Throwing another smile Aaron’s way, Lilie carefully made her way to the nearest hallway, her hands pulling at the string keeping her mask on. She pushed open the door with her shoulder, slipping off the golden peacock mask and tying it to the small purse she wore. She knew it was redundant to have done her makeup when everyone was wearing masks, but she had been told it was going to be pretty fancy, so she erred on the safe side. So safe that instead of going to the bathroom like she had expected, instead she found herself outside.
Aaron watched Lilie go, following the subtle bounce of her mask feather as she threaded through the crowd and feeling like he was on top of the world. It was an unexpected turn, having to lift her up like a ballerina, but he certainly wasn’t complaining; it was more than a little exciting, and the fact that she seemed to be having a good time with him made Aaron’s heart soar. But as he watched her make her way to the edge of the ballroom, his face fell; she wasn’t heading to the bathrooms, but one of the exterior doors, pushing through it and beginning to untie her mask without hesitation.
Wait, she was leaving?
Aaron’s brow furrowed as he watched her disappear, holding his breath in hopes that she’d turn around and come back. Several seconds passed, but she was nowhere to be found. No, she hadn’t just ditched him, he told himself. Right?
She had asked him to wait for her, so wait he did, for all of thirty seconds before his nerves started getting the better of him. Did the lift freak her out? Or tilting her head up while they danced? She had seemed like she was having a good time, but maybe she was just indulging him after all. Maybe he came off too strong and scared her away.
No, no, she wouldn’t do that. Lilie was too sweet for that, he couldn’t even imagine her making a mean face, let alone just ditching him like that. Although, she didn’t actually come to the ball with him, so it wasn’t like she was walking out on a date or anything…
Maybe he should check.
Making up his mind, Aaron made a beeline for the exit, turning down the corridor toward the door and finding it empty. He was a little crestfallen, but pressed on, pushing the door open and peering out into the darkness. “Um, Lilie? Did you come out here?”
Lilie jumped in place, clutching a small makeup palette and brush as she stared at Aaron, wide eyed. She blinked a few times, embarrassed that she had been caught red handed.
"Y-Yeah," She admitted, feeling her face turning red. "I didn't know this led to outside...so I thought I'd just touch up and go back...but you caught me." Oh how she wished the ground would swallow her whole to save face!
Aaron turned his head toward Lilie’s voice, where she was apparently hiding behind the door, and heaved a sigh of relief. She wasn’t leaving in secret, she just made a wrong turn! And judging by the flush gracing her cheeks, she was too embarrassed to backtrack.
Stepping out of the doorway, he let the door close behind him and approached Lilie, smiling once more. “I was just a little worried, I thought you were upset or something,” he half-lied. He wasn’t about to admit he was worried she decided she hated him and wanted to get out as fast as possible.
Lilie's expression fell slightly as she approached him, shaking her head. "Upset? Why?" She asked him, a little concerned.
“Well, I wasn’t sure why else you’d leave the ballroom completely,” Aaron replied, a little bashful as he realized just how big a leap he’d made in retrospect. He peered at Lilie a moment, though, when he remembered that not everyone could see well in the dark like he could—a helpful side effect of his affinity that he often took for granted. Looking around shyly, he folded his hands in front of him and leaned forward, whispering, “Isn’t it a little dark to fix your makeup, though?”
Lilie hung her head in shame, nodding in agreement. Yeah it was, but she couldn't face anyone who had seen her leave! "W-Well, I can kinda see if I turn like this," She resumed the position she had with her back to the party and barely got any light from the window on the tiny mirror of the palette.
Aaron couldn’t help but smile, taking pity on the girl. He could certainly understand her clinging to her pride. “Here, let me help,” he offered, stepping a little closer to her. He held his hands a little higher than her head height, cupping them and focusing for a moment until a little ball of light formed between them. He took a moment to adjust the brightness, bending the light around them to a soft, natural white, before drawing his hands apart and stepping away. “Maybe that’ll help?”
Lilie’s jaw dropped as she looked up at the little ball of light, impressed by Aaron's magic. "Handy!" She grinned, bringing up the mirror and immediately grimacing. She had rubbed off more than she thought, though as she reapplied the glittering gold eyeshadow, soon it resembled the other eye. She drew a thin, white line right at her eyelid and deemed herself finished, looking up at Aaron and batting her eyelashes at him. "How do I look?" She asked him as she stowed everything away in her purse.
“Stunning,” Aaron all but blurted out, realizing his boldness a second later as heat flushed his ears. He chuckled a little, hoping she didn’t think anything of it, and quickly added, “That was really quick, too. You must be good at it.”
Lilie pushed some of her hair off her shoulder, happy to hear his compliment. As she tucked a hair behind her ear, she grinned at him. "I like to play with this sort of thing a lot," Her hand waved around her eyes as she spoke. "Practice makes perfect, and I think I have it down pat by now."
She looked at the ball again as she reached up and poked it, delighted when it flickered slightly. "Amazing," she sighed, her gaze looking out to the sea. "It's beautiful, isn't it? I was looking at it when you found me. This place has a really nice view."
Aaron smiled at Lilie’s delight when she poked the light, even though the flicker she saw was a result of her interrupting the flow of magic within it. He dismissed the light when she turned away, Aaron following her gaze to the glimmering ocean beyond the cliff. It really was quite a sight, the widest expanse of water and space Aaron had ever seen in his life, shimmering under the moonlight.
“It really is,” he agreed, recalling how captivated he'd been the first time he'd taken a proper look at the ocean between classes. “You know, I had never seen anything like it before I came here. I can see why Her Highness chose this spot to build her Academy; she and Princess Nox both hate being cooped up in the forest.”
"Really?" Lilie asked, though she supposed she wasn't too surprised. Even where she lived deep in the valley she had met people that had never seen the sea. The fact that the princess made sure the academy was close was really nice. "There's a river close to where I live, but we used to go to the beach at least once during summer. This beach is a lot bigger, though!" She sighed as she looked at it, though she suddenly got an idea as she looked back at Aaron.
"Let's go down, then," she suggested. "You can see it up close and watch the waves."
Aaron peered between Lilie, the ocean, and the cliffside for a moment, briefly wondering if there was even a way to get down there, but Lilie sounded like she was familiar enough with the place to know better than him. Of course, at Lilie’s behest, he wouldn't entirely object to scaling the cliffside either.
“Okay!” He replied cheerfully, pulling off his mask and hooking it around his arm like Lilie had. “How do we get down?”
The girl took a second to look around, taking a few steps forward as she looked down the cliffside. Climbing down would actually be fun, but she doubted she would get too far in her fancy dress and heels. Considering there was an exit right here, she figured there must have been a way to the beach from where they were. She squinted as she looked for any lights or a mark, though she noticed that there was a dirt path leading downwards, one she realized looked familiar as it was the same she had gone down before.
Lilie pointed it out to Aaron. "That's how we'll get down," she told him excitedly, leading the way. As she approached the slope, she was more cautious, walking as carefully as she could. If she were wearing normal shoes it would be a lot easier and wouldn't require so much thought, but the thin heel made it difficult to balance and kept sinking into certain places.
Aaron followed dutifully, eyes adjusting seamlessly as they left the glow of the ballroom for the darker, moonlit path. He kept a sharp eye out as Lilie lead the way, knowing she probably couldn’t see as well as he could, but while there was nothing in her path that needed warning about, she still seemed to be struggling. She moved at a snail’s pace and kept glancing down, wobbling like her knees were liable to give out. It took Aaron a moment to realize she was struggling because of her shoes, her heels stabbing into the dirt and costing her her balance.
“Do you need some help? Here,” Aaron strode up next to Lilie, offering his hand if she wanted some extra support.
Tearing her gaze away from the ground in front of her, Lilie opened her mouth to assure him she was fine before her left heel sunk deeper than before. She contained her cry of surprise but couldn't quite hide her arms flailing as she rebalance herself, her eyes wide with shock. She stayed still, afraid any movement would send her tumbling down the hill, but after a few seconds she relaxed, sheepishly taking Aaron's hand.
"If you don't mind," she gave him a grateful smile, holding onto his hand tightly as she resumed the trek, though she was happy that she didn't have to worry as much as her steps were easier to make with Aaron helping her balance. She kept her gaze downwards just in case, but she relied on his sturdy guidance as they descended carefully. She figured he had experience helping people down uncertain steps, but even if that wasn't the case she was happy he was so willing to help. He always did, now that she thought about it.
"You know, I was wondering," she decided to voice her thoughts, looking up at him. "You're always helping me out with stuff since day one. Doesn't it get annoying that I'm always bothering you?"
Aaron was happy to help Lilie descend, surprised at just how light she felt, even when she seemed like she was putting a good amount of weight on him. He kept a careful, concerned eye on her to ensure she didn't trip, though he'd have to admit his eyes did wander to her bare shoulders and gently curled hair once or twice in the process.
He raised his eyebrows at the sudden question, a little perturbed that Lilie would feel like she was a bother. He shook his head. “No, of course not,” he assured her gently, “on the contrary, I'm just happy I can help at all.”
It certainly felt good to be able to help, especially since it felt to Aaron like the only thing he could capably do lately. “Truth be told, I'm flattered you come to me. I suppose I must be doing something right.” He flashed a grin.
Lilie’s followup question seemed to get stuck in her throat, her eyes searching Aaron's expression for a moment. He seemed genuinely happy to help her, his words touching her greatly and adding a little to her guilt. His grin earned him a small smile on her part, most of her concern gone. She seemed to fight herself for a moment, though she figured maybe she had been worried for nothing.
"I'm lucky, then," she admitted. "I felt like I was dropped in a dark cave and you're my flashlight." She didn't want to think about what she would do without him, her hand holding his a little tighter at the thought. "Maybe I can make it up to you someday."
Aaron waited patiently for Lilie’s response, but when it came, he swore he felt his heart skip a beat. He didn’t miss her little squeeze of his hand, and hearing her speak as if she depended on him was gratifying in a way he wasn’t used to (but certainly wasn’t complaining about either). He felt his ears heat up under his hair at the praise, and his grin turned bashful.
“Oh, that’s not necessary…” he murmured, though he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face if he tried. Even though he didn’t expect it, she’d already made it all up to him and more simply by staying his friend after that horrible public apology; he felt as if he embarrassed her even more than he embarrassed herself, but she barely acknowledged it, and it sometimes seemed like she was the only person in the school who didn’t look at him like a freak ever since.
Lilie lifted her free hand to wag her finger at Aaron, her smile wider as she looked at him. "No, no, I'm gonna make it up to you one way or another," she dismissed his comment playfully, stopping at the start of the staircase leading to the beach. Taking a moment to appreciate the view, she breathed in the salty air happily as she looked around. They weren't the only ones enjoying the beach, a flash of flames followed by a loud cheer catching her attention. Her eyes lit up as she knew exactly what was happening, turning to Aaron excitedly.
"A bonfire!" She hopped in place, pointing to the few gathered around the fire. "They do them here, too!"
Aaron laughed good-naturedly, eyes on Lilie as she looked around, before following her excited indication to the fire she was pointing at. It was a fairly large fire on the sand at the foot of the cliff, safely out of reach of the tide. A number of figures surrounded it, though Aaron could only definitively make out the ones in front of the blaze, seated with one of them holding something large in their lap.
While Aaron had never even seen, much less participated in, a bonfire before, Lilie’s excitement was infectious. “Would you like to go check it out?” he asked curiously.
"Yeah! Let's go!" Lilie answered him immediately, practically pulling him along as she descended the steps in record time. She stopped as she reached the sand, stooping down to take off her heels. She loved the feeling of sand, taking a second to enjoy it and waiting patiently for Aaron to take off his shoes.
Taking the hint from Lilie, Aaron took a moment to awkwardly remove his shoes and socks, unable to contain the grin that came with the absurdity of walking in a full tuxedo barefoot. But the sand would damage his shoes and did want to follow Lilie’s lead, so off they went, leaving the man amused by the unfamiliar texture of sand under his feet and the entire situation more generally.
Lilie grabbed him by the arm as soon as she saw he was done and practically dragged him over to the far end of the beach, her previous hesitation apparently forgotten now that her heels were gone, not that Aaron would complain. Aaron couldn’t help but laugh, and Lilie did too, though amusement turned to butterflies in his stomach and a cheerful smile turned bashful as Lilie’s hand slid down from his elbow to his hand.