Training Here's a riddle for you
Harper <3
Maea Valair
Hollowed Grounds Ambassador / Loreseeker

Age: 29 | Height: 156 cm / 5'1 ft | Race: Ancient | Nationality: Natural | Citizenship: Hollowed Grounds
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#15
With every broken bone, I swear I lived
Her scent was one of cleanliness, for all that her clothes were worn and threadbare. Lavender soap and ink and the kind of freshness that the Leafchange wind had imparted on her way to this forgotten place. Ordinary and plain and entirely her own.

The look in her eyes as she met Harper's gaze was anything but plain, however. Still with her teeth clamped around his shoulder, it conveyed some of the tumultuous emotions she struggled to contain. Trust and dare and a feline sort of playfulness that was as much teeth and claws as soft paws. An unspoken desire to pull him close and let her nails sink in, and hold on tighter the more he struggled.

His willingness to humor her was more confusing, truth be told. Heat rose in her cheeks, painting them brightly pink. She let go. Brushed her lips against the faintly damp patch of shirt, not sure what to do with the storm of butterflies that started up within.
"I don't know what I want," she murmured. "Just... I'm glad you're here. Glad you're you, and that I get to be your friend." Brazenly allowing her to be anything, short of callous murderer. It made her want to push every single button and see how much he meant it.

Instead she gently freed her hand and held her arms out in a silent request for a hug, mutely challenging her racing pulse and her own limits. He wanted to show her? Then she would let him. Had to let him; anything less would be letting them both down.
maea
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Harper Quinn
the Stalwart
Teacher

Age: 33 | Height: 5'10 | Race: Attuned | Nationality: Outlander | Citizenship: Nomadic
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#16
Harper
She might have the power and even the desire to see him bleed under the right circumstances, but looking into her eyes with her teeth so close to vital parts of his anatomy he only sees conflict. He waits, the imprint of her teeth a dull ache in his shoulder, and when she pulls away and brushes her mouth against the lingering wetness of her own impulses Harper's expression is patient and placid. There is no room for mockery or condemnation here.

"I'm glad too," he admits easily, heart eternally on his sleeve. "And if you need to bite me a few more times to figure out what you want, I have plenty of skin to spare." His smile is lopsided and boyish, painfully sincere. Pain is a small price to pay for her peace of mind; Harper has never known when to stop being self-sacrificing for the good of others.

Normally he would ask if she was sure, but it seems disingenuous and patronizing to do so when she silently holds her arms out. It takes a bit of shuffling on the cracked stone of the stoop they sit on, but Harper folds her into his arms as easy as breathing, tucking his head atop her head between her horns and bringing her into his chest. He holds her there, grip firm but not unyielding, and tells himself he won't move until she does. However long she needs this, he is willing to wait.
I cut my teeth on second-hand sentiments
you can't trust a thing I say
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Maea Valair
Hollowed Grounds Ambassador / Loreseeker

Age: 29 | Height: 156 cm / 5'1 ft | Race: Ancient | Nationality: Natural | Citizenship: Hollowed Grounds
Level: 4 - Strg: 22 - Dext: 22 - Endr: 25 - Luck: 21 - Int:
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#17
With every broken bone, I swear I lived
It was awkward, at first. Awareness of every inch of her body that connected with his screamed through her nerves, and the contained strength of the arms that cradled her, and the scent of him; assaulting her senses all at once while she sat stiff and trembling. Fighting every instinct to bolt, maintain distance.

The relaxation came slowly, with deliberate breaths that shuddered out into the crook of Harper's neck. She hid herself away there, eyes shut against the too bright sunlight that showed her weakness all to plainly. There was no hiding anything when she was this close. Not the painful slamming of her heart, or the vice like grip on the back of his shirt, or how much she struggled to contain herself, to unravel herself, wildly swaying between the desire to keep hiding and the need to change.

Maea swallowed thickly. Her voice was a hoarse whisper, only audible because of how close she was. "I think... the problem is, I want too much. And... I don't know what you want. And I'm scared... to find out."
maea
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Harper Quinn
the Stalwart
Teacher

Age: 33 | Height: 5'10 | Race: Attuned | Nationality: Outlander | Citizenship: Nomadic
Level: 5 - Strg: 15 - Dext: 15 - Endr: 27 - Luck: 19 - Int:
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#18
Harper
Harper patiently waits as her defenses shudder and cave in on themselves. It's a painful process, and he wishes he could take some measure of it off her shoulders. Equally, he remembers when his mentor held him through it all in this exact same way, and how important it had been despite the difficulty. Even if he were a more impatient man there would be no rushing or wishing for a swift end. In fact, he's deeply honored that she chooses him to do this with. He isn't sure he deserves it, but god if he won't try to be.

Her murmured confession holds implications Harper does not want to assume, but which he nevertheless suspects. It makes his own heart try to shy away, hiding behind walls new and old. He holds it in place by the skin of his teeth, gaze moving past the crown of her head to look out over the overgrown fields as his jaw flexes slightly with the effort it takes to be both brave and calm. "I'd hope that, even if we're both scared, we can still treat each other gently. Even if what we both want doesn't align." He's careful not to express his assumptions, one scarred hand splaying across her spine. "What makes you think that what you want is too much? Is it something grander than what most people want?" He doubts it. He can't envision Maea wanting something like a title or right to rule a region, or power to subject and entrance. It might seem like too much to her, but he doesn't think it's anything so outlandish as that.
I cut my teeth on second-hand sentiments
you can't trust a thing I say
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Maea Valair
Hollowed Grounds Ambassador / Loreseeker

Age: 29 | Height: 156 cm / 5'1 ft | Race: Ancient | Nationality: Natural | Citizenship: Hollowed Grounds
Level: 4 - Strg: 22 - Dext: 22 - Endr: 25 - Luck: 21 - Int:
Played by: Chan Online
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Posts: 3,092 | Total: 5,852
MP: 1917
#19
With every broken bone, I swear I lived
She felt the tension roll through him, and the subtle motion of his jaw, and wondered if she had found a boundary after all. Without speaking plainly it was impossible to know for sure, and much as she preferred that kind of honesty... in this moment, she was already reaching beyond certainty, simply giving voice to her thoughts. That was terrifying enough. Difficult enough, without letting assumptions close doors in her face before they were ever defined.

It felt presumtuous to even hint at a possibility of... them.

Like a cat being stroked, she unconsciously flexed beneath his hand, her spine softening at the warm touch. Biting her lip, she struggled to find the words to describe the shape of the hollowness within. Her face felt feverish with all the blushing, but she did answer.

"It's always been like that. I'm either too much, or not enough. For once, I want... to be enough. For me. For... someone. I want to be... hard to walk away from."

Plaintive, raw, it was not a plea or even a question. Just a glimpse into the cold wasteland of inadequacy that was her everyday existence.

"Maybe it's not more than most want. But it feels like it. So many around me seem fine without it, so I have to wonder... if it's them, or me, or..." Her shrug was light, and helplessly confused.
maea
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Harper Quinn
the Stalwart
Teacher

Age: 33 | Height: 5'10 | Race: Attuned | Nationality: Outlander | Citizenship: Nomadic
Level: 5 - Strg: 15 - Dext: 15 - Endr: 27 - Luck: 19 - Int:
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#20
Harper
Not a boundary, no, but a bruise. Maybe even something deeper and far more fatal, if he were to admit the depths of the injury. And though she can't see it, his lips twist into a paroxysm too bitter to be a smile.

"I understand how you feel. Though you say it a lot more elegantly than I could." And he doesn't want to piggyback off her vulnerability but he feels it. Her shrug has him moving his palm up and down her spine in short motions, never venturing too far and intending to offer only comfort. Harper turns his head slightly to rest his cheek on top of her head, and his sigh is quiet but strong.

"I'll try not to be too presumptuous here, but I get it. I swore I'd never love again before I even came to Caido. It felt like a failure to break that vow; twice over, at that." Sometimes he regrets ever talking to Delphia about it, ever learning that he wouldn't reunite with his first true love in the afterlife. But he couldn't regret loving Phoebe, or Maeve. Having Jude. "But I realized I wanted to love and to be loved. All I wanted was a family, no matter how small." Children had always been desired, but Harper had not been unwilling to devote himself to only one person, especially given he's not picky about gender. "Except...where did it get me? They both vanished time and time again. I wasn't enough to make them stay and I don't think I'm enough now either." Harper's laugh is rough and bitter, shaking her gently where she curls against his chest.

"I can show you so many things, Maea. But I can't show you how to be enough. I still haven't learned it myself." Frankly, he has been trying to burn out the root of his desire to be enough for seasons now, drowning out how he really feels in alcohol and sex. It hasn't worked yet, but he keeps telling himself it will in time. Eventually, he'll be okay standing on his own. Eventually he'll forget the proof of how easy he is to leave.
I cut my teeth on second-hand sentiments
you can't trust a thing I say
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Maea Valair
Hollowed Grounds Ambassador / Loreseeker

Age: 29 | Height: 156 cm / 5'1 ft | Race: Ancient | Nationality: Natural | Citizenship: Hollowed Grounds
Level: 4 - Strg: 22 - Dext: 22 - Endr: 25 - Luck: 21 - Int:
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#21
With every broken bone, I swear I lived
Were they both presumtuous, then, to believe in anything beyond what they already had? Maea would have loved nothing more than to assure him that it really was enough - but she did not want to lie to him. The quiet singing in her spine at his touch said enough about the limits to friendship and the slippery slope into something far more intimate, and she knew herself enough to know how badly it could end.

Had she been getting her hopes up anyway, somehow? Or was it sympathy for his losses that made her chest ache with a soft burn that wouldn't relent no matter how deeply she inhaled?

"The one thing I've learned from dying," she murmured, "is how foolish it is to make promises. Things like 'I won't die' or 'I'll stay' or 'Forever'... No one should ever swear that. They can't possibly keep it. There's no way for anyone to know beyond a doubt - because it's not possible. There will always come a time when someone has to go on ahead, and someone will always end up behind."

Sitting up slightly, without leaving the cradle of Harper's arms, Maea looked up to catch his gaze. Flushed and with her hair tousled from rubbing against his chest, her smile was a ghostly thing, sweet but fleeting. "I don't like cages. There's nothing I'd hate more than being one. So I'm never going to ask anyone to stay or not go or... I don't know. I just think, that if someone is enough... there won't be a need to be anywhere else. Or with anyone else."

Which meant... that perhaps they both had some walking left to do. And some learning left to absorb. Or maybe she was just making up excuses so she wouldn't start to cry.
maea
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Harper Quinn
the Stalwart
Teacher

Age: 33 | Height: 5'10 | Race: Attuned | Nationality: Outlander | Citizenship: Nomadic
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#22
Harper
Harper's laugh is a bitter thing, and he wishes he'd had the foresight to clamp his mouth shut before it escaped. She isn't wrong to have come to such a conclusion for herself; she has simply traipsed over the deepest wound he has, slicing neatly through his chest. "I disagree. The sentiment is what matters to me; that someone would try to keep their promise, even if other things break it for them." His voice is a dark, gruff thing, a sharp departure from his normal tone. It's not her fault. It's not her. But it hurts like coals burning in his chest, and he can't help it.

"Love isn't a cage when you do it right. It's a hand in yours; one that pulls you onto the right path when you stray, or squeezes through the hard parts and the pain. Someone to tug you forward when you can't take another step on your own, or remind you to slow down when you're being too brash." Harper's eyes are far-away on the sky, its shade reflected in his irises as he waxes stupidly over something he's never been allowed to keep. But for all he resents that sometimes, he doesn't regret having loved the people he did. Even if they were the ones that hurt him. "Promises are broken, sure. But I've stopped putting my heart on the line for people who won't even try." The poison comes fast and biting on the wake of such tenderness, the rattle of a snake's tail warning people away so that he isn't forced to defend himself.

Then he sighs and slumps back against the door, and gives Maea one more gentle squeeze where he still holds her before loosening his grip slightly; enough to allow her to move away without making it seem like she has to hurt his feelings or shove him away. She doesn't like cages. Harper reminds himself of it sharply, feeling regretful for his own outburst. "Sorry. I didn't mean to..." but there's no adequate explanation, so Harper recedes into himself, expression distant but focused between his knees now. He shouldn't have hoped. He shouldn't have even wondered...no. There's no room for doubts. The life he is currently living is the only one that ensures he won't be hurt anymore, even if it means sacrificing all other goals and desires.
I cut my teeth on second-hand sentiments
you can't trust a thing I say
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Maea Valair
Hollowed Grounds Ambassador / Loreseeker

Age: 29 | Height: 156 cm / 5'1 ft | Race: Ancient | Nationality: Natural | Citizenship: Hollowed Grounds
Level: 4 - Strg: 22 - Dext: 22 - Endr: 25 - Luck: 21 - Int:
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#23
With every broken bone, I swear I lived
Even if we're both scared...

It was difficult to be gentle when you were hurting. She wondered if it was fear that darkened Harper's expression so suddenly. Or if it was pain - if she had said something wrong, something he didn't want to hear. That... would make two of them. And she really wished she could keep from flinching at the last part, and keep her expression even enough that it wouldn't show that his words cut as deep as they did. Maea didn't want to hurt him. She didn't want to be hurt by him either.

Yet here they were. Aching and confused, and her emotions laid bare like a book for him to read in all their tumultuous sincerity. There was no hiding anything - not from him, who had always been able to see past her mask.

When Harper leaned back, Maea twisted in the cradle of his arms so she could better look at the man in front of her. Never for a moment did she considering withdrawing; if he didn't want to hold her anymore he would have to let go himself.
"It's okay," she replied quietly to the half finished apology. "You're not wrong." Wrapping the tail loosely around Harper's wrist, she fidgeted with the lacing on her boot. Searching for a way past the upset, whether it be straws or red threads - as long as it made sense. So long as it was gentle.

"I guess... that's a thing I would have to re-learn. Because last time someone promised me they would try, it didn't end well. In hindsight it probably wasn't more than a half-hearted thing he said so I would agree to sleep with him. The moment I made clear I wouldn't change my mind about wanting a monogamous relationship, he broke it off. Which would have been fine, if I had been hesitant about it - but I was clear from the start with what I needed. In the end it became a thing to blackmail and guilt me with; why would I not even try to let him flirt and fuck whoever, and how would I know I didn't like being with others if I didn't try?"

It was her turn to darken, eyes veering off along the stone foundation of the house. Still hurting, even after all these years. "I don't like the word 'try' anymore. It feels like a way to keep a backdoor open, and an excuse not to give it everything you've got.

"I really don't think you're the kind of person who would do that,"
she added, looking back at Harper - needing him to believe that, if nothing else - "but that's what my gut tells me to expect. And I... I really can't do something like this half-hearted. I can't be with someone 'just a bit.' Either it is, or it isnt, either I'm all in or... or I'm not. There's no 'trying' about it... at least not on my part."

Was it the wrong thing to say? Was she talking too much? Every word was as honest as she could make it but she had a persistent nagging feeling that it steered this coversation in the entirely wrong direction. Pushing the divide open wider, instead of building bridges. They really wanted the same thing  - why was it so hard to find a middle ground to stand on? It was like they were approaching this from entirely different directions; by necessity something would have to give or it would result in a head on collision.

Gods, she didn't want to drive him away.

"I – " But no, that wasn't right. "What... how would you... want things to be?" The heart of what she wanted to know - even if she feared the answer enough to make her teeth clatter in her mouth. Dreaded the idea of once again being the one who said no, who couldn't be flexible, who, with her stupid needs and boring boundaries, would never be enough.

Even though she really wanted to be. It became clearer the more it seemed he was telling her no.
maea
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Harper Quinn
the Stalwart
Teacher

Age: 33 | Height: 5'10 | Race: Attuned | Nationality: Outlander | Citizenship: Nomadic
Level: 5 - Strg: 15 - Dext: 15 - Endr: 27 - Luck: 19 - Int:
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#24
Harper
It's not her that invokes his anger, and he will always - always - handle her gently, but he regrets his outburst if only because it is so easy to misconstrue as exactly that. Easy to be seen as big, intimidating, rageful. All things he had tried to kill and bury in the years before Caido. It had gotten easier in this new world, a world that he has no lived in nearly as long as he did his native one, but sometimes that darkness wells back up and he hates himself anew for its very existence.

When she doesn't pull away, his arms settle back around her; light, not a cage. Still tentative, careful, but not moments away from withdrawing. His hand turns to gently stroke his fingers against her tail, careful not to twist or disrupt her hold on his wrist as he quietly listens. It's only fair when she had done the same for him.

If his grip tightens a little, it's because he's angry on her behalf, and the set of his jaw makes it clear. "It's why I don't like the word try either; but it's because everyone says they will try and stay, but that the world or their herald or their hearts may change. And maybe it's unfair of me to expect more than trying, but I'm too tired to be fair anymore." Not if it's his heart on the line. The heart he has always given freely, entirely, with no reservation or regard for himself. It is battered and broken many times over now, and he cradles it to his chest now, refusing to let anyone see it much less take it into their own hands.

"Communication in Caido seems abysmal compared to where I came from," he mutters disparagingly. "If I love someone, I tell them. I don't hide how I feel, or what I want, or where I see myself in the future should they not want to follow me there." He shakes his head, exhaling roughly. It is a level of vulnerability not everyone is meant for, but to not even communicate basic relationship boundaries? It has vexed him from the start. "And I'm sorry. I'm sorry you weren't afforded that basic respect. And I wish I could take it from you." But it's as fruitless and futile as Maea wishing to take from him all the abandonments he has suffered, the broken hearts and losses. All they are left with is overflowing sentiment, and no font large enough to hold it, causing it to slip between their fingers without actionable change.

Her question opens those doors of vulnerability, and Harper watches her from beneath overgrown curls, wondering if he's ready to do that. Even if he does not hand her the key, it is the first time it will have happened since Maeve, and he isn't sure if this is the right path or if continuing to sleep and drink his way into oblivion is better. One sounds better on paper, but the other is the only proof he has of trying to do something for himself.

"I devote myself entirely to one person," he murmurs, taking the risk, because when has Harper ever not? From the first time he threw himself off a trapeze, he has seized every moment, no matter how it makes his stomach drop or his heart seize. "Monogamy is non-negotiable. I'm old fashioned and prefer ideals such as engagements and marriage, but I've changed that for the right people." It still kills him that he never had the honor of calling Phoebe his wife, but he can at least claim that he respected her wishes to the very end. "I have moved regions for love. Been a house husband, a councilman, a king for love. There is little I won't do, and less I won't abide." If his unblinking eye contact is intense, it is only because he needs her to see exactly what she has asked for with all the clarity he can afford. "But I cannot be abandoned again. I can't wake up one day and you're - they're gone, and I am left wondering whether I need to be grieving or not. Waiting or not." He catches the slip too late, and he can only hope she excuses for forwardness, his assumptions. In the end, it might not matter. They might want all the same things and still be too broken for any of their pieces to align; shattered into incompatible shapes.
I cut my teeth on second-hand sentiments
you can't trust a thing I say
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Maea Valair
Hollowed Grounds Ambassador / Loreseeker

Age: 29 | Height: 156 cm / 5'1 ft | Race: Ancient | Nationality: Natural | Citizenship: Hollowed Grounds
Level: 4 - Strg: 22 - Dext: 22 - Endr: 25 - Luck: 21 - Int:
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#25
With every broken bone, I swear I lived
More than a season had passed since she was freed from her stone prison, and not a single person had touched her tail until this moment. Muscled and supple like a serpent's body, it was sensitive the way a solitary finger was, and Maea found it very distracting to have it grasped.  She had to really focus to understand what Harper was saying, despairing at herself for slipping when it was so important that she paid attention.

When his grip on her tightened, Maea sank a little deeper into his arms. Felt as though she was melting from the quiet vindication in having him on her side, comforted by the sentiment that she wasn't wrong to want... something. Anything. A bit of understanding and respect that maybe wasn't too much to ask for after all.
It was fine if Harper couldn't erase the events of the past. She could carry them herself. Could even learn to accept the pain of them, if it meant knowing herself better for it. If she never learned the importance of boundaries or what it felt like to have them trampled, there was no way she could have understood what lay in Harper's intense stare.

His slip of phrasing had her breath hitch, and her cheeks felt bruised from the heat of the blush. To even allow herself the picture of waking alongside him was staggering. It seemed a mirage, illusions in a heat haze, wonderful and distant and maybe impossible to reach... But somehow it seemed to be permitted, if only just for now, to consider the 'what if' and the obstacles.

Lifting a hand to softly touch Harper's cheek, Maea closed her eyes. Tried to make sense of the jumble of her thoughts that skittered about like silver minnows. Notions, impressions, fragments of ideas - all the things that formed her personality and values and needs - scattering whenever she tried to put words on them. Mostly she just felt overwhelmed. Scared at how suddenly this was happening, how a simple desire to spend more time with this person was turning into a game of matching seashells, to see if and how they might fit. Was she making promises she wouldn't be able to keep again? Would she become the one to ultimately destroy this kind, warm-hearted man? That thought alone nearly had her sobbing in despair; when had her hands ever failed to do more harm than good to anyone?

And yet... it had never been so tempting to reach for what he almost, maybe, possibly could be offering.

Tension was building up within her again. To shake it before it could tongue-tie her, Maea tightened the tail-grasp in a squeeze, and brushed the pad of her thumb along his cheekbone, and slowly eased herself back to sit up.
"... do you want to see the orchard?" she asked, after a deep breath; a touch pleading, hoping he would catch her need to move. It was easier to think on her feet. Easier to speak when the gaze could wander over unimportant things like apple trees and wildflowers, instead of getting lost in the depth of his eyes.
maea
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♦ Violence, magic, thievery is permitted with Maea at all times. DM me if you have any ideas ♦
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Harper Quinn
the Stalwart
Teacher

Age: 33 | Height: 5'10 | Race: Attuned | Nationality: Outlander | Citizenship: Nomadic
Level: 5 - Strg: 15 - Dext: 15 - Endr: 27 - Luck: 19 - Int:
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#26
Harper
Harper is as steady as the ocean, waiting at her shoreline. Patient and unassuming, as clear as Caribbean waters but certain in his own boundaries now, as reliable as the tide. There is nothing she can't see in his face or the blue of his eyes. And though they traipse and stumble around implications and what-ifs, there is no pressure or expectation. He is not without his own gnawing worries; Maea has always been a flitting, ephemeral woman in his life, and he worries that it is him who is the problem, for being drawn to these souls that flicker and disappear like will-o-wisps. That maybe he is the crux of the pain, for wanting them to change their natures - how could a shooting star ever love the way the ocean does? They are diametrically opposed.

And how can he think to want, or wonder, when he has thrown everything away to give himself the gift of self-destruction, the sweetness of indulging every desire he can without brushing over the broken edges of his own heart? Even the touch of her hand on his cheek hurts for all the ways it feels different from the way brothel workers touch him. The only touch he has known in seasons.

When she diverts away, Harper only smiles. This space is safe, and kind, and they are striving to make it so even when they struggle. "I do. I came ready to eat," he assures, letting the topic fade and relinquish without chasing after it with grasping hands. Standing smoothly, he extends a hand to help her up, content to let her lead the way in this and in most other things.
I cut my teeth on second-hand sentiments
you can't trust a thing I say
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Maea Valair
Hollowed Grounds Ambassador / Loreseeker

Age: 29 | Height: 156 cm / 5'1 ft | Race: Ancient | Nationality: Natural | Citizenship: Hollowed Grounds
Level: 4 - Strg: 22 - Dext: 22 - Endr: 25 - Luck: 21 - Int:
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#27
With every broken bone, I swear I lived
Misunderstanding and feelings of rejection were easy things to stumble over, and Maea's only experiences with heartfelt conversation were the tumultuous almost-quarrels she'd had with Sunjata in the past. Volatile and fraught with emotion, she had learned that words were weapons that would hurt if not used with caution.

That Harper didn't react harshly to her evasion was surprising in contrast. Puzzled yet relieved she accepted the hand he offered and let him help her up. And because her legs felt unsteady, and because the wind was cold after being nestled against him for so long, she kept his hand in hers as they walked across the weed-choked front yard, turned right by the well with its cracked bucket, and reached the meandering path that led up the hill.

For a time Maea just enjoyed the stillness and the way it settled her nerves. The wind rustled the leaves of the trees ahead, and as they ducked in between the first rows, the scent of apples hung tantalizing in the air. Some fruit had dropped already and rolled away from their feet, bruised and moldering with damp and the bite of pests, tangled into long grass and winding brambles. It smelled like home, and like loss, and oddly enough, like hope.

Reaching up to a low-hanging bought, Maea plucked an apple and offered it to Harper. "The red ones are sweeter, but these yellow ones were always my favorite," she remarked. "What do you think?"
maea
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