There was a tingle of anxiety in her chest as she woke up to Mel's nervous questioning, and it snaked her way around her heart as she took in her surroundings, noticing that her sense of normalcy was missing.
For the past week, Eve had been sleeping close to James, her head often resting on his thigh as a convenient pillow. He never minded and seemed to like that she was close, but as James's lack of sleep became more and more apparent to her, she decided to give him space to rest more comfortably.
And now she was wondering if she would come to forever regret that.
Eve stared at the tree next to Elliot where James last sat, but instead of James, she only saw Elliot's morning shadows.
"James, oh James?" Mel sing-songed loudly with her hands cupped around her mouth, but worry was heavily laced in her voice. "Where are you?"
Alistair was neatly and calmly going through his normal morning routine, putting his items away. "He's probably on a walk somewhere. He'll come back." He hesitated, flicking his eyes up at everyone. "Right?"
There was more chatter among the group, but Eve didn't bother listening.
As soon as she noticed that James was missing, Eve immediately sprang up on her feet to investigate. She went to Elliot first, her first clue in all of this.
She knew that James wouldn't leave them or his trusty steed. She was calm, at first - rationalizing the familiar paranoia with sentiments she didn't know until later would be false.
He's sleeping a bit further out, or going on a walk. Maybe trying to surprise us. He'll come back. He wouldn't leave us. He wouldn't leave Elliot.
He wouldn't leave me.
She rifled through his items, looking for any clue - but everything was accounted for.
Except James's bag. That was odd. Why would he go on a walk with his bag? Maybe he decided to sleep further out. But why wouldn't he tell anyone? That was unlike him.
Eve also noticed that his journal was left behind, which only added onto the pile of inconsistencies, but she didn't have much time to process the implication, because the journal was opened.
It was opened on a page with his handwriting, his glasses folded over the top. Eve felt her heartbeat beating faster, reverberating against her chest as she daintily picked it up, her eyes glued on the page. Her head was spinning before she could even read the words. She knew. She knew what this was, what he was trying to do.
The note, the sloppy handwriting, his absence - this was a goodbye letter, wasn't it?
She almost couldn't bring herself to read it, but with shaky hands, she forced herself to focus and read.
You've always seemed to envy me for my ability to say the right thing. I wish that now was not the exception, as I cannot bear to be lengthy, and I'm sure no amount of apologizing or explaining will relieve the worry and pain I have caused in the wake of my absence.
I love you. Please take care of the others for me. Please take care of yourself.
I know this isn't good enough.
Time seemed to stand still as she read the last two words over and over again. A wave of dread filled her body, paralyzing her. This felt like a dream. She couldn't accept that this was true. This wasn't true. This wasn't true. This wasn't --
"Eve," Mel said, her hand on her shoulder to grab her attention.
Eve nearly jumped, unable to hide her flinch as she whirled around with wide eyes. Her heart was beating faster and faster. It was almost deafening. She almost couldn't hear what Mel said. She had to read her lips, noticing that she asked, "Are you okay?" and something else.
Eve found herself tightly gripping the journal, almost squeezing it to breakage. Before Mel could question her some more, she tore the page out and crinkled it under her fingers, gritting her teeth.
She knew what she had to do.
Eve ignored Mel and quickly moved past her, approaching her bag near the center of camp. She was focused, uncaring of how the others perceived her, and unbothered to know what they said or did. She couldn't observe. A dark sea of emotions flooded her ears, blocking her from doing anything else but proceed on her plan.
She was going to find James. And the others would slow her down.
"Eve!" Mel yelled, pulling in her shoulders when she had crouched down to put away the journal.
Annoyed, Eve snapped her head up to finally face her. "What? she said irritably.
"What is it? You're acting unusual. Did you find something?"
Eve stared at her blankly for a second, stuffing her last item in her bag and then slowly standing up, her eyes cooly watching everyone stare at her, looking for answers.
Fine. If they wanted answers, then they would get it.
"James left us," Eve said harshly, making sure to meet the eyes of each and every one of them. "He left us, and he's not coming back. Don't bother looking for him. He's not here."
At that, she briskly walked back towards Elliot, ignoring Mel's gaping mouth which indicated that she was going to ask more questions.
Alistair happened to be near Elliot as Eve began to load Elliot up.
"What... how would you know that?" he asked, starting to sound defensive.
Eve gave him a fake smile as she packed her bag. "Looks like you're just going to have to trust me," she said sarcastically.
Mel, Elise, and Elias also approached, with Mel being the loudest.
"What do you mean? Why would he leave us?" Mel asked.
Eve bent down to untie Elliot. "People leave sometimes, Mel. It's not hard to understand."
"Maybe it has something to do with Tula," Elias offered instead.
"Eve, are you leaving somewhere?" Elise asked, the concern in her voice sounding too thick.
With Elliot's reigns in her hands, Eve stood back up and sharply turned around, taking a deep breath.
"Like I said, don't bother finding him," she repeated, then paused. "Because I'm going to look for him. And there's --"
"You are not," Mel interrupted, a fire lit in her eyes like she was about to fight her. "Stop it. You're not leaving. Let go of Elliot, Eve."
Eve stared at Mel, silently challenging her.
"Eve. Let go of Elliot's reigns," Mel said with a threatening voice. And when Eve didn't comply, Mel pounced at her, tearing the reigns off her hands. She grinned in triumph as she held it up and pushed Eve back, but she quickly turned serious again. "You're not leaving," Mel huffed.
Eve watched her, unbothered by her actions. Alistair seemed to side on Mel's side, while Elise and Elias were trying to coax her into calming down, even when she was calm.
She knew that the others would try to stop her, but it didn't matter. None of it mattered.
Not when she could change things to make it her way.
"I'm sorry," Eve said, but her heart wasn't in it. "But I have to leave."
Eve hadn't used her time powers in a long time. Not for months. There wasn't a need to use it. She wanted to live more in the moment and be more like herself, but in a situation like this -- she couldn't afford to have things go wrong.
And so she went back. Back in time, feeling her internal clock move backwards, the familiar white numbness consuming her.
Just so she could go back ten minutes ago, redoing her actions to not arouse suspicion.
"James, oh James? Where are you?" Mel sing-songed.
This time, Eve calmly held a few of her items then got up to her feet, leaving her bag behind to not arouse suspicion. She approached Elliot with a normal demeanor and didn't need to rifle through James's items now that she knew what was in it. Instead, she packed her items and bent down to untie his reigns.
"Something might have happened at night, and he may have inadvertently traveled far. I'll ride on Elliot to look around and cover more distance," she said, lying through her teeth.
"That's a good idea. I was about to say that we should walk around, but Elliot would be faster," Elias said. "I hope he's okay."
"Sure, how long will you ride around?" Mel asked.
With a sharp breath, Eve hefted herself up on the saddle, holding the regins in her hands. "Not long. I'll be back soon," she said vaguely as she looked off into the horizon, scanning her surroundings while also forming a path in her head.
"Alrighty. We'll make breakfast. Should be ready for when you come back," Mel said, turning her back on her.
Eve didn't bother saying goodbye, or sticking around to see if Elias, Elise, or Alistair would object. She clicked her tongue and rode Elliot through the trees, not looking back.
Of course, Eve felt remorse for lying and leaving her friends, especially since they would be lost without her or James. But she knew they could figure it out. They were resilient, and they didn't need to be involved in this.
Eve did not accept James leaving. She couldn't accept it. She couldn't accept that he would leave with the intention of abandoning her and the others. She had to believe that there was something else. Something more sinister. It had to be Tula.
James obviously didn't want to involve her, but Eve didn't care.
She was going to find him, and she was going to help him.
And no one was going to get in her way.