A cold, tingling pressure erupts from behind my eye-crystal, as Suri attempts to initiate the mind-meld.
Shit, what happens if I think about my secrets while we’re melded?!
In a flash of panic, I instinctively push back.
My resistance is like a sandcastle before a wave. A piercing headache erupts from my forehead as it starts to crumble, but then Suri pulls back.
[Emma? Is something the matter?]
I blink. The headache is gone. “Ehm, no, I’m good. You just caught me off guard. I guess I’m still a little jumpy after being mesmerized by that stupid fish.”
[I see. I’m trying again, all right? Don’t resist this time, it’ll just hurt.]
“Give me a sec!” I say quickly. “I’m still a bit tense.”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. If I back out now it’d be way too suspicious. How do I not think about the stuff she can’t know? How do I not think about not thinking about it?! Okay, calm down, I just need to fully focus on something else. I can do this, it’s just like... Meditating!
[Are you ready?]
“Yeah,” I breathe out. “Let me just...” I trail off as I slip into a lucid trance.
[Ah, yes, that should help. Here I come.]
The cold pressure once again erupts behind my eye-crystal, tingling as it pushes up my optic nerve. I don’t fight back, concentrating all of my thoughts on Inertia Manipulation and how I’m going to use it.
Thankfully, Suri works fast. I feel something shift inside my mind, and soon after, the connection dissolves as Suri pulls back.
[All done. Would you like to see your Status Window?]
I lick my dry lips. “Yes please.”
I don’t think she’s noticed anything. Man, that was a close call though. If she’d pushed through my resistance that first time...
I focus on the window, and nod slowly. “Looks good. Thanks, Suri.”
The results of my first Cold tempering are in as well. Not a bad start; that will definitely come in handy hunting on the Yin side of the Hub.
Too bad I can’t temper in the Yang oyster as well... not that it’d be very effective, most likely, but still.
The faint whine coming from said oyster disappears about a minute later, and Jacob pops out. He’s pretty wobbly when he climbs on land, still shaking from the tempering, so we sit in comfortable silence for a few minutes.
Well, I’m pretty comfortable, at least. Jacob seems kind of fidgety. I don’t push him. He’ll talk when he’s ready.
Soon enough, he clears his throat, and glances over. “Earlier, when you Charmed Loudmouth...”
I take a deep breath and scratch my neck. “Right, sorry about that; I’ll be more careful from now on, I promise.
Jacob shakes his head. “No, it’s fine. Made me realise some things.”
I frown. “Like what?”
“Well, first of all, that—since I’ve experienced it and know what it is—I’d be able to recognize the signs if you were trying to Charm me. Which is kind of a relief. And also pretty definitive proof that you didn’t try it back in the Lightning Witch’s camp.”
I tense up a little, crossing my arms over my chest. “Was there still any doubt about that?”
He shrugs. “I couldn’t be sure. I blame Pseudo for infecting me with her paranoia,” he adds with a wink.
I laugh and allow my arms to drop back down my sides. “Well, it’s nice to hear my blunder helped you trust me again.”
He nods. “That was the first thing I realised.”
“Oh? What’s the second?”
He takes a deep breath. “I still like you.”
I blink. “Oh...”
“Not because of your Charm,” he continues quickly, “that’s what I actually realised. It was never due to your Charm, that I fell for you. I should’ve connected the dots sooner, really. Especially since Pseudo said something about Yin and Yang being attracted to each other after the Sixth Trial.”
“Ehm, Jacob,” I say, trying to cut in.
He’s gesticulating pretty wildly now, and is looking at me with wide, impassioned eyes. “Don’t you get it? I’m Yang, and you’re Yin, that’s why I’m attracted to you. It’s like being our original sexuality is irrelevant here!”
I avert my gaze and blow out a long breath. Man, this is going to be awkward.
Jacob frowns at me. “You don’t seem very... surprised.”
“Yeeaah, I’d already hypothesised as much,” I admit. “Suri told me about the sexuality thing as well.”
Jacob keeps his puzzled gaze trained on me, as if he’s trying to figure me out. “Well... doesn’t this mean you’re attracted to me, too?”
There it is.
I shoot him a pinched smile. “No. Sorry, buddy, but it doesn’t work like that. I’m sure you weren’t attracted to every guy you came across back on Earth either, right? Well, here I’m not attracted to every person who’s Yang. I mean, I’m not into Dave either, you know?”
He looks down. “Right. Yeah, makes sense.”
A painful silence falls for a moment.
I sigh. “Look, I’m not going to spout platitudes about how you’re such a nice guy and it’s me not you; you know I like you as a person, it’s not that. You’re just not my type. So, we good?”
He nods silently.
I get up, swinging my arms a little. “We should probably get going then, Kaitlynn’s gonna get worried if I take too long...”
Jacob nods again and starts to get up. However, when he’s halfway there, he freezes. He falls back down on his butt and looks at me with wide eyes.
“Is there something on my face?” I ask in concern.
“Dave’s on my face?!”
Jacob ignores my outburst. “You’re not into Dave... But you are into Kaitlynn.”
My stomach clenches and my eyes widen at the sudden accusation. I swallow heavily. “Wh—what makes you say that? No I’m not.” Damnit, Emma, that was the wrong order!
Jacob looks at me for a long moment, then he lets his head fall back against the rock with a chuckle. “How did I not see it? You guys are all over each other, all the time. I guess I didn’t want to see it.”
I sputter some protestation, but I can tell he’s not buying it. My cheeks burn and my heart begins to pound as he levels me with a gaze.
“I’m right, aren’t I?”
I dodge his gaze, stomach twisting. My breathing picks up speed, becomes more shallow.
Jacob sighs. “I knew it.” He shakes his head. “You could’ve said, you know?” he continues softly. “I would’ve understood.”
“I’m not gay,” I say, the words coming out harsher than I intended. My fingers are tingly and I’m feeling a little light-headed.
He shoots me a bewildered look, then barks out a laugh. “Well, I am. Didn’t stop me from falling for you though, did it?”
I ball my hands into fists to stop my fingers from shaking, and hardly notice my sharp nails break skin. “It’s not like that! I swear, back on Earth, I never felt anything for—” My eyes flutters shut as I falter and lean against the wall next to me. I dimly register my body limply gliding down the rough rock until my butt hits the ground.
The next thing I know, Jacob is kneeling next to me. “Hey, you okay? Wow, you’re pale. Okay, deep breaths—Emma, slow down!”
I have to blink a few times to get him back into focus once I’ve forced my breathing down to a normal pace.
Jacob hovers over me, staring down in concern. “Emma, what was that?”
I close my eyes and allow myself a moment longer to calm down.
“Panic attack,” I eventually say with sigh. “Kind of caught me off guard, ‘cause I haven’t had one of those in years. I’d forgotten how much they suck.”
Also, I thought I was over this shit. Guess not.
Jacob looks at me with an unreadable expression. “Now, this may just be me reading into things, but that seemed an awful lot like a gay panic attack.”
I smile wearily. “Are you calling my panic attacks gay? ‘Cause that’s offensive.”
He rolls his eyes. “You know full-well what I meant, smart-ass.”
I chuckle and sit up a bit straighter. Heh. “Yeah, I know what you meant. And no, it wasn’t gay panic, since I’m not gay—”
His brows rise to his hairline.
“—but it’s something related,” I concede. “It’s... kind of a long story.”
Jacob shrugs, and sits down next to me. “I’ve got time.”
I take a moment to gather my thoughts. Then I take a deep breath and tell Jacob more or less the same story I had told Suri, about how I’d been pegged as a dyke in high-school, and relentlessly teased about it, despite it not being true in the slightest.
Somehow, it’s different, telling it to someone who’s physically sitting next to you, and able to offer you sympathetic looks and touches. More emotional. Shut up, I’m not crying, you’re crying.
When he quietly asks me if Kaitlynn and I are together, I hesitate, but ultimately explain my dilemma to him.
“So, you’ve kissed, and you want to be with her here,” he reiterates, “but you fear you’ll have to break her heart if we manage to return to Earth?”
I nod. He’s silent for a moment.
Finally, he lets out a sigh. “I’ll be honest, I’d never even considered that. I guess even if you’d liked me back, the same would have applied to me. I seriously doubt I would find you attractive back on Earth.”
I snort. “Way to make a girl feel better.”
He smiles crookedly. “The truth hurts, doesn’t it? Anyway, I don’t know what I’d do in your shoes. I feel like I would’ve despaired about my chances of getting back to Earth, and just given into temptation to live in the present immediately.”
I shrug. “Perhaps that’s the right thing to do anyway. Maybe I’m just pointlessly wasting what little time we may have left.”
Jacob scratches his head. “Maybe. I’m honestly not sure if I should make fun of your delusions about us making it out of here or commend your determination.”
I roll my eyes. “I don’t throw in the towel so easily. We’ll never make it through here alive if we give up hope.”
He chuckles wryly. “Yeah, I know. It’s one of my favourite things about you.” Then he turns to look at me more seriously. “But I do think you need to tell her. From what you’ve told me, this involves the both of you. She deserves to be part of the decision, let alone the conversation.”
I nod. “I know. I plan to. Soon.” I turn to look at him. “Thank you for being so cool about this, despite... everything.”
He smiles, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “It’s fine. Our friendship is important to me.”
I hold his gaze for a moment. “Good. It’s important to me too.”
I tip-toe into the hut I share with Kaitlynn.
Perhaps I’m still emotional from the talk I just had, but my breath hitches for a moment when I am struck by the sight of her profile. Her silver skin practically shines in the starlight that filters in from outside. Her unnaturally blue eyebrows and hair only serve to enhance the impression of her being something sacred. Immaculate.
Shit. I have it bad.
Shaking my head at myself, I carefully take off my armour, before I slip onto the relatively soft beddings behind her. Despite my misgivings, I can’t resist putting my arm around her and pulling her a little closer.
She stirs in her sleep.
I freeze, but it’s too late. She blinks sleepily and turns around in my arms.
I swallow reflexively when she grants me a lazy smile, her eyes half-lidded. “Hey you,” she whispers.
“Hey,” I whisper back, my voice a little rougher than expected.
My gaze lingers on her a little longer than I would normally let it. Something changes in the way she looks at me. She licks her lips and inches a little closer, her eyes flicking between my eye and my eye-crystal, and then down to my lips.
Butterflies erupt in my stomach.
“Emma...” she starts, her voice raspy. “I would like to kiss you. Can I?”
My mouth goes dry, and for a moment, I flounder for an answer. “I think we’ve previously established that you can,” I eventually say with a small smirk. “So I think what you meant to ask, is if you may.”
Kaitlynn groans, but her eyes crinkle and the corners of her mouth tug up a little. “You know what I meant, you ass. Objectively, even.”
I shake my head sternly. “That’s no excuse for poor grammar, Kait. Really, I expect bett—hmmph.”
Her lips are just as soft and sweet as I remember. She whimpers when I swipe my tongue over her bottom lip, requesting entrance.
She grants it.
We make out for several minutes. Things start to get heated as hands roam previously uncharted territory.
Throbbing heat pools between my legs, and it’s only with an immense effort of will that I manage to pull back.
Kaitlynn chases my lips with a mewl, and my heart skips a beat. I almost give in, but then I manage to find some unknown reserve of will and rest my forehead against hers with a groan.
“We should...” I swallow. “Slow down.”
Kaitlynn bites her bottom lip and pouts her bottom lip. “Do we have to?”
Now that I’ve pulled back, guilt wars with lust inside me. I nod.
She groans. “I swear, sometimes I think you were sent to torture me.”
You couldn’t wipe this grin off my face with a belt sander. Kaitlynn flushes even further—if that’s even possible—and avoids my gaze.
“We should get some sleep,” I say, taking mercy on her.
She sighs, defeated, and steals one more kiss before she turns around.
Despite my suggestion, I lay awake for some time, staring at the back of her head as her breathing evens out. At least there was some talking this time. That counts as progress, right?
My lips are still tingling as I begin to fall asleep. Deep in my thoughts, I barely pay any attention to the pop-up that still hovers in the dark.
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