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3 days ago
Current Canada Dry with lemonade sounds like a quick trip to diabetes town.
3 days ago
CANADA DRY SUPREMACY! LONG LIVE CANADA DRY!!!!! 🇨🇦
6 days ago
One day I'll feel ready for the world.
11 likes
18 days ago
Don't you mean dye-a-log-? Get it right
1 like
28 days ago
When you're on top of all your replies ^^
5 likes

Bio

Hi, Qia here <3. I'm a gamer and RP fan just looking to have a good time.

Most Recent Posts

Interactions: Sunni-@The Savant

Elara felt it all before she saw any clues. The tension in the air was palpable, wrapping around her like an invisible shroud. Her heart pounded fiercely within her chest, each beat echoing the growing sense of unease. As she approached the front door of the wooden cabin, the world seemed to hold its breath.

Then she heard it. The odd silence.

It was deafening. An oppressive stillness that only served to amplify her anxiety.

Elara had half a mind to turn around and conjure up some pitiful excuse as to why she couldn't work today or attend the meeting. Instead, she found herself pausing at the door, her hand hovering over the wooden handle. She took a deep breath, steeling herself for whatever awaited her on the other side, and with a gentle push, the door creaked open.

The cabin remained eerily quiet as Elara stepped inside, the air thick with unspoken words and lingering emotions. The dim light provided by the moon filtered through the windows, adding to the sombre atmosphere. In the kitchen, she found Sunni standing alone, leaning heavily against the counter as he slowly ate his food. His expression was distant, eyes unfocused, lost in a labyrinth of thoughts. The plates of food, covered with cloth, also seemed to hint at the recent turmoil that had disrupted their lives.

This was far from normal. Her princess was almost always the first to rise, her hums a melodic sound that filled the cabin as she prepared breakfast. The scent of freshly baked bread and brewed tea would usually waft through the air, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. Even the prince, with his usual morning routines, would have been up by now. The absence of these familiar sounds and sights was jarring. Furthermore, someone would have surely made the effort to greet a guest, familiar or not, in the early hours of the morning. These were all clear indications that something was amiss.

Elara’s stomach tightened at the sight but found herself moving closer either way, her silver hair shimmering in the dim light filtering through the window. “Sunni,” she said softly, her voice carrying a note of concern. “Are you alright?” She glanced again at the covered food before her gaze returned to him, her mouth shooting out a barrage of questions regarding her charge now. “Is the princess not hungry? Is she unwell? Or is she simply tired?”

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Location: Science Wing - Pacific Royal Campus
Take On Me #3.036: You're So Vain
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Interaction(s): Unknown Number / Nameless Insignificance
Previously: Wing to Wing


‘Hey Rora, I was thinking it would be great to do something fun together tonight or maybe tomorrow if today is too sudden. How about we plan a movie night?’


‘Alternatively, we could go shopping with the girls. I think most of us still need to get dresses for the dance. What do you think? Let me know! 😊’


A flutter of anxiety surged through Harper as she pressed the send button and placed her phone down with a shaky hand. Her fingers immediately began to drum lightly on the desk, a subconscious attempt to release her pent-up nervous energy. Please, please say yes, she silently begged, her eyes flickering back to the phone every few seconds. The past few days had been tough for everyone, but she felt that Aurora, most of all, needed a break from everything that had happened.

All the while, her professor continued his lecture at the front of the room. Despite her best efforts to stay attentive, Harper found the whole thing to be a monotonous drone that did little to capture her interest. His voice, steady and unchanging, created an almost hypnotic rhythm, each word blending seamlessly into the next. The classroom’s dim lighting and the soft hum of the air conditioning only added to the soporific atmosphere. The brunette’s eyelids grew heavier with each passing minute, and she blinked rapidly, trying to fend off the drowsiness that threatened to pull her under. She shifted in her seat, crossing and uncrossing her legs, hoping that a change in position might help her stay awake. Her fingers tapped restlessly on the edge of her laptop now, a silent plea for the lecture to end. The clock on the wall seemed to move at a glacial pace though, each tick adding to her struggle to remain conscious.

The sudden buzz of her phone on the table shattered the monotony of the lecture, jolting Harper from her drowsy state. Her heart skipped an anticipatory beat as she glanced over, a flicker of hope igniting within her. The screen lit up, displaying a message from an unknown number—one she did not recognize immediately. Her excitement quickly evaporated, replaced by a sinking feeling of disappointment. Not Aurora. The brief surge of hope dissipated like a popped balloon, leaving her feeling deflated.

On the preview of the message, she read the words ‘Hi???’, finally sparking a flicker of recognition. Her memory quickly pieced together who it might be: one of the few contacts she had reached out to earlier, someone she barely knew and whose name she'd never bothered to save. She recalled having to coordinate with this person in the past, their interactions marked by a lack of cooperation and a palpable tension. One she desperately hoped wasn’t present still. There were notes to be borrowed, after all.

Her fingers hovered over the screen before she tapped to open the message, bracing herself for the snarky tone she was likely to receive.

And did.

Attempt #1: Fail

‘Hi!!! Were you here for Matt’s Biochem class yesterday? Missed it 😣.’


‘Hi??? You missed a lot then! but I guess that’s what happens when you skip class. Maybe try showing up next time? 🙂’


And there it was. Typical, Harper thought, shaking her head slightly, feeling her frustration bubbling to the surface. Her fingers flew across the screen, typing out a response before she could fully think it through.

‘Thanks for the life advice, Dr. Phil. Now, about those notes…?’


With a sigh, she backtracked the message, deleting the text with a few quick taps. Closing her eyes, she leaned back in her chair and looked up at the ceiling, exasperation etched across her features. This wasn’t the time for a petty argument; she needed those notes, if only to guide her still foggy mind.

“You got a pretty nasty hit there,” one of the healers that had attended to her had remarked, their voice gentle yet concerned. “So far, there doesn’t seem to be anything to worry about, but if you find yourself struggling don’t hesitate to reach out, okay?”

Harper had merely nodded her head at the time, her face a mask of inscrutability. She’d had zero intentions of seeing anyone. Because here was the thing:

She despised hospitals.

She had spent too many hours in the cold, impersonal atmosphere she associated with them growing up. And if things continued on their current trajectory, she knew that feeling of dread and anxiety would never go away. And she needed it to go away. But not like that.

Pushing aside her irritation, Harper took a deep breath and typed out a new message.

‘Look, I really need notes for what I missed. Can you help me or not?’


She paused for a second, rereading the message. It was direct, perhaps a bit too blunt, but she didn’t have the energy to sugarcoat her request. Harper hit send, watching as the message disappeared into the digital ether.

The response came quickly, the tone unmistakably cold and cutting.

‘You really have a lot of nerve. Don’t tell me you 4got all about it?’


Harper frowned, racking her brain for what they might have been referring to. As if having read her mind, her phone buzzed again, a new message lighting up the screen.

‘You told me that I was incompetent and pretty much unreliable cus of it. All because I had a ‘poor track record’.’


Harper’s frown deepened. The words stung now, but she couldn’t deny having said them when she gave it some thought. She had always prided herself on being straightforward, but perhaps she had been too harsh here. Before she could formulate a response, however, another message appeared.

‘So, why would you want anything from me, Sergeant Baxter?’


Harper blinked, her head tilting to the side in vague interest as she realized something. Wow, proper grammar this time, and through text too. That’s new. And they'd only been texting for five minutes!

She was so proud.

A smirk curled on her lips like a cat stretching in the sun, her fingers moving to type a response.

‘But look at how much you’ve improved already!!!’


Harper, of course, did not send this message either. Her actual response instead showed the amount of sincerity she could muster at that moment.

‘ohhh mbbbbb! 😓’


Right 🖕


Harper's fingers stilled, her smirk fading as she stared at the screen. The message hit harder than she'd expected, her earlier irritation giving way to a sinking feeling of regret. She put her phone down, her fingers drumming restlessly on the desk once more.
Interactions: N/A / Open

The soft, silvery glow of the moon filtered through the delicate curtains, casting a pale light across Elara’s room. The gentle illumination highlighted the room’s cozy details: the intricately woven rug on the floor, the shelves lined with well-loved books, and the delicate lace of the curtains themselves. The air was cool and refreshing, a light breeze rustling the fabric and carrying with it the fresh, earthy scent of the cloudy morning outside. On her bedside table, the royal summons lay open, its bright parchment evident against the dark, polished wood. The ornate lettering and the royal seal at the bottom were unmistakable, a clear indication of the importance of the message it contained.

Yet, despite the gravity of the royal summons and the urgency it clearly conveyed, Elara’s mind was elsewhere, consumed by the unexpected events of the previous night.

Or, really, just one event, in particular, she was ashamed to admit to herself.

The memory of Sunni’s confession played over and over in her mind, each replay bringing with it a fresh wave of emotion. She had tried to maintain a brave face in the aftermath, to appear composed and unaffected, but inside, she was anything but. As the night wore on, Elara had found no solace in sleep either. She had spent the hours tossing and turning, her mind unable to quiet the relentless replay of his words. Different versions of it played over and over in her head, each one more troubling than the last. Yet one thing that never changed in each one was the tremor in his voice, the earnestness in his eyes, and the weight of his words pressing down on her as he rambled on.

A wave of anxiety washed over her, making her stomach churn. Elara stood up, her legs feeling unsteady, and began to pace the room, trying to shake off the lingering unease. Her mind began scrutinizing every word, every nuance of her own reply. Had she been too gentle with him? Should she have been firmer, more resolute in her response? Should she have insisted more strongly that she simply could not return his feelings? For how could she, when her heart and her duties had always been with the Princess?

The parchment on her bedside table fluttered slightly in the gentle breeze, the movement catching Elara’s eye and drawing her attention back to the royal summons. The clock on the wall ticked steadily, marking the passage of time. It was almost 7 am, and the town meeting was only a few hours away.

Three hours. In less than three hours, I’ll know what to say, was the thought that flitted through Elara’s mind as she left her room, grabbing her cloak on the way out the door.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Location: Strigidae Dorms - Pacific Royal Campus
Take on Me #3.031: Wing to Wing
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Interaction(s): Haven (hey gurl heyyyyy)@Skai
Previously: Let’s Perch for a While


Harper’s heart ached as she listened to Haven’s story. She could see the pain and uncertainty in her friend’s eyes, and it mirrored her own in so many ways. Despite her own exhaustion, she couldn’t turn Haven away. Not now.

“Of course, Haven,” Harper said softly, her voice steady despite the weariness that clung to her. “I’ll sit with you. We’ll look it up together.”

She gestured to the bed, inviting Haven to sit down. As Haven settled in, Harper moved the textbook aside, making space for her laptop.

“We can probably try the admin’s office in a little while,” she said, her voice thoughtful as she considered their options. “But first, maybe we can find something about her or the school online with what you can remember.” Harper’s fingers hovered over the keyboard, ready to type, while her gaze remained fixed on Haven, mustering a reassuring smile.

Haven took a breath as she adjusted her legs underneath her. She looked at Harper, finding it hard to speak the name of the girl's home, but she found assurance in Harper’s expression. She was glad that she was doing this with someone who cared.

“I was at a girls' home called Elk Mountain. It was in Michigan, but I don’t remember where really. I think the full name was just Elk Mountain Home for Girls.”

She moved to set her bag down on the floor beside her as Harper typed away. Her heart was already twisting as she turned back, her eyes searching the screen for anything that looked familiar. She couldn’t believe that she was hoping to find it there, instead of burying it deep within her soul once more.

“Her name was Anabel. I don’t remember her last name.”

Harper’s fingers flew over the keyboard as she typed “Elk Mountain Home for Girls Michigan” into the search bar. The screen filled with results, and she quickly scanned through them, looking for anything that might be relevant.

“Okay, let’s see what we have here,” she said, clicking on a link that seemed promising. “There’s a mention of Elk Mountain Academy, but it looks like it’s a residential treatment center for troubled girls.” She clicked on an image showing the place-

And stared at it for a moment, blinking and leaning closer as if it would help her take in what she was looking at. The building in the image was a large, old-fashioned brick structure with ivy creeping up its walls. Tall windows lined the front, and a neatly manicured lawn stretched out before it, dotted with a few benches and trees. Her brow furrowed slightly as she read the caption:

“For girls, lost and found, who need a safe and supportive environment to heal and grow.”

“Is…this it?” she whispered, her voice barely audible. There was something strange about the place, but what it was exactly remained elusive.

Haven’s heart leapt into her throat as the images displayed on the screen. She knew that ivy all too well. The lawn that was better fed and cared for than the occupants within the home. It looked almost the same as the night she’d left it. As for the home’s motto, it seemed foreign and heartless. She’d never thought of it as a safe or supportive space. Not even before she met Anabel, or had grown the wings that now ruffled subtly on her back.

“Are there… pictures of the inside? I need to make sure.”

Harper’s fingers hovered over the keyboard for a moment before she nodded. “I’m sure we can find some interior photos,” she said. Surely the place had scheduled tours for those wishing to adopt, which, if they were lucky enough, would also mean the website would have a section dedicated to displaying how things looked on the inside for prospective parents.

Bingo, she thought, a smirk playing on her lips as she clicked the section at the top labelled Gallery. As the page loaded, a series of photos appeared, showing various rooms inside the home. Harper’s eyes scanned the images, her earlier apprehension fading away. Maybe it had been nothing?

“So, anything?” she asked Haven, glancing over at her friend with a hopeful expression.

The photos inside looked nothing like Haven remembered. She leaned forward, gold and green eyes searching the images for any resemblance. She found the similarities in the architecture, and in the spaces that remained. “It… looks different. But I see how the walls are the same shape. And the rooms are as big as they used to be, but they changed the paint and floors.”

“They just made it look nicer.”

Although her voice never wavered, Haven felt the familiar sensations of anguish as she remembered how the rooms used to look. How the halls used to feel as she walked through them. That ever-present sensation that she was doing something wrong, just by existing. She leaned away from the screen as she pulled air into her lungs. When she spoke, her voice was low and haunted, but confident.

“That’s it. So… is there any way we can look up who might have stayed there?”

“We can try,” Harper said, her eyes betraying a flicker of doubt. “There might be some records or alumni lists online. If not, we could contact the institution directly.”

She resumed typing, her fingers moving with a determined precision. “Let’s see if we can find anything here first,” she murmured, more to herself than to Haven. The screen filled with search results, and Harper clicked through them methodically, her brow furrowing slightly with each click.

As they continued their search, the room grew quieter, the soft tapping of keys, Haven’s breathing, and the rapid thumping of Harper’s heart being the only sounds. She couldn’t help but feel a pang of envy at Haven’s ability to confront her past, to seek out answers despite the very real possibility that they might not find anything on her old friend. How could the other woman deal with it all? Wasn’t it painful? Tiring?

“Here,” Harper said, pointing to a link that seemed promising. “This looks like a forum for former residents. Maybe someone there can help.”

Haven found herself watching Harper work as much as she watched the screen pass through link after search after link. She was grateful for Harper. Not only because she’d chosen to help, but also because she had a wealth of knowledge. Haven had felt disappointment gathering in her chest after the first few useless links, while Harper just kept on going.

She looked over her freshly cut locks, the new length adding new depth to the brunette’s face. Her eyes traced the heart-shaped face and the small nose. With Harper’s hair this short, she realized something that floated away on a breeze the moment her teammate found a promising link.

Eagle eyes scanned the page quickly. Her hopeful fingers reached out to the laptop, taking over the touchpad to scroll on her own. “Do you think she’d see it if I made a post? I’m not seeing her name.” Anabel could have changed it, for all she knew. Her old friend might have wanted a new name to go with her fresh start, if she’d been adopted. Haven could only hope that had been the case.

“I think it’s worth a shot,” Harper said. “Even if she changed her name, someone might recognize the details you share.” She leaned back slightly, giving Haven space to type. As she did, her hand instinctively moved to the scar on her cheek, her fingers tracing the lines there.

“People remember best the strong memories,” Harper muttered faintly, her eyes distant for a moment. “The ones that leave a mark… whether they’re good or bad.”

Haven had already begun to figure out how to create an account, her eyes scanning each word to make sure she did it correctly. Her fingers hesitated as she heard Harper. She could see her touching that horrible word on her cheek in her peripherals. Haven turned her head towards the brunette, her eyes sad and soft. “I don’t want to pressure you, but… You know I’m here for you, right? You can tell me anything.”

She let silence hang for a moment, making sure Harper understood her words. “I’m just a text away if you need anything.” She reached for Harper’s free hand, like she’d reached for her that day the brunette had helped her, and she squeezed it gently.

Her eyes turned back to the screen so that Harper wouldn’t have to answer if she didn’t want to. Her hands occupied themselves with creating a profile, and then moved onto her post. She was at a loss for words, her fingers hovering over the keyboard for a moment. What could she say to grab Anabel’s attention? What memory, good or bad, could make it obvious that she was looking for her? Haven chewed on her bottom lip as she scoured her memories.

Harper felt the warmth of Haven’s hand, the gentle squeeze grounding her in what was occurring. She looked at the other woman, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears while her heart swelled.

“Thank you, Haven,” Harper replied, glancing down at her hands and wrapping her fingers around Haven’s before reluctantly letting them go. Her lips curved into a small, fragile smile, a silent acknowledgment of the support she desperately needed but still found so hard to accept.

The last thing the brunette wanted was for any of this to change. Haven’s admiration of her was something she cherished deeply. She clung to it like a lifeline, her beacon of light in her darkest moment. The thought of losing it over something that happened, and something that almost did, was immensely unbearable. Her chest tightened at the mere possibility, a knot of anxiety forming in her stomach. She couldn’t bear the idea of Haven looking at her differently, of the warmth in her friend’s eyes turning to disappointment or pity.

Or revulsion.

She watched as the other woman turned back to the screen, her fingers hovering over the keyboard, her hesitation clear as day. Harper could see the uncertainty in Haven’s eyes, the way her brows furrowed slightly as she searched for the right words. It was a small comfort, knowing that Haven was struggling too, that she wasn’t alone in her confusion and fear.

Perhaps…perhaps she could share what was bothering her. But at the right time.

“Maybe start with something specific,” Harper suggested gently, her voice encouraging. “A memory that only the two of you would share. Something that would stand out to her, even if she doesn’t recognize your name right away.”

Haven’s brow furrowed deeper as her lips pursed, but she nodded in agreement. She didn’t think about how Anabel may not recognize her name. She hated to admit it, but she was also worried one of the other girls would see the message too. The cruelty that could come of it would only harm her further. She didn’t know how much more of their bullying she could take after the trial had subjected her to it again.

She tucked the stray hairs around her face into the space behind her ear, before her hands returned to the keyboard with determination as she began to type:

A,
You found me under my bed when we first met. I drew the stars on the bottom of the frame. I hid there when I was lonely, and you hid there when you were scared. We hid there together when we stole jello cups from the kitchen.

I couldn’t say goodbye and I’m sorry. I hope you learned to spread your wings like me.
H


Haven’s fingers lingered over the keys as she ran over the lines of text multiple times. There was a bittersweet feeling in her stomach. A painful nostalgia, but she found herself only missing the person and not the place. In a way, just leaving the message on the forum felt like the best closure she was going to get. If Anabel saw the message, it was up to her to reach out.

“ The other girls there… they were the reason I left.” Haven murmured softly, her eyes reading the message for the fifth time. “I don’t want them to know it’s me, so… do you think this is enough for Anabel?” She turned her eyes to Harper, her worry present in the line between her brows.

Harper reached out, gently placing a hand on Haven’s shoulder, her fingers lightly brushing the wings there. She could feel the tension in Haven’s muscles, the unspoken fears that lay just beneath the surface. “I think it’s perfect,” she said honestly. An encouraging smile flitted across her lips, a brief moment of warmth before it faded. She removed her hand, her teeth coming to dance across her lip as she gathered her thoughts.

Now. Now was the time.

“What…Is that what the simulation showed for you? Those girls…?”

Haven’s breath hitched, her eyes flitting to the screen as she saw the images of the trial flashing before her instead of her message in a bottle. She hit the enter button, watching as her second olive branch of the day was carried through electrical pulses into the openness of the internet.

“It… showed me what might happen, what’s already happened, and what could have been.” She turned her gaze back to Harper now, her forest eyes haunted. “When I lived at Elk Mountain, I grew my wings. Anabel was the only one who didn’t think I was a...”

Her voice trailed off as her eyes were drawn to the scarred letters on Harper’s cheek, and then she immediately cast them downwards as the memories haunted the both of them.

“A freak?” Harper eventually finished for her, her voice trembling slightly as she forced the word out. The sound of it made her flinch, her body recoiling as if the word were still being physically carved into her skin. A considerable silence followed, the air thick with pain ready to be released through spoken word.

Harper could still see it, the mocking glint in those eyes, sharp and cutting like the blade that was used to mar her. She could still hear the cruel laughter echoing in her ears like a haunting melody. It was as if the room itself had absorbed the taunts, replaying them over and over in a relentless loop now that she was ready to express her truth.

“I got the scar on my cheek from my person…among other things,” she continued, her jaw tightening as she spoke. Her hands reached up to tug at the zip of her hoodie, pulling it down and throwing it aside unceremoniously, revealing the jagged lines etched into her arms.

“Except the funny thing was…she did think I was a freak.” Harper’s lips twisted into a bitter smile, her eyes darkening as she looked away, unable to meet Haven’s gaze. She could feel the old wounds reopening, the memories flooding back with a vengeance. She wrapped her arms around herself, a futile attempt to ward off the sudden chill that seemed to seep into her very bones.

“I needed to survive. But more so than anything, I wanted to wipe that ugly fucking smirk from her face.”

When Harper flinched because of the word, Haven only felt the muscles in her back tighten as she pulled her wings in closer. She moved her eyes from the screen to register Harper’s reaction to it, shamefully curious about how her friend had come to be called the name. It was obvious that it still stung the brunette to think of it. Where Haven had grown used to it many years ago and gathered strength to ignore it when she could.

Haven’s gaze followed the horrible lines down Harper’s arms with pained recognition. The simulation had surely done its job well in the remaining scars on both the flesh and the mind. She wanted to embrace Harper, to comfort her as the short-haired woman processed the lingering pain, but her own pain kept her still. Haven could only listen while Harper continued to unleash the horrors that she’d been subjected to.

A melancholic smile spread across her tanned features as she heard Harper’s fury hidden beneath the shaking in her voice. “I couldn’t even fight back…” She started, a subtle pride shining in her eyes as she looked over at her companion. “I’m proud of you for defending yourself, even if it haunts you that you harmed a simulated version of your bully.”

“I like to think that those girls took their own anger at the world, and their situation, and used it against me. Like I was an easy out for them to act as cruelly as they did. Yet they… they gave me the courage to find my own way. To break free of what society wanted from me.”

“Maybe yours felt the same way, even if the simulation made her seem cruel. And now you can use it to give you strength, too.”

Harper felt a wave of emotion wash over her as she listened to Haven’s words. The pride in Haven’s voice, the understanding in her eyes—it was almost too much to stomach. She blinked rapidly, trying to hold back the tears that threatened to spill. How often was she going to be brought to tears this week? The room seemed to blur around her regardless, the only clear thing being Haven’s face, filled with compassion and unwavering support.

She’d been a fool. Of course, Haven of all people would be able to understand her. She had spent all this time building walls around herself, convinced that no one could truly grasp the depth of her pain, of what she’d been through, of what she’d been forced to do.

But Haven—Haven had always been different.

She drank it, practically drowned herself, in that truth, ignoring the voice in the back of her mind saying But you haven’t told her everything .

Because for now, it was enough. To be understood for who she was right now.

Harper’s arms reached out instinctively, pulling the other woman into a tight hug. She was careful to steer clear of Haven’s wings, not wanting to crush them under the weight of her arms and emotions.

“Society doesn’t deserve you. You’re too good for it,” Harper murmured, her voice thick with sincerity and admiration. She buried her face in Haven’s shoulder, the warmth of the hug seeping into her very soul.

Haven’s heart felt like it was being squeezed by empathy as she realized Harper was holding back tears. It distracted her mind from the memories that usually seized her body. So as Harper pulled her into the hug, she didn’t flinch. She didn’t shake as arms held her tightly. This was Harper, the closest thing she had to a family now besides Rory and her team. She found herself welcoming the embrace. Her arms cautiously wrapped around Harper’s back before securing themselves in a tight hug.

She felt tears pricking at her eyes as Harper spoke those loving words. She’d never heard them before. It was a strange type of comfort, being told that she was too good for anything. Especially after years of being convinced that she had to conform to the rules of people both human and hype.

“Uhm,” she began softly, tears spilling out and down her cheeks. “Thanks, Harps.”

“That means a lot.”

They stayed like that for a while, the silence between them filled with unsaid understanding and mutual support. Finally, Harper pulled back slightly, just enough to look into Haven’s eyes. Eyes, she realized, that were much like her own, down to the colour.

“You’re welcome, Haven,” she replied, rubbing the remnants of tears from her face. The traces of her earlier emotions lingered, but there was a newfound clarity in her eyes now. “Is that all you wanted to do?”

Haven sniffed, her tears beginning to fall less and less from her eyes. She hesitated a moment, a small feeling of yearning passing through her before she decided not to pursue it. She’d thought about searching for her mother, too. She just wanted a glimpse of her face. Yet she wasn’t sure how much more heartache she could take in one day.

“Yeah, I… I’m good. Thank you. For everything.” She smiled, a small but grateful gesture. “I’ll check it from the school computers to see if she replies, and I’ll let you know if she does.”

Harper nodded, her own emotions still raw but tempered by the connection they had just shared. “Take your time,” she said encouragingly. “And remember, I’m here for you, no matter how this turns out.”






A

A leaned forward, her breath quickening as she strained to catch every word her cellmate uttered. His voice trembled, each sentence a struggle against the fear that gripped him. The dim light cast shadows across his face, highlighting the beads of sweat that trickled down his temples.

As he spoke, A’s mind raced, piecing together the disjointed fragments of his story. The facility, with its cold, sterile corridors and the ever-present hum of machinery, was more than just a prison. It was a place of experimentation, where the boundaries of human endurance were pushed to their limits. The thought of what awaited them if they didn’t find a way out sent a shiver down her spine.

She exchanged another worried glance with Pia, their eyes reflecting the same fear. "We're grateful for your help," A said gently nonetheless, removing her hand from his shoulder. "You've given us a chance to fight back against these people. We won't forget that."
Interactions: Sunni-@The Savant

Elara stood there, her breath catching in her throat as Sunni’s rambling confession poured out in a chaotic stream. Each word seemed to tumble over the next, more unexpected than the last. She watched as the colour rose in his cheeks, his hand gripping his necklace so tightly that his knuckles turned white. The sight of his nervousness was almost palpable, and she felt a strange mix of emotions swirling within her.

The first? Confusion. Elara’s mind whirled, struggling to process Sunni’s initial words. Rocks? Was he seriously asking her if she liked…rocks? Her eyebrows knitted together, and she tilted her head slightly, trying to make sense of his question. Before she could fully grasp the oddity of it, Sunni’s words tumbled out again, this time something about her being…pretty. As a rock. The moon, specifically.

Her eyes widened, and she blinked rapidly, attempting to keep up with the bizarre comparison. She could feel a slight furrow forming on her forehead as she tried to decipher his meaning. Sunni’s voice, all the while, continued, his words coming out in a rush as if he feared losing his courage if he paused. Elara’s lips parted, but no words came out. She could see Sunni’s face flushing deeper, his eyes darting away from hers. The absurdity of the situation was almost too much to handle, and yet, there was a sincerity in his tone that made her heart beat… a little faster. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, her fingers fidgeting with a strand of her hair as she tried to find the right response.

At least until he brought up dead people.

This particular comment brought about the second emotion. Astonishment. Elara’s eyes widened even further, her breath catching at the sheer absurdity of the comparison being made. Her lips parted, but no sound emerged, leaving her momentarily speechless. She blinked rapidly, her mind struggling to process the bizarre analogy. It was almost too much to believe.

And yet… the earnestness in Sunni’s voice was undeniable. He really thought her to be like the living dead! Elara’s heart pounded in her chest, and she could feel a slight tremor in her hands as she clasped them together, her fingers interlocking tightly.

Sunni’s eyes seemed to dart nervously, his face flushed with a deep crimson hue. His words, though strange, were laced with a sincerity that tugged at something deep within her. Elara’s breath came in shallow, uneven bursts as she tried to reconcile the absurdity of his comparison with the genuine emotion behind it.

She took a small step back, her gaze never leaving his face. Her mind raced, searching for the right response. What was she supposed to say here? A thank you?

Elara cleared her throat, the sound breaking the tense silence and signaling that it was her turn to speak now. She could feel the weight of Sunni’s expectant eyes on her, his nervous energy palpable.

She opened her mouth. Then closed it. Then opened it again, her lips forming silent words as she struggled to find her voice. Her heart pounded in her chest, each beat echoing in her ears.

“I’ll go…get you some blankets for the couch. It can get quite…cold out here.” Her voice was soft, almost hesitant, as she turned in the opposite direction from where she’d faced. She took a few steps, the distance between them growing, but not before pausing and glancing back over her shoulder.

“I don’t care much for rocks…or dead people. But…thank you. For your strange but well-meant words.” Her tone was gentle, a small smile tugging at the corners of her lips before she walked away.


Interactions: Octavia,Sunni-@The Savant

Elara’s heart clenched as Octavia’s voice trembled with her fears and doubts. She watched the princess’s eyes stare into space as if waiting to be swallowed whole. But by what the handmaiden couldn’t say.

Was it guilt?

The courts are not here, Elara, Octavia said quickly, almost defensively, her voice a fragile shield against her own insecurities.

Elara nodded, her eyes reflecting the depth of understanding she felt for Octavia’s unspoken fears. “I know,” she replied softly. “But even here, in Dawnhaven, appearances matter. The prince may not be the court, but he is still your husband, and his opinion of you is important.”

She paused, her mind carefully selecting the right words. “I understand your fear, truly I do. But hiding this from him might only make things worse. Secrets have a way of coming to light, often at the worst possible times.”

Elara reached out and squeezed Octavia’s hand gently, feeling the coolness of her skin and the slight tremor in her hands. “I won’t tell him, Octavia. I think he needs to hear the truth from you, not from anyone else.” Especially not from anyone else. And sooner rather than later.

Flynn! Octavia! I don’t know if any of you are home but I am going to sleep on the couch or something! I don’t want to be in the inn tonight.”

Elara’s eyes widened in surprise, her grip on Octavia’s hand tightening momentarily. The sudden tension in her muscles mirrored the unexpected turn in their conversation. She could hear Sunni moving through the house, the clinking of dishes being picked up and put away reaching her ears. Somehow, despite the mundane sound, the air felt thicker with each clink that reached her ears.

Why was he here? Right now?

“Flynn!? Octavia!?”

Elara’s mind raced, a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. The mere idea of facing the man now felt overwhelming, almost unbearable. She took a deep breath, the air filling her lungs with a calming resolve, and stood up, her heart pounding.

She could not let this, whatever it was, interfere with her duty to Octavia.

“I think I should take my leave now, Your Highness,” Elara finally said, bowing deeply. “There’s something I meant to speak to Su- Mr.Emberani regarding the task you gave to me.” Her voice wavered slightly, but she steadied herself, determined to maintain her composure.

With that, she quickly exited the room, her back pressing against the closed door for a moment as she gathered her thoughts. The cool wood against her skin was a brief comfort before she pushed off and began to move, her feet carrying her toward the inevitable confrontation.

As Elara walked, her mind continued to churn with agitated thoughts, each one more frantic than the last. She rehearsed what she would say, how she would address the task and the tension that lay between her and Sunni. Turning a corner, all these thoughts vanished in an instant as she collided with something solid.

She stumbled back, her heart leaping into her throat. Looking up, she found herself face-to-face with the very man she’d been preparing herself to speak to.

“Mr. Emberani…” Elara stammered, her cheeks flushing with a sudden rush of embarrassment. The surprise of the encounter left her momentarily speechless, her mind scrambling to regain its footing. She couldn’t quite process his reaction before her mouth blurted out, “You can knit, can’t you?”

She was positively mortified. But…at least she’d gotten it out.

“The princess requires your…services. People like you…who can knit. For the winter preparations.”


Interactions: Octavia-@The Savant


Elara watched Octavia’s turmoil with a sympathetic heart, understanding the depth of her distress. The princess’s usually composed demeanour was now a fragile mask, the soft glow of the moonlight highlighting the tension in her clenched jaw and the slight tremble of her hands.

“Your High-” she began, her voice catching in her throat. She cleared it and shook her head slightly, her eyes never leaving Octavia’s face. “Octavia,” Elara corrected herself, her tone gentle but firm. She got up from her chair, the soft rustle of her skirts the only sound in the stillness. “I don’t believe I’ve misplaced my trust in you. And I could never doubt your intentions.”

“It is only that…my concern is for your safety and reputation,” Elara continued, taking note of the flicker of doubt in Octavia’s eyes, the way her hands trembled slightly as she clutched at the bedclothes. “The court can be quite…unforgiving.” She reached out, her fingers brushing lightly against Octavia’s arm. The touch was brief but she hoped it conveyed a world of unspoken support and understanding for the young woman.

“I do, however, apologize if my earlier words have caused you any great amount of distress. I’ve served you long enough to know your character and your loyalty to Flynn.” With those words, she willingly chose to ignore the obvious elephant in the room: the type of relationship that Octavia’s mother may have had with the winged blight-born.

Elara’s heart ached as she watched Octavia sob into her hands, the princess’s distress palpable in the now quiet room.

“I think…” she began again softly, kneeling beside the bed so she could look up into Octavia’s tear-streaked face. “I think the prince knows your heart, knows the gist of the kind of person you are by now. He knows your loyalty and your integrity, and he will understand that you sought comfort in a moment of need.”

Elara reached out, gently taking one of Octavia’s hands in her own, feeling the cool and damp skin underneath.
“The best course of action here may be to be honest with Flynn. He deserves to hear the truth even if it’s not what it seems.” She paused, letting her words sink in. “Flynn knows you. He will understand you.”

Elara’s own heart seemed to protest these words, pounding away in her chest.

What if she was wrong?

The woman felt a bead of sweat trickle down her back, despite the coolness of the room. Her hands, though steady, suddenly felt clammy against Octavia’s skin.

Still, Elara used her free hand to gently wipe away a tear from Octavia’s cheek, her touch light and tender as if to say that she would protect her no matter the cost.




_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Location: Infirmary - Pacific Royal Campus
Take On Me #3.020: By the Lives That Wove the Web
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Interaction(s): Gil-@Roman
Previously: Beneath the Surface


Harper's fingers trembled slightly as she reached out, her knuckles barely grazing the wood of the hospital door. She did her best not to inhale the scent of the hallway, the antiseptic tang mixed with the faint, lingering odour of illness. The fluorescent lights overhead buzzed softly, casting a harsh, sterile glow that made everything feel too bright, too exposed. The distant sound of a monitor beeping and the occasional murmur of voices from other rooms only added to the oppressive atmosphere.

Or perhaps it was all in her imagination. The tension she felt.

How long had she been standing there? Must have been long enough, given the strange looks she was starting to get from the passing ward staff. Nurses and doctors moved with purpose, their footsteps echoing off the linoleum floor, but every now and then, one would glance her way, curiosity or concern flickering in their eyes.

Harper could feel the sweat starting to form on her palms now, each bead of moisture making her grip on the doorframe slick and uncertain. Her breath came in shallow, uneven gasps, the air catching in her throat as if she were trying to breathe through a straw. The memories threatened to overwhelm her again, vivid and unrelenting. Her fingernails curved into her wrists, the sharp sting of pain a desperate attempt to anchor herself in the present, to push through the fog of fear and stay grounded.

Because she had to see him this time. There was no more pushing this off. She had avoided it for too long, letting her fear dictate her actions. She couldn’t let it win. Not now. Not when she’d promised that she would try, so far doing a piss poor job of being his friend in her opinion.

With a final, shaky breath, Harper forced herself to focus on the sensation of her nails digging into her skin, the pain sharp and real. It was enough to pull her back from the brink, grounding her in the present moment. She could feel the sting intensify with each press of her nails, a reminder that she was here, now, and not back in the trials. Where the cold, catatonic body of her sister had laid in a room much like the one she was about to enter into.

Everything was fine.

Her knuckles moved against the door with one soft tap, hesitant and almost imperceptible. The sound barely registered in the quiet hallway, swallowed by the ambient noise of her surroundings. Harper hesitated, her heart pounding in her chest, before summoning the courage to knock again, this time harder. The second tap was firmer, more resolute, and the third was a definitive knock that echoed slightly in the corridor.

She cleared her throat, the sound rough and dry, as if she hadn’t spoken in hours despite her earlier conversation with Calliope. Her mouth felt parched, her tongue heavy. She swallowed hard, trying to muster the strength to speak, to call out to him.

“Gil?” Harper finally managed. The name felt foreign on her tongue, as if she hadn’t said it in a long time. “It’s me…Harper.”

Gil rolled over in his bed. He’d thought Lorcán’s regular visits, and Calliope’s drop-in, were awkward enough to perhaps move them to dissuade others from repeating their behaviour; part of him thought to stay silent, shut his eyes, pretend he was sleeping. How on earth was he supposed to face Harper right now, of all people? He felt the expectations settling upon him already, felt himself reaching reflexively for the right mask. Slip into the right skin, plaster a smile over his face.

He shuddered.

“It’s open.” He finally said, and watched as the door opened gently, Harper stepping into the room. He noticed her hair first, the scratches and bruises second, and the anxious, haunted micro-expressions last. He wondered if she felt the same phantoms of presumption upon her shoulders as he did his. She didn’t say anything at first; the two stood, laid, in close proximity, but worlds apart. You could cut the tension with a knife. Gil did just that.

“I like the new haircut.” He said, his tone even, matter-of-fact.

Her eyes, which had been avoiding Gil’s, now took in the sight of him fully. The bruises that marred his face, the bandages wrapped around his arms and torso, and the dark circles under his eyes told a story of pain and suffering that words couldn’t capture. He looked so brittle, so unlike the Gil she knew. The sight of him like this made her heart clench with guilt and sorrow.

But mostly just guilt.

Harper gave a small, strained smile, her fingers twisting together nervously. “Is it nice?” she asked in response to his compliment. Her eyes darted around the room, taking in the sterile white walls, the harsh fluorescent lights, and the array of medical equipment that surrounded Gil’s bed. Anything but the eyes of the actual person she was speaking to. “I don’t really think I like it very much.”

Harper's fingers continued to twist and fidget as she took a seat near his bed. The chair felt cold and unwelcoming, its metal frame pressing into her back. The room felt too bright, too clinical, and the beeping of the machines seemed to grow louder with each passing second. She could feel the weight of the situation pressing down on her, remorse gnawing at her insides. The sight of Gil, so vulnerable and battered, only intensified her feelings of helplessness and regret.

This was a mistake. But one that was too late to take back.

“How… how are you feeling?” she asked, her voice trembling slightly. She immediately cringed once the words were out, realising how inadequate they sounded. Terrible question. “Actually… don’t answer that,” she added quickly, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment. Her fingers tugged at the fabric of her hoodie, twisting and pulling it down over her wrists, hiding more evidence of her own struggles.

“I’m sorry,” Harper blurted out then, her voice cracking. “I know I didn’t directly cause this…but I could have prevented it. Maybe. If I’d been paying better attention.” Her words tumbled out in a rush, each one laced with shame and regret. She finally looked at him, hazel eyes meeting blue for the first time.

Gil watched Harper muddle clumsily over every movement, gesture, chosen word. It was…unnerving. She had previously been so disciplined, so in control - similar to Calliope but the nuance was different, restraint born from willpower and her own decision, rather than Calliope’s externally-set standards and expectations, carried with her unwillingly. He watched her eyes - those shrewd, acute eyes - pore over his body, inspecting every injury. He felt vulnerable, and turned his body away.

“Calliope asked the same thing. Reflexive, I imagine. Got to maintain the niceties. I feel shit - but I think so does everyone.”

She tumbled over her words when they came, another apology, another confession. Gil sighed frustratedly, uninterested in anyone’s prostration before him.
“Calliope did that, too. Is there anyone else out there waiting to confess their guilt as well?” He craned his neck toward the door, pretending to search for further sinners. He enjoyed the theatre of it, in a spiteful way, even aware he was effectively rejecting Harper’s contrition; but what use did he have for misplaced remorse? It wouldn’t heal his broken bones or mend his skin; wouldn’t alleviate his foggy head, or rediscover his long-mislaid sense of ‘self’, whatever that was. Would it even help Harper - or any other would-be confessor - to burden themselves so needlessly? There might be catharsis in self-flagellation, but there was no redemption.

“The saboteurs were found out. I heard the leader even painted himself across the room when they caught him. What could you have done about it? Maybe Pallyx and Mei knew more than they let on; maybe they just got lucky…it doesn’t matter. We were snared in a trap. All we can do now is live with the consequences.”

“I…” Harper began, blinking rapidly. Her mind was a whirlwind of confusion and bewilderment, making it nearly impossible to articulate her thoughts. She could hear the frustration in Gil’s voice, a sharp edge that cut through the air between them. On some level, she understood his anger. They had all endured so much, and the weight of their collective trauma was a heavy, suffocating presence that loomed over them all now.

But the way he dismissed her apology as just another meaningless gesture? That was something her brain was struggling to process. It felt like a punch to the gut, leaving her reeling.

Because he’d never spoken to her that way before. Not in any of the moments they’d shared.

Harper had always been a little awkward around Gil. Despite her disciplined nature, she often fumbled for words or second-guessed her actions when he was near. Her usually steady hands would tremble slightly, and her mind, typically sharp and decisive, would become a jumble of half-formed thoughts and hesitant phrases. There was just something about him that unsettled her, something in the way his eyes seemed to see right through her, peeling back the layers of her carefully constructed facade. It made her feel exposed, and vulnerable in a way she wasn’t used to.

But she’d liked it. Very much so.

She’d always believed that he accepted her, and saw past the stern exterior she presented to the world. While others might whisper behind her back, calling her a hard-ass or worse, Gil seemed to understand her. He’d never once flinched at her intensity, never recoiled from her sharp edges. That acceptance and understanding meant more to her than she could ever put into words. It was a silent affirmation that she wasn’t alone, that someone saw her for who she truly was and still chose to stay.

Which was why his current demeanour was so jarring. The warmth in his eyes had turned cold, his usual easy smile replaced by a tight-lipped frown. The distance between them, once filled with unspoken understanding, now felt like an insurmountable chasm.

“I’m not-” she began again, her voice trembling as she struggled to find the right words. “I wasn’t apologizing because of some…because of some script. Some automatic response. I just…” She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out the images that his words had conjured. Blood painting the floor. Blood painting her face.

“I just care about you.”

Gil relented. He’d been cruel, intentionally so, but now struggled to justify the point of it against Harper’s crumbling face and shuddering words. He just didn’t want anyone thinking they owed him anything, apologising for something they played no part in. Well-intentioned or not, it all felt so…fake. Gil had had enough of that feeling, and wasn’t about to tolerate it in others, either.
“I…I appreciate that.” He said, softening his voice. “I just can’t face a parade of people apologising to me for something they didn’t do. Something they suffered in just as much as I did. What’s the point? Doesn’t do me any good. Doesn’t do you any good. Assuming guilt, apportioning blame - we’ll just implode. And then it really will have been for nothing.”

Harper blinked, her mind suddenly alight with a realisation that struck her like a bolt of lightning. Thanks to his words, it was as if a fog had lifted, revealing a truth she had overlooked for far too long. She could almost hear Calliope’s voice again, clear and unwavering, echoing in her mind. The memory was vivid, transporting her back to that moment when the blonde had shared her wisdom with a sincerity that Harper had failed to fully grasp at the time. But now…now she felt like she understood them.

The brunette took a deep breath, her fingers finally stilling as she gathered her thoughts. She looked at Gil, her eyes reflecting her usual determination, but there was something more—an unspoken vulnerability that shimmered just beneath the surface. It was a rare glimpse into her inner world, one that she seldom allowed others to see. But if authenticity was what he wanted, despite her fears, she knew she had to give it. His reaction was uncertain, yes, a moment suspended in time where he could either accept or reject this part of her.

But she no longer cared. Because it no longer mattered.

Or, better yet, maybe that was all that had ever mattered.

“I think I…got scared? Maybe…” she began, her voice steady but soft. “Not just for what happened, but for not being there for you right afterward.” She paused, her gaze dropping to her hands. Her fingers traced the faint scars on her arms, the ones hidden beneath her sleeves. The ones given to her by the thing that had looked like her sister but could never be. The memories of that encounter were still raw, the pain and confusion etched into her skin and mind. She had survived, but the scars were a constant reminder of the battle she had fought, that she was still fighting, both physically and mentally.

She took another deep breath, feeling the weight of her words settle between them. The silence that followed was heavy, but not uncomfortable. It was a shared space of understanding, a moment where the past and present intertwined. Harper’s eyes met Gil’s once more, and she saw a flicker of something in his gaze—recognition, perhaps, or empathy. She wasn’t quite sure. But it was enough.

“I’m not looking for forgiveness,” she continued, her voice gaining strength. “I just needed you to know. To understand why I couldn’t be there. Why I had to face my own demons first…even still.” Her fingers stilled on her scars, and she let her hands fall to her sides. “I’m here now, though. And I’m not going anywhere.”

She reached out first this time, her hand coming to rest on his, squeezing it lightly.

“Not unless…you want me gone.”

“Unless you’re harbouring a darker secret than I think you’re capable of, Baxter, you don’t need forgiveness. Not from me, not from the rest of Blackjack, not from PRCU. We - everyone - got separated. It was deliberate, and targeted, and vindictive, and from what I’ve seen, we’ve all fared as poorly as each other. I understand why I was alone - just as I understand why Calliope was, or Banjo, or you. Because someone wanted to hurt us.”

He looked at his hand, Harper’s laid across it, observing her delicate fingers and tracing his gaze up her arm back to her face, once again full of the self-possessed determination and familiar earnestness. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze in return.
“And I’d say they did a damn fine job of it, too.” He said, attempting a jocular tone as he gestured to his bandaged rib and cast leg, but there was an underpinning of something more troubling. Gil’s clipped words didn’t indicate a willingness to talk about it, though.
“I’m just waiting to be discharged, whenever that happens, and then like the rest of the team I’ll work on…picking up the pieces. Until then, if there’s anyone else in that corridor waiting to come tell me how sorry they are, they can all go visit the chapel instead.”

He smiled, trying to remember their last conversation, held under different circumstances, with a different essence about it. Two different people, two different lifetimes ago.
“I really do like your hair.” He said again, giving Harper’s hand another squeeze before letting go.

Harper’s lips curved into a gentle smile, her cheeks warming with a rosy hue that she couldn’t quite suppress. She glanced down, only looking back up once she was sure her heart had stopped racing. “Thanks, Gil,” she said softly, her voice carrying a hint of shyness. “I did it for me… but I’m glad you like it too.”

As for his talk about forgiveness, another realisation struck her: Gil had left out one crucial person—herself. Could she truly forgive herself for what she had done? Could she truly gather the scattered fragments of her being and piece them back together, forming a new, whole version of herself, no matter how different it might look by the end?

A strange sense of clarity washed over her, and she fished for her phone in her pocket, taking it out. “Actually…could you excuse me for a moment? I think I need to call someone.” Harper asked, her eyes reflecting a sincere apology. She had promised she wouldn’t leave, but this was who she was at her core—loyal to a fault, yet fiercely independent. She always resisted the urge to lean on others, even her best friend, for support, no matter what she was going through. But maybe, just maybe, that was something she needed to change.

“Of course. I’m worn out, and I think they kick people out soon anyway. I’ll see you when I’m officially back on campus.”

Harper nodded, her eyes softening as she gave him one of her warm smiles. She could see the exhaustion in his eyes, so with a final, reassuring squeeze of his arm, she turned to leave, her steps light but purposeful. Just before she reached the door, she paused and looked back, a playful glint in her eyes.

“Rest up, soldier,” she said with a small, teasing smile, her voice carrying a hint of warmth and affection. The words felt a bit awkward on her tongue, and she could feel a slight blush creeping up her cheeks, but it was worth it to see the faint smile that tugged at his lips in response.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Location:Ursus House - Pacific Royal Campus
Take On Me #3.014: Beneath the Surface
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Interaction(s): Calliope-@PatientBean
Previously: No Expectations, No Pretenses


She hated it

That was the selfish and vain thought that came unbidden to her mind, a sharp pang of regret that cut through her like a knife. She immediately felt a wave of guilt for thinking it, knowing how much effort Calliope had put into helping her. The blonde had been so careful, so considerate, each snip of the scissors made with a precision that spoke of her desire to do right by Harper.

And yet, despite all of Calliope’s care and kindness, Harper couldn’t shake the feeling of loss that settled heavily in her chest. Her hair had been more than just a part of her appearance; it had been a part of her identity. It was a shield, a comfort, a constant in a life that often felt anything but. Especially since she’d lost…

And now it and they were gone. And she was left exposed to this loss, to bear it all with lowered defences.

“It looks great, Calliope. Thank you,” she said, lying through her teeth. The words felt heavy and insincere, but she couldn’t bear to let Calliope know how she truly felt. She ran her fingers through her hair, feeling the now even lengths for herself, and feigned a smile. “I think it’s perfect.” The words tasted bitter, but she forced them out, not wanting to hurt the other’s feelings.

She tried to find something positive, something to hold onto as she continued to stare. Maybe it would grow on her, she thought. Maybe, in time, she would come to see this new look as a symbol of her resilience, her ability to adapt and survive.

But for now, it was just another change Harper wasn’t ready for. That had been forced upon her whether she wanted it or not.

There was more that needed to be said, surely. “Harper, what’s the real reason you came to see me? Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful you trusted me enough, but there’s more going on isn’t there? I’m not one to talk. I have my own shit. And it doesn’t even have to be now. But if I learned anything from therapy it’s that bottling it all in will only cause more harm. It’s funny…seems my family taught me something. Outward appearances are important, but they hide a lot.”

Harper felt a lump form in her throat, the words Calliope spoke resonating deeply within her. She had always been good at hiding her true feelings, at putting on a brave face for the world. But here, in this quiet room with Calliope, the facade felt fragile, ready to crumble at any moment.

She took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. “What do you mean?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper. She hoped the question would deflect some of the attention away from her, and give her a moment to gather her thoughts.

“Harper, we all just went through an ordeal that no average person deals with. I can only speak for myself but what I saw in there rattled me so badly I am still reeling. Hell, I am currently not in class because I needed time away.” She glanced at her phone again. She was close to sending that text.

“So what I mean is why are you talking to me specifically? If it is truly about your hair, fine, but there are plenty of others, more talented whose job it is to cut hair, that could have done it. You came here to me. I would like to know why. But I also don’t want to push you before you’re ready. If it helps, I might be willing to get something off my chest in return. Friends do that.”

Harper felt a rush of conflicting emotions. She had hoped to avoid this kind of direct confrontation, but Calliope’s words were gentle, filled with genuine concern, for her. Someone who was a teammate, but might as well be a stranger. A mere acquaintance.

She looked down at her hands, fingers playing with the hem of her hoodie again, and took another breath.

“I…guess I didn’t really think it through,” Harper began, her voice trembling slightly, each word a struggle to get out. “I just needed to do something. Anything to feel like I still had some…control of things. And you…you’ve always seemed so put together. I just figured that…”
That she could borrow some of that strength for herself. She had come to Calliope not just for a haircut, but for a lifeline, a way to feel grounded when everything else felt like it was slipping away.

How selfish could she be?

Very.

Calli took a deep breath and thought about how to go about this. Harper was clearly going through a lot and she had opened herself up briefly. Enough for Calli to safely see inside. She didn’t want to make it any more painful.

“My father abused me.” Calli let the words sink in. It isn’t every day you admit to being tormented. “Growing up he had this image of what perfection looked like. He grew up poor and needed to fight for what he got. He was a first-generation Hispanic after his parents came here so he had a tough road. So when it became clear he would be a politician he…shifted. Or perhaps he was always like this but some small part of me hopes that there was a kind-hearted man back then.”

“But even still he would expect perfection everywhere. Perfect grades. Perfect posture. Perfect clothes. Perfect hair. Everything had to look perfect or else we would lose it all. And that scared him. Scared him so much that he terrorized me and my brother. It started with little comments here and there and grew. Soon my weight would be critiqued. Or my style choice. Eventually, he moved into…..physical territory. Did it in areas people wouldn’t see and scared me into never telling a soul. And anytime someone did notice something they were dealt with. When my Hyperhuman abilities manifested I was under a lot of pressure. He hates Hyperhumans. Believes them to be a scourge that needs to be eradicated. So he hid me away. Told me to never use my abilities.”

“So if I seem put together it is because I have to be. Despite me being thousands of miles away from him, I can still hear him. Worse, I can hear myself hurl insult after insult. Any semblance of control I have I use because otherwise…what’s the point?”

Harper felt another lump form in her throat, the raw honesty of Calli’s words hitting her hard. She had never imagined that Calli, who always seemed so composed, had endured such torment. The revelation was like a punch to the gut, leaving her momentarily breathless and unable to say anything at first. She had always seen Calli as the epitome of strength and grace, much like her known moniker, someone who navigated life with an ease that Harper envied. To learn that beneath that composed exterior lay a history of pain and abuse was both shocking…and immensely humbling.

Harper’s mind raced, trying to process the full weight of Calli’s confession. She thought about her own father, strict and demanding, but always loving when he needed to be less soldier and more papa. He had pushed her to be her best, but never in a way that made her feel unloved or unworthy. The contrast between their experiences was clear, and it made Harper’s heart ache for the blonde.

Everyone had their battles, she supposed then. And sometimes the strongest-looking people were the ones fighting the hardest.

The room seemed to close in around her, the silence heavy. Too heavy. Harper felt her eyes filling with tears, and she blinked rapidly, trying to keep them at bay. The last thing that she wanted was for Calliope to believe she pitied her. Or found her weak. Not again.

“Calli, I’m so sorry,” Harper finally whispered, her voice thick with emotion. “I had no idea.” The words felt inadequate, but they were all she could manage in the face of such a profound revelation. She reached out, her hand trembling slightly, and placed it gently on Calli’s arm. The gesture was small, but she hoped it conveyed all the support she could muster. To give freely as she did with the few friends she had.

As the seconds ticked by, Harper found herself reflecting on her own struggles. She should share one of those now, right? It would be fair. And perhaps that’s what the other woman truly wanted. The thought of opening up about her own pain was daunting, but she knew it was the right thing to do. It was a way to bridge the gap between them, to show that she trusted Calli just as much as Calli had trusted her.

She opened her mouth, then closed it. Then opened it again, her mind urging her all the while to just say something. The words felt trapped in her throat, a jumble of emotions that she couldn’t quite untangle. She took a deep breath, trying to steady herself, and finally spoke.

“Lately I feel like…I’m just drowning,” Harper began. “And weirdly enough…I don’t come up for air.” She paused, her eyes distant as she tried to find the right words to convey the depth of her feelings. Her fear. Her yearning. “Because they would be there. Waiting for me to surface. I can’t see them, and perhaps that’s a bit of a blessing. But I can hear them. Calling out to me to join them.”

She took a shaky breath, her chest tightening as if she wasn’t here, but back in the nightmare. “I feel like…I’m constantly fighting to stay afloat. Ever since I lost them…my parents.” She paused again, closing her eyes against the painful memories. Of seeing them in her head. Of being able to give the goodbye she never got to.

“And sometimes…sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to just…let go.” To join them. The same scenario that the simulation had tempted her with. The thought of being reunited with her parents, of escaping the pain and loneliness, was a seductive one. It whispered to her in her darkest moments, promising peace and sweet relief.

“But that would mean leaving her behind. My sister. And I can’t do that to her again.”

Calli could very well understand where Harper was coming from. Despite how awful her parents were, it seems Harper’s had cared a great deal for her. “I am sorry for your loss Harper. I can relate to hoping to let go and let the overwhelming feelings take over. It’s exhausting trying to pretend you are okay when you aren’t.”

“My brother was a light in that dark time, but even he struggled. He took a lot of the impact that was meant for me and when he came out as Trans that shattered any amount of perfection our father wanted. I haven’t spoken to him in years.” And that made Calli feel immense guilt.

Harper’s heart ached for Calli, understanding the pain of family rifts all too well. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said softly, her voice filled with genuine empathy. “It’s hard, isn’t it? Carrying all of this… weight.” She paused, her mind drifting back to her own sister, Sierra. Their memories were pretty….bittersweet. The fights, the laughter, the unspoken bond that had always been there, even in the toughest times.

“My sister and I…we actually fought a lot growing up,” Harper continued, her voice growing softer as she spoke. “But…funnily enough, there was always this unspoken understanding that always remained between us.” She reached up to twiddle with one of her hair strands, her eyes going distant as she lost herself in the memories. The familiar motion was a small comfort, a way to ground herself in the present while she navigated the past.

“She’s always been my rock,” Harper said. “The only family I have left. And if it weren’t for her, I don’t know where I’d be. She keeps me grounded, gives me a reason to keep fighting.”

Harper’s eyes met Calli’s, and she saw what she thought was a flicker of understanding there.
“Family can be so…complicated,” Harper added, her voice tinged with wistfulness. “Which is why it’s so nice that you can choose your own, as well.” The meaning of her words was not directly said, but she sincerely hoped Calliope understood them. She wanted Calli to know that Blackjack could be her family, as well. A very, very weird one, but a good one no less.

Calli had thought a lot about family. Family wasn’t always blood. It’s why she considered Banjo part of her family. And Katja. And Rory. Hell, Blackjack could be her family as she assumed that was Harper’s point. It’s part of what made her feel so guilty over what they had all been through.

“Yeah, family is complicated. Sounds like you and your sister are super close. I really should reach out to my brother. I haven’t seen my niece in years.” Calliope let out a sigh. “That’s why I am glad to have some people in my life I care about who care about me too. Banjo’s the obvious one. Did I ever tell you we originally only got together during the first night because I wanted to stick it to my father and Banjo seemed like the right person my dad would hate? Turns out he’s actually super considerate and sweet and cares about me without expecting me to be perfect.” Calli glanced at the phone again. She was glad she didn’t send that text.

Harper listened, her feelings about Banjo swirling in her mind. She had always found him a bit too carefree, his laid-back attitude often clashing with her more serious nature. It frustrated her how he seemed to breeze through life, not taking things seriously enough for her liking. Yet, she couldn’t deny that he had his moments of charm and surprising depth. There were one or two times already this week where he’d revealed a side of him she hadn’t expected, a side that was patient...and smart. She could see somewhat why Calliope cared for him so deeply.

So, what she thought about the guy overall was… complicated, to say the least.

“You should definitely reach out to your brother,” Harper said, her voice gentle but firm. “It sounds like you miss him a lot. And…I’m sure he misses you too.” She paused, letting the words sink in. “Family bonds can be incredibly strong, even when they’ve been strained. Sometimes, all it takes is a small step to start mending those connections.” Like with her and Sierra. The redhead had messaged her this morning complaining about the early morning call, and Harper had responded with a small apology. Her message, however, was still left on read when last she’d checked.

Calliope nodded in agreement. She would speak to her brother. Perhaps he could visit with his family. “What started as a haircut turned into a small therapy session. Unintentional, I assure you, but still thank you, Harper. This was…much needed.” She went to her bed and picked up her phone. “You are going to rock that hair by the way. Perhaps I missed my calling? Think PRCU will let me switch to cosmetology?”

Harper laughed, the sound genuine and warm, a rare moment of lightness breaking the heavy emotions of the day. She did feel a little guilty that she couldn’t see her new style that way, but she appreciated Calliope’s effort and kindness. And, in all fairness to the blonde, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had hair this short, and only to her chin. It was a significant change, one that would take some getting used to.

“You never know! Maybe you’ve got a hidden talent there,” Harper said, her tone playful. She nibbled on her lip, a small smile working its way across her mouth. “But seriously, thank you Calli. For everything. I mean it…You didn’t have to do this, but you did. And it means a lot to me. More than I can really put into words.”

“We're a team, Harper. Hell, after everything we’ve been through already, I’d say we are family.” Calli allowed herself to finally relax. She would have to make up the classes she missed, but even that was a little bit of freedom she allowed herself. Her father would be mortified. But, quite frankly, fuck that guy.

“Before I forget, since Gil is out of commission for a bit I am going to need help with the dance. We have the bare bones set up already such as the theme, but I’ll need help coordinating it all and getting the rest of the stuff together. Would you want to help me out?”

Harper hesitated for a moment, struggling to keep the smile on her face, the image of Gil in his hospital bed flashing through her mind. The memory was vivid and painful: the sterile white sheets, the cast encasing his lower leg, and the pallor of his skin that made him look so fragile. She had been by to see him as soon as she’d been cleared, but she just hadn’t been able to bring herself to actually enter the room. The sight of him like that had been too much to bear. The beeping of the monitors, the antiseptic smell of the ward, and the quiet hum of activity outside his room had all felt…way too overwhelming.

Way too familiar.

Her hand went to her cheek, rubbing at the scarring there, a subconscious gesture as she fought against the memories of raining crimson and animalistic instincts. The vivid recollections of blood, the metallic scent of both of theirs filling the air. The primal urge to survive, to live. Each touch of her fingers against the rough texture of her scars brought it all back in flashes.

But she won.

With a deep steadying breath, Harper pushed the memories back into the recesses of her mind, locking them away again where they couldn’t hurt her. Her hand fell away from her cheek as she offered Calliope a small, reassuring smile, hoping to convey that she was okay. That whatever she may or may not have seen a moment ago was still in her control.

“Yeah, I’d love to help with the dance. Sounds like fun.”


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