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Far From Home

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Fri Jul 16, 2021 8:39 am
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soundofmind says...

Though it didn't happen too frequently, on occasion, Elise would come in one evening and (in her own gentle way) request for James to go eat dinner with the others while she took over in James's stead. She offered to care for Evaline while James was gone so that James could get out of the "stuffy room" and "socialize," and though James knew he was an adult and could just say no, he hardly saw the point in arguing with Elise. Arguing over something so petty felt childish, and even though he didn't like to admit to himself, it was nice to have a little break.

Not from Evaline, but it was nice to be around other people. Sometimes. Maybe it was because it helped him get out of his head, or maybe it was just because he enjoyed the others' company. Maybe it was both.

He'd ended up walking into the kitchen a little later, though, and it seemed that most everyone in there was done eating and just hanging out. Mal and Rudy were sitting beside the mountain window, where the vibrant sunshine shone in with vivid oranges and yellows that tinted the room. They were talking at a soft, normal volume, and because of that, James had no idea what they were talking about based on auditory information. He was able to read their lips for a split-second, though, and he caught Rudy saying something about travel, and local medicinal herbs. James stopped paying attention, though, to avoid any form of eavesdropping.

On the floor beside the kitchen table there was Elijah and Samiya sitting on a long woven carpet, and it looked like they were dealing out different playing cards. He couldn't tell what game it was they were playing, since he didn't really recognize the pairings, but at least it wasn't poker. Samiya, though, seemed to be more of the competitive type, since she was attempting trash-talk with Elijah, who only seemed confused by it.

By the kitchen counter, Mel and and Alistair were standing sorting through some of their rations, and it looked like they were meal planning and food-prepping for the next week or so, as they had a few things already set out and they were sorting them into different containers.

That left the remaining food on the kitchen table, where Elias and Hendrik were sitting and finishing their meal. Someone - presumably Elise, but it could've been anyone at that point - had already set out James's meal for him, and it was set between Hendrik and Elias's seats. Though James was never very fond of being sidled by people, he begrudgingly accepted their eager invitations to sit with them and started eating.

In his bowl, it looked like there was a brown rice topped with a root and vegetable-based stew.

"You're just the man I wanted to see, Jamie," Hendrik said after a slurp of his broth. "Mal, Rudy, and I are going to make a supply run tomorrow. Don't miss me or the massages too much while I'm gone."

"I think I'll survive without the massages," James said with a small roll of his eyes as he picked up his spoon. "But you will be missed, Hendrik. I hope you all travel safely."

At that, he took a big scoop of stew, eager to fill his stomach. The moment he tasted the food, he felt his stomach gurgle. He always seemed to be forgetting how hungry he was.

"I don't know why you call him Jamie," Elias said before Hendrik could even say anything. He gestured at Hendrik with his spoon. "James is already one syllable. Why double it?"

"To two syllables?" Hendrik said with a raised brow.

"Yeah," Elias said with a nod. "Doesn't make sense."

"What do you suggest, then?"

Elias grinned and glanced at James, swiveling the spoon to him then back at Hendrik. "J. Like the letter. It's more efficient."

"Eh. I don't like it," Hendrik grumbled, taking another bite.

"You know, I was thinking..." Elias continued, turning to James this time. "Hendrik would make a good name for a chicken. 'Cause when shortened, it's just Hen."

"Maybe some day you'll get a chicken for yourself, then you can name it Hen in Hendrik's honor," James said before stuffing his face full of food again.

"Would it be unoriginal to name a hen Hen, though?" Elias thought out loud.

"Yes," Hendrik said too quickly.

"Mmm... then maybe I should just call the chicken Hendrik then," Elias finished.

James swallowed his food quickly just so he could say: "Henny," and then he took another bite.

"You are not--" Hendrik said sharply, but was interrupted by Elias's thoughts again.

"Hey, isn't it funny that we have a Mel and a Mal? Doesn't that get confusing?" Elias said, pursing his lips and balancing the spoon on top.

"Elias, Elise, Elijah," James said after pausing again between bites. "There's a lot of similar sounds. Not just them."

Elias shrugged. "That's just the military convention for the healing babies. Not very original, huh?"

"You are not naming me a chicken," Hendrik finally spat out.

"No one said we're going to call you chicken," James said plainly, pointing his spoon at him.

"Hey Hendrik," Elias said with a grin. "James just called you a chicken. What are you going to do about that?"

Hendrik glared daggers at James, but before he could say anything, Elias spoke again.

"Can you show us your best chicken impersonation? Maybe we could bring Sleepy in here to teach you."

"Elias," James said in a scolding tone. "That's just mean."

Elias shrugged innocently. "Hey Henny, what was your first nickname to James again?"

"We don't have to bring that b--" James started.

"BABY MAN," Hendrik yelled way too loudly, causing the room to go quiet for a second as they gave him some odd stares.

James looked at Hendrik with a dead-eyed stare.

"I rest my case," Elias said triumphantly before taking a big bite.

James just shook his head and sighed, taking another bite of food as well. Thankfully, Hendrik was only sipping on broth in a mostly-empty bowl, so while James and Elias continued eating, Hendrik (thankfully) changed the direction of the conversation towards the plans for his supply run with Malkiel and Rudy. He mentioned a few practical things, but eventually it turned into him and Elias making jokes and telling stories about Rudy and Malkiel. James kept his focus on his food for the most part, trying to intentionally eat at a steady pace instead of inhaling his food like usual.

"Hey!" Samiya's voice behind him said. "Why aren't you turning around? I'm trying to talk to you."

James tilted his head to the side a little in confusion, and he hesitantly looked over his shoulder. Was she talking to him?

"...What?" he asked.

"What do you want, kid?" Hendrik said gruffly.

"Elijah threw a card by his feet, so I was trying to get his attention, but now..." Samiya trailed off and started to poke his back over and over. "Now I'm more interested in poking this man."

James twisted his head and shoulders around, leaning away from Samiya's touch. Even though he couldn't feel a thing, he could see Samiya trying to poke his back now that he'd looked over his shoulder.

"Well, you can stop, now," James muttered. "You have my attention."

"Do you even feel that?" she said with a teasing grin, not stopping, so Elias slapped her hand away. "Hey!" she said with a pout.

"Be nice," Elias said with the beginnings of his own teasing grin.

James narrowed his eyes at Samiya, but as he drifted his gaze to Elias, he tried to meet his eyes. If Elias remembered, he would know well enough that James couldn't feel it. Hendrik should've known as well.

"The answer is no, by the way," Hendrik said, and Samiya giggled.

James turned to look at Hendrik to shoot him a glare, but then saw that Hendrik had reached his arm around and started poking him too.

He narrowed his eyes at Hendrik.

"Henny," he said quietly, through his teeth. "Is that really necessary?"

"Aww, Henny is a cute nickname," Samiya said.

James caught movement in the corner of his eye and he saw Samiya reaching out to poke him again too. It was strange and surreal to watch them poke him while he felt nothing, but it still disturbed him to know they were just poking him for the fun of it.

He twisted around in his chair so his back faced away from Samiya in particular, and he pushed Hendrik's arm away from him.

Samiya impatiently sighed. "Can you get me the card already?" she asked.

"Wait, so, you really feel nothing on your back?" Elias asked. "This doesn't even tickle?"

James sat still for a moment as the realization sunk in, and he whirled his head around, looking over his shoulder. Elias was poking him now too.

James let out a long, groan-filled sigh as he swiped Elias's arm away and he pushed out the chair, reaching under the table to pick up the missing card.

"It's too bad Evaline isn't here to save the poking damsel in distress," Hendrik joked.

"Hah," Elias said, then paused. "Wait. I don't get it..."

"Maybe if some people could just take a hint," James muttered under his breath, his head still under the table for a moment before he slid out, turning around to Samiya to offer her the card.

Samiya swiped the card away from him but continued to stay there for a few seconds, staring at him.

"You're kind of weird," she said, then walked away to sit back with Elijah.

"Brutal," Hendrik said with a snicker.

"Yes," James said dryly, spinning back around in his chair to face the table. "I feel absolutely decimated. My life is in shambles."

"She doesn't mean it," Elias said distractedly between bites. "At least not all the time. Sometimes she does."

"I don't really care about her opinion of me either way," James said as he loaded up his next spoonful of food. "But, noted."

"Hey military boy, does she ever talk about my muscles?" Hendrik asked Elias.

Elias shot him an odd look. "Why would she talk about your muscles?" he asked with narrowed eyes.

"Do you ask everyone about your muscles?" James countered.

"Fair enough," Hendrik said as he quickly peeled away from his jacket and then flex his arm. "Hey Jamie, what do you think about my muscles?"

James walked into that one, and he knew it. Still, he blinked slowly, looking up at Hendrik, unimpressed.

"You're fit," James said flatly. "Is that what you want to hear?"

"I'd be fitter if Elias didn't flake on being my lifting pal," Hendrik said instead.

This time, it was Elias who looked at him with an unimpressed look.

"That's because you only wanted to use me as a weight," Elias said dryly.

"You can use me as a weight if you want."

"No thanks."

"James," Hendrik said as he turned to him. "Other military boy. Do you want to be my lifting pal?"

Hendrik caught James in the middle of a mouthful of food. James quickly chewed and swallowed, looking at Hendrik in the corner of his eyes.

"Are you going to use me as a human weight?" James asked.

"Depends," Hendrik said as he leaned back. "How much do you weigh?"

James slow-blinked again.

"Really?" he asked flatly.

"Yeah, we don't need chickens to gain muscle," Elias said. "James and I could be each other's lifting pals instead. No human weights needed."

"Hendrik, I'm sure you could find rocks somewhere in this mine that weigh just as much as a person. You could quite literally use those," James said.

Hendrik was in the middle of a big bite, and he glanced around the room until his gaze landed on Rudy, who was looking at maps with Malkiel.

"I'm going to ask Rudy instead. He seems like a decent guy," he half-mumbled.

James watched as Hendrik grabbed his bowl and got up out of his seat, walking over to Mal and Rudy. There was a small pause of silence between the three of them as Hendrik parted, and then James turned to look back at Elias, who was also watching the potential chaos unfold in amusement.

"Did you actually want a..."

But James trailed off as they watched Hendrik comedically stop a few feet in front of Mal and Rudy, who were looking up from the maps with looks of expectancy at first, and then confusion. Malkiel in particular looked almost annoyed at the words that must've left Hendrik's mouth, but Rudy didn't look as fazed.

"A chicken?" Elias idly finished for him, hardly paying attention since he was still watching Hendrik.

"A lifting buddy," James said distractedly.

Rudy glanced at Malkiel, who was facepalming, and then looked over to Hendrik with a shrug that said: "sure," even though James couldn't quite overhear.

At that, Hendrik glanced back at the two of them with a triumphant smile, as if he was saying: "I told you so," even though there had never been any bets placed in this mild interaction.

"Hm? Oh yeah, sure, sure, let's do it," Elias said to James, then cupped his hands around his mouth even though it wasn't needed to yell across the room. "Lift him up!"

Rudy and Hendrik both looked at each other, and for a second it looked like Rudy was trying to figure out who Elias was talking to. Hendrik seemed to catch on to Elias's words and was already giving Rudy instructions to stand up. Rudy seemed to think Hendrik was joking at first, but then Hendrik scooped Rudy up under his back and legs, and Rudy's eyes went wide. Malkiel, meanwhile, expressed shock at first, but then rolled his eyes with a smirk that read: "really?"

Hendrik's display also caught the attention of everyone else in the room. Mel started laughing, and Alistair was watching dumbfounded and accidentally spilled sauce on his shirt. Samiya cheered for a fight, so naturally Elijah did too. Elias instead cheered for Hendrik, supporting him with claps.

Hendrik was holding Rudy up in the air and grinned, lifting him up even higher while grunting. He did a few reps of this.

"Okay, okay, can you put me down now?" Rudy said with a nervous laugh as he started to flail his arms, like he was trying to get down on his own.

"Whoa, whoa, steady," Hendrik said, talking to him like he was one of his domesticated animals. He slowly started to drop Rudy to the floor. "There ya go. Safe and sound."

When Rudy was back on his feet, he brushed his shirt down a little, straightening it out.

"You don't plan on doing that every time we work out, do you?" Rudy asked.

"Maybe," Hendrik said with a wink.

Rudy laughed a little, but it was hard to tell if it was genuine or nervous. Rudy patted Hendrik's arm before he sat back down next to Malkiel, looking happy to be on solid ground again.

"What a crazy guy," Elias said with a laugh, shaking his head and turning back around. He spun the spoon he was holding with his around his fingers, then stopped it to take another bite of his food.

"He's definitely... something else," James muttered before returning to his food as well.

"So, what were you saying before all that?" Elias asked with a mouthful of food.

"Oh," James said, waiting to clear his throat a little before speaking more. "You mentioned being workout buddies. I was asking if you were serious."

Elias's eyes brightened, and he grinned after taking a moment to chew through the big spoonful of food and swallowing.

"Of course I was being serious," he said. "I'm always serious."
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Fri Jul 16, 2021 8:41 pm
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soundofmind says...

James had been keeping track of the passing days in his journal by recreating a smaller version of the calendar Evaline had given him back at Terra. He marked the last day of the second month, and he couldn't help but feel the reality of things start to sink in even deeper.

Two months had passed, and Evaline was still in a coma. Two months had passed, and they were still in the mines. Everyone had done everything in their power to ensure the area's safety, but everyone knew they were on a ticking time clock. They couldn't stay in the mines forever, and they couldn't live off of freeze-dried and canned rations forever either.

Malkiel was the only one who spoke to James directly about looking for long-term solutions to their situation. They discussed future plans a little more while Malkiel helped James build planters on his balcony for the turnip seeds before Malkiel left on his trip with Hendrik and Rudy, but nothing was set in stone. There were still many unknowns, and even the rumored "other safe zone" was largely unexplored to them, so there was no telling how much truth there was to it.

While Mal, Hendrik, and Rudy were gone, Mel and Alistair took the lead for securing the area and going on smaller scavenging and security missions outside the mines. Elise would occasionally go with them, but James and Elias were always left behind to look after Evaline and the kids. It resulted in the two of them spending even more time together than usual, and allowed for them to actually do the thing they'd said they'd do, which was exercise together.

James found it beneficial to exercise with someone else. Elias made things a little more enjoyable with his little jokes and encouraging words, and it was nice to have a stronger source of motivation to stay active. Normally, when they exercised, it was in the barn, or in the halls if it inculded anything with walking or running. On those occasions, sometimes Elijah would trail behind them in an attempt to imitate them as best he could, and sometimes Samiya would poke her head out of her room to attempt to intimidate them or mock them. But James was beginning to get used to her. Elias explained that she was like that to everyone, with no sense of discrimitation.

One of the things that they started doing while the others were gone was tell stories around Evaline's bed. Sometimes Elijah would sit in, and sometimes Elias would even allow Samiya to sit in if she promised to be good (which usually meant quiet). Sometimes the stories were entirely fictional, and sometimes they had slivers of truth. James noticed Elias usually preferred to tell silly made-up stories when the kids were in the room, but when it was just them and Evaline, he would share some stories from childhood -- which were often still goofy in their own right, but more personal.

Once, after James shared his story and passed the baton to Elias, Elias started to laugh at his own thoughts before even saying any of the words out loud.

"What is it?" James asked with a smile, finding Elias's laugh to be contagious before he even knew why he was laughing.

"I was trying to think of some random embarrassing memory for Evaline, and then one came to mind, and it's funny thinking back on it now," he said with a lingering smile. He leaned over Evaline. "Hey Ev, what do you think? Should I share it with James too? Or did you forget?"

"If you're unsure," James posed. "You can always share it with her privately. Her memory powers still work. That is, if she wants to see an embarassing memory."

Elias hummed in thought, leaning back in his chair and stroking his chin. "That makes you feel whatever you felt at the time, right?"

"Right," James echoed.

"Yeah, I don't know about that," Elias said with a little laugh. "The memory was when we were maybe ten or eleven, and she was trying on this dress for some event she had to go to for her parents. I actually don't even really remember what we said, so maybe I should try that memory power thing, but hah. I ended up kissing her on the cheek and then said, 'Ew.' She got really mad at me afterwards and we never talked about it again. Kind of sad she can't talk to me about it now..."

James let out a small laugh as he looked to Evaline, trying to imagine what her reaction might've been were she able to emote, or even open her eyes.

"You really liked to tease her, didn't you," James said.

"It was so easy," Elias said innocently. "Almost too easy."

"I can get that," James said with a small smirk. "I felt the same with my little sister. Maybe it's a brotherly instinct."

Elias let out another airy laugh. "You know, I think I said something like, 'Ew, it's like I'm kissing my sister' to her, or something like that. I think you're onto something, even though we're not related."

"I think you can have sibling-like relationships with people who aren't your biological siblings," James said. "It's more about the dynamic than the blood."

"Hmm. Yeah, I guess you're right," Elias said with a smile. "So, if she was like my little sister back then, then maybe now she'll be more like another big sister."

"Maybe so," James said with a small smile.

The passing days continued to be filled with small moments that James was learning to appreciate more and more. It was the little things that were keeping him going. When Elias would come in the mornings with breakfast, or how Elijah would always laugh and giggle at James's stories of Nye, or how Evaline would continue to share in his memories, even if she couldn't say anything in return. It was Sleepy, and her constant snuggles and affection. It was Elliot, and his undying loyalty, and the rides James would take him down the mine tunnels. It was Elise, every time she'd stop by to check in on him and Evaline. It was Mel, when she'd come by with a new bouquet of flowers to put beside Evaline's bed, and Alistair, when he'd come just to sit with him on the balcony to look out over the mountain.

Usually, at some point, Alistair would point out things he knew James couldn't notice. Like how the trees were starting to brighten up as springtime was seeping in. He'd point out budding flowers, or birds, and little details James might've missed otherwise. It was a small thing, but James appreciated it far more than Alistair could ever know.

When Mal, Hendrik, and Rudy finally returned, it felt like they hadn't seen them in ages. Three weeks had felt almost like months, and yet, it was gone in a second. Each day had its own special memories, and James was trying to diligently write all of them down when he had the time. It was the first time in a long time that he felt safe enough to write down the things he wanted to remember without worrying about it falling into the wrong hands.

Mel, Alistair, and Elise all happened to be out of the hideout when Mal, Hendrik, and Rudy returned. It was midday, and James and Elias had left most of the windows open to let the fresh air in, along with the spring's breeze. It filled the hall with the smell of freshly blooming flowers and honeysuckle trees.

Of course, when Bongo came bounding through the large metal front door, the smell changed a little. Bongo clearly carried in with him the smells of the forest. Earth, musk, and lake water. Higgins was much the same. The two animals came trailing in with full packs on their backs, and Hendrik, Malkiel, and Rudy followed close behind the beasts. Malkiel went ahead with Rudy to lead Bongo and Higgins back to the stables, but as James and Elias stepped out into the hallway, Hendrik closed the metal door, locking it, and stopped to greet them.

"Hey, hey, looking good, boys," Hendrik said as he glanced back and forth between James and Elias. "You've been lifting?"

"It's good to see you too," James said, choosing to ignore the comment on their physique. "Did you run into any trouble?"

"And the only thing we've lifted is each other's spirits," Elias added with a sly smile.

Hendrik smirked and half-rolled his eyes. "Yeah, okay. And no, no trouble. Rudy and Mal should be unpacking, but I did stowaway a little something-something in my own bag for you."

Hendrik reached behind him to rifle through his own bag, taking a couple of moments to fish for the item until he finally pulled out a slim casing.

"Aha! Here you go, Jamie," he said, handing it to him.

James took the small case and held it in his hands, inspecting it. It was leather-bound, but the leather was pulled over a hard shell. It was difficult to tell what was inside based on the generic somewhat-rectangular shape, but James's first thought was that it might be a harmonica. But it seemed too big for that.

It was then that he remembered Elise telling him over a month ago about how she was going to ask Hendrik and Malkiel to find glasses for him. He'd almost completely forgotten.

"Ooh! What'd you get him?" Elias asked as he stared at the casing James was still holding, unopened.

James slowly opened the case, looking in to find a singular pair of glasses held in a brown wire frame. The lenses were somewhat rectangular in shape, but the design seemed sleek and minimalist. James curiously and gingerly lifted them out of the case, looking them over. He bent back the little legs that were meant to curve around the ears, and he looked from Elias to Hendrik.

"Were they a pain to find?" he asked.

"Not really. It was custom made for you, so it just took some time," Hendrik said.

James's eyes widened. Custom made?

"Put it on, put it on," Elias chanted.

"Okay, okay," he said as he slipped the glasses on and then looked at Elias. Or at least, that was all he'd planned on doing, but the moment he put the glasses on, it was like the entire world around him came into a level of sharpness and focus that he didn't even know existed, and he found himself staring intentily at Elias.

Elias placed his hand over his chin, rubbing it. "Hmmm," was all he drew out as he stared at him back, examining the glasses.

"You..." James said quietly. "You really do have freckles."

"Huh? Oh, hah," Elias said with a little laugh. "Yeah. You can see all that now, huh?"

James stared at Elias for another second before abruptly turning to Hendrik, closely staring up at his face as if there was more he'd missed.

"The glasses age you a couple of years," Hendrik commented.

The comment didn't even dissuade him. James felt a strange sense of happiness and wonder bubbling up inside of him that he hadn't felt in years. He tilted his head as he looked up at Hendrik, unable to keep the smile from forming on his face.

"You trimmed your beard," James observed. He hardly ever noticed small details like that before.

That was enough to cause Hendrik to grin. "Glad someone's noticed," he said as he stroked his beard.

"Everything's so much clearer," James said with a little laugh in his voice. "Is this what things always look like for you?"

He looked between Elias and Hendrik, still observing them, and taking in all of the tiny details he'd never been able to make out before.

"Take a picture. It lasts longer," Hendrik said with a smirk.

"Hey, let's go see other stuff too," Elias said with a smile, tugging his sleeve backwards. "Maybe start with outside, and Evaline."

James smiled widely, already turning down the hall and hurrying to Evaline's room with Elias following after. James almost threw the door open as he hurried up to Evaline's bed and quickly pulled up the chair beside her.

"Evaline!" he said, still with a big smile. "I got glasses! Hendrik and Malkiel and Rudy... they got them custom made and now everything is so much more detailed!"

He couldn't help but laugh a little to himself as he bounced in his seat. He felt like a kid, and it was ridiculous. He didn't know why he was so excited, but as he looked down at Evaline he couldn't help but to study her closely, not for all the little details he never got to appreciate in full before. His smile slowly faded, but lingered ever so slightly as he watched her.

"Maybe it's a good thing that you can't see me staring at you right now," James said with a small laugh in his voice. "It just feels like I'm seeing the whole world in a different way."

James had been so caught up in the moment, that it hardly registered to him that Elias was standing beside him until he spoke.

"I'm pretty sure she'd want to see you right now, even though you're staring at her all dopey-eyed," he said with a teasing smile. "I think she'd like to see you get all excited."

James jumped a little in his seat as he looked up at Elias, flicking his eyes between him and Evaline.

"Do I really look..." he asked slowly. "Dopey...?"

"No, no, no," Elias said with a laugh. "Dopey-eyed towards Evaline, and the world in general. You're not dopey."

James felt like maybe it was a small difference in linguisitcs. Earth words and Nye words had odd differences and nuances sometimes. He decided not to overthink it.

"Ah," he said, turning his attention back to Evaline. "Well... I don't know. Maybe, if this sticks with you, you could share this memory with her later. So she could see me through your eyes instead."

"Huh. That's a good idea," Elias mused, then sprung to the other side of the bed, kneeling down and staring at James. "Okay. Getting alllll the views down here. Now back to the top. Get excited again."

"Wait, no, Elias," James said with a small laugh. "You know you could just share the memory from a few minutes ago, right? From when I first put the glasses on?"

"Oh, right, right," Elias said while mirroring the little laugh, then paused and squinted his eyes. "Isn't she able to basically hear my thoughts of whatever memory I share with her?"

"I... I mean, yes, I suppose," James said. "I mean, you don't have to, you know. It was only an idea."

"Oh, no, that's okay. I just remember getting distracted when you put on the glasses for the first time," Elias said with a smile. "I wondered why we haven't seen any bats around the mine. 'Cause, you know, bats are blind... I think."

James blinked and let out a breathy laugh.

"I'm sure that'll be fine," he said. "You just have to touch her for her to use the power."

Elias nodded. "Yeah, we've done this a bunch of times before." The smile on his face slowly began to fade as he peered over at Evaline. "It requires mutual trust, right?"

James paused.

"Yes," he said softly. "It does."

Elias drew out a long hum, thinking for a long while.

"Do you mind if I do it later?" he finally said as he stood back up and looked at James, hands in his pockets. "I'd like to try it alone if that's okay. Later."

"That's fine," James said gently. "There's no pressure, you know."

"Yeah, I know," Elias said with an appreciative smile. "Just don't want to blindside her. Pun intended."

James let out a weak laugh.

"I get that," he said. "Well, I guess... I can go look at other things."

He turned his attention to Evaline, and he reached out to brush her hair down the side of her face, and he leaned down to kiss her on the forehead.

"I'll be back, Eve," he said as he pulled away, lingering his hand by her face for just a moment before he got to his feet.

"Hey, check out Sleepy!" Elias interrupted, holding her high up in the air. "Now you can see feathers."

James laughed lightly and came up beside Elias, holding out his hands to take Sleepy from Elias. Elias dramatically zig-zagged her through the air like she was flying, then plopped her in his hands. Sleepy looked a little confused, but not too annoyed. Thankfully, Sleepy was learning to tolerate a lot from being around Elias and Elijah in particular.

James held Sleepy in his arms and looked down at her, more closely observing the small details of the feathers, and the little bumps on her skin.

"Now let's go outside," Elias continued, already moving towards the balcony. "Bring Sleepy because why not."

"Okay, okay," James said with a small smile as he followed Elias out onto the balcony in a hurry. Elias held the door open for him and when they stepped outside they were met with a light breeze and a comfortably warm day. The sun was up, and the sky was clear, and for the first time James could actually make out just how far the trees carried off into the horizon.

With widened eyes he drifted towards the edge of the balcony, looking down the side of the mountain at all of the little plants, flowers, and winding tree roots. He could make out the birds in the branches, and little creatures skittering across the rocks and jumping from branch to branch.

"I wish you could see your own face right now," Elias said with a little laugh, watching him. "You look like you're seeing this all for the first time."

James felt a small pang of embarassment, but he brushed it away. The happiness overruled it, and he wanted to enjoy the privelige of sight. Finally, he could make out the mountain ranges in the distance that faded into the blue sky. He could even spot the lake that he and Mel had visited, and he could see the sun sparkle off the waters.

"In a way..." he said softly. "I kind of am."

"You didn't see this in Nye?" Elias asked curiously.

"No, no, that's not -- I can't remember a time when I could ever see things so clearly," James said. "In such detail."

He found himself drawn to a branch that was hanging over the sides of the rock, reaching in towards the balcony.

"Like, I never noticed that leaves have little veins in them," he said quietly, more to himself.

"Hmm. Yeah, you're right," Elias said as he bent down and plucked a leaf off a vine that stretched along the edges. He stood back up and twirled it with his forefinger and thumb before examining it. "Very veiny."

James smiled and nodded, and before James could even take everything in, Elias ended up dragging him back inside to go look at other things. They ended up going to the barn, and James visited Elliot, who seemed mildly curious about the glasses. He did try to sniff them, but James pushed his big snout away so he wouldn't damage the lenses. Unfortunately, though, his efforts ended up being negated when he went up to Bongo, who licked James's whole face with his giant tongue, lenses included.

Of course, it did make everyone laugh, since Hendrik, Malkiel, and Rudy were all still in the barn unloading everything.

Once James cleaned off his glasses he was able to get a better look at everything they'd brought in. Some of it was basic supplies like foodstuffs, glassware, or clothing and textiles. The more important packages were those that held medicine, medical equipment, and IV bags and fluids. James and Elias ended up helping them organize the supplies and start carrying them off to their designated rooms, and in the process, James ended up running into everyone else.

Mel, Alistair, and Elise returned from their mission and were excited to see that his glasses had arrived. Mel ended up showering him with compliments while Elise asked if the glasses fit well and if he could see alright. She wanted to do another sight test to make sure they were good for his eyes, but James assured her that he could see worlds better than before. By the time Mel and Elise quieted down enough for Alistair to get a word in, Alistair simply offered a small, well-meaning comment, telling James he was glad that he could see more clearly now.

James felt it was all a little dramatic for everyone to be showering him with attention just because of glasses, but he understood that with the repetitive mundanity of the last two month, this was probably exciting in comparison.

Malkiel predictibly didn't make any comments, and Rudy only seemed to share similar sentiments as Alistair, but Elijah seemed pretty interested in the glasses to the point of wanting to try them on for himself.

Of course, James wasn't about to hand over the glasses to a six-year-old, and Elias was thankfully present to keep Elijah distracted. He offered for Elijah to try on Alistair's reading glasses, which seemed to appease him well enough that he forgot about James's.

When all of the supplies had been unpacked and brought to their designated homes, things calmed down a little, and everyone started settling into their routine again. Mel and Alistair headed off to the kitchen to prepare a meal, Elise and Elias went off to take care of Elijah and Samiya for a little bit, and James didn't really ask where Hendrik, Malkiel, and Rudy went off to. Eventually, James was back in his room with Evaline, and Sleepy curled up at his feet.

He was writing by Evaline's bed, enjoying the visual clarity.

But he did catch movement from the doorway, and he saw it open up without announcement. Samiya poked her head in as if to check if the coast was clear, and upon seeing only James and Evaline, she quickly slipped in and closed the door behind her.

Clearly, she knew she wasn't supposed to be here.
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soundofmind says...

"Hello, Samiya," James said slowly as he closed his journal and set it off to the side of the bed beside Evaline. "Did you need something?"

"Whatcha doing?" she asked instead, casually heading over towards him, hands behind her back as she peered curiously towards Evaline.

"I was just writing," James said. "What are you supposed to be doing?"

"Be here. Duh," Samiya said like it was obvious, then invited herself to lift a chair from a nearby table to be beside him. "What are you writing?"

"I write down my thoughts, stories, things that happen... stuff like that," James said, looking over to her. "Do you ever write?"

Samiya walked towards him with the chair in hand, setting it down beside him a little too closely and then happily sat down like this was an everyday conversation.

"No, that sounds boring. Why would you do that?" she asked.

"Some people like to do things that you consider boring," James said, raising his eyebrows with a teasing look. "I'm sure you'll run into that more in the future."

Samiya groaned in annoyance, rolling her eyes. "Yeah, okay, Mr. Lame. Is this what you do all day?"

"No," James said. "I do plenty of other things. I take care of Evaline, and my animals, and now plants that I have as well on the balcony. What do you do all day?"

"Is she dead?" Samiya asked instead, poking Evaline's arm.

James blinked slowly. Clearly Samiya wasn't interested in having an actual two-way conversation. He gently swatted Samiya's hand away.

"Regardless of her inability to move," James said. "She can still feel that. And she can hear you. She's not dead, and she's not a toy to be poked at."

"But if she doesn't move or say anything, what's there to take care of?" Samiya asked with narrowed eyes.

"Her body is still alive, which means she still needs food, and water, and care for all of her other bodily functions," James said. "If you couldn't move, but you still got hungry, or thirsty, or cold, wouldn't you still want someone to take of you?"

"Yeah, I'll need to find a girlfriend or boyfriend to take care of me if I'm a vegetable too," Samiya mused, then looked over at Evaline's face. "Is she your wife?"

"She's my partner," James said. "I guess the word you'd use is girlfriend."

"Partner is such an old person word," she mumbled. "How old even are you?"

"27," James answered.

"You look forty with the glasses," Samiya said bluntly.

"I'd rather be able to see," James replied simply.

"Does your partner know an old man is taking care of her?"

James looked over to Evaline.

"She already knows what I look like," James said. "I'm sure she'd be able to imagine me with glasses, and I don't think she'd have any issue with it."

"Oh right, you mean you didn't just fall in love with some random woman who couldn't move or speak," Samiya said with a smirk. "I thought you were really creepy."

James looked over to Samiya with a flat expression.

"We were together before all of this happened," James said.

"You mean while you were in the cult?" she asked with a raised brow.

James raised his eyebrow.

"Are you referring to the sectors, or the council?" James asked.

"I thought you were from the ungoverned lands?" Samiya questioned suspiciously.

James narrowed his eyes at Samiya slightly.

She wasn't present for the full explanation he had given the other adults. What had Elias told her about his situation? It seemed that she didn't have the full story -- and it wasn't like she needed to know the full story -- but if he didn't know what Samiya knew, it was difficult to know what to say to support the version she'd been told instead of raising suspicion.

"I am," he said slowly. "Where are you from?"

"The sectors like everyone else," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. "But growing up in a cult sounds cooler. What's that like?"

"Our definitions of what's 'cool' seem to be very different," James said.

"Fine, old man. What do you think is cool?"

James let out a sigh.

"I think animals are cool," he said as an example. "I find different creatures fascinating, as long as they're not actively trying to kill me."

"Lame!" she said. "Pick something more original."

"Fine," James said. "Swordfighting."

Samiya snorted. "Funny. You have an old man sense of humor too."

"I was being serious," James said, looking at her, unamused.

Samiya hummed, squinting at him. "Oh yeah? Do you have a sword?"

"I do," James said. "I just don't keep it in here."

"Why? Are you afraid Ev-a-line is going to swing at you?"

"No. I'm afraid of nosy children finding it," James said, suppressing a grin.

"Like Elijah," Samiya said with challenging eyes.

"Oh, yeah," James said. "Can't have a six year old going around swinging a sharp blade. That would be dangerous."

"Aren't swords, like, pretty heavy? Would he even be able to pick it up?" she asked.

"Maybe not," James said. "But he could probably manage to pull it out of its sheath, and were he determinedly curious, he'd likely manage to cut himself. And we wouldn't want that."

Samiya scrunched her face at the thought, pausing. "How'd you even learn how to swordfight? Your cult?"

"Yeah," James said, deciding to go along with it. "When you turn twelve it's a coming-of-age sort of thing."

Samiya hummed, then turned towards him with a sly grin. "Can we start our own Nye cult so I can learn too, then?"

James laughed.

"I don't want to be in any more cults," James said. "And I'm pretty sure if you really want to learn how to swordfight, you'd have to run that idea by Elias and Elise first. And -- not that you'd know -- but when you first start out, you don't actually practice with a real blade. That would be foolish."

"So what do you use then?" she asked, interest piqued.

"Well, when I was a kid, we just used what was essentially a dull, wooden sword. It was carved so that it had a hilt, and it was still heavy like a sword, but it wasn't going to hurt you beyond a few bruises if someone hit you with it. It wasn't lethal," James said.

"So... you were stick fighting?" Samiya said with unamused eyes.

"You could use a stick, but the wooden practice swords were a lot bigger and heavier than a stick," James answered. "And much less flimsy."

Samiya sighed, sagging into her chair.

"How do you make anything cool sound super lame?" she mumbled.

"Most skills that look cool all start out 'super lame,'" James said. "That's the nature of learning. Everyone starts out knowing nothing, and you don't look cool until you've mastered it after hours and hours of practice and not-looking-cool at first."

"Yeah... I guess," she said as she leaned her head back and groaned again. "Why can't it just be cool and easy?"

"Sometimes the things mean more to us when we have to work harder for them," James said. "If things were easy all the time, I don't think we'd appreciate the 'cool' things for what they are as much."

She looked over at him with her head still leaning over her chair, humming in thought.

"Is that how you feel about swordfighting?" she asked.

"About swordfighting, yes," James said. "And other things in life, too."

"Like your partner?" she asked with a gesture to Evaline.

James glanced back at Evaline.

"Well, the principle applies to relationships too. You have to put in the work and the time for it to be something really special. Relationships aren't easy," he said.

"Yeah, especially when she's like that," Samiya mumbled. "Did you meet her at the cult too? Does she also know how to use a sword?"

"No," James said softly. "She wasn't in the cult. We met in a different way."

He paused, looking down at Evaline. He didn't want to have to come up with another convoluted version of the story of how they met.

Samiya sat up straight, seemingly geuninely interested in this story.

"How'd you meet, then?" she asked.

"Well," James said softly. "When we met, we were both a little lost, both of us alone in the ungoverned lands when we ran into each other. We were both scared in our own ways, I think, and we didn't trust each other at first. But we had to help each other in order to survive, and lean on one another in many difficult situations. We met by chance, really, but I'm glad that we did."

"Awww," Samiya cooed with a smile. "That's sweet. When was this?"

"Several years ago," James said. "Though, we ended up getting separated for a time due to circumstances out of our control. It wasn't until last year that we found each other again."

"This is like a romantic tragedy," she commented as she peered over Evaline, not commenting further.

"I'm just happy that she's here," James said, reaching out to take her hand, squeezing it gently.

"Is she ever going to wake up again though?" Samiya asked bluntly.

"We don't know," James said quietly.

He knew that the others didn't believe she was going to wake up again, and they were preparing themselves for the worst, but James couldn't help the small spark of hope that he still had that she'd wake up again.

"But... you're still going to take care of her," Samiya thought out loud, filling in the dots.

"For as long as she'll need me," James said softly.

Be that another year, or forever.

"Like, even for the rest of her life?"

"Even for the rest of her life," James answered, keeping his eyes on Evaline.

Samiya hummed. "How romantic. I wish I can find someone who'd look after me like that forever. And I'm not talking about Elias."

James laughed.

"I didn't think you were," he said, shaking his head. "I don't know what the future will look like for you, but I do hope that you eventually find someone that cares for you, and that you care for too."

"Yeah... me too. Maybe I'll find a James by wandering around the woods," Samiya mused, but her thoughts were interrupted by the faint calling of her name, and then a knock at the door.

Samiya's eyes went wide and she scurried to hide under Evaline's bed.

"Shhh! I'm not here!" she whispered harshly, hiding from view.

Before James could even react, his door opened just a little, revealing Elise peeking in.

"Hey James, sorry for interrupting," she said with an apologetic smile. "Have you seen Samiya around by chance?"

"Oh, don't worry about it," James said, keeping his eyes from looking down to the bed and instead locking them onto Elise. "I haven't seen her around. Has she been gone long?"

"Oh, no, I was just making sure she's not here. Don't worry about it," Elise said with a small wave of her hand. "Since I'm here, do you need anything?"

"No, I'm good," James said. "Thanks though."

Elise nodded and eventually said her goodbyes, closing the door again. When it was safe, Samiya peeked her head out and grinned.

"Thanks for covering me," she said as she crawled out from under the bed.

"No problem," James said. "You probably should get going though. Elise will probably get worried if she can't find you anywhere else."

"That's okay, I'll make my grand entrance and she'll stop worrying," Samiya said as she stood up and brushed herself down. "I don't know why I'm not allowed in here. You're pretty cool."

James grinned.

"Thanks," he said. "You're pretty cool yourself."

"Maybe next time you'll show me your sword?" she said with a sly smile.

"I'll see if I can make that happen," James said with a smirk. "Now go. Shoo."

Samiya giggled, jogging towards the door. "Bye, Mr. Not-so-Lame!" she said over her shoulder.

"Bye!" James said with a wave, watching the door close behind her.
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soundofmind says...

    James was standing on top of a hill, peering up at the golden sky with the sun setting ahead of him. He hadn't been to this place before, and everything about it felt unfamiliar.

    "I just need to control my emotions, I think," a girl next to him said. "And I don't think you could help with that."

    James didn't even need to look to see who it was. He knew right away that it was young Evaline, from an undone memory many years ago when she was talking to Elias on the swing. He didn't know how he was seeing this again. He was sure he had blocked out all these types of dreams already.

    He turned anyways to look at them, only now registering that he was looking through someone else's eyes this time, rather than Elias's. But he didn't remember anyone else being there. He could see Evaline still sitting on the swing sadly like last time, and Elias was next to her, peering over his shoulder on the other swing.

    "But maybe I could help," Elias said with a big smile, saying the same words as last time. "Your baby power helps you feel stuff, and I've got a lot of funny things I could show you."

    Evaline let out a little laugh. "I don't have a baby power," she said stubbornly, then flicked her eyes over to James. "Right, James?"

    James stared at her, at first looking behind him, and then back at Evaline.

    He'd dreamed maybe once before like this, where he was looking through his eyes and able to interact with the memory as it occured. It had been when Evaline was a teenager, and locked away by her mother as punishment.

    But this was different. In that instance, he'd been the one to initiate the interaction. In this dream, young Evaline was talking to him like they had already known each other. She knew his name, and she knew he was there, and was drawing him into the conversation.

    "I..." he said, barely audible. His voice sounded high pitched and nervous, and he cleared his throat. "No. You don't have a baby power."

    But as the words came out of his mouth, he realized that something was wrong. The voice was his, but he sounded like a child. When he looked down at himself, he realized that he was, in fact, a child. A child version of himself, wearing the same uniform that Elias had on.

    It was surreal. He was a child again. That was why the perspective felt so strange.

    "See?" Evaline said over to Elias. "I don't have a baby power."

    "I mean, it's not your main power though. I think... Right?" Elias said back.

    "I don't know... I wish it was," she said with a sigh.

    "I know what we could do!" Elias said with another bright grin, hopping off the swing and setting his hands on his hips. "Arima helped you with your baby power. Why can't James help you with your big girl power?"

    "Don't call it that," Evaline simply grumbled in reply.

    "What do you think, James?" Elias said as he turned towards him expectedly.

    "I think you can just call it a power," James said slowly, still disturbed by his childlike voice. It was one thing to experience someone else's memories -- even a child's -- through their perspective. But it almost felt violating to be thrown into his former self. "And I guess I could help you, Ev-- uh."

    He hesitated. He didn't know how fragile this dream was. Was it going to turn into a nightmare?

    "I don't really know how, though," he said quietly. "I can try."

    Elias hopped to him, draping his arm around his shoulder and pulling him in. Even if this was just a dream, it felt too real.

    "So neither of you know, but isn't that why you should be together?" Elias teased, and then pulled away, instead tugging on his hand so that he could race back to Evaline with James in tow.

    Evaline sat confused, but didn't protest or resist when Elias pried her hand off the swing's chains. He held both their hands, lifting it up a little higher.

    "See, you're both timey people, but who cares. You're both like crazy smart. You know what's better than one crazy smart brain?" he said as he glanced between the two of them, expecting an answer.

    "Uh..." was all James had to offer.

    "What?" Evaline said tiredly.

    "Two crazy smart brains," Elias said with a grin.

    Evaline forecefully pulled her hand away, shooting Elias a pointed look. "I don't really know how that's helpful. James has a different power than me anyways. It's not the same."

    Without prompt, Elias flicked her forehead with his thumb and forefinger.

    "Ow!" Evaline yelped, flinching and then glaring at him. "What was that for?"

    "You know, for a smarty pants, you overthink things sometimes," he said with a smirk, then turned to James again. "Hey. Hey, James."

    James weakly attempted to pull his hand away from Elias. He didn't know where this dream was going. It felt like Evaline's past was melding with his current reality, and he didn't know if he liked it.

    "What is it, Elias?" he asked.

    "You should go back in time to show Ev how it's done," Elias answered proudly.

    "That's -- how could he show me that?" Evaline challenged, narrowing her eyes at him.

    "I can't go back in time, though," James said. "That's not my power."

    "Or maybe you just don't know how to do it yet," Elias said with another grin. "Do it. I know you can do it. I believe in you!"

    James let out a small sigh of exasperation as he pulled his hand away, this time a little harder so he got out of Elias's grasp.

    "No, I really can't," James said. "My power is to jump forward, not go back."

    "Ooh, then jump forward," Elias continued.

    James glanced at Evaline, then at Elias, and he couldn't help but feel a little helpless.

    "I don't know how to do it on command like that," he said.

    "My parents have tried to teach me before. Maybe it would help if I gave you the same advice?" Evaline asked softly.

    James felt his heart sink into his chest.

    "No..." he said quietly. "It's okay. I'll figure it out, I just need more time."

    "Okay okay, close your eyes and take deeeeep breaths," Elias said like he had all the answers. "I saw Evaline's dad meditate once. Maybe that's supposed to help."

    "I... I don't know if it does," Evaline mumbled, but that didn't stop Elias from scurrying behind James and massaging his shoulders.

    "Are you doing it yet?" he asked.

    "Can you uh... not..." James said faintly as he shook his shoulders to get Elias to stop. "Why do you want me to time travel so badly? I can only go forward, and it's not like I'd be able to prove it to you, anyway."

    "Sometimes, the only step left is forward," Elias said, sounding faraway.

    A few hazy seconds passed, and everything was too bright to see. James had to sharply close his eyes, and before he was ready to open them again, he heard another voice. Evaline's, but this time it was one he was familiar with. It was her voice as an adult.

    "Are you okay?" she asked, sounding concerned.

    James cracked his eyes open, and the sky above him was bright. Streams of sunlight were filtering in through the trees around them, and he could feel that he was lying on the ground of a forest, in a patch of moss and leaves. When his eyes were able to focus, he looked at Evaline more closely, and she was leaning over him with worry in her eyes.

    She looked a little younger. Her hair was longer, and the braid hung over her shoulder, hovering over him. He couldn't quite see himself, but one glance down at his body told him he was himself again. Or at least, older, and an adult. The clothes resembled ones from old memories in Nye, but it didn't quite feel like they were in Nye anymore. The forest smelled like Earth. He didn't know how to describe it.

    "I'm alright," he said distantly, sitting up and looking around the forest.

    "Did you fall asleep again?" Evaline asked with a little laugh, and then extended her arm out for him to take. "Here. I'll help you up."

    James distractedly took her hand, trying to connect this memory to the last. Was he in a memory? It was hard to tell. If this was one that was undone...

    No, that didn't make sense. Neither of them were on earth at this age. Not together.

    "Where are we?" James asked quietly as Evaline helped pull him to his feet.

    That only seemed to make Evaline concerned, and she looked up at his forehead and brushed back his hair, examining for any injuries.

    "Are you sure you're okay? Did you hit your head?" she asked, feeling around his scalp.

    "I don't remember," James said, knowing such a response was far from comforting and wouldn't help to dissuade her concerns, but he couldn't help the confusion in his own mind. It wasn't like he'd woken to another memory. Was this just a dream? A dream of something that could've been, but wasn't? Was this the sort of thing Oliver experienced? Looking into other timelines?

    Evaline pulled away with worry still transparent across her face, and she reached down to take his hand, staring at it as she held his hand.

    "Did you jump forward again?" she asked softly.

    James felt a tug on his heart. This wasn't real. It couldn't be. But something inside of him didn't quite want the dream to end.

    He'd missed hearing her voice.

    James decided he didn't care about the confusion for the moment, and he fixed his eyes on Evaline's face for a moment, studying her. He could see the life and expression in her eyes. She was breathing, and moving, and it felt like she was herself again. Some version of herself that he'd never met, but it was still her.

    He abruptly pulled her into a hug, wrapping his arms around her tightly. Words were forming at the edge of his tongue, but he was too afraid to say them. He was afraid he was going to ruin it, and the dream would collapse, or change again.

    "Oh," was Evaline was able to say in surprise before she wrapped her arms around him too, completing the embrace in still silence. Her hand rubbed against his back up and down.

    James didn't let her go, and he found himself fighting back tears as he rested his head against her shoulder.

    "I love hearing your voice," he said in a whisper, and it only made his eyes water more.

    Evaline let out a breathy laugh. "I guess that's good... since it'll just be us for a while. I hope you don't get tired of it."

    "I won't," James said quickly, pushing back the knot in his throat and blinking to dry his eyes. "I don't think I can. I can't ever take it for granted."

    "...Are you sure you're okay?" Evaline asked quietly, starting to pull back a little, but then decided against it and kept her head perched on his shoulder.

    "Please, just let me have this," James whispered, still not letting go. "I just... I need a hug. Okay?"

    "Okay," Evaline said as she snuggled her head further, holding him even tighter. "I like hugging you anyways."

    "Likewise," James whispered back, closing his eyes.

    He wasn't going to let go.

    He didn't want the moment to end either, but the familiar feeling of his surroundings shifting by him again, but it truly didn't feel like he had let go. By the time he opened his eyes again, he realized he was still hugging.

    "I'm glad we're okay," Evaline said as the other end of the hug, holding him tightly.

    James swallowed back the tightness in his throat again. Evaline was older, now. They were the same age they were in real life. It he wasn't aware it was a dream, he might've felt that it was real.

    "Me too," James replied in a shaky voice.

    He looked around, and it looked like they were in a cave. He was facing the opening that looked like it faced the forested mountains, and it had to be spring or summer, because the plants looked a lush green, like they were in full bloom. The sky was a bright light blue, and the sun was pouring in through the cave opening.

    Standing around them was Elias, Elise, Mel, Alistair, and...

    James's eyes widened, and he couldn't help but stare.

    Arima. She looked almost exactly like the last day he'd seen her.

    Evaline pulled away, but not before delivering a dainty kiss on his forehead. She softly smiled, looking down to find his hand.

    "Everyone's here to see us. We should go," she said softly.

    At this point, James didn't even know what to say. He slightly shook his head in an attempt to shake off the shock, and he nodded, smiling weakly.

    "Yes," he said in agreement, though he didn't know what he was agreeing to. "We should get going."

    The two of them stood up hand-in-hand, walking towards the mouth of the cave where the others waited. The light seemed to stream in brighter and brighter until it enveloped them completely. Or rather, envelop him completely. The dream was shifting forward again, and Evaline's voice pierced through before he could fully see.

    "I like it. It's... I think it's all I've ever wanted," she said.

    James felt his heart twist again. When his vision focused again, he saw that he and Evlaine were sitting together in rocking chairs on a porch. The porch was a little worn, but the view made up for it. The porch overlooked a dirt path that wove through an open garden and then opened up to a small sandy beach at the edge of a large, deep blue lake. In the distance, they could see their friends playing in the water. There was Mel, Alistair, Elias, Elise, even Arima... and somehow James could make all of them out from the distance. He could feel a pair of glasses perched on his nose, and when he looked over to Evaline it seemed that she'd aged a few more years. Now, she looked to be in her mid-30's, if his estimation was right. He could see the subtle beginnings of smile lines around her mouth and eyes, and her hair was longer again, pulled back into a dark, messy bun on top of her head. She seemed happy and relaxed as she looked ahead of them with a wistful look in her eyes.

    In the distance, they could hear their friends' laughter.

    When he turned his head to look back at the house, it looked like it was just a little cottage. Simple, but cozy. When he looked back to Evaline and looked at her a little more closely, his eyes fell to her hand, which rested on the edge of the rocking chair's arm.

    She was wearing a silver ring, and when he looked to his own right hand, he saw he had one to match.

    There was a strange feeling that spun in his stomach. Love, butterflies, and a deep sadness.

    Because, deep down, he still knew none of this was real. And it might never be possible.

    He finally looked back up to Evaline, knowing that he'd let her words hang in the air for a while. But she didn't look like she was in a hurry to speak. She was just waiting. Patiently.

    He swallowed down another pang of sadness.

    "Would you say..." he asked slowly. "That this, in a way, is the fulfillment of a dream?"

    "Maybe not a dream," Evaline said with the same wistful expression, then tore her gaze away from the lake to look at James with a small smile. "Dreams are temporary. I'd like to think this is more permanent."

    That made James's heart hurt even more. He tried to offer Evaline a small smile, but looked down to her hand in sadness. His eyes landed on the ring.

    "Me too," he said softly.

    Evaline reached out to take his hand. Even if this was a dream, it all felt so real. Her skin, her touch, the ring. It was so vivid.

    "I know it's missing some things and not everything you've ever wanted, and I don't think we can just change that, but... sometimes, it is nice to dream," she said with a little smile.

    James couldn't meet her eyes.

    "It has you in it," James said quietly. "So by definition, it's everything I've ever wanted."

    "I know," Evaline said just as quietly, otherwise unfazed by his soft words. "But even if you could have kids, I'm not sure I want to pass our powers along... It seems dangerous."

    James couldn't help but feel like he was living out some twisted version of his life. It was almost as if this was what life might've been like if he'd actually been born on earth, and somehow, everything worked out. Elias had joked about what it might've been like if he'd met everyone as kids, and if they'd all been friends before. But now it felt like his mind was trying to make that a reality.

    But why?

    "It's for the best," James said, but his heart wasn't in it. He turned his hand over under hers, intertwining their fingers together. "I don't think I'd want to pass them down either."

    "But it's nice to dream, right?" she said as she held his hand firmly. "If we had a daughter, I think she'd like you more than me."

    James smiled sadly, still looking at their hands.

    "And if we had a son?" he asked quietly.

    "I think he'd still like you more than me," she said with a breathy laugh.

    "I don't think you give yourself enough credit," James said.

    "All I'm saying is that they'd love their father very much," Evaline said with a wider smile.

    James squeezed her hand a little, and it felt both foreign and familiar at the same time.

    "And they'd love you too," he said.

    Evaline squeezed back, letting a small silence linger in the air as she wistfully gazed at their intertwined hands.

    "What would you name our son and daughter?" she asked.

    James smiled and let out a small laugh, but the smile was filled with sadness. It almost felt wrong to be having this conversation in a dream. It felt like he was betraying the real Evaline. Like he was betraying the truth by entertaining it all.

    "I don't know," he said weakly. "Maybe... Allen, if it's a boy. After my father."

    "That's a good name," Evaline said, looking to be in thought. "And if it's a girl?"

    James couldn't shake how uncanny everything felt.

    "Would Amy be too many 'A' names?" he asked.

    "Maybe we'll have to ask for Alistair and Arima's permission first," Evaline said with a faint laugh.

    James smiled weakly.

    "And I'd probably want to talk to Alistair about naming our boy Allen too," James said. "Regardless of the spelling, it would still sound the same."

    "The same as... what?" Evaline said, confused. "Why would Alistair have input on spelling?"

    "Well, because--" James started to say, but ended abruptly as he let his eyes drift back to the lake again.

    Things were starting to fall into place as an unsettling realization sunk in. This whole time, he hadn't seen Alan at all, and he'd never been mentioned, even in reference. Arima was alive, which was already unlike reality. Did that mean Alan didn't even exist?

    James swallowed nervously, and looked over to Evaline.

    "I guess it doesn't matter, anyway," he said, flashing another weak smile. "It's just a dream."

    And that, of course, had a double meaning.

    "It's a good thing you woke up from that dream and are living reality," Evaline said steadily, keeping her eyes on him. "I like this reality better. Don't you?"

    James felt a chill pass over him, running down his spine, and he slowly pulled away from Evaline.

    No. He needed to wake up. He still needed to figure out a way to wake up. He'd never come up with anything successful. The only thing that had ever worked was something he said he'd never try again.

    "What's wrong?" Evaline asked, detecting his rising anxiety. "You don't have to wake up, you know. If you dream forever, this reality will be permanent."

    She reached over and brushed his hair behind his ear, a sad longing in her eyes.

    "Don't you want that?" she finished quietly.

    James met her eyes, finally letting tears spring to his eyes, and his lower lips trembled before he pressed them into a line. He could feel his heartrate speeding up, beginning to pound in his chest.

    "But it's not real," he whispered. "You're not real. The real Evaline is waiting for me, in a coma, and I can't just leave her for fiction."

    Hurt flashed across Evaline's eyes, and she turned towards him squarely, picking up his hand and sandwiching between hers as she met his eyes, pleading with him with tears behind her own eyes.

    "Don't leave me," she whispered. "Don't wish me away again."

    "You shouldn't know that," James said steadily, even though tears were streaming down his face. "You were never on Nye."

    "I'm never going to wake up or make you happy again. Don't you want this? Isn't this everything you've ever wanted? Aren't you happy?" she continued with a shaky voice.

    "I don't want it if it's not real," James said, pulling his hands away.

    "I am real, James. I am," Evaline cried, tears falling down her face. She desperately reached out to take his hand again, but hesitated before she could, knowing he would push her away. "Please. I want you to be happy."

    "If the roles were reversed," James whispered. "If I was the one in a coma, and it seemed I would never wake up. Would you fall asleep forever, and give yourself to the happiness of a dream? All just to escape the painful truth?"

    "This isn't about me. This is about you," Evaline whispered back with pleading eyes, silent tears streaming down her face. "I'm trying to save you from a lifetime of hurt. Don't you see that?"

    "How is that fair?" James said, his voice strained. "Why can't I have a lifetime of hurt with you? The real you? Is that so wrong?"

    "Because if I let you do this, I'd break my promise. My promise that I wouldn't hurt you again," she said faintly, holding back a cry.

    James took in a deep breath, steadying his breath as he slowly reached out and rested his hand back over Evaline's, not pulling away this time.

    "I already told you," he said softly. "That's an impossible promise. It's not one you have to keep. You are not responsible for my happiness, Evaline."

    He was. And that was why he was doing so poorly at maintaining it.

    "Let it go. It's okay."

    It almost felt like he was talking to himself. In the back of his head, it felt like he was looking at the real Evaline. He'd said this to her before. He wondered if she really believed it.

    Evaline held his hand with both of hers, pulling his hand close to her face. "I don't want to. I don't want to let you go. All I want is for you to be happy. For us to be happy," she said with glossy eyes, not dropping eye contact.

    "And I want Evaline to be happy," James said under his breath.

    With tears streaming down his face, he slid to the edge of his rocking chair and leaned in towards her, pulling her hands closer as he layered his other hand around hers. He lifted her fingers to his lips and kissed them, and in his heart he knew he was saying goodbye. They couldn't stay like this forever.

    Arima was dead. Alan was dead. James was from Nye, and Evaline was in a coma. Everything was just a dream, and he knew it wouldn't last. Even if he wanted it to, he knew with his history, he would wake up soon anyway.

    "Is that what you want?" Evaline whispered. "Will you truly be happy if you go back to the real me?"

    James still held her hand to his lips, and his mouth spread into a small, sad smile.

    "So you agree that it's not real too," he said softly with a puff through his nose. Then he looked up to meet her eyes, just for a moment.

    "I'm sorry," he said. "This is where I have to say goodbye."

    He closed his eyes, and tried to let go of her hands with a long sigh. Evaline didn't pull away just yet, still firmly holding on.

    "I love you, James," she said softly, then finally let go. "I'll never let you go. But if you want to let me go, I will let you."

    That made James's heart twist in knots, but he didn't open his eyes, even though he felt new tears push at the back of his eyelids.

    That was the thing. He wasn't letting her go. Not really.

    He was letting go of a dream to return to her. He wished his mind would let him believe that, because even though it wasn't real, a small part of him wanted to doubt. Evaline's voice sounded so real, and he couldn't deny that it still hurt to hear her say those words, and to think that he'd hurt her, when she so badly didn't want to hurt him.
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soundofmind says...

James woke up on the floor with an ache in his chest. His face felt puffy, and when he lifted his hands to rub his eyes, he could feel crusted tears on his cheeks and the remnants of tears hanging on to his eyelashes. He tried to scrub it all away as he sat up slowly, taking in a deep breath.

He couldn't help but wonder if he'd managed to cry in his sleep enough for it to be audible. Would Evaline have heard him? Or was she still asleep?

James's eyes wandered first to the window, and it looked like the sun was still down, but the sky was just starting to turn a lighter hue of blue. The sun would rise within the hour, which meant he didn't lose too much more sleep than usual. He was always awake by sunrise, anyway.

But this felt different. In all his years, he'd grown used to bad dreams and nightmares. He'd even begun to grow used to the memories, when they crept past the barriers he tried to keep up. He'd grown used to the feeling of waking up with a hole in his chest, like someone had taken something from him in his sleep, never to return it.

But this dream had actually been nice. It had been nice until he'd ruined it, and even then, Evaline -- in the dream -- hadn't attacked him, or turned sour.

She'd pleaded with him to stay. As if the world inside his head was one of its own.

He shook his head, pinching his eyes shut for a moment as he took in a deep breath.

It was just a dream. It was just a dream.

James forced himself to his feet and turned to Evaline. With slothful movements, he grabbed the chair by the bed and sat down heavily, leaning forward as he looked at her.

Predictably, not a thing had changed. She was still, unresponsive, and her eyes remained closed.

"I don't even know if you're awake," he said softly. "I guess you probably have all the time in the world to nap, if you wanted. I'm not sure how I'd even know..."

He sighed, rubbing his face with his hands.

"I don't know why I even bother trying to small-talk with myself," he said, his voice tired. "I don't know. I'm stalling. I'm just trying to figure out how to..."

He sighed again, this time with more frustration, but the frustration was solely aimed at himself.

"It's been a while since I've dreamed anything. The whole time we've been here, I've been able to keep out the memories. But this was different. It wasn't like a memory. It was like one of your memories melded with mine, and instead of it just being that... it was like an entirely different timeline. No -- like, an alternate reality, even. One where I was born on earth, and Alan never existed, and it was almost like I'd taken his place. It was a storyline where everything worked out, except that he wasn't in the picture. And it was fine, for a dream, until you became aware that I was aware that it was all a dream. And then you were begging me to stay."

Tears sprung to his eyes again, and he didn't even know why. None of what he was talking about was real. It was just a dream.

"I never would," he said, trying not to blink. "I would never leave you. That's why I had to wake up."

James let out a weak, tearful laugh as he shook his head and then bowed it, resting his arms over his knees.

"I probably sound like I'm mixing things up again," he said with a strained voice. "What's real and what's not. But I didn't believe that the dream was real. The whole time, I knew it wasn't, and that was almost what made it worse. Nothing went wrong, and I couldn't enjoy it for a second because I knew it was fake. And yet, for a moment, I almost considered the thought of staying -- not that it was even possible."

He swallowed down a knot in his throat and steadied his voice.

"You know, it didn't even have to do with the ideal circumstances, with us being safe, and having all of our friends with us. The only reason I really wanted to stay was so that I could keep hearing your voice," he said in a whisper.

"I know you'd probably give anything to say something in reply," James said as tears streamed down his face again. "And I know this is probably hard to hear, because it hurts. I'm sorry if it's too much. I know there's nothing either of us can do about it, and I know it doesn't help to wallow in it."

James slowly reached out to take Evaline's hand. The real Evaline's hand. He pulled it closer to him, holding her hand between both of his and drawing it to his chin.

"And I know you're still here," he whispered. "But I can't help but feel like I miss you. The whole you. I miss your voice, and your laugh, and your smile. I miss your grumpy frowns, and your furrowed brows, and your cries, and everything in-between. I can't believe I took it all for granted."

He held her hand to his cheek, letting his tears reach her fingers, and he guided her fingers to wipe them away.

"I know you'd probably want to," he whispered. "If you could. I hope it's not too presumptuous..."

He paused, feeling his throat choke up again, and he sniffed as he tried to push it back down, but that made the tears fall faster.

"You know," he whispered hoarsely. "In the dream... it kept hopping forward. It started out with us as kids, and Elias was there too, trying to play matchmaker. Then it skipped to when we'd grown up, and it was just you and me for a moment. You seemed confused and worried when all I did was hug you, but I couldn't help it. And then at the end, we were even older. It was like a picture of what life might've looked like ten years from now, but in another reality, and another time. All of your childhood friends were there. Alistair, Mel, Arima, Elias... everyone but Alan. You and I were sitting on the back of a porch overlooking a lake where they all were swimming and laughing, and it was like something out of a storybook. The two of us, sitting on the back porch of a cottage in rocking chairs, getting older together."

James closed his eyes, still holding Evaline's hand to his cheek.

"And you seemed wistful, and happy. You said it was everything you'd ever wanted."

He sniffed again, wondering if he should say the rest.

"And I think we were married," he said softly. "We both had matching silver rings."

He stayed still like that for a moment, just holding her hand to his face, feeling the lull of sadness pooling in his chest as he let the emotions fester.

"It was just a dream," he whispered, slowly pulling his face away from their hands. "But it really did feel real."

He turned his attention to Evaline's face, and he couldn't help but wonder if he'd said too much. He felt guilty, and he frowned, only to himself, since she couldn't see.

"Maybe I just need to... shake it off," he muttered, slowly setting her hand back down on the bed. "I haven't had a dream that vivid in a while, but I guess I was due to have one. The uncanny feelings will fade with time. I'll be alright."

He took in a deep breath and got to his feet.

"I would thank you for listening, but I know you don't have much of a choice," James said softly. "Still, though. Thank you."
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Carina says...

It was the third month of being in the mines.

To be honest, Elias thought they were going to be in here for maybe a week, max. He didn't know too much about it, but he did know that they were going to travel to the coastal safe zone. It would have been kind of nice to live by a beach.

But mountains weren't so bad, either. It was pretty peaceful. Then again, he'd also be okay with living in plains. Hell, he'd live in the polar ice caps if it meant he could be with everyone again. Elias wasn't picky.

Still, the days did feel like it was drawing on, and with each passing day, he wondered how long they'd stay here. There were talks about moving to another smaller nearby safe zone, but there was a silent tension in the air because it all came down to Evaline. Her current state was the main reason why they hadn't moved, and if she was never going to wake up, then it'd be difficult to plan out where and what to do.

Elias didn't really worry about those details. He always had hope Evaline would wake up. It had been three months after all... And he waited for nine. She'd wake up eventually, right?

Regardless, over the course of the month, Elias had been wrestling with the thought of talking to her privately again. Surely that much time in her head meant that she had contemplated him, and take in every word he said to James. And even though it pained his heart to think it, he considered talking to her sooner because it would be better to alleviate past conflict now than later if she was forever going to be in this state.

So when he had fallen into his routine of making breakfast for James and knocking on his door, he couldn't help but feel a bit curious when he peeked in and didn't see him around.

"Hello? J? Are you in here?" Elias asked as he stepped in the room and closed the door behind him.

The balcony doors were open to let in the spring breeze, and it was empty. Sleepy was pecking in her chicken feed bowl, pausing to stare at him curiously. And Evaline, of course, was laying down on her bed, her back facing him. James must have shifted her position recently.

Elias hummed for a second, wondering if he should just come back. But... this was the first time he randomly caught James out of the room, and knowing him, he probably wouldn't be gone long.

His eyes drifted back to Evaline, and after another brief hesitation, he walked towards her, setting the breakfast bowl down on the nightstand. He lazily pulled up a chair, scraping it against the floor and sitting on it backwards so he could fold his arms over the back of the chair.

"Hey, Ev. It's me. Elias. Your old pal. Or, uh... I guess I don't really know what we are," he said with a weak laugh, flicking his eyes over to the porch again to make sure James wasn't around, and then to the main door to verify that he hadn't just walked in. He let a long pause draw out, then sighed.

"Yeah, I don't really know if you want me to talk to you if you can't say anything back, and -- actually, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want that," he said as he leaned against his arms on the chair and gazed back at her. "That's why I haven't done it yet. But it's been a few months, and I figure... why not? You've heard me plenty of times, so... I'll just keep piling it on, I guess."

Elias paused again, keeping his eyes on Evaline. Strands of hair fell across her face, and her arms were tucked under her. It really looked like she had turned over to be in a more comfortable sleeping position.

"I figure I'll just... lay everything out. And you don't even need to say anything whenever you wake up. I figured I can just say my side of the story... you know?"

Elias sighed again, taking a deep breath.

"Okay. From the beginning. You already know about Sohiro. And I was designated early on to go to the military. But... I don't know how much you know. Did you know Sohiro was also Alan's recruiter? I don't know if he was his recruiter-trainer... or mentor... or what. But that was part of the reason why I stayed. I could have left earlier, but I didn't want to, and neither did Sohiro since I was being used as--"

Elias faltered, finding himself unable to finish the sentence. He bit back the tender childhood memories, refusing to relive it in his head, and refusing to reveal those personal moments. He didn't want Evaline or his friends to remember Alan in those ways. It didn't even matter now since it was so long ago, and they were so young.

"It doesn't matter," Elias said, echoing his own thoughts. "You know, I'm glad I was able to stay longer, even if my time was limited. I agree maybe it was a little selfish... but it was nice being with you, and Mel, and Alistair. I know I spent more time with Mel than you towards the end, and I'm sorry for that."

He paused again, looking up at the ceiling and squinting, trying to think.

"When did we meet again? Five, six years old? I'm pretty sure it took me a whole year to figure out you were Alina and Everett's daughter," he said with another little laugh. "And it took me another few years to really even know who they were. But maybe that was part of the charm back then, huh? I saw you as Evaline, not just some future ruler? And I think that's better. Only being known as a child heir or prodigy seems like a lot of pressure."

Elias stared at Evaline, feeling his heart get pricked by a deep sadness when he recalled James saying what Alina did before Oliver tried to poison her that day three months ago. Evaline had confided in him years ago what her parents would do to her, and Elias would tell her about Sohiro in return, and for whatever reason they kept this as a little secret they shared. He wondered if things would have been different if they had told Mel, Alistair, their teacher, or any other adult.

He didn't like that he was sure nothing would have changed.

"I'm getting a little off topic here," Elias continued. "I did want to talk about that day... You know, before everything changed. I was so out of it, I didn't even really know what was going on in your life. I felt like I hit a dead-end. The trainings were getting worse, I was giving up, and I didn't want to graduate. I contemplated a lot of things in that last month... Running away was one of them. I wished I took that option more seriously, like you did."

Elias deeply sighed again. He did mean it.

"That homeroom class was the last time we'd be together before we parted ways, and I didn't want to talk to anyone because it was easier, I think, at the time. I was a dumb teenage kid. We all were. God, the breakup with Mel was a disaster and I'm glad she doesn't think about it now... I hope. I don't actually know."

He shook his head, stopping himself from getting side-tracked again.

"Anyways, at some point, Alan had come up behind me. And I'm sure you know the story, since apparently you had relived in at least a few times... And I don't know what he wanted. Maybe to console me, or bring everyone together again. But when he touched me, you have to understand -- I panicked."

Elias didn't know what else to explain. Should he mention that he panicked because Sohiro had trained the two of them at the same time by using him as an example for Alan, and by association, Elias also naturally feared Alan? And because of that, he found himself growing more distant to Evaline? At what point would this apologetic story become too painful and detrimental to tell? Sometimes it was just better to let it go and not reopen old wounds.

"I panicked, and I don't think he meant for me to touch him, but it happened. And I was at a low point that day, so it really didn't take much for me to..."

Elias faltered, and he knew he didn't need to finish the sentence. He watched Evaline closely, looking for a reaction even though he knew he shouldn't expect one.

"It was an accident," he finished softly. "I hope you knew that and can understand that. By the time I became conscious again, you called me a monster. And I still remember it since those were the last words you said to me."

He looked off to the side, in thought.

"You know, I never did technically graduate since I was drafted away after that. Although, I don't even think I passed all my classes," he thought out loud.

A small silence passed, and Elias had to force himself to think back to the present story.

"A few years later, and I was at an even lower point in my life at the military," he continued. "They told me that I would be fighting against the rebellion. At that point, everyone knew your name already. And it was weird for me, you know..." His gaze rested back to Evaline. "I was strangely hopeful to meet you again, but also terrified, because I didn't want anything to happen to you."

Elias paused, remembering the day they had infiltrated the base, and not finding Evaline. He still couldn't decide if he was relieved or disappointed. Now that he was in front of her, it was definitely relief.

"And I'm glad nothing did happen," he said. "Now, we're here, and yeah... it's not the best situation to be in. But it's better, right? It's better than me being trapped in the military job, and you being trapped in your refugee con. We could have stayed, but we didn't."

Elias wasn't sure what else to say. It felt like he said a whole lot without coming up with a conclusion, but since the conversation was one-sided, it was hard to gauge how she'd react. He wasn't even sure how he should react.

"I guess I'm only telling you all this because I know this conversation would be hard to have, and you're a good listener. You always have been. And... well, I wanted you to know everything from my point of view. I know you're probably upset with what happened... and I don't blame you if you blame me. I've never stopped thinking about everything that went wrong, but I do think back on my times as a kid any time I was at a low point. A lot of the time, it was memories involving you. I do miss you, and I do care about you still. I know we're all different now, but..."

Elias offered a small, sad smile to her even though she couldn't see it.

"Isn't that what makes it even better? We could figure out what changed and whatnot? It'd be really boring if you were the same person forever," he said, then paused for just a moment. "I'm sorry if I've caused any pain throughout the years. It was never intentional. And I know it sucks that you can't say anything right now. I have no clue what's running through your mind... But I have an idea."

He looked down at her arm, then hesitated before reaching out to touch her.

"I have a memory I want to show you. It's of James, your favorite guy. He's all excited to see with his new glasses, and -- hey, I guess you can see that too. It's like, boxier and has metal frames. Not as sophisticated looking... as, uh, Alan's. Not that I'm making the comparison. Anyways..."

Elias cleared his throat and firmly grabbed her, tapping his forefinger on her skin. It was strangely nice to get to feel her again. He had only been observing her from a distance all these months.

"I'm ready to show you if you want to see it. It's up to you," he said, remembering that she'd have to trust him in order to see it.

That was what this was: a way to see if he was slowly regaining her trust.

A long moment passed, and Elias closed his eyes, concentrating on the memory in case that helped her out. It felt like an eternity had passed until...

It wasn't that different than what he was feeling now. Not really. But a small bit of excitement washed over him, and he knew that this meant Evaline had accepted his memory. A grin tugged his lips, and he slowly pulled away, proudly peering over her.

"You can't see it, but I'm grinning," he said, only making his grin wider. "And I feel like, if you could, you'd groan and tell me not to make a big deal out of it. Unless... you changed? Well, if you did, I'd like to know that Evaline too."

Elias leaned forward on his chair again, the spark of excitement fading away, instead being replaced by a flood of relief.

"I'm glad you trust me again," he said softly, gazing at her sleeping face and wondering what was running through her head. He couldn't help but notice how the strands of hair fell across her face, so he reached over and swished it away, figuring it was annoying her.

"You saw it. James was so excited. The childlike wonder was pretty cute. He was so excited to see everything... and see you."

Elias paused again, leaning more heavily against his chair as he swam in his own thoughts.

"I like James. He's a good guy. I mean, not that it matters if I like him or not, but... you picked a good one. He's nice, genuine... and he really cares about you. We all do, but he really cares about you. I wish you could see that he does. You probably figured it out by now, but I know it's not enough."

And suddenly a thought occurred to him: she could see that he cared about her, just in Elias's point of view.

"Was the memory I shared the first time you've seen James since sleeping? I could share more memories of him, you know. They might be kind of plain, and I don't know if it'd work since they're not super significant, but it's worth a try."

Elias reached out to touch her again, this time his hand falling in hers. He didn't curl his fingers towards her, instead simply setting his hand on top of hers.

"Do you want to try? Let's try. I just have to think..."
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Carina says...

The door to the room opened, and as Elias whipped up his head, he saw James step in. James froze in the doorway for a moment as he looked at Elias, and then Evaline, and Elias again.

"Oh," James said, sounding surprised to see him. But he didn't seem upset. "Elias. Were you..."

He saw James's eyes fall to Elias and Evaline's hands, and Elias slowly pulled away, suddenly feeling a little embarrassed.

"I'm sorry. Did I interrupt something?" James asked.

"Hah," Elias said as he casually stretched his hand he pulled away to scratch the back of his head. "Nope. It's your room. Welcome back. Hope you don't mind that I was just, uh, talking to Evaline."

James took another step into the room and gently closed the door behind him.

"I don't mind at all," James said with a small nod of his head as he walked up around the other side of the bed and pulled out a chair from the table, pulling it up to the head of the bed beside Evaline. He paused, though, still standing with his hand on the back of the chair.

"Did you... want a moment alone with her?" James asked. "I can come back in a bit if you want."

"No, it's fine. I said all I wanted to say already, so you came in at a perfect time," Elias said quickly with a reassuring smile, slowly dropping his hand. "Well, I guess you walked in right when I was about to show her more memories of you. So, that was weird timing."

James's eyebrows shot up, and his eyes lit up a little as he sat down in his chair, looking to Elias attentively.

"Oh, so it worked? That's good. I'm glad you were able to share-- well, I don't know what you shared, but, I'm glad you did," James said with a small smile.

"I don't know exactly what she saw either since I kind of just thought of the general memory," Elias said with a wider smile, pleased that James was glad. "But I was thinking of what you said before. You know, the memory of you first getting glasses. I figured she'd want to see how excited you were. And your glasses. Oh, and you, obviously. All of the memories you share are in your point of view, so I thought she'd like to see you from someone else's eyes."

James stared at Elias for a moment before he nodded quickly.

"Of course," he said. "That's very thoughtful of you."

"Very thoughtful of you," Elias corrected. "...Right? It was your idea, right?"

"Oh," James said with a little laugh as he looked down. "Yeah. Right."

James cleared his throat.

"So uh. Did you have breakfast already?" James asked.

"Oh yeah," Elias said with a chuckle as his eyes landed on the bowl of oatmeal he brought for James when he first came in the room. He had forgotten completely about it. "Your breakfast is on the nightstand."

"Ah," James said with a nod. Conveniently, James had sat himself right next to the nightstand, so all he had to do was look to the left. He quickly found the bowl and picked it up, poking around the oatmeal with a spoon.

"Thanks," he said as he took a bite.

"Yeah, no problem," Elias said as he glanced between James and Evaline. "So, where'd you go off to this morning? I thought you never left this room," he joked.

"I was at the stables," James said through chews. "With Elliot."

"Oh, right, right. Elliot." Elias hummed for a second, drumming his palms against his knees. "Maybe Elliot can live here too. Then you really don't ever have to leave."

James glanced aroudn the room.

"I wouldn't want to bring a horse in here," he said. "It would be a little crowded, don't you think?"

Elias pursed his lips, looking over his shoulder at the wall behind him. "We can tear this wall down and expand the room. Home renovation. Cave renovation? Either way, it'd be more room."

"I don't think anyone has a power to bend the earth or the rocks to their will," James said, holding his spoon in front of him. "Which would mean we'd have to do it the hard way, with--"

"Our muscles," Elias interrupted with a grin. "This is the real reason we've been lifting."

"That's... I was going to say pickaxes. Or explosives. Our muscles won't break through feet of solid rock," James said.

"Then we'll have to get even stronger," Elias continued. "We've got lots of time. We don't stop until we're ripped enough to rip walls."

"That's-- Elias, that's not even humanly possible," James said. "You know that. Right?"

Of course he knew that, but Elias found himself enjoying the possibility, and the fact that James thought he was serious. It almost felt like he was picking on Samiya, or even Evaline.

"It's not just our arms. We can't skip out on leg day either. So not only would we punch down walls, we would kick them," he said, continuing to think out loud.

James watched Elias for a moment, and for a second it almost looked like he was about to smile, but then he shook his head and took another bite of oatmeal.

"Guess that means we'll have to exercise more, then," he said.

Elias nodded eagerly. "Yeah. You know that really steep hill through the tunnels? We'll walk up and down it every day for three times."

"Sounds like a plan," James said. "Except maybe we can increase it by three every week. So, we start with three times a day. Then six times. You know, and we speed up each time."

"I like how you think," Elias said with a grin. "And then after that, we start going up the hill by rolling a giant boulder. If we can't go up the hill and push the boulder, we'd get crushed. We have to rise the stakes somehow."

"That... well we'd have to have some kind of backup just in case," James said slowly.

"You run really fast. That's part of the cardio training," Elias said with a hand fluorish.

"Away from the boulder, or just out of the way to the side?" James asked.

"Yes," Elias answered.

"...Okay," James said with a small nod. He took another bite of oatmeal, his spoon clanking against the bowl.

"Maybe I shouldn't show Evaline any more memories from here on out so she'd be surprised by your muslces when she wakes up," Elias mused.

James narrowed his eyes at Elias with a small look of annoyance, but his mouth was full, and he was still chewing.

Elias pursed his lips, leaning back on his chair and continuing to idly say his thoughts out loud. "Or maybe I should show them, 'cause she'd want to see you being all muscley."

"Elias," James said after he swallowed his food. "Don't make it weird."

"It's only weird if you make it weird," Elias said innocently with a smirk. "Are you making it weird?"

"...No," James said, averting his eyes down into his oatmeal. Elias noticed he took a much bigger spoonful this time, enough to fill his cheeks a little as he chewed.

"I feel like you're making it weird," Elias said suspciously, leaning forward.

"Mo I'm mot," James mumbled, muffled through his mouthful of food.

"Maybe Evaline will be so overwhelmed by your abs that she'd wake up," Elias teased.

James made a choking sound, and his spoon clattered into his bowl as he set it in his lap and turned his head to the side. James half hid his face behind his hand and pounded his chest.

"Whoa, are you okay?" Elias asked, flicking his eyes between the spoon and his partly hidden face.

"I'm fine," James said in a faint wheeze, coughing. "Swallowed down the wrong way."

"Hmm, yeah, that could also wake Evaline up too, I guess," Elias said, continuing to drum his palms against his knees.

James continued to cough, and he watched as James reached over for the glass of water on the side-table and started to chug it. He pulled it away, though, sputtering, like he was still coughing a little.

"Thirsty?" Elias said when he finished, watching him in awe.

"I swear to gods," James muttered, not looking at Elias. "Just. Not while I'm eating. Gods."

"Hey, I'm just brainstorming possible ways she'd wake up," Elias said innocently, not hiding the grin plastered across his face. "It's possible. Right? Don't you think so?"

James facepalmed, and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his forefinger and thumb, still looking down and covering his eyes.

"Elias, she'd have to want to see--" James started to say, but he cut himself off as he let out a longsuffering sigh.

"See your abs?" Elias offered when James didn't finish.

James dragged his hand down his face as he lifted his head to look up at Elias.

"I don't even..." James trailed off.

"Like oats?" Elias finished again. "I don't know how anyone can continue to like it after three months of eating it everyday."

"Yes," James said flatly. "It does become a bore."

"So, what were we talking about before?" Elias continued, forcing himself to go back to whatever topic was flustering him so much.

"Sleepy," James said. "She's by your feet. She probably wants you to hold her."

"We were not -- oh, hey, little chicken," Elias started to say, then cooed as he bent down to swoop her up in his arms. "Where'd you come from? You're here because..."

He slowly looked towards James, tilting his head down expectedly while meeting his eyes. Now it was his turn to finish his sentence.

"She wants attention, probably," James suggested. "I don't take her to the stables anymore because Bongo always looks at her like she's his next treat."

"Well, that's rude," Elias huffed, petting her and plucking away some random pebbles stuck in her feathers. "Maybe she needs some chicken friends. It's too bad none of her eggs can hatch to more chickens. She could've been friends with all her children."

"We'd need a rooster for that," James said. "Not another chicken."

"Think we'll find a rooster walking around the mountains?"

"If there were ever any roosters in these mountains, they were probably eaten by predators long ago," James said. "These forests aren't exactly--"

While James talked, Elias flung his hands over Sleepy's ears (or at least, where he thought ears would be, since he didn't exactly know where a chicken's ear holes were), and he looked up at James with fake horror across his face.

"James!" he scolded. "You can't talk about Sleepy's dead suitors like that!"

"It's hypothetical," James said.

Elias hummed, slowly releasing Sleepy's head. She seemed a bit confused over what happened, but content with staying on his lap.

"So hypothetically, if there was a rooster in the mountains, it would probably make rooster sounds in the morning, right?" Elias asked instead.

"Maybe," James said. "I don't know if wild roosters like to let every living creature within a mile's radius know where they are."

"Maybe it's the rooster's mating call," Elias mused. "It's calling for Sleepy."

"You... you haven't even heard a rooster," James said with a slight laugh through his nose.

"Hey, maybe Evaline would also wake up from a rooster's mating call," Elias said with a smirk. "What do you think?"

"Elias," James said, meeting his eyes with an unamused look.

"There's only one way to find out," Elias said with the smirk still on his face. "Do your rooster call."

"Yeah," James said flatly. "I'm not doing that."

Elias clicked his tongue. "I'm not sure who's more disappointed: Sleepy or Evaline."

"I think they'll both be better off without me doing a mating call," James said, his voice thick with sarcasm.

Elias laughed. Although he didn't get James to make rooster noises, it was a win in his book for him to say he wasn't going to do a mating call.

"That's okay, man. You can do it in secret. I won't judge," Elias teased. "Anything to shock Evaline awake, right?"

"You can't scare someone awake out of a coma," James said with a sigh.

"I think you're on to something here," Elias said as he focused on Sleepy's rhythmic petting so he could think better. "Maybe you can laugh her awake. So you have to share all your best jokes out loud. She'd be tempted to laugh so much she'd have to wake up."

"Elias," James said with another sigh. He looked down into his bowl of oatmeal which was half-eaten. "I'm not sure I even have any jokes to tell."

Elias looked at him in disbelief, raising an eyebrow. "You're saying you've never made her laugh?" he asked.

"What?" James asked, looking back up quickly. "No. I just -- it's not like I memorize jokes. It's different telling one that's like, set up, as opposed to telling contextually relevant ones based on current circumstances."

Elias shrugged. "Nothing wrong with that. Does she find you funny, at least?"

"I... I think so?" James said quietly, looking to Evaline, even though she could neither confirm nor deny.

Elias pursed his lips in thought, also staring at Evaline. "Well, I'd like to think it's a yes. I feel like you share the same type of humor, so that counts for something."


"You're welcome," Elias said back, although he'd already forgotten what he was thanking him for. "Add that to the list of questions you'll ask her when she does wake up. 'Hey, Evaline, do you think I'm funny?'"

"I don't think that will be my number one priority," James said. "But... sure. I guess."

"Ooh, what is?" he asked.

"If she's able to say anything, I'd rather she get to speak first," James said. "I can't imagine how agonizing it must be to be forced to hold your peace for so long. I've talked to her enough, I think. I want to hear what she has to say first."

Elias nodded. It was kind, and thoughtful. As expected of James.

"And your second priority?" he asked.

"...In general?" James asked.

"Uh... is there another option?" Elias asked slowly, not sure what else he could mean.

"I mean," James said just as slowly. "I think... I'd just want to give her a hug."

Elias nodded again. Made sense.

"And your third priority?" he continued to ask.

"Elias, are you just going to keep going? Asking about the fourth, fifth, and sixth..." James twirled his hand.

"I was just wondering what priority was asking her if she thinks you're funny," he said innocently.

"I don't know," James said. "It's far down the list."

Elias huffed through his nose. "So... not top ten?"

"No," James said. "Sorry to disappoint you."

"That's okay. I'll just ask her for you," he said with a shrug. "It's top ten in my list. No, wait... top five."

James laughed lightly and shook his head.

"You do that, then," he said.

"I will," Elias said confidently. "Just you wait."
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Carina says...

Time passed differently in a coma. The days and nights started to meld together, and sometimes the days felt long, and other times it felt short. Sleep and consciousness blended into one, and it was more common in the beginning, but Evaline found herself fighting to keep her routine the same as the one consistency she could grab onto: James.

"Good night, Evaline," he'd say after a kiss on her forehead, and she'd know that she should rest, even though she consistently felt so well-rested, she was tired.

"Good morning, Evaline," he'd say while holding her hand, and she'd know she should fight back the sleep and stay up to listen to his spiel.

Time passed differently in her head, but it was thanks to James's everyday morning talks that she knew how much time had passed. Months. Approaching their fourth month now. She had been trapped in her own mind and body for this long, and yet, he consistently stayed. Over and over, she'd hear that in conversation.

It felt like she was stuck in a cave under the deep sea, and she'd look up and see a light in the distance. She'd reach out, but that was all she could ever do. Just reach and know that there was more out there, but she couldn't move.

Evaline would do anything to move and speak to console James, especially on the days where he vocalized that he missed her. Not being able to react made her feel more deeply, and there were far too many times that she wished she could send even one tear to show that she was listening, that she heard him, and she loved him with every ounce of her soul.

There were so many things she wanted to say and do, but she couldn't do any of it. She only felt herself sinking deeper and deeper in the abyss of her mind, only being lifted up any time James talked to her like she was there.

So many things went wrong four months ago. With Oliver, and Ovrell, and her mom... with Arima... and then with her stupid impulsive decision to remove her power without talking about it with Elise.

Because that was where everything ever went wrong, wasn't it? If she couldn't go back in time and never had to think about using it to her advantage by saving herself or others, then things would be better off, right? She'd be able to finally begin her life without carrying a burden or distributing it to others.

But now she was only a burden.

The first month was the hardest. But now, after four months of hazy memories and voices, she knew she was aligning herself with James's schedule, but it felt like she was withering away, only being able to hear him voice his thoughts out loud.

"The adjustments have been helping," James said. "Even if I don't feel everything, I do feel a difference. Oddly enough, I think it's helping me sleep a little better, too, having my back in better alignment, which has been nice. Of course, I still don't sleep for very long, but at least I manage to sleep a little deeper, with less discomfort. It's the little things."

Evaline had grown used to exercising her inner voice to respond like she was there, but everyday she was finding it harder to put her heart into it. But she couldn't ever stop herself. It was the closest to a conversation she'd be able to have.

"It's not a 'little thing,' you know," she'd say if she was present with him. "Good sleep and an aligned back is big. It's not only better in the short-term, but in the long-term as well. Your health is important. You might not realize it, but I do, and it makes me happy to hear that you're feeling better everyday, even if it's small to you."

"I think it helps that I've been staying active," James went on. "It's been fun to work out with Elias. He keeps me on my toes. And he's very encouraging. It gives us something to do while the others are out, or busy, which is often."

"You know... I used to have mixed feeling when you became friends with Elias. But now it's almost... I'm not sure what the word is. Nice?" she thought to herself. "Would you consider this to be forgiveness? I know you're an expert of it. Far more than I ever was..."

There was a long pause, and she could hear James sigh as his thumb brushed over her hand.

"You know," he said softly. "I keep finding myself thinking about that dream I had about two months ago, now. Where things were different, and we were growing old together, here on earth. I don't know about you, but I guess... sometimes it's hard to think of the future, with the way things are right now."

Evaline felt her heart sink. Not of dread, but because she thought of the uncertain future a lot too. If she could send one message to him, it would be this.

"I think about that dream too. I want it to be a reality too. I would do anything for it. I would do anything to be there for you. I would do anything to see you smile again, and know that you're happy. You've told me that it's not my burden to bear, but... is it wrong to want that? Is it wrong that my happiness is yours? "

"But I do like to imagine that somehow, things work out. I know at this point it's foolish to hope, and I feel like everyone keeps trying to quietly convince me to just let go of it. I can hear it in the way they talk to me. How they step around certain topics. Namely you, or what's next. I can see it in the way their eyes will linger on me with pity when they think I'm not paying attention. And I know there's no guarantees..."

"I know," she thought to herself, willing over and over for her lips to say the words, but she knew she couldn't. "I hear it too. James, I know you wouldn't leave me... but your misery is my misery, and it breaks me heart that I'm robbing you of the pleasure to receive love. You do know that I wouldn't take offense if you do decide to, one day, find love from someone else... right? I'm sorry I can't give it to you right now, or possibly ever. And I'll still love you no matter what, even if you're finding it hard to keep your love for me. It's okay. I just want you to be happy."

"But regardless of what things are going to look like," he whispered. "I still choose you. Everyone keeps making it seem like I'm a hero for not wanting to leave your side, but I honestly don't understand it. I could never imagine leaving the one that I love like this. Alone. You're still worth it, to me."

She could feel his other hand brush up against her forehead, catching onto her hair and gently holding her cheek.

Evaline wanted to cry and be vulnerable. Somehow, being trapped in her own head felt more exposing even though no one could hear or see her. She wanted to sob, she wanted to hold James, she wanted to ask why, even if she knew he would go on to say a long spiel that would only bring more vulnerable tears.

"I love you," he said, barely audible.

"I love you too," was what she wished she could say back, but even then, the words didn't feel like enough. Words were never enough. She wished she could prove it. She wished she could be there for him. She wished she could be more than someone he loved before she was like this.

Evaline knew that James loved her for her, but she couldn't help but feel like that part of her was dying away, being replaced by a silent body that he talked to every day. Of all the people he had chosen to love, he found the person with the slowest and most painful ending.

They had talked about how their meeting was fate, but that didn't mean that she was the right person for him.

But maybe that didn't matter. After all, she didn't believe in finding the 'right' person for a successful relationship. Instead, it was about learning to love the person she found.

And she had quite literally found James while stumbling in the dark, running from danger. But would he relearn to love her the way she was?

Evaline could hear Mel's voice at the back of her mind telling her that he would. Or maybe it was her own voice. She recalled saying this to Mel once, and it was funny... because that was the day she had told James she still loved him.

Turns out, she didn't need to learn to love a changed person to keep loving them. She simply didn't have the ability to un-love someone.

"That..." James said suddenly, his voice faint. "What was... was that... you?"

Evaline didn't know what he was talking about. Panic coursed through her, really feeling exposed now even though she had no clue what he was talking about.

"I saw your memory?" James whispered, and he pulled his hand away from her face slowly, while his fingers curled a little tighter around her hand. "You were talking to Mel. I don't -- it didn't seem like one you undid. I didn't fall asleep. I-- I feel--"

James continued to stutter, and it was clear that he was confused. It was unclear if he was panicking or not, but Evaline didn't know if she should be panicking even more. Was he saying... she shared her memory with him? Not the other way around?

"It was just you two. You were getting water by a pond. It felt like this would've been months ago. Was this... was it you, or me? I mean, I wasn't thinking about it. I wasn't even in the memory. It had to be yours," he processed out loud. "I don't know how."

It was. It was hers. She didn't know how either, but the implication was slowly sinking in.

She... could share her own memories now? She didn't mean to do it before. She didn't even know she could do it. James had shown her some of his... so did that mean... she could keep doing this?

"Are you trying to talk to me?" James whispered. "I'm assuming you didn't know you could do this. I didn't know you could do this."

Evaline didn't want to wait any longer. There was only one way to test it, and she was willing to try. It was strange, not being on the receiving end. But she didn't care. Hope sparked within her, and with James still holding on to her and seemingly suspecting that she would try again, she thought back to the first time she saw him on Earth.

They were both in the council room, and when she looked up to finally see the commotion and she met his eyes, it was like everyone had disappeared from the room, and it was just the two of them. Shock and disbelief coursed through her as he lashed out, but she knew that that simple glance only dusted off an old love that had never left, even if she willed it to.

She wanted James that she truly had never stopped loving him, even after five years of distance, and dulled memories so she could live life without him living in her head all the time.

Evaline didn't stop with the memories. Just like how James had done the same to her months ago with Nye memories, she wanted him to see everything through her eyes too. She didn't know if it was working, but she wanted him to see. She wanted him to know. To listen.

The next memory was of them sitting together overlooking the sea after the Day of Peace. After a day of tension, it felt like she finally could truly talk to him and have a real conversation. She had pointed out that she missed talking to him, and he had made her blushed that day when he told her he didn't miss the conversations or the relationship -- he missed her.

That was the day that she realized she couldn't hide her feelings from herself. Ever since he accidentally shared the dance memories, she had known she was living in denial. Maybe that was why she lashed out after she spent the night at his cottage. She didn't want to love him, but she knew she couldn't un-love him. And she was so scared to know if he loved her back, because then there truly wasn't any hope to stop loving him.

The next memory she moved on to was his birthday. It was an emotional day, and she had planned on telling him that she was going to run away and go as far away as possible from everything and everyone, but abandoned the plans as soon as James confessed his low-point and downward spiral he had been keeping a secret.

That was the day that she told herself she would never even entertain the idea of abandoning him. At the time, she didn't expect him to stick with her forever, but she didn't want to leave him. She promised to herself that she'd make it her goal to find him happiness.

Evaline moved on to the next memory, knowing that James wasn't having enough time to process everything going on, and she was hardly processing it either -- espeically because all the emotions from the memories were melding together. But she didn't care. She was beyond ecstatic that it was working, and she didn't want to stop.

The next memory was a simple one, and it was when James showed her the second verse of the note, and they discovered that the drowning version was made-up and not real. She was beyond relieved and so happy that his version was false, and she wanted James to know that, because she hadn't expressed it very well at the time.

She wanted him to know that she was glad he was alive, and seeing the hope light up in his eyes made her day. They weren't together at the time and still had a lot of unresolved tension, but she was happy that he was one step closer to happiness.

And of course, the memory she wanted to show him next was the day they became official. James had shown this memory to her before... just two months ago, when he discovered with Alistair that her memory power still works in this state.

She wanted to show him from her point of view, now. She wanted him to feel the incredible love she had pent-up for him, and she wanted him to understand how long she had wanted this.

Evaline rushed to think of all the times James had pulled her in, told her he loved her, and told her she was worth it. There were so many, from the New Years countdown kiss to the conlcusion of a heavy conversation in the woods. There were always so many heavy emotions, too. She could feel it wrap around her heart like a warm blanket, and she didn't know how many of these moments James was seeing, but she wanted him to feel it. Because, after he would say that he loved her, she would say it too.

And she wanted to so badly say it to him now.

James was quiet for a moment, but she could feel a slight shift in the position of his hand, indicating a shift in his posture. His touch on her skin became lighter, but he didn't fully pull away. She could hear a quiet, shaky breath, and even though the emotions from the many memories she shared still lingered in her chest, she felt a prick of anxiety from not getting an immediate answer. She wished for the millionth time that she could see to gauge his reaction.

"That... was a lot," he whispered, and she could hear the tears in his voice. "Sorry, I'm-- I just need a second."

"I'm sorry. I should have spaced it out. I just want to talk to you so bad," was what she wanted to say.

"It's nice to hear from you," James said with what sounded like a mixture of faint laughter and tears in his voice. "I thought I was imagining things, but it's real. Somehow, your powers works both ways. I saw everything, and I felt it too."

This changed things. She could communicate with him back, albeit indirectly. Evaline didn't usually believe in hope, but she felt it raging in her chest anyways. It was hope for a future that wasn't as glum as she thought.

"I could tell you were excited," James said. "When all of it came rushing in at once. Is that how it was when I showed you all of my memories of you?"

Evaline wanted to laugh and cry. She hadn't been this happy in... well, not since before she was comatosed.

She could show him her reaction. She remembered it fondly, and she thought back to her time when she was overwhelmed by the many memories he shared with her at Nye just so he could show her what he loved about her. She remembered looking up at him with big, teary eyes, and feeling an intense love she had never felt before. Because his love became her love.

She heard James sniff, and she could tell without seeing him that he was crying.

"Okay," he said softly. "So it was a lot for you, too. I guess I'll have to space them out more next time so I don't overwhelm you."

Evaline imagined how things would have been different if she wasn't in her state. She would have taken both of his hands and spun him around, excited and laughing in glee.

"I don't even care!" she wanted to say with giggles she couldn't stop. "Don't space them out! It doesn't matter! I'm talking to you and that's all that matters!"

"I'm just so happy that we have a way to talk to each other," James said quietly. "Even if it's just through our past memories."

He wrapped his hand around hers a little tighter again, intertwining his fingers with hers.

"Thank you, Eve," he said softly. And she could feel some of his weight leaning on the mattress, and she knew from experience that he was leaning forward. His lips landed on her cheek. Soft, and gentle.

"I love you too."

Even though the emotions from the memories had already faded, Evaline found the intense love return, filling her up and making her feel like she was floating. It was like she was floating up to the top of the sea of darkness, and she was closer and closer to that light that constantly radiated above her.

To James. She felt closer to James no more ever, even if they were still separated like this.

"You're worth it too, James," she wanted to say. "I'll live for you too."

James spent the entire day talking to her after that. He could have gone off and joined Elias in the exercises when he knocked at his door, but James said he wanted to stay by her side today. They had so much time to be together, but he sensed her excitement that she couldn't contain, and he wanted to be there. To listen, to hold her, to talk to her.

They were communicating again. It was in fragments of memories, but they were still communicating.

Evaline wanted to be there for him, always. She couldn't touch him, or say new words, but she could be more clever. Maybe she could string phrases from different memories together to say something new. It was slow, and it was exhausting since there were emotional side-effects, but she wanted to desperately to tell him all her thoughts. She wanted so desperately to be with him and talk to him.

She found herself growing a little sad when James announced that night had fallen and he was growing tired. It was strange how she was now the restless one despite looking asleep, and James was the one who wanted to rest up.

"It was good talking to you today," James said softly. "It's been a long four months, but I think this is progress. It's something. It gives me hope, and I hope it does for you too. I love you, Eve."

She felt him kiss her forehead.

"Goodnight," he whispered. "I'll talk to you in the morning."
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Carina says...

Evaline willed herself again and again to move or react, but she knew she couldn't. It didn't stop herself from trying, though. Instead of answering in her own head, she tried to squeeze his hand, focusing with all her might. She felt him about to pull away, so when it became too hard, she put all of her energy into moving one finger.

She didn't want him to go. She wanted him to stay a little longer.

James had been holding her hand as usual, and she'd felt the tug as he'd almost pulled away. But he seemed to freeze.

"Did you...?"

...move? Did she? She couldn't tell. Evaline wanted to scream from the intense amount of energy she tried to put into her hand again, signaling that she was here and she was trying to move, but nothing happened. She couldn't do it again.

But she did it. Right? She did it?

She could do it again.

James held her hand a little more firmly, and she could feel the shift in his weight and the faint shuffle of his feet as he sat back down.

"Okay," he said softly. "I don't know if I imagined that. But I'm going to assume I didn't. I'll stay."

The minuted trekked by. James still held on to her hand, but she could feel him holding her hand more loosely with time. He was falling asleep, but Evaline didn't mind. She was happy he was staying beside her.

Especially because she was extra determined to make more movement. She willed any part of her body to move, but most of all, she tried to open her eyes.

This felt different. It wasn't like she was blindly reaching out anymore. She didn't know what it was -- maybe it was a coincidence, or maybe it was the revelation of the memory power alteration that fired something within her.

Open your eyes. Open your eyes. You can do it, she told herself, imagining James telling her this too. She wanted this so badly. Not just for her. For James, too.

And the closer she felt she was to opening her eyes, the more tired she felt. It was like she was fighting a lull of long, deep sleep. Opening her eyes would mean the restfulness would be over, but that was what she wanted.

Evaline wanted to live.

And with that, blinding lights pierced her vision. It was like there really was a light that was reaching out for her all these months while she was trapped in the abyss of darkness. She had to squint to see anything except the blinding light attacking her, but it took too many long seconds for her to realize that the light was a literal light. It sat on the nightstand beside her, still lit and illuminating the room.

The room. James. She wanted to see James.

It took a few seconds for her vision to adjust, but her heart swelled when she saw him.

Was this a dream? No. She wanted to believe it was real. It had to be real. Even if it wasn't, she couldn't stop staring at him. She wanted to take it all in. Four months of James.

He was asleep, like she thought, sitting upright with his head tilted to the side, which was bound to wake him up. His hair was remarkably long now, at shoulder-length. He truly did grow it out for her. He also had a full beard, but it was short and trimmed. Last time she saw him, he was wearing winter clothes, but since it was spring now, he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt. She noticed that that the exercising had paid off since he was more toned in his arms and -- she suspected -- his chest, and likely legs too.

She was staring, and she couldn't move anything else. She wanted to wake him up, but she also didn't. She couldn't. Tears pricked her eyes and then fell across her cheek and pillow, and she couldn't even sniff to bite back the snot. She couldn't stop crying, and she couldn't stop staring at him.

He was so close, yet so far. All she had to do was squeeze his hand, and she couldn't.

She watched as James's head suddenly started to nod forward. Before he could fall too far, his head jerked up and his eyes shot open and he blearily blinked his eyes in her direction, but his gaze was unfocused. He squinted into the room and looked over towards the side-table, reaching out and bringing back a pair of glasses, which he one-handedly slipped on.

When he turned to her, he met her eyes, and his eyes went wider than she'd ever seen them before. That only made more tears flow down her face, but she knew it wasn't out of sadness.

"Evaline!" he whispered loudly as an almost desperate smile sprung to his face. Tears almost instantly glazed over his eyes, and he blinked them away, starting to cry along with her as he scooted as close to the bed as possible, leaning over and pulling her hand close to his chest.

"Evaline, you're awake," he babbled through tears. "You're awake! You're awake! I knew you would. I knew it."

Evaline was beyond grateful that she could see, but she felt helpless that she couldn't do anything else. She wanted to answer him and hug him, but instead she had to close her eyes for a few seconds, letting the tears run down her face uncontrollably, because she couldn't stop.

She was with James again. This was real. They could be together again.

"You've been still for a very long time," James said, his wide smile glued to his features even as tears flowed down his cheeks. "I know you must feel very weak. If you have no strength to speak, can you blink once for me? I'll just ask yes or no questions. Once for yes, twice for no."

Evaline had to steady her breaths. She willed herself to speak or even moan, but it had been so long since she used her throat, and being so caught up in the moment, she found herself forgetting how to do anything. But it didn't matter. She silently followed his directions, blinking once slowly for a second, releasing even more tears.

"Okay," James said, nodding slightly, his smile finally starting to naturally fade, just a little. "Would you like me to pull you into a hug?"

Evaline didn't hesitate to blink again. She had wanted this for so long.

James reached out and carefully wrapped his arms around the back of her shoulders, mindful of the IV still in her arm. He gently but firmly pulled her so she was sitting upright and leaning her head against his shoulder. He guided her free arm around his side, resting it at his hip before returning his arm to embrace her, hugging tight, but still gentle.

Evaline closed her eyes again, the nonstop tears falling off her face and soaking his shirt. It was a small thing, but she had forgotten how much she missed his scent and warmth. She missed his hugs and his smiles. She missed James. She missed James so much. So very much.

Her breathing became ragged as she tried to steady her tears, but she couldn't. This feeling of bliss and happiness was overwhelming, and she couldn't stop crying.

She forced herself to open her eyes again, wanting to remember this moment. She wanted to cherish this forever. She wouldn't take James for granted again. She wouldn't take life for granted again.

"I'm so happy you're awake," James whispered softly, and though he was breathing steadily, she could feel his breaths trembling in his chest. "I love you. You're going to get better. It's going to be okay. I've got you."

Evaline found herself sweating from trying to move, but when it wasn't working, she took in another sharp breath and tried to talk. Communication. Say something.

A soft, "Mmmf," was all she was able to get out.

She could feel a laugh catch in James's chest as he squeezed her a little tighter.

"It's okay," he said. "I know you want to talk, but you need to build up your strength again. We'll work our way there. Don't push yourself too much."

She knew he was right. She wanted to keep trying and rushing all at once to finally be the one to be there for him, but instead Evaline found herself simply accepting his embrace, his words, and his hug. Her head snugly leaned against his, and she chose to instead stop worrying about the future, and live in the present and appreciate the moment for what it was.
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soundofmind says...

James knocked eagerly on Elias's door. He knew Samiya and Elijah were sleeping, but he needed to tell someone. He wanted to tell everyone. Surely, they hadn't all gone to sleep yet. It wasn't too late to interrupt.

He hadn't even taken a moment to compose himself. He knew his face was likely still red, and his eyes were teary, but he couldn't get rid of the smile that felt plastered on his face -- and this smile was real, too.

"Elias!" he whispered through the door. "Elias!"

There was some shuffling heard on the other side of the door, and then it opened, revealing Elias with floppy hair and yawning. He squinted at James with an amused smile.

"Well, well, well, looks like you're visiting me... and at night," he said with a little laugh.

"Elias," James said urgently, feeling his eyes start to glisten again with tears. "She's awake. She woke up."

Elias blinked, staring at him for a moment. "Who? You mean...?"

"Evaline," James answered. He reached out and grabbed Elias's hand, dragging him out of the doorway. "Help me tell the others."

Elias was quick to catch on, and his eyes lit up, grinning as he eyed all the doors. He sprung forward and opened the door to Mel, Alistair, and Elise's room, not even bothering to knock.

"Hey! Wake up!" he yelled into the room.

"God, Elias, what are you--" Alistair hissed in the darkness, but was interrupted before he could finish.

"EVALINE'S AWAKE!" he yelled even louder, then paused. "Okay, I'm going to tell the others, but maybe, uh... we shouldn't all be there at once since it'll -- you know what, never mind. Let's go!"

James had already started moving down the hall, and he'd found Hendrik, Malkiel, and Rudy's room. Just as he lifted his hand to knock, he heard footsteps, and the door practically flew open, revealing Rudy, who stared at James with wide eyes. He jumped back in surprise as they made eye contact, then glanced back into the room briefly.

Behind Rudy, James could see Hendrik and Malkiel sitting on the floor with cards lying out on the floor. It looked like they'd been playing poker.

"Evaline's awake?" Rudy asked in disbelief, meeting James's eyes again.

James could read the guilt flooding to Rudy's face again, but as James nodded, it was slowly replaced by relief.

"I don't want to overwhelm her with everyone rushing in," James said. "But I had to share the good new--"

"It's about goddamn time," Hendrik said with a grin, throwing down his cards on the ground. "Let's go, boys. Up and at 'em. Let's see our girl."

James didn't think he'd be able to argue with the others. As he backed away from ther door he could see Mel, Alistair, Elise, and Elias all hurrying down the hallway as well, so James decided to get ahead of the others.

He briefly met Elias's eyes and nodded quickly before sprinting down the hall, almost skidding as he slipped into Evaline's room, knowing he probably only had under 30 seconds with her alone.

"Okay," James said with a heavy breath. "So, everyone's coming to see you. I'm sorry, but--"

He hurried up to the side of the bed, sitting beside her with a small smile, shrugging helplessly as he reached out to hold her hand and meet her eyes. Despite not being able to talk or move, her eyes were full of life, emotional with tears and love as she looked into his eyes.

"I'll do my best to answer their questions," he said softly, hurriedly digging into his pocket and pulling out the handkerchief Hendrik had gifted him. He started gently dabbing her cheeks, wiping away the tears. Just as he finished and pulled the handkerchief away, the door burst open.

Of all people, it was Hendrik who rushed in first. Elias was behind him like he was trying to get him to slow down, or maybe racing to see who could get in first.

"Boss!" Hendrik said loudly, taking large strides forward. "Evaline! We're here to see ya!"

"She's too weak to speak or move much right now," James said as the others started pouring in. "But she's awake."

"Oh my gosh! Evaline!" Mel said as she jogged up to the bed, her hair a mess but her eyes brightly lighting up when she saw Evaline's opened eyes. Mel's eyes started to glisten in glee. "You're really awake! It's a miracle! Ahh, we have to celebrate!"

There was some commentary between Hendrik and Mel as everyone else gathered around the bed. Alistair hung beside Mel, peering down at Evaline while the others talked. Malkiel was at the foot of the bed, not too close that he'd have a conversation, but close enough to see what was going on. Elias was behind Mel and Alistair and watching over their heads, smiling as he kept his eyes on Evaline, but not making any comments yet. Even Samiya came in curiously, quiet and holding Elijah up while watching from a short distance.

Elise rushed forward in front of the others gathering around. "Rudy," she called, glancing around until she met his eyes. "Let's perform some diagnostics. Can you get the tools?"

Rudy nodded briskly and hurried out of the room. He returned less than a minute after, lugging in a larger medkit than James saw them carry usually. Elise and Rudy shooed the others away to give Evaline some space while they checked her vitals and asked Evaline to attempt a few things to gauge her level of mobility in her current state.

Everyone hung back with hushed whispers, watching Evaline still with her teary opened eyes, likely overwhelmed with everything going on, but still beyond happy.

"Her muscles and larynx have atrophied over the last few months, but that can be easily overcome with a couple weeks of physical therapy," Elise said as she sat back, looking up at James with a smile. "She's perfectly healthy. We'll keep her on fluids until she learns to chew again. I can help you through the exercises if you want to teach her daily. With enough time and work, she'll be moving and talking again in no time."

James drew closer to the bed, coming up behind Elise and Rudy.

"I'll do everything I can to help," he said.

"So -- what's this mean? Are we finally getting out of this hellhole?" Hendrik asked, cutting in.

Mel slapped the side of his arm, and he looked down at her, lightly wincing in pain.

"That's a discussion for later," she scolded. "Right now, she's awake. That's what's important."

"Fair enough," Hendrik said with a sigh. "So, you said something about a celebration? Hey, Jamie, how about we bring the drinks and cards to you this time?"

James turned around to look at Hendrik with his eyebrows raised, and he couldn't help but let out a short laugh.

"I don't drink, but if you're playing traditional cards, I'm in," James said.

"Al-right! Party's coming in the room, folks!" Hendrik said.

"Isn't there a long day tomorrow? Or is that cancelled now?" Malkiel asked.

Hendrik ruffled up Malkiel's hair, causing him to groan in annoyance and duck away.

"No, it's still on," Hendrik said with a smirk.

"...I'm going back to sleep," Malkiel mumbled, heading for the door, but then Hendrik swooped in and placed a hand around his neck, bringing him close.

"I'll go with you to bring the cards. No one move!" Hendrik said over his shoulder with a disgruntled Malkiel who was trying to free himself from their grip.

"Is Hendrik already drunk?" Alistair asked as he stared at them leaving the room.

"Probably. I didn't even know he had alcohol. Not surprised, though," Mel said with a faint giggle, then stepped forward again and hung around Evaline's side, gingerly picking up her hand and looking down at her. "Heyya Evaline. It'll take some time to talk, but looks like we'll all hang around here for a bit. Is that okay?"

Evaline was still caught up in her emotions with a trail of tears down her cheek as she looked up at Mel with glossy eyes. Her lip quivered, and she closed her eyes tightly, sending more tears down.

"...Well. I think that's a yes?" Mel said softly with a smile.

"I think so too," James said quietly as he found his seat beside Evaline again, sitting down to be with her until Hendrik returned.

Mel beamed between the two of them, squeezing Evaline's hand.

"Great. We're so happy you're awake, even if you're just blinking," Mel said, then placed her hand back on her chest. "When you're able to, you can play cards with us too."

As if she'd summoned them, Hendrik and Malkiel came flying back into the room, and Hendrik victoriously held up the stack of playing cards.

"I've got 'em!" he announced, while Malkiel looked like he was considering escaping. Hendrik, though, pulled him into the room and closed the door.

The game that ensued was loud, and full of laughter. Everyone sat in a circle on the floor while Hendrik eagerly shuffled the large deck and divvied out the cards. James eventually caved to joining the game after nearly everyone tried to convince him through various means of persuasion to do so, and Elias ended up sitting out to be next to Evaline while everyone else played.

They ended up playing cards for an hour or so. Samiya and Elijah stepped out early on to go to bed, and a few others filtered out one by one. Malkiel left to go to bed first, and then Rudy followed. Then Elise, and Alistair, and finally Mel and Hendrik too. Elias was the last one left in the room, and the two of them sat on either side of Evaline's bed for a moment in quiet, letting the air settle around them now that almost everyone was gone.

"I don't really know what it all entails or what Elise has in mind, but if you need some help with the physical therapy thing, let me know," Elias said, breaking the silence.

"I'm not 100% certain what it will entail myself," James said quietly. "Though I'm sure Elise and Rudy would be willing to train you as another assistant if you wanted. I'm sure we could all use the help."

"Yeah. True, true." Elias nodded, and he was quiet for another moment, still resting his gaze on Evaline. She was awake with half-lidded eyes, but looked to be exhausted, fighting sleep. "What was it like when she first woke up?" he asked out of the blue.

James had his gaze focused on Evaline, but at the question, he tore his eyes away, looking down in thought.

"I was about to pull away and say goodnight," he said quietly. "And then her hand twitched, ever so slightly. When I looked up, her eyes were open."

"Oh wow... It's our lucky day, huh? Better mark this down as a lucky holiday," Elias mused.

James grinned a little, looking from Elias to Evaline.

"I guess so," he said, reaching to hold Evaline's hand again. He squeezed it lightly. "But I think for now, we should call it a day."

He could see that Evaline was struggling to stay awake as her eyes seemed to narrow even more, almost completely closed.

"Yeah. Good call," Elias said, standing up. He paused for a second, looking back at James with a soft smile. "Hey. Now you're one step closer to that dream, right?"

James slowly turned to meet Elias's eyes, and he smiled softly in return.

"So it seems," he said quietly. "Sleep well, Elias."

"You too, James. And you too, Evaline."
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Carina says...

The next month was incredibly difficult. As promised, Elise and Rudy helped Evaline with physical therapy sessions everyday, and James was always in the room, learning along so he could continue with the exercises even when they weren't there.

It started simple, at first. They first told her to focus on her extremities, wiggling her fingers, and then moving on to clenching her hand. When her arms became too exhausted, they would focus on her legs at first. It started with wiggling her toes and then moving her feet, and eventually, they moved on to her trying to sit up on the bed herself.

This was about the second week in, and Evaline could remember how exhausting and excruciatingly painful it was to sit up slowly. She was taking sharp, heavy breaths as sweat dripped down her face. It felt silly to exert so much energy into one simple action, but she forced herself into it, working through the pain. It was necessary to become better.

"Hey, it's alright," James told her softly. "You're doing great. You can do it. Keep going."

It was all for him. Evaline knew this was all for him.

Any time she looked back and met his eyes that matched the love and longing she felt in her chest, she wanted to cry again from the intense emotions of it all. But most of all, she wanted to fight so badly for him, just like he had for her.

She could hear his words ringing in her head that she had to do this because she wanted to get better, and not because of him or something else. But he was giving her so much purpose and drive, and she didn't want to change that right now.

Every day they would exercise movements involving her arms and legs, but Elise and Rudy would also help her learn to talk and eat food by herself too. Like the physical movement, it started with small steps, like moving her jaw, or moaning at the back of her throat. Eventually they would move to saying vowel sounds like "ah" and "oo" to engage her voice box.

It was a small victory when she was able to do this, and the look on James's face only fueled the determined fire in her chest. His entire face would light up, and she could see the happiness reach his eyes as he continued to praise and encourage her.

For now, Evaline was able to say simple words, like "food" and "water" and "tired," not being able to say long sentences without feeling the exhaustion take over her vocal cords.

It was late evening and James had opened the doors to the balcony to let the golden rays of the sun into the room. He brought his food in -- he was always eating next to her -- and she was able to eat soft foods now too. Evaline had forgotten how vivid taste could be, and she ate far slower than she ever had, savoring each bite.

The bowl of oats she was eating was propped on many pillows close to her face so that she didn't have to move the spoon very far since lifting her arm grew to be exhausting. She ate slow not just because she wanted to, but also because she had limited mobility.

Evaline knew James was nearing the end of his meal, and she stared at the oats in her spoon, focusing and taking a deep breath.

The word she loved to say right now was the simplest, and one that Elise didn't go over with her.

"J... James," she said slowly, finally able to say his name for the first time. She predictably felt more happy tears prick her eyes, and she looked up at him, accidentally dropping her spoon back in her bowl.

James looked up at her and she saw the spark of happiness alight in his eyes as well. He smiled widely.

"Eve," he said in return.

Evaline smiled, closing her eyes for a moment to collect herself, feeling a tear roll down her cheek. She wanted to try to talk in more complex sentences, even if it was exhausting. She wanted more than having conversations in memories, or one-word mentions like food, water, or hello.

"I was... thinking," she said slowly. Almost too slow, but James, of course, was waiting with near-infinite patience. He wanted to hear what she had to say. "Change name... to Eve. Not Ev..."

She winced, ironically not able to even say her real name.

It was funny, wasn't it? That the silly nickname Eve was made up so that she could feel like a different person, and be different from her parents. Be her own person. Feel like her own self.

James's expression softened with concern and understanding, and he reached out to set his hand over hers.

"It's a good name," James said softly. "If that's what you'd like to be called from now on, I can let the others know for you, so they're aware as well. Would you like me to do that?"

"Yes." Evaline nodded weakly, fighting back more tears. The love she felt was getting to be too much.

"Hey, it's okay," James said softly as he reached up his hand to hold her cheek, brushing under her eye with his thumb as he looked into her eyes with a tender affection. "You don't have to explain it all right now. I support you, Eve."

"I... I..." She closed her eyes, sending the repressed tears down, trying to force the words out from the knot in her throat preventing her from saying it.

She could do this. She could fight a little more and use the love she felt in her chest to do it.

"Love you," she breathed out. "I love you."

James smiled softly as happy tears sprung to his eyes.

"I love you too," he said quietly, and he stared at her for a moment, like he was studying her face. Then his eyes flicked to her lips, and back up.

Evaline felt a stubborn warmth of determination swirl in her chest, like it was a burst of energy ready to fuel her some more despite the exhaustion. She wanted to reach up to tuck away his now-long hair behind his ear, but she knew that she wouldn't make it all the way since gravity consistently brought her down.

Instead she felt the butterflies flutter around her as she also flicked her eyes to his lips, like they were having a conversation without words.

James's smile returned again, and he slowly leaned in, doing what she wished she could do to him by brushing her hair behind her ear and meeting her eyes just for a moment. Then he went in for the kiss, holding the back of her head as he brought his other hand around her back.

There was so much she wanted to say, and she knew that if she was able to, she would probably laugh and blurt out the thought mid-kiss. But for now, she saved the thought and words for another day, leaning into the kiss and closing her eyes, feeling like she was floating on clouds.

Not everyday was easy, and not everyday was full of the tender love she couldn't shake away ever since she woke up.

It was the end of the first month, and her mobility was much better. She could lift her hands up to her neck, and she could not bend her legs and slowly sit up without any problems. She was able to chew harder foods now, although each bite took maybe half a minute, so meals would take a long time to finish.

Things were looking up, but what was the most difficult and frustrating thing for her was walking. Elise and Rudy had set up a walking bar that Hendrik had made for them, and every day they would have her hold the bar and walk across it, propping her up if needed. She'd ask James to help her after they'd leave, determined to get this right, even if it was getting to be much too tiring.

It was the end of the day, and Eve was trying again.

She had made it halfway by herself, holding on to the bar with a tight grip and taking fast shallow breaths, working up a sweat. She wanted to take another step forward, but her legs buckled, and she fell to the floor, the exhausting creeping in to her bones. Not only was it hard to move, but it felt like her limbs were numb, beyond weakened.

James came to her side quickly and started to help her up.

"I think that's enough for today," he said softly. "You need your rest."

Even if she couldn't walk, she was able to talk again, and it was what kept her fueling.

"No," Evaline said just as soft with determination, weakly reaching out for the bar again as James stood her up and let her lean against him. "I want to keep... keep trying."

"You can try again tomorrow, Eve," James assured her. "The bar will still be here when you wake up."

Eve felt the tears return to her eyes. She was always crying now, but she no longer cared to hide it. This felt different, though. It wasn't tears out of love or joy, but instead of frustration and sorrow.

"I want to walk," she whimpered quietly.

James wrapped his arms around her from the side, still letting her lean on him.

"I know," he said softly. "And you will. I know you will."

"How long... will I be? Like this?" Eve asked with a quivering voice, letting her head rest against his shoulder.

"It takes time to heal," James said, his voice steady, yet caring. "Getting your strength back can take some weeks, or months for some. I've had to fight to get my physical strength back many times, and it's never easy, but it will return to you. You just have to keep at it. It's going to be worth it."

Eve sniffed, weakly reaching as high as her strength could allow to hold on to his shirt so that he knew she was silently asking for a hug by starting one.

"You're so strong," she said quietly, snuggling her head in to be closer to him. "I admire you."

James pulled her in tighter, hugging her close.

"It goes both ways," he said.

Eve sniffed again, knowing the tears were falling on his shirt again, but she knew James didn't mind, and maybe was even getting used to it. She took in this moment fully, wanting to hold him tight and wanting to say more, but not being able to do so.

They had time, and he was right. She will get better, and they they could have more conversations and more walks. They will get stronger together.

But for now, she had to work on overcoming her weakness. And sometimes, that meant admitting weakness and asking for help.

"Can you carry me back?" she asked softly after a brief silence.

"Of course," James said just as quietly.

Almost effortlessly, he brought one hand behind her back and arms and the other under her knees. Looking down at her with a small smile, he carried her back to the bed and laid her down, gently guiding her head to her pillow.

"I'll get your sheets," he said as he began to turn to go pull the blankets over her.

Before James could pull away, Eve brought her hand over his, suddenly feeling a random strike of anxiety run across her chest.

"Can you..." she started to say softly, then swallowed. "Can you stay?"

James paused, looking over to her, then down at the bed. He smiled just a little and nodded.

"Sure," he said.

Eve released a quiet deep breath out, slowly sliding her hand out over his. Relief washed over her face, and she angled her head up at him expectedly, finally allowing herself to succumb to the exhaustion.

James watched her for a moment, and then slowly sat on the edge of the bed. She could feel the mattress dip a little to the side as he brought his legs up and leaned down to the side of the bed, picking his pillow up off the floor.

It occured to her that maybe he wasn't sure what she wanted, so Eve mustered up the strength to ask one more question.

"Can you come closer?" she whispered, trying to say it as loud as she could for him.

James was swift to slide across the mattress and set his pillow up against hers. He pulled the covers up over their legs and then laid down. He turned so he was facing her, and he wrapped his arm around her waist.

"I'm here," he whispered. "Let yourself sleep, now. It's been a long day."

With the last of her strength, Eve curled up and leaned forward so her head and hands could rest against his chest, and she closed her eyes, letting the sleep envelop her.

It was the safest she felt all month.

And from here on out, James slept by her side, keeping her company at night. They didn't need to say anything for her to feel the love consistently ballooning in her chest.

She could feel it when he climbed in the bed and brought her closer because she was far too tired to move. She could feel it when the covers fell off and she'd stir from the cold, and then he'd wake up and put it back over her. She could feel it when morning came, and she'd wake up to see that he was already awake next to her, but it was like he knew that it would calm her the most to know that he hadn't left, so he waited for her to wake up first.

Eve didn't know why, but sometimes waking up to his soft, tender gaze made the tears come back. It was the first thing she'd do that morning, and it had happened multiple times.

"Good morning, love," he whispered, reaching over to brush his thumb across her face, wiping her tears. "Did you sleep alright?"

Was it her? Had she always been like this, but hadn't allowed herself to be so emotional? Was it James? Was it the procedure to remove her power? Was this a side effect?

It had been a month. Why couldn't she stop crying?

Eve had to sniff and solemnly nod as an answer, feeling embarrassed that this was happening again. She was waking up next to him with tears.

"Hold on," James said as he gingerly wiped the inside of her eye with his finger. "An eye booger."

He turned his finger to show it to her with a tiny, silly grin.

"Got it," he said before wiping it on the blanket.

Eve couldn't help but softly smile, closing her eyes and feeling a weak laugh in her chest. She burrowed herself deeper in his chest.

"I'm surprised I saw it without my glasses," James said quietly. "But I guess it helps that your face was only a few inches away."

Eve sniffed again, wiping the wet tears against his shirt. She slightly leaned away, peering up towards his face and noting how he looked down at her with a small smile and sleepy eyes.

"Hey," she said softly. "Do you remember the first m--memory that you showed me?"

"The first one ever?" James asked. "Of Larrel?"

"No, but that -- that's a good one," Eve said as she slid her head back towards the pillow so she could face him better. She had grown rather used to talking to him while laying down, their faces inches away from each other. "The one you showed me here. While I was still in a coma."

James squinted his eyes and hummed, like he was trying to remember.

"It was the night of the first rendezvous," he said. "Specifically, the kiss, I think."

"Yes. And it was dark," Eve said, gingerly lifting her hand to cup his face, brushing his beard with her thumb. A playful smile crept along her lips. "I saw nothing. Because it was dark."

James stared at her for a moment, as if he was caught up in melting into her touch.

"Do you think glasses would have helped back then?" he asked.

"I wouldn't change a thing. It's perfect the way it is," Eve said softly.

"Even when I missed?" James asked with a slight smile.

Instead of answering, Eve leaned in and gently kissed his chin, smiling as she pulled away just enough so she could meet his eyes. There were other distractions, like his hair twisting around his head and cascading against the pillow, or his bright smile that tugged his lips after she pulled away. If his beard didn't cover it, she knew she'd see the two dimples she had grown to adore.

But what she really wanted to focus on was his dark blue eyes reflecting back at her like a starry night over an ocean. It used to be that he was concealing and hiding his true self behind a stone wall against his eyes, but now she was seeing him for what he truly was.

A patient, gentle man with kindness and love she couldn't comprehend.

They have come so far. It was the little things, like how there used to be what seemed like permanent dark circles around his eyes, but now they were less prominent because he was getting more sleep. It was also the big things, like no longer having to ask for hugs or cuddles, and reminding each other of their love they shared every day.

"Even when you missed," she finally answered quietly after too long of a pause of getting lost in his eyes.
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soundofmind says...

James was relieved to hear a good report from Elise. Evaline had been making good progress, and had been making leaps and bounds in the last week especially. James could tell that Evaline was giving it her all, even when it was very difficult and each day was exhausting as she pushed herself to grow in strength.

Elise updated everyone on Evaline's current progress. Evaline was able to hold conversations again, and while she wasn't able to walk without help, she was able to hold herself up, which was huge. Elise even estimated that Evaline would be able to walk on her own in a month or so if she kept up her current pace at recovery, and in another two months she might even be able to run and yell.

James, of course, was mostly aware of where Evaline was at, but Elise's professional opinion gave him hope that Evaline really would eventually regain her former strength and be able to have some of her independence again. He knew that it was frustrating to need help with simple everyday tasks, and being able to do things on her own would be freeing for her.

However, apart from boosting overall morale, it was important to know Evaline's course to recovery if they were going to plan for the future. Knowing that she would hopefully be at least functional in a month meant that they could look at moving locations. Fortunately, they had enough supplies to last them another month until she got to that point, but they had been in the abandoned mines for a long time. It was likely that their location was already known to a degree, and in order to survive in the long-term, they had to get out.

Hendrik, Mel, and Elise were the main ones taking charge of the future plans, but it sounded like after a month -- whether Evaline fulfilled Elise's predictions or not -- they were going to have to make the move out of the mines.

At the very least, Evaline could always ride Elliot if traveling on foot was too tiresome.

On the morning of the day that Elise's report went out, James found himself leaving the stables with Elias in tow. They'd made a habit of spending time together when James was with Elliot, and James appreciated the time they shared. James closed the stable door behind them as they stepped back out into the hall.

"I can tell Elliot's getting a little ansty," James commented. "From being underground for so long."

"Do you think if there was an underground horse racing track, he'd feel more at home?" Elias mused, leaning against the wall.

James paused in his steps as Elias stopped, looking at him with a small smile.

"Maybe," he said. "Though I imagine making one would be more work than it's worth, since we hopefully won't be staying here for much longer."

"Yeah... crazy, right?" Elias said with a little laugh. "I know Mel has been scouting like crazy since Evaline woke up." He paused for a moment. "How's she doing, by the way? So, uh, she can talk now?"

"Yeah," James said with a nod. "Her voice is still a little weak, so she can't exactly talk all day, but she can hold a conversation just fine. It's been nice to hear her talking again."

"Yeah, I bet. Have you asked her if the coma felt like a long nap? I've always wondered that," he said.

"She said it did at first," James said. "But she said that my consistency with her in keeping a schedule and talking to her helped her keep track of time so she could take control of her sleep."

"She told you all of that?" Elias asked with pleasant surprise.

"In her own words, yeah," James said, tilting his head to the side as he observed Elias. He realized that Elias had never spoken Evaline before her coma, so he had no grid for what she was like now. Maybe he expected her to be more short? Less detailed?

Elias was drumming his fingers along the wall, pursing his lips in thought. "She really can hold a conversation, then. I thought she'd have mushy sleep-brain for a while for some reason."

James laughed.

"I think you'd be surprised how active her mind was while in a coma for four months," James said. "She was far from 'sleep-brained.'"

"I think if I was in a coma for that long, it would feel more like a long nap," he said with a smirk. "I don't think you would, though. You're smart like she is."

"I think you're smart too, you know," James said with a smirk that mirrored his. "In your own way."

Elias tilted his head up and narrowed his eyes like he was recalling a memory.

"I think Eve has told me that before," he murmured. "But, ya know. As Evaline. And as a kid. I'm getting weird deja vu."

"Is that so?" James said with a smile. "What a coincidence."

Elias's smirk widened, and he shot James an amuse glance before a short pause settled in and his smile began to fade.

"So, uh - since she's able to hold conversations now, I was thinking..." He shifted his weight back on his feet so he was no longer leaning on the wall. "Do you mind if I talk to her?"

James's expression softened.

"You don't have to ask for permission, you know," James said. "You can just talk to her."

"Well... I talked to her already," Elias said. "A couple of times when she was still in a coma, and once when she was awake. It was the first day while you and the others played cards, but she couldn't respond, so I felt kind of bad. It's a little different now that she can respond, but it'll feel like I'll be meeting her for the first time again."

James nodded slowly.

"Well, if you want me to go in with you, I can," James said. "But now that she's able, I'd rather have her answer you herself if she wants to talk. Although I have a feeling her answer would be yes."

Elias hummed and pursed his lips and looked off to the side again, thinking. "Maybe. I don't mind either way. Do you think she'd want you to stay?"

"Why don't we just go and find out?" James said with a wave of his hand as he started walking down the hall. "Come on."

Elias hesitated, glancing back and forth between James and the door at the end of the hall before he briskly caught up to him, walking by his side.

"Right now? Okay, sure. Let's do this," he said by his side.

James glanced over to Elias with a small, supportive smile as they made their way to the door. He paused with his hand on the doorhandle, knocking.

"Hey, Eve, I'm going to come in. Elias is with me. Is that, alright?" he asked.

There was a long pause before she answered.

"Elias is with you?" she said first, then quickly added, "Yes. That's fine."

"Okay," James said as he opened the door, peering in first for just a moment before opening it all the way. He saw her sitting up on their bed with their journal in her lap. It looked like she was trying to write to build up her dexterity and finger strength again. As he stepped in she closed the journal and set it to the side, and James met her eyes with a small, encouraging smile.

He'd braided her hair again, and it felt like it'd been some time since he'd been able to do so. Her hair had grown a lot in the past four months, so now her braid reached a few inches past her collarbone as it sat over one shoulder. She was dressed in his clothes again, but at this point, he'd grown used to them sharing their belongings, because it was all they had. He did think that she looked cuter in his overalls than he did, though.

Elias hung by the door while James walked up to her and sat on the side of the bed beside her, leaning over to give her a quick peck on the cheek.

"How did writing go?" he asked.

Eve seemed distracted and some anixety seeped out as she and Elias made eye contact. He gave her a little wave with an awkward smile, and she turned back to James.

"Can you, um... it was good, and I'll tell you more about it later, but can you..." she said, trailing off and staring back at Elias.

"Uh... can I come in?" Elias asked awkwardly, flicking his eyes between James and Eve.

James glanced at Elias, and then Eve. He searched Eve's eyes for approval with raised brows.

"Yes," she said. "You can come in."

"Go ahead and pull up a chair," James said, gesturing to the one nearest to the bed.

Elias nodded, sauntering over while Eve silently stared at him. It was hard to tell exactly what was running through her mind, but she seemed almost sad and regretful.

"So, uh, nice room you have," Elias said in the ensuing silence, hovering next to his chair by the edge of the bed. He was glancing around until he met Eve's gaze again. "It is nice to hear your--"

Elias didn't get to finish, because Eve abruptly leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his stomach, pulling him in for a hug. She dipped her head over his side, and James could see her eyes gloss over with tears before she closed them.

Elias was surprised that she hugged him, but he didn't hesitate to crouch lower and hug her in return, patting her back when she began to heave for deep breaths, a sign that she was about to sob.

"Oh hey, it's nice to see you too," he said gently with a soft smile, looking down at the top of her head and still patting her back.

Despite the awkward angle she was at, Eve pulled Elias in a little tighter in the hug. She sniffed, tears already flowing down her face.

"Hey, don't cry," Elias said softly. "There's nothing to be sad about. I'm glad we met each other again."

Elias turned his head over to James, flicking his eyes between him and Evaline. "Do you mind giving us a few minutes?" he asked.

James was already getting to his feet, and he gave Elias a nod.

"Of course. I'll just be out in the hall," he said quietly as he headed for the door, slipping out to give them privacy.
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Carina says...

Eve didn't know what came over her. She had spent so long casting blame and resentment towards Elias, but she had always known deep down that it was unfair. She knew that his actions were never out of malicious intent, and she knew that - like her - he was only a pawn. Her resentment only grew that he had been used as a pawn against her at some point.

But it was over now, and through the months with James and the months she had been in a coma listening to Elias talk, she recognized her resentment to be more and more unfair. Eve couldn't hold it anymore, especially when she knew that the true source of the resentment wasn't against him, but against herself. It was easier to blame him as the scapegoat rather than face her own problems head-on.

As James left the room, Eve found her breaths to get more ragged as uncontrollable tears kept streaming down her eyes despite her trying to hold them down. She held on to her tighter and tighter, burrowing her head against his side. She didn't care if she held on to him too tightly, or that she was bringing him in and accidentally forcing him to stumble forward so he'd sit at the edge of the bed.

"I'm all for hugs and crying it out," Elias said after a long minute had passed of her sobbing. His voice sounded thin, but he kept rubbing her back as a supportive gesture, or perhaps because he always had to do something with his hands. "But do you think you can loosen up a little? Kind of getting hard to breathe here."

Eve sniffed, not realizing she was holding so tightly that he was finding it hard to breathe. She loosened her grip but didn't let go of him.

Elias loudly breathed in when she loosened up, and he exhaled with an "ah."

"Elise didn't mention that you have insane arm strength already," he said with a little laugh in his chest. "If you can't walk with your legs, can you walk with your arms?"

Eve couldn't help but smile a little from the dumb joke, and she sniffed again, brushing her hands against her face to rub away the tears. She wanted to calm her hiccupy breaths before she let go and talked.

Elias lightly snickered, pausing his back pats for a second before resuming. "Sorry. I was imagining you walking around with your arms again. It's a funny sight."

Eve released a breathy laugh, rubbing away the last of the stubborn tears from her eyes. Slowly, she loosened her grip around him, pulling away and daring to look at his face. She knew that she probably looked pathetic, but she didn't care.

And neither did Elias, because he was still softly smiling, leaning back and shifting his weight so he sat more comfortably on the bed.

"I'm not doing that," Eve said with a familiar childish stubbornness, still sniffing and rubbing her eyes.

"Yeah. I know," Elias said, finalizing his comfortable spot and turning towards her with a knee propped up towards the bed. "It's funny to imagine, though."

"I -- I didn't imagine this playing out in this way," Eve said quietly, stealing another glance. "I didn't think I'd ever -- I thought you'd -- I don't know."

She couldn't even finish her sentence. All those years of denial and hostility, and now it was all crashing down as a pile of shame and regret.

Elias hummed. "I know it's been a while, but it's nice to know that you still start a bunch of sentences and make it into one."

Eve paused and narrowed her eyes at him, still sniffing.

"All of us joked around and invented this term behind your back," he continued with a silly smile. "We'd call it quilting. 'Cause, you know, it was like a patchwork quilt of sentences. Once when you got really upset, you quilted seven times."

Eve stared at him, her mind lagging. She recalled there always being a dissonance between how she felt and how she felt around him, especially when it came to sensitive subjects. It was odd, but she thought it was nice, especially as a kid. She had always felt more grounded with Elias, and even now, so many years later...

"That's what that means?" she said flatly, giving him a long look. "Why didn't anyone tell me?"

"Oh. Oops. The secret's out," Elias said with the beginnings of a smirk, but her pointed look still remained. "And the look you're giving me is the reason why, probably. I can remember a bunch of stuff we teased about you behind your back. I feel kind of bad with some of it now, though, so that'll have to stay as a secret."

"No, that's -- I don't -- that's fine," Eve said quickly, realizing she was only proving his point.

When she saw Elias's amused grin, she couldn't help but stare at him with half-lidded eyes, the tears completely spent and dried. She sighed, biting her tongue for a second before blurting out her next thought. She didn't even want to know if he had a term for this; she wanted desperately to get rid of the gnawing tension she felt.

"I'm really, really sorry, Elias," she said softly, disliking that she could feel her tears threatening to return.

"What for?" he asked, tilting his head in genuine curiosity.

Evaline faltered. Wasn't it obvious? What did he even know?

"I..." She had to bite her lip to stop herself from so-called quilting. "I've blamed everything on you. But I -- I know it's not your fault. None of it is."

Elias was quiet for a moment, and it ate her up inside. "You mean--" he began, but she interrupted with more blurted-out thoughts.

"I know you didn't mean to kill Alan," she said quickly. "And -- and all the military deaths after that. I know you're not a bad person. If you are, then I'm far worse. But I think -- I know -- there's redemption, and time to heal and change. I was always afraid to face you, especially after all the things I've seen you do, first with Alan and then with me, and I know you don't know about it all, because it's all in my head -- it's always in my head -- but I want you to know. I just, I want you to know--"

Eve inhaled sharply, not caring that she probably broke a record for her quilting.

"I forgive you," she finished, locking her eyes on his so he'd know that she was serious. Although Elias didn't wear a severe expression, it was still hard to maintain eye contact, but she pushed through it.

Elias didn't immediately talk again since it seemed that he needed some moments to think, but this time, Eve pushed down the words and waited in agonizing silence.

"You went back in time and saw a lot of things, right?" he asked. "Oh, and... thanks. I, uh, forgive you too."

Eve couldn't help but laugh because of how anticlimactic this felt. She had mustered the strength and growth to forgive her childhood best friend who -- against his wishes -- ended the life of her childhood friend and then threatened to end hers. And then he passed it off like it was no big deal, and even offered to forgive her too?

Either he was being incredibly nonchalant to the point where it almost felt insensitive, or he truly didn't understand the context. Maybe both, but Eve felt like she had to lay it all out better. She sighed deeply, closing her eyes as she took a deep breath in and out. Her breaths have been controlled, and only dried tears remained. She was ready to have this conversation.

"That's a massive understatement, but yes," she said calmly - or as calm as she could, anyways. "I went back in time more than I ever had at the time that day. Nothing I did could be changed, though."

"So... you tried to prevent Alan's death? By preventing... what I did?" Elias asked slowly.

Eve stared at him, slow blinking. She felt that strange dissonance of emotions return. It was always oddly easy to talk about sensitive things with Elias. He had a way of laying it all out there and approaching things head-on.

"That's right," she answered. "But like I said, I couldn't change anything. It was futile."

"That's weird. Why not?" Elias asked.

"I -- I don't know. I think it's because it involved Alan, who I -- you know. And there was a lot of attachment. I think that's what prevented any change. Close attachment."

Elias hummed for a second, but she continued before he could respond.

"It also involved you, and we were close, so of course I was attached to you too. It was a mess of a continual ten minutes that played over and over. I didn't stop until I felt like no matter what I did, nothing could be done. So then I... gave up. I let the ten minutes pass, and I stopped trying," Eve said, getting quieter and quieter with each passing sentence.

"We don't remember what happened, but... you do. Right?" Elias asked softly.

Eve solemnly nodded, tightly closing her eyes to fight against the tears that again threatened to come down again. If there was any time to appear strong and fight back what she was feeling, it was now. Only for a little bit.

"That was the case, yes," she answered quietly.

"That explains why you were so angry at me. I've always thought those last moments felt off," Elias thought out loud.

"But I -- I actually don't remember it anymore. I only know what happened from what others have told me," Eve said.

Elias tilted his head. "What do you mean?"

She sighed, looking down at her palms resting on her lap. "I went back hundreds of times, Elias. That not only changes you as a person, but the effects of abusing my power like that was not easy to overcome," she said softly. "I was inconsolable, and I'd have endless nightmares and hallucinations. I couldn't tell reality apart from fiction, and all I ever felt was fear, paranoia, and sadness. This lasted for two months before..."

Eve sighed again, looking up to meet his eyes.

"Do you remember Arima's dad? He was so strict and was the reason why she stopped seeing us as much," Eve said, shoving down the pang of despair she felt about Arima. One thing at a time.

"Yes. Why?" Elias asked.

"He worked for my parents sometimes," she continued. "Memory deletion isn't allowed in therapy, but my parents asked them to do it for me because it was the only way I could get better. If I forgot what happened and the attachments involved, then I could go on to be the leader they desired, and I could even learn a lesson about letting go. Without my consent, the memories of that day have been erased, and he even went as far back as deleting most of my memories of Alan. It was like... feeling like you're a hollow shell. You look fine from the outside, but you know you're missing a part of yourself, and you feel empty. I was able to move on that day and captured what it felt like to be emotionless, because I was emotionless."

Eve paused for a second, but didn't give Elias much time to respond again. It was odd that she was saying this all out in the open like this. She didn't know if she'd be able to keep it together if James were to have asked this. But Elias -- it was like he had the right to know, because this involved him too, even if it was indirect.

"But they made a mistake, you know," she continued, staring at her resting palms. "They didn't erase my memories of you, even though you were part of my problems at the time. So I coasted by as an emotionless husk remembering you, but not Alan. And I blamed you for all of it. I was run not on anger, but revenge, because it was the only thing that felt right to me at the time. I knew you were sent off to the military by then, so I -- that was why I..."

"...Led the rebellion?" Elias asked when she trailed off and didn't finish.

Eve nodded slowly. "Yes. And I didn't mean for it to go the way it did. I'm ashamed of how I worked my way up to leadership, but when it happened, I was still numb and hollow. It wasn't until..."

She mirthlessly laughed, the pieces falling together in her head now that she was thinking back on this again.

"It wasn't until my memory power was accidentally activated that I climbed my way out of that state and started to feel like a normal person again. Of all people, it was actually Tula who had done that so that we -- you know what, it doesn't matter. Point is, my time powers became weaker, and I was no longer fit to be a leader. At least, not until my recovery from the hallucinations, nightmares, paranoia... but I couldn't get better until I stopped going back in general. But how could I when people were dying and I could have prevented it? And -- and how could I when the base location was discovered and the military -- you -- were getting closer?"

"But the thing is... no matter what I did, I couldn't change whatever the actions of the military took, because they all involved you," Eve said with an empty voice. "And you were getting closer. I kept having nightmares that you were going to kill me, and there was nothing I could do about it. And I accepted it as my fate, because I didn't want to live life without feeling."

Since she had regressed to blurting out her entire life story in one sitting, Elias seemed to patiently wait for her to finish. He only spoke again when a few seconds ticked by and she was silent.

"But... you didn't," he offered. "You're still here, and you seem emotional to me. In a good way, of course."

"Yeah," Eve said softly. "I went to Nye after that and had a change of heart."

She decided to not mention the part of how she had woken up from Nye feeling hollow again inside, especially because it would involve explaining how she and James parted ways that day, and she really didn't want to get into that. None of that involved Elias, or anyone on Earth.

Elias slowly nodded, but Eve again filled the brief silence that followed.

"I ran away. I don't know what happened after, but -- I wasn't there. So yes, I abandoned all the people there and gave false hope just so I can save my own life," she finished, but she knew what happened to the people there.

Neither of them had to say it: Elias and the rest of the soldiers went in and effectively ended the rebellion by killing off any survivors who stayed.

"And since then, I thought I'd never see you again. I didn't even think I'd see James again. And yet -- here we are," Eve finished, feeling exhausted by the end of it.

She knew that Elias hadn't asked for all of this, but she felt the need to justify herself and her past behavior. Even if this didn't all register right away, at least he would know.

"So... I do have a question," Elias said, and Eve couldn't help but feel a spike of anxiety. "Why did you recently change your name?"
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Carina says...

She stared at him blankly, not expecting this question at all. After all of that, this was the question he had? How was this related at all? Words left her mind, and she had to scramble and pick up her thoughts on the ground, doing her best to say them coherently without quilting.

"I just -- I liked who I was before the day I went back in time that many times. And I also like the nickname. It was given to me because of the time connotation and also because it fit me without the resemblance to Alina and Everett. I could have changed it sooner after the rebellion since I had a bad reputation, but I think... I didn't think I deserved another name. But I'm allowing myself to move on now, even if it's just a simple name change."

Elias smiled softly, reaching out to pat her shoulder. "You do deserve it," he said. "And also, I like who you were before that day too. That's why we were best friends, right?"

"I'm not sure I had much of a choice of that since I was literally assigned to you at six years-old," Evaline mumbled.

"Yeah, but plenty of other groups didn't befriend their assigned partners," Elias replied with a sly grin.

Evaline stared at him again, sighing in defeat. "Okay, sure. But, Elias -- aren't you, I don't know... don't you have more of a reaction? Don't you care about all of this?"

"Of course I care," Elias said gently. "I can see that you want to move on. I'm just glad we're here now. Do we always have to think and worry about the past?"

Evaline was quiet for a moment. "No. I suppose not," she said softly.

There was still so much more to unpack, more about Elias than her. He had always told her that she was a better listener than talker, but it seemed that this entire meeting was switched. He now knew a lot about her past, but she... well, from what Elias told her, she'd know nothing.

But from what she overheard... did he know that she heard his conversation with James? Maybe he did know, and that was why he didn't say anything. Or maybe he was waiting for her to ask. Was she overthinking this? She was overthinking this.

"So, no more thinking about the past," Elias said, interrupting her thoughts. "What do you see in your future?"

These were all questions she did not envision whenever she had fantasized them reconciling. There seemed to be less questions about their past tense history, and more random questions relating to the present. But he had always been that way, hadn't he? Thinking only in the present?

And now... the future? How ironic, considering she didn't want to think too much in the future anymore, and she was a time traveler.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

Elias shrugged. "Like, what's your life dream? It's probably different from when you were a kid, so I'm curious to know what it is now."

"...What did I say when I was a kid?" she asked, not remembering this at all.

"I asked you when we were in our final year of school, and..." Elias lightly laughed, shaking his head. "You said you wanted to run away and escape with someone you love. Or something like that. You put it into better words."

"Wow, I said that?" Eve breathed out, still scouring her memory. She wondered if it was one of the deleted memories. She wondered if she was referencing Alan when she told him that. "Well... hah. I guess it's not too much different now. Well, actually... that's not really a life dream. It's more of my current reality."

Elias grinned, leaning back on the bed with his hand. "James is a great guy. I like him."

"Well, good, but it's not like I need your approval or anything," she huffed, but then found the words to hang strangely in the air. It was getting harder and harder to believe that she had been angry at him for so long and that there was so much tense uncertainty up until he came in the room.

"Never said you did," he still said with the smug grin. "So that's still your lifelong dream, but with James?"

Eve should have felt embarrassed, but it was oddly easy to talk to him so openly. It helped that she had become so much more open after meeting James, and also the coma since she had taken talking for granted during extended forced silence.

"I guess so. I don't have much of a dream. I see my future with him, but I just want him to be happy, which in turn makes me happy too," she said.

Elias nodded again, mulling this over, and Eve couldn't help but wonder the implications of his question. She knew that he had asked this to James too, but since he asked her too, she wondered if he was possibly gathering answers because he wanted to know how others found their happiness. Or maybe she was overthinking things again. Subtle methods like these were how she was able to mine for information, after all.

"You're a big sap," Elias teased.

"I'm -- no, I'm not," Eve said with narrowed eyes, the childish stubbornness returning. "James is more sappy than I am."

"Is he?" he said in a high-pitched voice.

"Yes. He's got a big heart and goes above and beyond to make his loved ones smile and laugh, even if it's at the expense of his pride. He's incredibly thoughtful, and selfless, and thorough -- and he's the kindest, most gentle man I've ever met. He -- what?" Eve barked in nervousness when she saw him with a wide, toothy grin.

"I feel like James should hear these compliments," he said. "Should I invite him in?"

"What? I was only--"

"James!" Elias called anyways, and Eve facepalmed, now feeling the pent-up embarrassment rise to the surface.

The door burst open, and James looked inside with alarm, quickly glancing between the two of them. But when it seemed he saw both of them were fine, he relaxed a little bit, though still alert.

"Is everything alright?" he asked.

His eyes landed on Eve while her face was still red. With his glasses on, for once, he could probably see it clearly even through her fingers over her face. That only made her more embarrassed, but she tried to shake it off, dropping her hand and trying not to grimace.

"Yeah, I wanted to bring you in so you could hear what she had to say," Elias said before Eve could even say anything.

"Were you?" she mumbled.

James slowly closed the door behind him and walked up to the edge of the bed, looking between Elias and Eve.

Elias nodded, looking eager now as he faces her. "Yeah. Do you think James is funny?"

Eve had braced to be embarrassed, but she froze at the random question, staring at him blankly for a second. She could vaguely recall Elias asking James this while she was in a coma, and it slowly dawned on her that he truly was asking her for him.

"Uh --" she began, but faltered not because she didn't know the answer, but because her mind was lagging from the bizarreness of it all.

"It's not that hard of a question," Elias teased.

"Of course I do. I enjoy his sense of humor," Eve said quickly, glancing between him and James, feeling her cheeks burn a little. She has just confessed her life story she had defended for so long. Why was she getting flustered over this?

James looked to Elias with a small smirk as he sat down on the bed with them.

"True to your word, I see," he commented.

"And do you, James, think Eve to be your lawfully hilarious partner?" Elias asked next.

James narrowed his eyes at Elias with a small smile.

"I believe I do," James said with a smile that clearly indicated he was holding back laughter.

"And Eve, do you--"

"I'm just going to assume the answer is yes," Eve interrupted, pushing back the embarrassment.

"You don't even know what I was going to say," Elias said innocently.

"It's fine. We're fine," Eve continued, glancing between him and James. It was mostly directed towards James so he'd understand that he didn't need to worry since he entered the room alert.

"I was about to ask if you think James looks nice with glasses," he said with a shrug.

Eve rested her gaze back to James. "...Oh. Well, my answer doesn't change."

James met her eyes with a small, soft smile. Eve lingered her gaze on him for a silence that would otherwise feel too long, but she found herself not minding it.

"Do you want me to stay?" Elias asked in the ensuing silence.

Eve shook her head to snap out of it, but found herself saying the answer before she could think it through. Some things didn't need to be over-analyzed.

"Yes. I'd like you to stay."
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Fri Jul 23, 2021 4:00 am
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Carina says...

Elias ended up staying until Eve felt a wave of exhaustion pass from the conversations, but she didn't want to tell him she wanted to rest. It was actually sort of... nice. To have him around. And James, too.

Eve knew that if it wasn't for the coma that forced her to listen and become more and more desperate to live for every day that passed, she likely wouldn't have been as friendly with Elias. But hearing him talk to James every day and really listening to him made her realize that James was right. To move on and find peace, she had to forgive.

And she did. Although, it hardly felt like it since Elias was joking around like nothing had really happened between them. She knew that he and James had months of bonding, but it still felt odd. But Eve knew she didn't mind it, especially since neither of them held grudges against her or expected her to act a certain way. It felt freeing.

Still, tiredness hit all at once, and James seemed to detect it. He ended up offering to walk Elias out since he was going to grab a meal anyways. He gave her a quick kiss on the head before saying goodbye, giving her a soft expression that told her to rest without any words.

Eve was grateful, and even though she normally disliked to say goodbye after moments of vulnerability, she felt safe being alone for a little bit. They had time. So much time, with James, and with Elias.

When James left, she laid back on the bed and found herself dozing off, falling into a deep sleep. The reconciliation took so much energy out of her, and she physically felt exhausted from the morning exercises, and from talking so long. Sleep came easily and peacefully.

    The air was fresh and crisp, yet a little thin. The golden rays of the sun dazzled her vision, but didn't blind her. It was golden hour, and she was on top of a hill out of a series of many rolling hills behind her. A large lake sprawled beneath her, dotted with trees and small boats that were lazily rocked against the water's current, parked along the thin docks.

    She stared at the vision in front of her, then turned to her side to see a an almost-finished canvas of the exact same scenery. She was holding a paintbrush and color palette. Even thought she hardly painted, Eve knew that this was hers. It felt right to dab the painting with small streaks of orange hues in the sky.

    It was a peaceful moment, but as dreams tended to do, it forwarded ahead to when she was finished, and the sun had almost finished setting. She stared at it with satisfaction, tilting her head and putting the supplies away.

    "How's it going?" she heard James's voice ask from beside her. When she turned to look at him, she saw he was sitting close to her in a chair with a book in his lap, and he was saving his place with his thumb in the pages.

    "Is it finished?" he asked with his eyes on the painting.

    "I think so," Eve murmured, tilting her head and examining the painting at different angles. "I think I'm missing something... but I don't know what it is."

    "You can always come back to it, you know," James said. "And add whatever you think it needs later. It looks beautiful as it now, though."

    "You say that with all of the paintings," she said with a small smile, holding her gaze on him for a little bit. She was first admiring the way the light hit his face, but found herself admiring him instead.

    James's hair was longer, and pulled up half-way with a braid like a crown around his head. Little wisps of loose hair hung around his face, framing his eyes, and the glasses perched on his nose. She couldn't help but notice how the wrinkles on his forehead and around his eyes were just a little more pronounced, and he looked a little more lean, but still strong. It looked like he'd shaved recently, because he only had faint stubble, and as he smiled back at her she could see his dimples were still there, just as she remembered them.

    Eve lingered her gaze, looking away with a smile when the gaze started to feel more like a stare. She bent down and put her painting items away.

    "How was reading? Are you almost finished?" she asked.

    "I'm about three-quarters of the way through," James said. "It's just about local wildlife and fauna, so it's just a lot of information. It's interesting, though."

    Eve nodded, washing the dirty paintbrushes and placing a lid over her palette so that the paint wouldn't accidentally be spilled. She took another second to admire the painting and try to figure out what it was really missing, but she gave up and crawled towards James, sitting next to him with her knees to her chest. She was wearing his shirt and overalls -- she knew it was his since it was a little big on her -- but there was old paint on it, like it was her designated paint outfit.

    Eve leaned her head against his shoulder, and James leaned his head against hers.

    "Hey," she said, feeling at peace with the view in front of them, the finished painting, and being so close to James. "What do you think about picture books?"

    "I like them," James said. "Why?"

    "We like reading, you like making stories, and I like to draw," Eve said, gazing at the setting sun. "What if we make a picture book?"

    "I like that idea," James said softly. "And then we could read it to our kid, eventually."

    Somehow, that felt right.

Eve opened her eyes, feeling a little disoriented since the dream felt so real. She stared up at the rocky ceiling for a few seconds, blinking a few times and replaying the dream's events in her head so she didn't immediately forget it. Her thoughts were interrupted when he heard the familiar sound of chicken feed being poured into a bowl, and she remembered that she had fallen asleep after Elias and James had left. James must have returned.

Eve lazily stirred in the bed, turning on her side to face James and watch him feed Sleepy. She couldn't help but grip on to the fictional James in her dream, comparing him to the real him.

James stood up straight, holding the bag of chicken feed in his hands as he watched Sleepy start pecking into her bowl. He didn't seem to notice Eve had woken up as he rolled up the end of the bad to close it and then set in on the table. It wasn't until he turned around that he caught her eyes.

"Oh," he said. "I'm sorry, did I wake you?"

Eve smiled softly, slowly shaking her head against the pillow, keeping her gaze glued on him.

James's expression softened, and he mirrored her soft smile with a small one of his own as he walked up to the edge of the bed and sat down, looking down at her.

"Are you alright?" he asked softly, reaching down and brushing her hair behind her ear with his fingers.

"Yeah," she said just as softly, pulling her hand out of the covers so that she could place her hand on top of his before he could pull away. "I just like you."

James laughed a little through his nose and smiled.

"I like you too," he said. "Are you hungry? I brought food for you."

Eve eventually had to tear her gaze away, and she softly grunted as she sat up on the bed. "Sure, I can eat. Thank you."

James nodded, and he slid off the bed to go over to the table, bringing over a bowl back to her with a spoon. It looked like a mixture of beans, rice, and some vegetables. He sat back down and offered it to her silently.

Eve graciously took the bowl, spooning the food around in the bowl for a few seconds before speaking again.

"Have you ever had a nice dream that felt real?" she asked, looking back over at him.

James looked up at her, like he was studying her.

"You know I have," he said quietly. "Did you have a dream like that?"

"I did," she said with a little smile. "It was nice."

"What was it about?" he asked.

Eve hesitated, the smile turning shy. "You and me," she answered. "In the future, I think. It was peaceful."

James hummed, and he leaned in a little closer, with his shoulder up against hers.

"That does sound nice," he said, looking down into her bowl.

"It was."

Eve was tempted to rest her head against his shoulder like she did in the dream, but she wanted to keep the bowl steady, so instead she scooped up food onto her spoon, pausing before taking a bite.

"Hey. You know I'm lucky to have you, right?" she said.

"Is that the nice dream talking?" James asked with a little smirk.

"No. It's me talking," Eve said with a faint teasing smile. "I'm just glad you're here. You give good advice and can occasionally be funny."

James laughed slightly with a huff through his nose.

"It comes and goes," James said. "It's too hard to be witty all the time, you know."

"But what stays consistent is your sincerity and honesty," Eve said, trying to sound sincere herself. She slowly placed her spoon back in her bowl, finding her appetite to be lost until she said what she wanted to say. "You were right about Elias, and forgiveness. You are right about a lot of things, really..."

"I'm glad that you and Elias were able to talk," James said. "And that you were finally able to forgive him. I'm really proud of you, you know."

Eve glanced at James, sheepishly smiling when she could see the pride radiate out of his eyes. Pride, love, and -- as expected -- sincerity.

"It's all thanks to you, you know," she said softly. "I like who I am when I'm with you."

"I like who you are, too," James said with a small smile.
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