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Far From Home

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Thu Jul 29, 2021 4:31 am
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soundofmind says...

Another week went by, and ever since Elias and Eve's much needed conversation, James noticed that Elias started visiting a lot more often to see the both of them. James was quietly overjoyed at how the reconciliation between the two of them actually came to pass. He had hoped for it even before he met Elias, but even moreso when the two of them became friends.

Elise and Rudy continued to take Eve through physical therapy exercises, and they got more rigorous as time went on. They continued to push Eve to do simple exercises with consistency until she was able to do them with strength. She continued to push herself to walk with the help of the pole, moving one leg, and then the next. There were some days where she seemd to struggle more than others, but her progress was significant and notable.

The others would stop by semi-frequently, usually to just say hello, but sometimes they'd stay to talk, especially now that Evaline was able to engage in the conversations as well. Elise also encouraged it, since it forced Evaline to exercise her vocal cords and strengthen her voice more.

One day, Mel and Alistair came in to sit with them around the table for lunch. It was nice to have a small change of scene (at least for Evaline), since she had been bedridden for so long. Even being on the other side of the room in a chair was a big deal, all things considered.

"Hey, hey, Eva-- Eve," Mel said, correcting herself last second. "Who braids your hair everday? You or James?"

Eve paused before she took another mouthful of food, reaching up with her other hand to brush her hand against the loose braid over her shoulder.

"James," she answered. "And I do his sometimes."

Mel hummed. "Does that mean you can braid mine too?"

"Um... maybe. I'm not sure..."

"If not, can you braid my hair, James?" Mel asked as she swiveled her head to stare at him with a silly smile.

"If you want me to, sure," James said with a shrug.

"You should take notes, Alistair," she teased, elbowing his side.

Alistair almost coughed up his food, but swallowed it down before he could, turning to stare at her with his brows scrunched together.

"What is that supposed to mean?" he said.

A lot of laughter followed around the table as Mel continued to tease Alistair and even Eve as well, but it was good to be with them, and James knew all of Mel's teasing was only for fun.

Mel and Alistair continued to stop by on occasion, sometimes to play games or just talk, eat, and goof around. Sometimes Elias and Elise would come in to join them, and Hendrik would as well. James saw Rudy and Mal the least, but that was no surprise to him. Rudy only came for the physical therapy sessions, and Mal only ever really came by when they talked logistics. It seemed like Malkiel was being serious when he said they weren't friends, and he didn't seem like he wanted to be, but still, any time James ran into him he was still friendly and chose not to treat him with any bitterness. There was always a little bit of underlying tension, but it seemed like it was mostly from Malkiel.

After another week, Eve was managing to stand on her own. Walking still required something or someone to aid her for balance, but she was making quick advances, and both Elise and Rudy were very impressed. Elise never said it out loud, but James knew from the subtle messages she was giving him that she credited much of Eve's progress to her apparent renewed motivation to live and go on. There was still a lot of loss and grief they were all processing, but it felt like, as Eve grew in determination, it spread to everyone else. Her recovery was a hope that they would get out of the mines and find a safe haven eventually -- even if they had to run for a very long time before they reached it.

It had been a month and a half since Eve had woken up, and everyone continued to cheer Eve on. Even Elijah and Samiya seemed invested in her recovery. Whenever Elias would bring them in, Elijah would often want to help Eve walk (even though he was far too weak to support her) and Samiya seemed invested from a quiet distance. James had an intuitive feeling that Samiya's interest likely had just as much to do with Evaline waking up and healing post-coma as it had to do with her interest in Eve and James's relationship.

She proved it one day when she started prying a little. While Elias was sitting at the table with Elijah, helping him draw a chicken as Sleepy sat on the table, Samiya walked over to the bed curiosly, plopping down on the end to look at Eve and James with curious eyes. James and Eve were both sitting up against pillows at the head of the bed while James braided Eve's hair.

"You both are, like... an old married couple," she said, but didn't seem disgusted or annoyed.

James looked over to Samiya with a raised brow.

"How many old couples do you know?" he asked.

"None that braid each other's hair. Can you do mine?"

James laughed lightly. He was almost done with Eve's braid, and coming to the end of it.

"In a minute or two, once I'm done, sure," he said. "Do you have a specific type of braid in mind?"

Samiya hummed loudly, draping her hair along one shoulder and combing through it with her fingers while she watched James work.

"I want what she has right now," she said smugly, nodding her head towards Eve.

James laughed lightly with a huff through his nose.

"Alright, well, just wait a moment and I'll start on you next," James said, turning his attention to Eve as he quickly and steadily finished off the rest of the braid and tied it off with a ribbon in a bow.

When he was done, he patted Eve's shoulder and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.

"There you go," he said softly.

"Thank you," she said with a shy smile, touching the braid with her fingertips and lifting the end of it up so she could see it.

"Awwww," Samiya said beside them, but then made a sour face. "But also, ew. Do you always have this much PDA?"

"We're making up for lost coma time," James said nonchalantly as he slid off the side of the bed and pulled up two chairs, setting one in front of him as he sat down. "Now, come on. Do you want a braid or not?"

Even though she had mildly insulted them, Samiya seemed eager to get up and bounce to the chair, preparing to get her hair braided.

"Is this like, a ritual for you? Is this what old couples do to spend time together now?" she asked with her back to James.

James had grabbed the brush off the bed and started combing through Samiya's hair.

"It's what Eve and I do in the mornings," he said. "So I guess it is a ritual, in a way. But I like braiding hair in general. I learned how to from my mother. She would braid my father's hair sometimes."

Samiya hummed. "So... this like, gets passed down? You'll teach Eve, and then she'll teach your future son?"

Eve hadn't said anything thus far, and since Samiya sat down, she reached over and took a glass of water to drink from. At Samiya's sentence, she mildly choked and coughed, covering her mouth to not spit it out.

"We'll see what the future holds," James said quickly. "There's a lot of of unknowns."

Before Samiya could say anything else, James continued.

"Do you know how to braid?" he asked as he set the brush aside and started sectioning off Samiya's hair.

"No," Samiya said with a long sigh. "My mother didn't teach me, so..."

"Well, if you'd like, I could show you how to do a simple braid for starters," James offered. "If you find a willing participant to practice on."

"Oh yeah?" She paused for a second. "Is Elias's hair long enough to practice on?"

James hummed, glancing at Elias, who was still sitting at the table with Elijah and Sleepy. Elias seemed distracted with Elijah, who was still drawing. It looked like Elias had given up on trying to help Elijah draw anythign in particular, because they were both just drawing scribbles in different not-quite patterns.

"It would be difficult," James hummed. "I don't think his hair's long enough, really. You need at least a few inches for it to hold together. I suppose you could always practice on yourself, with a mirror."

"Maybe I'll ask Malkiel. He's got long hair, ish," Samiya thought out loud. "Or Elise or Mel, but then they'd make a thing of it, so... nah."

James smirked to himself at the thought of Malkiel agreeing to have his hair braided. He knew that Samiya and Malkiel seemed to get along more than the others. It was possible Malkiel might actually agree.

"Maybe ask Malkiel first," James suggested as he started the braid. "But I'll show you on my own head first and maybe you can practice a little on me so you can at least have an idea of what you're doing before you ask him. How's that sound?"

Samiya shrugged, which jostled the braid he was working on. "Sure, that works."

"Hey, don't move too much," James said. "Then I'd have to start over."

"Oh really?" And with that, she furiously shook her head and then laughed.

James sighed and let go of her hair, letting it fly around her head until she stopped.

"Are you good, now?" James asked. "Did you get all of that out of your system?"

"Mmmhmm!" she hummed, sitting up straighter. "Now you have to start over."

"Thank you for that," he said dryly.

He went on to finish the braid, doing the same one he did on Eve. It was a simple fish-tail braid that went straight down her back. Samiya seemed pleased with it when she looked in the mirror and pulled it over her shoulder to get a better look, and once she was done showing it off to Elias, James moved on to teaching. He showed her how to do a simple three-strand braid, showing her how to start it off against the scalp as well as how to braid it when it was just loose hair. She caught on surprisingly fast, and even practiced a few times on James's head. Without much announcement, she got up in a flurry of excitement to go ask Malkiel to be her next test subject.

Another week flew by, and Eve went from standing on her own to walking at a slow pace, and being able to hold up her own weight. She still had limited stamina, but she was regaining some muscle mass finally, and Elise and Rudy were making sure that her meals were bigger as she got more activity and movement to help fuel her body as she started getting more exercise so she could gain muscle mass and strength.

Hendrik popped in after one of Eve's physical therapy sessions, and Eve was resting in a chair at the table while James was up and about, watering the several plants in their room. James was pleasantly surprised when Malkiel followed in behind as well, but he stood by the doorway.

"Hey love birds," Hendrik said, inviting himself in to stand in the middle of the room, arms crossed. He was eyeing the few plants that James was watering. "Mal said you were growing turnips. Where are they at?"

James stood up straight, still holding the watering cup as he gestured to the balcony door.

"Should be out on the porch," James answered. "What, do you have a turnip craving?"

Hendrik scoffed, taking long strides and inviting himself to the balcony. He dismissed James with a wave of his hand. "Nah. Just gathering supplies for the trip. Good thing we have a farmer on the team, eh?"

"I guess so," James said as he watched Hendrik throw the door open and bend down to examine the turnips in the planters outside.

James drifted towards the balcony door but looked over to Malkiel, giving him a closer look. It seemed that Samiya had braided his hair up in a braided bun. James suppressed a full smile, resulting in a very small one. He then followed out to make sure Hendrik didn't rip out the plants.

It didn't take long for him to show Hendrik how to do it properly, digging into the soil and scooping them out and brushing them off. Hendrik had brought in a basket for the small harvest, and by the time they finished, the basket was full, with the turnips' long stems and leaves pouring out the sides.

When He followed Hendrik back inside, he saw that Malkiel and Eve were talking. They seemed a bit tense with one another, but the conversation was cordial and relating to the logistics of leaving. It seemed that even though Eve hadn't gotten too involved in the discussions, Malkiel seemed to want to keep her in the loop and was curious to hear her opinion.

"Thanks for the 'nips," Hendrik said as he walked back over towards Malkiel, interrupting the conversation. He held the basket with one arm, straddling it against his hip. "Looks like you're back to taking care of your girl and chicken instead of plants."

"My life will be so much less green," James said dryly. "Whatever will I do?"

Hendrik stopped and turned around by Malkiel at the doorway, bouncing the basket a little higher up against his side. "Be blue?"

James was tempted to make a cheesy comment about Eve being the yellow to his blue but he decided no one needed to hear that, and he cringed at himself inwardly at the thought.

"It's not a bad color," he said instead, waving Hendrik off dismissively, and that was the end of it.

Finally, after a week of consistency, Eve was able to move at a functional capacity. She still was far from being able to run and go hiking like they used to when traveling through the ungoverned lands, but she was definitely strong enough to ride a horse and strong enough that everyone agreed it was time to make the move.

By the time Eve reached that point, they'd all planned out their next move and the details entailed. They'd been preparing for it the last few weeks, and they decided to split into two groups that would leave at different times.

The first group to leave would be Hendrik, Malkiel, Rudy, Elijah, and Samiya. At first, they debated about sending the kids with them (especially away from Elias), but when discussing what would be best for the safety of the children, they decided it would be better for them not to be traveling with James and Evaline, who would have the biggest targets on their backs. Elias wanted to travel with the two of them, and if the children joined him, their lives would be put at greater risk. The children would also be safer with Hendrik's group since he had animals that could fit everyone, and could move faster.

Thankfully, Rudy and Hendrik seemed to step up to take care of Elijah and Samiya. Malkiel seemed like he was a little annoyed at the thought of traveling with children because he thought it would hold them back, but Hendrik seemed happy to take care of Elijah, surprising James when he babbled in baby-talk and made funny faces to calm Elijah down. Rudy seemed sober and level-headed enough that he was willing to take on the care of Samiya, but she latched on to Malkiel since she seemed to not like Rudy.

They also agreed that Hendrik, Malkiel, and Rudy working together made a well-balanced team. Hendrik and Malkiel would effectively be able to drive off natural predators and for anything they missed, Rudy was well equipped as a medic and healer to take care of anything else.

As for the rest of them, that left James, Eve, Elias, Alistair, Mel, and Elise. They would be leaving the day after, following behind Hendrik and Malkiel's trail in hopes to avoid the beasts of the ungoverned lands at least for the beginning portion of their trek.

The plan was that they all would head towards the rumored "safe zone" past the mountains. This was based on Elias's descriptions since he said he had traveled there in the past, but he didn't have a map at the time, so it was all based on landmarks. His memory wasn't the greatest, so it took a lot of interrogating by Mel and even Malkiel when he was losing patience. After gathering a list of discernible landmarks, Hendrik and Malkiel were able to map out the potential locations over the months.

When it finally came to the day for the first group to be sent out, everyone exchanged goodbyes.

Samiyah was carrying Elijah and bouncing him up and down while Elias kneeled down and spent a considerable amount of time with them saying goodbye.

"You promise you won't do anything stupid?" Elias said after she had groaned and pulled away from a hug that lasted too long.

"No," she said stubbornly.

"Sami," Elias said with the edges of a stern look, tilting his head down.

Samiya sighed. "Okay, fine. I won't do anything stupid."

"And you'll take care of Elijah?" Elias asked, cupping his hands around his face and then blowing a raspberry on top of his head, sending his wispy hairs flying around his face.

Elijah giggled. "I don't need Sami. I can take care of myself!" he said confidently.

"Maybe someday, kid. Maybe someday," Elias said with a smile, giving him a quick kiss on the head.

James had caught the conversation since he was behind Elias while the others were saying their goodbyes. Rudy was apologizing profusely to Eve even though she insisted she didn't hold anything against him, and Malkiel and Elise seemed to be politely saying their goodbyes. Hendrik had just finished giving Alistair and Mel a giant bear hug when he started to head towards James.

"James!" he called. "We'll see you in a few weeks, but you know what they say: live every day like it's your last." He smirked, extending his hand out for a handshake.

James met Hendrik's eyes with a small smile as he took Hendrik's hand, shaking firmly.

"Who's 'they?'" James asked.

"A little someone I like to call Jamie," Hendrik said as he suddenly pulled James in, giving him a quick pat on the back before stepping back and letting go.

"Ha, ha," James said with a little smirk. "Travel safe, Hendrik."

"You as well. And keep your woman safe, will you? Speaking of..." He then stepped towards Eve, wrapping his arm around her and interrupting the conversation she was having with Rudy.

"Hey boss, you're still the boss even though you're not the boss," he said with a laugh, leaning into her with his arm around her head.

"Okay, Hendrik," Eve said with a half-roll of her eyes.

At that moment, Rudy slipped in past Hendrik and Eve, catching James's eyes.

"James," Rudy said, and it seemed that, for a moment, Rudy faltered. James could sense the awkwardness, as if Rudy was contemplating apologizing again, for the millionth time.

"Keep Hendrik out of trouble," James said with a small smile.

That brought a small laugh out of him.

"That might not be as challenging as it looks," Rudy said as he offered his hand, which James shook quickly but firmly.

"I'm sure you wouldn't want to goof off too much with two children in tow," James commented.

"No, no," Rudy said as he pulled away, straightening up and looking around. "Of course not. Well. I'll see you in a few weeks, then."

James nodded. Everyone knew that wasn't a guarantee, but everyone was hoping for the best anyway. They'd argued enough about the unknowns. Now was just the time to nod and smile.

"We'll see you," James said. "Take care."

"Will do," Rudy said before he slipped away to go say goodbye to Mel and Alistair.

Malkiel, Samiya, and Elijah had been talking to the two of them, but Mel seemed to be excited to see Rudy come over, and Samiya saw this as an opportunity to sneak up to James with Elijah in tow. He was holding her hand, faithfully following behind her.

"Hey, old man," she sneered. "So, are you going to like, live with us when we get to wherever we're going? Hopefully it'll be less dusty and dark."

"Oh, so you want me to stick around?" James said in a teasing voice. "Are you going to miss me? Is that what I'm hearing?"

"No..." Samiya stubbornly said with narrowed eyes. "I didn't say that."

"Oh, of course," James said with a wave of his hand. "I must've misinterpreted."

"Yeah you did," Samiya said with a smirk. "I won't miss you, or the chicken, or Elias at all. No one will tell me what to do now."

"I have a feeling Rudy and Hendrik might fill that role pretty soon, though," James said. "I wouldn't speak too soon."

Samiya shook her head. "No, they're not as naggy as you. So no worries there, oldie. But..." With her free hand, she combed through her hair once with her fingers. "Will you all be okay? You know, without the big animals and stuff."

"I'll still have Elliot," James said with a smile. "He's the only big animal I need."

"The horsie?" Elijah said, looking up at James with big, curious eyes.

James smiled down at Elijah. "Yeah. The horsie."

"James and horsie are leaving too, but we'll see them again eventually," Samiya said, pulling him forward a bit. "Say, 'Bye, James.'"

"Bye James," Elijah echoed with a smile.

James smiled in return. "Goodbye, Elijah."

Samiyah picked him back up, smirking. "Buh-bye, now."

At their goodbye, Samiya and Elijah naturally gravitated towards Eve. Malkiel was brushed to the side since the conversation between Rudy, Mel, and Alistair was being drawn-out. He glanced over and made eye contact with James for a second, and after a brief hesitation, he cleared his throat and stepped towards him, extending his hand for a handshake.

"To new beginnings?" he said.

James took Malkiel's hand, giving it a shake.

"To new beginnings," he said in return.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Thu Jul 29, 2021 5:39 am
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Carina says...

It was bittersweet to see the others leave. Eve will genuinely miss them since everyone had given her unending support, but at the same time, the people left behind were the ones she truly loved and cared about.

Even though Elias was trying to mask it, she could tell that he was worried about Samiya and Elijah, but he seemed to brush the worries to the side when Mel repeatedly assured him that they would be fine.

"It's our last day in the mine. Let's celebrate!" Mel exclaimed not even a minute after the others had left.

"Yeah, celebrate cleaning up and gathering our supplies," Alistair mumbled, already pulling out to do exactly that. "Ow!" he yelped when Mel smacked his arm.

"Hey, don't be so lame," she huffed. "We can do that later. What do you say about a celebratory last meal?"

"Am I going to do all the cooking?" Alistair mumbled.

"That sounds nice, Mel," Elise said with a smile. "That's a great idea."

"Yeah... It would be nice to do something different, huh?" Elias said idly with a little smile.

"I'll be in the kitchen!" Mel said excitedly, already bouncing towards there, yanking Alistair with her.

Eve lightly laughed through her nose, watching her friends bicker and laugh over the trivialities of one final meal. She still couldn't believe that they held out this long for her.

Six months. It had been six months since they'd been in the mines. Six months since the entire disaster that happened with the neanders, and then with...

Eve reached out and held James's free hand, intertwining her fingers with his.

"You know... you've been on Earth for about a year now," she said softly.

James lightly leaned his shoulder against hers. "Is that so?"

Eve nodded, smiling. "I think we've made some significant changes together since then, don't you think?"

"I would dare to say they've all been good changes," he said with a soft smile in return.

"Some are bad changes," Eve said with a playful smile. "You're a blanket hog."

"What? I am?" James said, sounding more surprised than anything, like this was news to him.

Her smile widened, and she leaned in, kissing the tip of his nose. "It's okay. I like all your changes, good or bad."

"How generous of you," James said with a little smirk.

"It's also generous of me to allow you to take all the blanket," she teased.

James rolled his eyes.

"You could just pull it away from me, you know," he said. "Or wake me up or something."

Eve shook her head, maybe a little too fast. That would be the last option to cross her mind.

"No, I wouldn't do that. You look so peaceful sleeping. I wouldn't want to disturb you," she said.

"But how am I ever going to unlearn my bad sleeping habits?" James countered with a small smile.

Eve's smile lingered, and she lightly squeezed his hand. One of the big changes that went unsaid was James having longer, higher-quality sleep, and she wouldn't dare disturb that, even if it meant she was a little chilly from him turning and subsequently pulling the blanket away.

"Looks like I'll simply have to adapt," she countered back.

James huffed through his nose. He didn't seem content with her answer, but he also didn't seem to be taking the conversation too seriously, so he didn't push it.

"You'll just have to grow fur. Make your own blanket," he joked.

"Maybe you can teach me how to grow body hair?" Eve said with a smirk.

James very abruptly let out a loud laugh that practically echoed down the hall, and this time, she noticed he didn't lift his hand to hide his face as his smile spread across his face and he leaned forward. He shook his head, still wearing the wide smile, and he started pulling her hand forward, leading her towards the kitchen.

"We should eat something. Right? Let's see if they need help with anything," he said with laughter still in his voice.

It was small and seemingly insignificant, but it was moments like these that Eve wanted to cherish and remember. They truly had made significant progress with each other and themselves over the past year. It wasn't that long ago that she refused to eat, or drink, or talk, or do much of anything but wallow in her own head and misery. And it wasn't too many months before that that James had purposefully overdosed and wanted to turn his back to living.

And now, here they were, hand-in-hand, smiling and making jokes the day before they started a new chapter of their life. She was seeing him genuinely laugh loudly, and his smile was bringing out hers.

The days of hiding who they were with each other despite their feelings were long over. From here on out, they could be their true selves, and they had the long future to look forward to. Eve used to be afraid of the unknown, but somehow, the thrill of not knowing exactly what her and James's future would hold made it more thrilling.

"Right. Let's do that," Eve echoed after a too-long pause.

And just in time, Elias's head peeked out the kitchen doorway.

"Are you coming? If not, I call dibs on eating your portions," he said.

"We're coming!" James said, leading Eve up to the door just a little faster.

Eve followed along, matching James's pace until they passed him at the door.

"What'd we miss?" she asked, and when she glanced around the kitchen, she saw and heard Mel and Alistair bickering back and forth about a recipe, while Elise hung back, looking like she wanted to reel them back, but decided against it.

"Nothing much," Elias said with a shrug. "We're just getting started. Come on. We've got a long day tomorrow, so let's make the best of it."
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soundofmind says...

The morning started early. Everyone had their belongings packed, so all they had left to do was head out through the tunnels just before sunrise. They made it out of the mountain just as the sun was peeking over the tops of the trees, piercing through the sky with a deep, warm orange as the deep blues of the night faded away. James walked at the front with Mel, while Eve rode Elliot just behind them. Alistair, Elias, and Elise held up the back as Mel led the way. She had the most experience navigating through the mountains, and she'd found the animal footpaths that weaved through the thick of the underbrush, making a clearer path that avoided stickers, animal dwellings, and poisonous plants.

With the trek being downhill, they had gravity on their side, and Mel took a winding path that went on the flattest path down the side, avoiding steep drop-offs and crevices. It took them all morning to make it to the bottom, and as the earth started to flatten out before them, the sun inched higher in the sky. It was nearing the hotter summer months, but the heat wasn't unbearable. After a several-hour hike, however, they were slowing to take a break. Mel wanted to find a place that wasn't so overgrown with plantlife, so she was leading them towards a clearing that James vaguely remembered passing through on their way into the mountain, six months ago.

It wasn't far, but everyone was moving slow. James glanced back at Elias, Elise, and Alistair, noting that they were starting to drag behind. His eyes drifted up to Eve, who was sitting atop Elliot with Sleepy happily sitting in her lap. They both exchanged small, soft smiles, even though he could tell Eve seemed a little wearied. Riding a horse was still work, and he knew she probably needed to hop off and stretch. She hadn't ridden for such a long time for months, and though she was able to move on her own, he knew she had yet to regain the stamina and endurance she once had before.

He looked again to Mel, who was still walking beside him with a steady pace. She seemed focused and alert, but James thought it would be a good idea to just stop where they were, seeing how tired everyone was.

But just as he was about to suggest it, his nose caught onto a strangely sweet odor. He faltered in his steps, squinting slightly. It almost smelled like...

"...Peanuts?" he muttered.

"What?" Mel said, slowing in her steps.

"Does anyone else smell that?" James asked.

"Smell wh--?"

But Mel didn't get to finish her sentence.

A roaring boom erupted from behind them, and chunks of dirt and dust came flying through the air. James whirled around to see Alistiar, Elise, and Elias get swallowed up by a cloud of dust, while Elliot jerked forward, and Eve grabbed onto the horn of the saddle as if for dear life to keep from falling off.

James ran to reach for Elliot's reins before he could get very far, but just as he grabbed them and tugged, another explosion rang off, and this one was closer. Something flew threw the air and hit him square in the side. It wasn't very large, but it hit hard and fast enough to knock him to his knees, and he lost his grip on Elliot's reins.

His ears were ringing, and the air was clouded, and dust clung to his glasses. Or... no, he'd lost his glasses. They'd fallen off, and were somewhere, but he couldn't make out where.

With his head spinning, he scrambled to his feet, all sound still drowned out by the droning ringing in his ears.

He was suddenly met by Mel, who surged through the dust. He saw a scratch on the side of her head, and it wasn't too deep, but it was enough to send a streak of blood down her temple to her chin. She looked a little dazed, but when she met his eyes, she grabbed his hand and started yanking him forward. He could see her mouth moving, but everything sounded muddled behind the wall of ringing sound.

Ahead, he could see Elliot's head sticking out as the cloud of dust started to subside, and Eve was sitting up straight again. They looked like they were alright, but Elliot seemed like he was ready to run. James knew the only thing keeping Elliot from doing so wasn't Eve's direction. It was James. He was waiting for James, like he always did.

Suddenly, the ringing started to subside, and Mel's shouting voice came in like a rush of noise.

"We need to get out of here, now!" she shouted. "Eve--"

As if the ambush was rigged to not let Mel finish her sentences, another explosion went off, and this one was right beside them, on Mel's side.

James felt Mel get thrown to the ground from the blast, and he lost his footing as Mel dragged him down. Dust filled the air and James's ears were ringing again, but this time it was painful, and deafening. James was quick to recover, getting back on his feet, but as he searched the forest floor, he couldn't seem to find Mel. Either he'd gotten turned around, or Mel had moved, or something...

Another explosion went off. And another. They were further away, and they were like distant booms that only piled on to the incessant ringing, filling the air with an earthen smoke.

James shouted, but he couldn't hear himself. He tried to call Elliot, and Eve, and Mel, and he didn't get to the other names before somebody grabbed him, and he knew before he got a clear look at them that it wasn't an ally.

It was Deidra.

Instinct kicked in, and he tried to slip out of her grasp and weave out of the way, but instead of engaging in combat, Deidra hauled James over her shoulder like he was a child. Her arms wrapped around him with a death grip as he started kicking wildly and he grabbed for her hair, yanking it. As his fingers caught in her braid, she abruptly let go of him and threw him to the ground with force, almost like she was intending to launch him across the forest floor.

He scraped his hands and feet on the ground to stop himself from rolling too far, but his head was still spinning and he wished his hearing would return sooner.

As he started to sit up and get to his feet, and shadow emerged over him, jumping out from behind a tree, pointing the end of a gun at his head. She planted her foot on his chest, sending him back to the forest floor.

They were at the edge of the plume of dust, and he could make out her face looking down at him. Even though he couldn't hear it, he could see that she was laughing.

Tula looked a little different than he remembered. She was a little less polished, a little more wearied with loose strands of curly hair bouncing around her face with every breath of the laugh. There was the hint of a crazed grin tugging at her lips, and he could see in her eyes the look of a woman who'd been pushed past her limits. He knew that look of obsession because he'd seen it before, more than once in the eyes of bounty hunters, and even some people he once called friends.

He knew better than to test his luck by grabbing her leg and tossing her to the ground. Not with Deidra stomping towards him and Katya creeping out of the bushes.

In the near-distance, more explosions went off. He looked at Katya, who was holding something in her hands that resembled a remote. James understood without saying that she was the one setting off the bombs.

Finally, the ringing started to fade, and James heard Tula's voice cut through. She had been talking through some kind of spiel, but the ringing was subsiding, and her voice faded into his hearing.

"... have any idea how long I've been waiting for this day? Today is the day you will finally get what you deserve. Death. More death. And best of all, pride." She manically laughed again, the gun drifting away by an inch, but she quickly corrected herself. "No, wait, that's me. I'll get the pride. You will only see everyone around you die, just as you deserve."

"Nice speech," James said flatly, though his voice was even.

"Shut the fuck up," Tula cooly threatened through her teeth, her laugh quickly melting away as she glared daggers at him. She cocked the gun and then fired inches away from his head, sending another loud bang ricocheting through the air. "Do you want to say that again?"

The gunshot must have cut through all of the explosions, because suddenly Elias came stumbling out of the dust with a lead in his hands. It looked strange, seeing Elias leading Elliot of all things, but there he was, pulling Elliot and Eve out of the dust cloud and into the clear. They all looked disheveled and caked in dirt and dust.

With Deidra still towering over James, Tula wasted no time to point the gun towards Elias, but quickly drifted it towards Eve.

"You think I don't know your party trick?" she asked with another manical laugh at the edges of her voice and eyes. "I know how long you've been here. I know who you're with. I know what you've been up to. I know everything. You think I've forgotten? Oh, I haven't forgotten. Today is your unlucky day."

The explosions had come to a halt, and the dust was starting to settle. James could see three shadows in the distance that looked like they were propping each other up. He could make out Mel in the middle, and then Alistair and Elise. Mel didn't look fully conscious.

Still with a crazed look in her eyes, Tula peered down at James, grinning. "Do you remember when you said how you said I would probably like to torture you? Today is that day."

James watched as Tula looked up and met eyes with Deidra, who reached into her pocket and pulled out a radio.

"All in," she said with a click of radio static following.

"And it's too bad I'm so impatient," Tula said with mockery, and then in one quick motion, straightened her hand and pointed the gun towards Eve, who had been crouched down on Elliot.

Without warning, Tula fired the gun, sending another band ricocheting through the air.

But it didn't hit Eve. Elias saw that Tula had been aiming for her, and he jumped in front of her just in time for the bullet to hit his shoulder. Blood immediately stained his clothes, and he grimaced and bent over, his hand tightly gripping the wound despite blood seeping out of it. James felt his heart twist as he grit his teeth, wanting to flip Tula over as her foot still rested on his chest, which was bearing most of her weight. But he knew Deidra was right there, and he could hear what sounded like faint footfalls. A large group of them. In near-unison.

"Predictable, yet still entertaining," Tula said with the grin still tugging her lips. She leaned over and placed more pressure on his chest.

Almost a dozen men and women bearing guns pointed and ready to fire emerged out of the forest. They were circling around James's friends like hawks, awaiting their orders.

Noticing that he wasn't paying attention, Tula twirled the gun in her hand, then emptied out all but one bullet. They ended up all pattering out of the gun and loosely hitting his face as they rolled to the ground. Another crazed grin tugged her lips and she placed the end of the gun into his mouth.

"Let's play Russian Roulette, shall we?" she said, digging the end of the gun deeper in his mouth.

James didn't know what either of those things were, but he got the picture.

Katya seemed to give orders out to a couple of the soldiers, and they marched towards Elias and Eve's direction, but James couldn't see what they planned on doing.

"Will you cooperate?" Tula asked, her finger on the trigger.

James had a gun in his mouth. How the hell did she expect him to talk back coherently? A muffled vowel came out of the back of his throat, but it was far from a word. He narrowed his eyes at her.

Tula smirked, circling the end of the gun around in his mouth some more before she finally dragged it out towards his forehead, leaving a trail of saliva across his face.

"Will you cooperate?" she asked again.

"You're going to kill them all whether I do or don't, aren't you?" he asked instead.

Tula dug her foot into his stomach, watching him slowly exhale the air out of his mouth before speaking again.

"Deiiidraaaa," Tula teased with her eyes still locked on his.

As if Deidra had been cued on this beforehand, she reached over and grabbed James up by the shoulders, forcing him to his knees. She lowered behind him and grabbed his arms, twisting them behind him. He was pushed forward at an uncomfortable angle as Deidra twisted his arm more, and more, until he was sure it would break. He could feel his bones and muscles screaming under the pressure, and he grit his teeth tightly. At this rate, he didn't know what the point of it was. Torture unto submission?

Deidra seemed to detect that she was reaching a limit, and before his bone could give and snap, she abruptly let go of one arm and moved to the other, twisting it around in a way that arms were never meant to bend. He felt his shoulder dislocate, and as Deidra let go, she moved on before the pain could fully register.

He was pinned down to the ground, with his face in the dirt, and for a moment, Deidra lifted the pressure off of him again. He tried to begin to push himself up and roll out of the way of whatever was coming next, but Deidra came crashing down with such force that under her weight, he felt a rib crack.

When she got up, she kicked him with her foot, right in the ribs, and the crack turned into a break, and he wished he could think of a way out that ended with Mel, Elias, Elise, Alistair, Eve, Elliot, and Sleepy not being dead, tortured, or captured with worse fates in store. He wished he had thought of more worst-case scenarious beforehand, but with each following kick from Deidra into his ribs, his gut, his chest, he knew that they were outnumbered, outpowered, and they'd walked into a trap. A trap that was all because of him. If he'd gone out alone, maybe the others could've avoided all of this. Maybe Elias wouldn't be bleeding out. Maybe Mel wouldn't be concussed. Maybe Eve and everyone else wouldn't have to helplessly watch as he was beaten.

But that wasn't the worst of it. As Deidra finally let up on the kicking, she sat him on his knees again and cuffed his hands behind him. She called another soldier over to hold him in place, with a gun to his head, as she got up and marched over to Elliot and Eve. With horror, Jame watched as Deidra pulled out a gun from her hip and shot Elliot. James wasn't relieved to see that it was a dart (likely a sedative), because immediately after, Deidra practically ripped Eve out of the saddle, dragging her over to Tula's feet.

Deidra dropped Eve to the ground, and Eve crumpled, already weak. James was only a few feet from her, but he couldn't reach her.

At the same time, James saw the other soldiers in the corner of his eye starting to separate Elise, Alistair, Mel, and even Elias. Each one being dragged away, and held with weapons against their heads. All except Elias, who was instead being circled with a disproportionate amount of soliders, even though he was bleeding out.

Elliot was starting to look sleepy, and the chicken was nowhere to be seen. Eve was forced to kneel by Deidra, and Tula gave Deidra a look.

"Like I said, today's the day I get to relish in the pleasure of actually torturing you," Tula said as she slowly paced in front of him, precariously twirling the gun in her hand. "But you, romance boy, don't care. Mmhmm, no you don't. You don't care about yourself at all. Tell me, Katya, how do you torture a man who doesn't care if he gets hurt?"

"Uh--" Katya began, but didn't get to finish since Tula immediately interrupted.

"Torture the romance, not the boy," Tula said with a sinister smile, nodding towards the guards towering over Eve.

James's mouth set into a straight line and his brows pinched together tightly as he watched Deidra punched Eve in the back of the head. Eve's head immediately fell forward, and Deidra proceeded to kick, and shove, until Eve was practically curled up in a ball on the ground. Deidra then ripped Eve's arm away from her protective fetal position and did the same thing she did to James.

Except this time, almost immediately, James heard a sickening crack, and unlike James, Eve wasn't one to hold back when experiencing pain. She let out a piercing cry that fell into a whimper, and pained tears stung her eyes as her body shook and convulsed.

She broke her arm. When Deidra threw Eve's now-broken arm back, James could see the bent bone almost puncturing through the skin. His stomach twisted, not with sickness at the sight of a broken bone, but because he was helpless. They both were, and there was nothing he could do to help her. Nothing that didn't result in her immediate death.

He knew she was wanted dead. He saw the Soldier behind Deidra, steadily holding the gun, keeping it pinned on Eve.

Deidra then lifted Eve up so she was sitting, though only because of Deidra's support, because James could see Eve wasn't holding up her own weight.

Tula pointed the same one-bullet gun again, this time towards Eve's head.

"Say you don't love him. Admit it. He was never worth anything to you," Tula said with a cool, steady voice.

Tears were streaming down Eve's face, and her eyes were closed as she seemed to be in a conscious daze. She took a heavy, shaky breath, opening her eyes so she could meet James's.

"N-No," she whispered, weakly shaking her head.

"Wrong answer," Tula said, then pulled the trigger.

But nothing happened. She had empty-fired. With the crazy glint in her eyes never leaving her face, she manually spun the chamber with her thumb for extra effect.

"Wrong answers and no bullets only get one treatment," she said, nudging her head towards the guards again.

Deidra yanked at Eve's broken arm. Eve let out a pained cry.

"Let's take turns, shall we?" Tula asked, pointing the gun towards Eve again, but then peered down at James. "Now, you say that you have never loved her. Go on. Say it. Say that she is worthless."

James knew that if he disobeyed, Eve was going to get hurt again.

He looked up at Tula, meeting her eyes. If they weren't going to make it out of this, he didn't want those words to be the last words Eve ever heard. He steeled his nerves.

"I love you," he said softly, tearing his eyes away from Tula to look intently into Eve's. "You're worth everything to me."

Eve had been holding back cries, but at that, her lip quivered and more tears flowed down. Soft whimpers came out of each breath, but a steady wail escaped with this wave of emotions.

Tula sighed, cocking the gun again. "Wrong again," she said, and then pulled the trigger.

But, like last time, nothing happened.

"I can do this all day." Another sinister smile crept across her lips, and she gestured towards the guards behind her. One of the guards took the end of their rifle and jabbed it into Eve's back.

"I'm getting tired of all your fake romance words," Tula said with a sigh, manually rolling the chamber again before pointing it back towards Eve. "Will you cooperate?" she asked again, her eyes on Eve even though James knew that the question was directed towards him.

James knew that he didn't have a choice. Not a real one. Not when he was wanted alive. There was no life or death, there was only pain or more pain.

Taking in a slow, steady breath, he met Eve's eyes with a deep look of sincere apology.

"Yes," he said, his voice a hollow shell.

"Good," Tula said, lowering her arm and stepping towards James, leaning down next to him. Deidra seemed to understand what Tula was getting at, so she uncuffed him, but held on to one arm.

Tula extended the gun on the ground away from his reach and then took his free weak hand, leaning in close to his ear, licking his cheek up to his ear, and then playfully biting his earlobe. James shuddered and had to hold back a disgusted grimace.

"You're going to do as I say if you are to cooperate. You're going to be a good boy. Are you going to be a good boy?" she teasingly whispered in his ear.

James grit his teeth together.

"Mmhmm," he hummed, frowning in contempt.

As expected, that wasn't enough of an answer. Tula then took her free hand and reached down to punch his groin before forcefully grabbing it by the fistful.

"Are you going to be a good boy?" she hissed in his ear again.

James gritted his teeth together as anger burned in his heart. He growled lowly in the back of his throat to keep back a pained groan.

"Yes," he said through his teeth. "Tula."

As he said her name, he was seething with hatred.

"Good," Tula said with a sultry voice in his ear, and then pulled her hand away from his groin, instead, focusing both of her hands around his. She reached back and pulled the gun towards her again, propping it back in her hand, and then guiding his hand around it so that his finger was propped against the trigger.

James knew what she was asking him to do before she said a word, and he knew he couldn't do it.

He didn't have the strength.

"Kill Evaline," Tula said, still close to his ear. "The gun is pointed. All you have to do is pull the trigger. Be a good boy and cooperate like you said you would."

James felt like the world was closing in around him, everything centered on this one moment. The sound of his breathing and his heart pounding rumbled in his ears, and as he held the gun, pointed at Eve, he met her eyes.

She was still sobbing from the pain and from the emotional implications of it all. She looked at him back with big, teary eyes, but through it all, she didn't seem afraid or upset. Somehow, she stared back at him with a mutual understanding, like all she needed to know were the last words he had told her, and that was enough.

James considered shooting Tula instead, but he had a feeling if he twisted his arm at all, he'd never get that far. The coward in him even imagined pointing the gun at himself, but he knew that no one would benefit from that. Would they keep Eve alive just to torture her? And he couldn't possibly subject her to the torture of seeing him kill himself.

He knew where to point to kill. He knew where to point to wound. But he also knew if he didn't succeed, he'd only be delaying the inevitable. They wouldn't leave the job half-done. Not after their previous failure.

With sorrow, he looked into Eve's eyes like he was looking into his future.

It was a future where he waited for just the right moment to kill himself, because without Evaline, or Elliot, or any of his friends, or his home... what was there to live for?

Maybe this was all inevitable. It was the future set out for him. It always ended like this: he lost everyone he ever cared about, and he was kept a prisoner for all time. Even on Nye, his fate was the same. This was all just a cruel game of loss and gain, and he always ended up on the losing side.

He wished he could thank Eve for the time that he knew her. He wished he could tell her more, but he knew one word from his mouth would make it worse. He was ordered to kill, not say parting goodbyes.

He tapped his finger against the trigger.

He mouthed: "I'm sorry," and then pulled it. Despair and desperation sunk in as the bullet came rushing out, but midway through the air after that split second, the bullet froze.

James let out a shuddered breath, staring wide-eyed at the frozen bullet for a moment as it sunk in.

It was happening again.

Time froze.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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soundofmind says...

Adrenaline kicked in like an old habit, and James threw the gun to the side, plucked the bullet out of the air and tossed it into the bushes, and just before rushing to Eve, he very quickly shoved his arm back into its socket. He grunted as he whipped around to Tula and rammed into her with his shoulders and back, sending her, well... into the air, but she was frozen in place, and hadn't hit the ground yet.

All of that only took five seconds, and he then rushed to Eve, kneeling in front of her and meeting her eyes. He reached out and held her cheek.

"I'm sorry. We don't have time to talk right now. We need to get everyone out of here," he said. "Do you need me to carry you?"

Eve's lip quivered and she leaned into his hand, a tear running down her cheek and catching in his hand. A cry hitched in her throat, but she silently nodded to his question.

James nodded in return, and as carefully as he could, he came to her side and scooped her up, all the while his shoulder burning. He clenched his teeth together as he took in a sharp breath and looked around at the scene before them, finally able to get a clear look at everything that was going on.

Elliot was asleep, and likely impossible to wake up in his current sedated state. James remembered how last time, he'd been able to pull Elliot out of the time freeze, but his heart sunk heavily as reality started seeping in.

There was no way the sedative would wear off in ten minutes, and he didn't even know if they could go that long. Eve was still weak, and they didn't know how the procedure had affected her powers. For all they knew, they only have a minute left.

The dread only pierced deeper as he looked at the group of soldiers surrounding his friends. Alistair had been bound, and had a gun to his head. Mel was unconscious, being held up by one soldier while another pointed their gun at her. Elise was standing with a gun to her head as well, looking on in horror.

She was watching her brother, Elias, who was circled by soldiers and guns as he laid on the ground, still bleeding.

James did a head-count, and he spotted Sleepy last. She was flapping her wings - though frozen in-motion - as a soldier grabbed her off the ground.

In any other situation, that might've been funny, but James was considering their odds. 6 to 15. And it wasn't just numbers they had piled against them. It was weapons and bombs. Elliot, being put out. Each of them, being wounded, some hurt too much to run away. Either they would have to be left behind, or they would slow everyone down. But even if they managed to run on foot, they'd never make it.

One minute, or even ten minutes, wouldn't buy them enough time to escape the inevitable. Not when they had wounds that could take some of them out sooner.

The only person James could see possibly getting away was himself, but he would never leave the others behind.

James felt his dislocated arm straining to hold up Eve's weight as he stood there, reality hitting him all at once.

Eve seemed to sense his hesitation, and even though adrenaline and detachment hadn't hit her the same way, she held back her tears and cries and leaned away and resisted his grip to indicate that she no longer wanted to be carried.

"Even in hard situations..." she began with a strained voice. " of us has always -- always been the level-headed, logical one. Right?"

James swallowed, nodding slowly.

"Eve," he said quietly. "I don't see a way out of this one."

"I know," she said as calmly as she could, not dropping her gentle eye contact. "There's no way out where all of us could escape."

James let down her legs, watching as Eve's feet hit the ground to make sure she was steady. Still, he had his arm behind her back.

"I don't want to choose..." James said as he closed his eyes.

He knew who they had to leave behind. Mel and Elias would slow them down. Elliot had to stay, too. And Sleepy. He wasn't even sure if Eve would make it. She was barely standing.

"Take Elise and Alistair," Eve said calmly, gesturing to the woods behind them where the soldiers once lined up. "They must have taken a vehicle here. Alistair could help you drive it. Elise could heal you. It's your best chance of escaping."

"They're just going to try to kill you again," James said, barely audible, unable to meet her eyes. "If I never--"

James pressed his lips together tightly, unable to finish his sentence. Instead, he pulled Eve close, wary of her broken arm, but he held her nonetheless.

Although it still pained her to lift her uninjured hand up, she did so slowly anyways, cupping it against his cheek, and gingerly brushing back a strand of hair behind his ear. Tears glistened in her eyes, but she still forced herself to smile softly.

"Remember how you said you will live for me?" she asked quietly, brushing her thumb against his cheek. "Can you still do that for me?"

James was trying to keep it together. He really was. But he felt like he was drifting away. Even as Eve held his face he could feel the pull of time between the two of them grow stronger. His heart was twisting and tearing in two with a deep aching pain, and like a wound-up spring he could feel the pressure building. Tugging forward, tugging back.

He didn't even have time to process the implications emotionally. He stared into Eve's eyes with a desperate emptiness as he spoke with no conviction.

"I'll try," he said weakly.

James could tell Eve was trying so hard to be the stronger one, speaking in a gentle tone and clearing her eyes of tears and sadness so that only love leaked through.

"I often don't know what I want, nor do I ask much of you. But now I only have one wish to ask of you: live. Live for me, and live a life worth living, even if I'm not in the picture. I want you to live a fulfilling life, James. Please. Can you honor my request?"

James didn't want their goodbye to end, and yet, he knew what had to be done. He rested his hand over hers, overlapping them over his cheek.

"For you," he said quietly, his voice solemn as he tried not to crush under the weight of his own words.

He leaned forward and gave Eve one last kiss, trying to put every ounce of the love he had for her into the small, quick gesture before he pulled away.

Eve dropped her hand, and without his support, her knees buckled and she fell to the floor. The hair in her braid had messily come loose, and more strands broke free, partly covering her face. Still, she tilted her head up and ignored the physical and emotional pain, meeting his eyes with longing.

"I have so much I want to say, but we don't have much time," she said gently with a faint, sad smile. "But I want to quickly thank you. Thank you for teaching me how to love and for unconditionally loving me. Thank you for bringing me so much joy, and thank you for making life worth living. Suffering through a lifetime of hardship and pain was worth meeting and loving you. I love you, James, and my only regret is not realizing this sooner."

James knelt down in front of her so that they were face to face, and he looked into her eyes. A part of him felt that he should have been more prepared for this moment, because it was the realistic end to their story. He should've had words prepared, and he should've had something to say, but he felt that his words were falling short.

Eve was going to die, and he couldn't save her. Elias was going to die, or worse -- he'd recover and be dragged back into the army, or locked away. Mel was going to suffer and she'd probably die too, for knowing everything. Elliot was going to die, or otherwise be kept as bait, or leverage. And Sleepy... of course she was going to die too.

James had stared death in the face over and over and over again. Sometimes willingly, and other times unexpectedly, but he'd never had more to lose than he did in this moment.

He didn't know why he couldn't cry.

He took in a deep breath.

"I love you too," he said, desperately searching for words as numbness started to seep in, drowning everything out.

"I never thought I'd love anyone again as much as I love you," James said, his voice growing quiet. It felt like his voice was echoing in his ears. Everything else around them was dead silent.

"It was all worth it," he continued. "I'm just sorry that it has to end this way. I know we both are."

At that, he slowly started to get to his feet. His eyes stung, and a heaviness fell over him, but tears still didn't come.

"I'll never forget you," he said softly. "Goodbye."

"Goodbye, James. Now go. You don't have much time," Eve said with a shaky voice, nudging her head towards the others who were still frozen. She was still holding back the despair and heartache, trying to be the stronger one for him. "Live for me."

James nodded, and stood up straight, taking in a deep breath. He glanced at Alistair, and Elise, and gave one last look to Mel, Elias, Sleepy, and Elliot.

His eyes lingered on Elliot with a deep sadness.

Elliot was a miracle, and the fact he'd lived this long was something James was grateful for. But Elliot had been his constant before Eve, before Earth, before any of his new friends. Elliot was more than just a horse. He was his companion, and his friend.

Just as James was about to hurry to Elise first, who was closest, his eyes caught on something in Elliot's saddlebag.

Something was... glowing. There was a peculiar, bright, warm light that was permeating through the thick leather, and as soon as he spotted it, it was as if it shone brighter, sending rays of light out of the cracks of the bag.

It was the only thing besides Eve and James that was moving, or rather, changing in its state. With slightly widened eyes, James glanced back at Eve before he warily walked up towards it.

"J-James?" Eve said softly as he did so.

Maybe it was the shock, or the adrenaline rush dying down, or the empty denial that hung over him, but James found himself undeniably drawn to the light. Wordlessly, he stepped up beside the bag and flipped it open, reaching in to pull out the source. For a moment, the flash of light that met his eyes was almost blinding, but he could see the sliver of paper pinned beneath the journal's pages. He ripped it out and looked it over, squinting as the beam of light emanating from it slowly faded, and in its wake, James saw golden letters etch themselves onto the paper as if being written by an invisible pen in real-time. The verse was penned at the very bottom of the note, but it seemed separate from the poem above it.

one last wish, soon no longer smother
to exchange one fate of yours for another
one irreversable, one yet uncharted
one in another world, one where it started
it's fated to all for one world to be home
think of your friends, and you won't go alone

He read it slowly, letting each word sink in as it was being written. He could feel his heart picking up its pace, starting to pound again -- but this time not from fear, but something else. It wasn't quite hope. It felt almost like a delirious sense of desperation.

Was this... another way out?

"James?" Eve said behind him again, sounding more urgent this time since he had spent a considerable amount of time reading.

He jerked his head up to look at Eve, meeting her eyes as he started to breath fast, shaky breaths.

"Another verse," he whispered. "Another verse. I can take us home."

He paused, before adding quickly.

"My home."

Eve held his eyes with seriousness, sitting up straighter. "How?" she asked.

"I just have to..." he trailed off for a moment, his mouth splitting into a faint smile. "Think of it. It's that simple."

He could feel the clock inside of him ticking. He could feel the tug forward and the tug back weakening. Their strength was waning.

There were so many unanswered questions not yet asked, but Eve seemed to also pick up the urgency of the situation, knowing there was not much time to hear all the answers and clarifications.

"Just us? Now?" she asked soberly.

"All of us," James said.

Eve glanced at the others frozen in time, letting the pain of it all show just for a second across her face.

"There isn't another alternative where we can all live," she said slowly, then turned back to James, expression serious. "We should follow the demands of the new verse."

James looked back down to the note, rereading the last line.

Think of your friends, and you won't go alone.

Eve was right. They had to try. The note had been true to its word before.

He closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath, and he focused on his friends. Everyone with him. He pictured them in front of him, in his mind.

Eve, Elliot, Elias, Mel, Alistair, Elise, and Sleepy.

Take me home.

He felt a weak wind rush past him, and the air suddenly became more clear. He no longer felt the pull of time in any direction, and familiar smells he'd thought he'd forgotten rushed to his nose, and he opened his eyes.

Eve was still in front of him, but in a different patch of forest that was very distinctly Nye, and as he glanced back, everyone else was there too. Unfrozen. On Nye.

It had taken a year, but finally, James was no longer far from home.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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Carina says...



Main recurring characters pictured from left to right: Elias, Malkiel, Elise, Rudy, Hendrik, Alistair, Mel, James, Evaline/Eve, Deidra, Tula, Oliver, Katya

But that's not actually the end. There's another part since we ended in a cliffhanger.

Wait! Another part? How many parts are there?!

Fantastic question, we wish we knew. Let's break this down with another classic q&a:

  • Yes, @soundofmind and I are still obsessed and crazy.
  • Yes, we still binge almost every night, except for when we're busy. So, basically, whenever the RP doesn't run our lives do we not write.
  • Yes, we are aware that this is basically a novel at this point with way too many scenes.
  • No, we are not yet finished.
  • Yes, we are aware that the FH + FH2 + FFH saga totals over a million words so far.
  • Yes, we do know the (esimated) word count: 731,992 words


Are we a little nutty? Maybe (Yes). BUT THE SHOW MUST GO ON.

What is the word count on the longest post?
Hah, great question. Something happened at page 34 since the entire page had 60k words over a span of six days. Essentially, we decided it would be faster to write our posts in a longer format while collaborating on them in a pad. This resulted in storybook-length posts that spanned 1k to sometimes 10k (and at that point, we started splitting them up just so scrolling down the page didn't take an eternity).

What is the word count on the shortest post?
from some post that we're too lazy to find wrote:"How?"

What were the most overused words?
Great question since we don't keep track, but we have noticed we often overuse the following words:
  • softly
  • gently
  • quietly
  • chicken
  • dream
  • egg
Is this story actually about chickens? I'm not permitted to answer that.

Do we have more weird out of context quotes?
Yes. So many, but more than we remembered to keep record of, because wow. But also, we did preserve a few for your reading pleasure. (Who are you and why are you reading this? I don't know, but it's for you, and also us).

At least the massage chair didn't want to have his kids.

"I'm not going to eat human cheese," he said.

"Baby man can call me daddy any time."

"My job here is done. I gave you the chick, I saw you take the pill, and we talked as men. Need anything from me before I go?"

"But if all the snakes were alive, that would be a very active, wriggling plate of noodles," James noted.

James set the frozen chicken in Evaline's lap.

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

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.

Also yes, we did directly use this:
You can blame sound.

Okay but is there anything we're missing?
Yes. You're missing out on all of the jokes about James's fertility. No, I will not elaborate. We'd rather walk on egg-shells. Ok, moving on.

What is the most needlessly dramatic scene?
Evaline was trying to throw a nice wholesome birthday party but then it turns into James-needs-therapy-instead.

What is a scene that you least suspected would happen?
Evaline had friendzoned James, then a few months later, they get back together and have big smoochies while their friends sleep a couple feet away from them on a camping trip.

What was the most angsty scene?
There are tons of possible dark timelines here, all stemming from angsty scenes. Here's an ongoing list we have swerved away from:
  • Evaline and James never reconciling in Terra, and she runs off by herself while James will eventually quietly spiral to his demise
  • a version where James runs away deep into the ungoverned lands
  • James never gets rescused from the Gaea, and is forced to cooperate
  • Time doesn't freeze the first time, leading to Evaline dying as intended and James cooperating in Sector 1 (until he eventually spirals)
  • Time doesn't freeze the second time
  • The new verse never appeared, leaving James to escape with Alistair and Elise
  • A new verse did appear but it said: Live, Laugh, Love instead

What's a quick summary of this roleplay?

Beautiful, thank you for reading. ONWARDS TO PART THREEEEEEEEEEEEEEE (and potentially two million words)!!!!!
chaotic lazy

the queen of memes

secret supreme overlord of yws

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5/5
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A true poet does not bother to be poetical. Nor does a nursery gardener scent his roses.
— Jean Cocteau