we can do about it, because we don't know where he is."

Mel didn't say anything back, staring at the table emptily as his words sunk in.

James didn't know why he felt... empty.

Like it didn't feel real yet.

The hunters had really succeeded in capturing a dragon?

"Unfortunately, I have no other news to offer," Mickey said quietly. "But I wanted all of you to know. If you don't mind, I am going to move on from here, as it's been a very long two days."

"Rest, boss. Nothing can be done now but to rest," Hendrik said with another swig of his drink.

Mickey nodded, getting to his feet and leaving the room with a heavy sadness James could feel leave the room once he was gone.

For a minute, all of them sat in silence.

Then Adina started crying.

"How could this happen?" Adina said shakily.

That seemed to jolt Hendrik from stewing in his own angry thoughts as he slammed his drink back on the table, glaring at Adina with a piercing look.

"I'll tell you how this happened," he growled. "Bo chased Elias down, he did everything to keep him safe, and what did Elias do? Became a traitor. He could have helped Bo when he was attacked, but he didn't. He left, leaving Bo to get captured. Leaving Bo for dead."

Adina shook, staring at Hendrik with wide, teary eyes.

"No," she whispered. "No, he wouldn't-- couldn't!"

"But he did," Hendrik said cooly. "They were separated, and Elias ran away. And when Robin first found Elias, what did he do? He stabbed him then ran away. Robin had to come back to New Haven, almost bleeding out. That set us back by six hours. Those six hours could have cost Bo's life. We could have found him if we knew earlier."

Another silence fell, apart from Adina's sniffling. Hendrik shook his head, taking another swig of his drink, finishing it off.

"I... I'm gonna go," Clandestine said quietly, getting up to leave.

Alistair hesitated, flicking his eyes between Clandestine and Hendrik, but then silently got up as well, chasing after her.

"How much of this is actually true, Hendrik?" Eve said with a neutral voice. "You often distort fact from fiction with your own opinions."

Hendrik scoffed. "If anyone is distorting fact from fiction, it's you. You have to look for the signs. Bo is a good man, but that was also his flaw." He shook his head. "He cares too much about everyone, sometimes. He ignored the signs. He chased another soldier to bring him back home, but it was a suicide mission. Not because the field was dangerous - but because the soldier wanted to die."

"Signs," Eve echoed. "Don't be vague. What signs are you talking about?"

Hendrik scoffed again, visibly getting more irritated. "Signs of mental instability. A sane man wouldn't stab a comrade. A sane man wouldn't leave his comrade to die alone."

"But you don't know that," Eve cut in. "You're rightfully angry and upset, but how do you really know that? Did you talk to him?"

Hendrik stared at her. "Have you? Have any of you?"

The table went quiet again.

"That's what I thought," Hendrik said as he stood up, screeching his chair back. "Now if you don't mind, I'm excusing myself to sleep. Have a good night."

With that, he turned around to leave, placing the empty glass on the kitchen counter before he walked up the stairs to go to his room.

Adina suddenly got up, running out of the room.

Eve shared a look with James, tense and worried.

"Go," James said quickly.

She nodded, quickly getting up to chase after Adina, leaving Mel and Jordan alone with James.

Mel had her lips pulled back with worry as she watched Eve and Adina rush out of the inn, silent. Jordan reached over, resting his hand over Mel's.

"Do you want to go back to our room?" Jordan asked quietly.

Mel barely nodded, but then glanced at James.

"Are you going to be alright?" she asked quietly, almost a whisper.

James hesitated.

"I'll... I'll be okay," he said, barely audible.

Mel nodded, and quietly, she and Jordan left the room as well, leaving James to be by himself.

And suddenly the room felt very, very large, and James felt very, very small.

By this hour, the room was mostly empty, except for the kitchen staff cleaning up. James was sure some of them had over heard some of the conversation, but probably didn't fully understand the context of what was going on. He caught some of their sideways glances in his direction, but otherwise, no one said anything.

James stared down at his empty plate, as the horrible, unsettling truth started to sink in even more.

He wouldn't know for sure until Elias confirmed it. But...

Did this mean he was right?

Elias really left Bo for dead?

Never before had James so desperately not wanted to be right. He knew that Elias wasn't well, but he hadn't thought he'd do something like this.

Maybe Elias was far worse off than James initially thought.

It made him worried, and with great sadness he realized that maybe, all this time... Elias had only been relating to him in half-truths and lies. James wondered if he really knew Elias at all.

For months now, James had considered Elias one of his closest friends. But would Elias keep pushing him away, now? Would Elias ever let him back in his life at all? Would Elias just keep lying to him? Had Elias ever truly been open?

James couldn't help but feel like all of this spiralling doubt felt terribly familiar. Leaning on the table, he held his head in his hands, remembering what he felt when everything changed with Carter.

    He and Carter were in his room. Carter had come in, interrupting James just as he was almost done packing.

    He was in a hurry. He was trying to flee. This conversation had already gone too long.

    "I can't stand to be silent anymore, Carter," James persisted. "Not when I have-- I have proof that could actually change--"

    "You're not going to change anything, James!" Carter said, raising his voice as he threw up his arms at him. "That's the kind of naive, idealistic altruism I'd expect from you. But we both know my parents would never allow that information to see the light of day and though they treat you like their own now? They'll disown you, expose you, and blot your name from history in an instant if you try this now."

    James stood stiffly, his bag swung over his shoulder. He looked at Carter with pain in his eyes.

    "My life is ruined either way, Carter," James snapped. "It's just a matter of whether its spent rotting in a cell or actually trying to accomplish something. And I'm not going to throw it all away in surrender. It's too late now. The damage is done."

    James stepped forward to leave, aiming to push past Carter, who still stood in the doorway. But James watched with a sullen realization as Carter's expression tensed, and he stood his ground, setting his feet where they stood.

    It was then that James realized in horror that Carter had not come to reason with him at all.

    He was stalling.

    "Carter," James said stiffly, though panic rose in his chest. "Move away from the door."

    "I can't do that," Carter said cooly.

    "Carter..." James pleaded softly, but still, he didn't budge.

    There was a split second where Carter glanced over his shoulder, and in that moment, the panic burst through James, thrusting him forward.

    He ran into Carter, shoulder to chest, causing him to stumble back just enough for James to leap through the door and start running.

    "Traitor!" Carter shouted behind him, his voice carrying down the stone halls.

    Adrenaline was kicking in. James ran faster.

    "Guards! Stop him!"

James felt the weight of it all.

It was overwhelming.

Digging his fingers into his hair, he let out a frustrated sigh as he dragged his hands down his face and looked out into the room, now completely empty, apart from him.

He'd hardly thought about it since coming to New Haven, but...

Carter was here now, too. Wasn't he?
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Mon May 29, 2023 4:24 am
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Carina says...

The days seemed to stretch on, but Elias wasn't bored.

Bored didn't seem like the right word... but he was feeling a little antsy the longer he stayed here. It felt safe, sure. He had a bed, Elise was here, and he didn't meet anyone who seemed threatening.

But... it did start to feel like a prison. Elias couldn't shake away the feeling that he had to escape.

He often found himself peeking through the curtains in the bedroom, staring at the brick townhouses across the street. He let the curtains fall back into place whenever he detected any kind of movement, though.

So this was New Haven. Elias knew New Haven was underground, so he really was trapped here.

Most of the time, Elias sat on the bed by himself, leaning against the headboard as he stared at the assortments of plants that decorated the room. He wondered if he should be watering them since he was staying here. He didn't really know much about taking care of plants.

Time seemed to creep by in intervals, frequently interrupted whenever Elise knocked on the door, snapping Elias out of his daze.

She frequently visited, and he would try to spend time with her. Most of the time, she just wanted to talk. Elias didn't mind that. He didn't mind answering her basic questions, including if he was tired, or if he was thinking about anything, or if he had any questions.

"Should I be watering the plants?" Elias decided to ask as she slid a plate of food over to him.

"What?" Elise said by surprise with a smile. "No, it's alright. I've been watering them. You don't need to worry about that."

"Oh... okay. Just making sure."

He picked at the food, lost in thought again, but Elise didn't seem to press it.

It went on like this for... Elias wasn't sure. A while. He wondered if she had a plan. If so, he felt like she was waiting for him to ask, but he didn't really want to. This somehow felt like a prison, but also, he wouldn't mind if this was how he was going to live the rest of his life. He wasn't going to break the fantasy.

Elias kept saying he was tired, but he knew that could only get him so far. He wondered if this was what cats felt like all day. Eat, sleep, play, repeat. Except instead of playing, he was kept up to be watched. It did bother him, but at the same time, Elias didn't see this as a real threat yet.

He didn't realize how in pain he was until it all went away. His body really was malnourished and exhausted, but after eating many full meals and sleeping for so long, he felt alive again. Unfortunately, it was too late. He had energy, but he couldn't run away from Bo anymore. He couldn't run away from the monkeys, or from New Haven, or from anyone else - because he was already trapped.

The excess energy not being spent was what really made Elias antsy. He wondered if Elise would let him go out on runs again. He didn't think she would. Maybe he would ask her tomorrow. It was getting late now.

As Elias laid in bed again, he heard a knock at the door. A pit of dread filled his stomach as he wondered if it was James and Evaline again. He didn't really know what to say to them. He hardly even processed that there were other people he knew that were here. What did they expect him to say? What were they going to believe?

Elise suddenly knocked at his bedroom door even though the door was already open. Elias sat up straight.

"It's Mickey," she said, glancing back. "He'd like to talk to us."

Honestly, Elias didn't know who she was talking about. He hesitated because this felt like a request, not a question.

"I know you're tired, but he came all this way for us. He has some news. I don't think we should turn him away," she said gently.

"Alright," Elias said as he slid out of bed, trusting his sister's word.

She led him out of the room and into the sitting area where the man, Mickey, sat waiting for him. He seemed to eye them entering, but Elias kept his head low, not sure what to expect. Elise beckoned for him to sit, so he did.

"I unfortunately do not have any good news to bring you," Mickey said, his voice serious, and sad. "We spent the last two days in search of Bo, but the mage hunters were split up in too great a number. We tracked down every group we could, but none of them had him. We don't know where he is, or where they're taking him, or if he's still alive - or how long he will be."

There was a small pause.

"We did everything we could," Mickey said. "But... he's lost to us now."

Elias noticed that Elise had her hands clenched together over her mouth as she stared at Mickey with wide, frightful eyes. She said something, and he said something back, but Elias couldn't process it.

An impending sense of doom seized his chest. He had been feeling like this ever since he met Elise again, but hearing Mickey's words and seeing Elise's reaction, it was like reality cut through him with a sharp knife.

Elias knew he did something bad. He knew he turned his back. He knew he was the reason all of this was happening.

Conflicting memories of Bo replayed in his mind until it gave him a headache. He found himself having to close his eyes and raise his hand to his head, the sharp pain splitting his skull.

"Elias," Elise called, her voice cutting through his head. "Mickey wondered if you have any questions."

Elias snapped back to reality, opening his eyes and dropping his hand, noticing that they were both looking at him expectantly.

"No," he said. "I'm sorry."

Mickey's eyes met his with great sadness.

"Alright," Mickey said quietly.

He got to his feet, and motioned for Elise to come over.

"Would you like a hug?" Mickey asked softly.

Elias didn't even notice that Elise had been crying. She sniffled and then nodded, letting the tears fall from her face again as she embraced Mickey, crying in his arms.

Elias tried to pay attention, but he couldn't. Elise's voice was warbled, a crying mess as Mickey tried to console her. For a moment, Elias caught Mickey's eyes, and everything in him told him to run.

He felt his heart beat fast as he quickly got to his feet, hesitating as he glanced down the hall.

"I-- I think I'm going to sleep," he announced, but he didn't ask for permission or wait to see what they would have to say about that.

Elias turned away, quickly going down the hall to the bedroom, this time softly closing the door behind him. He leaned against the door as he tried to calm his breathing, trying to calm his rushing beating heart.

He didn't know how long he stood there, but Elias flinched when there was a knock on his door.

"Elias? It's me. We're alone again," Elise said.

Elias hesitated, but knew she was about to ask him to open the door, so he opened it before she could. Her face was red and puffy, but through it all, she tried to muster a sad smile.

"Am I in trouble?" he asked.

Elise's smile faded as she sniffed and then hesitantly shook her head. "You're not in trouble," she said quietly.

There was a tense silence.

"It is getting late... I think I'm going to try to sleep," he said.

Elise seemed to hesitate again, watching him sadly. "Alright," she said, sounding disappointed. "Get some rest. I'll be here if you need anything."

Elias nodded, leaving the door open as he turned away to crash into the bed.

He didn't think he was tired. But suddenly the adrenaline crash was kicking in, and Elias felt like he could sleep for another night.

He turned to his side, closing his eyes as he got comfortable under the blankets.

He didn't know what tomorrow would bring, but at least for now, he didn't want to think about it.
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Carina says...

Eve's head was spinning, and she felt like she was on the verge of panicking from the news that Mickey and Hendrik delivered, but she steeled her nerves to run after Adina.

One thing at a time. There wasn't anything she could do about the situation right now. Adina needed her, and she would think through the unraveling thought of anxiety later.

She quickly rushed up the stairs to the inn, hurrying to Adina's door.

"Adina?" she called with a soft knock. "It's Eve. Would you like company?"

She could hear muffled sobbing behind the door.

"Eve?" she could make out, but it was warbled.

The door was unlocked, so she slightly cracked open the door so Adina would better hear her.

"Do you mind if I come in?" Eve asked.

"You can," Adina said, but her voice cracked, and when Eve stepped in, she could see Adina was curled up on her bed, face in her pillow.

"Oh, Adina..." Eve said softly as she closed the door behind her, then walked to the side of the bed, sitting on the edge.

Her heart sank seeing her like this.

"Would you like a hug?" Eve asked quietly.

Adina sniffled loudly, and pulled away from the pillow she was cradling, revealing her tear-streaked face and her red, puffy eyes. As an answer, she crawled over to Eve and embraced her tightly.

"It's alright. It's okay to cry," Eve said as she embraced her back, holding her tightly as her curly hair covered her face. "Let it out."

And she did. The small encouragement got Adina crying again - loudly - into Eve's shoulder.

"It's just so horrible!" Adina cried. "I don't want to believe it!"

"I don't either," Eve said with a shaky breath. "I still don't know if I do believe it."

"Why would Hendrik say those things?" Adina sobbed. "What if he's not lying? What if it's the truth?"

Eve wished she knew the answer, but she didn't. Doubt clashed against logic, and she wasn't sure which side won. The answer was inconclusive, but because of that - because she couldn't confidently say that Elias had no part in Bo's capture - doubt only sunk in deeper.

"I don't know," she whispered. "I don't know."

That only made Adina cry harder, and her shoulders shook as Eve held her.

Eve really did try to steel her nerves. She really did try to be strong for Adina. But the looming uncertainty caused her to lose her voice, and instead she found her eyes welling up as well - but she didn't cry. Not yet.

She didn't know why. Maybe she was still in shock. Maybe the truth hadn't fully set in yet. Or maybe she didn't want to cry in front of Adina, when she came in to console her.

Eve held her tighter, sharply closing her eyes as Adina continued to sob.

She sobbed for a while until her cries naturally died down, and Adina slumped in Eve's arms, tired.

She pulled away slowly, wiping her eyes with her sleeves.

"You--you didn't have to come running after me," she mumbled.

"But I did, because you're my friend and I care about you," Eve said softly. "It was... difficult news. I want to make sure you're okay."

Adina nodded slowly, but looked up at Eve with appreciation.

"Thank you," she said quietly. "But... I don't think any of us are... okay. How can I be? Bo is..."

Her lower lip trembled again.

"I just don't want to believe he's gone," she said.

Eve clenched her palms together, staring down at her hands as she brushed one thumb over the other.

"I really wish there was something we could do," she said. "It feels like... there could be. Maybe this was all a misunderstanding. It feels as though we just need to band together to find Bo... but I don't want to mislead you, and I don't want to mislead myself."

Eve paused.

"I don't want to believe it either," she admitted. "Honestly... this doesn't really feel... real. I'm hoping it's not real. It just..." She shook her head. "I don't know. None of this feels right. It feels so unpredictable, so uncontrollable... especially now, when we're here. We're helpless. Bo's helpless. We all are."

"I don't like feeling so helpless," Adina said tearfully.

"I don't either," Eve said, resting her gaze back at Adina, watching her cry. "But... maybe it's not totally helpless. Maybe we can help, but in small ways. We can help Mickey in grieving process, or see if there's any further action being taken. We can even seek answers from Elias. I'm sure there's a misunderstanding. We just have to seek it out."

"Will Elias even talk to us?" Adina squeaked.

"I don't know," Eve admitted, deciding now was not the time to tell her that she already tried to talk to him. "But we have to try."

Adina sniffed, nodding again as she rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands.

Eve wished she had more answers. She really did. But for now, she tried to instill hope for Adina, trying to help coax her mind out of a dark place and persuade her that the situation wasn't totally hopeless.

Eve said this, yet she wasn't sure she truly believed her. She said one thing, but her mind was telling her the opposite: they were helpless, Hendrik was right about Elias, and Bo was doomed to suffer and die.

She spent the next half hour with Adina until she had no more tears left. At that point, Adina seemed to think she was bothering Eve, even though Eve reassured her that she didn't mind talking to her. But Adina insisted that she didn't have much more to share, and she needed some time to process by herself.

Eve eventually relented, but she hesitated at the door before she left.

"If you even feel the slightest bit lost in your own head... just knock at my door. Okay?" she said over to Adina as she hovered by the door.

"Okay," Adina said meekly.

At that, Eve quietly left her room, sighing as she closed the door behind her. She stood still for a moment, gathering her thoughts and taking a deep breath before she moved to her room. She suddenly felt so dizzy, and Eve had to grab the doorknob for support as she stood to once again gather her bearings.

Was James inside? She didn't know. She hoped he was.

With another deep breath, Eve opened her door quickly shut it behind her, once again staying by the door until she glanced behind her.

James was inside. He was sitting on the bed, leaning back and but perking up when he noticed her come in.

Eve felt frozen, feeling her walls come down slowly as she stared back at James, not sure what to say or do. All of a sudden, she felt tears streaming down her face.

James stared at her for a moment, his expression melting into one of sympathy. Quickly, he got off the bed and rushed over to her, pulling her into a hug.

Eve didn't know what happened, but it was like a flood of emotions poured out of her as she bawled, her knees buckling as she pulled James down to the floor with her.

"I don't-- I just--" she started, but she couldn't finish her sentence, instead hugging James tightly and tunneling her head in his chest.

"It's okay," James whispered, holding her head against him. "I've got you."

Eve hugged him tighter, crying even though she didn't understand how this all happened.

She didn't understand how she was able to keep it together until now. She didn't understand why Elias would act the way he did. She didn't understand why Bo would go to great lengths to protect Elias, even when it potentially cost him his life.

She really did wish she had answers.

Eve cried until there were no more tears to shed. James still held her firmly, but she didn't poke her head out to meet him yet. She felt like she didn't have the strength to.

Eventually - though after quite some time - James pulled away slightly. Eve sniffed, finally wiping her eyes as she sat up straight.

"Would you like to move to the bed?" he asked softly. "It might be more comfortable than the floor."

"Yeah..." she said, hardly audible as she glanced to their side, realizing they were still by the door.

"Alright," James said, helping lift her to her feet.

He silently led her to the bed, and Eve sat at the edge, wiping her eyes with her sleeves again even though her face was dry now. She gripped her knees tightly, trying to decipher the complicated mess of emotions and thoughts that swirled in her head.

James sat beside her, his arm still around her back.

"Do you want to talk about it?" James asked softly.

"I don't know if there's much to even talk about," Eve said quietly.

"Let's start with what you're feeling," James said. "It's okay if you're still figuring out how to say it."

"Hopeless and doomed," she said. "I know. Maybe that sounds dramatic. But how can you not feel hopeless and doomed after hearing that news? Adina feels this way too, so I tried to instill hope, telling her that there's something we can do. But - I'm only fooling myself, James. The truth hurts. And there's nothing that any of us could do about it."

James nodded solemnly, looking down into his lap.

"I don't think there's anything we can do for Bo," he said quietly. "If Mickey wasn't able to find him... I doubt we'd be any more successful at this rate. Especially since we have no way of knowing where they're taking him."

Eve swallowed thickly, knowing James was right.

"I know," she said quietly. "I try to think of other solutions, but I don't think they exist. Are we just supposed to... give up?"

"The only person who might be able to figure out where Bo is... is probably Tula," James said quietly. "But they already tried that."

Strangely, Eve didn't feel anger or vitriol at the mention of Tula's name. She knew James was right. If there was any speck of hope, it was on Tula. She didn't know how to feel about this, knowing that she still held grudges against her.

"And she hasn't had any luck," James said quietly. "Unfortunately, if Bo is kept unconscious, there's not much she can gather through his eyes. The only thing she's been able to confirm is that he's alive."

James paused.

"...for now," he added.

"I just can't believe it," Eve said, gripping her knees even tighter. "How could anyone catch a dragon? How could this happen?"

James was quiet, his brows knit together tightly.

"It's been done before," he said quietly.

That didn't really make Eve feel any better.

James swallowed.

"Sorry," he said softly. "I just... I don't want to believe it either. I don't like knowing that it's possible for a dragon to get caught in this world. I never even knew Bo that well, but I knew he was a good man. And he didn't deserve this."

"I'm really trying to understand what happened. I'm trying to understand Bo, and I'm trying to understand Elias." Eve slowly shook her head. "I don't-- I can't. I just don't know. I don't know how Bo could be so... I don't know. Was he being careless? Was Hendrik right? Did he care too much? Did Elias really leave him for dead? I just can't believe it. I want to think that this is a misunderstanding and an unfortunate accident. I can't-- I refuse to believe that someone like Bo would die in this way and in this manner."

James nodded, rubbing her back lightly.

Eve sighed, leaning forward so she could set her elbows on her knees and rub her face.

"What are your thoughts? Do you believe it?" she asked softly through her hands.

"Believe that Bo's gone?" James asked. "Or that Elias left him behind?"

Eve continued to rub her face, not liking that she felt like she had to choose. She didn't even feel like that list was exhaustive.

"Both, I guess," she finally said.

"I don't want to believe it," James said. "But... I think deep down, I do."

Eve slowly set her hands back on her lap, sitting up straight again to face James.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Maybe it's just my own past experiences that have jaded me," James said, sounding more sad than anything. "But after everything that happened between me and Carter, and even others in the past few years... I guess..."

He sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb.

"I've been responsible for the deaths of so many people, Eve," James said. "And probably you, and all of our friends would say I'm a 'decent' person. I guess I just... don't put it past decent people to do bad things and make huge mistakes."

Eve suddenly felt so tense, staring at James as she tried to understand.

"What are you saying?" she asked quietly for a more direct answer.

"I think that Elias probably did leave Bo behind," James said. "Maybe not intentionally. I don't know how much he knew. But he clearly didn't go back for him. Otherwise he wouldn't have been found so far away from it all. Or he would've been... I don't know. In worse shape, or something."

"So... you agree," Eve said, feeling her whole body tensing up now. "All of this - it's Elias's fault? You really think that? You believe that?"

"I don't think its all his fault," James said. "It's not like he's the reason mage hunters were out there hunting us, or hunting Bo. And I obviously can't know--"

"And it's not his fault that he's unstable," Eve cut in. "Don't you think that's related? Did you think that was preventable?"

"I'm sure it's related," James said. "I don't know how preventable it was. I... I really don't know."

Eve was speechless as she stared back at James. She felt like she was defending Elias's honor, but a year ago, it was James who was defending his.

Wasn't it James who told her to find forgiveness? To talk to him, to understand him, and to hear him? Why did it feel like she was the one who was doing this now?

"How can you say that? Don't you consider him a close friend?" Eve said, not able to hide the hurt in her voice.

"I do!" James said, turning to her with pain in his own eyes. "Of course I do, and I still do. I desparately want Elias to be okay. I wish I could speak to him. I wish he would've let us see him. But why wouldn't he? If we're his friends, why did he feel like he had to hide? Why couldn't he face us? Why was he pushing us away? I thought-- I thought--"

James's mouth trembled in a small pout, and he looked away, down into his lap.

"I thought we trusted each other," he said sorrowfully.

Eve slowly shook her head, biting her lip to bite back the tears that threatened to fall down again.

"I don't know, James," she said softly. "But - we did this too. We hid from each other. We pushed each other away. We didn't trust each other. And look at us - we've grown. We're better people now. Yet, why do I get the sense that you're giving up? I didn't give up on you. You're not giving up, are you?"

"I'm not," James whispered. "I can't."

"So why--" Eve started, not sure why she was starting to feel defensive all of a sudden. She almost wanted to laugh from the absurdity of the situation since they were talking about Elias, a friendship she was still trying to mend. "Why aren't you defending him?" she finished quietly with a quivering voice.

James looked up at her, his eyes sad and glossy.

"Does Elias have to be a perfect person for me to still love and care about him?" James asked, just as quiet.

"Of course not," Eve said, matching his quiet tone. "But how can you believe the worst without even talking to him? Do you really think that lowly of him?"

"I don't believe it for certain," James said. "But I... I want to be prepared to love him at his worst. Just as much as his best."

Eve shook her head and looked away, not sure what to make of it. She didn't know what to think of this. There were so many other implications that went unsaid.

Like how he mentioned how his past experiences made him jaded. How Carter made him more skeptical. How he justified loving people at their worst.

Did he think of her like this too?

She didn't even know what to say to this. She didn't even know if there was anything she could say that wouldn't result in an argument.

After a long pause, James spoke up again.

"I know... I know you don't agree," James said quietly. "And that's okay. I just... was trying to share."

"And I appreciate that," Eve said, but her heart wasn't in it. "I do. I guess I... I just need some time to process."

James nodded.

"Okay," he said softly.

They sat in silence, but the silence felt tense to Eve. She didn't know if James felt the same way. Was this all in her head? Were they on the same side? She didn't know.

She was afraid of knowing.

"You're right that we don't know everything," she said, feeling hollow inside. "I don't know if there's much else to talk about."

James seemed to be watching her with a mix of sadness and concern.

"Are you sure?" he asked softly.

"Yeah... I think I'm just overwhelmed. I'm trying to make sense of answers I don't have," Eve said.

"If there's more you want to process," James said. "I don't mind listening. It's alright if it doesn't make sense."

Eve only shook her head in response, holding her hands together tightly and staring down at them. She could feel James watching her.

"I can tell there's still something you're not saying," he said gently. "You're not going to scare me away with it. Whatever it is."

Eve kept shaking her head, but she felt tears threaten her vision again.

"I don't want to fight," she said shakily.

"Because you disagree?" James prodded gently.

Eve didn't think the statement needed an explanation, but she couldn't reply, instead leaning forward to bury her face in her hands, crying again. She didn't know why she was crying again. It was like another wave of emotions clawed its way out of her, demanding to be seen - even if she couldn't explain it.

"Hey," James said. "It's okay. Let it out."

Eve didn't need to hear his reassurance to cry - and if anything, it only made her want to cry harder. She sobbed and pressed her hands to her face as the tears slid through her fingers.

"Can I hold you?" James asked quietly.

Eve couldn't reply back, absorbed in her cries. When she didn't respond, he didn't move to touch her.

She just needed a moment to collect herself. She needed a moment to flush out her confusing emotions so she could talk and think in a clearer manner.

But Eve didn't know what to say or think. She just knew she wanted to cry.

A minute or so passed as her cries finally subsided, her breaths no longer shallow and hallow. Eve took a shaky deep breath, sniffing as she rubbed her face again with her hands, not quite ready to face James.

"I'm fine," she said lowly through her hands, voice muffled. "I'm just being emotional."

"That's okay," James said softly.

Eve didn't really know what to say any more. She was far too tired to push this conversation more than it needed to be. Maybe she just needed to cry. Maybe she just needed... time.

The silence dragged on. Eve sighed, feeling the weight of exhaustion hit her. She felt so drained after talking through this, although she thought talking through her thoughts was supposed to help.

She laid down against the bed, her back towards James. Eve took some more deep breaths and closed her eyes, wondering if she should sleep early.

It didn't really feel right to her that she was ending the day with unnecessary, unexplained tension with James, but she was far too tired to bring it up and talk about it again.

She'd be better in the morning.
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soundofmind says...

8th of Bruma

James spent the whole morning staring at the ceiling before Eve woke up.

Normally, he woke up a few hours before her. They both had a tendency to wake up early, but James could never seem to sleep in, even if he tried. It was still difficult for him to get much sleep these days. He was always the last to fall asleep and the first to rise - which made him feel perpetually tired, but it wasn't anything new to him. He was used to running on empty.

At least he had a bed to sleep in, and his body was feeling better than it had in months. Forcing himself to rest and lie down even when he couldn't stay asleep seemed to be helping in the long run as well, even if it was a test of his patience sometimes.

He glanced over at Eve, turning on his side to look at her.

Stirring, Eve rolled to her side, her eyes flitting open as she met his gaze. She mustered a small, tired smile to silently say good morning.

He smiled softly in return.

He remembered how their conversation went last night, and he'd spent hours replaying it in his head - not to redo it, but trying to reflect on where it went wrong. Trying to figure out what he could've done better, or how he could change how he responded in the future.

This wasn't the first time that he and Eve had spoken - especially since reuniting - that they'd tried talking about their feelings, and it'd felt one-sided. He was realizing that his attempts at comfort by offering logic weren't helpful, and only ever seemed to make her shut down, seem tired, or deflate. And he didn't want to do that to her. He wanted her to have space to feel, and be messy, and let it out. And he knew she wanted him to enter into it too.

He just... wasn't very good at it. At all.

He owed her an apology.

"How did you sleep?" he asked softly.

Eve's smile slowly dissipated as she looked at him with her brows drawn together. It was a simple question, but she seemed to read more into it, taking a deep breath before speaking.

"It could've been better," she said just as soft. "I know I left things... tense between us last night. It doesn't really sit well with me that we both slept without resolving it. I'm sorry."

James's expression softened.

"I had a feeling you were exhausted," he said gently. "And probably needed time to think about things and recharge. I wanted to give you space to do that. I appreciate the apology, but don't worry about it."

Eve faintly smiled, leaning in so that her forehead was hovering near his chin. She pooled her arms at the cavity between their chests.

"I think that's right," she said. "It was an tough day for everyone. But... we'll persevere."

"We will," James agreed in a quiet whisper, bringing his arm around her, not letting a pause linger.

"I wanted to apologize too," he said. "I know it's happened a few times, now, but especially last night. More than once you've tried to open up about your feelings, and I know I haven't done a good job of helping you navigate them. And I haven't done well at talking about my own emotions myself. I regret that my first response has more often been to provide a logical explanation than emotional support. I know it hasn't been helpful, and I'm sorry that I've hurt you."

Eve slowly withdrew from his chest, her brows drawn together again. She seemed to be more alert now, almost looking like she wanted to sit up for this conversation, but thought better of it as she laid down next to him at eye-level now.

"You didn't hurt me, James," she said, sounding a little sad that he'd suggest that. "Far from it. Like you said, we can't expect others to be perfect. I don't really blame you for what happened. I think, simply, emotions were running high yesterday."

"But I do want to get better at it," James said in a soft earnest. "I do. I want to try and... learn how to talk about these things. Because I know it matters to you. And I care about you. I love you so much, Eve, and I want to keep trying."

Eve opened her mouth like she wanted to protest, but she fell silent, watching him with a sad but adoring expression.

"I know I'm not perfect, and I'm never going to be," he continued. "But that's no excuse for me not to try. I don't want to be complacent. If you say I didn't hurt you I want to believe you, but I also know that you want that emotional connection. And I know you've fought to let yourself feel for years. You deserve someone who can go there with you. I don't know what I'm doing but -- I want to figure it out. I want to try together."

Eve bit her lip as she pinched her brows together even more, her eyes already glossing over.

"I... I can try with you," she said softly, leaning in to embrace him.

James pulled her into a tight hug.

"We're in this together," he said. "I'm going to try too. And I'll keep trying."

"I love you too, James," she said with a quiet sniff. "So much. And... I would like that. I'd like that a lot. I'll try to be more aware too. I want to be there for you too."

"And I just want you to know," James said, gently rubbing her back. "That you're never too much. I love that you feel deeply, and I don't want you to lose that. You're not going to scare me away with your emotions, however intense they might feel."

At that, Eve quietly cried over his shoulder, gripping him tightly.

"I don't even know why--" she began, but was interrupting with a hiccup from her crying. She let out a weak laugh. "How do you always do this?"

"Do what?" James asked with a weak smile. "I... I don't mean to make you cry. Not in a bad way."

"No... not in a bad way," Eve said, then took a deep breath so she could better control her cries.

She slowly pulled away, her face inches away from his. Her face was streaked with tears and her eyes were puffy, but that didn't stop her from gazing at him with tender adoration.

"I don't think I've ever been like this with anyone else," she said softly. "You bring it out of me."

James smiled softly, his heart overflowing with affection for her as he met her eyes. He reached up and gently wiped her tears with his thumb, remembering all of the times that she'd do it for him when he cried.

"I love this part of you," he said.

"Stop..." she said with another weak laugh and smile since his words seemed to only bring out more happy tears.

He leaned in to gently kiss her forehead.

"Okay," he said. "But just know that I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you."

He kissed her on the cheek, then on the nose, then her other cheek. Eve sniffed and smiled, coming in to kiss his lips. His hand cradled her face as she came in close, and when they pulled away, he rested his forehead against hers.

"Good morning," he finally said aloud with a little laugh.

Eve let out an airy laugh, cupping her hand along his jaw.

"Will this be our new normal now?" she said. "Waking up on a bed, showering each other with love and tears?"

"Do you think it'll really happen that often?" James asked with a weak huff of air through his nose.

"Maybe next time... I'll be the one showering you with love," Eve said with a small, playful smile.

"That would be a pleasant surprise," James said, pulling away slightly so he could more directly meet her eyes.

"Now," he said. "Do you think we should get out of bed?"

Eve quietly hummed. "Maybe in a little bit... but right now I want to be right here with you."

She leaned in to kiss the tip of his nose, pulling away with a smile. James smiled in return.


And they spent the next twenty minutes or so cuddling in bed - James waiting for her to be ready to get up (though he did suggest it a few times, to which the answer was always a playful 'no, not yet'). When they finally did get up James went about his regular morning routine and went on a run, and he and Eve later explored the city together in the evening, familiarizing themselves with the area and stopping by a public park James had found on his runs that had a large flowerbed and garden.

They also made a point to stop by the stables (and James had been doing so at least once a day regardless) to see Elliot and Sleepy, who were still being cared for there. James was happy to ride Elliot around for a bit, and Sleepy seemed content to stay snuggled in Eve's arms. So much so that when they went to leave, Sleepy greatly protested. After some coaxing from James, they were finally able to make their way back to the inn.

Soon, they reminded themselves, they'd have space to their own. The social worker who'd been assigned to them - Junie was her name - had assured them that, by the end of the week, they'd come up with a placement for them in the city. Somewhere they could keep their animals, and somewhere they could call their own. James had mentioned he was willing to work as a farmhand, so that helped Junie narrow down their options for what they'd be able to conceivably afford, and what would make sense for them.

It was nice that the city offered them help, though, and that they had someone doing a majority of this research for them. James had to admit that coming to the city in and of itself had been overwhelming, and he was only just beginning to get used to the idea of it, nevermind the scope.

Circling back to the inn, James and Eve ended up drifting into the kitchen for dinner at the same time as Mel and Jordan.

Had it just been Mel, James wouldn't have even thought twice. But the moment Jordan acknowledged James's existence from across the room with the slightest second of eye contact, James knew Jordan was instantly uncomfortable.

This was going to be awkward, wasn't it?

Mel smiled wide, waving them over to join them. James glanced at Eve with a small shrug before following.

"We're going to grab our food first," he said as he passed their table.

"We'll save you a spot!" Mel said cheerfully behind them.

James nodded in brief thanks, but he didn't hurry his way back to them.

"I don't know if Jordan wants us here," Eve said said quietly as they waited in line.

"Well, if he really likes Mel and wants to stay with her," James whispered back. "He's going to have to get used to us. We're her friends."

He and Eve returned with their plates full of food (though his was always considerably heavier than Eve's). And James took the seat across from Jordan, since it was a rectangular table with four chairs, two facing each other on both sides. That left Eve facing Mel.

"Hey, hey," Mel greeted as they sat, smiling brightly. "This is like, an unplanned double date. Isn't weird that we've traveled a long time together but it's also our first time eating together, just the four of us?"

"Well, we were in a large group for a majority of the time," James reminded her. "So... odds were someone else was always going to be around."

"Yeah, and now you're no longer crippled. That's always helpful," Mel said matter-of-factly.

James blinked slowly at her, but huffed a weak laugh through his nose.

"Yes," he said. "What a privilege it is to be mobile again."

"So, what have you guys been up to?" Mel chirped, but then answered her own question before anyone else could. "We've been doing a lot of exploring. Jordan's been showing me around a lot and taking me to some neat places. Have you guys gone into The Glass Jar yet? It's a pretty relaxed tavern with live music. I think it's my favorite spot in the city right now."

"We haven't done a ton of exploring," James answered. "But today we did take a look around the city. There's this really nice park on the corner of Rosewood and Maine."

"Ooh, have we gone there?" Mel asked, lightly elbowing Jordan.

"We passed by," Jordan said with a stiff smile.

Mel hummed. "Is that the park with the flower bushes?"

"Yeah, they've got a lot of flowers there. It's, uh, not as colorful this time of year, but still nice," he said.

James noted that Jordan couldn't seem to look in James's direction.

"Hmm. Yeah, I guess that's part of living underground. Less sun," Mel said with a longing sigh.

"So, Jordan," Eve said, focusing on him. "You already have you own place here, right?"

"Oh," Jordan said with a tight smile. "Yeah."

He glanced at Mel, putting an arm around her shoulders for a moment.

"We got her moved in two days ago," he said.

"Oh," Eve said with pleasant surprise at the news that they were living together.

"Yeah!" Mel said, beaming at Jordan. "I was offered a place that was a couple doors down from Jordan's actually. But then I was like... if I'm going to be over a lot, why even pay for a place I'd hardly use?" She playfully poked Jordan's arm. "That and I'd miss not waking up next to you."

Jordan smiled, but James and Eve both caught his awkward, embarassed glances at the two of them.

"It all worked out in the end," Jordan said.

"Obviously, you've been working in the rescue efforts. Does this mean you plan on settling in the city?" Eve asked bluntly.

"Oh, right, right, yeah," Jordan said. "So, uh. With the rescue contract there's provisions for special circumstances for early release, so long as you put in a request, so I've already made arrangements to, uh. Yeah. Step down. Settling down in the city just feels like a better path now after the last few months in particular."

Eve quietly hummed. "Have you always been doing rescues?"

"Since I was recruited a few years back, yeah," he said. "Uh, Raya and I decided to jump in together. I don't know if you, uh. Remember her."

"I do," Eve said simply.

"She was asking about you the other day," Jordan said. "I saw her in town."

Eve slightly raised a brow at that, but didn't comment further.

"Raya seems pretty cool. Maybe you can bring her to dinner sometime so we can all get to know her better," Mel said to Jordan with a smile.

"Oh! Yeah. Maybe for our first big meetup we have planned," Jordan said. "We said Sunday evenings at Peach Tree, yeah? 6pm. You both still plan on, uh--"

Jordan seemed to make eye contact with James on accident, and James noticed he immediately shriveled under his gaze. Even though James wasn't trying to be intimidating. He was just listening.

"...coming," Jordan withered. "Right?"

"Of course," James said.

"Wouldn't miss it," Eve said, although she didn't seem enthusiastic as she still seemed to be watching Jordan closely.

"Great!" Mel chirped. "I love that we have plans already, but isn't it wild that they're weekly plans? Gosh, we saw each other nearly every day for a year... I feel like I already miss you guys."

James couldn't help but glance at Eve, silently sharing with her an understanding that Mel was glossing over much of the context that happened within the past year.

"It's definitely a change, for sure," James said. "But I think it'll be good for all of us to... have some sense of normalcy. Or rather a less turbulent version of it."

"Definitely. But don't be a stranger, you hear? Otherwise I'll come knocking on your door to force you to have fun with me," Mel huffed.

"I wouldn't be opposed to that on occasion," James said with a shrug.

Mel smirked. "Hm. Noted. I'll come when you least expect it."

"Who's all coming to the dinner?" Eve asked, changing the subject.

The question could have been asked to Mel, but she was looking at Jordan, directing it towards him.

Jordan stared at Eve, then looked to Mel, like he wanted her to answer for him. Mel seemed confused, but talked when he only hesitated in response.

"I think it's just us, Alistair, Clanny, and Adina," she said, but then paused. "Should we invite others? Like Hendrik, Makiel? Elise? And... others?"

"Makiel and Raj might appreciate the invitation, even if they don't always come," James suggested. "I think the same could be said for Hendrik and Elise. Mel Aradis too."

James hesitated, wanting to mention Elias.

"I don't mind either way. I don't think the others outside the main group you mentioned would come every week, but I think it'd be nice for them to know anyways," Eve said with a small shrug. "I wouldn't be opposed to seeing a few new faces as well. So, Jordan, if you wanted to invite Raya or anyone else for one week, I'm sure Mel and the others wouldn't mind."

Jordan offered Mel a weak smile.

"Oh! Yeah. That could be nice," he said.

"Sounds like it could potentially become a very large group," James said.

"A very fun group," Mel corrected with a grin.
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Carina says...

9th of Bruma

Eve was pacing by the main lobby of the inn, waiting for Junie to return. She was getting a wagon ready, although Eve didn't think that was wholly necessary, considering that she and James didn't really have many belongings. All their belongings could fit in Elliot's saddlebags and their packs. Apparently, it was standard procedure though. It also would have been easier to travel that way.

Finally, after everyone else had been officially placed in a home, it was Eve and James's turn. Today was the day that they get to move in, although they didn't really know too much about it outside of a short spiel that Junie told them.

It was a small cottage farther out from the city, had ample space, a small stable, room for a garden, and a yard. Elliot and Sleepy were already there, waiting for them.

"She said it's small," Eve said, thinking out loud to James who was sitting on a chair, but she continued to pace anyways. "How small is small, you think?"

"I don't know, really," James said. "When I think small, I think... really small. One-room cottage small. Everyone's standards are different. Maybe we should've asked her to clarify."

"Well, I suppose we'll find out soon enough. Maybe she gathered that we don't need much space. But she did give us ample outside space. I think that's why we're farther out. Do you think we gave that impression?" Eve asked, glancing over at him.

"It was probably the 'I have a horse and a chicken' bit that gave that impression," James said.

"Right... right. I'm sure that played a factor." Eve paused. "Adina has a pony, and there are plenty of stables in the city. So maybe it was the chicken that held the most influence."

James laughed lightly through his nose.

"Maybe so," he said. "If we have space for it... maybe we could get more chickens. Eventually."

"That would be nice," Eve said. "How many would we get?"

"Maybe two more, at least," James said. "So they can entertain each other. And that would give us more than enough eggs, I'd think. Since I'd be the only one eating them."

Eve mulled this over, finally sitting next to James, crossing her legs. "So we're becoming chicken farmers," she stated. "Never thought I'd see the day."

"I mean, we don't have to," James offered. "I just thought Sleepy might enjoy at least one more chicken companion. Maybe it'll help her get a little less attached to us."

"Is that a good thing? I think it's endearing that she's attached to you, but... it would be good for her to have chicken friends," Eve said.

James grinned, like something she said was funny, but he was trying to suppress it.

"Yes," he said. "It would be good. I just... would like her to not be as fussy any time I have to leave. You know. It'd help with the separation anxiety."

"And here I thought that Sleepy and Elliot were good company for each other," Eve said with a sigh.

"They do seem to enjoy one another's company," James said. "But I do think sometimes Elliot likes his space. He's pretty used to it, after all."

Eve was quiet for a moment, staring at the door but getting absorbed in her own thoughts for a moment.

"Do you think Elliot needs horse friends?" she asked.

"You know," James said. "Adina did ask me if, depending on our housing situation and if there was room, if she could house her pony with us, since she ended up getting a place in the city. I told her I'd have to talk to you first, and we'd have to get settled in as well to see if there was space."

"Oh, I don't mind," Eve said. "I'm sure there's space. It's not like her pony would be staying in the house with us."

James laughed lightly.

"I can let her know, then," James said. "Maybe when we all see each other for dinner tomorrow."

Eve nodded. That would give them enough time to settle down, but it was short notice enough that Adina or others likely wouldn't visit yet. She was sure that their friends would like to know about their living situation, especially since they weren't a short walk away.

It was all relative, of course. They used to walk long distances for months. A 30-minute walk paled in comparison to that.

Just in time, the door finally opened, and Junie announced that they were ready to go.

Eve didn't know exactly what she felt. It was a mixture of being excited, yet nervous, yet happy, yet anxious. It was all so new, and although they hadn't explicitly talked about this, settling down together did feel like a big deal. James had mentioned yesterday that it would be nice to settle down from their tumultuous lifestyle, but they had both gotten used to the chaos, that settling down by itself felt a bit tumultuous.

Eve didn't mind it. In fact, she longed for it. It felt like this was all she ever wanted, to be with someone she loved, somewhere quiet, somewhere safe, and somewhere people cared about her. Yet, it was still all new. And the future felt uncertain because it seemed to stretch on happily. It felt different and new, and it would take her some time to adjust.

Finally, both she and James could have a place they could truly call home.

The ride there was quiet and felt agonizingly long. Junie seemed happy to fill the silence with small talk at first, but stopped when she and James stopped engaging, peering out to watch the city ride past them. Eve could have asked her the slew of questions she had asked James earlier, but they really were at the finish line now. She'd find out soon enough.

Eve watched as they city melted away, replaced with large open fields. It was strange but also nice to see that earth mages were maintaining large swaths of grass underground - although it was likely less for human enjoyment and more for horses and other animals to graze on.

Houses dotted the fields, although none of them were close by one another. It seemed that the residents who did live here had plenty of space as well. Cows and horses grazed upon the fields near the houses, and they passed large swaths of farm land as well.

Finally, they turned away from the main road and started to approach one house in particular. Eve had to crane her neck to see, but she noticed that the small house they were approaching was white all over, from the side boarding to the roof. There was a large open field with a small stable not too far from the house. Squinting, Eve noticed a neighboring house in the distance, although it was too far to make out any distinguishable features. They seemed to have more land as they were growing crops.

Junie parked the wagon at the front of the house, but Eve didn't move right away, instead gawking at the humble house in front of them.

The boards were white but aged. There were several large, open windows with black paning. A tidy stone sidewalk led up to the house, and along it, small bushes and flowering plants bloomed. Either the earth mages were maintaining gardens as well, or whoever lived here last liked to garden.

Eve felt like she was in a trance as she and James hopped off the wagon and followed Junie inside. Junie was talking about the house, mentioning how the previous tenant recently moved to the city to be closer to their daughter, so they came in at a perfect time.

Eve hardly paid attention to Junie, instead gawking at the small sitting area they just walked into. Everything was pre-furnished, although it was minimal. Junie mentioned that they may want to invest in more furniture and decor, but as is, Eve thought this was perfect and more than enough. She hardly had time to absorb everything before Junie took them to the kitchen, showing them how to work the furnace and the water line connected to the well.

Eve found herself sliding her hand against the wood paning of the kitchen. It was dusty, but she didn't mind. Somehow, this already felt like home.

As they walked back into the living area, Eve admired the high open ceilings and the tall patio doors leading into the backyard. Junie then took them to the other side, pointing at two rooms. One was the master bedroom, and the other was a spare room. They glanced in the spare room, but it was completely empty. The master bedroom wasn't the much bigger, but perhaps it only seemed that way since the bed took up most of the space. A huge, fluffy white comforter covered the whole bed, topped with a checkered patterned quilt.

Junie then took them to the last room of the house: the bathroom. It was a simple and small room, complete with a porcelain bathtub, sink, and toilet. Sunlight shined through the frosted window and reflected off of the framed mirror above the sink.

Junie took them outside again, showing them the gardens and stable. Elliot was already in there, happy to see them. Sleepy came to them as soon as they came in, and James briefly scooped her up in his arms to hold her. The stable was small, it could fit two horses. There would be plenty of room for Adina's pony.

That concluded the tour, and Junie spent the next ten minutes giving them more information. She mentioned that they could farm if they desired, but they would have to connect with the agriculture center to get seeds and equipment. There were no rules or limits to their land as long as they took good care of it.

They signed several papers to finalize the the process - and that was it. James unloaded the few boxes out of the wagon, which mostly consisted of supplies to last them the next few weeks. And that was that. Junie waved them goodbye then rode off.

They watched Junie ride off for a bit in silence, but then Eve turned to James with a big smile, suddenly feeling the spark of excitement that they were homeowners.

"Ready to go in again?" she asked.

James turned and met her eyes, his face brightening when he saw her smile.

"Let's do it," he said, reaching over to hold her hand, giving it a squeeze.

Eve beamed, but then turned to run towards the house, still holding James's hand. She quickly led him inside again, letting go when they ran in the living room.

"I love the high ceilings. And the windows! It's south-facing, too," she said, pausing as she stood in front of the patio glass doors. "And the yard is huge! There's ample room for chickens. We can sit right outside, over there, and see them run around."

Eve glanced in the kitchen again, gripping the door frame as she peeked in.

"Junie says the kitchen is small, but I think it's perfect. We don't need much space. I think there's plenty of storage for food and cooking supplies, but I imagine we buy fresh ingredients somewhat often, so I don't think we'll run out of storage."

Eve paused and glanced back at James again, who, instead of looking around at the house, was simply watching her with a small, loving smile.

Eve didn't even realize she was grinning until now, but she found the excitement to catch up to her as she walked back to his side, taking his hands.

"I can't believe we live here!" she said with a giddy laugh.

James smiled brighter, full and happy.

"I never thought something like this would happen," he said with a little laugh. "But... we really have a house."

"We have a house!" Eve repeated with another laugh.

It almost sounded bizarre. Neither of them could really believe it, but it was true. They were really here.

She then wrapped her arms around James and pulled him into a hug, squeezing him excitedly. James hugged her back, though considerably weaker as he let out a surprised chuckle.

"What now?" Eve said, still smiling wide as she pulled away. "We should do something special... something memorable to commemorate the occasion."

James grinned, looking up and humming in thought.

"...Do you still have some paint?" James asked.

Eve curiously raised a brow. "I still have my small kit of paints, but there's not very much. Why?"

James tilted his head to the side.

"Well, it's not enough to paint the side of the house like the cottage back in Terra," he said. "But... there's a mailbox out by the front of the road leading up to our house."

Eve smiled wide, grinning. "You want to paint the mailbox," she said, the memory of them painting in Terra resurfacing in her mind. "That's lovely. I love that idea."

"I know we don't have much that's really us in here at the moment," James said. "But it's a start. To... put our names on it, you know? Make it our own."

Eve nodded, feeling an explosion of excitement and love bursting in her chest. "We'll make it ours," she said with a little laugh, already rifling through the bags they placed in the hallway, rummaging to find her paints.

A thousand questions flew through her head. What color should they pick? How big should their names be? Could they add in flowers, like they did in Terra? What else could they paint? What else could they do to make the place theirs?

Eve knew that, ultimately, the answers to these questions didn't really matter in the end. What was important was that they were together, safe, and happy. Neither of them needed much to fulfill that. They both wanted a quaint, peaceful life with each other - and Eve would be happy to pursue that whether they were in this house or the woods far away from anyone or anything.

It was hard to believe that they were essentially given happiness on a plate.

And Eve was going to cherish it until the end.
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Carina says...

11th of Bruma

The days continued to blur together. Someone came in to talk to him again, but it wasn't about Bo. They wanted to have a conversation of where he wanted to live.

Elias did try to pay attention and answer her questions, but frankly, he didn't care - because he didn't have many opinions. It must be some kind of rule that newcomers talk to people to figure out how they could fit into the city. Elise coaxed Elias to answer openly, but his heart just wasn't in it.

So the person gave him options instead. Elise pointed out where the others were staying. James and Evaline were housed in the fields outside the city limits. Mel, Jordan, Adina, Alistair, and Clandestine were all clustered around the same neighborhoods. Elise admitted that she was still figuring out where to live, but that she had briefly talked to Mel Aradis about moving in with her in the house they were in right now. She also mentioned other names, but Elias only paid attention to where she pointed at the map.

Elias couldn't bring himself to think about the situation he was in right now. He'd rather not bump into other people who'd know him.

So he picked the furthest neighborhood, away from the others, and ignoring the warnings that that neighborhood had the most security since more documented criminals were housed in that area. If anything, that made Elias want to live there more.

He knew that Elise wanted him close by, but he kept denying her request that they move in together. He couldn't bring himself to do that again. He felt like she would only worry endlessly and frequently face disappointment. He'd rather she live out her life on her own terms, with no expectations and nothing holding her back.

He'd be okay. He'd managed this long by himself. They'd meet every week, but they didn't need to live together.

With each passing day, Elias felt like he was hardly present, feeling like he was only an observer of his own life. When the day came to move, Elise boxed up some food and clothes for him since he didn't really have many supplies. She went on and on about how they would connect and how they'd keep in touch, but Elias found himself zoning out as he stepped outside, the sunlight feeling too bright.

That was sun, right? He was looking up and squinting, but he thought they were underground. Maybe he had mixed up facts with fiction. Or maybe this wasn't sunlight at all. He wasn't really sure what he was told anymore.

Elise said goodbye as he was led into a wagon so that the person helping him through the process - he couldn't recall her name - could take him to his new place. She went on and on about the neighborhood, but Elias wasn't really paying attention.

He wondered: was he stuck here? Could he leave? If he wasn't underground, then he could just walk away, right? Or if he was underground... could he climb out? He munched on that thought the whole way, until eventually the wagon stopped in front of a old, gray, stone apartment building.

He was taken through the heavy door and up creaky steps. It smelled moldy - but that was only because he heard something dripping. Some kind of leak, apparently. They walked up three flights of stairs, which was at the top floor of the building. The lady then winded down the hall and then stopped in front of a dusty door, jangling her keys and pushing the door open.

The apartment was small and had the bare minimum for furniture. There was a single chair and a desk in the living room. The kitchen had a small, short counter with a furnace and one cabinet, and the bedroom had a bed. That was it.

It would suffice, although Elias didn't think he'd really stay here. Especially when the lady mentioned the place being "cheap," which implied he'd have to pay for this place.

He didn't comment much, placing the box on the table and then thanking her. Eventually she left, and Elias was by himself, staring out the balcony door at the other stony building across the street.

He didn't know how long he stayed still, staring outside.

Everything felt quiet.

Slowly, Elias moved towards the balcony door, sliding it open before stepping outside. The balcony was tiny, with only enough room for two people to stand side by side. With a sigh, he leaned his elbows against the balcony railing, tilting his head up to stare at the possibly fake sun again.

"Hello there stranger," a voice said to his left.

Elias reluctantly looked over and saw a short, skinny woman leaning on her own tiny balcony that sat not far from his. She leaned on the railing, chin propped up in her hand.

"Oh. Hey," Elias said, staring at her as he wondered if they'd met before. He didn't think they did.

"You must be new here," she said.

"And you must be my neighbor," he said as he glanced behind her at her own balcony door.

"You got it, ace," she said with a smirk. "How's it feel? Having just moved in?"

"Mmm... it's not very special, I guess," Elias said with a slight shrug. "I don't really have much stuff."

"Welcome to New Haven," the woman said with a wry laugh. "That's how we all start."

"Yeah... true," Elias said with a smile. "How long have you been here?"

"Hm," the woman paused, looking up in thought. "About three years."

"Oh," Elias said, pausing as well. "That's a long time."

"If you have the lifespan of a hamster, maybe," she said.

"Well, people have told me I have the attention span of a goldfish, so maybe a hamster is not too far off."

The woman laughed.

"What's your name then, goldie?"

Elias raised a brow with an amused smile towards the nickname. "Elias. What's yours?"

"Wilson," she said. "Most people call me Will."

"Nice to meet you, Will the neighbor," Elias said. "People just call me Elias, although I've always thought there was a lot of nickname potential."

"Oh, yeah?" she asked. "Like what?"

"Dunno," Elias said as he turned around, propping his elbows against the railing and leaning back, but still keeping his attention on Wilson. "Eli. E. Something like that."

"You really want people calling you E?" Wilson laughed. "Like the letter?"

"Hey, I like simplicity. The shorter, the better, I say," Elias said with a silly smile.

"How's it feel being tall, then?" she asked.

"Boring. People ask for a lot of favors. Like reaching the tops of shelves," Elias said. "How's it feel being short?"

"I have to ask people for lots of favors," she said. "Like reaching tops of shelves."

Elias hummed. "Seems that me being your neighbor worked out in your favor, huh?"

"Yeah, it's really convenient, actually," she said. "Living next to a human ladder."

"Hey, I offer more servies than being a ladder, you know," he said.

"I didn't know you were offering services at all," Wilson said with a raised brow in amusement.

"Oh, I wasn't really. Not until I stepped out on this balcony, anyways," Elias said with a growing smile.

"An opportunist," Wilson said.

Maybe I just find you adorable?" Elias offered.

"Is that because I'm short?" Wilson asked, narrowing her eyes.

"Nah," Elias said, still smiling and watching her. "I just find you adorable."

"Hm," Wilson said with a small smile. "Well, you'll always find me adorable. Because I simply always am."

Elias chuckled. "Of course, yeah." He paused for a moment. "Hey, since you've lived here for a while... I've got a random question for you."

"Shoot," she said.

Elias turned around to face forward again, gripping on to the railings as he tilted his head up towards the sky again.

"We're underground, right?" he asked.

"Yep," Wilson said.

"So how is there a sun?" Elias asked.

Wilson snorted. "Big windows," she said, pointing overhead.

"Oh." Elias squinted up again, but the sun glinted through the windows, so he wasn't able to see if there was glass - but he trusted her word on it. "Huh. Makes sense. Here I thought that it's relating to magic, somehow. Like someone was able to make an underground sun."

"You know, that would be impressive," Wilson said. "But also, if we were that close to the sun, we'd probably all die."

Elias hummed. "Maybe it'd be a tiny sun?"

"Would it light the whole city, then?"

"Maybe it's a tiny sun with big rays."

"Or maybe the sun is flat," she said. "And on the ceiling."

"That'd be cool. I can have my own sun in my room," Elias said.

"Like a lamp?" Wilson asked.

Elias squinted in the distance, thinking. "Yeah... like a lamp giving warmth. But flat and on the ceiling," he said.

Wilson hummed.

"Yeah," she said with a faint laugh. "Okay."

"Well, it's a good thing lamps are not flat on the ceiling. Then you'd have to ask someone to light it every time," Elias said.

Wilson squinted at him again, but there was a smirk on her face.

"Good thing I have a tall neighbor," she said.

"Are you saying what I think you're saying?" Elias asked with a growing grin, raising a brow.

"What do you think, goldie?"

"That you do have flat lamps on your ceiling," Elias said, still grinning.

"Why don't you come over and find out?"

"Offer accepted. But..." Elias slowly stood up straighter. "Your tiny sun in your room isn't going to kill me, is it?"

"Maybe that's what happened to my other neighbor," Wilson said, wiggling her fingers.

"Hm. Interesting," Elias said with a silly smile.

Then, with no warning, quickly hopped across the balcony. He didn't jump standing on the railing, so he instead caught on to the the bar on Wilson's balcony, pulling himself up.

Elias smiled as he heaved himself up and plopped on her balcony, slapping his hands together.

"Luckily for you, I'm not afraid of death," he said next to her.

"I can see that," Wilson said, watching him with raised brows.

"I'll have to build a bridge next time," Elias said.

"You have something against using doors?" Wilson asked.

"Yeah. They're not as fun, obviously," he said with a wave of his hand.

"Sure. I'll give you that. But you'll have to use this door if you want to get into my apartment, goldie," she said, pulling the door open by her balcony.

"Just this once, I'll make an exception. For you," Elias said with a smile, stepping in.
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Sun Jun 11, 2023 6:33 am
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soundofmind says...

The Month of Brune

In some ways, everything about New Haven felt surreal.

Eight years of turbulence, violence, and constant running had culminated into this: settling down on a small farm in a small house with the woman he loved.

Were James the writer of his own story, he didn't know if that's how he'd end it. As the one living it, he never would've predicted that he'd ever have any sense of stability, but as he began settling into a routine of life, things, for once, actually felt... good.

It wasn't perfect by any means. He was still having nightmares, trouble sleeping, and he couldn't seem to get rid of the lingering feeling inside of him that was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But he'd started therapy. He went with someone that Mel recommended - an older woman named Shay. James was going twice a week, which felt like a lot at first, but it was going alright. They were starting slow, but Shay explained that it would be best to do it that way, and James didn't argue. While he'd already come to the point of accepting he needed help, he didn't want to be the one taking the lead on it. Shay seemed experienced, so he wanted to trust her.

Still, it was a little hard after sessions. Whenever he came home to Eve, he found it difficult to talk to her much right away, and he found he needed space to process what was going on in his head.

There was a lot he had been suppressing, and he was realizing it more and more as things were brought up - often without even meaning to. It was hard to not be overwhelmed by it all.

But Eve was continually supportive, and he appreciated how patient she was with him when he needed some space to think... and feel. To figure out what he even thought in the first place, before he was able to express it out loud.

He found it was helpful for him to do something productive when he needed to think. So it helped when he started working on the farm nextdoor. One, he got to meet their neighbors - who, despite knowing of his reputation on Nye - were very gentle and open. They were an older couple in their 50's, and they ran the farm with their daughter and son. The son - Dale - was James's supervisor, taking James on as a farmhand, and he was over James's training.

He liked working. He liked learning. He liked the simplicity of the farm, and taking care of the practical needs. He found himself enjoying even the most menial tasks, like scooping up the poop in the barn and in the pens, and laying down clean hay. They were in the off-season for growing plants, mostly due to the cold (even if they didn't get snow underground) so a lot of their work revolved around the farm animals and preparing for the next planting season.

James was also kept busy at home. There were a lot of things to do, as they were still moving in - so if he wasn't working, he was taking care of something. Sometimes, it was hanging shelves up on the wall with Eve. Sometimes, it was taking care of Sleepy, and their new chicken Cheepy. The name was Eve's idea, but every time James called them, he did feel a little silly.

But he needed a little silliness in his life, so he wasn't upset about it at all.

Adina had also moved her pony in - she was a small pony with a brown coat, and Adina said her name was Molly.

Molly and Elliot didn't get along perfectly at first, since the two of them seemed to be used to not having to share. But James was working with them, and they were growing on each other.

Sleepy and Cheepy, however, had no issues. They clung to each other immediately, as if they'd been born together. Attatched to the hip in the womb.

Eve was enjoying settling into their home, too. She'd taken it upon herself to make the house a home, happily decorating it and starting to work the land in the back, slowly building a garden and flower boxes. She made a point to ask James what his favorite flowers were - to which he happily obliged - and he was eager to help whenever he had the time as she started shaping and working the land to plant seeds.

He also made a point to keep exercise a part of his daily routine.

In the morning, he'd always go for an early run, and when he came back, Eve usually had some tea brewed, and they'd have a quick breakfast together before he ran off to work.

His job also required a lot from him physically, and while at first, it was a bit draining, he was happy that he was building stamina back up again.

And that was all only in his first week of having moved in. And then things started to settle down a little.

The house was more situated - at least to the point of being more functional and homey - and James and Eve had all of their most pressing necessities taken care of.

James was getting into a rhythm with work, and by early evening, he was always off, and when he wasn't otherwise occupied with therapy (which was only twice a week) he found himself being more social. Or at least, trying to be.

Some nights, he'd stay home with Eve, and they'd take it slow. They'd cook something together. Maybe work on the garden, or play with the animals. Sometimes they'd take Elliot for a ride around their property, familiarizing themselves with the rolling hills.

Other nights James went into town. On Sundays, he'd always go with Eve to Peach Tree, where he and his friends kept their word about meeting for dinner every week.

Not too much changed with them. Mel and Clandestine were chatty as usual, Jordan could never meet James's eyes, and Adina was happy to be there, if a little anxious (as usual). Alistair was talking a bit more, though, usually being coaxed out of silence by Mel and Clanny, and Eve spoke up whenever she had a stronger opinion to share. James, meanwhile, was happy to go with the flow of conversation. If less people were speaking, he'd speak up. If others were dominating conversation, he was content to listen. If it looked like someone wanted to say something, he tried to leave space for them or draw them out.

Hendrik and Makiel showed up, but less consistently. One week, Hendrik came by (mostly to complain, it seemed, but it was good to see him regardless). The next, it was Makiel, who James learned had moved into the same area as him and Eve. Apparently, he was only fifteen minutes down the road, by horse. Makiel had taken up sheepherding, just like he'd always hoped for, and James was happy to hear it. He found himself wanting to reconnect with Makiel, so he tried to give Makiel a heads' up he'd try to stop by sometime.

But the person James went out of his way to see the most was Alistair.

At first, James could tell Alistair seemed hesitant. James wondered if it was because of everything that had happened in the past few months, but he felt it had more to do with Alistair's own internal state than anything. Even before everything that happened in the kingdom, Alistair had never been very self-assured, and he hadn't seemed that convinced that James was genuinely interested in him. So James just decided to be more intentional to prove it.

Because he did value Alistair's friendship, and he wanted to maintain it.

One evening, James had gone into town and met Alistair at his apartment.

The two of them never did much together besides sit and talk, but James honestly preferred it that way. He was active enough in the day as it was, and it was nice to just sit with a friend.

They sat out on Alistair's balcony, having taken two chairs out with them while they had some coffee to warm them in the cold air.

James took a small sip of his drink, content to let their conversation lull to a small silence as it normally did, coming and going in small waves.

"This is nice," he finally said softly, looking out over the city street that Alistair's building sat by.

"What is?" Alistair asked.

"Just sitting here, with you," he said simply. "Talking over some coffee. It's nice."

Shay had suggested James to express his emotions more. He supposed he could start in small ways. Like this.

Alistair quietly hummed. "Yeah... it is," he said.

"I really enjoy your company," James said, deciding not to add any qualifiers, and just let that be.

That seemed to grab Alistair's attention as he turned to glance over at James, hesitating.

"Oh... thanks," he said more quietly, but then spoke again in a normal tone. "I enjoy yours too."

James smiled softly.

"There's something about talking to you that's always felt... easy," James said. "I don't know. Sometimes, it feels like work with certain people, you know?"

Alistair slowly nodded, letting a short silence fill the air for a moment. This conversation must have caught him off guard, but James was alright with waiting if Alistair needed time to think.

"Yeah... I understand," Alistair finally said. "But I think it goes both ways. I think I've talked about things to you that I've never mentioned to others. I haven't really thought about it that way, though."

"I think... some of it is because it doesn't feel like I'm pretending with you," James said. "Or rather, it doesn't feel like I have to."

Alistair hesitated again, keeping his attention on James. "What does that mean? Is pretending your... default?"

James sighed, looking down into his half-full mug.

"I think it is, in some ways," James said. "It depends on the people I'm around. For a long time... I would pretend to be strong and invulnerable. I think I picked up on it in the army, but it became a default when I was running for my life. Often, I was around a lot of people who were..."

He paused, not sure if he wanted to follow that train of thought at the moment.

"But then sometimes, there are people who just feel... safe," James said.

"Maybe it's because those people aren't strong or invulnerable," Alistair offered.

"I don't think anyone is," James said quietly. "Not if they're honest."

"True," Alistair said, then paused again. "Then what do you think it is? What makes people feel safe to you?"

James was quiet for a moment, trying to find a way to put it into words.

"I think, with you, at least," James said. "You're... genuine, and without guile. You're gentle, and you're meek - which I mean in the highest regard. I think the world could use more men like you."

Alistair seemed embarrassed from the sudden slew of compliments, his cheeks turning warm. He sipped his coffee to buy time and possibly hide his face.

"Well... thanks," he said with an awkward laugh. "I don't think anyone has ever told me that as a compliment."

"Then I'm honored to be the first," James said lightly.

Alistair stared at him for a second, still flustered even though he tried to laugh it off again.

"Where is this coming from, anyways?" he asked.

"Hm?" James asked. "Where's what coming from?"

"The... you know," Alistair said with a wave of his hand. "The compliments."

"I don't know," James said with a small shrug. "I guess I've just been thinking about our friendship..."

Well, now he felt a little embarassed.

"And what I appreciate you," James said, taking a sip of his own coffee. "Felt right to say it out loud instead of keeping all the nice thoughts in my head."

"Ah... I see," Alistair said quietly, gripping his cup with both hands as he gazed over the balcony, clearly mulling something over.

But he spoke before James could say anything more.

"To be honest..." he began slowly. "I thought I was annoying you. So... good to know it's just in my head."

James turned to look at Alistair.

"You thought you were annoying me?" James asked gently.

"Maybe annoy is a harsh word," Alistair said quickly. "But it's just... I don't know. You always have a lot going on, and there's always someone seeing you." He weakly shrugged. "I didn't want to bother you too much."

"Alistair," James said. "I'm... I'm trying to make more time to spend time with you because I've missed you. I value your friendship, and I don't want to lose it to a busy life."

"No, I-- I know," Alistair said quickly again. "I value our friendship too. I'm not trying to condescend you. Honestly, it's a small thought anyways. I just wanted you to know... that it did cross my mind. I know we both have busy lives, but I just want you to know - I'll always make time."

James offered Alistair a small smile.

"Likewise," he said. "And... thank you for telling me."

"Yeah... thanks for letting me know too," Alistair said meekly.

"Of course," James said. "I'll uh, try to... I don't know, say things like that more often. Not excessively, but..."

He laughed weakly.

"I don't know. Would you be overwhelmed if I showered you with affection?" James joked.

Alistair stared at James for a moment.

"Like... what, are you going to rain hugs and kisses down on me?" he said flatly.

"Oh, gods, no!" James said with a huff. "I-- Alistair, when have I ever? With like, anyone besides Eve?"

"I-- I don't know," Alistair said with a weak laugh. "You already rained down compliments on me. Anything is possible today."

"Well sorry if you're more of hug person," James said. "If you were it would surprise me."

"Yeah, no, not really," Alistair said.

"Good," James said. "We're on the same page, then. Verbal affirmations it is."

Alistair laughed through his nose. "Yeah, sure, okay. Verbal affirmations."

"What are your opinions on gifts?" James asked. "If you were to recieve them."

"Hmmm." Alistair stared off into the distance to think again. "Gifts are nice, especially if they're thoughtful. I think it's one thing to receive a random but expensive object, and another thing to receive something cheaper I've been meaning to get, but haven't gotten around to it, if that makes sense."

James hummed. He took note to pay more attention to the things Alistair expressed wanting or needing.

"Yes, that makes sense," he said, taking another drink of his coffee.

"What about you?" Alistair asked.

"I feel about the same," James said. "But I feel like I appreciate any gift that people have gone out of their way to get for me. The fact that they thought to get me anything at all is something I can appreciate."

"Yeah... very true. I think gifting attention is enough of a gift, really. But a tangible form of it is fine too," Alistair said, taking another sip of his coffee.

"Sometimes, it's just enough to be with someone," James said. "Like this."

"Well, shucks. Next time, you should wrap yourself in a ribbon and come out of a box," Alistair said sarcastically with a smile.

James laughed through his nose.

"Don't tempt me," he said. "I just might one day."

"Oh, gods. Please don't," Alistair said with a little laugh.

"Why not?" James asked.

"It would probably scare the hell out of me, which I think is the opposite of what you want."

James hummed, noting that as well.

"Alright," he said. "Fair enough."
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soundofmind says...

After James met with Alistair, he felt his mind drifting to his other friends. He still wanted to touch base with Makiel, and he was keeping up with Alistair regularly, but he hadn't heard from Elias at all since he got into town. Any time James had gone to Mel's house, Elias had been asleep or refused to see him - or Eve.

He knew Elias was probably trying to hide from them, and he had a feeling Elias was too afraid to face them, but he didn't want to give up on him, so he decided to visit Elise.

Elise had moved in with Mel, and the two of them seemed to get along quite well. It was good to see that they'd become good friends, since he knew Elise had often been sidelined in their own group, having difficulty connecting with all of them. But whenever he did visit Elise, the two of them seemed to get along decently.

He did, admittedly, always feel like she interacted with him more like a doctor than anything, but he decided not to think much on it.

He stopped by her house after visiting Alistair, and he knocked on her door. Fortunately, she was home, and he was able to ask her if she knew where Elias was staying. Though she seemed hesitant to share at first, she didn't turn him away, and she wrote down the address for him, wishing him well with her normal polite manner.

He couldn't help but get the feeling that Elise was afraid it wouldn't go well, and though James wasn't sure what to expect either, he wondered if Elias had been trying to keep his new location a secret.

But it was too late for that now.

It looked like Elias's new place was more downtown, and James recognized the address to be close to Daisy's, and... unfortunately, on the same street where Tula lived.

James didn't know if Elias had done that on purpose.

He couldn't have. Elias didn't even seem to remember Tula. He'd barely interacted with her. He didn't even know where she lived. It was just a very unfortunate coincidence, and even though James was still determined to see Elias, he couldn't help that he felt nervous.

But, he at least knew Tula's general working hours. She worked at a bar, so he had the best luck of not running into her if he went in the evening.

So the next day, he made his way downtown after work - telling Eve that he was going to stop by Elias's place and see if he was around, since he missed seeing him. Eve offered to go with him, but James asked her if he could go alone, and she relented. James tried to assure her that he just wanted to talk to Elias alone and catch up one on one, but Eve seemed equally concerned about the location and the possibility of running into Tula.

"If anything happens," James said. "I'll run away if I have to."

It was a bit dramatic, but at this point, James had already run away from her once. So he wasn't beyond doing it a second time.

Finally, he was able to calm her down enough so he could leave, and he told her what window of time he planned on being back - and he was going to stick to it.

He went on foot, and after about thirty minutes, he finally came down the right street, passing Tula's building on the way. With no Tula in sight, however, he quickly ducked into the building that matched Elias's address, and he went to the front desk and confirmed that Elias was, in fact, living there, and he made his way to the third floor where Elias was staying.

He passed a few doors before he landed in front of room 32B, glancing down at the address in his hand one more time to double check before he knocked.

No response.

James tilted his head, trying to see if he could hear footsteps, or the sound of anyone behind the door. But he couldn't.

Maybe Elias wasn't home? He did account for this as a possibility, especially since Elias had been given no heads' up that he was coming. With a small hum, James knocked on the door after waiting a minute or two, a little more insistent this time.

Still no response.

With a small sigh, James reached into his pocket, taking out the small letter he'd written to Elias in the event he wasn't able to see him in person. He tucked it into the door, near the handle, and decided to wait just a little bit longer.

It did feel a little awkward, loitering in the hallway as a person or two came in and out of their rooms down the hall, but he didn't know what else to do.

Maybe ten minutes passed before he decided to knock again, one last time.

But instead of Elias's door opening, the door nextdoor opened instead, and a short, lean woman leaned out, her long dark hair falling over her shoulder.

"You live here?" she asked.

James blinked.

"Oh," he said. "No. I don't. I was hoping to see if my friend was home, but I guess he's not."

"Huh. Bummer," she said.

Then she slowly looked him up and down, like she was studying him.

"Wait a second," she said. "You look familiar."

James stiffened.

"Oh," he said, clearing his throat. "I... I get that a lot."

"Nooooo, it's not that," the woman said, squinting at him as she stepped out of her door, folding her arms. She was wearing a large, oversized shirt that seemed to swallow her.

The woman leaned against her doorframe.

"You know," she said, nodding her head with a faint laugh. "It's coming back to me, now. Dragons above, you're that infamous criminal, aren't you? I heard a rumor that the Tiberius Hemming was in town, but I didn't believe it. Holy hell, you're really a mage, aren't you?"

Well, this wasn't the conversation James was hoping to have.

James withered under her stare. It was condescending, but it also felt like she was taking pleasure in watching him grow increasingly uncomfortable with this interaction.

"...Yes," James said, his voice escaping him weakly. "I... assume your neighbor isn't home, so maybe--"

"You're not nearly as impressive as I thought you'd be," the woman said. "I thought you'd be way taller."

James blinked.

"Okay...?" he said slowly, not sure how to respond to that.

"You're also older than I thought you'd be," she said.

James stared off into the hall, past her.

He could just walk away from this. He didn't have to put up with this.

"Thanks," James said flatly. "And you're not who I came here to see. Have a nice evening, miss."

The woman snorted as James started to walk past her.

"Hey!" she called out. "What kind of magic got you in here anyway? I bet it had to be real special for them to forgive you for all the blood on your hands!"

James winced at that, and he couldn't bring himself to look back at her as he kept walking.

"Hey! I asked you a question, mister!"

James flinched, pausing to look over his shoulder.

He didn't know if this woman was going to get violent, or if she was just determined to be belligerent, but considering she was raising her voice, he really didn't want more people coming out of their rooms to see what was going on. That would just add to the drama of it all, and the last thing he needed was an angry mom chasing him home.

He knew that his expression probably looked pitifully pleading, but he was tired of putting on a tough face.

"...Time magic," he said, just loud enough to carry over the space between them.

The woman stared at him, her mouth falling agape slightly as she squinted, as if in disbelief.

"Seriously?" she asked.

James looked off to the side.

"I don't know if you're inclined to believe anything I say," he said. "But yes. Is that all you must know before I leave?"

The woman stared at him again, her expression slowly morphing into one of amusement before she burst into laughter.

"Gods, what a weirdo!" she blurted. "Get out of my building, freak!"

And at that, she turned back inside her room and slammed the door behind her.

James wasn't quite sure how he felt about that whole interaction, but he was eager to get away as quickly as possible, so he didn't hesitate to do what the woman asked.

He left with haste, and ended up running most of the way home, eventually showing up at his door covered in sweat. It wasn't until he reached to unlock the door that he realized Eve might see that as a sign to worry, and he hesitated, letting himself catch his breath for a second before he opened the door.

"I'm fine," he called into the house before Eve could even say anything. "I just... decided to run home."

Eve was quick to get on her feet. It seemed she had been sitting on the sofa the whole time, waiting for his return.

"You're here early," she said. "How was it? Did you see him?"

"Yeah," James said with a sigh. "Elias wasn't home. I left a note for him, though. So... we'll see what happens. I gave him our address, so he at least knows where we're at."

Eve was already by his side, her brows pinched together in concern as she gave him another glance up and down.

"Did anything else happen?" she asked.

James frowned slightly, closing the door behind him.

"I disturbed his nextdoor neighbor," James said. "It... she came out because she heard the knocking, and then she recognized who I was."

He walked in, and Eve followed beside him as he made his way to the couch, slumping down into it.

"I guess... word is spreading," he said. "That I'm in New Haven."

Eve daintily sat next to him, right at the edge of the couch as she angled her body towards him.

"Do you think it's bad? That people know?" she asked.

"I don't know," James said, looking down into his lap. "It was bound to happen eventually, so I don't think it's something I could avoid. Maybe it's better that word spreads now so people aren't as surprised to find I've been here for months or years."

"I know it can't be easy, especially since you're not the person the kingdom has painted you to be... But I think if people get to know the real you, the rumors of Tiberius will fade away," Eve said. "I understand it can be a tough transition, though."

James nodded.

"It will just take time," he said quietly. "I think I'm just finding I don't know how to respond when people are very presumptuous, and clearly already have decided what they think of me. In the past, I'd brush it off because I was wanted. People were hunting me down, anyway. But this is different. I guess I've never really had to face mages in this way before."

Eve nodded in understanding. "You don't have to take whatever presumptuous insults they throw your way. You're safe here. You can tell them the truth and be yourself."

"Will anyone believe me, though?" James asked quietly. "I know... like, our neighbors. Maybe they heard something different about me. They treat me like a normal person. But it feels like, at least, downtown... like Tula has been saying something different. I don't know. They all act like I'm the scum of the earth, and I... I don't have it in me to argue with them. I don't want to."

Eve gently placed her hand on his knee. "Does it matter?" she said. "Does it matter that they don't believe you and think that you're the scum of the earth? What does matter is that you're not. You're a decent person, James. And you don't need Tula or other random people to tell you that. If they don't believe you and would rather believe lies, that's their problem - but at least you tried to tell them the truth. What they choose to do with that information is out of your control."

James nodded again, letting out a small sigh.

"You're right," he said quietly. "I think I just... I don't enjoy defending myself."

"Maybe you don't need to. Maybe you just need to be yourself," Eve said.

James looked over to Eve with a weak smile.

"I guess I can do that," he said, feeling tired, but appreciating Eve's words.

He leaned in and gave her a small kiss on the cheek, which made her smile.

"I should probably shower," he said. "I know I stink."

Eve laughed through her nose. "Alright," she said, getting back on her feet, but hesitating. "What did you say in your letter to Elias, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Not a whole lot," James said. "Just that I miss him, and I'd like to see him and catch up sometime. And I told him where we're at, so he can find me and get back to me."

That was the short of it, but he really didn't say much more than that.

Eve nodded. "I hope he reads it and does reach out. Maybe I'll try reaching out too... but I have a feeling he doesn't want to be found, so I don't know how well that'd work out."

"We can only do our part in trying," James said. "I guess we'll just have to wait and see."

"It seems so."

Eve paused again.

"Well, if you're going to take a shower... mind if you help me with the flower beds first? No use in getting clean only to get covered in dirt afterward," she said.

James offered her a smile, this one warmer than before.

"I'd love to," he said, getting to his feet. "Show me where you left off."
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Carina says...

Elias found Wilson endearing. He had basically been living with her the past two weeks, keeping what little belongings he had in her place, using her supplies, and eating her food. Weirdly, she didn't seem to mind, even though they hadn't really talked about moving in together. Not that it was official. It just kind of... happened.

He figured she was lonely. Or bored, it was hard to tell sometimes. But Elias did think she was lovely and nice to be around. She had this air to her that he couldn't really describe. Something about her confidence, wit, and brazen honesty made him smile.

And he did help reach the top shelves for her. And turn on the lights. And a lot of other services too, or whatever they bantered about before. He was basically her new roommate, using all her items and belongings, so she seemed to do the same, wearing his shirts that swallowed her whole. It was kind of cute, though.

"Do you, like, have a job?" Elias asked out of the blue after a lazy morning together in bed.

They were sitting together eating breakfast. Elias wore a blanket as a shirt since she stole his only clean shirt.

"Yeah," she said. "I'm the building manager. So basically my job is to boss people around while I sit on my butt all day."

"Ohhhhh," Elias drew out slowly with a nod. "So... you hound people down for their payments?"

"Nah, I make the person at the front desk do that," Wilson said.

"Hmmm. So you're not going to evict me, are you? If I do, can I live here?" he said with a silly smile.

"Elias, you already live here," she said.

"Ohhh, okay. Now I'm following. Now it's official, got it," he said with a big spoonful of oats.

Wilson laughed.

"Sure. It's official," she said.

Some more days passed, and Elias mostly hung out with her in the apartment, lounging on the bed or sofa, passing the time watching the streets from the balcony, even taking strolls together around the neighborhood. He didn't really know what he called this - a relationship, a special friend, whatever - but neither of them seemed to mind it, so he just let it be.

He was curious about her life, though. Wilson didn't seem open to freely share, but he did want her to know that he was interested in knowing more about her.

"So," he said while they both leaned on the balcony, staring down at the street below. "What's your magic, anyways?"

"Hm?" Wilson asked, looking over at him. "Oh. Yeah. I'm a time mage. You?"

Elias didn't say anything, at least not right away. He was busy processing those words as he slowly looked back at her.

Wasn't time magic rare? What was up with him and running into people with time magic?

"Huh," he said, mulling that over. "I wish I had cool magic like that. I have healing magic."

"Healing magic is cool too," Wilson said. "Heals stuff."

"I kind of suck at it, though," he said with a quiet laugh. "But something is better than nothing."

"Eh," Wilson said with a shrug. "I'm not great with my magic, either. We can be useless together."

"Nice. What a duo," he said with a grin. "So, what's time magic like? Do you go back in time?"

"I guess so," Wilson said a little absently, tapping at the balcony railing with her fingers. "But like I said, I'm not too good at it. So I don't do it often."

Elias hummed. "If I could go back in time, I'd be the smartest person alive. Think about all the tests you could cheat on."

"How many tests do you take that would make that worth it?" Wilson asked, raising a brow.

"Hmm. I honestly can't remember the last time I took a test, so maybe I should rethink this," he said. "Or - I could go back in time to make it look like I didn't say anything dumb?"

"That might be a better use for it," Wilson said with a smirk.

Every day that passed, Elias asked her something new. He first asked about her magic, and they shared that with each other. He'd asked smaller things too, like her hobbies, her friends, her preferences. One day, he asked about her family.

"Do you have family living in New Haven with you?" he asked after a silence of them sitting together.

"What?" Wilson asked, like she was surprised he'd even asked. "No. It's just me. Do you have family here?"

"Yeah. An older sister," he said.

"Huh," she said. "Is that nice?"

"Yeah, I'd like to think so," he said with a smile. "Do you have siblings?"

"Nah," Wilson said with a little wave of her hand. "Only child, right here. That's why I am the way I am."

Elias tilted his head in confusion, not following. "What do you mean?"

"You know. Cool. Confident. Ambitious," she said. "Typical only child."

Elias hummed. "Hmm. Yeah. Maybe. Is that really a stereotype for being an only child, though?"

"Maybe," she said. "I'm making this up as I go."

"Well, I think that's a pretty neat way to live through life. Any other way sounds tiring," Elias said.

"You think so?" Wilson asked with a grin.

"Yeah. Why not? We can figure out this little thing called life together," Elias said with a smile and a shrug.

Around the two week mark, Elias was realizing that the days were all blending together. He didn't mind it, really. He liked Wilson's company, but he did wonder if there was anyone else in her life that was there for her. He felt kind of bad, having just met her and now always being by her side. He hoped that he wasn't in the way of anyone else trying to reach her, if they even existed.

Wilson wasn't really one to bring up personal subjects, so Elias took the liberty of bringing up random subjects. It seemed to take her by surprise every time, but he figured being direct was best, and he didn't really know how else to bring up subjects unless he just asked.

"Do you have any friends in the area?" he asked. "Maybe I could meet them one day."

Wilson scrunched up her nose.

"Maybe," she said. "I'm not the most social person if you haven't noticed."

"I don't know," he mused with a grin. "You did say hi to me when I moved in. And you invited me over afterwards. That's pretty social."

"I'm more... spontaneously social, I'd say," Wilson said. "It's different."

He hummed in amusement. "Maybe we should do random things at random places and see what happens. Bring out the spontaneity in you."

"Let's do it," Wilson said with another grin. "Right now."

"Oh yeah?" Elias said with a raised brow, already on his feet. "Sure, okay. Where are we going?"

Wilson jumped to her feet, skipping to the door where she slipped on a fuzzy pair of slippers.

"I don't know, we'll find somewhere on the way," she said.

"Maybe the first stop can be to get a matching pair of fuzzy slippers so we can match," Elias said as he followed behind him, putting on his shoes.

"Oh? You like these?" Wilson asked, wiggling her feet as she opened the door. "We can make that happen."

And true to her word, they went to the street market and bought matching gray fuzzy slippers. Elias happily switched out his shoes with them, although that meant he had to carry his shoes by the laces everywhere, which grew to be a little annoying since they went to get ice cream despite the cold temperatures. They both opted for the most colorful flavors, trying each others ice cream, although they ended up switching cups since they liked each other's flavors better.

Elias and Wilson sat on the steps of a large building, eating ice cream out in front of the downtown plaza, but shivering since their feet were exposed to the cold and they hardly dressed for the winter's day, nor prepared to be warm while eating ice cream. So they then decided to go to a coffee shop to melt away their brain freeze and warm their bodies again.

Elias admitted that coffee actually calmed him and made him more focused, but for Wilson, it was the opposite, and she seemed to be a lot chattier, making funny jokes that made him laugh. After spending an hour here people watching and making funny comments about people and things they saw, they headed back only to run into someone that Wilson recognized. His name was Julian, and he seemed friendly, although they only talked briefly before they parted ways again.

"Aha!" Elias said when Julian was out of earshot. "So you do have friends. I knew it."

"I never said I didn't!" Wilson defended. "Only that I'm not very social."

"Oh, but I'm so social. So maybe I'll help inspire you to round up all your friends so I can meet all of them," Elias said with a wide smile.

"Oh, like a party?" Wilson asked.

"Ooooh, so you know about parties too. You are social," Elias said with a chuckle.

Wilson elbowed Elias in the side.

"Okay, goldie!" she teased. "Got me there."

Elias laughed, and for the remainder of the commute back, she finally talked about her other friends, although she didn't go into great detail. Not that it mattered, since they were apparently going to have a party sometimes. They loosely planned it for the upcoming weekend, but neither of them seemed to want to commit to planning anything, so Elias figured that they were going to throw something together during the weekend and see who would show up.

The day went by as normal, lounging around, this time Elias cooking something for the two of them, although his culinary skills were basic.

Then there was a quiet knock at the door. At first, Elias thought it was coming from Wilson's place, but it sounded faraway.

"Is someone at your door?" he asked.

"It sounds like someone's at yours," she said.

Elias stared at her door anyways, wondering who it could be. Maybe... Elise. He hadn't seen her in two weeks, although they didn't have plans to meet up until a few days from now. But Elise always talked through the door, letting him know it was her.

"Eh. I'm not home," he said, and Wilson seemed to not think about it any more.

Until there was another knock a minute later, but Elias still seemed hesitant. Wilson didn't push again, but when there was a third knock ten minutes later, it was apparent that whoever was on the other side was insistent.

So Wilson offered for her to see who it was instead.

"I'm not really sure who it could be," he admitted. "If they're this insistent and looking for me... I don't know. I feel like it's not good."

"It's not me coming for rent," Wilson said. "So I don't know who else you think it could be."

She paused, looking at him.

"I'll be back," she said, going to the door to see who it was.

Elias was left by himself in her apartment, but he was able to hear voices outside. He didn't pay attention well enough to hear what they were saying, except for Wilson towards the end, who was yelling about magic. Finally, she came back in, and Elias got to his feet quickly, all of a sudden feeling an unexpected adrenaline boost.

"Who was it?" he asked.

"Only the world's most wanted criminal," Wilson said casually. "You know Tiberius Hemming?"

Elias stared at her blankly, but he was racking his brain for that name. He was coming up blank.

"That, uh... no, that name isn't familiar to me," he admitted. "What does he look like?"

"Not that tall," she said. "Kinda broad shouldered, though. Reddish brown hair with these white streaks. Looks way older than I thought he would. Also, like, hella scarred. Looks like he was put through a meat grinder, maybe."

"Ohhhhhh," Elias drew out as it occurred to him who she was describing. "Did he make this face?"

He then made his best James impression, frowning with his brows knitted together, trying to look angry and annoyed.

"Yeah," Wilson said, pointing at him. "Exactly. He looked like he'd just eaten a sour lemon or something."

"Oh, yeah. That's a good way to put it," Elias said with a nod. "Yeah, I know him. But I know him as James. I didn't know he went by another name."

Wilson blinked, staring at him.

"James," she reapeated skeptically.

"Yeah. James," Elias said again. "Nice and simple. I think I'd get tired if I had to call him Tiberius. I'd probably call him Tib."

"Did he tell you to call him James or something?" Wilson asked. "Why that name?"

"Uh... well... I don't know. That's his name, isn't it?" he said.

Wilson pinched her brows together.

"I think he might be lying to you," she said. "Tiberius is the name on all his wanted posters. Literally the whole world knows his name, Elias."

"Oh, right, yeah," Elias said with a nod, placing his hands in his pockets as it came to him now. "He did mention that to me, yeah. I guess he's in New Haven now."

"Riiiiiiight," Wilson drew out, finally coming up beside him.

He plopped back down on the couch.

"So how do you know him?" she asked, plopping down next to him. "Why'd he coming to your door? Is he trying to kill you or something?"

"Well, I hope not," Elias said with a faint laugh. "No. It's nothing like that. We're... friends, I think. It's been a while since I've seen him. But, I don't know. We've both changed since we last saw each other. I think it might be awkward."

Wilson was quiet for a moment as she stared at him. It was hard to tell if she was confused or upset as she sat with her mouth slightly agape.

"Thanks for handling him, though," he said more quietly but sincerely. "I hope that wasn't awkward for you."

"I mean, I had the time of my life," Wilson said. "I'm just trying to figure out how you ended up friends with Nye's most wanted guy. You know he's killed people, right? He was in the army? Killing mages?"

"Oh..." Elias said quietly, trying to think of what James did tell him, but he couldn't recall this bit of information. "I didn't know that, no. But - I didn't really see that side of him. I befriended James on the run, not Tiberius the killer. I don't know what the truth is, but at least, at the time - I think he's a decent guy. I'd like to think he still is."

Wilson sighed.

"Sure," she said faintly. "Alright."

"What is it?" he prodded. "I can tell something is bothering you."

"He said he was a time mage," Wilson said. "Is that true?"

"Yeah. And it's really confusing," Elias said.


"Yeah, he can pause time and zip around all fast. Something about going forward in time. I don't really understand it, to be honest, but I've seen it happen."

"What the hell," Wilson said lowly. "That's..."

She let out a wry laugh.

"Of course he's a mage," she said. "Gods. That's just poetry, right there."

"Why do you think that?" Elias asked.

"That the world's most wanted man would have one of the world's rarest magics," she said.

"Is time magic really that rare?" Elias asked.

"Yeah," Wilson said. "I'm like... I could count the amount of time mages alive on one hand. Even with 'James' included."

"Huh. I know..." Elias slowly counted one by one with each finger until he was holding four fingers. "Four, including you."

Wilson stared at him.

"Four?" she asked.

"Yeah, I didn't realize it was that rare. It's kind of funny how I keep running into time mages," he said with a little laugh.

"You know four out of the five that I know exist!" Wilson said. "That's -- that's not funny that's just--"

She threw her hands around in a flustered gesture.

"Weird!" she said. "What are you, a time magnet?"

"Hm, maybe. That's a funny way of putting it, yeah," Elias said with a weak laugh. "I don't know why this keeps happening to me."

"I don't know either," Wilson said. "But..."

She glanced back at the front door.

"If that guy comes by again, do you want me to scare him off?" she asked.

"Maybe... I guess it depends on why he came by. Did he mention anything to you?" he asked.

"Just that he 'came to see a friend,'" she said. "I assume he meant you."

"Oh... yeah, probably," he said. "I can let you know. I guess it depends on how often he comes by, if he comes back at all."

"It looked like, uh," she said. "Maybe he left a note or something in your door."

"Oh, really?" Elias mused absently as he glanced back at her door. He hesitated. "Alright. I'll check it out."

He chatted with Wilson for a little bit longer but then went to the door, putting on his new slippers before peeking out in the hallway, noticing that it was empty. With that, he quickly slipped out and went to his door, carefully sliding the letter out of the door. He thought about going back to Wilson's to read it, but then thought better of it, deciding to finally enter his apartment. It took a while to get the door open with his old key, but when he finally came in, he slowly ripped the letter open.

It was short, but he couldn't read any of it because it was in cursive. As much as Elias tried to read it, he couldn't decipher any of the words. He only got the really obvious ones, like "I" and "the." Most of the other words seemed to blend together.

Man. He hated cursive.

With a sigh, Elias placed the letter in his sweater pocket, locking his door again before deciding to go out to his balcony so he could leap to Wilson's balcony again. This time, he jumped less clumsily, making a clean and quiet jump. He landed with a soft thud and then invited himself in through her door.

"I'm back," he announced.

"That was faster than I thought," she said. "What's up?"

"Well, he wrote me a letter," he admitted as he landed back on the couch next to her. "But it's in cursive."

"Huh," Wilson said. "Do you need me to read it?"

"If you can... that'd be helpful," Elias said, taking out the letter from his pocket to offer to her, but then hesitating. "I don't really know what's in here. You're not going to judge me, are you?"

"Judge you?" Wilson asked. "Nah. This is a no-judgement zone."

"What if he writes about a story about how I went on a murdering spree?" Elias joked.

Wilson blinked, one eyebrow raising.

"And why would he write about that?" she asked.

"Maybe he wanted to be dramatic?" Elias said. "'Cause he knows I can't read cursive."

Wilson hummed a weak laugh. "Give me the letter," she said.

"Alright," Elias said with a small smile, handing it off to her.

Wilson took the letter and unfolded it, letting out a small sigh.

"Want me to read it out loud for you?" she asked.

"Sure, yeah, that'd be great," he said.

She cleared her throat, and started reading in a lower voice, like she was trying to impersonate James.

"Dear Elias," she said. "I hope you are doing well. I've missed you quite a lot, and I'd love to see you again and catch up. Please feel free to stop by my home where Eve and I are staying whenever you are able. The address is as follows..."

Wilson then read the address out loud, but Elias was glad it was written, because there was no way he could remember that.

"That's in the farming district," Wilson said. "Your beloved murderer friend has become a farmer. Good for him."

"Hey, what's wrong with murderers being farmers? They can live their best farming lives away from other people," Elias said.

"Yeah," Wilson said flatly. "Better he kills cows than mages, I guess."

Elias sighed. "Yeah. That letter was a lot more friendly than I thought."

"What were you expecting?" Wilson asked, folding it up and handing it back to him.

"I dunno," Elias said as he took the letter, but then placed it on the table in front of them. "Not much, I think. I was just expecting something... bad. But that's it. Just something bad."

"Well. Lucky for you, Mr. Murderer is nicer than he appears, I guess."

"Yeah," Elias said with a smile. "Do you think I should stop by his place sometime?"

"That's not up to me to decide," Wilson said.

"No, but I care about you and your opinions," Elias said matter-of-factly.

"Well... I don't know him the way you do," Wilson said. "But if he's not the coldblooded murderer rumors say he is, then... sure. Give him a chance, I guess. But I don't know. Bring a knife or something just in case."

"Hmmm." Elias kicked his feet up on the table and leaned back, placing his hands behind his head. "Noted. But I don't really want to think about this right now. You know what I do want to think about, though? If any of your friends are coldblooded murderers too. Maybe I can ask them during our upcoming party."

"Guess you'll find out," Wilson said, kicking up her feet on the coffee table.
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Carina says...

Tula yawned despite it being early evening. She was staying up later and later, diligently listening to Bo's silent head every night, hoping that she'd catch something, but always coming up empty. It seemed that he was so drugged that he couldn't hear or see anything. She wondered if he was at least feeling a euphoric high and had the wildest dreams. Not that she'd be able to see that, anyways.

But Tula was patient. If she saw or hears of anything, she'd talk to Mickey.

Oh, poor, poor Mickey. He was once an active, aggravating man who was annoyingly patient to get his way, but it seemed that he had succumbed to grief and sorrow, wrapped in the idea that Bo was going to suffer then die.

He was probably right, but it wasn't like it actually happened yet. Tula could only dream of the day that she could use her magic and tell him there was something they could do, but she had a feeling that the vision would stay as a dream.

Mickey hadn't told anyone else not involved, but rumors had been spreading about Bo's disappearance. No one really knew how, why, when, where, or who was involved or what exactly happened - but for every day that passed with Mickey grieving and Bo being absent, it became more apparent that something had happened to Bo.

Tula admitted that it felt good to wield the power of information. Oh, she could easily sway the rumors and turn the tides.

But she didn't. Wouldn't. At least, not yet. Not when nothing was set in stone yet. She'd rather wait until she could get something from Bo.

And nothing was something. She was aware that she was Mickey's last hope, so if she was unable to spy on Bo anymore, then he may as well be dead.

And that was still information.

Another day to spy, another day to bartend. Tula could get used to this way of life.

She went on her normal commute, passing by the usual buildings and turning a few corners since Daisies was only a quick five minute walk away.

But she halted in her steps as she stared in wide eyes at a group of young men and women walking down the street her way, laughing and holding bottles of beer, chatting amongst themselves. It was a group of nine, but what grabbed Tula's attention the most was the man in the middle, who was smiling down at a short woman next to him, oogling her as he laughed.

It was Elias.

Tula quickly analyzed the situation, not at all prepared for this moment. Were they just passing through? Who were these people? Did any of them live here? Did Elias live here?

Tula moved towards their direction so that they'd have to walk through her, but the group automatically already began to weave through her, and Elias didn't even seem to notice her at all. As they passed her, Tula cleared her throat.

"Elias," she said sternly.

The group came to a slow stop as Elias and the woman turned to face her. They both exchanged a glance with one another, and Elias seemed to stare at Tula in confusion.

"Hey," he said, sounding uncertain. "Do I, uh... do I know you?"

"Do you know--" Tula began to mock, but then snapped her mouth shut and narrowed her eyes at him, annoyed. "Seriously? You don't know who I am? It's Tula. That ring a bell?"

Granted, they only met once, last spring on Earth just before they came to Nye. Tula tried to kill him - unintentionally, though. She meant to shoot Eve with her gun, but this idiot jumped in the way.

Who could forget their killer, though? And didn't he hear of her name a thousand times within their own stupid group?

"No, sorry. I think you're mistaking me for someone else," Elias said with an apologetic smile, already beginning to turn away with his new friends.

"Hold it right there," Tula said cooly, but when he didn't listen, she ran ahead and placed a hand on his shoulder, forcing him to stop.

That seemed to grab his friends' attention too, but she talked before they could threaten her.

"I've been meaning to talk to you," she said, piercing her eyes on his. "It's about Bo. Can we talk?"

Elias only stared down in response, his friends filling in the silence for him.

"Who the hell are you?" a woman asked, leaning around Elias to look at her. She was short and petite, clearly wearing a man's too-large jacket.

"What do you mean, talk about Bo?" one of the men in the group asked. He was taller, around Elias's height.

"Why don't you ask your friend here?" Tula said as she dropped her hand on his shoulder. "He must have so much to talk about. Isn't that right, Elias?"

"I think you should back off," the woman said, this time more forceful.

"I don't want any trouble," Tula said with fake innocence, hands up in the air. "I just want a moment alone with your friend. That's all."

"Only if he wants that," the woman said, looking up at Elias.

"He doesn't want that," Tula answered for him. "So you're not going to get any answers, and neither will I. You really should get to know your friend better."

"He said he doesn't know you," the woman sneered. "And we're not interested. So bug off."

Tula knew this was a losing battle. She probably could have handled this with more class, but she was far too peeved that Elias was faking not knowing her. She had to rethink her strategy.

She sighed.

"You know what, it's way too early to be petty," she said. "Fine. I'm bored and have some gossip to share. And I'm a bartender at Daisies. If you're inclined to have an interesting night, come on over, and I'll give you half-off drinks all night," she said.

Honestly, it was such a questionable offer, considering she didn't know these people at all, and already came in with a bad start. But it was the only card she had.

"I'm too busy to berate anyone else today," she added.

The woman's expression relaxed a little, no longer hostile, and now merely intrigued. She hummed, looking back at the rest of the friends with a shrug.

"Can't say no to free drinks," she said.

These people were strange. And Tula did not say she was going to give them free drinks - but at this point, she just wanted to get them in the door.

"Bar opens in half an hour," she said. "See you then."

With that, she turned away and continued her commute, resisting the urge to look over her shoulder and gauge their reaction. If this questionable offer was enough to get them to change their mind about her, then she figured that this group was easily bored and cared more about an adventure than some random person harassing their friend.

Not that Tula was harassing Elias. Really, all of this could have been avoided if he stopped lying and avoiding people. All she wanted was a couple minutes of his time to get a few of her questions answered, but now she had to entertain a bunch of brats who felt entitled to free drinks.

Gods, she was never going to hear the end of this from Willow, was she?

When she reached Daisies, she was quick to start her opening chores, giving Willow a heads up that they may get some younger folks in here who expected free drinks. Tula assured her that they were only going to get half off drinks, as the rest of the cost was going to covered by her tips.

Gods. She was going to work for free the rest of the night, wasn't she? This better be worth it.

The bar opened, and like clockwork, Robin entered on-time and with that annoying walk of his. He walked in as if he owned the place, and it made Tula mad every time.

"You're still going to babysit me? Really?" Tula said flatly when he entered.

"You still haven't grown up," Robin said flatly.

"Says the tiny man," Tula sneered, but she poured him his usual cup of beer anyways, setting it at the same seat on the bar that he always sat on.

"Genetics can't be helped," he said. "But making mature decisions? That's a whole different beast."

"Oh, that's fine. Just demean the one person who can make any difference in Mickey's life right now. I'm sure that'll lead to good things," Tula said sarcastically, hand on her hip.

"You've been saying that for weeks now," Robin said. "And no change."

Tula stared at him, unimpressed and annoyed. "At least I'm doing something. Unlike you. All you do is babysit and walk around as a dog."

"That's all you see," Robin said, taking a long sip. "And I'd like to keep it that way."

"Let me guess. In your free time, you hang out in your doggy kennel. Watch little puppies. And eat disgusting food."

"I'm flattered you think my life is so simple," Robin said. "But I'm not reproducing. Probably for the best."

"Gods, please never say that again," Tula muttered with disgust. "I almost vomitted."

"Wouldn't be good for you to vomit in a patron's drink," he said. "I'll try not to sabotage you."

Tula still stared at him in disgust, shaking her head and deciding to change the subject.

"So. Did you get any more stabbings recently?" she asked, trying to suppress the smirk as she remembered hearing about Elias stabbing Robin.

"I haven't," Robin said. "Never ask again."

"Aw, but you might want to defend yourself today, puppy," Tula cooed. "Can you defend yourself this time? Or do I have to protect you?"

"Do you want me to start talking about werewolf reproduction again?" Robin asked.

"I saw Elias on my way over here. He's coming with a group of people," Tula said instead, going straight to the point.

At that, Tula saw a flame of rage ignite in Robin's eyes, but his expression looked how it always did: irritated. Still, seeing this anger made Tula smirk in amusement.

"Lucky for you," Robin said cooly. "Murder is illegal."

"Stabbing isn't illegal at Daisies. I won't tell anyone if you want to get revenge," Tula teased.

Robin narrowed his eyes at her.

"Go serve Blithe," Robin said, looking down the bar. "He just walked in."

"I'll let you stew on that," Tula said with a widening smirk before transferring her attention to her second most annoying regular. She was sure Blithe was going to enjoy whatever shitshow was going to come up, as did she.
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Carina says...

Elias felt like he should have known her.

Tula. Tula, Tula, Tula... the name felt vaguely familiar, although he really didn't know who this woman was. He felt like he should, though. She seemed insistent. And she mentioned Bo... what could she want?

"Do you really not know that chick?" Wilson asked beside him as they watched her walk away. "She seems pretty pissed off."

"I don't think so. I don't recognize her or her name," Elias said with a weak laugh.

Wilson hummed.

"Well... maybe she's crazy," Wilson said. "I think that's the chick who talks about dragons or something. She could've confused you for someone else. Maybe she's delusional."

"Hm. Yeah, maybe," he said with a shrug. "Are we actually going to her bar?"

"I mean, she did offer us a discount," Wilson said with a hum. "And Willow and I are chill. I used to go there more before I became the hermit I am now."

"Another one of your friends, huh?" he mused.

"Well, she's the owner of the bar that chick mentioned," Wilson said. "Daisies. So yeah. She's a friend, I guess."

"Well, I'm always game to meet your friends," Elias said.

"Why did she mention Bo, you think?" Julian asked. "What's she know about all that?"

Elias was silent for a moment, placing his hands in his pockets as he tried to think. He didn't even know where to begin.

"Well... I think I was the last person who saw him. I think she just has questions," he said quietly.

That seemed to get curious looks from everybody.

"You were the last person who saw him?" Wilson asked quietly.

"I don't know. I think so," Elias said.

"Was he the one who brought you here? To New Haven?" Wilson asked.

"He tried to. We got separated and someone else brought me in," he answered.

A few of the other exchanged worried looks.

"I wonder how she heard about all that," Wilson said.

"I have no idea, but if she has questions, I don't really have answers," Elias said with a sigh. "Maybe she's trying to investigate."

"I don't know why it'd be any of her business," Wilson said with a hand on her hip.

"Do you still want to go?" Elias asked.

Wilson hummed.

"It'd be nice to see Willow again," she said with a shrug.

"If that lady starts giving you trouble we can always bail," Julian suggested.

"True," Elias said. "I'm fine with going. But - for Willow, and for these discount drinks."

The group hung around some more, finishing their beers and chatting some more before they slowly began moving again. They had to make a few pit stops since one of Wilson's friends forgot something in her apartment, so they were taking their time. Elias was glad that no one seemed to press him about Bo, although he didn't think there was much more to say anyways. He also didn't realize until now that Bo was well-known throughout New Haven, and there was a rumor that he wasn't coming back.

He wondered how true that was, but the hazy memory of an older man telling him and Elise this resurfaced in his mind. He had nearly forgotten that this was confirmed... right? Or was it still speculation? He couldn't keep his facts straight.

Finally, about an hour after meeting Tula, they reached Daisies. Coming in, Elias had to squint and let his eyes adjust since the bar was so dark without any windows letting the natural light in. It was a tiny, dusty place with a lot of skulls on the wall. There were only two people inside, so their group of nine made the place really crowded.

Wilson led Elias towards the bar counter. There were two women manning the bar: Tula and another lady who Elias assumed to be Willow since she seemed to recognize Wilson coming in.

"Welcome back. I thought you've died," Willow said blandly, automatically pouring a shot of aged liquor for Wilson. It was probably brandy or whiskey.

"I just took a really long nap," Wilson said with a small grin, strolling up to the bar with confidence, taking a seat next to a small, bald-headed man.

Elias followed suit, sitting next to her and leaning on the bar.

"New man?" Willow asked, flicking her eyes between Wilson and Elias.

"Yeah, found him on the porch," Wilson said with a flick of her hand towards Elias. "Has a bit of a puppydog look to him."

"That's not the first time someone has said that about me," Elias said with a smile.

"Mmmhmm. What do you want, puppydog?" Willow asked.

Elias hummed. "What's your strongest drink?"

"Strongest, or strongest that's digestible?" Willow said.

"Hmmm." He rested his hand against his cheek, thinking. "Maybe digestible that you can digest."

"You really want the bar to be raised up to the bartender's level?" Willow said skeptically.

"Hah. Funny pun," Elias said.

Willow stared at him blankly for a moment, but then shook her head, turning around to reach for a small bottle with a skull-shaped cap on it. She poured a shot of clear liquid from it then pushed both shot glasses to Wilson and Elias.

"Drinks are not free tonight," she said.

"Aw, Will, don't you think your friend should drink too?" Elias chided.

Wilson glanced at Elias.

"Which Will are you talking to?" she asked.

"Right," he said with a laugh. "Uh. Well, it was you, but I guess it could go both ways."

Willow seemed to pay him no mind, pouring out a shot from the skull bottle as well.

"I'm kicking you all out if you get too drunk," Willow said as she raised her shot glass. "Cheers."

They all clinked glasses and swallowed their shot down. Elias didn't really know what he was drinking, but it was definitely strong and burned his taste buds.

"Eugh," he moaned as he placed the shot glass on the table. "That was vile."

"You asked for it," Willow said, but she was already leaving to go to the other side of the bar since the rest of the group was demanding attention.

Wilson glanced at the man beside them.

"You look depressing," Wilson said.

The man looked up at her, looking disproportionately angry at her comment.

"You think this is funny?" the man asked.

Wilson blinked.

"I said depressing," she said. "But maybe you need your ears checked."

"You would sleep with that vermin and then sit beside me," the man said, gesturing to Elias pointedly. "And expect me to laugh? Should I go ha ha? I'd sooner laugh at a pit of maggots. Congratulations, missy, you've won the award for world's least amusing boil of flesh!"

Elias blinked, trying to follow. He didn't know what he did to warrant this much hostility from a stranger, and he didn't know if he should be defending himself or play along with it.

"Uh..." was all he got out before Wilson spoke again.

"Okay, okay," Wilson said with a growing smirk, nodding her head with a faint laugh. "A little testy, are we? What did you do to get so foul-mannered?"

She said the last two words as if she were imitating the man's voice, mocking him.

"You are a fool if you think my anger is unwarranted," the man spat. "And I only misdirect it towards you because, had you traded places, that man would no longer be standing."

"Quite a threat from someone who's - what - four feet tall?" Wilson smirked.

"Were you any more of a twig yourself I'd reach through you," the man snarled.

"Commenting on a woman's weight, are we? Well that's not very classy," Wilson said casually, taking a sip of her drink.

"If you're so determined to be ignorant," the man said. "Perhaps it would benefit you to have your intelligence insulted as well."

"Hey, what's your problem?" Elias cut in, not liking that he kept insulting Wilson.

"You're my problem," the man hissed, staring at Elias fiercely.

Elias stared back, but honestly, he didn't even know why he was so angry at him. He had never met this man before.

"But of course you wouldn't remember," the man said cooly. "Because you're far too much a coward to face anything like a grown-ass man. So what do you do? You forget. You fucking forget it all, and you'll forget Bo too. Fucking ungrateful, self-pitying, entitled, useless sack of flesh. And that's how you'll stay if you keep recycling your friends like trash when you can't handle one ounce of accountability. Fuck you. Fuck it all."

Before either Elias or Wilson could say a word, the man jumped off his seat with a growl and stormed out of the bar, the door swinging behind him.

"Wow," Elias said as he pried his eyes away from the door, back to Wilson. "That man was... angry."

"I thought he was kind of funny," Wilson said with a hum. "At least he was honest."

"I don't even know that guy," he murmured.

"Well, he definitely thinks he knows you," Wilson said with a small laugh, taking another sip of her drink.

"Maybe he's confusing me for someone else," he said, but then thought it would be uncanny if this was the second person today who recognized him but he didn't recognize them.

"Maybe," Wilson said loosely.

Suddenly, the lady from before - Tula - walked from the other side of the counter, leaning forward in front of them.

"That man is my most annoying customer," she moaned. "So glad he stormed off. For that, I owe you a drink."

She began to pour mead into two glasses.

"Oh hey," Wilson said. "Nice!"

"I think he's angry because a man stabbed him," Tula said casually as she finished her quick pour and then slid then glasses in front of them.

"Oh, yeah?" Wilson asked. "That sucks. Hate it when I get stabbed."

"Mmmhmm. He must be taking it out on you, puppydog," Tula cooed.

Elias took the glass, holding it up in the air for a moment. "It's whatever. I hope he recovers."

"Oh, I don't think he ever will," Tula said with a smirk.

"Really freakin' weird tone," Wilson said. "But okay."

"And this is a freaky weird establishment," Tula said like it was obvious. "What, you want me to be candid and boring?"

"I'm candid and I don't think I'm boring," Wilson said.

"You could at least look more exciting, sugarcakes," Tula said.

"What, and dress up like you?" Wilson said with a laugh. "Now that'd be exiting."

"Why don't you try it out sometime? And then you can work here so your life could get exponentially more exciting," Tula said.

"I try not to work if I can help it," Wilson said.

Tula raised a brow. "Your lazy ass sits around all day doing what, exactly?"

"Nosy as you are, I think you could find out on your own if you wanted," Wilson said with a small smirk.

"Puppydog," Tula called on Elias instead. "What does your girlfriend do all day?"

"Look cute," Elias said with a smirk.

Wilson smiled at that, posing with her chin in her hands.

"Gross. Young love," Tula said blandly. "How long have you two been together?"

"Whuddya think, Wilson? We're approaching one year soon," Elias said, deciding to give her fake information for the hell of it, thinking Wilson would find this amusing.

"Yeah," Wilson said, rolling with it. "In just one week, we'll have our year-iversary."

Elias nodded, grinning. "Yeah. What were our plans, again? We were going to dress up as corn and terrorize the corn fields, right?"

"And we'd make corn noises," Wilson added with a nod.

"What's that sound like again?" he asked.

Wilson scrunched up her face and made a gross chewing sound, somewhat like a dog.

"Yeah, that," Elias said with a laugh. "So adorable. Sounds like screaming corn."

"You both are so strange," Tula said flatly. "You're perfect for one another."

"You think so? I was thinking we could be weirder," Elias said.

"Is that a challenge?" Wilson asked.

"Maybe... I've been told I'm pretty weird."

"What's the weirdest thing you've ever done?" Wilson asked.

Elias smirked as he took a big sip of his drink. "You."

Wilson barked a laugh and slapped him in the shoulder.

"What's the weirdest thing you've done?" he asked instead.

"Put the sun on my ceiling," she said.

Elias grinned.

"Ugh," Tula said, and Elias remembered that she was still standing there, watching them. "Get a room."

"You know, not a bad idea," he hummed.

"I could be persuaded," Wilson said, tapping Elias's shoulder with rhythmic fingers.

"We don't need a room to get started," Elias said with a grin as he then pulled Wilson forward, kissing her passionately.

They both kissed each other intensely, leaning against one another and then leaning against the counter. Still kissing her, Elias picked her up and then gently slammed her against the wall, sending a hung picture crashing to the floor.

"Hey! No, no, no. We're not having any of that here!" he heard Willow scold behind him, but Elias didn't care.

It might as well just be Wilson and himself here, right now, alone together. All he cared about was her, and he wanted to give her all the love in the world. He wanted to show her that he cared about her, and he wanted to be there for her, and that he loved her.

Both of them had their hands running along each other's bodies, but before anything further could happen, Julian and their friends dragged them out of the bar, drunkenly laughing as they bickered about how Willow was angry and throwing them out.

Elias laughed with them as they raced out, holding Wilson's hand but then letting go as they came to a stop. He turned back to her and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, his hand hovering by her cheek as he admired her eyes.

"What now?" he said with a knowing grin.

"Let's go back to my place," she said, then glanced back at the others. "We'll catch up with you later!"
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soundofmind says...

James stood at Makiel's door. The sheepherder who hired him lived closeby, so it hadn't been a long walk to visit him. The Sunday James saw Makiel, he gave him a heads' up that he'd come by to visit this week so that Makiel wouldn't be taken off guard.

Still, James did feel a bit of the awkwardness that had always been present between them when he stood at his door, contemplating knocking.

It was early evening. The sun wasn't down yet, and it filtered in overhead in warm beams, the air that came with it cold and crisp.

Shaking his head to himself, he forced himself to stop overthinking, and he simply knocked twice.

And then he waited.

And he waited.

And eventually, he got the impression that Makiel wasn't home. Or he was being ignored. For some reason he wouldn't write off the latter as a possibility, but he'd hoped they were beyond that kind of treatment towards each other.

With a small sigh, he looked the small house up and down, and then cast a look off into the distance. He pushed his glasses up on his nose - a new aquiry that finally made life quite a lot easier - and focused on the figures he could spot just at the edge of the hill.

Sheep. And... a man. It was too far away to tell for sure if it was Makiel, but it appeared that he was still out in the fields.

Humming, he turned around and found Elliot again - whom he'd ridden out for the visit - and he hopped back in the saddle. Leading Elliot out into the grass, he stopped a small ways off, finally able to recognize Makiel's curly hair from the back of his head.

"Makiel!" James called out as he rode up.

That seemed to get his attention since he whirled around. Hesitantly, he waved with a cane in the air, using it like an elogated arm.

There was maybe a herd of a hundred or so sheep, with Makiel leading them towards the barn. A dark, fluffy dog playfully barked from behind as it nipped at any straggling sheep, making sure they stay in the pack. Upon coming closer, James noticed him wearing a cloth sling that draped along his neck and side, snugly carrying a baby lamb.

Frankly, it took everything inside of James not to melt at the sight of the lamb Makiel was holding.

He offered Makiel a wide smile as he rode up to him, stopping just a few feet short.

"Should I stop by another time?" James asked. "I see you're still busy."

"No, it's fine. It's only walking. Nothing new, but you'll have to stay beside me to not confuse the herd," Makiel said as he resumed his march, beckoning with his head for James to follow. "Did you need something?"

"Nothing needed," Jame said. "I just wanted to come by to visit. Say hello."

Makiel glanced at him. "Well. Hello."

"It looks like sheepherding is taking to you well," James observed, leading Elliot behind him at a steady, slow pace.

Makiel was walking steadily with the cane, using it to nip at any sheep that attempted to walk past him. "The herding part is easy. I'm sure I could be replaced by another dog. But dogs aren't equipped for surprises." He patted the sleeping lamb's head. "Like this one."

James's expression softened.

"Was it born just today?" James asked.

"Just this morning, yeah. Took me for surprise," Makiel said with a slight smirk.

James looked at the lamb again, then back to Makiel, clearing his throat.

"May I... see?" James asked, not sure why he suddenly felt so timid.

Makiel glanced at James again, then back down at the lamb. He hesitated. "Sure. If you're able to lead Elliot at the same time, you can carry her the rest of the way, if you'd like."

James tried to suppress the childish excitement that bubbled up at the offer, and he nodded, giving an easy smile.

"Sure," he said. "I'd like that."

Wordlessly, Makiel cradled the lamb's back as he removed the sling around his neck, carefully wrapping the cloth around the lamb like a baby before he offered it to James with both arms.

James gingerly took the lamb in both hands, unable to hide the look of pure joy and adoration at the small, adorable baby sheep in his arms. He held the lamb close and carefully brought the sling over his own neck so that the lamb could rest against him, and he'd have one hand free. The lamb let out a high-pitched "baa" as James adjusted it, but once it was settled, it snuggled against him.

"Her name is Socks," Makiel said, watching him with mild amusement.

"Socks?" James asked, even though he'd heard him the first time.

"I didn't name her. Hendrik did. He happened to be there when she was born," Makiel said.

James didn't know whether to laugh or feel bad for the lamb, but he gently pet its head.

"I suppose it could've been worse," James said. "He could've named her Birdbrain."

"Oh, he did want to name her something stupid. He first said something something dumb, like Onion, or something like that. I kept saying no but agreed on Socks, mostly to shut him up," Makiel said blandly.

"Socks is definitely preferable to Onion," James agreed.

"Mmhmm. I suppose she'd be the designated sheep for socks. Although, I guess that means I'd have to name my other sheep generic clothing items, like Sweater or Hat."

"Do their names have to be themed?" James asked.

"No. I haven't named any of the sheep, but from what I've gathered, most of the sheep farmers in the area generally let the kids nearby name new lambs. In my case, the child who named the lamb I helped birth was Hendrik," Makiel said disappointly with a shake of his head.

James laughed openly at that.

"Does he come by often?" James asked.

"Just once," he said as he glanced at him. "Like you."

"I could stop by more," James said. "If you weren't opposed."

"That's up to you. I'm not going to stop you," Makiel said as he wagged his cane at another sheep nearby.

"Then I guess I will," James said simply.

"Sure," he said with a shrug. "You're in the farming district too, aren't you?"

"Yeah," James said. "Not too far from here, actually. You're welcome to stop by too, if you're interested."

"Are you farming anything?" Makiel asked.

"We're starting a flower garden," James said. "But I'm working on the farm nextdoor to ours for now. It's a bit too late in the season to start anything of that scale on our own, and I don't think I have the capacity for it at the moment anyway."

"Fair enough. What else is keeping you busy, then?"

"Well," James said. "There's been a lot of projects as we get settled into the house. And the animals keep me pretty busy, aside from the regular needs of life. I'm also trying to stay connected with everyone as best I can."

"Do you still regularly talk to the others?" Makiel asked.

"Yeah," James said with a small smile. "We have dinner once a week together."

"With everyone?" Makiel pressed.

"Well... not everyone," James said. "And not everyone comes every week. Like you."

He had a feeling Makiel was thinking of someone in particular. James's gut response was to think of Elias.

But Makiel seemed to drop the subject.

"How's Eve doing?" he asked instead after a short lull.

"She's doing well," James said. "I think it's been good for both of us to have a lot of space to rest... it's nice. The peace and quiet."

"Well, it's certainly a change of pace from the normal we're used to," Makiel said, then paused. "I'm glad that you have a place where you can be at peace."

It was a shared sentiment, and though neither of them said it out loud, James knew Makiel was grateful. Grateful to be here. Grateful that James had come for him, what now felt like months ago. Grateful to not have to fight anymore, and to live a simple life.

They sustained simple smalltalk for a while, too, as James followed Makiel and the herd around the fields, until they were eventually led to a pen and he and Makiel circled back to his house. James tied Elliot off at a post outside before following Makiel to the front door, where Makiel welcomed him in.

It wasn't a very big place, but James didn't expect it to be.

It was small, comfortable, and had everything any one person could need. Decor was nearly non-existent, and James had a feeling it might stay that way for some time, but he did see some unfinished knitting projects on the kitchen table.

Just as James was about to thank Makiel for his time and turn to leave, Makiel stopped him.

"I have something for you. Wait here," Makiel said, disappearing into a room for about half a minute, leaving James by himself.

When he returned, he came back holding a flat box with a white ribbon tied on top. Makiel held it in front of him, offering it to James.

"I've been meaning to give this to you," he said.

James's eyebrows shot up in surprise, and he received the package gingerly. He hadn't been expecting any kind of gift, and he frankly had no idea what it was for, or what it was.

"What's this for?" he asked with a small smile.

"Open it," Makiel said instead, nudging with his head for him to open it.

"Okay," James said, taking it over to the table so he had a flat surface.

He set it down and gently untied the ribbon, and once it was pulled away he lifted up the lid. Inside the box, there was a knitted winter hat - thick, white, and wooly - with two flaps to cover either side of the face. Each flap had an extended string on the end, and on the top of the hat was a fluffy pom-pom.

A vague memory returned to him, and he recalled seeing Makiel knitting throughout their journey, particularly in times of rest.

Was this one of the things he'd been working on.

He turned to Makiel with a broadening smile.

"Yeah, yeah. You're welcome," Makiel said dismissively, crossing his arms.

James took the hat out of the box and with a small shake of his head, put it on snugly. It was soft and warm. His smile grew brighter.

"I like it," he decided to say, since Makiel was already dismissive of his gratitude.

"I said I'd make you a hat. Call it cliche, since I'm a shepherd. But it'll keep you warm," Makiel said, pausing for just a moment, but then continuing on before James could express gratitude again. "I've been working on a couple different projects, now that I have time. I'm thinking I'll do a blanket next, but we'll see."

"Are you thinking of a particular pattern for the blanket? Or are you just going to start knitting and see?" he asked.

"I have a couple different ideas. Raj and I have been exchanging patterns, and he has some good ideas for a blanket. I haven't yet committed to anything, though. I'll have to commit to the dyes first, which I'm hoping to get next week," Makiel said.

"Sounds like quite the project," James said with a grin. "I look forward to seeing it when you finish."

"It'll take some time, but sure. I'd be happy to show you," Makiel said. There was a brief pause as it seemed that Makiel had more to say, but was hesitant in saying it. It didn't take long for him to decide to say whatever was on his mind. "I've been meaning to ask you. Have you had the chance to talk to Hendrik since he came back?"

James's smile fell slowly, and he shook his head.

"Not... not particularly, no," James said.

"So... you haven't heard," Makiel deduced slowly. "About what happened?"

"I mean, I heard about what happened," James said, quieter. "With Bo."

"It's a shame," Makiel said sullenly with a disapproving shake of his head. "There seems to be a repeating pattern of traitors from Earth. I'd be careful about Elias, if I were you."

James blinked slowly, looking at him with growing concern.

He didn't think Makiel was trying to threaten, but he was being awfully cryptic. If this was him trying to caution him as a friend it was an awfully ominous way of doing so.

"...Sure," he said. "I will."

"Alright," Makiel said, and then another silence passed between them. He cleared his throat. "Well, that's all I had to say. If there's anything else..." He trailed off as a way for James to jump in with anything to add.

James didn't really want to talk about Elias, and he didn't feel like participating in gossip. Makiel already knew what everyone else knew about what happened, and that was sufficient. James didn't imagine Makiel wanted to know anything about Elias except to prove his own point. Makiel had never had much of a relationship with Elias to start with, anyway.

"Not really," James said with a small shrug. "I appreciate you looking out, though."

Makiel shrugged. "Sure, yeah. Thanks for coming by."

"Thanks for having me," James said with a small nod, understanding that now it was time to part ways.

"Mind if I leave the box with you? I'll just take the hat," he said.

"Sure, I'll take it off your hands," Makiel said as he reached over to take it. "Feel free to come by again if you'd like, but I'm more free during the weekends."

"Noted," James said, making his way for the door and heading home.
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Carina says...

"I don't know," Alistair murmured, focusing on the canvas paper in front of him as he smudged it with another splash of orange paint on his thumb. "This kind of sucks."

He and Clandestine had talked about finger painting when they reached New Haven, and he didn't think she would actually take this seriously, but here they were.

"Really?" Clandestine asked, spreading her fingers across the page in red and yellow arches. "I kind of like how messy it is."

"I feel like the messiness is what makes it suck. There's no..." Alistair winced as he tried to outline another dragon, but it ended up looking like a blob again. "...dexterity."

"You just have to think in shapes and colors!" Clandestine said. "Not lines!"


Alistair took a step away from his canvas, which admittedly was a splash of warm colors rather than anything specific, but he was done anyways. He peered over to see Clanny's, which was a wildly colorful depiction of a cartoonish dragon-like creature with exaggerated teeth and claws. It was a little more abstract, but heavily textured in paints and overlapping colors, making the creature look particularly scaly.

"Wow," he said in amusement, staring at her painting.

The dragon had its maw open, and somewhat googly-looking eyes as it stared at the viewer.

Clandestine laughed lightly, flipping the page around to face him.

"I'm done," she said.

"Yeah, I see that," he said with a puff of amused air through his nose. "It's, uh..." He stared at the dragon's big eyes, trying to find a word that fits. "It's cute."

Clandestine grinned. "Yeah? I was trying to go for 'charming.'"

"Same difference, I guess." Alistair paused, still staring at its unnerving eyes. "I feel like it's staring into my soul, though."

"And what does it see?" she asked.

"It sees that I'm not a painter, that's for sure," he said with a sigh.

"I like yours, though," Clandestine said with a genuine smile. "I like the colors. Feels like I'm looking at an explosion! Or the sun!"

"Gods. We are being so stereotypical, painting dragons and explosions," Alistair muttered with a shake of his head.

Clandestine laughed at that.

"Maybe next time I'll paint a flower," she said. "A really big one."

"Are you going to put creepy eyes on it?" he asked warily.

"I wasn't," Clandestine said. "But that's a really good idea, actually."

"Yeah, okay," Alistair said amusedly, then paused. "Do you like to paint, though? I think we did all this so you can explore... stuff. We can try something else next time if you'd like."

Clandestine sat back, cupping her chin in her hand in thought. Without meaning to, or perhaps out of forgetfulness, she got a bunch of red and yellow paint all over the lower half of her face as she hummed. Alistair did his best to repress a smirk as he watched her continue to spread the paint across her face.

"I don't know," she said. "I liked painting well enough. I'm not really good at thinking of other things to do. Besides eating food. I always like food."

"Well. I guess cooking is a form of art. Do you like to cook?" he asked.

Clandestine pursed her lips, dropping her hand from her face. She had something of a hand-shaped print over her mouth and chin.

"I'm not very good at it," she said. "I mean, I can throw some beans into a pot and I can stick some meat over a fire, but I've never done a ton of cooking outside of grilling meat I guess."

"Riiiight. Okay." Alistair paused to think. "Well, you seem to like artsy stuff. What other related stuff do you like? Maybe music, or reading... and writing. Art, and all that."

"I've always wanted to know how to play music!" Clandestine said with a bright smile. "But I... don't have a very good singing voice. And I kind of suck at it."

"Well, can't help you there. But maybe there's someone around who can teach you. Have you ever looked into it?" he asked.

"I've literally been monster hunting and saving mages like, all my life, Alistair," Clandestine said a little more flatly. "I've never looked into it."

Alistair sighed. Gods, did that sound sad.

"Well, you know what they say. No better time than the present," he said dully. "Except I also have absolutely zero information about this, considering I'm literally from another planet. But I'm sure we could figure it out if that's something you want to do."

"Maybe Mel knows stuff! She's been talking to like, everyone. I feel like every time I see her she's telling me a new story of some cool person she's met," Clandestine suggested.

"Sure, yeah. That could work." He paused. "Not that I know she'd be open to it, but maybe Mel would want to sing with you. She's got a pretty nice voice." He shrugged. "Just a suggestion."

Clandestine deflated a little at that.

"Oh," she said with a nervous laugh. "That might just make me feel... bad."

"Why? I'm sure she'd be happy to do it."

"I mean, if she's a lot better than me... then I'll just... I mean, I don't know how to keep up," Clandestine said, looking down. "It just sounds embarrassing."

Alistair leaned against his seat, slowly nodding. "I guess it would be kind of weird to take lessons from a friend," he said. "But if that's what you're worried about, I think you'd get better over time. That's the whole reason why people take lessons, isn't it?"

Clandestine lifted her hand, about to touch her hair - probably to play with it.

"Wait!" Alistair said hurriedly with a hand out in the air, perhaps a little too loudly so that he could stop her right at this moment

Clandestine froze.

"What? What is it?" she asked, looking worried.

Alistair stared at her hand and then the hand print on her face, slowly pulling his hand away. "You, uh..." He cleared his throat, then reached up to his chin. "You have a hand print on your chin."

Clandestine blinked, and then looked down at her hand, slowly putting two and two together. When it clicked, she looked up at him and let out a weak laugh.

"Crisis averted," she said.

"I wanted to see how long it'd take for you to notice. I guess I'll never know," he mused with a weak laugh.

"I just got used to the feeling of paint on my hands after all the painting," she said, turning her hands over and looking at her palms. "I forgot they were still wet. I think the bottom layers dried, so I just feel the crusties."

"Yeah. Clearly." Alistair smiled, shaking his head. "Maybe your next creative task should be to paint people instead of canvases."

"Are you volunteering?" Clandestine smirked.

"No," Alistair said flatly.

Clandestine pouted.

"Boo. Okay," she said, wiping her hand on a nearby rag.

It did make him wonder if she had already forgotten that she had paint on her face. Maybe he would find out how long it would take for her to notice after all.

"You know, it's kind of crazy to me that you're a successful monster hunter and a dragon... but you forget that your hands are wet after finger painting," he said with another repressed smile, shaking his head as he leaned back against his seat again.

"I'm using a different part of the brain," she said, pointing to her noggin. "Monster hunting is like second nature. Painting is. Uh. Third or fourth nature."

"How many different parts of your brain do you have?" Alistair asked.

"As many as I need," Clandestine said, beginning to make hand motions like she was sectioning off her brain like one might cut a cake. "Over here we have the random monster facts corner. Over here we have practical skills like tying my shoes and starting a fire. Over here we have the mystical magic side. And over here we have the friendship core."

She drew in the air like it was a sphere, and then poked in the center of it.

"And here's you! My best friend!" she said with a bright smile.

Alistair stared at her for a moment, ready to make a snarky comment about how it seemed unnecessary that she have so many sections of her brain reserved for different topics, but all of that dissipated upon hearing her final words. He didn't even know how to react to that right away, but he found himself awkwardly laughing and setting his gaze down at the floor, processing the words.

Clandestine considered him... her best friend?

"Oh... thanks," he said softly.

Clandestine blinked.

"Huh? For what?" she asked.

"Nothing," he said quickly, smile spreading as he took a deep breath and returned his attention back on her. "It's just-- I'd place you there, too. That's all."

"I'm my best friend?" Clandestine said, squinting in confusion as she looked at her invisible sphere in her hands.

"No, Clanny," Alistair said with a laugh, facepalming himself. "You're my best friend too."

At that, her expression softened, and she met his eyes with a warm, bright-eyed smile.

"Well I'm glad it's mutual!" she said with a laugh. "If it wasn't that might be a little awkward."

"Yeah..." Alistair said, smile lingering, but then he stared at the painted red hand print still on her face. "Uh, also, you have a hand print on your face. Right on your chin."

Clandestine blinked.

"Does it at least look cool?" she asked.

Alistair hummed, eyeing the color palette that was still wedged between their canvases. Without thinking much about it, he dipped his hand on there, spread the paint along his palm, and then stamped his chin as well.

"I don't know, you tell me," he said with a shrug.

Clandestine smiled wide.

"Yeah," she said. "I think it does."

He glanced down at his hand, now wet with paint. "I should probably dry this off before getting it all over my face and hair like you almost did."

"Or you could and then we could be matching," she said.

"Very tempting. I could be persuaded," he mused.

"How hard is paint to get out of hair, you think?" Clandestine asked, looking down at the palette with a dangerous look in her eyes.

Alistair followed her gaze. "Oh no. We're about to make a stupid decision, aren't we?" he dead-panned.

"Only because you suggested it."
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