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Island Magic

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Tue Nov 07, 2023 6:45 pm
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urbanhart says...

Rounding the corner of a food stand, Lyall screeched to a halt, narrowly avoiding bumping into a beaming Clarity.

"Oh, hello!" Clarity said, in a bright tone. "I was just looking for you. You see, you were next on the list!"

Lyall stammered incoherently with confusion. "What? List? Me? Why?" He frowned. "Miss Clarity, forgive me if this is presumptuous in any way, but you seem quite off." Then he scoffed and smacked his own forehead. "Well, yes. Everyone is. That's the whole point of this train wreck."

"Well, I feel fine," Clarity said, now sounding confused. "Everyone else seems to be in a strange state, though, so I wanted to do something to help. I settled on flower crowns. I'm trying to get one to everyone, so that's the list!" She smiled again, holding up two different flower crowns. "So, marigolds or daisies?"

"How could those help?" Lyall asked, studying the flowers in her hands closely. Then hastily amended, "I mean, it's a very kind gesture! Truly! Sometimes all something needs is a bandaid, for the simple sake of appearances to make one feel better. Would a bunch of flowers even be so effective though? I couldn't say. Who am I to judge, though. Flowers can be nice."

He frowned at himself now. "I need to shut up," he muttered. "Which is something I only very rarely think in regards to myself."

Clarity pouted, her expression falling. "I mean, flowers can help," she said. "They can't hurt at least, can they? Unless--" She paled. "Oh, I hope no one has a pollen allergy. Do you?"

"No," he quickly answered as guilt solidly punched him in the gut at her crestfallen look, "no allergies. I mean-- Well, no. Technically, we're all allergic to some degree. Pollen is inherently an irritant to the human body, but some are more allergic to it than others--" He suppressed the urge to growl out loud, and asked instead through grit teeth, "Bloody hell, what is wrong with me?"

Clarity perked up suddenly. "I'm pretty sure I have the resources to create antihistamines, actually, so." She held both crowns in his face. "Flowers for all!"

Lyall mustered a half-hearted grin. "Fantastic," he said. "Which would you choose for me?"

Clarity weighed both of them in her hands, before lifting the marigold crown higher and setting it down on Lyall's slowly-drying hair. "There," she declared with satisfaction. "Firey marigolds for a fire mage."

"Thank you," he managed to say with a modicum of grace. "I shall now tuck myself into a secret, far-away corner and shall not come back out of it for the rest of my natural life." Lyall nodded his goodbye. "Good day to you, ma'am."

"Wait," Clarity said suddenly. "What do you mean? Are you going somewhere? It's not over yet!"

"If I were a braver man," Lyall went on, though he obliged and stayed where he was, "I'd try taking a boat out to sea myself to get out of here. No waiting for the end of all this, if I could help it. But I can't. So the corner should suffice in the meantime."

"Oh," Clarity said, sounding disappointed. "I was hoping everyone was having fun." She paused suddenly, as if something had occurred to her. "Wait. Of course you're not having fun. You're soaked!"

At this, she flicked her hand, and the water suddenly rose off Lyall, leaving his hair, skin and clothes completely dry. A large sphere hovered in the air above, and with another sweep of her hand, the water flew to the side and splashed on the ground.

Lyall watched in wide-eyed awe. "You did that," he murmured, "with such ease! And grace and p--"

A violent shiver suddenly wracked his whole frame. Probably from the water being forced to essentially evaporate from his body so quickly.

"Were full-length trousers really not an option?" he groused.

Clarity shrugged, glancing down at her traditional flower-patterned dress. "They didn't really leave us much in the way of options." She laughed. "My god, I'm basically a flower girl in this."

Lyall vigorously rubbed his hands together for even a modicum of warmth as he assessed her clothes too. "For what it's worth," he offered, "you wear it well."

He blinked, then hastily added, "I say sincerely as a friend."

He didn't need the cursed Twooter misconstruing the context of this simple compliment either.

Clarity beamed, doing a joking curtsy. "You know, I didn't know we were friends, but I'd be happy for that."

Lyall blinked. "Well," he said, looking up as he reconsidered his own declaration, "something akin to friends, then. Since we've only really allied ourselves thus far." He shrugged and offered a small smile. "I respect your work and credibility as a woman of science. We should try and go for 'friends'. Get to know each other better sometime."

Yes, this was good. This conversation was actually improving. Who'd misinterpret "let's be friends"?

...When it was between a man and a woman? Honestly, anybody.

Nope, this quickly became less-than-good again.

Clarity nodded. "You're absolutely right. I would like to have all the science pals on this island that I can."

Lyall plastered on his next grin. "Excellent! Perhaps we should invite all other science folk, in that case. Sometime this upcoming week."

He quickly skimmed his mental list of island locations that could accommodate a larger group, and lacked any semblance of a romantic atmosphere.

His next smile came easier and more genuine as he said, "Maybe the plaza. I'll send a, ah, telegram with a time and exact location." Yes, this could work again. Keep it from becoming too intimate a meet-up.

Clarity nodded again, but looked more confused. "Sounds good, but a telegram? Have we got those?"

Lyall blinked. "Ah, yes. Well. We could? Since we don't have each other's numbers." He glanced off. "Though, I suppose we ought to simply exchange phone numbers, now that I think about it."

"Oh, sure," Clarity said, taking out a notebook and pen that she apparently just kept on her person, ripping out the top page, which looked covered in chemistry notes. She then jotted down her number, then ripped out that page, handing it over to him as the notebook, pen and paper went away again. "Here you are."

Dumbly taking the paper, Lyall couldn't help but wonder where the paper and pen even went. Because, as far as he knew, she didn't have pockets. Did she have access to some pocket dimension instead? Was that a potential second power of hers?

He managed to cut down his next response to a simple, "Thank you."

"Of course!" Clarity beamed. "Enjoy the festival and the flowers."

Absently, he lifted a hand to gently pat the ring of marigolds she'd set on his head. "Thank you," he said again, with an earnest smile. Then clammed his mouth shut, for fear of going on to say something that would ruin the regained Good Vibes between them.

Clarity grinned. "See ya, Lyall," she said, moving on, presumably in search of other people to hand flower crowns to.

Even though she'd already left, Lyall lifted a hand in a weak wave goodbye.

Okay. Judging by the skip in her step, that wasn't a complete disaster. Good. Yes, tonight was somewhat salvagable. Maybe.

His optimism did not remain, however. As time went on, and with every new conversation, it became clearer what the problem with Lyall was: a complete lack of a brain-to-mouth filter. Which was horrifying, since his first thoughts pertaining to anything were more often than not...unrefined. Inappropriate, even, either merely in timing or in substance.

After talking over more than a few people and offering a multitude of his unsolicited thoughts, Lyall eventually banished himself to a quieter corner of Ooktoberfest, just past the pretzel stand. He quickly realized his mistake in even this decision, however, when the pretzel stand quickly became the most frequented stand.

The pretzels did smell amazing. And he hadn't eaten since earlier that morning. Unable to keep completely quiet, he did manage to regulate his volume as he felt compelled to say even these observations aloud.

He debated with himself at length on whether to chance another catastrophic conversation to obtain food, or spare himself any further social mortification and simply waste away for the rest of the day. Hunger won out. Initially.

As soon as he steeled his resolve and took one step toward the pretzel stand, Alan and Shane appeared. Lyall spun on his heel and tucked himself away again. Due to the proximity, he couldn't help but sit there and just listen as they grabbed food together. They were laughing, and he caught a glimpse of their smiles as they soon walked away.

"At least some of us are enjoying ourselves here," Lyall mumbled.

Their voices faded with distance. It took another long eternity to pluck up the courage to find sustanence for himself. He came out of hiding just in time to witness the two passionately kiss. Pretzels forgotten on the ground. Cameras from afar all pointed at them.

"Damn," Lyall said, unable to tear his eyes away, "that was fast."

"Young love," Connie's voice said from his side. "I daresay it's a side effect of Ooktoberfest."

Flinching, Lyall fought the urge to simply flee. When he turned, he found Mister Falco standing beside him with one of Bo's pretzels and a...smile? on his face.

"Oh my god," Lyall uttered in disbelief, "you actually look happy--" Then he smacked a hand over his own mouth.

Connie's smile warmed into a grin. "Also a side effect of Ooktoberfest. How are you doing, Lyall?"

"You know my name," Lyall whispered, still reeling from the foreign sight of. Smiley Connie.

"Of course," Connie said with a slight tilt of his head, still smiling. "I never forget a face or a name." He paused. "Although, I have my moments when I drink too much wine. A lapse of memory and all that. Unfortunately, I'm not blessed with a perfect memory like your sister." Connie nodded once at him with another inviting smile. "Being tipsy may also be a side effect of Ooktoberfest, but I can't say that affects me now, unless you count water as a drink."

Lyall kept both hands pressed over his mouth, desperately telling himself to think of nothing. Completely clear his mind. No thoughts, nothing to spew. That was his mantra for the night.

"Then why are you so mean all the time?" he eventually blurted. "If you remember a name, then just? Use it? It wouldn't kill you!"

Great going, Lyall.

Connie hummed, contemplating this question with a nod. "That's a good question, and one that requires a good bit of unpacking. Were you on your way to get food? Perhaps we can sit and chat while we eat."

"I'm starving," Lyall admitted, "I could eat."

"The pretzel is certainly delicious," Connie said as he lifted his basket with a half-eaten pretzel. "But I can walk with you if you'd prefer something else. You have plenty of options."

Lyall hesitated as he glanced at Bo manning the pretzel stand. "I don't exactly trust myself to have even a two-second conversation with anyone right now," he confessed.

"Would you like me to get you a pretzel? It's not a bother to me at all," Connie said.

He looked back to Connie and mustered a small, appreciative smile. "Please and thanks?"

Connie nodded with another smile. "Certainly. Feel free to find a seat and I will join you shortly."

So they split for a few moments. Lyall found a table a suitable distance from everyone else, and Connie returned with the promised pretzel in hand. He sat across from him, sliding a fresh pretzel basket towards Lyall.

"Here you are. Enjoy," Connie said, lightly smiling again.

"Thank you," Lyall said emphatically as he quickly tucked in. He gestured with a buttery hand and prompted, "So, things to unpack?"

Connie nodded. "You want to know why I never called you by your name before. Is that right?"

"I mean, I didn't expect you to know it on day one. But we've run into each enough times I think to warrant the use of my name. And yet you hadn't. In fact, it felt like you'd been intentionally avoiding me. Among others, so I didn't take it personally." Lyall shrugged. "I'm just curious more than anything."

Connie hummed, tearing off a piece of his pretzel and then holding it up, lazily waving it in front of him. "Have we been properly introduced before, Lyall?" he asked. "I don't believe we have exchanged introductions. I am aware of other's names when I hear it in passing, but unless we have intentionally introduced ourselves, I try to avoid saying the name." He was about to bring the pretzel piece to his mouth, but paused in thought. "I do apologize if I have hurt your feelings, though. That wasn't my intention, nor was it ever my intention to ignore you. Every day, I actively find peace on this island, and that tends to happen when I am away from cameras and people."

Come to think of it...

Lyall frowned. "You know, I do believe I neglected to actually give my name when we first met. So, that's probably on me, then."

"That's quite alright," Connie said with another small, friendly smile. "If it's any consolation, I don't actively try to create opportunities for introductions. They are typically one-sided for me, since I am frequently under the public's eye. It's nothing against you specifically."

"Alright," Lyall said with a nod, "that does make sense. And... does make me feel a bit better, honestly. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong, if anything, anytime I tried talking with you."

Lyall pursed his lips in thought. "I don't quite get the 'peace without people' bit. But I just most enjoy being around folks, among bustle." He took another big bite of his own pretzel. "My sister would understand, though."

"Completely understandable," Connie said tearing off another piece of the pretzel after he finished eating the piece he was holding. "That's the beautiful thing about people. We're all different. We communicate differently and prefer different things. Society is built on community and togetherness, so what's important is learning to adapt with people different than you. I admit this is something I am still learning, but I think everyone can gain more of this wisdom with every passing year."

Lyall felt himself grin as he listened. "...You sound rather like Alan."

"Really? I ought to talk to him. I don't believe I've acquainted myself with him yet," Connie said with a soft hum.

And soon enough, Lyall's pretzel was gone. Lyall had eaten all of it, which was sad because it happened so fast. "Once you've reverted," he replied honestly, "I don't know that you two would click. But I encourage it! See where it takes you."

"Duly noted," Connie said, finishing his last bite of the pretzel as well. "I appreciate the suggestion. Alan is your cabin mate, correct?"

"He is." Lyall paused. "And friend," he hastily added. "Just. Friend."

Connie slowly nodded, clearly pausing to overthink his last few words. Lyall actually facepalmed, because there was absolutely no need to clarify to this man.

"He and Shane seem to be getting along swell," Connie commented instead.

"Understatement of the modern era," Lyall said impulsively and with sass, then dropped his head to the table with an audible thunk.

"Are you bothered by it? I can tell the subject is bothering you. I'm happy to listen, if you'd like to share," Connie said gently.

"No," Lyall mumbled, "not bothered by it." He rested his chin on the table to look up at Falco. "I'm truly quite glad for them, if anything. I just. I have no filter." He threw his hands up in defeat. "Which has borne many unfortunate results this entire evening. Including wildly inappropriate commentary."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Connie said with sincerity in his voice. "I understand what you mean. I'm acutely aware that the words I am saying are also quite unfiltered. It does feel like a burden to speak, but I am finding peace and solace in who I am right now."

"Wish that were me," Lyall muttered, tiredly pressing his cheek to the table. "My next best solution would be to get utterly wasted. But that's also not really a solution so much as a problem slapped over another, in a pathetic attempt at a metaphorical bandaid."

"I believe your intuition is right. Are you looking for solutions, though?" Connie asked. "The bandaid is easier, but a true sustainable solution is a more difficult path."

Lyall looked back to Connie with a helpless, frankly pleading look. "I'm open to suggestions, if you have any."

Connie placed both of their empty paper baskets on top of one another, setting it aside so they are both of the way. "You say that the magic side effect is to say unfiltered thoughts. However, I interpret this as being honest. You are saying things you wouldn't otherwise say. It's your subconscious spilling out, so to speak." He lightly shrugged. "It could be a good time to speak your mind. Is there an honest conversation you have been actively avoiding or putting off? This could be a productive time to hold the discussion since you now have the confidence for it."

"I wouldn't call it 'confidence'," Lyall mumbled. "But that's...not an entirely bad idea."

"It's ultimately up to you. You can run from your problems or face them head-on. The DMV is very deliberate with their intentions. If this is the side effect they give you, then they must think you need it," Connie said.

Lyall hummed, the gears starting to slowly turn as he mulled it over. "...I hadn't looked at it that way. I just assumed it was for the sake of making us all suffer, but. You could be onto something."

"I'm certainly no expert. But I'm glad if this is helpful." Connie smiled again, gesturing to the bars around them. "If we were both drinking right now, I'd propose a toast to seizing the day."

"I wouldn't say no to a drink," Lyall said, straightening now. "I could use a little bit of liquid courage, probably, if I'm to put this newfound...ability, we'll call it, to good use."

"A small drink, then," Connie said, already getting up and gesturing towards the open bar for Lyall to follow. "Just enough to drink courage."

Lyall hopped up and stayed on Connie's heels. As they walked, he uttered under his breath as he drew up a list of things he potentially needed to air out, and with whom. If Connie heard any of it, he didn't say or do anything that indicated as much. It was all Lyall could do to control the lack of filter, anyway.

At the bar, they did find some suitable courage in liquid form. Lyall didn't even bother asking for anything in particular. Just kept it vague with the polite request for something stiff. Connie requested a glass of wine, which Lyall thought wasn't even an option in Ooktoberfest, but the bartender seemed happy to give him a glass.

As he re-reviewed his list of things to air out and with whom, what he could only view with this new enlightened lens as an opportunity arrived in the form of Cyrin. They likewise requested a glass of wine, but the request was unfortunately declined with the absolutely bullshitted response of, "We don't have any."

Judging by the perplexed look of the bartender he did not recognize, Lyall apparently said as much out loud. He groaned internally. Unsolicited opinions. He promptly apologized with the open recognition that they were simply doing their job. Still, the bartender (Gregg, as his name tage suggested) awkwardly sidled out from behind the bar.

With no one to tend the bar anymore, Cyrin was now left hanging without any drink to be had. He leaned over the counter on his elbow, absently staring down at the wood as he drummed his fingers on the surface.

"I apologize for that bartender's behavior," Connie said, initiating conversation between them. "I haven't drank my wine yet, if you'd like to have it."

"Thou wouldst be too kind," Cyrin said, with a friendly laugh. "I hath drank enough ere this moment."

"It's getting worse," Lyall murmured in absent observation.

"Ah," Connie said as he slowly nodded, processing. "I assume the magic affects his vernacular."

Lyall nodded, pitying his friend, who seemed to have only reverted even farther back in the centuries.

"Thou art correct," Cyrin agreed, with a dismal sigh. "I doth not know the strangeness with which I speak."

"If it's any consolation," Lyall offered, "none of us have actually improved with time, or any amount of water consumed in an attempt to dilute the effects."

"Furthermore, I'd also like to say that I quite like the new speech pattern. You sound like a Shookspear play," Connie added.

"Verily?" Cyrin asked, not seeming to remember how strange that was to say.

Lyall remembered, though, and had to bite back a laugh at that.

"Indeed," Connie confirmed.

"Your words doth flatter me." Cyrin sounded pleased as they took a joking stage bow.

"Performance runs in your blood, after all. If you're feeling theatrical, perhaps you could put on a show. You'll have at least one audience member watching," Connie said with a small smile as he swirled his wine. "And the whole world as well."

"All the world's a stage," Cyrin said with a smile, which was apparently allowed for him to say despite the statement's simplicity, if it was literally Shookspear's words.

"And all the men and women merely players," Connie went on, completing the quote with a growing grin.

Cyrin grinned as well. "Ah, thou art a scholar."

"A requirement for being a prince, I'm afraid," Connie said. "I prefer calling myself an artist instead." He then turned to Lyall, smiling between the two of them. "Cyrin is also your cabin mate, correct, Lyall?" He paused. "And friend, I presume."

Lyall fought the urge to simply wilt with embarrassment. "Yes," he confirmed, gesturing grandly to Cyrin, "cabin mate and friend."

"Indeed," Cyrin agreed. "As birds of a feather."

Connie took a sip of his wine. "The three of you are quite friendly. I apologize for not introducing myself sooner. I ought to visit your cabin one day."

In all honesty, Lyall's mind initially ground to a complete halt at Connie's comment. Due to initial misinterpretation. He blinked hard at his half-empty glass in front of him. Then downed the rest of it in one swig, wincing as it burned his throat.

"A disclaimer," Lyall began suddenly, deciding there would never be a good time like the present, and the bandaid ought to be ripped off rather than arduously peeled, "bird to birds, in the spirit of utter transparency: I am engaged, and I am faithful. I do not plan on cheating at any point, I am madly in love already. However, its been brought to my attention that my lack of a filter-- enchantment-induced, mind you-- could actually be a blessing in disguise. I shall use it to bolster my courage to have an honest conversation. An open dialogue. And, on a separate occasion, I've been told talking about something aloud takes away the power that the fear of the thing may hold over you. So, I shall confess outright--"

With a look of absolute determination, Lyall squared his shoulders and faced Cyrin. "I'm quite certain I find you attractive, and not just in the physical sense."

Utter silence. Complete stillness, with the exception of Connie slowly taking a sip of his wine. Then Cyrin closed and opened his eyes in a single blink that lasted three full seconds.

"My good fellow," they began, "are thou confessing this for a purpose?"

Lyall slowly blinked back. "But... my disclaimer? My prelude? For naught?"

Oh, shite. He chose wrong, didn't he. And now there was no taking any of this back.

Lyall needed another drink. Stat.

"Thou commenced by declaring thy fidelity," Cyrin said slowly, sounding more confused than anything, "and then proceeded to announce thine... attraction? To mine own self? Art thou not aware of thy contradiction?"

"I--" Lyall raised his hands to the sky with immense frustration. "I do not intend to act upon it! It was in the hopes of simply stating a mere fact, that it would become a less uncomfortable matter. But apparently not! I have managed to make things unimaginably worse! How could this go so wrong? Will I ever recover from this humiliation? I suspect, nay! This is why I hid myself in a corner. I should have stayed in that damned corner."

He was becoming less and less comfortable with the multitude of cameras affixed on every corner. What was Kaya taking away from all of this? Was she even watching? What kind of ridiculous question was that, of course she was! How would he explain himself when she inevitably called with completely valid questions, such as "what the hell was wrong with him?"

Slowly, Cyrin nodded, his eyebrows knitted together in careful consideration.

"I believe I begin to perceive thee," they said, sounding a little uncertain. "Please rest in the assurance that I hath no intentions of making advances upon thee, no more than thou intendeth to upon mineself. I pray you that we may discuss this again, when we have the proper use of our five senses."

Cyrin's words, though they sounded reassuring, fell on deaf ears. Lyall was at a complete loss for what to do. He was never at such a complete loss for what to do.

So he did the next best thing he could think of: he turned and ran like absolute hell.

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Tue Nov 07, 2023 6:46 pm
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urbanhart says...

"What are your dreams?" Mister Alexander asked Hild. "Aspirations?"

Hild flopped down onto the counter. "Noooo," she groaned, "that would require me to think of the future. And I don't want to, just for this one night."

"Ah," Alex said. "Fair enough then. How about you tell me... something that brings you joy. Anything. Big or small."

Hild pursed her lips as she obliged and gave it some thought.

She liked playing cello, making music. But sometimes that became sad, because she'd think of all the times she'd practiced with her family. Which she couldn't do anymore since her and her brothers' paths had diverged since Lyall went away for college.

She didn't like fishing, but she loved her father and enjoyed his company. So she liked their boat trips.

Baking was fun. She liked teaching Viktor that one time how to bake almond cookies, and it delighted her that he kept it up even after she herself moved to the States.

So she settled for, "Cookies."

That made Alex smile.

"What kind?" he asked.

"Any kind," she answered. "There's a base...science to making each kind, and it's... It's really fun. Vik likes it too, and we share recipes and our gone-awry experiments."

"Who's Vik?" Alex asked with his brows raised curiously.

"Hm? Who's-- Oh!" Of course, she hadn't mentioned him before probably. Since Alex was asking. "My brother. Younger. Youngest. He's..." She giggled, then pitched her voice lower. "He's a man now. Can't grow a full moustache, though."

She twisted around and leaned sideways on the counter to fully face Alex. "What about you, Mister Alexander? Any family to speak of?"

"Only my mom," he said. "No siblings, and my dad left when I was too little to remember."

Hild pouted sadly at that. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"Bah," Alex said with a wave of his hand. "He was terrible to my mom anyway. Good riddance."

Hild nodded slowly, brows furrowed as she mulled it over. "I'm still sorry," she offered gently, "that it was a bad situation to begin with."

"Me too," Alex said. "But now that I'm grown, no one can mess with my mom. They have to go through me now."

Head tilted the other way, Hild smiled at him. "That's very sweet of you."

"What can I say?" Alex said with a shrug. "I'm shamelessly a momma's boy. If you're watching, mom, I miss you."

Alex glanced off at a camera posted at the bar when he said so, and then he returned his attention to Hild.

"Okay. Here's another question. What would you consider to be the perfect day? If you had to try and imagine it?"

Well, since they were delving into family matters, this next question felt less-than-substantial in comparison.

"No," she said, poking him again, "I want to talk more about you."

"Me?" Alex asked, sounding a little surprised.

"Yes," she answered with a firm nod. "What's your mom like? Do you get to visit her often, what with the..." She waved a hand. "...hunting, right? Do you even really enjoy monster hunting? Since...it was initially your father's trade?"

"I think it would be awful to let his association with something ruin it for me," Alex said. "I really do like hunting, regardless of whether he did the same thing or not."

A pause.

"And yes, I get to see my mother often. I have dinner with her at least once a week," he said. "As for what she's like - she's sweet as an angel."

Hild offered a faint grin. "That's lovely," she said sincerely. "All of it. Very nice."

"It is," he said in agreement.

Hild hummed in thought. "I think..." She looked up as she thought harder, trying to make a connection she knew might have been there. "Mmmmm Miss... Monster hunting... Miss Clanny is. Too. But you two are not acquainted. Or are you?"

Alex grinned.

"Not before we came here," he said.

"Well, mayhaps you should talk more," Hild suggested. "Miss Clanny is like...a warm day in the spring. I think you could maybe use a warm day in the spring."

"I'll take that into consideration," Alex said. "I do like the springtime."

"Of course you do," Hild said, giggling again, "because you're a bush."

"Tree," Alex corrected. "Looks like drinking more really does intensify the enchantment."

She scrunched her nose. Enchantment?

Instead of addressing his silliness, Hild tapped his glass. "What did you get?"

"They gave me a cosmo," he said. "They must keep note of our favorite drinks."

Leaning sideways against his arm, Hild briefly stuck her nose in his cup. "It's an enticing color," she mused, looking back up at Alex. "Feel like a trade?"

"Well, now that you've stuck your nose in it, it's all yours," Alex said.

Carefully so as to not spill anything, she switched their glasses around. Then took a small experimental taste from his cup.

"I think we should put a limit on how many drinks you have today," Alex commented.

She hummed and drawled a, "Maybe," into the cosmo.

"I think that would be--" Alex began.

Suddenly there was a slam on the table. Looking up at the source of the noise, Hendrik was a couple feet to their left, having slammed down a giant glass mug, froth dripping down the side.

He glared at them, yelling something with his arms waving wildly in the air. Except, it was complete gibberish.

Hild leaned back against Alex again, trying to minimize the volume of Hendrik's voice with distance. It didn't work, especially since Hendrik closed in on the distance, now yelling gibberish and waving his arms around behind the bar in front of them.

Shay the bartender stepped over, waving her own arms to try to get the man to calm down. "Yo, dude!" she said. "Staff only back here!"

Hendrik seemed to dismiss her, exaggerating expressions and hand movements. Shay, visibly disgruntled by his dismissal, planted herself directly in front of him to grab his full attention.

Hild watched dumbly for a moment. Then rested her head sideways on Alex and asked, "You don't...need a limit though, right? Because you can't get drunk."

Alex smiled. "True," he said.

Suddenly Hendrik stopped trying to yell and get past Shay, freezing as he stared at Alex. And then he grinned and sounded a laugh that sounded like a, "Ohohuhohuho!"

Hendrik pushed past Shay again, pulling out two big mugs from under the bar, filling the cup with the water spout. He grumbled more gibberish and waved his hand over it, and Hild watched with awe as the clear liquid slowly turned to a darker amber color.

Hendrik pushed one of the mugs towards Alexander, waggling his brows.

Hild poked Alex again. "It's a peace offering," she whispered.

"It's a challenge," Shay corrected, face grim.

Hendrik grunted enthusiastically, exclaiming more gibberish and even making grunting sounds that strongly reminded Hild of a joyous monkey.

Alex raised a brow, lifting up his hands as if in surrender.

"Oh, that's-- that's not necessary," he said.

But the tall monkey-like man was insistent.

"You could win, though," Hild offered encouragingly.

Alex hesitated, but finally let out a sigh, shaking his head.

"Fine," he said. "Sure."

Hild grinned at him. "That's the winning spirit!"

There was a quiet part of her that wondered about the magic effect on Alex going as far as to also negate alcohol poisoning. But that was a very quiet part of her that was drowned out by the excitement of a competition.

She was able to successfully remember that Hendrik was a drinker. That was his schtick. So she was impressed with Mister Alexander being able to keep up for as long as he did.

Every once in awhile, Hild caught sight of a smirk on the bartender's face as she also sat back to watch. It felt knowing, but Hild couldn't imagine why.

Their fifth drink in, Alex finally decided to tap out. He seemed bored, if a bit...unfocused, perhaps. Maybe because he was bored. Politely said it was for Hendrik's sake, but the alcoholic ape man didn't receive his kindness with grace. He simply grunted his offense and dismissed them all with more broad arm-waving.

Unconcerned, Alex likewise waved the man off, and redirected them toward the food stands at the other end of the gathering. A welcome change in scenery, and they both agreed they could really use some actual food. Which they neglected to have all day thus far.

They settled on some big pretzels. The soft, buttery kind, with the large grains of salt and a small cup of mustard. They were being handed out by a truly gigantic man with one eye, very impressive arms, and an incredibly kind smile. Hild asked for his name and, determined to not forget it, wrote it down on the palm of her left hand by a quick doodle of his likeness.

What she did forget to note was his role. So, only minutes away from the stand as they ate their pretzels, she couldn't for the life of her remember who Bo was, and why she took note of him to begin with.

Oh, Alexander also got them water. Regular water, to wash down the pretzels. It was good water, too. Cold. Refreshing. Cleared her head a bit, but did nothing to help her compromised short-term memory.

Soon dusk turned into night, and the party was illuminated by torchlight. It was by that point that Alex notified her of the late hour, and kindly walked her back to her cabin. She actually felt reluctant to say goodbye, but he assured her they'd be able to meet up just fine the next day. Given the proximity of their residences.

Hild stood in the doorway a moment, watching his retreating form disappear into the night. Then finally closed the door with the firm conclusion that she truly rather enjoyed Mister Alex's company.

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Tue Nov 07, 2023 11:11 pm
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SilverNight says...

Shane had lost track of time. Of how to breathe. Of all the racing thoughts he was used to.

Alan's bedroom had melted into the background with how long they'd been there, its features and design all blurring together to create the feeling of a comfortable haze around Shane. He couldn't tear his eyes away from Alan long enough to look at their setting more closely. For once, he felt utterly safe, wrapped in Alan's arms and cuddled up in his bed.

God, he hadn't felt safe in so long.

Everything else was starting to blur together, too, into the endless night, with everything happening in a cycle that had repeated... he didn't even know how many times. Flirting in soft whispers, passionate kisses that more often than not led into making love, staying close in comfortable silence, deep discussions that went on until they dozed off, then waking up again and going back to flirting. It was easy to get lost in when he felt like he was drowning in Alan's passion.

Shane did remember many of the things Alan had said, though. I love how you look at me. I want all of you. You complete me. I love being with you. I love how you make me feel. My life. My sky. My sun. My soul. My heart. My everything. And he was sure he'd heard him whispering my love in Argent.

It had warmed his heart like nothing else.

Right now, Shane felt warm all over, nestled into Alan's chest. He'd been looking into Alan's eyes for what could have been hours, and he felt lost in how gentle they were, shining with a warm brown light. Slowly, almost lazily, Shane lifted his hand to trace the edge of Alan's jaw with the tip of his finger, then reached for Alan's hand with a smile. Without breaking eye contact, Alan intertwined their fingers, his smile brightening. A new feeling of warm comfort flooded through Shane.

"I'm glad you're here," he breathed in a whisper, maybe not for the first time that night. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now."

Alan tore his eyes away, but only to gaze at Shane's smile. With his free hand, he grazed his dimple with his thumb before gently dragging the tip of his thumb across his lips to make the same touch with his other dimple.

"We could go somewhere else, though," Alan said through a gentle smile with the same hushed whisper, focused on his lips and dimples. "We could see the world together. Anywhere you go, I'll go."

Shane let out a soft laugh, moving closer to rest his forehead against Alan's.

"If you could go anywhere in the world," he said softly, "and I could go with you, where would you want to go?"

Alan lowly hummed, leaning in to give his dimple a kiss, all while retaining their touch between their foreheads. He rolled back with a soft smile, meeting his eyes.

"I don't know," Alan admitted, getting lost in his eyes again. "Maybe the States. I've never got to visit."

Feeling his smile widen, Shane kept looking into his eyes, now running his thumb over the back of Alan's hand. "That'd be a nice place," he agreed. "Why do you want to go there?"

Alan kept his gaze on Shane, eyes soft with admiration and affection. He ran his thumb over Shane's thumb as well, playfully disrupting his path. "My dad lives there," he answered. Then a pause. "But we could live somewhere else. Anywhere, really. It really doesn't matter to me, as long as we're together."

A new warm, fuzzy feeling settled over Shane, and his chest felt tight for a moment.

"Your dad," Shane murmured, still smiling. "Can you tell me about him?"

"Yeah," Alan said with a soft smile after a brief pause.

He hesitated again, but it seemed more because he truly was getting lost in Shane's eyes. Then he wrapped his arms around him, rolling to his back and gently rolling Shane to his chest. He smiled up at him, pushing Shane's hair back when strands fell across his forehead, and Shane's heart skipped a beat as he smiled back.

"Well. He plays the violin, like me. And he also makes them. He's a luthier," Alan went on, finishing tidying his hair and returning his focus back to Shane. "He gave me mine, which he made by hand. I think it makes it more special. It's made and played with love."

"He sounds talented," Shane said softly, absentmindedly trailing his fingers over Alan's shoulder, without looking away from his eyes. "I think it's wonderful he's helped you to love music through his love for you. That's a beautiful thing."

"It is beautiful," Alan said softly, smile slowly growing the longer he gazed into his eyes. "He's the reason why I wanted to be a professional violinist. But I think nowadays, I'm more of a pianist. Though, it doesn't matter what I play. Music in all forms is beautiful. What matters is that I pour love into my song."

Shane hadn't been able to get enough of his words all night, but he hung onto these ones especially. He felt a little breathless again.

"I'm glad you have an inspiration like him," he said, in another hushed-near whisper. "It sounds like you do put a lot of love into playing. I've always wished I had a creative conduit like that."

Alan smiled warmly, watching as his hand traveled down Shane's face, down his neck, to the left side of his chest. Alan firmly placed his palm against his heart before fixing his eyes back on his.

"Just confirming that you have a heart," he said with a smile. "And if you have a heart, then you can love. And if you can love, then you are destined to have a creative outlet." Alan paused, keeping still with his hand over his heart. "I know you have one, Shane. It's just waiting to be discovered."

Shane grinned softly at him, leaning down to press a light kiss to the corner of Alan's lips.

"Poetry," he murmured as he pulled back. "Maybe poetry. I could surely write poetry if it were about you."

"If you write me a poem," Alan began with a growing smile, seemingly melting with quiet yearning under Shane's presence, "then I'll write you a song."

Shane's grin widened, his heart racing under Alan's hand. "Promise?"

With his free hand, Alan gently pushed Shane's head closer to his, leaning in until their lips nearly touched. "I promise," he whispered, his lips grazing his as he spoke.

Alan didn't hesitate to completely close the gap, kissing Shane with a gentle, delicate passion. Shane kissed him back as the dizzying, breathless feeling intensified, keeping the kiss soft but amorous. His thoughts were spinning with longing for Alan, even though he was right here. No other thought could breach the feeling of carefree peace that had settled over him for the day.

He hadn't found peace like this before, one so deep he could sink into it and feel like he might never emerge from it. He hadn't thought he would find it.

When they each pulled away, Shane had to take a deep breath before he could speak again, resting his forehead on Alan's once more.

"I have another request for another time," he breathed. "I'd like to hear you play sometime. The instrument doesn't matter, as long as you're the one playing it. I think I'd love that."

Alan smiled warmly, holding his face in his hand as he reached over to intertwine his other hand with Shane's. "I promised I'd write you a song, didn't I?" he said in a playful voice. "I want you to hear my song. I want you in my song. My symphony. You have a place in it."

"I'd like that," Shane murmured through a smile. "I've never been a muse before."

"Really?" Alan said with a slight tilt of his head, his smile beginning to fade. "That really is a shame. You deserve your own song. You deserve to be serenaded. To be admired. Treasured. Cherished. Beloved. You're like a river of muse, ready to be drunk. I don't understand why others can't see that."

Again, Shane's breath caught in his chest. He didn't know why it felt like he... needed to hear this from someone. He didn't know why it meant so much more coming from Alan.

"I've always wanted to be something like that to someone," he admitted. "But I wish for a lot of things and don't always see them happen."

Alan's expression softened into one of empathy and understanding. He rubbed his cheek with his thumb, melancholy washing over his face. "I have a wish," he quietly announced.

Shane snuggled closer against him, taking a deep breath. "What is it?" he whispered.

Alan smiled at him, but there was still a melancholic aura surrounding him. "I wish for all your wishes to come true."

Shane smiled back, fingers trailing over Alan's jaw again. "You haven't even heard them all," he said softly.

"I don't need to. I want each and every one of them to come true," Alan said warmly.

"Okay," Shane said, still almost in a whisper, as he now tucked a stray strand of hair behind Alan's ear. "Now say I added one, and wished for you."

He hardly knew what was getting into him today. Whatever had possessed him at the festival had made all the things he'd normally overthink not only seem doable, but made him not care about the outcome. Right now, Shane couldn't see himself regretting saying this. He couldn't imagine regretting anything at all.

Would he later? Who knew. But he couldn't spare even a fleeting thought towards that worry either.

Alan's smile widened, grinning as he melted into his eyes again. "If it's me you want," he said as he caressed his cheek again, "you can have that."

Shane huffed a quiet laugh, grinning again. "That sounds familiar. Have I heard that somewhere before?"

Alan grinned, wrapping his arms around Shane again as they rolled on the bed so that he was on top of him. He smiled warmly again, pushing back his hair before caressing his cheek with his knuckles. "I learn from the best."

Shane felt like he could stare at him forever, and it was in a daze that he reached up, taking Alan's face in his hands. That feeling of fuzzy warmth filled him again.

"It is you I want," he said, more softly, more seriously. "If you'll have me."

"I'm right here, Shane," Alan said in a soft whisper as he leaned over to kiss his neck. "You don't need to wish for that."

Shane held him close, wrapping his arms around Alan's back. His heart was still fluttering, and he felt almost light-headed. "Maybe I just want it to be true," he murmured, almost teasingly.

"Please," Alan whispered as he kissed his neck again, pulling away to travel upwards. "Shane." He kissed an inch above the previous one. "Let." Another kiss, at the base of his neck. "Me." Again. "Adore." And again. "You."

At the last word, Alan gently kissed his lips again, holding his face in his hand. Somehow, despite pouring all of his attention on him, Alan found Shane's free hand, once more linking his fingers between his, holding his hand tightly. Shane smiled into the kiss, his other hand drifting up from Alan's back to press gently on the back of his head. He didn't know how long it went on for, whenever they kissed. Time was pointless, except for not being enough.

"Alan," he said softly the moment after their lips parted, staring up into his eyes. Nothing else would come to mind. Just Alan.

"Shane," Alan said back, just as soft as he absorbed himself in his eyes.

"Alan," Shane whispered again, the word feeling somewhere between delirium and a dream. "I'll let you."

With that, Alan leaned in and kissed him with more passionate intensity, calling his name softly between kisses, squeezing his hand. Shane sunk back into the timeless, voidless state that only consisted of him and Alan, their hands and lips hot and heavy against one another.

And somewhere along the way, Shane heard him whisper "my love" again in Argent.

~ ~ ~

"What is it you want in life?" Shane asked softly, some unknown amount of time later. His head had found its way to resting against Alan's chest and shoulder, his arms cuddling him close, and his breathing was stabler now, deeper. "I want to learn everything about you."

Alan had been playing with Shane's hair, running his fingers through it for the past several minutes. He paused for a moment upon hearing the question, but then resumed his gentle stroking.

"The short answer is actually quite simple," Alan said, voice gentle. "I want to fall in love, marry, have a family. I don't think I'm asking for a lot."

Shane hummed softly. "Why would you be?" he asked, equally gentle. "It doesn't seem like too much."

Alan paused again in stroking his hair, giving his head one last rub before completely stopping. "I suppose you're right. But it does feel that way sometimes."

"Like things keep getting in the way of something that otherwise shouldn't be too hard?" Shane guessed softly.

"...I don't know," Alan admitted after some hesitation, setting his hand against Shane's shoulder instead. "It's just been hard, and a little hopeless. But I know I'm a hopeless romantic. I can't help how I feel."

"You can tell me about it, if you like," Shane said softly, lightly drawing circles on Alan's chest. "Nothing about you is too heavy or insignificant, and I want to hear it all. I won't tell anyone, either."

There was another pause, longer now as Alan gently rubbed Shane's shoulder. "I appreciate that," he said after a while, voice level matching his. "I think it's hard to explain. I mean, where do I even begin?" Alan weakly laughed. "My life is certainly not perfect."

Shane laughed faintly. "I understand that much," he said in a quiet voice, smiling gently. "But the life you described that you want for yourself sounds like it could be perfect for you. And I don't think it's unachievable for anyone-- one day, you might just look at your life and wonder how it got so perfect. I still don't know about fate, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if that future is waiting for you."

Alan slowly rolled to his side, gently sliding his shoulder from under Shane's head so that they could lie next to each other, faces close. Maintaining eye contact, Alan softly smiled and pulled Shane closer to him, tangling his legs with Shane's and embracing him so that the space between them was minimal.

"I also want to learn everything about you, Shane," Alan said in a soothing whisper, finding his hand to hold and squeeze again. "May I be your historian? May I devote my life to learn about yours? May I learn every detail about you, leaving no stone unturned? May I write your life into a book, the pages creased from how often it is read? And may I speak of your story with pride, reciting it as a classical poem for the world to hear?" Alan paused, cupping his face again with tender affection in his eyes. "Because if it is poetry that you want to write, you don't need to look further in than yourself."

Again, Shane felt winded, the air knocked out of him by the force of Alan's words. They all hit home for some reason, like he'd been dying for someone to say this to him. Shane couldn't remember dying for it. But Alan's words created such a sense of deep, deep yearning and longing in him that he could only assume that he'd been waiting an eternity for someone to want him at this level.

"Yes," Shane breathed, staring into Alan's adoring eyes. "I'll tell you anything you want to hear. What would you like to know?"

Alan gently rubbed his thumb against Shane's palm, seemingly sharing the longing in his eyes with each passing second.

"What makes you happy?" he asked, voice a breathy whisper. "What gets you out of bed every morning, and what keeps you up at night? What makes you laugh? What makes you cry? What gives you peace? I want to know everything. Absolutely everything."

Shane let his gaze flick up to the ceiling, which was lit with a warm, low light. He knew he'd get distracted from his answer if he kept looking at Alan.

"Lately, I've been feeling so... numb," he began. "And that makes this hard to answer. But I promised I'd tell you whatever you wanted to know about, so I'll stick to my promise."

As he searched his mind for examples, he loosely closed his fingers over Alan's thumb, then moved his hand so that they were holding hands.

"It used to not take so much for me to be happy," he said softly. "A couple words of affirmation. A cup of coffee. A cat to snuggle with. The thrill of discovering new art. A cold, clear fall day. Now, I don't know if it's so easy anymore. Those things can still make me feel better, but now, I think I'm only finding true happiness in rarer moments, and when it's over, I never know when the next time I'll manage to be happy is."

Alan gave his hand a gentle squeeze, and Shane could tell he was watching him closely with undivided attention. "Are you happy now?" he asked softly.

Shane squeezed his hand back. "I think so," he whispered, smiling faintly at the ceiling. "I really do."

Alan placed his other hand on top of Shane's, sandwiching his hand between his. "I don't know if it helps, but even if you were sad... I still enjoy you. Emotional states are temporary. The person you are is constant, and I rather like the person you are. I'm sorry that joy doesn't come easily to you anymore, but this only means that I'll invite you to more dances in the rain, more coffee dates on a summer day, and more music to play for your ears."

Shane smiled wider, nestling closer by resting his head in the space between Alan's neck and shoulder. "I think those could make me happy, too," he said softly.

"Then I'll keep doing it. That's a promise," Alan whispered close to his ear, giving his hand another squeeze.

Shane let his eyes fall shut for a moment as another feeling of peace fell over him. He felt gratitude, but also... relief. He still didn't know what that was about, except that it didn't matter much now.

"I'd get out of bed for those," he said, opening his eyes again to look at the side of Alan's face. "As for other things..." He hummed softly. "Determination, I guess. But also expectations. Like the world could crumble if I don't take care of all that's on my plate."

Alan moved his hand on top of Shane's head so that he could delicately run his fingers through his hair again. "That sounds like immense pressure," he said quietly.

"I guess it is." Shane let out a quiet laugh. "But I do have to keep facing it, morning after morning. I guess I don't always know why I manage to get up."

Alan continued to run his hand through his hair, but the movements grew weaker with each passing second. "I'm sorry," he whispered sadly.

"Don't be," Shane murmured, moving in to press a kiss to Alan's cheek. "I don't like knowing I make other people sad."

"I'm sorry anyways," Alan said softly, pressing his hand at the back of Shane's head to prevent him from pulling away, keeping him close.

Shane stayed there, looking back into his eyes again and offering him a sad smile. "I know," he whispered. "On the topic, I guess it's also sadness that keeps me up. It used to be worries. I've just changed what I dwell on." He pursed his lips, trying to think of answers to the next question, which was more positive. "And I laugh at my cat doing silly things, like trying to convince me to refill his food bowl by spilling it out on the ground first, or that time he ran into the ocean and came back yowling and wet. I laugh when I read about funny moments in history that show me that people have always been people across all of time, which means they'll do funny things. I laugh when my best friend sends me a picture of him sitting through a meeting while trying not to look like he wants to say it could've been an email."

Alan's lingering melancholy from the previous subject seemed to fade completely the more Shane talked about what made him laugh. Instead, it was replaced with Alan's growing smile and fondness in his eyes, watching Shane speak.

"Tell me more," he said. "I love hearing you talk about what makes you laugh."

Shane chuckled, glancing up at the ceiling as he thought of more examples. "I laugh when the station outside my university says the train will be there in one minute, but it's been saying that for the last ten minutes, and I don't care because the view of the mountains is beautiful. I laugh when my younger cousin decides that it's a good day to skateboard through the palace. I laugh when I order a cup of coffee and my name is written S-H-A-I-N on the side, because it's harmless but somehow silly. I laugh when a bird lands on my windowsill and doesn't understand there's glass in the way, so it just pecks at my window and I get to wave at it. And I laugh when someone offers my uncle advice and it's a really, really bad idea, and he has to stand there and act like he didn't just hear the most ridiculous thing in the world."

Alan's hand traveled from Shane's hair to his cheek, his thumb rubbing over where his dimples appeared. He was smiling warmly, adoration leaking out of him as he lost himself in Shane's eyes again.

No words. Just adoration.

Shane let out a laugh. "And I'm laughing now," he said. "Because I really like your smile, and the way it makes me feel. Like your happiness is contagious."

Alan kept his tender gaze on Shane, smile growing and reaching his eyes as he caressed his cheek adoringly. "Then I'll keep smiling."

Shane's smile turned to a grin, but then faded after a few moments. "Do you still really want to hear what makes me cry?" he whispered.

Alan mirrored the shift in mood, keeping still as he cupped Shane's face and longingly gazed at him, the melancholy returning in his eyes. "Only so I know what to avoid when I'm with you," he whispered back. "I never want to hurt you."

Shane nodded, falling into thought again, and he closed his eyes for a moment.

"There's a list," he said quietly. "Missing my parents. Being pushed to my limit by someone who doesn't care what hurts my feelings. Sometimes, it's just when I wake up in the middle of the night after a nightmare. It happens easily, and it happens more often than I like." Shane took a deep breath, opening his eyes again. "Not every time is for a sad reason, though. I'll also cry when I remember something good about my parents, like how kind they were, or something we did together. They had a huge impact on my life, and those tears are important, because they were important to me."

The expression in Alan's eyes was soft and sad, his eyes dark with empathy. Several silent seconds passed, but then Alan wrapped his arms and legs around Shane, pulling him into a close embrace and holding him tight.

"I wanted to hold you close," Alan whispered softly in his ear, pressing his hands against Shane's back and head, leaving no gap between them.

"Thanks," Shane whispered back, wrapping his arms around Alan as well so the embrace was tighter. "It helps when someone does that."

"Then I won't let go," Alan said, whisper gentle and sincere.

Shane held on, his hands still on Alan's back, tensing his fingers ever so slightly to lightly move them an inch and back over Alan's skin.

"Then this is my answer to your final question," he said softly. "Having someone who cares, and being able to hold them close while knowing I'm safe with them, is something that brings me peace."

Somehow, Alan managed to close the minuscule gap between them even more, pressing his hand against Shane's neck and traveling down his back to push him even closer. When satisfied, Alan tangled his fingers in Shane's hair, leaning into the warm embrace.

"You deserve that, Shane," Alan said. "You deserve that more than anything in the world."

In the moment of overwhelming peace, Shane felt driven to close the gap between their lips as well, and he leaned in to kiss Alan with a soft but deep passion. Alan was quick to reciprocate the passion, holding his face and kissing him back. When they pulled away, it was only for breath, and Shane kept their faces close, their noses touching.

"You've heard about me," he said softly, looking back at Alan's eyes. "Now I want to know all about you."

"What do you want to know, amado?" Alan asked just as soft, calling him a word in Argent that Shane could only assume was a term of endearment.

Shane smiled gently, not breaking eye contact. "The same things you asked me. What makes you happy, what you get up for in the mornings, what keeps you up at night, what makes you laugh and cry, what brings you peace. The profile of who you are."

Alan gazed into his eyes for a few seconds before leaning in again, delivering a soft, tender kiss on his lips. As he pulled away, Alan pushed Shane to lay on his back again, this time being the one resting his head against the nook of Shane's shoulder. With his free hand, Alan rubbed the left side of Shane's chest, feeling his heart beat against his chest again.

"I think I'm a simple man," Alan said with a breathy voice, cozying closer to him even though his hair was rubbing against Shane's face. "Simple things make me happy, like the warmth of the sun. And right now, you are like the sun. Warm. Radiant. Shining. That's how you feel to me. That's how you appear to me." Alan paused, tracing a heart shape over Shane's heart. "My sweet summer lover."

Shane smiled, feeling almost giddy as he rested his cheek on the top of Alan's head. "I like hearing and knowing that," he said softly. "I disagree with you simplifying yourself, though. You're a special person, Alan, someone with a story I want to know all about. I want to give you the same attention you give me-- and not because you did it first, but because you're deserving of it."

Alan gently kissed Shane's shoulder that he was laying on before deciding that it was now his turn to line his finger along Shane's jaw. "I do wish I have more of a story to share. I realize it's humble of me to say that my life is simple, but it is the truth. Perhaps it's part of the reason why I've been looking for a change of pace. To add complexity to my life."

Shane hummed softly. "Everyone's life can seem simple to themselves," he said, his voice hushed, putting his hand over Alan's hand that was on his chest. "If you want more time to think about it, that's alright. I'd still like to know another time, and there's still the other questions."

Alan seemed to think this over, seconds passing as his thumb rubbed Shane's hand on top of his. "Simple things do make me happy, though," he finally said with a soft voice. "I enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Getting lost in a good song. Dancing to it. Hearing a mesmerizing story. Experiencing others' joy. A warm smile during a cold day. But at the same time... I think these things also keep me up at night. And it also makes me laugh, and cry, and gives me peace. Memories that are happy can turn sad, and memories that are sad can turn happy. This is life. Every day is a gift. I try to seize every second in the present moment. I think, sometimes, it all melds together. But it's a beautiful mess, and I wouldn't have it any other way."

Alan's words were a peaceful lull, and Shane could sink into it while he spoke. The pace of their breathing matched-- slow, gentle, and deep.

"I like that outlook," he said softly. "I would appreciate a simple life if it were happy. Do you feel happy?"

"I am," Alan said sincerely. "Elated, actually, and overjoyed. I have no doubts."

Shane smiled, watching his face. "Is that just now," he asked, "or overall?"

"Is there a difference?" Alan asked with a smile.

Shane let out a laugh. "I mean, if you can't see one, I guess there isn't."

There was a longer pause as Alan self-reflected, contemplating the question. Finally, he wrapped his fingers around Shane's thumb and gave it a squeeze. "I am happy here and now. But overall... perhaps happy isn't the right word, although I wouldn't say I'm unhappy. Just..." He trailed off, delaying in finishing the thought until he finally whispered, "...lost."

Shane felt a pang at his words.

"I think I understand that," he whispered back. "I felt like that for, well, most of college. When I was supposedly meant to be figuring out my path in life. Things weren't terrible, but they weren't right either. And I didn't know where to go from there."

"Do you still feel lost?" Alan asked softly.

Shane hesitated for a while.

"No," he said. "I know where I am. I just know I don't want to be there."

"Is that better or worse than being lost?" Alan asked.

Shane blew out a faint sigh that doubled as a laugh. "I don't know. Maybe worse. I was lost before, but at least... I don't know. At least there was a chance back then to get on the right path." He squeezed Alan's hand gently. "Lost isn't the worst. I think it's better to scan an unknown horizon and wonder where to turn than to thread your way through a maze with one single escape. We're meant to have free will. I know you won't waste it."

Alan was silent for some moments, rubbing his thumb against Shane's palm. "Yeah. You're right. You're right," he said softly.

Shane lifted their hands, pressing a kiss to the back of Alan's hand, then smiled gently at him. "You'll find your way," he whispered. "I promise."

"Maybe you can be my map," Alan whispered back, the longing returning in his eyes and smile as he returned his gaze.

Shane's smile widened slightly. "Would you like that?"

"I'd love that," Alan affirmed, smile warming.

"I promise it, then," Shane said softly, leaning into him more.

The two of them embraced again, their heads and chests close. Shane could feel Alan's heart beating a soothing rhythm, the sound filling his ears. With Alan's arms around him, Shane found his breathing slowing, matching the same steady rhythm of his heart. He closed his eyes, and as he felt himself sinking deep sleep, he knew he'd stay at peace.
"silv is obsessed with heists" ~Omni

"silv why didn't you tell me you were obsessed with heists I thought we were friends" ~Ace

"y’all we outnumber silver let’s overthrow her >:]" ~winter

silver (she/they)

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Tue Nov 07, 2023 11:12 pm
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Carina says...


Ooktoberfest yodel music played as the Island Magic panned across the screen with a bolded comic sans font.

"Heya, folks! Welcome to the montage episode!" Ethan said with a friendly wave and a smile, wearing a new set of green and yellow lederhosen. "I'm Ethan. You may have seen me holding the camera, but I'm your host for the day. Something about Mel taking breaks for the event because she's overworking herself. Gal's a go-getter!"

He then fell back on his chair, spinning around it once before he leaned back and set his legs on the table, arms behind his head with a grin. "So yeah! Let me just..."

He sat up straight again and leaned forward, removing his legs from the table. Ethan squinted at the script screen, reading the words quickly before he grinned again, brightening up.

"Oh right! Yes. Co-host. Let me bring that in. Welcome, Shay!" he said, pressing the red button in front of him.

Instead of Shay poofing in, however, he poofed himself out. There was a still silence before the live feed then turned back to the Island Magic logo with elevator music playing, the words "Stand by, please!" on the screen.

After some long seconds, the feed returned, as well as Ethan on his chair, brightly grinning again.

"My bad! Apparently I pressed the wrong button. Why are they next to each other, anyways? I also received no training for this. I hope nothing bad happens. Anyways."

With a grin, Ethan playfully speedily made little circles in the air, making airplane sound effects as his finger then swirled down to the same button again. Caught on the feed, someone was desperately whispering, "Blue button. Blue button!"

Fortunately, Ethan changed his trajectory from the red button to the blue one, pressing it with him vocalizing a "Boop."

Shay then poofed on the chair next to him successfully.

"Great success. Hiya, Shay. Fancy seeing you here," Ethan said, swiveling in his chair again.

Shay cackled. "You dork!" she said. "Did no one give you the instructions on button pressing?"

Ethan shrugged. "Nope. I was just told to read the script."

She blew a raspberry. "Fair enough." She drummed her hands on the desk. "What we got today, buddy?"

"So much stuff, apparently. You witnessed the chaos yesterday, right? Hoh boy. I haven't slept yet, actually. Was a big party. Ooktoberfest sure is crazy," Ethan said, nodding.

"Yeh, man," Shay agreed, "I even lived some of it!" She glanced off and huffed, "Man, Henny can be such a pain in the ass."

Ethan cackled. "It's so funny he couldn't speak to anyone. It's karma though, doncha think?" He pursed his lips and hummed, looking straight into the camera. "Is he watching this right now?"

"He better," Shay said. With a mischievous glint in her eyes, she flipped off the camera, which was blurred from an automatic filter. "Dear Hendrik: you made my job a thousand times harder! Thanks, bub!"

Ethan laughed, playfully slapping his hands against the table. "He's going to go after you now. Maybe we'll finally get to use that Henny Harassment Hours segment."

"Yo!" Shay punched Ethan's arm. "Stick to the script, man!"

"Right! The script!" Ethan said, rubbing his arm but quickly recovering as he squinted at the screen again. "Ah! Right. Yeah. Let's bring in the highlights, hm? Wabam!"

He then swivelled his chair around, arms pointed out at the screen behind them. Which was empty. And still green.

"This green screen is capturing the highlights, right?" he asked. "It's really hard to tell."

"They're there," the voice off-camera assured him.

Shay turned Ethan back around and pointed off camera. "Just look at that one, dummy."

"Oooooooh," Ethan drew out, squinting at that camera. "So that's how Mel knows without turning around. Nice!" He grinned, looking at the camera again. "Cool! Someone edit sparkles around me as I wave my arms around the highlights, please!"

  • Flirt cam!
  • Confession cam!
  • Kiss cam!
  • Spicy cam!
  • Interview!
  • Mini-game: who's what!
  • Fan art!

Sparkles and harp music played around the highlights, circling it from Ethan's hands until he finally dropped them, cheerily grinning again.

"Cool! Not sure what's up with these cam names, but let's start with the flirting one. Cam crew, let's play the montage! And I'll look at that screen, right?" Ethan pointed at the one in front of them, which was the script that he was only reading 10% of the time.

"No, the other one," Shay said with a snicker.

"Left of the script," the person behind the camera said quietly.

Flirt cam!

The screen she pointed at and the one behind them started to play the montage of clips. It mostly focused on Alan, who flirted with basically anyone he talked to. And he stared. A lot. There were scenes of him having longer talks with Shane, Lyall, Cyrin, Alex, Hild, Tula, and Clanny. He was aggressively flirting and shooting his shot with everyone except Tula, Lyall and Cyrin, but footage was caught of him checking all of them out.

"Huh! This guy sure flirts with a lot of people," Ethan commented, watching in awe.

Shay playfully rolled her eyes. "What's new?" Then stroked her chin as she squinted at the screen. "You know... Yeah, the fact that he's actually aiming for 'romantic' this time is what's up. That's new."

"Is it romantic? Dude looks thirsty to me. I think he could use a drink. Ya know, in the spirit of Ooktoberfest," Ethan said with quick nods.

With a snort, Shay shrugged. "Mary Poopins magic, yo."

Ethan then read the script word-for-word, voice flat and emotionless as he read it slowly. "You talked to him for a while at the bar. What do you think, Shay?"

Shay sighed, dropping her grin now. "Honestly, I feel bad for the dude. It really messed with his brain chemistry, in a messed up way."

Ethan's smile faded as well, slowly nodding as he understood the heaviness of her words. "Is that what the magic did to him? Made him want to, you know. Get with others?"

Shay cast him a somewhat flat look at that. "Notes, my guy," she said patiently.

"Note what?" Ethan asked.

Shay huffed a laugh through her nose. "Nevermind." She brightened as she turned back to the script. "Who else did we catch on the flirt cam?"

"Good question! Cam crew, do your thing," Ethan said with another dramatic swirl of his hand. As requested, a trail of sparkles followed.

The next clip showed Alex and Hild talking pretty much the entire time. Their time at the bar or table together was sped up showing them together for nearly the entire day, talking. The only scene that was drawn out and slower was when Hild pulled in his lederhosen closer to her towards the beginning of the event.

Ethan hummed. "They seem to be chummy with one another, huh."

"Dude was real nice to her," Shay agreed. "And for that, he has my respect."

Ethan whistled lowly. "That's kind of a low bar, don't ya think?"

"For spoilery reasons," she said with a pointed nod, "I think we kinda have to drop the bar for this guy."

Ethan narrowed his eyes at her with a knowing grin. "Riiiiiiight. Yeah." He nodded, distracted by a shuffling of noises near the camera, his eyes slowly moving like he was reading something. Perhaps an impromptu cue card. "Uh. Anyways! Yeah! Let's move on."

Confession cam!

The screen focused on Lyall and Cyrin. Connie was there too, but he was blurred out, as if he was supposed to be a background character since he wasn't pivotal in this scene. Dramatic Shookspear music played as Cyrin spoke all fancy speak, and then Lyall went on to his prelude about being taken, yet admitting that he found Cyrin attractive. This exchange was drawn out like it was a Shookspear play, considering how they both spoke.

"Huh," Ethan simply commented, looking a little confused.

...Perhaps because he didn't understand what was even said half the time. He also seemed to have forgotten the script, mesmerized by the montage screen.

Shay coughed and plastered on a grin. "We really should change their name from 'Rizz Cabin' to 'Crisis Cabin'! They're kind of a hot Shookspearan mess right now, huh buddy?"

Ethan snickered. "Good one! Yeah, definitely sounds like it. What's Lyall going on about?"

Shay blinked at Ethan. There came more faint shuffling, and the occasional squeak of a marker from behind the camera. Shay's face lit up when she looked back, and she elbowed Ethan's side as she silently prompted for him to look again. That certainly caught Ethan's attention, looking over to the side of the camera as his eyes scanned whatever was being shown.

"Ohhhhhhhh," he drew out, nodding. "Hm. Okay. Makes sense, yeah. Lyall is having a crisis. Why would he say he's engaged one second and then say that Cyrin is attractive the next second?" He paused, having a lightbulb moment. Which was edited above his head. "Ah, right. Yes. Because he has no filter right now. So it seems that he's had these thoughts for a while. Well, he did say last montage that Cyrin was hot. So guess that was the truth after all!"

"Cat's outta the bag!" Shay chirped. "Ah, well. I'm sure they can make it right soon. In the meantime, we've got some folks who actually managed to advance past the confession stage!"

Kiss cam!

The first class was short. It included Tula marching up to Clanny and demanding a kiss, which she agreed to, but then Tula pulled away with disgust. Then marched away.

"Huh. That doesn't seem pleasant," Ethan commented.

"Yeah, yeesh," Shay said with a grimace. "Tula could at least be nice about it. Clanny's a real treasure!"

"She is! She's awesome!" Ethan said brightly, then slumped back on his chair with a sigh. "Why'd Tula have to kiss her?"

"My guess," Shay said, looking just to the left of the camera again, "is she had some Feels she couldn't handle. So she handled them like a big baby."

"Mm! She got the hots for Clanny. Weird, but alright," Ethan said wrongly with more quick nods.

Shay stared blankly at the camera.

Spoiler! :

"Onto kiss cam, part 2!" she quickly declared.

The second clip was again of Shane and Alan. The playful dialogue leading up to the kiss played, both of them dropping their pretzels to hold hands. Then hearts and romantic lighting was edited around them as they passionately kissed, hands on each other as if they weren't aware that literally the whole world was watching.

"Hey, I caught that footage. I practically raced to get there first," Ethan said proudly.

"You did great, my guy," Shay said with an approving nod. "Barely shook the camera, didn't even break a sweat!"

"Was very hard work!" Ethan affirmed himself. "It's the first kiss caught on camera, but man. They sure advance fast. Then again, they've been flirting for a while. Still, the media on Shane is going craaaaazy right now. Their kiss is going viral. You've seen the memes, right? It's crazy."

"Legit," Shay said with an emphatic nod, "it's only been, what? Two weeks now? No wonder they're blowing up the internet, they really just put the petal to the metal."

"Sheesh, yeah! Is this speed dating for real?" Ethan said with a snicker.

Shay cackled loudly. "Oh my god, I think the speed dates actually worked for these guys!"

"Maybe Alan got offended that Lyall thought Cyrin is hot. So instead he decided to go after Shane, who finds him hot," Ethan mused, hand to chin as he stroked his stubble and stared up at the bright studio light, contemplating his words.

"The Lyall-Cyrin incident is completely its own thing," Shay said. "I think Alvaro was too caught up in Shane's eyes to be bothered."

"Man, have you noticed this dude has a type?" Ethan said with another cackle. "Check it. Cas, can you bring up all the people he flirted with on the screen?"

There was a long pause as Cas seemed to be switching gears, now focusing on bringing up the portraits of Lyall, Shane, Hild, Clanny, Tula, and Alex.

Ethan stroked his chin again, squinting at the screen in front of him. "Hm. They're all brunettes with green eyes. Except..."

"We have an outlier," Shay finished for him, pointing at Alex on the very end.

"Yeah, but didn't he reject Alex last week?" Ethan asked, full attention on Shay now.

Shay shrugged as she turned back to Ethan. "I don't know, maybe this re-opened the door for them?" She dropped her hands to the desk. "Man, I hope not."

"Yyyyyyyyeah," Ethan drew out with another knowing look. "That would be... uh. Yeah." He shrugged. "I'm on team Shalan anyways. Like, officially. I voted in the Twooter poll, so."

"Yooooooo," Shay said, offering him a fistbump with a bright grin. "Noice."

Ethan fistbumped her, making special effect noises as he dramatically pulled his hand back. She mimicked his sound effects as she mirrored him.

"For the better, too," she went on, "because Shalan is officially o-fficial!"

"Whaaaat? For real?" Ethan asked with waggly brows.

Spicy cam!

This footage was simple. It included clips of Alan and Shane rushing to the crisis cabin together, whispering and giggling and flirting with one another.

"Oooo la la," Ethan said with more waggly brows. "Alan probably invited him to eat dinner."

"Yeah," Shay said slowly. "Totally."

"He's probably showing him his collectibles," Ethan went on.

Shay only hummed and nodded.

"They're probably putting together Legos as we speak," Ethan continued.

Shay's look turned flat, then she snorted as she let a grin slip through. "They're fitting together more than Legos, my guy."

Ethan hummed, nodding. "So true. If they're both Legos, do you really think Alan's the one at the bottom? He doesn't really give me bottom brick vibes. Ya know?"

"I don't know," Shay mused, then waggled her brows. "I'm pretty sure he's established himself as 'adaptable', so it probably works either way."

Ethan shrugged, deeply contemplating this. "Yeah. And the bottom brick piece is also the one that fits into the other. So..."

Shay cackled aloud. There came very faint deflating noises from behind the camera. At which point, she had the decency to look sheepish and move them along.

"They're not the only ones taking matters to the bedroom, though!" she announced with her best reporter voice.

Clips of James and Eve then played. First of James crying and nearly running through his cabin door, Eve following after him. Then there was another clip of the two of them leaving together to go to her cabin instead.

Ethan hummed, back to stroking his chin. "Why would they switch cabins? Maybe they ran out of tissues."

"My money's on that theory, yeah," Shay agreed.

"Or maybe he ran out of ice cream," he commented some more.

Shay pointed to Ethan at that. "Now that's a real emergency right there. I know I'd book it if I ran out of depression ice cream."

Then there was a clip of Tula grabbing a ladder from Gregg as she then booked it to the girl's cabin, placing the ladder against Eve's balcony. She aggressively climbed it until she reached the balcony, knocking and yelling to be let in until they relented.

"Huh. Maybe she wanted some ice cream too," Ethan said.

"Awh," Shay said with a pout, "what if Gregg wanted ice cream first?"

"We should all get ice cream after this. What do you think?" Ethan asked excitedly, seemingly already forgetting about the actual topic at hand here.

Shay lit up and whooped her excitement. "Yeah, for sure!" But before Ethan could excitedly drum up ideas of their plans, Shay went on and said, "Let's pull up the next segment, though."
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Carina says...


"Cool, it's interview time! This is always my favorite part," Ethan said. "LET'S PRESS THE BUTTON!"

Without waiting for Shay, Ethan pressed the blue button in front of him, poofing in Clandestine.

What he didn't know was that only two people could be brought into the studio at any given time, though. The Mary Poopins magic at its limits, a mouth appeared on the ceiling, spitting Clandestine out.

Clandestine landed on the table with a thud, covered in saliva. Wide-eyed and in shock, Clanny stared up at the mouth, unblinking.

"Oh, god! Sorry, Clanny! Let me redo this!" Ethan said with a panicked voice, pressing the red button.

But that only poofed out Shay, leaving the two of them in the room. The mouth in the ceiling, however, disappeared.

"I really don't understand the buttons," Ethan said with a sigh. "Man, are you okay? Are you hurt?"

Clanny sat up slowly, rubbing the back of her head. It was clear that she'd been woken up from her sleep. She was still in her pajamas, which seemed to consist of an oversized graphic tee and shorts. Her long hair was a bit frazzled, and now a bit... sticky.

She glaced around, looking down at Ethan.

"Uh, I'm okay," she said, clearly confused. "What's-- um?"

She stared down at herself, picking up a glob of saliva off her knee.

"Gosh! This really sucks. I have no idea where that mouth came from. Let me get you a rag. I think maybe one of these buttons--"

And at that, Ethan disappeared too, since he pressed the red button. Clanny was left by herself, still on the table and covered in saliva. She looked lost for half a second, staring unwittingly into the camera.

The feed paused, once more showing the Island Magic logo with cheery music, the words, "Stand by, please!" across the screen.

And then it was back live.

This time, Clanny was all dried up, sitting on her seat. Across from her was Mel, who also looked like she had just woken up since her hair was more frizzy than normal.

"Hi Clanny! Good morning! Sorry about the rough start. Talk about a crazy hangover, am I right?" Mel said with a laugh, playfully elbowing her.

"Yeah," Clanny said with a weak laugh. "That's uh--"

She looked up at the ceiling where the mouth used to be.

"Not the first time I've been in a creature's mouth," she said.

"Yes! You must have so many stories. You're our favorite monster hunter, after all. In fact, you're the world's most favorite monster hunter! Did you know that people often call you a ray of sunshine?" Mel said brightly.

"I mean, that's what some of my coworkers call me back home," she said. "But I didn't know word got around."

"Oh yes, it sure did!" Mel said with a smile. "And now you're on the montage show, chosen for the interview today. Isn't that exciting?!"

Clanny smiled a little more genuinely,

"Yeah," she said. "That's pretty cool. I saw you at the fest but didn't really get to talk to you much. So I'm glad I get to now!"

"Awh! Well, we should totally hang outside of my work hours. I'm mostly just following a script and reading questions for you. But we should go shopping sometime! That would be fun!"

Clanny brightened at that.

"I'd really like that!" she said.

"Perfect!" Mel said with a sunny grin. "Are you ready, Clanny? We'll dive right into the questions. They all come from our Twooter polls, by the way."

"Ohhhh, okay," Clanny said with a nod. "Sure. I'm ready."

"Alright! First question on the screen, please!"

why are you so happy all the time

Clanny tilted her head a bit.

"I know I'm pretty positive," she said. "But I have other feelings too! It's pretty silly to say I'm happy all the time. No one can be happy all the time."

"So true! Is there a reason why you try to remain optimistic despite the outlook?" Mel asked.

"I guess I just try to have a good attitude no matter what life brings me," she said. "We don't always get to choose what happens to us, but we always get to choose how we deal with it. I guess I've just learned to look on the bright side."

"I love how you think, Clanny! This next question is a follow-up."

have u fr ever been angry or sad

"Oh, of course!" she said. "I've been sad and angry plenty of times. I guess it just doesn't always show. But yeah, I've got the full range of emotions, hah."

"And that's soooo normal! There are cloudy days sometimes too! It's not all sunshine and rainbows," Mel said with an eager nod. "Let's bring in the next question, then."

what's the worst thing you've heard an animal say

Clanny let out a small laugh.

"Oh, gosh," she said. "I actually get asked this every now and again. I don't know how to qualify what's 'worst,' but I think some of the worse things I've heard are like, animals gossiping about other people's secrets. I heard about an affair once through the birds a window. That was uncomfortable. Felt like I wasn't supposed to know that."

"Whoa! You mean the birds are gossiping about other people's secrets? I had no idea animals share the hot goss!" Mel said with a giggle.

"You'd be surprised," Clanny said with a small smile. "A lot of animals are smarter than they seem."

"Absolutely! We have a few other animal-related questions for you."

are you only friends with robin bc he's part wolf

Clanny looked hurt, pouting at that question.

"What?" she asked. "No! Of course not! I'd be friends with him, wolf or not!"

"This question made it to the top Twooter rankings," Mel said more gently. "But now they have their answer! Let's see what the next question is."

has an animal ever hit on you

Clanny snorted.

"Gosh, people really wonder what animals are really saying I guess," she said with a huff. "But yeah, I've had some animals be a little weird about that. I just draw the line and they back off."

"No way! That's so crazy. What kind of animal was it?" Mel asked.

"Goats are usually the most unhinged," Clanny said.

"Weird! Why goats?" Mel asked.

"I don't know. They're crazy in a lot of ways. Like, they'll eat anything," Clanny said. "They don't have many brain cells knocking around in there."

Mel giggled. "You're so right! They are funny animals!" She smiled and then waved in the next question. "These next set of questions are more centered on you instead of animals."

fr you've never been on a date???

Clanny smiled and shrugged.

"Not until the speed dating event," she said. "I dunno. I just never got asked, and I hadn't really met anyone I thought to ask myself."

"Well, it is the twenty-first century, so if you ever meet anyone you like, I say ask 'em out!" Mel said brightly. "Anyone would be lucky to have you!"

Clanny smiled.

"Aw, thanks Mel," she said. "I'll try to keep that in mind."

"Of course, girlie! You've got a big heart. Never lose it." Mel then waved in the next question. "Speaking of the speed dating event, here's the next question for you."

do u like-like cyrin

Clanny raised her brows and let out a small laugh.

"What? No, we're just friends!" she said. "Cyrin would say the same."

"You heard it from here first, folks! Just friends!" Mel announced. "Let's move on."

who's the hottest person on the island

Clanny's brows scrunched together looking at the question, and she looked over to Mel, raising a brow.

"Um... like, who do I think is the most pretty?" she asked.

Staying enthusiastic, Mel shook her head. "Nope! Hot. Like, sexy."

Clanny pouted, looking a bit disturbed by the word.

"I don't know. I don't really think of people that way a lot," she said. "I mean, I think most of the people on the island are really attractive in their own right, honestly. You guys selected a lot of pretty people!"

Mel hummed, still smiling. "Fair enough! So you don't see anyone as hot? Just pretty?"

"I guess I just don't really like that word," Clanny said with a small laugh.

"It's not demeaning. It can be, if used in offense. But you know when you put on a really flattering dress, and your makeup is done right, and your hair looks amazing, and then you look at yourself, posing in front of the mirror, like, 'Damn, I look good'? That feeling," Mel said. "It's a good feeling!"

"I guess so," Clanny said a little more bashfully, looking down into her lap.

"That's alright! We can go with terms you're more comfortable with," Mel said more gently. "Who are the prettiest people on the island?"

Clanny hummed, putting her hand on her chin.

"Well, I think the Ashlunds are really pretty," she said. "And so are Alan and James. Eve's really pretty too."

"Awh! That's a pretty big list! And you are so right, they are pretty. You're missing someone, though," Mel said.

"You!" Clanny said with a smile.

"Noooo, you!" Mel said with a laugh.

"Oh!" Clanny said with a giggle. "Hah, that too."

Mel giggled. "We should totally hang after this. But first, let's finish up this Q and A."

how was ur first kiss

Clanny's smile fell at that.

"Oh," she said more quietly. "That."

She looked down into her lap with a small frown.

"It was... not great," she said.

"Aw... I'm sorry, Clanny," Mel said with empathy. "Do you want a hug?"

"Maybe later," she said. "After the interview is over?"

Mel nodded, smiling warmly. "Of course. Let's bring the next question in."

would you kiss tula again

Still frowning, Clanny shook her head.

"No," she said. "I don't really want to."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Mel asked gently.

"Not right now," she said softly.

"That's alright. I have one last question, and then we'll be done. Alright?" Mel said.

"Okay," Clanny said.

who else would u kiss

Clanny let out a weak laugh, but her smile looked sad.

"I'm not really looking to kiss anybody else," she said. "I think I'd rather not kiss anyone while I'm here, really."

"And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that! It's your choice and your life. You do you, girl," Mel said brightly.

"Thanks, Mel," Clanny said. "Can I have that hug now?"

Mel giggled. "Girl, we're hugging and grabbing coffee, now! Sorry Cas, I'm off duty anyways!"

Mel reached over to press the red button, but before they both poofed, the logo appeared again, once more with the "Stand by, please!" and cheery music.

Thirty seconds or so passed before, finally, the feed returned. To an empty set. There was murmuring off-camera before C.C. Calderson, as his name tag introduced him, shuffled in and hesitantly took Mel's chair behind the desk.

"So," he started slowly, awkwardly folding his hands, "we've been experiencing...a lot of technical difficulties." He pointed to the buttons in front of him. "By our count, we have enough juice for only one more round trip. So, uhm. Yeah, we'll bring in, uh..." Caspar squinted at something off-set, and visibly deflated a bit. "...Hendrik."

He gave the blue button a timid tap.

And then Hendrik poofed in to the chair next to him with a loud, "WOOOOOOHOOOOOO!"

Hendrik was pumping his arms up in the air, excited and already dressed, like he had prepared for this moment. With a big grin, he slapped Caspar's back, unable to contain his excitement as he looked into the camera.

"(BLEEP) YEAH! Finally, I made it to the damn montage show! About damn time!" Hendrik cheered, then turned back to Caspar. "Poop machine! Nice to see you again, comrade."

Caspar mustered a wobbly smile. "Nice to see you too, Hendrik. Hopefully the montage experience lives up to your expectations."

"So, you going to interview me or what? Hit me with 'em. I'm ready. I was born ready," Hendrik said as he then waggled his fingers towards himself, curling it back and forth like he was welcoming the questions.

With an awkward cough, Caspar answered, "Yes. I mean, well. No, not quite an interview. It's a matching game, I guess. So." He waved both hands in vague circles. "Yay."

"Matching game? What's that? Like one of those mini games? What, I didn't make the interview list?" Hendrik asked threateningly.

Caspar frowned only slightly and tried a reassuring tone as he said, "There's plenty of time for you to be interviewed later, I'm sure--"

"Well, I'm already here. Why not interview me and play this damn mini game?" Hendrik interrupted.

"Time constraints," Caspar answered simply.

"What the hell does that mean? We've got lots of time. This montage is shorter than usual. I know this. I watch it every week," Hendrik said stubbornly.

"Well, we're quickly running out time," Caspar said diplomatically, "the longer you argue about it. So, can we just proceed with the mini-game? Please?"

Hendrik grumbled under his breath and swatted at the air towards Caspar. "Fine. Proceed."

Caspar nodded once. "Thank you."

Mini-game: who's what!

There was a beat of silence.

"Oh!" Caspar said suddenly with another cough. "Right. Uhm, so you'll be given a list of magically character-altering effects from Ooktoberfest, as well as a list of the contestants." He reached under the desk and set a tablet in front of Hendrik. "It's your job to match them up at your discretion within two minutes."

The list of side effects also showed up on the screen.

  • irresistible urge to dance and sing
  • empathy
  • lack verbal filter
  • monster trapped in a human body
  • increased confidence
  • replay old memories
  • daring risk taker
  • joyous
  • speak in a foreign language
  • sanity
  • simpleminded
  • charisma
  • cheerful
  • sexual attraction
  • none
  • emotional amplification
  • shark-minded
  • complex vernacular

"Hmph! I couldn't talk at all during that event. You know how offensive it is to give the one person from Germaknee the inability to speak? That's cultural appropriation," Hendrik said with a deep frown.

"My condolences," Caspar said with sincere empathy in his eyes. "I'll be sure to put in a word with higher ups about cultural sensitivity after this."

"Good. Much appreciation." Hendrik tapped his finger against the table, staring at the list of names and magical side effects. "No wonder you picked me for this game. Since I couldn't talk, I watched everyone instead. It was all I could do, for crying out loud. So I'm sure I could get this right."

"The timer's started," Caspar said in gentle reminder. "You only have two minutes."

Hendrik stroked his beard, leaning back on his chair as he contemplated the list, clearly not needing the time limit warning. "Well, going down the list, some of it is obvious. Wolf man couldn't stop singing or dancing. God, that man is so annoying. He's so broody and has a weird fascination of wolves. I think he's the reason wolves keep drinking my milk. But he's even more annoying like this. Why couldn't I get this side effect instead? He didn't even enjoy his newfound abilities to enjoy singing and dancing."

As Hendrik laid out his thoughts verbally, Caspar looked down at the desk in quiet resignation. After a second's delay, he reached over and made the match on the screen on Hendrik's behalf.

"And the monster one? Must be sparky," Hendrik said, but then drew out another long and deep hum, stroking his beard again. "No. That's not right. I change my answer to flying man." He turned to Caspar. "You got that, poop machine?"

"I--" Curling his hand into a fist, Caspar bit back a frustrated sound. "Yup."

Hendrik nodded in satisfaction. "Uh-hmm. Must be flying man. He was screaming like an feral animal. I also saw him bite crazy eyes."

Caspar looked to Hendrik with confusion. "Who?"

"Crazy eyes. You know, the man with crazy eyes? You haven't met him? He's hard to miss," Hendrik said with a guffaw.

"No," Caspar sighed, "the-- Flying man? Who is that?"

"He's the man who flies. Wearing the trench coat. Eats sandwiches when he thinks no one's looking. I don't know his name, but he flies. I saw it with my own eyes." Hendrik stared fiercely at Caspar. "Don't you know their magic? You're staff, after all. Come on. Flying man. There's only one on the island."

Caspar evenly met Hendrik's intense gaze. Then simply looked back to the screen with a quiet, "Okay, thank you."

Hendrik nodded, turning his attention back to the list. He let out another guffaw. "Hah! This one's easy. Put my name down for only being able to speak in another language. Why the hell did they put me for that? Who makes this list? I sponsored this damn event!"

"It was randomized," Caspar answered. "Nothing personal."

"Hmph! Dumb luck. You live to hate it," he mumbled, looking up at the list again.

"Indeed," Caspar murmured in long-suffering agreement.

"Ah, there we go. Crazy eyes turned sane. That was a sight for sore eyes. He was speaking normally. I couldn't believe it." Hendrik paused. "Still got crazy eyes, though."

"Can't be helped, sadly," Caspar said.

"Mmhmm. And Barbie must be emotional amplification. Poor man was crying his damn eyes out within two seconds of starting. I should start calling him baby man instead," Hendrik said.

"I beg you," Caspar said, casting him a pleading look, "don't. He's got enough going on as it is."

"And what the hell's up with sparky acting like a shark?" Hendrik went on, ignoring his plea. "What did my boy ever do to deserve that? Does something about him scream shark to you? Think of his humanity. Shame on you for reducing him into an animal."

At that, Caspar frowned with fearful confusion. "...Me?"

"You're staff, correct? Why'd you let this happen?" Hendrik pressed.

"Sir," Caspar said, "I don't have any authority on this island."

"You could have at least tried to speak up," Hendrik said with a dismissive wave of his hand.

"But I don't--" Caspar turned back to the screen again with a saddened sigh. "Nevermind..."

Hendrik continued on. "Mmph! Cyrin spoke in fancy speak. It was very impressive. Very dapper." He paused. "Again, wish that were me, but I couldn't speak in any real language."

"Unfortunate," Caspar commented absently as he made the next match.

Hendrik leaned back on his chair once more, hand on his chin. "Blondie must have gotten empathy. She's a crazy mad scientist. All of them are sociopaths. Makes sense why she'd get this one." He narrowed his eyes at Caspar. "You sure this is randomized? Feels awfully too on the nose."

Not meeting Hendrik's suspicious gaze, Caspar shook his head. "I don't..." Then waved his hand, prompting Hendrik to continue.

"Aha!" Hendrik sounded with a snap of his fingers. "I got it. The joyous one is the loner man who wouldn't stop laughing. You know, the loner with dreads? The one who never leaves his room? That one. You know how scary it is to see him laughing with his teeth out like that? Good god. It's the stuff of nightmares. The hell is this, joyous? More like nightmarish."

"...Off-putting, sure," Caspar weakly agreed.

"And charisma. Hmmm." Hendrik nodded. "That must be Prince Connie. He was very charismatic that day. A true leader."

"One of the nicer changes," Caspar said with a nod.

"Yes. I watched him round others up, making sure they were alright. I'd join him and do the same, but, you know." Hendrik swirled his hand in front of him, clearly annoyed. "Couldn't speak."

"I know," Caspar said placatingly.

Hendrik turned his attention back to the list, drumming his fingers along the table again. "Who's left? What's left? Can you update the damn screen?"

Caspar scanned the tablet screen. "Uhm...quite a few." Looking up, he waved to someone off-set.

The larger screen behind them refreshed with the remaining effects and unmatched contestants.

  • lack verbal filter
  • increased confidence
  • replay old memories
  • daring risk taker
  • simpleminded
  • cheerful
  • sexual attraction
  • none

    Lyall, Hild, Alan, Shane, Alex, Clandestine, Eve, Tula

Hendrik hummed again, taking in this new list while stroking his beard. "Hm. Now we're getting to the less obvious ones," he commented.

Caspar just shrugged. "Who do you want to start with?"

"'Sexual attraction'?" Hendrik said instead, ignoring his question. "How the hell can that be a side effect?"

There was a short pause as Caspar visibly scrounged for the words. "I mean... Some people just don't experience...sexual attraction? So, it. It was given magically to someone, I guess." He lifted both hands in surrender. "I don't know."

"Hmph! Lucky lad, whoever it was. Or unlucky lad, if this isn't their everyday. Sounds like a damn curse," Hendrik thought out loud, then squinted at the list. "Cinderella. He was a horn dog yesterday. You see him putting his mouth all over romantic? Man was trying to get in his pants. And he sure did! I saw them go back to the cabin together. Hoh, boy. I'll have to ask how he likes men now. And you know, if romance boy is the bott--"

"Alright," Caspar finally cut in, "that'll suffice. Next contestant?"

"Well, if we're talking about the horn dog, we gotta talk about romantic next," Hendrik said like it was obvious.

Caspar cast him a withering look. "With dignity, please?"

"Romantic finally had the gall to take it past romance," Hendrik said with a waggle of his brows, grinning. "Must mean he got more confidence. About damn time. Maybe he is strictly monogamous after all, if he only went home with one person. But I'm sure Cinderella had his hands all over him, anyways."

With a sound akin to a deflating balloon, the cameraman just silently made the match.

Thankfully, Hendrik didn't comment further, looking back at the list. "Curly is the daring risk taker. She kissed pinkie. But isn't curly a religious freak? She's probably only ever kissed Yeezus."

Caspar visibly drew a blank at this.

"You got all that, poop machine?" Hendrik asked impatiently.

"...No," Caspar admitted. "Could you...?" He held out the device to Hendrik.

"Curly. You know, curly hair? Stands yay high?" Hendrik went on instead, arm up to demonstrate the height. "She's got jugs, too. Not that I give a damn about that, but that sets her apart from the other ladies."

Caspar stared past the camera, at a complete loss. There came shuffling sounds off-set, and he was finally able to make the connections himself with the off-set assistance.

"Mmph! Yeah, that's her name. Tula," Hendrik said with a brisk nod, his gaze also past the camera.

"Alright," Caspar prompted, "only a handful left."

Hendrik stared at the list again, contemplating more slowly now. "Shortie is the cheerful one. I don't think I've ever seen her smile." He paused. "She could also be a good contendor for confidence or sexual attraction, though. Hard to tell. But we're going with cheerful here."

"Fair enough," Caspar said.

"And cowboy must have the unfiltered words. He really did speak his mind. I heard from the bar staff that he called Cyrin hot." Hendrik cackled. "He is smokin', though. Cowboy's not wrong."

With a shrug and a nod, Caspar seemed to concede as much as well.

"What's next? Can you update the list, secretary?" Hendrik asked.

Caspar looked up and blinked. "Me?"

Hendrik impatiently waved his hand out in front of him. "Who else?"

"...Fine," Caspar said, "it's an improvement." He coughed, and then obliged by silently signaling for another screen refresh.

  • replay old memories
  • simpleminded
  • none

    Alex, Clandestine, Eve

"Hmph! Down to the final three," Hendrik commented.

Caspar nodded. "Yup."

Hendrik squinted at the screen, looking at the bigger screen behind him since the words were bigger. "Now why the hell is flamingo's magic up there?" he murmured. He turned back to Caspar with another fierce stare. "That's his magic, correct? To replay old memories?"

Caspar raised both hands in a placating gesture. "Again, I-- I don't make any decisions around here. And I can't answer that, sorry."

"Hmph. Then I'll put him as 'none.' I don't know why he wouldn't have a side effect, though. What, is he secretly part of staff? Did flamingo bribe the DMV?" Hendrik asked with a fiercer voice.

Caspar just made soft, dying fish sounds in defeat.

"You okay? You need a glass of water or something? Oi! Cam crew! Get this man a glass of water," Hendrik ordered to his side with a snap of his fingers.

"No, it's fine," Caspar said mournfully. "Please, just finish the game..."

Hendrik shrugged. "If you say so." He returned back to this contemplative expression, tapping his chin at the final two names. "Down to two more. Pinkie talks a lot, so I heard her blab about lanky's magic. Something about reliving time, but not being able to change it. Seems pretty useless if you ask me, but it's similar to flamingo's magic. Maybe they switched." Hendrik briskly nodded. "Yes. Let's do that. Lanky could replay old memories, leaving pinkie being simpleminded. Don't think that quite fits pinkie, but... she was a bit out of it. It somewhat fits."

The screen behind them refreshed without prompting this time. Now it displayed the list completely matched with every contestant.

  • irresistible urge to dance and sing - Robin
  • empathy - Clarity
  • lack verbal filter- Lyall
  • monster trapped in a human body - Aaron
  • increased confidence - Alan
  • replay old memories - Eve
  • daring risk taker - Tula
  • joyous - Jay
  • speak in a foreign language - Hendrik
  • sanity - Stravos
  • simpleminded - Clandestine
  • charisma - Connie
  • cheerful- Hild
  • sexual attraction - Shane
  • none - Alex
  • emotional amplification - James
  • shark-minded - Kazimir
  • complex vernacular - Cyrin

"That's it!" Hendrik said proudly. "Good job, you got it all. How'd I do?"

Caspar set the tablet aside and looked past the camera. "Number cruncher says..."


"What the (BLEEP)?" Hendrik said in disbelief, frowning as he stared at the number. "No, that can't be right. Run it again."

Caspar looked blankly at Hendrik. "But. It's been run." He gestured to the screen. "This is the--"

"You must have put in the wrong numbers. Do it again," Hendrik insisted.

There was a reluctant delay before the screen refreshed yet again.

55.55% ACCURATE!

Caspar wilted at the updated result.

"What!" Hendrik snapped, slamming his fists on the table. "That can't be right. What did I get wrong?"

"I'm sorry," Caspar said hastily, "you'll have to just...wonder, I guess. Thanks for joining us, goodbye."

And he tapped the red button. Nothing happened. After a beat, Caspar's blank stare morphed into one of betrayal.

"You poofing me back? What are you waiting for?" Hendrik asked.

Repeatedly hitting the red button, Caspar mumbled with each press, "I. Don't. Know..."

"Well," Hendrik with brightly as he looked into the camera, folding his arms in front of him, "since you won't tell me what I got wrong, and I'm already here: why don't we bring in fanart? Of me, of course."

With a look in his eyes that could only be described as "dead inside", Caspar sighed and agreed, "We may as well."

Fan art!

"So, what do we got? How many fan arts do I have?" Hendrik asked eagerly.

"Um," Caspar said, "you have...some."

"What are you waiting for? Throw 'em up on the screen!" Hendrik said, already swivelling around to see them pop up on the big screen.

Shoulders tense as he visibly braced himself, Caspar waved to the camera. The screen updated to display a small compilation of Hendrik. But less "art" in nature, and more "meme-y". Majority of the images were frankly just screenshots.

"Hmph. They got my muscles right, that's for sure," Hendrik commented. "Though, this doesn't really look like art to me."

"I mean..." Caspar pointed to the far left. "There's one?"

"That one doesn't count. They made Barbie much bigger and stronger than me," Hendrik scoffed. "Why the hell would he beat me in a wrestling match? I can take him easily."

"I don't think..." Caspar shook his head. "Nevermind. We have a lot of art of everyone else, but here are some highlights that trended on Twooter for a few days."


"Isn't that just his mugshot?" Hendrik asked with a cackle.

Caspar frowned with open concern. "Oh. It is, isn't it. Uhm." He glanced at the camera. "Not sure why it's showed up in the fan art segment."

"Mmph! Maybe screenshots are art after all," Hendrik said with a nod.

"I..." Caspar just waved a hand as he cleared his throat. "Next one, please?"


Hendrik crossed his arms, nodding. "Good looking lad, that cowboy. Not my type, though. Too young."

Caspar slowly blinked Hendrik. "How old are you, anyhow?"

Hendrik scoffed. "It's rude to ask for an old man's age."

Caspar's brows furrowed with confusion, but he didn't press any further.


Hendrik sighed. "Of course there's art of Cinderella holding a cat. Gotta make him look soft and squishy instead." He paused. "Very cute cat, though."

Caspar shrugged. "I don't know, I think it's nice to see Shane happy."

"He could use a few lessons on being tough, though. Man's gotta buck up and act like a proper heir," Hendrik said with a shake of his head.

At that, Caspar cast him a faint sideways glare. But it was gone in the blink of an eye. "I think that's all for this past week, then," he concluded, turning back to the camera.

"Alright, comrade. Poof me back before I turn to confetti," Hendrik ordered.

Turning a disappointed glance at the buttons, Caspar sighed. "Yeah, uhm. About that..."

Suddenly the Island Magic logo took over the screen, kazoo sounds playing in the background. Little fairy chibi bodies of Hendrik and Caspar were playing the kazoo, dancing across the screen.

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Carina says...

Like every other morning so far on this island, Alan awoke with the sun. The morning rays glinted through his window, hitting his eyes.

He was tempted to sleep in. He was so, so tired. And exhausted, as if he had run a long marathon. His body was tired, but so was his mind. It was like he was hungover, feeling woozy and empty.

Maybe he was hungover.

Moaning softly, Alan sleepily rubbed his heavy eyelids, opening his eyes to see...

Wait. No. Feel.

Alan froze, brain short-circuiting as he realized that there were arms wrapped around his chest. Someone was breathing behind his neck, pulling him in.

What... who...

Was he naked?

Oh, god.

Alan's visioned blurred-- no, it was actually blurry-- and his heart raced against his chest as he racked his brain for answers. What happened last night? He didn't get that drunk. No, he...

No. Wait. No, no, no. Did he actually...? That actually...?

Shane was behind him, wasn't he.

The memories came flooding back in. The amount of times they made love, the number of pillow talks, kisses, hand holding, everything-- it hit Alan like a ton of bricks.

He had to calm down. This wasn't that big of a deal. People had hookups all the time. He just had to... well. He didn't even know. He just had to...

Alan couldn't help but flinch when Shane's finger twitched along his chest, and everything inside him told him he had to get out. Feeling like slimy fish in a barrel, Alan slowly wriggled out of his grip, praying to a nonexistent god above that this wouldn't wake Shane.

Thinking fast, Alan edged out of the bed, quickly replacing his body with a pillow when Shane stirred, looking for him in his sleep. Alan held his breath, but aside from a slight furrow of his brow, Shane showed no reaction. The faint, peaceful smile remained on his face.

Finally, Alan felt like he could breathe again, but he was afraid of even doing that. Or moving. Or looking anywhere else. Frankly, he was wondering if his heart beat was loud enough to wake Shane.

Clothes. He needed clothes. God, he was really out here, standing naked in front of the sleeping heir of Aphirah. A great way to start his morning!

Alan practically tip-toed to his clothes, spending five seconds with each step, not wanting to cause any creak to sound, even though he was sure his floor was creakless.

Right? It was creakless? Right.

Reaching his closet, Alan was quick to find the nearest underwear available. It was usually tucked in his dresser, but he was too afraid opening it would cause too much noise, so he opted for one he hadn't yet worn that was tucked at the back of his closet.

In reaching for that, though, Alan found himself face-to-face with a nude sketch of Lyall. He stared at it.


The fuck?

How the--


He didn't have time for this.

Alan grabbed the sketch and the underwear, placing the sketch face-down on the nearest surface, which happened to be his dresser. He quickly put on the boxer briefs, glad that he at least present himself to have a modicum of modesty. He grabbed the nearest shirt and pants-- which was what he was wearing yesterday before he magically changed into lederhosen, which was strewn all over the floor of the room, by the way-- and then stared at his bedroom.

Assessing. Evaluating. Thinking.

God, he didn't have time for this!

Shane was going to wake up any minute, he was sure. What should he say? Dear god, what should he say?

'Oh, hi, Shane. So about last night. Yeah. I don't know if I was in the right mind. Can we start over?'


'Good morning, Shane. Crazy event yesterday, isn't it? Yeah. I think it made me think you're very attractive. I don't know what got into me. Anyways. What are we now?'


'So nice to see you, lovely. I'm not sure about you, but last night, I just wasn't myself. Did you feel like yourself? I'm wondering if we should forget what happened.'


God. He needed-- he needed--

He needed something.

Clothes. For... Shane. For when he woke up. For when he woke up and Alan could figure out what to say.

How much time was that? He didn't have much time. He needed to figure this out before he woke up.

But first, clothes. And water. Would it take too long to start an ice bath? He needed to numb his mind. Frankly, maybe he should go to sleep. Maybe this was a bad dream.

Maybe he needed to slap himself. God, that was tempting.

Shaking with mania, Alan idly picked out clothes that he thought would fit Shane the best, and he couldn't help but feel embarrassed as thoughts of yesterday came up in his head. Unholy thoughts. Him undressing Shane, keeping him close, whispering things he would only reserve for serious relationships.

He honestly didn't know how to explain himself without making himself look bad.

Maybe he was the bad guy here.

With folded clothes in hand for Shane, Alan slowly walked back to the bed, quietly perching it at the end of the bed, staring at him the entire time.

Alan needed to get a grip of himself. He was especially reminded of the fragile situation and growing panic in his chest when Shane lightly stirred some more.

He had to leave. Now. And do what? Go where? And... do what?

He didn't know!

Suddenly feeling the urgency in the frenzy, Alan slipped out of his room, quietly and so slowly closing the door behind him.

And then he rushed to the bathroom somewhat blindly, immediately cleaning his face with the sink water, hoping it could also cleanse his brain.

It didn't work, of course. And he was vaguely reminded that he attempted this a few times yesterday.

Groaning, Alan dried his face and hair with his towel, scrubbing it dry with annoyance, not caring if he looked like a mess or he was still dripping wet. He needed to do something now. But what was he supposed to do?!

Maybe he could get water for him. And food. That should help. Like a peace offering.

He wished he had a fruit basket. Or one of those big harvest baskets of breads and fruit and whatever else for Shane. It seemed like a royal thing to receive. Hell, Alan would even put together a board of cheese and meats for him. He'd even eat the cheese for him. He didn't care!

There had to be something!

Alan almost wanted to laugh. Instead, he quickly turned around, leaving the bathroom just in time to hear that someone was walking up the stairs.

Oh god. Was Shane awake?!

Alan froze at the top of the stairs, instead seeing Lyall's head bop up into view.

Oh, thank god.

Wait. That was it. He could ask his cabin mates. He was sure they could be a help.

Feeling fueled by mania, Alan rushed into Cyrin's room, only realizing a few seconds later in horror that he didn't even knock.

"Cyrin," Alan said, slowly processing as he stood with the doorknob in his hand, still at the door.

It then dawned on him that he had never been in Cyrin's room. But that wasn't important.

Cyrin shot up in their bed, loose black hair flying around their head in an arc and falling into their face. Despite their instant reaction time, when Cyrin frantically swiped the hair out of their eyes, it was apparent that he was exhausted. He stared at Alan with a frazzled look, then shook his head as if to clear it. He hadn't been under the covers, so he was quick to stand up.

"What's up?" Cyrin muttered, rubbing a hand over their jaw.

Alan didn't know what got into him. He abruptly turned back around, rushing out of the room but keeping the door wide open, now with a new goal in mind: grab Lyall.

Thankfully, Lyall was still in the hallway, on his way to his room now. At least, he was. Alan quickly caught up to him, grabbing his hand and dragging him to Cyrin's room with him.

"Alvaro?" Lyall sputtered as he stumbled after him.

"Shhh!" Alan shushed, practically throwing Lyall in Cyrin's room.

He quietly and quickly shut the door behind him, heaving out a quiet, deep sigh before he turned back around, completely exasperated. Cyrin looked like he was out to protested, but they couldn't get a word out before Alan did.

"Shane. Is in. My bed," Alan half-whispered at the door with his arms out in front of him, trying not to sound to panicked.

Cyrin stopped swiping the hair out of his face, staring at Alan again with what was now a confused expression. After a moment, it settled into realization.

"Oh, so that's why..." he started to say, then shook his head out again. "And you don't-- want him there? Is that what you mean?"

Only half-dressed, Lyall fell back into the nearest chair, staring intently at Alan as the gears slowly turned. "How did he...get there?"

Alan felt like he was at a loss of words. He waved his hands around in front of him, like that was supposed to be an answer, until he finally sputtered out in a hushed tone, "What do I do?!"

Marching over to the window, Cyrin pulled open the curtains and opened the window, allowing sunlight in their dark setting. "Well, what do you want to happen?" they asked, sounding confused again as they turned around.

"I don't know!" Alan loudly whispered, now pacing around the room, feeling too jittery to stay in one place. "What do I say for him to not hate me? I don't think there's anything I can say." He groaned, standing still and slapping his hands over his face. "Oh my god, I fucked up. How could I be so stupid?"

"Alan, you've got to calm down. Take a deep breath," Cyrin said pacifyingly. "He's not gonna hate you. You can still figure out what you want to do with this."

Alan groaned some more, crouching down with his face in his hands. "I think I need some kind of peace offering. That way I don't get assassinated."

A multitude of expressions flashed across Lyall's face until he finally settled into the present with the rest of the room. "I don't think anyone will come after you for...this."

"Yeah, you'll be fine," Cyrin said, with a shake of his head. "Although, I would... not say that worry aloud in Shane's presence. It'd be insensitive."

Alan couldn't stop groaning. He wanted to scream into a pillow right now. Instead he stared at the blurry drum set at the other side of the room, running his fingernails down his scalp.

"If I may be so bold," Lyall started again, hesitantly, "it seemed...that you both were entirely on the same page last night. So, where is this panic stemming from? Aside from. Fears of assassination."

"That's why--" Alan began but then faltered. He sighed, his palms against his face again, wishing he could just die in a hole and be forgotten. "That's why I'm panicking!"

"Alan," Cyrin said, gently but firmly. "You're panicking because you... both wanted it to happen?"

"No," Alan said, but then aggressively shook his head. "I mean. Yes. I mean... I don't know! He's going to wake up any second now and I have no idea what to say. What happens when you're on the enemy list of an Aphirah heir? Do you know, Cyrin?"

Cyrin slowly opened their mouth, looking like they didn't know what to say. "...Nothing? I-- Okay. Here." He sat down on the ground, crossing their legs. "There's no reason Shane should be your enemy," he began. "However, if you've got different ideas about the nature of whatever went on between you, it may lead to some hurt feelings. So..." Cyrin looked to Alan. "What would you say the nature of it was, and do you think Shane would agree?"

Alan stared back at Cyrin, suddenly feeling like he had to move again. And he did. He sprung back on his feet, beelining towards Cyrin's closet to find a towel that he could dry his hair with.

"He will hate me if I tell him I regret the night," Alan said as he pulled out a black towel, unrolling it in the air.

He then bent over, scrubbing the towel in his hair, feeling weirdly like a dog getting dried right now, but he didn't care. He needed to scrub his brain.

"But I also don't regret it," he added, still fluffing his hair with the towel.

Cyrin slowly nodded. "Okay," he said, clearly processing. "So, maybe you feel differently about it now, but it's still not a bad feeling...?"

"And mayhaps," Lyall added gently, "don't assume so much on Shane's behalf?"

Alan was at a loss for words. If he didn't even know what to say to Cyrin and Lyall, how could he hold a conversation with Shane?

God, he was a disaster. It was like everything within him had crumbled down in one night. He was usually so much better at navigating conversation, but now? Now it felt impossible.

Alan didn't even know what to say. He stared at the towel, looking for a laundry basket.

"Where do you want me to put this?" he asked dumbly instead.

"Just... drop it," Cyrin said. "I'll take care of it."

And Alan did. He dropped the towel, sighing.

"Okay. I'm going to go back and see if he's awake. Thanks for the help," he said, already leaving the room.

Alan paused at the door, hand on doorknob as he felt a little voice at the back of his head tell him that he should stop what he was doing and re-attempt conversation with his cabin mates. But he ignored it, opening the door and stepping through, going back to his room.

His room.

It felt strangely like a prison now. Except the prisoner was... him? Shane?

Alan didn't even know. He couldn't make sense of anything.

He quietly set his head on the desk, burying his arms over his head, trying to think through the million thoughts swimming in his head. Was it regret? No. But also yes. But also, it felt like a surreal out-of-body experience. At the same time, the entire night felt like... confirmation.

He really didn't have the time to more deeply think on this. He could only hope and pray to a nonexistent god that he truly wasn't going to get assassinated.

Unless he just... faked it.

He could do that. Alan was good at acting. This wasn't any different. Hell, he'd faked so many things. He faked things all the time. He could fake the summer, right? That was probably fine. Probably.

Just... to what extent?

Alan finally sat back up, staring at Shane sleeping so soundly in his bed. He wished he had his peace. He wished he had the words to tell him that everything could be the same, if that was what he wanted.

But Alan would be lying to himself if he said that.

Then again, maybe lying wasn't so bad.
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soundofmind says...

James's neck was in the most accursed position known to man. Craned to the side against what could only be a fuzzy rugged floor, James felt every cervical vertebrae crack as he slowly lifted his head and reality dawned on him like a sack of bricks.

He'd fallen asleep on the floor of Eve's room.

And he'd cried his eyes out in front of her for what, an hour straight? Something like that? When had he even fallen asleep? The sun had still been up last he remembered, and now, the sun was up again. The only reason he knew it was a different sun of a different day was because it was on the other side of the building, spilling in daylight at a different angle.

That, and James felt normal again. But good grief did he feel the vulnerability hangover of having wept openly both in public and in front of Eve. It wasn't just the fact that he cried at all; it was the fact that it was uncontrollable, and even unprompted. They hadn't even talked about what was going through his head at the time - which was admittedly far too scattered and flooded to even put into words - but he could only imagine what kind of conclusions Eve might've jumped to. There was no way she assumed the potion merely made him cry.

Now that he had more of his wits about him, he knew exactly what it was.

The potion didn't make him feel anything new. Instead, it had made him feel everything he had already been feeling for years, but then unfettered.

God, that was worse.

James grunted as his neck popped again, and pain and discomfort ached through his spine and shoulders. He'd practically slept in the fetal position, curled up in a ball. As he started to sit up, he realized he wasn't just under his own blanket anymore. There were at least two more laid on top of him, and three pillows stuck around him as if to prop him up, or to be close and available to grab.

James squinted, feeling hungover despite drinking nothing but water.

His face felt crusty, and he definitely had some dried snot in his mustache. Eugh.

He rubbed his eyes and then hesitantly sat up, looking around until he saw Eve, sitting calmly by the windowsill with a sketchbook in her lap and a pencil in hand. She looked over to him, and another fresh wave of embarassment washed over him. Even though his emotions were more in his control now, he had a feeling the embarassment was painfully transparent.

"Good morning. How are you feeling?" she asked, closing her sketchbook and setting her feet flat against the floor.

"What time is it?" James asked instead.

"It's almost eight-thirty in the morning," Eve answered.

Damn. How long had he been asleep? Over twelve hours? When had he fallen asleep again?

"You been asleep for quite a while. Do you feel well-rested?" Eve asked.

James rubbed his face again, feeling groggy. If he'd slept that much, it was no wonder his brain was in a fog.

"I don't know," he said. "I think I over-slept."

Eve shook her head. "I don't think that's possible with you."

James looked up at her with a dead-eyed stare and set his hands in his lap.

"...Yeah," he said. "I'll take that."

"How are you feeling?" Eve asked again.

This question again. It was too deep of a question for someone who just woke up.

"Dry," he said, noticing the cup of water a few feet from him on a tray.

"I left the food and water out for you this morning. You're welcome to have it now if you'd like," Eve said, gesturing to the tray.

James was severely parched and hungry, so he didn't hesitate to slide the tray over and take a long drink. He ended up emptying it entirely, and set the cup down. The rest of the food was nicely set up, and James felt bad knowing that it'd probably been sitting near him for a while. It was a whole spread. There was a bowl of cereal, and a small carton of milk beside it. Next to that was toast and some jam, alongside neatly sliced oranges and a mix of nuts and cheese slices.

James didn't know how long Eve had spent making this, or if this was her normal, but he really appreciated it. Even if it did nothing to alleviate the severely awkward feeling of waking up in her room after crying his eyes out.

He'd... passed out? From exhaustion? He sighed, picking up a piece of toast.

"This is really nice," he said meekly before taking a bite.

"I don't think you ate anything yesterday. You should eat more after this. There are plenty of leftovers, though. And free food in the plaza, of course," Eve said, watching him eat.

James had already completely consumed the piece of toast. He didn't quite inhale it, but it was very close. His mouth was quite full when Eve finished speaking, and he couldn't really respond when she looked at him.

Blinking slowly, he just nodded, cheeks full of bread. That managed to make Eve crack a small smile. A bit embarassed again, James felt his face burn a little. He looked down and picked up the other half of toast, eating it a little slower this time, but feeling admittedly overwhelmed with hunger.

Fortunately, Eve was not the kind of person obligated to conversation, so she sketched away while he continued to consume the contents of the meal in front of him. It felt like no time had passed at all when he finished, and he still was rather hungry, but it was at least sated comfortably enough for now.

Looking around him, he felt compelled to clean up after himself, and he started picking up the blankets and folding them up.

"I've got it. Don't worry about it," Eve said before he could even manage to get one fold in. "You had a long day yesterday. You should get more food and water, if you're up for it."

James stood a little stiffly, really wishing Eve would just let him do this.

"It's... just a blanket," he said softly, still holding it over his arms.

"In that case... if you want to take it back with you, that's fine. To clean it, I mean," Eve said.

James furrowed his brows for a moment in confusion, but then he looked down at himself, putting two and two together.

He was still wearing the flower-embroidered lederhosen from yesterday.

Good grief, what did his hair even look like? Last he remembered he'd woken up in the sand. He probably still looked like... gosh.

He looked down at the blanket in his hands. It was crusted from tears and snot, along with the other one at his feet, unfortunately telling him without saying that he'd also wept in his sleep.

"Can I use your restroom?" he asked.

"Of course. It's just across the hall," Eve said. "You're welcome to use it."

"Thank you," James said. He hesitated for a moment, debating on taking the blanket with him or not, and then he gently set it back on the floor.

"I can-- um. I can take these home and wash them. Or-- well I guess you have a washer here, too," he said, ending his stuttering with a small sigh. He ran his hand up the side of his face, looking down at his feet and the long knee-high socks that adorned them.

He looked so ridiculous.

"I'll just... be a minute," he said, and turned around to head out of her room to the door right across, like she said.

But as soon as he closed the door behind him, he saw Hild stepping out of the bathroom instead.

Frozen in his footsteps, James found himself merely staring.

Hild stared back at him, tired eyes wide with confusion and cheeks flushing pink. Her hair was quite a bit poofier than normal, and tangled. She self-consciously tugged her sweater tighter around herself, as if to cover her sleepwear.

"I'm so sorry," he blurted out, immediately dropping his eyes to the ground. "I didn't mean to disturb you."

There was a second's delay before she answered with concern, "What? No, you didn't..." She shuffled in place. "...Are you alright, James?"

The question of the hour. The answer was obviously no, but to say it aloud meant having to divulge the why, and that was the world's biggest can of worms. Well, not the world's. It was his giant can of worms.

"Uh," he hesitated, not wanting to lie, and not wanting to truth either. "I'm--"

Oh, screw it.

"No," he finally admitted. "Not really. I uh. Well, I don't know what your magical curse was, but mine was apparently to feel every emotion I've ever felt all at once. Which resulted in more tears than I think I've shed in my entire lifetime. So, no. I wouldn't say I'm very okay."

Hild blinked slowly at him. "Oh," she uttered. "Oh, wow. I'm...sorry."

James sighed, rubbing his face again for a moment before looking back up at her. It was then that he realized, upon closer observance, that she was likely quite hungover. He could see it in her eyes.

"I-- sorry for just-- springing that on you--" he said.

"No!" she said hastily, waving him down, "please, don't be! It's just..." She shrugged helplessly.

"Early," he said. "And yesterday was a long day for everyone I imagine. It's fine."

Eyes softening, she nodded. "Can... can I help you in any way?" she offered, hesitant but sincere.

"I think right now, I'd just like to clean myself up as much as I can manage before I face the cameras," he said with a sigh. "God knows what they'll think happened after I leave."

After saying so, though, he bit his lip, realizing maybe that intrusive thought would've been better left unsaid. He shut his eyes tightly and shook his head, looking at the floor again.

Hild huffed wryly. "...It hardly matters anymore," she said simply, stepping aside and sweeping an arm toward the restroom. "God knows they'll twist anything out of everything."

"Yeah," he said with a faint groan. He wasn't looking forward to that.

He looked back up at Hild, taking a step towards the restroom.

"How about you?" he asked, stopping with one hand on the doorway. "Are you alright?"

She glanced off to the side as she politely slowed to a stop. "In the spirit of honesty," she answered slowly, "I've been better." Then she mustered a faint grin. "I'll be alright, though."

James mustered up a small smile in return.

"I'm glad to hear it," he said softly. "I hope you start to feel better, all things considered."

And hopefully, for her, this was something that would pass. As for him, he knew this was only the beginning.

"You as well," she said softly. Then turned and quickly padded back into her room.

Nodding to himself slightly as she closed the door, he stepped into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

The first thing he did was stop and look at himself in the mirror, and frankly, he had to take a moment to take it all in.

Well. If he'd know he'd looked like this before seeing Hild, he probably would've felt even more embarassed. He really wouldn't qualify himself as a "hot mess," but he certainly was a mess. His hair was spilling out of whatever sort-of-braid he'd had at some point. He couldn't even remember having braided it, and he had a feeling it hadn't occured post-drinks-cursing.

Apart from his hair being a sandy, frizzy mess, his cheeks were spotted with red dots - as if blood vessels themselves had burst from the excessive sobbing. His eyes were just as red and bloodshot, and they were painfully dry to boot. Dried snot clothed his mustache and the beard hair on his chin, and sand still lingered all over him. He felt it stuck in his arm hair. His leg hair. Grains were still stuck to his clothes.

He wanted to take a shower. But he didn't want to do it here.

That said, he at least needed to wash his face and comb his hair. There wasn't much he could do about the mystery lederhosen, so he stuck his face in the sink, splashing water and rubbing away tears, snot, and sand. It took longer than he'd expected to clean it all out, especially from his beard, but when he'd finally finished, he already felt worlds better. At the very least, he felt less disgusting.

Next, he undid the sloppy braid and shook out the sand over the shower drain so it didn't get all over the floor. He took off his shoes and socks too, letting all the sand gather in the tub to contain the mess. Running the water from the shower faucet, he rinsed off his feet and then stuck his head underneath, rinsing out his hair.

It was a step away from a shower, but he did not feel comfortable getting undressed, especially when it seemed the other ladies in the house weren't aware of his presence. He wanted to avoid any accidents. He knew someone pulling the strings would do something stupid like that and try to make it happen. He just knew.

When his hair felt mostly clear of sand, he strained it out as much as he could and then began to braid it up again, just in a simple strand behind his head so it was tidy and out of the way. He took the time to wash the floor of any sand he left in his wake with some rags he found under the sink, and he washed them out too before he finally felt somewhat presentable.

He tucked the shoes and socks under his arm, not wanting to track any more sand around, and then returned to the hall, hesitantly knocking on Eve's door.

It didn't take long for her to open it since she expected him to come back. "Feel better?" she asked.

"A little," James said, offering a weak smile.

"Are you going to head back to your cabin?" she asked.

"That's probably best," he said. "So yes. But -- thanks for, uh. Looking out for me. And hosting, when I was a mess."

"Of course. It's the least I can do." She paused, hand against the doorway. "If you wanted to have a normal, non-teary day, though... that's fine with me too. You know where to find me."

James felt like his brain was a spinning record that suddenly skipped.

That was... a bit more forward than usual. Should he read into that? He felt like he shouldn't. Not at the time being. Not until he'd had at least another three meals and a real shower.

He put on a small smile, letting out a small huff through his nose.

"Thanks, Eve," he said. "We'll see how I feel after I catch up on a day's worth of food. I'd rather empty my fridge than yours."

"I'll be sorely disappointed if you don't bankrupt the island from the sheer amount of food you eat," Eve said dryly.

James smiled a little more sincerely, amused at the thought.

"I guess we'll find out," he said.

"I'd say get some rest, but I don't think you need it. But I wish you a day full of relaxation anyways," Eve said with a slight smile.

"You too," James said.

He hesitated and decided to add.

"And, for the record," he said. "You can always stop by to say hi if you want to as well. I know it's usually me coming to you, but you don't have to be afraid of the 'Bird Cabin.' Shane and Connie are chill."

Eve's expression seemed to soften at that. She nodded. "Okay. I may take you up on that."

With another small smile, James nodded.

"Well, I'll catch you later then," he said. "Maybes and all."

"See you maybe," Eve added, but she immediately grimaced at her words.

James laughed. He didn't think it was all that funny, but something inside him needed it.

"Goodbye, Eve," he said, leaving down the stairs with a fading smile.
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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SilverNight says...

When he woke up, Shane felt so tired that he could've still been asleep.

He stretched slightly with his eyes still closed, letting out a huff of air through his nose. It wasn't like he regularly felt energized when he woke up, but he felt even more drained than normal. Warm and cold at the same time, too. His head was foggy, too, which meant nothing except his confusion was in focus.

But he didn't think he'd had any nightmares.

...Why was that?

As Shane shifted again, he brought something closer to his chest, something soft and compressible. A pillow. Come to think of it, there was nothing under his head. He couldn't remember the last time he'd slept like this, hugging a pillow.

No. This wasn't how he'd slept, was it?

Gripped with a realization that didn't translate into full thoughts, Shane's eyes flew open as he lifted his head, blinking weakly.

This was Alan's room, and something felt wrong.

Alan was sitting across the room at the chair of his desk, watching him like he'd been waiting for him to wake up. Again, Shane blinked, this time in confusion.

"Hi, Shane. Good morning," Alan said softly, offering a small smile. "Did you sleep okay?"

"... Hey, Alan," Shane managed, faintly smiling back. "Morning. I think, uh, I'm okay."

He wasn't quite sure, though. Something was pulling at his intuition.

First, Shane realized with a start that he was naked. That was... fine, except Alan was dressed, and he suddenly felt terribly self-conscious. Maybe he shouldn't be, since... Well. It wasn't like Alan hadn't seen him undressed, after all. But he couldn't help but feel vaguely bothered.

That wasn't the only thing, though. Alan was up, and must have been for at least a while, if he'd gotten dressed. This should have been a mere thing to take note of, but something about it felt wrong to Shane. Like part of him had expected Alan to... stay here. And now that certainty felt false.

What was it that felt so off?

There was a short, still silence that passed between them. Alan nodded slowly, seemingly averting his gaze as he gestured to the clothes folded on the other side of the bed.

"I set some clothes aside for you, if you want to change into them. Options are more limited since I only have access to my own clothes, so let me know if it doesn't fit," Alan went on, voice gentle.

"Oh," Shane said, his thoughts spazzing out as he hesitantly started to reach out for the clothes, then pulled them more quickly towards him. "Thank you."

There was an awkward silence, but then Alan nodded and stood up.

"I'll give you privacy. I'll be back in a little bit. Do you need anything else?" he asked.

Slowly, Shane shook his head. He was still putting things together, but they were only adding up to more confusion.

"Alright," Alan said softly, making his way to the door. "I'll leave you to it."

As the door closed, Shane stared down at the clothes, thoughts spinning. He'd felt... awkward. Was that a thing he felt now?

No. He often felt awkward. Yesterday had been the exception.


Shane hurriedly dressed, all of his thoughts focused on the situation instead of what he was doing. Something had changed. He knew it. It was a nagging feeling in the back of his head, but he just couldn't place it. He'd felt it the moment he'd become aware of his surroundings.

The mood. That was it. The entire atmosphere had shifted.

And he hadn't anticipated that it would.

Shane groaned, shoving his face into the shirt he'd yet to put on. No wonder he could see it so clearly now. He'd been in a dreamy haze the entire night, without a care about what might lie outside of it. He'd been so certain the morning would start the same. And yet, they were beginning somewhere very different than where they'd left off. If they weren't, he would've woken still embracing Alan, not the pillow they'd fallen asleep together on.

Something familiar-- a burst of panic-- shot through him.

God, this was why he needed anxiety. Confidence had made him blind to something like this happening.

Shane snapped out of it to finish getting dressed, just in time for Alan to knock and reenter.

"Hey," Alan greeted, closing the door behind him, but hovering at the door, eyes glued on Shane.

"Hey," Shane greeted back, but he couldn't fight the worry that was trying to creep into his voice. As if confirming that something felt very, very wrong, his heart raced a little.

Alan slowly walked over, perching a few feet away from Shane on the bed. "How are you feeling?" he asked through a small smile.

Shane smiled back, but his alarm only got worse. He... didn't think this was how this should be going. Not that there was anything wrong with the words Alan was saying, but they weren't the ones he expected. Or the way he thought they'd be delivered.

"I'm okay," he said hesitantly. "How about you...?"

Alan nodded. "About the same." He paused, averting his gaze again as he took a deep breath. "I'm sorry about last night," he said more softly.

Shane's thoughts froze.

"You're... sorry?" he heard himself ask. "Why are you sorry?"

"Magic possessed us all last night, and I know it made us all more out of character. I don't think it was right of me to assume consent in your state. I'm sorry," Alan said, still looking down at the rug under the bed.

"I--" Shane still couldn't think of what to say. "No, I wanted... I..."

He was staring at Alan now. Begging him to say something that was easier to respond to. But he didn't.

"You don't have to worry about that," Shane said desperately. "I'm fine, I don't... wish anything different."

But he had the feeling he was about to.

Shane couldn't help but notice that Alan was gripping the bed covers a little tighter as he finally set his attention back on Shane. Strangely, he was hard to read. Shane would've liked to get any sort of read on him at all rather than nothing. Any.

"So you don't have regrets?" Alan asked. "I want to make sure things are fine between us. I enjoy spending time with you, and I don't want one night to ruin that."

Realization hit Shane again, and his eyes widened slightly.

Oh. Oh.

Alan was trying to go back to normal.

"I don't," he said weakly, and although he was certain, he couldn't help but sound as panicked as he felt. Damn it.

"Shane..." Alan called, finally expressing a face Shane could read. A sort of pleadingness, an appeal for empathy as he scooted closer to him. "I'm sorry. I wish I was more of myself yesterday. I'm sorry for rushing things. I'm sorry that this morning is terribly awkward. I wish we can start over and do this the right way."

Shane stared at him, not understanding. His heart seemed to realize it wasn't a good thing, though, because his pulse spiked.

"What?" he asked quietly.

Now Alan was close enough to him that either of them could reach over to the other if they wanted. Instead Alan kept his gaze on him with the same expression.

"I think the drinks made me..." He shook his head. "I don't know the words for it, exactly, but I think it no longer made me predisposed to eventual heartbreak. It's like the filter I had to hold myself at a distance suddenly disappeared, and everything seemed perfect. Like looking through a hazy, rose-tinted lens. It wouldn't be correct to say that I wasn't myself. I was. I just... acted more rash. Impulsive. I rushed things when I know I normally wouldn't. And for that, I'm sorry. I really am, Shane."

Eyes still fixed on Shane, Alan slid his hand closer until their fingertips touched.

"I don't regret my time with you either. In fact, I don't think I'll ever forget our time together last night. I only regret the pacing," he finished softly.

Shane's thoughts weren't spinning any less from this spiel. In fact, Alan might have only stirred them up more.

"So..." he said slowly. "You wouldn't have done that, had you been in your regular state of mind."

Alan looked away, shame clouding his face. "I'm sorry," he said instead, pulling his hand away to set on his lap.

Shane stared at him again, not aware of what expression was on his face. All he knew was that his cheeks were burning.

"But," he started to say. "You said--"

He snapped his mouth shut.

There wasn't one thing he could repeat back to Alan. There were too many of them. And he couldn't pick one that held the most promise when he'd put his faith in everything.

"I know. I know what I said," Alan said, guilt prevalent in his voice, brows pinched together in hurt like he, too, was feeling betrayed by his own betrayal. "They weren't lies. I just-- I wish I was myself. You said that that's what connection means to you. To be wholly yourself around another person. And I wish I can say for full certainty that I felt like myself, but I don't want to lie to you."

Shane wished Alan had just hit him in the chest with an iron bar instead. It amounted to the same stabbing pain that caused him to recoil.

God. Whatever buried wound he could've sworn he felt healing the night before felt like it had just been torn open wider.

He was a fool, wasn't he?

"I--" he began, but he felt choked up all of a sudden, and he couldn't keep his head up. He buried his face in his hands, trying to hide the burning that was spreading over his face.

And suddenly he was getting embraced. Alan had wrapped his arms around his back, bringing him in for a hug. "I do want you, Shane," he said softly. "I don't know if you want me back. But if you do... can we... slow things down?"

"Yeah," Shane mumbled into his hands, closing his eyes and pressing his face further away. "I stand by everything I said, I just-- I'm an idiot. I'm sorry. I'm so stupid."

"No, you're not. You're not stupid. Don't say that about yourself. You were thinking with your heart, and that's not stupid," Alan said more gently, pulling away slightly, but keeping his hands on his back.

"It was when I did it," Shane said, suddenly sitting up with panic in his voice. "It-- I meant everything, but I was so foolish to say it, and then to believe everything-- I shouldn't have put my faith in--" He stammered his way through the start of the next sentence before eventually choking out, "It felt like for the first time in my life, I could believe someone's meaning at face value."

Alan embraced Shane again, holding him tighter. His chest shuddered with each breath, like he was getting choked up too. "I'm a man of my word. I didn't lie to you. But I know-- I know that the circumstances have changed now. But I still stand by what I said. I remember the promises we made. I can't forget that. I'll never forget it. I want to be true to you, which means I have to be true to me too." Alan gave him a gentle squeeze, taking in a shuddered breath. "I don't want to hurt you, Shane. And I truly do what to see you happy. How can I make this better? I want to keep seeing you. I like you too much to not admit my mistakes and make amends."

Shane took a deep breath as his head fell back on Alan's shoulder-- partly because he needed the comfort of being held, partly because he was just so... tired. He felt as though he could barely hold himself up.

"How do you want to slow things down?" he asked in a shaky whisper.

Alan gently kissed the edge of his cheek, his lips barely pressing against his skin. "Why don't we go on more official dates first?" he suggested softly.

Shane nodded weakly. "That sounds good," he whispered.

"Then we can do that. There's no need to rush this, Shane. We can take our time. I'm not going anywhere," Alan said, voice gentle.

Shane leaned back against him, letting Alan support some of his weight. "I'm sorry I reacted like that," he murmured. "I was... scared."

Alan pulled him in closer, holding him tighter. "It's alright. You don't need to be scared anymore."

"It was still inconsiderate of me," Shane mumbled. "I didn't ask how you felt about it."

"Then ask me now," Alan said.

Shane swallowed, considering the words even though they were already scripted for him. "How do you feel about it? Honestly?"

Alan ran his fingers through his hair again, just like he had done so many times to him last night. "Define 'it' first, and then I'll tell you. Honestly."

Shane stilled, trying to decide what he wanted to go with. "Just... whether you were ready," he said quietly. "I didn't mean to pressure you. I feel like I did by freaking out."

There was a pause in Alan ruffling his hair. Shane's heart raced more frantically as he waited, praying this didn't mean something bad.

"You didn't pressure me," Alan said after a few seconds, hand moving to squeeze his shoulder again. "I willingly choose this. It's free will, like you said. And I choose you."

Shane nodded faintly after a few moments. But the ease of believing Alan didn't come to him as naturally as it had last night.

"Okay," he whispered. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Alan assured. "There's nothing to be sorry about."

Shane closed his eyes, pressing his lips together tightly. He felt exhausted, despite the adrenaline rushing through him. His heart was hammering in his chest, and he was sure Alan could hear and feel it. Stupid heart, giving him away.

He really had no grasp over himself, did he?

"You must be so hungry. And tired, too," Alan said, breaking the short silence that followed.

Shane let out a quiet sigh. "Sort of," he admitted, opening his eyes.

"Do you want to get food? Or rest first?" Alan asked, voice still gentle.

"...I don't know," Shane said quietly. "Whatever you like, I guess."

Alan pulled away with a soft smile, hands still on his shoulders. "I'm asking what you like, not me," he said in a more teasing voice.

Shane let out a tired laugh. "I know. I'll like whatever you choose for me."

"How about we both get some rest? We can see each other later. I'm really not going anywhere, and we both know how to find each other," Alan suggested.

Shane nodded, realizing it was probably the thing he needed more of the two. "Yeah," he said. "I can head back."

Alan nodded, cupping his face with a more gentle shyness than last night. "Let me walk you downstairs, then."
"silv is obsessed with heists" ~Omni

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soundofmind says...

This was definitely one of Clanny's weirder mornings, she had to admit. The interview was odd, and the whole mouth thing was kinda freaky, but she'd seen worse. She understood that Mel was just doing her job and that the internet was the internet, but it still kind of felt like a bummer, having to think about all of her recent disappointments as soon as she woke up.

First dates. First kisses. All of those things had felt so silly before, but now that they'd happened, she realized how much they'd meant to her, and how much she'd wished for something different.

Mel was really nice though, and she helped keep the energy light as the two of them walked back to her cabin from the studio. Clanny was still in her pajamas, and even though she could just run and get coffee, she kind of wanted to put on a bra first and wear some real clothes.

When they made it to the front porch, Clanny paused for a moment to search for her keys, only to realize that she didn't have any on her, because she'd been poofed to the interview in her jammies.

Patting her sides slowly in realization, she stared at the door.

"Huh," she said slowly.

"What's up?" Mel asked curiously, sprucing up her hair that she had complained a few minutes ago was frizzying up without her product.

Gesturing to the door in a tired but silly manner, she waved her hands.

"Open sesame," she said, not excepting anything to happen.

But then the door opened. In surprise, she stared, expecting to maybe see Clarity, Eve, or Hild.

Instead she saw... James?

She blinked very much in the same manner Squinkward did in the Sponchbob cartoons. James stared back at her, equally surprised. His eyes flicked from Clanny to Mel.

"Oh," he said. "Sorry, ladies. I'll get out of your way."

"Well, if it isn't Mister James Hawke himself!" Mel cooed, grinning wide with her hands on her hips, standing firmly in front of him. "What brings you to this merry cabin at this fine hour?"

James flicked a look to Clanny, and for some reason, Clanny felt like it was a call for help.

"I was just leaving," he said as a non-answer, and Clanny got the sense that he was not open to talking about it at the moment. She understood that.

"That's okay," she said, setting her hand on Mel's shoulder. "He looks tired. He probably needs to go home."

Mel pouted. "Don't you want to stay and drink some coffee with us? When's the next time you get to see me? At the studio? Gal's gotta have some fun, too!"

James smiled tiredly. "Any other day, I'd say yes," he said. "But I really do need to be getting home now. Maybe another time."

Mel deflated, pursing her lips. "Boooo. But okay, understandable. You need me time. I get it. I'll have some bath bombs delivered to your door later. I think the three of you could use a self-care spa day. I'll even throw in some face masks!"

James laughed lightly.

"That would be appreciated," he said, slipping past her and clearing the doorway. "You two have a nice morning. See you later."

"See ya!" Mel chimed.

"Bye, James!" Clanny echoed, and then turned away to march inside, waving for Mel to follow.

"Sooooooo?" Mel began with waggly brows, giggling. "Seriously. Who did he spend the night with? Do you know?"

Clanny flushed a little bit, shaking her head. "I don't know," she said, feeling a little more shy at the thought. "I don't think it's really my business. But I didn't. Um. Hear anything...?"

Mel giggled. "Girl, you live here! It's totally your business who's coming in and out of here," she said with a wave of her hand.

"I don't know, I haven't really lived with other people like this before," she said, heading for the stairs. "I don't really know what's normal."

Mel happily followed after her, a skip in her step. "Then you have to remember girl code. If you're bringing boys over, you have to tell them! And obviously, never bring any exes over." Mel shrugged. "Same goes with girls, if you're into them. Whatever floats your boat!"

"I've only just had my first kiss yesterday," Clanny said a little quieter, stopping at the top of the stairs. "I've never had someone over for that kind of thing."

"Clanny," Mel said much more seriously this time, grabbing her shoulders and spinning her around to look her in the eye. "That was not your first kiss. Eugh! That doesn't count. Just like how awkward middle school relationships don't count. Throw that out your head. That's a fake-out."

Clanny had never really heard anything like that before, but it was exactly what she needed to hear. Her eyes began to tear up, and her lips trembled into a pout.

It felt almost too good to believe.

"Really?" she asked.

"Aw! Clanny! Come here," Mel cooed as she brought her into a warm hug. "Yes, really. Truly. And you better believe it."

Clanny hugged her back tightly.

"I just felt like--I don't know what got into me!" Clanny started saying into Mel's shoulder as tears started to flow. "It wasn't what I wanted! I didn't want it like that!"

"Let it out, it's alright! You weren't yourself. You can't blame yourself for that," Mel said as she patted her back.

"And then she--" Clanny sniffed, her voice hitching. "And then she said 'ew!'"

She couldn't help it. She cried harder into Mel's shoulder.

"What! No. That bitch!" Mel sneered. "Ugh! The audacity! What's her problem?!"

"I don't know, she probably wasn't feeling like herself either," Clanny said tearfully. "No one was. I bet she didn't really want to do that either."

"Oh, Clanny. Even through all that, you only have nice things to say. You're too precious. Tula doesn't deserve you." Mel pulled away, hands still on her shoulders as she looked at her with determination. "I say fuck her. She's not worth spending any more thoughts on. You deserve sooooooo much better. And you'll have it! I know you will!"

Clanny sniffled, wiping her eyes. She didn't think that was very kind, to throw Tula's side of things away like that. But she got what Mel was trying to say, and she appreciated it anyway.

She nodded, still pouting slightly as she tried to reel the tears back in. It felt like she needed that cry, but she got a lot of it out already.

"Thank you, Mel," she said.

"Of course, girlie! I've got your back. Girl code, remember?" Mel said with a giggle.

"Yeah," Clanny grinned weakly. "Girl code."

Even though she didn't really know what the 'girl code' entailed. She'd have to giggle that later.

Off to the side, one of the doors cracked open and Hild peeked out, looking a mess herself but looking only concerned for Clanny in the moment. "Miss Clanny?" she said, voice both gentle yet urgent. "What's wrong?"

Clanny's heart melted all over again, and all she wanted was another hug from a friend. Tearing up, Clanny hurried over to Hild, but paused, remembering moments Hild wasn't as touchy as other.

"C-can I have a hug?" she asked a bit tearfully.

Her entire expression softening, Hild quietly lifted both arms in invitation. Clanny pulled her in, squeezing tightly.

"I just had kind of a bad day," she said, sniffling. "That's all."

Hild lightly patted Clanny's back. "My deepest condolences," she murmured in earnest.

"Did you have a bad day too?" Clanny asked, her voice muffled against Hild's shoulder.

"It's been a rough start," Hild answered honestly. Then gently leaned her head against Clanny's and added, "It's still early, though? Perhaps it could improve with some time."

Clanny pulled away slowly, nodding with some earnest.

"Mel and I are gonna make some coffee," she said. "And have breakfast."

"Hi, Hild!" Mel said brightly, waving at her.

"Sorry, I should've told you she was coming over," Clanny said, trying to remember the girl code. "It was all very spontaneous after I had an interview. But Mel is really nice. She gave me a hug after it all an everything."

"It was spontaneous!" Mel agreed. "I'm sorry that the interviews can be so uncomfy. I have abolustely no say over it. I die a little inside when I have to bring in the questions. I feel so bad! I'm sorry, you two."

With a hand still resting on Clanny's arm, Hild politely reached out to Mel and offered a small smile. "A pleasure to officially meet you, Mel. I'm gladdened to hear you've extended such kindness to my friend."

Mel eagerly took her hand, shaking it once, twice with dramatic motions and a grin.

"And it's okay, Mel," Clanny added. "I know you're just doing your job. I didn't think it was personal at all! The internet can be so wack."

"Right?! There are so many weirdos on the internet. Why are people so weird?" Mel said with a roll of her eyes, but then smiled again. "But I'm glad I can bond with you two now! I've been dying to have a little time with the contestants outside the studio. And today's my day off, so it's perfect!"

Clanny smiled, still a little teary, but feeling a lot better now with Hild and Mel here.

"I'm excited," Clanny said, wiping her eyes with her arm. "It'll be like... a girl's day. I've always wanted to have one of those."

"Oh my gosh. Yes!" Mel squealed. "Let's have a girl's day!"

Clanny squeed a little in turn, hopping on the tips of her feet.

"Yes!!!" she said in agreement. "Yay!"


After such a weird morning, this really did more than make up for what happened yesterday. Clanny didn't know if she'd ever been so happy chilling with friends before in her whole life. It was so nice!

They took the morning slow. First, Hild started a pot of coffee, and then the three of them started making breakfast food together. Hild recommened keeping it carb heavy to help them recover from their hangovers faster, so they made a bunch of comfort foods. French toast. Eggs. Waffles. And even some fancy cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches. Clanny felt like she was at some kind of cafe by the time they were all done with it, and once the food was ready, they all were eager to grab a plate.

They had idle chit-chat over coffee and breakfast, and Clanny was honestly relieved it wasn't anything serious. It felt nice to just relax and eat and recover, especially since she did have a headache.

She did remember drinking that huge tankard. And then that huge shot. Gosh, what had gotten into her? It was the magic, she swore it.

After eating though and drinking a bunch of water alongside, she was starting to feel a little more normal. After they all cleaned up the kitchen, Mel was eager to suggest nail polish and facemasks. She also suggested a chick flick and popcorn - though the popcorn could wait for later in the movie, once their nails had dried.

Happy to set the scene, Clanny took care of the popcorn while Mel selected a movie. The movie was called: "Mean Ladies," and was apparently a classic flick, even though Clanny had never seen it. Mel put it on in the background on a low volume with subtitles, and Clanny understood that it probably wasn't going to be watched as much as played for the vibes.

They all ended up on the couch in cozy clothes with nail polish, a big bowl of popcorn on the coffee table, and an array of different cloth facemasks to chose from.

One of them was a tiger face pattern, and Clanny chose that one, putting it on with a small smile. It was cool and refreshing, which she desperately needed.

Fifteen minutes into the movie, they were all looking through the nail polishes, trying to pick ones out after having clipped and trimmed their nails to be ready.

"What color nail polish do you want, Hild? White?" Mel asked, giggling to herself like she had just told a hilarious joke.

Maintaining her polite smile, Hild stared at Mel in vague confusion. "I'm open to suggestions, yes."

"Let's go with white! The AI commercial never lies, after all," Mel sing-songed, picking out a sparkly white one. "How's this one?"

Hild looked far less sure about their decision after that comment.

"I'm doing pink and red," Clanny said, deciding to alternate the complimentary colors on her nails.

"Oh! I love that. It would look so good with your skin tone," Mel agreed.

"Hild," Clanny suggested. "You could do this green one!"

She picked it up, holding it out to her. "It'd bring out your eyes," Clanny said with a small smile.

Matching Clanny's smile with a slight grin of her own, Hild graciously accepted the small green bottle.

"Oh my gosh, yes! Both of you have such pretty green eyes! I'm so jealous!" Mel said with a big smile.

"Really?" Clanny said. "I think brown eyes are so nice. Yours are so enchanting. Like a princess."

"D'awww! You are too sweet, Clanny," Mel said with a giggle. "How about this: we're all princesses." She lifted up nail polish that was golden and sparkly. "Especially when we finish our nails!"

"Yes!" Clanny said, lifting her fingers and wiggling them. "Princess time."

And with that, she opened the pink polish bottle, and knelt by the coffee table to steady her hand on it. Now she had to focus and keep her hand steady.

"Soooooo," Mel drew out as a small silence stretched on, the three of them focused on painting their nails. "Clanny, you said you like brown eyes?" She waggled her brows at her. "Alan's the only one with brown eyes on the list of pretty people you mentioned."

Clanny flushed a little bit.

"Oh," she said with a small laugh. "I mean, yeah. He does have brown eyes... doesn't he?"

"Yes!" Mel said with a laugh. "But you already knew that, didn't cha?"

"Yeah," Clanny said, tilting her head to the side, feeling shy again. "I don't know. I just like his eyes."

"He does have nice eyes," Mel hummed. "Brown is super warm. It's friendly and inviting, you know?"

"Yeah," Clanny agreed. "Like a warm hug."

"Aw! I love that. Like a warm hug," Mel said as she looked up with a bright smile. "I know you weren't really yourself, but you guys had a moment there yesterday, I think!"

Clanny huffed through her nose.

"Not really," she said. "Besides, I'm pretty sure he and Shane... you know. Pretty much everyone saw them kissing."

"That was soooo spicy. I was managing the Twooter account, and the internet broke seeing them together!" Mel giggled but then sighed. "I don't know. Do you think they'll last, though? Maybe it won't end up working out."

"I don't know," Clanny said, feeling a little sad at the thought. She knew Shane seemed to really like Alan from what she saw. It hurt her to think of it not working out well, but she also understood sometimes life just didn't go the way people thought.

"I just hope they're both okay," Clanny said, a little softer, finishing off the last pink nail. She twisted the brush back into the bottle and grabbed the red next.

"You can always check in on either of them if you'd like," Mel offered. "You're friends with them too, right?"

"I feel like more Shane than Alan, but I'm not very good at measuring that stuff," Clanny said weakly.

"Measuring what? Friendships?" Mel asked.

"I guess," she said. "I'm still... I don't know. Pretty new to them, I guess."

Mel looked up at her with empathy, her brown eyes also warm, inviting, and friendly. But the way she looked at Clanny made it seem like she felt bad for her.

"It's not like I don't have any friends," she said. "It's just that-- it wasn't really until I moved out on my own that I really got to make friends around my age. Until I was eighteen all of my friends were at least twenty years older than me, because all my friends were my guardian's friends. So it's just different, you know?"

"I understand," Hild said as she set aside the green nail polish. "Who I considered friends before moving out to the States was highly dependent on who my family exposed me to on a regular basis. Which were my parents' friends and my brothers' friends. But I did not connect well with my brothers' friends, so..." She vaguely waved a hand by way of a shrug.

Clanny looked over to her, nodding in understanding.

"I know everyone's upbringings were different," she said. "But I think... it's been good for me. To get out on my own."

Hild flashed a quick, small smile in agreement. "And you already found a good friend Robin," she said conclusively.

"I did," Clanny said with a small smile. "And Robin's been great. We have a lot of fun together."

But her smile wavered when she thought back on his day yesterday, too. She really should check on him after this, shouldn't she? She knew Robin had gotten close to Connie, so she hoped they'd stuck together, but she really had lost track of him in all of the chaos. Between all of the accidental kisses, drinking, and shark taming, she hadn't really been in a state to look after many people. At least, not after the alcohol started hitting her.

"I hope he's okay after all of this," she said, a little more softly. "I lost track of him yesterday."

"Connie took good care of him! But you can check in with him later, if you'd like. That's what friends do, after all," Mel said with a smile.

"Maybe after we finish here," Clanny said. "Girls day doesn't have to be all day, right?"

"It can last as long as you want it to! But you definitely have to take care of yourself and your friends first. Even if they're not in the girl club," Mel said with an enthusiastic nod.

"I ought to make sure my brother hasn't completely lost his head, as well," Hild mused quietly, brows furrowed slightly with concern.

"Should we... put girl time on pause?" Clanny asked. "I didn't think this through. It is kind of early, though, and if Robin is hungover that bad... he'll want to sleep in."

"We can finish later, that's totally fine!" Mel said with a smile, airing our her hand with freshly-painted nail polish. "Girl time can happen literally whenever. You two should check on your friends. They'd love that."

Hild snorted. "'Love' might be too strong of a word..."

"Maybe Lyall would appreciate--" Clanny tried to offer, but cut her sentence short when an anxious knock tapped on the door.

Flustered, she looked over, then down at her still-drying fingernails.

"Uhhhhh," she sounded out.

Without hesitation, Hild got to her feet and strode out to peer through the window. At the exact same time, her brother leaned into view, creating a kind of silly mirror effect between them.

"His timing," Hild muttered to herself as she opened the door.

"Oh! Is that Lyall?" Mel asked excitedly, following Hild to the door and poking her head out behind her, giving him a wave. "Hi, Lyall! Good morning! It's so nice to see you again."

"Ah, Miss Mel," Lyall greeted, voice distant, yet pleasantly surprised.

"Mister Lyall," Mel said with a giggle and a cursty.

Clanny hopped up and joined the others by the door, just wanting to be part of the huddle too.

Lyall looked past his sister and Mel with a friendly, if tired smile. "And Miss Clanny," he said, "lovely to see you too."

Clanny smiled wide at that. Lyall was always such a gentleman!

"Hi, Lyall!" she greeted back.

His grin warmed in turn. Hesitating, he looked between the three of them and said slowly, "I feel a bit like I'm intruding. I can come back another time--"

"No, it's fine," Hild said, but leaned on the doorway, effectively blocking entry. "State your business."

Lyall's grin turned flat at her tone. "No, please," he said, "tame your open affections. You're embarrassing me in front of your lovely friends."

Ah. Sarcasm. Clanny knew about this. Hild and Lyall went back and forth like that a lot.

"I merely wanted to see that you made it through the night in one piece," Lyall went on, smile fading into one of concern. "And my heart is gladdened to indeed find you well and in good company." Tucking his hands in his pockets, he inclined his head. "We may talk more at length another time."

As he moved to show himself out, Hild quickly waved him down. Turning back, he waited with an expectant look.

Dropping her stand-off-ish posture, Hild glanced back to Clanny and Mel. "...I think I'll step out for that talk now, actually," she murmured sheepishly.

"Yeah!" Clanny agreed. "She's yours now, Lyall."

"Thanks for joining us, Hild! It was so great to see you again! And you too, Lyall," Mel said with a smile. "Do you two need anything? Water? Post-hangover snacks? Maybe a hug?"

Hild smiled back faintly, and Lyall's grin warmed.

"Thank you," Hild said, stepping out, "but I'll politely decline for now. We'll only be for a little bit."

Lyall bowed slightly at the waist and answered, "I thank you kindly, ladies, for your understanding. I promise I shan't keep her for long."

Clanny tried not to giggle at Lyall saying "shan't" unironically.

"Have a good chat!" Mel said, waving goodbye.

And with that, the Ashlunds turned and made their way down the front steps. As they walked down along the row of cabins, Clanny could catch Lyall quietly commenting, "Green's a nice color on you."

That made Clanny feel nice. Happy that Lyall agreed with her, too.

"It's so nice they have each other here," Mel said with a smile, pausing the movie and turning off the TV. "Are they usually like that with one another? Seems like a sassy sibling relationship."

"Yeah, they're like that most of the time," Clanny said. "But they still really care about each other. I can tell by the way Hild acts around him more than what she says. I think that might be kinda how she is. Shows love more through what she does than words."

"Awh! I love that. I think that means more, anyways. It's easy to talk the talk but not walk the walk," Mel said.

"For real," Clanny agreed, walking ovee to the coffee table to put the nail polishes away in the case they came from.

"Do you have any siblings, Clanny?" Mel asked. "I don't have any, so I love seeing other siblings being cute with one another."

"I don't have any either," Clanny said. "At least, not that I know of. I never really knew my bio parents."

"Oh, really? Girl, same here!" Mel said with a laugh. "I guess it's true that I could have siblings. Hmm! That'd be weird. But yeah, my biological parents may be linked to me by blood, but that's way less important than real family."

Clanny wished she could fully relate. It wasn't that she really wanted to meet or have a relationship with her bio parents, but she'd just wished she'd had some kind of parents in general. Silva was the closest thing she ever had to that, but it wasn't until recently that she really realized it'd been a bad situation. Now even her memories of Silva felt tainted, and even though she could still appreciate the good, nothing was really the same anymore.

She nodded slightly, trying not to let her own thoughts bring down the mood all of a sudden.

"Yeah," she agreed, but wasn't sure what else to say. Her brain was blanking.

Fortunately, Mel was already busy humming away, cleaning up the nail polish. She seemed to take it upon herself to help with clean-up efforts despite not living here. Clanny apprecated it though. It was part of teamwork!

"Eve!" Mel chimed after a minute or so of quiet cleaning. "Hey, good morning!"

Her head was turned up at the stairs, where Eve was coming down slowly and quietly, like she was trying not to disturb them.

"Um," Eve stammered, pausing in her steps half-way down, hand on railing as she flicked her eyes between the two of them and assessed the dirty kitchen. "Good morning."

Clanny smiled up at Eve, knowing Eve was very introverted, but still wanting her to know she was welcome and wanted.

"Hi, Eve!" Clanny said softly with a smile. "Good to see you."

Eve gracefully walked down the rest of the stairs, back straight without a noise in her steps. Honestly, Clanny was amazed by it.

"I'm just passing through. Sorry if I'm disrupting anything," Eve said, already heading towards the shoes by the door.

Clanny knew that Eve usually went on walks around this time since Clanny was often out taking care of the alpacas when she'd see her leave.

"Not at all! We were just finishing up. Are you hungry, though? We made tons of food if you want any," Mel offered.

"I appreciate it. Thank you, though," Eve said with a half smile, slipping into her Teevas, crouching down to adjust the straps.

"We can save some for you," Clanny said. "There will be plenty of leftovers."

"Yeah! And maybe you could invite James over to eat them. He's always hungry," Mel said with a giggle and a wink.

Eve froze, but then sharply looked up at her, giving her a stare that almost looked like a glare.

Clanny looked over at Mel, feeling a little awkward. Was this part of girl code?

"What?" Mel said innocently with a grin. "It's totally fine if you have a crush. I think it's cute!"

Eve sighed, finishing putting on her shoes and standing back up, full attention on Mel, her brows furrowed. "Nothing happened. He needed someone to talk to, since the magic from yesterday affected everyone's psyche in inhumane ways. I was happy to be there for him. That's all."

Eve was always very well spoken, that was for sure.

"Oooooooh," Mel drew out, pursing her lips. "So he did spend the night at your place?"

Eve gave her a duller stare, but then reached for the door. "Have a good rest of the morning, Mel, Clandestine," she said instead, already taking her leave.

"You too!" Clanny offered, watching as Eve left. When the door closed behind her, Clanny returned to cleaning up.

"She totally has a crush. I'm calling it," Mel said with a grin.

Clanny laughed a bit awkwardly, not really used to having these kinds of conversations.

"I don't know," she said. "James is a nice guy. They could just be friends."

"True. Could just be friends," Mel mused with a tap of her chin, sitting on the arm chair of the couch. She grinned again. "Or. They could be crushing."

Clanny smiled weakly and shook her head, not really knowing what else to do besides laugh as she started bagging away leftover popcorn in the kitchen.

"Well, if she uh. Has him over again does she um. Know about the girl code?" Clanny asked.

Mel giggled. "You tell me! You should ask her and find out."
Pants are an illusion. And so is death.

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soundofmind says...

The walk back to his cabin felt surreal. The morning sun was too bright. The air was too hot, and too humid. The Ooktoberfest decor remained up, and all of it was untouched. Whatever messes had been left behind were cleaned up, but the booths were all empty, and it felt a bit like a ghost town. James couldn't help but wonder if they'd even start the festivities up again today, but he decided it didn't matter.

He was going to do everything in his power to spend the day inside. Maybe alone. Doing nothing of consequence. And he had a feeling everyone else would be doing the same too - if not nursing horrible hangovers, then feeling the regret and embarrassment of the day prior.

His hair was still wet by the time he got to his cabin door, but he could feel the very top just starting to dry, frizzing up with the humidity.

He was really looking forward to a shower. If Mel actually followed through on the bath bombs, he'd probably use one, too. Just for the heck of it. He needed to at least pretend to relax. Maybe then he'd really relax.

With a small sigh, he reached into his pocket, fishing out his keys. He noticed that the front door had been fixed - possibly overnight - and no longer hung loosely on its hinges. It would be nice in any other context, but for some reason, it put James on edge that things were not as he remembered leaving them.

Then again, he hadn't been at the cabin last night. So it was very possible he just missed whomever had come by to repair it.

Sighing, he shook his head.

Everyone was right. He was being paranoid. Probably a little too paranoid. He stuck his key in and turned the lock, pushing the door aside.

And he very quickly froze.

What the hell?

He was... what was he... staring into Tula's room?

The bedroom was simple. Ordinary, really, like it was the default bedroom style without any of their personality inserted into it. But he knew it was Tula because she stood in the middle of the room, crossing her arms with a smirk.

Oh hell no. No. Nope, nope, nope.

James backed out and closed the door, slamming it shut, heart racing.

They put a portal in his front door? To Tula's room? Was that what they did by repairing it? This was too far. How was he even supposed to get into his cabin? Was the door always going to lead to this?

Hesitantly, he opened the door again.

Same thing. Except Tula was right. There. In front of his face.

About to spew some form of expletive, James opened his mouth only to find himself toppling over as the floor beneath him moved on its own. Another goddamn mystery tile. James caught his balance, avoiding losing his footing, but he'd ended up bent over, hands on his knees.

"Finally. You're home," Tula said with great annoyance, shutting the door as she turned back around, the smirk and crossed arms returning. "Did you have fun yesterday with Eve? I can only imagine the way she begged for you to not crush her."

James stood up slowly, turning to face Tula.

This felt more like the Tula he remembered.

"I didn't even touch her," James said. "So no begging was necessary."

"A shame. I'm sure her begging would have been wonderful to hear," Tula said with disappointment, drawing closer.

"Maybe for you," James said, brows drawing together. "But that didn't happen."

He frowned a little, looking at her, and then the door behind her. Did it even lead back out the same way?

"I assume you're recovering this morning as well?" he asked.

Tula frowned, hovering over her desk where several long, shiny, metallic knives sat neatly. She picked one up, holding it evenly between her hands.

"What did you do to me?" she snarled slowly between her teeth, hostile venom behind her words.

James's brows raised, but he remained unmoving.

"I didn't do anything," James said. "Everyone's drinks were enchanted by the DMV. I'm sorry yours messed with you too."

"You liar. I'm the one with power here. Don't you remember what I said? I can hurt all your friends with a snap of my fingers if I wanted to," Tula spat back, snapping her fingers for dramatic effect. "Do not test me, dog."

For some reason, this just felt... desperate. And sad.

"I know," he said quietly. "I just have no other answers for you. Had I compromised your drink, I really would've said so. But I'm really just as much a victim as you are. I'm sorry if that's not what you want to hear."

"Liar!" Tula said again, a crazed glint in her eye as she threw her knife.

It whizzed past him, over his shoulder, stabbing the wall with a thunk as it wobbled.

If Tula had wanted to hit him, she would have. James didn't flinch.

She picked up another knife, crazily waving it around, still with the crazed look in her eyes. "Who would you like me to hurt next? Perhaps your lover girl. Eve. Oh, she would be so easy to hurt. I can target her next, and then all your friends will suffer. All your family will suffer. The world will know you as the despicable liar that you are!"

Except, if Tula hurt Eve, then Tula would get herself on Oliver's bad side. And he knew she wouldn't do that.

Right? Did Tula know that Eve was being protected by the DMV? He had a feeling that she didn't. Otherwise she wouldn't even risk threatening her. James was sure Oliver could hear this conversation.

"So, you'd rather I tell you what you want to hear?" James said. "Even if it's a lie?"

"Tell me the truth, or everyone you know will die. This is your final warning," Tula said impatiently.

James had a feeling that even if Tula was deeply delusional, she was being entirely serious, and he didn't want to take her threats lightly. Letting out a small sigh, he decided he'd do what she wanted. Tell her what she wanted to hear.

"Fine," he said. "When you stopped by the table Eve and I were at, I drugged your drink when you weren't looking. It was a mood enhancer."

None of that was true, of course, but it was believable enough to feed Tula's fake reality.

"Mood enhancer," she echoed, her threatening eyes still glued on him. "What does that mean?"

"You know how sometimes antidepressants can blunt emotions?" James asked. "It's like the opposite of that."

"I don't need antidepressants," Tula snarled.

"I know," James said. "It's not that. It enhances your emotions. Helps you feel them more."

Tula clearly tried to repress a disgusted frown, staring daggers at James. "You will pay for your actions. Don't think I will let this go. I will make sure you have the most hellish week of your life. You will pray you were dead."

James slowly held his hands out at his sides in acceptance.

"I wouldn't expect any less from you," he said.

"Get out of my room," Tula said through her teeth.

"Wasn't trying to invade your space in the--" he started to say, but the floor moved beneath him again, dragging him rapidly to the door without him having taken a step.

"Ooookay. I get it," he said, lifting a hand in surrender. "Sorry for imposing. I hope you have a good day, Tula. I'll catch you later."

Not waiting for her response, he opened the door and stepped out.

Instead of entering onto the sandy porch, he found himself entering his cabin, and the sudden shift threw him for a moment as the door closed behind him.

That was... trippy, for lack of a better word.

He let out a very long, exasperated sigh and looked up at the ceiling, and then around the room. The trail of sand he'd left looked undisturbed, and everything he'd seen when running in the other day looked untouched.

It was as if no one had been home since he left, but that didn't seem right.

Where was Shane? Where was Connie?

Maybe they'd been so tired they went straight to bed, leaving the slight mess for the morning. He would've done the same, had he made it home. But he didn't want to wake either of them to check, since he knew they all needed their sleep, so he went straight to the cleaning closet and pulled out a broom instead, deciding to take care of the sand now instead of later.

It was kind of calming, mindless sweeping and doing a menial task. His mind was still swirling from what happened yesterday, but he felt like he was reaching a point of acceptance.

Yes, he'd cried. Yes, Eve and Tula saw a lot of it. But Eve was cool with it, and Tula was just another burden he'd have to bear. Today was over, and he knew he'd have to face another, and the next would probably be worse.

If he could get through yesterday, he could get through the next. It might not all be okay, but at least he had some allies in the midst of it. He knew he at least had Shane and Eve on the inside, and Lyall and Hild were a good support as well.

He just hoped he could keep all of the "punishment" focused on him, as it were, and as far away from them as possible.

Finally getting all of the sand into a pile, James set the dustpan on the ground and filled it up meticulously, not letting even a grain of sand get left behind if he could help it.

When he finished, he went to the front door and opened it, relieved to see the porch and the sandy beach front as normal. Going over to the fenced in edge, he dumped the dustpan out into the sand, tapping it on the rails along with the broom to shake it out.

When he finished doing so, he was a bit surprised to see Connie, though.

Instead of seeing Connie leave the cabin at this hour as usual, Connie was returning.

But from where?

Standing at the front door with concern, James watched as Connie made his way to the porch stairs.

"Hey, Connie," James asked softly. "What happened? Are you okay?"

"Ooktoberfest happened. I'm fine," Connie said dismissively, hardly giving him a glance as he entered the cabin.

James's brows furrowed in even more concern as he watched Connie walk in with a bit of a dead-man's pace. James stepped inside and closed the door behind them.

"Are you sure?" James asked. "You look exhausted."

Connie sighed, bee-lining towards the kitchen sink, filling up a glass of water. Finished, he turned around with it in hand, tiredly facing James again. "I was up making sure Robin slept fine. He vomitted several times, but he's sleeping now. You?"

James frowned slightly, but nodded in understanding. It was good that Connie at least had enough wits about him to take care of Robin. It sounded like the poor man had a bad night, and probably a worse hangover.

"I'm... better, now," he said. "I think."

But he didn't really get a chance to expound on it, because both his and Connie's attention was stolen by the front door opening again.

James whipped around to see Shane.

Shane, too, looked exhausted, but it seemed to be emotionally as well as physically. His shoulders sagged, and there was a heaviness to his expression, one that he didn't seem to be aware of. Normally, he was quick to greet them whenever he came in, but Shane seemed to take his time removing his shoes at the door, doing so silently and without looking up.

Shane also usually had a pretty predictable wardrobe that consisted of flannels and simple earthy colors. This outfit, however, looked very different.

In fact, James recognized the white ribbed shirt as Alan's.

Shane was wearing Alan's clothes. Suddenly, James was assuming the worst, especially based on Shane's expression.

Both James and Connie watched Shane take off his shoes in silence for a moment.

"Shane," James said softly, setting the broom to lean against the couch.

'Are you okay' felt like a question with too obvious an answer. 'What happened' felt like cutting too quickly to the chase. Shane didn't look eager to talk, and he looked depressingly drained. James normally wasn't the kind of person to think of physical forms of comfort, but he couldn't think of anything else to offer.

Stepping closer, James merely dipped his head, meeting Shane's eyes with concern as he opened his arms, wordlessly asking if Shane needed a hug.

Shane's tired expression brightened just the tiniest bit with gratitude as he stepped forward, letting James hold up his weight as he leaned against him and wrapped his arms around James after a moment. James could tell Shane felt a bit like collapsing, from the way he seemed to visibly give up. James hugged him back gently, letting Shane put as much weight on him as he needed.

"Hey, James," Shane said quietly, his voice weary.

"Hey, Shane," James said.

"Did none of us come back last night?" Connie murmured, completely disrupting the moment.

James blinked, but only slightly loosened his hold, not sure if Shane wanted to pull away, since he was still leaning on James quite heavily. Not that Shane was in any way heavy, but that wasn't important.

"I don't think so," James said, lightly patting Shane's back.

Shane slowly turned his head to look at both of them in tired confusion. "Neither of you did?"

"I took care of Robin. He was drunk," Connie explained simply.

"I passed out from exhaustion after sobbing my eyes out on Eve's floor," James added a bit too casually.

"God, I'm sorry," Shane murmured, with true empathy. "I'd say they didn't know some of the disasters the festival would be leading to, but I know better than to say that."

Still lightly patting Shane's back, James looked over his shoulder at Connie, then back over Shane's shoulder.

"They do their best to make fools out of all of us," he said, a little quieter. "All for the world's entertainment, it seems."

Shane closed his eyes. "I hadn't even thought of that," he mumbled.

Ah. Well maybe it wasn't helpful to have said the obvious. Maybe it hadn't been that obvious.

"At least we're not alone in it all," he said, a little quieter. "We can find solace in that."

Very faintly, Shane smiled at that. "Yeah," he agreed softly, at last loosening his hug and leaning away. "Company in misery."

"Quite so," James agreed, patting Shane's shoulder as he pulled away.

"Did you spend the night at Alan's?" Connie cut in.

James had to bite back a sigh. The answer was obvious, but he supposed it had to be brought up eventually.

Shane, thankfully, didn't react badly-- or react much at all. He nodded tiredly to Connie, saying a fatigued, "Yes."

"I assume it went... badly," Connie went on.

Really? James knew Connie was trying, but he was disappointed at Connie's insensitivity.

"Connie," James said firmly. "Shane clearly isn't up for much conversation. Whether you're right or not doesn't matter in this moment. He doesn't need to fulfill your desire for information right now. Clearly, he needs friends and comfort."

At that, James turned to Shane.

"You are not obligated to tell us anything if you don't want to," he said. "And we are not entitled to knowing. I just want you to know I'm here for you, whatever you need. Whether you feel like sharing or if you just need someone to lean on. Okay?"

Again, that faint whisper of a smile of Shane's returned as he nodded slightly, looking quietly grateful again. "Thanks," he said softly. "I appreciate it. It means a lot to me."

James offered him a small smile.

"Of course," he said. "Have you had any coffee yet? I can start a pot."

Shane shook his head. "I haven't, but that would be great--"

There was the sound of a phone buzzing, and Shane looked momentarily confused before he reached into the pocket of the khaki pants that were also not his own and took out his phone. He stared at the screen for a few moments, frowning slightly.

"Ah," he said, a little grimly, looking back up again. "My uncle's calling."

"Take it," James assured him. "Your coffee will be waiting."

Shane gave him a dry but genuine smile as he moved towards the stairs, phone in hand. "If I'm not back down in a half hour, assume that he's managed to kill me telepathically, and I leave you that cup in my will."

Ah. Well. That was... dark humor, but James received the notion nonetheless. It felt inappropriate to laugh, so James merely nodded, watching as Shane hurried up the stairs.

And then there were two.

James crossed over to the kitchen, quick to find the coffee maker, where he started scooping coffee grounds.

Connie was still at the counter with his water glass with one arm crossed, watching Shane disappear up the stairs. James looked over his shoulder.

Connie was rather direct and imprudent, so James felt like he could ask the question he wanted to ask, knowing Connie wasn't unlikely to ask the same in return.

"So, what was your magical curse last evening?" James asked.

Connie sighed. "Charisma."

James blinked, and honestly, it took quite a bit of self control not to laugh. But he kept it in and kept a straight face.

"I see," he said, turning to focus on scooping so he didn't spill. "What was that like for you?"

"Unfamiliar, since it's not me. But also familiar, because I see this every day. I don't live under a rock," Connie said curtly.

"Never said you did," James said. "T'was an open-ended question."

He paused, glancing over his shoulder again after he put the grounds in the coffee maker. Normally, Connie would have dismissed himself in conversation minutes ago. But he still chose to stay, instead taking a strange fascination at the glass of water he was holding.

"Did something about yesterday bother you?" James asked.

"Not particularly," Connie said. "I'd be remiss to say that it didn't change me, though. The experience provided clarity."

"How so?" James asked.

Connie sighed, finally turning his attention back to James. "In preparation that, soon, I must step into my role and act this way."

"You know not all capable leaders throughout history are charismatic," James said. "Right?"

Connie nodded. "Of course. There are many leaders who rule with an iron fist, holding a steely resolve as they create wars over petty alliances and resources. You certainly do not need charisma for that."

"There have also been leaders who are a little awkward, maybe not as well-spoken, but who still had the best interests of their people at heart," James said. "If your personality isn't magnetic but you still have your heart in the right place, that means far more than having all the charisma in the world and only wanting power for your own gain. I know strong personalities can help stir a populace or put them at ease, but it's by no means a disqualifying factor for a leader."

"Very well-spoken," Connie said with a slight tilt of his head. "Spoken like a true leader himself."

James let out a small huff through his nose, smiling slightly as he turned the coffee maker on, turning around to face Connie and leaning on the counter.

"I have some experience from being in the army, I suppose," he said with a shrug. "But for me - and for many people - being well spoken isn't something that comes naturally. It's something you have to work towards, which means it's something you can always grow into."

Connie huffed through his nose, taking another sip of the water. "Thank you, James," he said when finished, turning back towards him. "I appreciate your sentiments. You have my respect."

James stared for a second, a bit caught off guard, but he knew Connie to be genuine, even if awkward and less socially apt. His expression softened, and he nodded once with a small smile.

"Thank you," he said. "And you have mine."

A natural silence fell between them, but Connie spoke before James could break it.

"Are you feeling better?" he asked.

The coffee machine began to bubble behind James. He glanced over his shoulder.

"I don't even know," James admitted. "I think I'm just... putting my self evalutations on pause at the moment."

"Self-reflection is certainty not something to be rushed," Connie agreed.

"After coffee," James concluded. "And some food."

Connie's eyes panned over to the coffee machine. "Would you mind pouring me a cup?"

"Not at all," James said. Conveniently, the machine dinged, indicating it was ready. "Do you like anything with it?"

He turned and grabbed a mug off the shelf.

"As-is is fine. Thank you," Connie said.

Nodding, James filled the mug and handed it to Connie before pouring himself one, also keeping it black and adding nothing.

The two of them proceeded to sit at the counter, sipping on their coffees in silence.
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SilverNight says...

Shane would love to ignore the call, but he was aware that would only make things worse when Flint inevitably called back later. For all he knew, he'd missed several calls while sleeping in, and his uncle was already livid. But he knew he'd be unhappy regardless-- something that he hadn't thought about until he'd seen the call, but that he was dead certain of now.

He rushed up to his room, answering the call the moment he closed the door, then took a deep breath.

"Good morning, Flint--" Shane started.

"It's neither of those things here, Shane," Flint said curtly, and Shane suppressed a sigh.

Great. Maybe he actually had found a way for him to die over the phone.

"Hi," Shane said wearily, dropping all pretense of acting normal. "Great to hear from you too. How's the Aphiran evening?"

"Troubled," Flint said in a flat tone. "Have you any guesses why?"

Shane crashed on his bed, blowing out a sigh as he stared up at the ceiling. "I know already."

"Five hours ago," Flint continued, as if he hadn't said anything, "I was informed of a PR nightmare. Footage going viral on the internet. The press having a field day. An explosion in sensational headlines. Did you think my reaction would be thrilled?"

"Flint," Shane burst out, "there was a lot going on that you don't know about."

"Really?" Flint asked dryly. "I'm pretty sure I got the full picture. There were quite a few cameras on you."

Shane groaned, covering his face with his free hand. "I get it, okay? I get it. You don't want that happening. Fine. Are you done?"

"I don't care that it happened," Flint said, still annoyingly neutral. "You can do whatever you want. But make sure I don't know about it. If I learn about it, that means millions of other people have too. Currently, that is a conservative estimate for how many people are aware of this."

Shane sighed, rubbing his face. "Was it really that bad?"

"Does your idea of bad include people theorizing on TV whether you, an international figure, prefer to be a top or bottom?" Flint replied. "It fits my definition."

Shane groaned softly, folding his knees up to his chest and burying his face between them. "You're joking."

"Happened twice on the montage this morning. See if I'm joking," Flint said, and before Shane could say that he wasn't able to watch those, he went on. "If you want to be the world's most well-known pair of star-crossed lovers, you'd be doing great. It doesn't matter if you want that, however. Your image is more than your own, and if you are seen doing anything, that action can reflect on our entire country and government." Flint paused. "Kissing and going home with someone who you have known for two weeks, I have to say, is not the best look for us."

"I know it's not," Shane protested. "Do you think of me as so careless? They literally put me under a spell to be unnaturally confident and fearless."

Flint paused. "Did they?"

"Yes," Shane said wearily.

There was a longer pause over the phone, and after a while, he felt a little irritated.

"What are you doing?" he asked, sighing.

"Just writing that down," Flint said. "I can put a spin on that to the media. You were magically influenced. You were acting out of character. You become partially absolved of the blame. My headache gets ten percent better. It's perfect."

"Well-- wait," Shane said hurriedly. "I mean, it's not like I didn't want it. It just-- I don't know, it came to me more easily or something? Like getting past the anxiety barrier? It's not like I'd never--"

"Yes, you don't have to tell me you have genuine interest in that man," Flint said, rather tiredly. "That's another thing the world knows. Does it really have to be him, though?"

Shane bristled a little. "I'm sorry?"

"In terms of people who have more promise," Flint began, "there's--"

His uncle stopped speaking abruptly, as Shane heard the sound of a door being thrown open.

"Is that Shane?" A young woman's voice spoke. "I need to talk to him."

"Alexandra, not now," Flint said firmly, but she kept talking over him.

"He doesn't know what he's doing," she said stubbornly. "I can help him out, I promise--"

"Please hold," Flint said, almost boredly, and Shane heard the thud of him setting his phone down on his desk. He couldn't make out any words of their conversation, but he could tell they were arguing, with the young woman's voice rising frantically in volume. After maybe two minutes, Shane heard the door slamming shut again, and the sound of Flint picking up his phone again.

"Thank you for your patience," Flint said, as though nothing had happened. "As I was saying--"

"Who was that?" Shane interrupted.

"No one you know," Flint said.

"She knew my name, though," Shane said, confused.

"Name one person who doesn't," Flint said. "Go on, anyone in the world."

Shane bit his lip, wanting to rephrase his statement to something like She knew you were talking to me or She seems to know who I am past the surface level. Both of those would be futile, though. If Flint didn't want to answer him, he wouldn't be answered.

"Right," he said, trying not to groan. "You were saying."

Flint cleared his throat, apparently completely set to go on. "He's not the worst you could do on the island--"

"Not the worst?" Shane scoffed.

"--but not the best," Flint said. "If you're in need of just someone, I have some better suggestions for you."

"If you tell me to form a political marriage with Connie, Flint, I swear to god," Shane muttered.

"Hmm. Well, he was the top figure on the list, but the others aren't so bad either." Flint paused. "For the record, I think you can do better. Or at least have someone in mind who won't be predisposed to wind up causing you harm."

Shane frowned. "...Yeah? I do?"

"Again, he's not the worst you could do," Flint said. "There's people on this island who I would lose sleep over if you exchanged so much as three words with them. Two would give me a migraine. One would--"

"Yeah, thanks for your support," Shane muttered.

"I would call it tolerance," Flint said.

"Of course you would."

Flint sighed. "Just be wise. Think about what the world will see. If you don't hear from me again over this, consider your job well done. I hope to remain as clueless as possible as to what you do on this island with him or anyone else."

Shane sighed quietly. "I'll do my best."

"Excellent," Flint said. "Now, I've got to get this memo you provided to a press conference. You're welcome for saving your image."

Shane rubbed his eyes. "I thought it wasn't mine."

"This does you a favor too," Flint said. "You'll want people to take you seriously. Remember that."

And then, in true Flint fashion, his uncle hung up.

Shane sighed, dropping his phone on the mattress. He did want that. It wasn't a desire the island was making easy for him.

Right now, he felt like more of a fool than ever.
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Carina says...

Alan felt like he stayed with his head against the door for maybe... way too long. He didn't know. He wasn't really keeping track of time. Time felt like a social construct now. Like a resource that didn't exist. They were all living blobs in a voidless space that eventually died, with or without time.

Wouldn't that be nice. To be a living blob in space.

Alan sighed deeply, finally locking the door and standing straight again.

Alright. That didn't go good, but that also wasn't... terrible. This was a win. He just needed to decompress and... he didn't even know. Move forward. And... do something.

So he did. He moved forward, dragging his feet along the floor until he reached the stairs, groggily going up one step at a time until he fumbled his way back in his room. Were his cabin mates around? No clue. Alan didn't hear them. The doors were pretty much closed. So, maybe not. Maybe. It didn't matter.

Alan closed his bedroom door behind him, immediately falling into his bed with a plop, bouncing with the springs as only his feet dangled out at the edge.

God. The amount of unholy things that happened on this bed. He should throw his sheets away. Maybe get a new mattress. He didn't even care if he slept on the floor. He basically slept on the cold dirt for a month straight on trail. This was nothing in comparison.

Unless... was there a mattress store in the plaza? Would it be weird to ask? No. There probably wasn't one. That would be strange. Why would other contestants be wanting a new mattress?

Well, he did, apparently!

Scrambling back on his feet, Alan tore the sheets out of the bed, balling it up and then-- honestly, he didn't know what to do with it-- throwing it across the room. He puffed out a few heavy breaths, staring at the flat ball of white sheets that now laid helplessly on his floor.

This was ridiculous. This was stupid.

So he pulled out the pillow sheets as well, balling them up and throwing it in the same general direction. He didn't do a great job at balling up the first one he threw, so it floated in the air halfway across the floor, but Alan didn't care. He didn't care.

And the covers? That needed washing too. He should wash that. He thought about balling that up too, but found that it was much too thick and pillowy to throw never mind roll up, so he instead attempted to toss it across the room, one corner at a time.

Alan stared at his finished work. Bed now naked of any sheets whatsoever, he fell back in his bed, once more bouncing from the ricochet. He briefly closed his eyes, taking in a peaceful deep breath.

He should do laundry.

Springing back on his feet, Alan scrambled back to the white sheets tossed around the room, bunching it up into an even bigger ball before he loudly left his room again, skipping down the steps two at a time. He fumbled at the last step but was quick to regain his footing, making a bee-line towards the utility closet.

Laundry. Yeah. This was good. Actually, the whole cabin could use cleaning, now that he thought about it. When was the last time he cleaned the windows? Curtains? Cabinets? Fridge? Microwave? Closets? Washers? Hallway? Bathrooms? Walls? Floors? Counters?

There was so much to do, now that he thought about it. This was embarrassing. Had he really been living in a disgusting mess the whole two weeks? Why didn't he do this earlier?

After he started the first load, Alan got to work, picking up the broom and mop first, deciding he was going to personally eradicate every single bit of sand in this apartment, so help him god.
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urbanhart says...

There was likely a more time and energy efficient way to decide where and when to call Vik and her father, but Hild felt their aimless bumbling about between the cabins for a little over an hour was entirely forgivable, given their nights prior. And now that the effects of her enchantment had worn, every single detail of Ooktoberfest slowly but steadily flooded back to her.

Lyall must have been waist-deep in his own thoughts, because he didn't bother striking up idle conversation. Which was for the best, since Hild needed at least another decade to forge a new identity and move to the most obscure corner of the world in order to fully recover from her own stupidity.

She drew a few firm conclusions about her time at Ooktoberfest the more she unburied the memories from the drunken haze:

One, the DMV directors were morally reprehensible. That was a point that needed no furthering or explanation.

Two, Mister Alexander was rather sweet. Bearing with her inanity all evening as he did, and ensuring she made it back to her cabin by the end of it all.

Side note: she ought to reach out to him, ensure the enchantment did in fact bless him with a stomach of steel to properly withstand the sheer amount of alcohol he'd chugged.

Three, her brother was most definitely not alright. In all their years thus far, she had never witnessed him so out of his depth. In an incredibly social setting, of all places! The enchantment clearly took what little self-restraint he already had and tossed it out the window with abandon, leaving him to frantically tread the choppy waters of miserably over-honest conversation with nary any sort of life line to grab hold of.

She knew she wouldn't be able to get him to directly talk with her about it, so she decided not to try. Not without support, anyhow.

Predictably, it was Lyall who eventually broke the silence between them. They went back and forth on who to call--

"Vik or Geoff?"

"My father cannot operate a video call."

"Vik it is."

--and where to call.

"My room," they both had said as they lapped the rows of cabins for the tenth time.

"No," Lyall then said firmly, "we need...neutral territory."

Hild arched a brow at him, but obliged and suggested, "Somewhere in the plaza?"

"Too many cameras," he said with a dismissive wave.

She narrowed her gaze at him now. Since when did he worry about the cameras?

He met her skeptical stare with a flat look of his own. "What," he said, a defensive edge in his voice, "do you really want to discuss private matters out in the open? I thought you of all people would be amenable to hiding yourself away in some dark corner of the island with hardly any reception, nor any sunlight by which to disintegrate--"

"Easy," she warned.

He lifted both hands in surrender. Silence then blanketed them as they both turned away in deep contemplation.

"Well, since you're clearly not willing to be reasonable about this," Hild slowly offered, unable to help her vaguely mischievous grin, "we could always use the stable."

Lyall stared blankly at her. "The what."

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urbanhart says...

Standing on the porch of what had been nicknamed 'the Chaos Cabin', Lyall lifted a hand to give the door a tap. But hesitated, since he didn't recall Hendrik ever leaving this morning. And Lyall was not thrilled at the prospect of having to face the ever-drunk behemoth of a man.

After a quiet moment of weighing his options, he decided his concern for Kaz was far stronger than his dread of facing Hendrik. So he squared his shoulders determinedly and gave the door a polite knock.

The door opened, and much to his dismay, it wasn't Kaz at all.

"Cowboy!" Hendrik called, grinning as he lifted a giant glass mug of beer. He was shirtless, and his naked cat wore a sweater, perched on his shoulder. "How are you doing, laddie? Lookin' a bit rough around the edges there, eh, pal? Good to see you finally pay your old pal Hendrik a visit."

Oh god, this was already more than Lyall could handle. He did not need this man's opinions, nor lack of self-awareness, nor...any of him, really. Not this early on in the day, while he was still hungover.

Grimly, he set his eyes firmly on Hendrik's face. "Yes, I am...indeed here." Regrettably. Best keep this short and simple. "May I come in for a little? I wanted to check on Kazimir."

"How rude of me. I didn't offer you a drink," Hendrik said as he stepped aside, sweeping his arm in to gesture for Lyall to come inside. "You like beer? Maybe it'll drop that filter of yours again. Hah!"

Ugh. So even Hendrik noticed.

"Oddly enough," Lyall answered, shoving his hands in his pockets as he followed the indecent man inside, "I'm not really up for a drink right now. Thank you, though."

"Nonsense," Hendrik said dismissively, picking up a random glass of water that was set on the side table. "Ooktoberfest is supposed to last all month. Let me get you a drink. You seem like a gin man. Ever heard of Hendrick's? It's the best gin known to man."

Without waiting for Lyall's confirmation, Hendrik poured his beer into the contents of the cup. Instead of the beer and water mixing, however, the color cleared out, presumably turning into the promised 'best gin known to man'. When finished, Hendrik proudly offered the cup to Lyall.

Looking between the glass and the sweater-wearing cat on Hendrik's shoulder, Lyall was momentarily struck dumb by the absurdity of it all. Slowly, he reiterated, "No thank you."

As he scanned the cabin in search of his friend, he took note of the empty soolo cups and popped kernels strewn on the floor. Video games discs and remotes were piled on the couch in the living room, and a platoon of empty liquor bottles stood by on the side table. All the quintessential household goods of the stereotypical bachelor's pad were to be found here. But not Kaz.

Henny clicked his tongue in disappointment, setting the cup back where he found it, which was next to a line of the partially empty red soolo cups. "Your loss, cowboy."

Lyall couldn't hide his next grimace at the persisting nickname.

"Has Kazimir been down yet?" he asked, wanting to move along as quickly as possible.

"Negative," Hendrik said with a shake of his head, sighing. He pulled away his cat from his shoulder, cradling him in his arms. The cat purred loudly, staring at Lyall with wide green eyes. "Boy won't leave his room, no matter how many times I knock. I don't blame him for needing this time to recover. Boy thought he was a shark. A goddamn shark! His humanity needs time to restore."

Still recovering himself and thus sluggish, Lyall eventually tore his eyes away from the cat's unnerving gaze back to Hendrik's face. He found himself pleasantly surprised-- nay, rather shocked by the man's open compassion.

"Indeed," Lyall agreed, a bit delayed. Then cleared his throat and tentatively went on for the sake of politeness in the other man's place of residence, "Ahm, see here, sir. Any other time, I would be willing to share a friendly drink. Just not at this moment. Especially after yesterday."

Hendrik let out a "hmph!" and briskly nodded, scratching his cat's belly. "Looking forward to it, comrade. You rest up and recover. Sparky's in his room if you want to see him, but good luck getting him out. Holler if he tries to bite you, and I'll come running. Laddie may still think he's an apex predator."

Hm. For having concern for someone else's humanity, the man really didn't seem to understand how much of that could be wrapped up in the use of someone's actual name. The incessant use of sometimes rather unfriendly nicknames undercut whatever caring Lyall now suspected Hendrik to actually possess.

That did not take precedence, though, so Lyall shook the thought away. Likely never to be addressed, since he had a feeling he wouldn't be able to have an open dialogue with Hendrik about it. Twisting around, he eventually found the stairway to the upper level.

"The effects should've worn off by now," he mused. "Assuming they were being transparent about that as well, anyway."

Hendrik scoffed, frowning threateningly. "It better. If I say one more goddamn word no one can understand, someone will pay."

Lyall frowned a bit. Not out of fear, but simply because he was unable to just not wonder about this strange man. Hendrik's tone often bordered hostile, and his crass behaviour only served to cement this imposing image. Which buried any indication that he had the capacity to care. Was it a front? Was he simply selective? Some people did take more time to warm up to others. But he seemed to expect a lot from perfect strangers, whilst being unwilling to respond in kind.

Ah, well. If Lyall were being perfectly frank, he found the cat far more terrifying. Seriously, why was it staring at him like that?

"I am sorry," he managed to reply with some sincerity as he began to turn away. "I imagine that was a distressing experience."

Hendrik dismissively waved the thought away with his hand. "It was irritating and also insensitive. The hell they were thinking, making the only person from Germaknee unable to speak? They trying to silence my own heritage? The nerve of the DMV," he grumbled, frowning deeply as he continued to pet his cat.

Lyall paused, staring at the man with open confuzzlement. "Add it to the long list of their sins," he said with an empathetic sigh. Then inclined his head in a small bow. "I thank you for your hospitality. I'll see that Kaz is alright."

"Best of luck, comrade. You may need a drink after," Hendrik said, turning away to pad into the kitchen.

Lyall was surprised he didn't need one after talking with just Hendrik. He didn't have anymore brain power to spare to decline or thank him, though, so he silently made his way upstairs. Finding Kazimir's door, he gave it a quiet tap.

Nothing. He might've still been sleeping off the effects of yesterday.

"Kazimir?" Lyall softly called, leaning on the doorframe. "It's alright if--"

He heard the faintest pitter patter of feet, and then the door opened silently. Kazimir pulled Lyall in, covering Lyall's mouth before Lyall could make a noise. The door shut silently behind them, and then Kazimir let Lyall go, pulling away.

"Shh!" he whispered. "Hendrik can't know I'm awake."

Lyall frowned deeply with concern. "What?" he said, matching Kaz's volume, "why?"

"Because he's annoying!" Kaz said. "And I have no idea what the hell happened yesterday! I don't want to hear it from him!"

Ah, yes. Even Kaz had reached his limits with Hendrik, it seemed.

Lyall nodded slowly with understanding. "I'd be more than happy to fill you in," he said gently with a smile.

Kaz's hair was more of a wild mess than normal, which Lyall honestly didn't think was possible. The giant of a man stood with his shoulders slightly stooped, and in a plain shirt and sweatpants, which felt like in indication of his intention to simply camp out in his room for awhile. In fact, Lyall wasn't sure if Kaz had emerged at all, since being dropped off by the film crew.

A little awkwardly, Lyall putted around for somewhere to sit. Kazimir's room was one of the more 'normal' looking ones he'd been to. Lyall would know, his own room was basically a greenhouse.

He eventually settled in the big gamer chair by the large corner desk. "So you have no recollection of yesterday?" he asked.

"Not after the morning of drinking," Kaz said, walking over to his bed and plopping on the edge. "Did I black out or something?"

"I..." Lyall shrugged helplessly. "You must have? You weren't exactly yourself after the effects of the spells took hold of everyone."

He scanned the impressive gaming setup on the desk to his left as he tried to find the best way to explain.

Kazimir stared at Lyall in confusion. His reaction was delayed.

"Spells?" Kazimir asked.

"Spells," Lyall repeated grimly. "We were all essentially drugged with mind-altering magic." Shaking his head, he gestured to Kaz and added simply, since there was no other way to really phrase it succinctly, "For instance, your drink somehow convinced you that you were in fact a shark."

Kazimir's brows drew together tightly.

"I turned into a shark?" he asked.

"My apologies," Lyall amended quickly, "no. You thought you were a shark, but you were physically still yourself."

"Awh, man," Kazimir said with a disappointed sigh, leaning back on both arms. "That's way more lame."

"...Honestly, yes," Lyall agreed.

If Kazimir had been turned into an actual shark, there would have been far more dignity in his shark-like behaviour.

"So, what, was I just... dumb and floppy?" Kazimir asked.

Lyall frowned sadly at the memory. "...You flopped quite a bit, yes," he confirmed quietly. "But not out in public for very long! Some of the filming crew brought you inside very early on, for your safety."

"My safety?" Kazimir asked.

"You kept trying to swim off into the ocean," Lyall explained.

Kazimir squinted for a moment, then leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees and his chin on his knuckles.

"I mean, I know how to swim," he said. "So what was wrong with that?"

"Well, you did swim gracefully," Lyall assured him, "and did cover an impressive distance in a short amount of time. However, the problem arose where you didn't surface enough. Because...you had shark brain."

"Oh. Right," Kazimir said, sounding more ashamed than disappointed, now. "Well... that's a bummer, I guess."

"I'm very sorry that that happened to you," Lyall said in earnest. "It was a cruel thing of them to do."

"It's kind of... weird," Kazimir said. "Like, why make me think I'm a shark? Why did I have to be a sea animal. I could've been... a land animal. That would've been cooler. At least I wouldn't have almost drowned."

"Our drinks should have been left untampered to begin with," Lyall said very seriously.

"Did everyone's drinks get messed with? Like, everybody?" Kaz asked.

Lyall nodded slowly. "I...assume so, yes. The island hasn't been very active this morning, so the natural conclusion is that everyone's still trying to bear the consequences of that disaster, whilst also recovering from excessive drinking."

Alan's panicked spiral about sleeping with the heir of Aphirah, likely amidst a drunken haze, was...frankly not completely unwarranted. It was probably the most mortifying consequence of yesterday thus far.

"I didn't really get to drink much," Kazimir said in a low mutter, pouting. "But I guess I wouldn't have been able to enjoy it as a shark."

Lyall offered a small, reassuring smile. "I think that was for the best, all things considered, yeah."

Kazimir blew a long sigh through his lips, creating a sound not unlike a horse.

"Did you think you were a shark? Or was your spell something else?" Kazimir asked.

Lyall tried not to sigh aloud and answered, "Regrettably, I completely lacked a brain-to-mouth filter. Anything I thought, I was compelled to say out loud."

He still had yet to really face Cyrin about the...he didn't know what to call it. Social suicide? Perhaps his hope that they could both simply move on with their lives as if it never happened was unrealistic, but still. A man could hope.

"Is that bad?" Kaz asked, looking over at Lyall innocently.

"It can be," Lyall said, looking down at the floor with shame. "Especially if one's thoughts become abrasive and or...brazen."

"That means... bad," Kazimir said. "Right?"

Lyall hesitated. "It can be bad in certain contexts. I was rather blunt with Connie, for example, to the point of rudeness. And far too bold in speaking with my own cabin mate. I'd say I have no idea what got into me, but..."

"I mean, that's just stuff you can apologize for, right? Being rude and whatever?" Kaz asked. "Doesn't sound too hard."

"It's..." Lyall sighed through his nose. "I wish it were that simple for me."

Kazimir looked confused.

"Why isn't it?" he asked.

"There are many variables," Lyall said, throwing both hands toward the ceiling as he sank down in the large chair, "that make the outcome far too unpredictable. Which makes it hard to face."

"But like," Kazimir said. "Isn't that why you should do it though? Not all of the outcomes are bad. There's lots of good ones too. You just assume they are bad because it's scary."

Lyall blinked at Kaz, then mustered a warm grin. "...You're right," he admitted, "I do tend to get wrapped up in worst-case scenarios."

Kazimir got up from the bed, walking over to Lyall. Kaz stopped a foot or two from him, and then plopped down on the floor, looking up.

"I know I'm not very smart," Kaz said. "And I make a lot of mistakes. I know I do because I get corrected all the time. But I stopped being afraid of making mistakes a long time ago because my mom always told me mistakes help you learn, and that made a lot of sense to me. And she said if you're ever scared of doing something, that's okay. Just do it scared."

Kazimir reached out and patted Lyall's knee, smiling a small smile.

"You can do it," he said.

Lyall felt his heart warm with Kaz's encouragements, and his own smile softened into something more sincere and brighter.

He slipped down onto the floor to sit with Kaz and answered emphatically, "You, my friend, are far wiser than I could ever hope to be. I'm so grateful to find myself in such wonderful company."

Kazimir smiled in return.

"Oh," he said. "I like your company too!"

A pause, and Kaz looked back at his door.

"That's why I let you in, obviously."

Another pause.

"Brought you in," he corrected.

Lyall huffed a laugh. "The discretion is understood and appreciated," he said. "I've had my fill of direct Hendrik exposure for the day." He looked up in thought and amended, "The week."

"Yeah," Kazimir said, scratching behind his head as he looked back at the door again. "He makes me feel like I'm living with my dad."

He squinted, pulling the corners of his lips back.

"Like, somehow he acts 50 and 21 at the same time. I don't get it," Kaz said. "He's like, always gotta be right about everything. And he's always patting and punching and at first I was like, sure, guy stuff, you know? But now it's just annoying. We've gotten in some real fights but I feel like he still thinks it's playing. He's so weird, man."

Lyall's grin tamed with sympathy. "It's a real shame to have to live with someone who hardly ever takes anyone else seriously," he agreed. Then added, half-joking, "He should've been made to live with the mind reader."

"The crazy guy?" Kaz asked with a small grin. "That would be funny to see."

Lyall snickered. Even for just one day, the experience could hopefully humble Hendrik. Just enough to make his presence tolerable for a little while.

A thought then occurred to him as he glanced up at the monster truck poster that spanned almost the entire wall above Kaz's bed.

"Perhaps not today," Lyall said, "since... you know, recovery from Ooktoberfest and whatnot, but. Once I get the greenlight with my cabin mates, you can come over to my place? If ever you need a break from all the nagging and the...clinging of the hairless cat."

Kazimir's whole face lit up with a smile.

"Dude! Yeah! We could play on my swatch," he said, getting up and grabbing the gaming console from the shelf behind them. "I have two of them. Do you have any games you like?"

Lyall's own grin turned slightly blank as he thought about that. "I honestly don't," he answered as he got to his feet too. "So, just bring all your favorites!"

"Do you game much?" Kaz asked, beginning to look through the games on his shelf.

"Not at all," Lyall confessed. "Haven't the time."

"Whaaaaaaaat?" Kaz asked. "Seriously? Not even when you were a kid?"

Lyall just shrugged.

"Dude, come on, okay, I've got to show you my favorites," he said, throwing different CD-like cases into his arms and clamoring back onto the floor in front of Lyall, tossing them on the floor between them. Lyall sat down again, unsure of what to make of the colorful graphics and some of the pose-y character artwork. But Kaz's enthusiasm was infectious, and he listened with rapt attention.

"Okay, like this one," he said, picking up one of them. On the cover, it had images of different cars crashing into each other. "This one's one of the first games I played. Super Crash. The whole point is to cause the biggest car crash possible to get the most points."

"Intriguing premise!" Lyall said, and meant it.

"It's really fun, honestly," Kaz said. "Sometimes your brain just wants to destroy stuff. So you do it in a game!"

"Huh." Lyall studied the car crash illustration. "That does sound potentially very cathartic."

He handed the game to Lyall, shoving it in his lap before he picked up the next one.

"This one's a classic POV shooter game," he said. "It's called Hunter's Mark, and if you play it online you can play on teams and stuff. Kind of like paintball, but digital. Point and shoot and don't get shot to win. Simple rules."

"I think I might've heard of this one," Lyall said, taking the case to study closer. "My younger brother Vik rather enjoys it."

"Yeah, there's lots of different characters to choose from," Kaz said. "And they all have different stats and builds and weapons. My favorite is this guy."

Kazimir pointed to a comically large, hulking character in the background of the cover illustration. It was a man in a monkey suit.

"He's got this special power move that can blast people off the platform," Kaz said. "I like to use it as a final finishing move. It's kind of OP, but whatever."

Lyall blinked at the monkey-suit man. "'OP'?" he asked. "What is that?"

All he could think was...a medical operation, but that very likely didn't apply here.

"Oh, like overpowered," Kaz said. "It's shorthand."

Lyall nodded slowly in understanding.

"You might like playing Fiddlesticks," Kaz said, pointing to a more grizzled character that had a large canon-like gun. "He's a good starter character. And he's cool."

"'Fiddlesticks'," Lyall echoed quietly. "Alright, sure!"

Kazimir smiled.

"And okay, this one's not like, my favorite, but I think you might like this one," Kaz said, pulling out one from the bottom of the pile. "My girlfriend likes to play this one with me a lot. It's not as action-y. It's more open-world stuff. It's called Animal Xrossings: Old Horizons. You're in a town with cutesy animal characters and have a lot of tasks and blah blah. It's calming, I guess. And you get to design your character. I made my guy green 'cause I thought it was funny. Like an alien. I named him Fartso. Megan's character's normal though."

Lyall couldn't help but snort at the name. "...'Fartso'," he weakly echoed, trying not to laugh.

But Kaz elbowed Lyall with a little chuckle, egging him into it.

"I swear I am absorbing this information to the best of my abilities," Lyall said, allowing himself an amused grin. "Alright, what else would you recommend?"

Kazimir picked up another game, this time beaming as he presented it to Lyall like a gift.

"Legendary League," he said. "My favorite game of all time."

Lyall grinned wider. "We should start with that one then!"

"It's a big world with lots of exploring and quests!" he said. "And we can design our characters a ton. There's so many options and stories in the game. I like it a lot."

"That sounds very promising," Lyall said enthusiastically as he studied the vaguely Baroke-esque cover art.

Nevermind the fact that Vik himself had tried for years now to sell him on it.

"When do you want to start?" Kaz asked. "I can bring it over whenever."

"I ought to check that my cabin mates would be alright with it," Lyall said with a hum.

He really...still wasn't sure how he'd approach them. Normally, he supposed? It would be a true shame to let one night of utter ruination that had been forced upon them, mess with their still-growing friendships.

And Kaz was more than right. Mistakes were inevitable, and he couldn't let the fear of unlikely fallout stop him.

"I can't imagine that they'd have any objections," he went on, and smiled at Kaz. "I should be able to retrieve you sometime this week!"

"Okay," Kaz said. "You can always text me."

Ah. That would be the more efficient form of communication, wouldn't it?

"Right," Lyall agreed, fishing his phone from his coat pocket. "What's your number, anyhow?"

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SilverNight says...

Shane was in need of coffee more than ever, and maybe in need of an ibuprofen too.

He put his phone away again and left his room, taking the stairs down slowly one at a time and holding the railing for extra support. He found the kitchen just as he'd left it, with James and Connie still downstairs. Connie was sitting on the counter stool, casually eating a peach with a mug of coffee in front of him. James was sitting next to him, slowly sipping from a mug of steaming coffee, staring off into space. A pot of coffee was on the counter next to him.

"Thank you for making the coffee," Shane said softly, going over to one of the cupboards and taking down a green mug that he considered his favorite one here.

"Hm?" James said. "Oh, sure. Of course."

As Shane set the mug down on the counter, reaching for the coffee pot, he took a moment to examine James. The exhaustion was still on his face, which he had to assume was the way all three of them looked. His hair was braided, but also wet for some reason. James was still wearing his lederhosen from yesterday. Shane had to be glad that even though the clothes he was wearing had given his story away the moment he'd walked in, at least he hadn't been sent home in those.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, a little quietly as he started to fill his mug.

James let out a long sigh that felt like an answer before he even said a word.

"Tired," he said.

Shane nodded, staring into the steam that was rising off his coffee. "Yeah," he murmured. "Same here."

"I think I slept for eighteen hours," James said, taking a slow sip.

Shane blinked, briefly surprised. Eighteen hours was a long time. If he'd gotten back this morning, he must have passed out well before night at the festival-- not to mention that he must have been utterly drained to sleep that long. When had James left Ooktoberfest? Shane realized he didn't know. The confidence had done a lot for him, but apparently he owed his perception to having anxiety.

Maybe he should have checked in on James more.

"That long?" he asked softly, with a hint of concern.

"Seems so," James said, looking down into his mug. "I was out cold."

Connie had been quiet the whole time, but that was not atypical of him. When he finished his peach, he scooted the stool back, standing up to make his way to the sink with his mug, setting it down in the sink.

He usually washed all his dishes right away, so perhaps temporarily setting it down in the sink indicated that he was ready to leave faster.

"I'm going to get some rest. Both of you could use that too," Connie said, dismissing himself with a nod of his head to the both of them, already making his way up the stairs. "Rest well, you two."

"Alright," Shane said quietly. "Thank you. You too."

He heard the creaks of the stairs as Connie went up. He was pretty sure they hadn't creaked on their first day here, but that was not something he needed to give thought to.

Sighing, Shane leaned an elbow on the counter, resting his chin in his palm as he took a first sip of his coffee. He should've added milk or something, but that simple task felt like too much right now.

"He's right, I guess," he said quietly, rubbing his eyes. "But I only feel tired, not in need of sleep. I'm sure I couldn't."

"I suppose there are other ways to rest," James mused, slowly getting to his feet. He wandered over to the fridge, opening the door and staring in.

Shane kept rubbing at his face. "Do you know what you'll do?"

James pulled out a tupperware filled with Connie's vegetable stirfry of brussel sprouts, broccoli, peppers, and carrots. Popping it open and pulling a fork from the drawer nearby, James started eating it cold.

"On my to do list," he said. "Is to shower. I woke up buried in sand yesterday. I think I still have sand in my pits."

Shane fought to keep the alarm off his face as he slowly set down his mug.

"Are you okay?" he asked. "I mean, should I be worried about that?"

James, appearing unperturbed, looked up with a mouth full of vegetables. Mid-chew, he shrugged a bit helplessly.

"I think I uh," he said after swallowing. "Fell asleep while walking home from Hendrik's cabin. I visited him briefly that morning."

"Ah," Shane said softly, but he wasn't really any less concerned with the explanation. "That's... got to be one of the worse ways to start the day."

"The sand was, um," James went on. "I think more of a subconscious decision."

Shane pressed his lips into a thin, dry smile. "I can think of softer blankets."

"I can too," James said, taking another big bite of food.

From the way he was inhaling it, James seemed pratically starved.

Shane took a glance at the clock. Not quite 10AM.

"I know it's early," he said, "but do you think you'll want more food than that? I could cook."

James, once again with his mouthful, nodded earnestly.

"Yeah I'm thuper hungwy," he said through a mouthful.

Shane smiled faintly again. "I'll make something filling."

"I can help," James said after swallowing again.

Shane nodded. "That'd be helpful, thank you," he said, moving to open the fridge. "Anything in particular you want?"

"I will eat anything," James said. And somehow Shane felt like 'anything' might've included literally anything.

"Okay," Shane murmured, staring into the fridge. "We could make... a mountain of spaghetti with meat sauce or something."

James's eyes lit up, and there was almost a childlike excitment that flashed over his features.

"Yes," James said firmly.

Shane felt a small burst of excitement to see him excited as well. "Let's do it, then."

They set a large pot of water to boil, and James cooked every package of spaghetti noodles they had in the cabin into the water while Shane cooked ground beef and heated up tomato sauce on the side. It was hardly elaborate cooking, and he wouldn't be surprised if a Talian person like Connie found it lacking (he had refused to eat any of the packaged pasta in the cabin), but it would be good, and it would be filling. Right now, Shane figured they could use an easy meal that they would both be happy with.

By the end, they did, indeed, have a mountain of spaghetti. Shane was about to ask how they would ever eat it all until James scooped what looked like five servings of pasta into a one serving bowl.

No worries, then.

Shane served himself to a less heaving mountain-- perhaps more of a hill-- that was still more than he'd find himself eating normally. With their spaghetti mission accomplished, and Connie none the wiser, the two of them sat down in the kitchen and ate.

"I love food," James said after his first mouthful of spaghetti. He held up his fork meaningfully, looking on the verge of genuine tears.

"Easily one of the best things to eat," Shane said, after a few fast bites of his own. He hadn't actually thought he was hungry, but after the first bite, he felt starving. Maybe it was because he'd dropped his dinner yesterday.

James inhaled another long extent of spaghetti.

"This was a good idea," he said. "I hadn't eaten at all yesterday."

"I had--" Shane thought as he took another bite. "--one bite of a pretzel, and whatever calories are in two glasses of beer."

"Not enough to function off of," James said, pointing at Shane with a forkful of noodles before eating it.

"I recognize my foolishness," Shane said, with a slight bow of his head between bites.

"I mean, I'm no better," James admitted. "I was so disoriented I didn't eat entirely. So that makes two fools here."

"We're this close to representing a circus of clowns," Shane said.

"Shrimp is the lion," James said, looking at their feet, where Shrimp had camped out, lowkey begging with big green eyes.

"You poor lonely lion," Shane murmured to the cat, suddenly jumping to his feet, "who needs to be fed because I was not just a foolish clown but a forgetful one."

Shrimp meowed.

"I'm so sorry, a lion needs to eat to grow big," Shane said to him, scrambling to pour out a generous portion of cat food into the bowl and then return to his seat. Satisfied, the cat made a beeline to the food.

"There," he said, after wolfing down a few more bites of pasta. "Our clowning future is secured."

"Good work," James said, lightly patting Shane's shoulder. He, too, inhaled more spaghetti.

They were both eating fast, but James was somehow eating faster, with most of his much larger portion gone while Shane still had a while to go. Sure enough, James finished his bowl when Shane still had several bites left, and set down his fork.

James leaned onto the counter with a satisfied sigh, looking down at his entirely clear plate.

"So... my drink made me extremely emotional," he said, not really dancing around it. "What did yours do?"

Ah. The other circus animal in the room. The elephant.

Shane took another bite before answering.

"Confidence," he said finally.

James looked over at Shane with a raised brow.

"The presence of confidence or the absence of fear?" he asked.

Shane hummed, resting his fork on the counter.

"It might've been both parts," he said. "I didn't have any of my usual anxieties, but... I don't know. It also felt like I could do anything, rather than just no longer having thoughts that I couldn't."

James hummed.

"Sounds like it might've interfered with your amygdala and frontal lobe," he pondered. "Sounds... freeing, I suppose. But also dangerous."

Shane nodded after a moment. "It only felt freeing at the time," he said. "Liberating in a way I didn't have the experience of before. And now..." He shrugged, staring down at the counter. "It seems like I was foolish with it."

"I wouldn't blame yourself for it," James said. "You were practically drugged without your knowledge. That's morally condemnable on several levels."

A pause.

"Doesn't change the fact that we still have to live with everything that happened, though," he said with a small sigh.

Shane sighed as well. "Yeah," he said rather quietly. "There's always the fallout."

Looking at Shane's plate and what remained, James looked to be in thought for a moment.

"How was the phone call?" he asked softly.

"Well..." Shane started.

He could talk about this. He just needed to prepare.

He sighed quietly again, then turned to James.

"It was sort of some damage control," he said. "He wasn't happy about the events of the festival impacting my image, and by extension, Aphirah's image. He wanted to make sure it wouldn't be happening again."

He paused.

"It was mostly one event," he said, more quietly. "Alan and I kissed while at the festival, and although I didn't care at the time that there had to be cameras all over us, apparently it shook the news. Not in a way that my uncle liked very much."

It felt a little difficult telling James for some reason. On one hand, it was good that there was someone his embarrassment hadn't already been made known to. On the other, it was hard to confess it directly.

James hummed, quiet for a moment before he said anything.

"How do you feel about everything?" James asked.

It was... a good question. One that Shane wasn't surprised to get from him. And yet he wasn't sure he had an answer.

"I feel..." he started half-heartedly, before he let out another sigh, placing his elbows on the counter and propping his chin in his hands. "I would've had a wildly different answer to that question at the time. Now, I don't even know. Just..." He took a deep breath. "Hurt. Hurt, I guess, even though that's no one's fault but my own."

James's expression softened.

"Hurt... because it happened?" James asked quietly. "Or did something wrong happen?"

Shane pursed his lips, realizing he now had to explain that, and he wasn't sure how to interpret that. Perhaps, because James hadn't exactly defined his question, it was up to him to interpret it.

"I mean, there was nothing wrong that happened," he said, also quietly. "Just..." He cleared his throat. "I'm not going to say it was more harm than it was worth. I don't think that. But overall, there's little I feel good about right now. We just had... different ideas of the same thing."

James nodded slightly.

"I'm sorry," he said.

Shane breathed a sigh through his nose.

"Thanks," he said quietly. "I'll have to figure things out. Hope for nothing ruined."

James was quiet for a moment, and he stared down at his empty plate with his brows knit together.

"Why did you look so downcast when you came home?" he asked quietly, looking over to Shane with empathy in his eyes.

"I did, didn't I," Shane murmured.

"You looked like someone sucked all of the life out of your eyes," James said.

Shane let out a tired, humorless laugh, absently rubbing at his face. "Yeah," he said quietly. "That. I had some things on my mind." He took a deep breath that felt slightly pained, closing his eyes briefly to prepare. "Alan and I talked in the morning, and it didn't go as I hoped." He paused. "Not hoped. Expected. The confidence didn't leave any room for wondering if things would go badly later. But they did go badly, I guess."

James watched Shane with a small frown.

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

Shane pressed his lips into a thin smile. "I feel like that'd be annoying of me."

James blinked slowly.

"What?" he asked. "That's not -- Shane, I'm asking. I wouldn't have asked out of obligation. I want to help you process if you need."

James let out a small huff, sitting up a little straighter as he turned to face Shane more squarely.

"Look. At this point, I consider you a friend," he said. "I know we're still very new to each other in the big picture, but how you're doing matters to me. You're not burdening me with your feelings, and you're certainly not annoying me. I care about you, okay?"

Once the slight shock of the words washed off, Shane found himself smiling for real, his expression softer now. He hadn't expected to hear it, but he was glad he had.

"Thanks," he said softly. "I guess I need to hear that first sometimes. I consider you a friend too, James."

"Well, I'm glad we got that cleared up, then," James said with a small smile. He leaned back on the counter a bit, looking at Shane with his full attention. "So, about things going different than you expected."

James looked to Shane expectantly, like he was now giving Shane the floor to speak.

Shane nodded, hesitating for the barest moment before he spoke again.

"Yeah," he said. "I figure you know enough about what happened after the festival that I don't need to say anything there." He winced suddenly. "That wasn't the issue, honestly, though you can guess it led to problems. Once we were awake and everyone's spells had worn off, Alan wasn't in the same mind as he had been when he'd said things to me before then. Things that made me feel important to him. Meanwhile, the similar words I said still felt true to me." Shane shrugged, feeling defeated. "The fact that previously I was so confident in everything I heard made it more brutal to hear that they weren't entirely true after all."

James let out a small sigh, looking down into his lap.

"What exactly did he say?" James asked.

Shane tapped his fork against his bowl, staring ahead.

"Everything he said led back to the same idea," he said. "That he was interested, and that he cared, and that he would like us to be together. It all sounded very genuine, and I never lost sight of that sentiment while we talked. I felt... adored, for lack of a better word." He folded his hands on the counter. "I believed it all. Before you say that's a foolish thing, I know-- I feel like an idiot, now that I'm aware he believes things happened too fast, and that he didn't feel entirely like himself there."

"It's not a foolish thing to want to feel loved," James said gently. "It's a very natural, innate desire all people have. I can completely understand why you'd believe it, especially considering the influence you were under. I'm sorry that he recanted his interest when morning came, though."

Shane sighed. Very heavily.

"Thanks," he said quietly, then spoke again after a moment. "I don't know that he entirely recanted his interest, because he was a little vague on where he truly stood. I'd much rather know one way or the other, but..." He shrugged once more. "He's taking his time on deciding, I guess. So I'll have to give him that time."

"What about you?" James asked. "Do you still feel the same interest?"

Shane closed his eyes, finding it difficult to admit.

"Yeah," he said, through a sigh.

"Did you tell him that?" James asked.

"I couldn't have hidden it if I tried," Shane said.

James looked down with a small sigh.

"So... you're both probably going to talk about it again, I imagine," he said. "After having some time to think."

Shane swallowed, opening his eyes. "Yeah," he said in a hollow tone.

"You don't seem to be looking forward to it," James said softly. "What are you afraid of?"

"I-- Now that the confidence is all gone, I feel worried about everything that could come up," Shane said, but then sighed and decided to clarify. "He suggested we go on 'dates', but it seems as though he was only saying that to make me feel better. I'm afraid of seeing that I'm right."

James frowned.

"If he's the kind of person to go on dates just to appease you," James said slowly. "It's unlikely he'll ever be forthright about how he really feels. What gave you the impression he was only trying to make you feel better?"

Shane pursed his lips. "A shift in the conversation tone. He went from apologizing and explaining that things couldn't be the same, then to backtracking and suggesting dates when I reacted in a hurt way to the earlier topics."

James hummed.

"Did something happen to make him shift the tone?" James asked.

"...I visibly freaked out in between," Shane muttered, staring down at his bowl to shove down the embarrassment.

"Hey, it's a completely understandable reaction," James said, softer. "It just sounds like neither of you were at your best. It would probably be beneficial to talk again when you're both in a better headspace."

Shane honestly didn't know that he'd be in a better headspace by whatever time Alan decided to turn up again.

"Do you feel ready to talk to him about it?" James asked, as if reading his mind.

"I'll have to be," Shane said, with a softer sigh.

"Maybe it would help to tease it out a bit," James said. "What are some things you wish you could've said this morning, or that you would've wanted to do differently?"

The corner of Shane's lips twitched up in a dry smile. "Talk in full sentences. Failing that, I could've used more time to think before having to say anything. I was caught off guard."

James nodded.

"I think those would be good things to tell him," James said. "If you need more time to think before speaking, that can be helpful to say, so he knows to give you space."

Shane thought a moment, then nodded. "I think that's a good idea," he said, before turning to James, smiling faintly. "Thank you, by the way. I... do feel better talking about it now."

James offered a small smile in return.

"I'm glad," he said. "Do you think you'll need more time to think on it on your own?"

Shane hummed. "Probably. I'll have time, assuming Alan takes his own time."

"If he doesn't," James said. "You can always tell him you're not ready yet."

That seemed a difficult thing to manage, but Shane nodded anyway. "I will," he promised.

"And if for any reason you need a friend to go with you as an advocate," James said. "You can always pull on me."

Shane smiled, feeling a small thrill of hope. "I appreciate it. I appreciate everything, honestly. Thank you."

James let out a small huff through his nose and smiled.

"Yeah," he said. "Anytime."

And then James stretched out an arm, inviting a hug. Shane leaned in, still smiling as he hugged James back, and some of the weight that felt like it rested on his shoulders was replaced by a much more comforting kind.

Everything wasn't perfect. But this helped. He had a friend.
"silv is obsessed with heists" ~Omni

"silv why didn't you tell me you were obsessed with heists I thought we were friends" ~Ace

"y’all we outnumber silver let’s overthrow her >:]" ~winter

silver (she/they)

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
— Thomas Edison