Seemed like the barkeep was really struggling today. The place was packed with more than it was meant to hold, probably all people with the same idea I had, or close to it. Most of them were new faces, at least to this scene; some didn’t even seem to be drinking. The ones that were had thrown etiquette out the window, with wild dancing, raucous laughter, and some desperately engaging with ‘prospective partners’.
Not a bad idea, I figured. During the past half hour I’d spent here, I’d noticed this one girl in particular, sitting by herself with nothing to do but drink. Looked very nice, too, from what I could glean from my occasional glances in her direction. No one seemed to be bothering her, so I figured I might emulate the others, provide her some company for the night.
My seat was occupied the moment I stood up from it. Wasn’t going to need it anyway. As I made my way over to where she was sitting, the door opened once again. Christ, doesn’t anyone look through a window anymore? It was too packed as it was. She, meanwhile, looked up from her drink and straight towards me, seeming entirely indifferent to the crowd and only mostly indifferent to myself. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
“Hey.” Not the best opening I could come up with, but who cares about how I were to say hello to someone? Didn’t bother me in the least if I was lacking pretentious flair and eloquent introductions, such as those who included words like “milady” in their feeble attempts at flattery.
Her response was a half-hearted smile, simply acknowledging that I had greeted her before returning her attention to the beverage before her. I could hazard a guess towards what had her down, along with everyone else here. There’s a reason the whole ‘drown your sorrows’ trick was, well, a thing.
“What’s wrong? You’re looking a little glum.”
She didn’t respond for several seconds, but eventually her voice was heard. “I was out of the city for a week. Came back yesterday, and my friends and family are gone. Like… gone. Vanished.”
That wasn’t all, though. Soon she was talking all about what the scene was like when she got here, how she learned the news, all that jazz. All the while, I didn’t even notice how much my hand was starting to ache. Eventually I had to just set my drink down due to the unintentionally strong grip I was holding on it.
“Well, you know, I’m with the town watch,” I replied afterwards, trying to provide some sort of relief for her, “and we found that the only people we could label as missing had disappeared without a trace of violence, like you said. My point being that there’s no immediate proof that anyone’s dead or hurt, you know?”
She smiled somewhat. Couldn’t be certain if she was happy to hear that or simply indulging me. “Yeah, I guess. By the way, uh, can I ask you a question?”
“If you’re with the town watch… do you have any idea what to do about this?”
My response was an awkward, “Um…” that did little to assuage her worries. Even having already put some thought into this question, there still didn’t seem to be a good answer. I took a moment to wipe away the collection of sweat on my face as I determined what to say.
“You alright? You seem kinda-”
“Yeah, no, don’t worry,” I replied with the best confidence I could muster, “To answer your question, well, uh… the captain was heading to Belenon to see how things are over there. I’m certain she’ll have a plan or something when she gets back.”
Out of nowhere, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and subsequently craned my head back to see who was trying to grab my attention.
“Hey,” Lucy greeted me in a notably flat tone, “Am I interrupting something?”
I looked over at the girl I had been speaking with. She had returned to sulking by herself, no attention paid to me anymore. “Not at the moment, I guess. What’s up?”
“Jay and I got back from Aldi like an hour ago. What are you doing here?”
“What does it look like?”
“Well, drinking, fairly typical,” she answered, “You doing alright?”
“Oh, I’m perfect,” I shrugged. “Just wasn’t much happening around here, so I figured I’d get a drink, you know?’
“Right,” she responded, a bit drawn out. “Just making sure you’re well, that’s all.”
“Trust me, I’m fine.”
“I see. Well, Elva’s left for somewhere, I hear?”
“Yeah, she was heading out to Belenon, took Lily with her.”
“Figures. Well, I’m gonna head home, recoup after the trip and all.”
“Sounds good to me,” I replied rather dismissively, starting to turn away from her.
“What, you haven’t spent enough time relaxing?” My eyes narrowed in response to her suddenly abrasive tone, and her face took on an apologetic look as a result. “Sorry. Really tired after all this. Still, I think you’ve had enough time to sort yourself out, you know.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah, I’d say it is.” She stared at me for a while as though expecting a response, but as I had provided none, she continued. “Look, this shit has me shaken up too, but we all have jobs to do. It’s alright to get some stress relief every once in a while, but don’t forget your duties. You’re the only officer who can work at the moment.”
“Hey, I hear you. Don’t need to start repeating yourself over one message. But I wasn’t forgetting anything, I was just getting a drink.”
Her expression of displeasure worsened in answer. “Not sure you do hear me; not like this is anything new. I’ve had to say this before, because I’ve seen it happen plenty of times. No shit you’d head to a bar and take it easy, again.”
“I was just trying to enjoy myself, that’s all.”
“I’m aware of that, the problem is that you always do this when you’re scared.”
“Oh, bullshit, c’mon-”
“It’s not bullshit, Jacq’,” she interrupted, “Stop acting like there isn’t an issue here. I’m really tired of telling you not to run away from your job.”
“Alright! Look, you’re right, you’re right. I didn’t think there was a problem with getting a drink, but I’m sorry-”
“No, you’re not, because you also do this every time I get on your case! You just tell me you agree so that I get off your back!”
I wasn’t going to win this. She was relentless, couldn’t even apologize without crossing the line. I figured she wanted proof of action now, rather than my word, so I gave her that. “Fine. What do you want me to do, right now?”
She let out a sigh of what seemed like exhaustion rather than frustration. “I… don’t know. Check in at the office, I guess. You’ve probably missed something that needs doing, if the other two have been gone any amount of time.”
“Right, right… Well, see you whenever I do get home, then.”
“Yeah, see you.”
With Lucy making her way home to recover, I took that as my cue to depart to the office. Disappointing that I didn’t get much out of my time at the bar, was only tipsy at best and didn’t even come close to a good night with that woman back there. Could’ve at least made getting yelled at a tolerable experience if I got something out of it all, but instead even I had to agree I just wasted my time.
My arrival at the office was pretty lonely, only one secretary whose name I could barely remember greeting me. “Well, you’re actually back. How’s it goin’?”
“Eh, it’s been fine. Could’ve been better though. Any reports need to be dealt with?”
“Hah, yeah. Got quite a few here, having ‘em dropped off all day with no one to sort ‘em,” she responded as she began moving to the left side of her desk. I noticed a massive stack of files, and began hoping that wasn’t seriously the accumulation of work that I had on my hands. There couldn’t have been that many after just one day, right?
With a foreboding grunt of exertion, she began hauling the monolith of paper my way, and set them down in front of me in great relief. I stared at it for a moment before remarking upon the obvious. “That’s a lot of papers.”
“Ayup,” she said, returning to her original task, “Been coming in since yesterday, but no one’s been available, so I had to stack them over there.” Oh, that makes sense, Elva and Lily being too busy with prep to deal with it. I gave her my thanks and began to lift the mountain of paperwork, but her side of the conversation hadn’t finished.
“By the way,” she continued, “Do you mind if I ask where you were? Thought it’d make sense to have the last officer around be a bit more on top of things. But, if I’m prying, I can just drop it. No worries.”
“Wasn’t feeling well, had a bit of a drink. Figured it was time to get stuff done though.”
“Sounds about right to me. Well, let me know if you need anything.”
I nodded and commenced with my effort to carry the reports to my work area. Having set them down, I cursed myself knowing that the load I had been saddled with would not nearly be as troublesome if I had been working on this before. Yet another consequence of shirking duties. Probably would take an hour tops if I just sat down and did this, like I was now.
We knew it was not completely deserted – last we checked, at least – but hearing so little life in a city still felt wrong, no matter how much time we had to get used to it. Too similar to the ghost city we had just left. The tone was somber between us, awkward and unwilling to let itself disappear harmlessly in spite of all the good. Elva’s plan was good, being with Lily again was good, not having died was good. Being back was good.
The day was already quite late, such that we did not expect anyone in the office except the night shift. Even still, that was our first destination, a now-familiar sight to me pulling up into view as the vehicle found its way through the streets and into its place. As soon as we had parked, everyone simultaneously exitted, heading towards one of the few places we could reasonably expect to be around other people in.
“I think Lucy and Jay should have come back from Aldi by now, assuming nothing weird happened,” Lily remarked, the hush in her voice pronounced in this night. “We probably just missed ‘em.”
Footsteps resounded through the air, punctuating Elva’s agreement. She still wanted to check, just on the off-chance they had been waiting, and I was unsure whether I would prefer seeing them right through that door or not. We did not know each other well, but seeing them safely at home again still felt like a comforting prospect to me. That was a good sign, probably. Maybe they would even feel the same by now?
We received quite the excited greeting from the lady at the desk as soon as we had entered, making some remark about us having missed the others by a matter of a few hours. Far as she could tell, everything was fine.
“What was their report?” Always down to business with her.
“Just that Aldi was… empty. You could, uh, actually read what they filed,” she offered, shifting through a few papers on the desk before extending one in her captain’s direction, “but it’s pretty much just that.”
She took the report anyways, eyes skimming through with uncharacteristically low diligence. Meanwhile, Lily and I simply stood to one side as Elva wrapped her business up. I think both of us were itching to get some alone time right then, having our bodies so close as to brush against each other with the slightest shift in posture. After an hours-long trip doing the exact same, it was starting to get unbearable.
“Any transmissions?” Elva asked, finally, handing back the report for the secretary to file away.
“Mhm. Everything seems, well, calm. Nothing’s happening. That’s what people are saying.”
After a brief huff, our captain turned to address the both of us. “Might just be a calm before the storm kinda deal, but we can’t really do anything tonight anyways. We’re having a full staff meeting tomorrow. Be prepared to have a busy day.”
“Oooh, saucy,” the secretary commented. “Gotta love actually being able to take action.”
“Speaking of which – sorry to ask for this much, but we’ll need even those on night duty helping. I’ll see you tomorrow, Kita.”
While briefly wondering if she had all her subordinates’ names memorized, I felt Lily’s hand grasp mine, pulling me back towards the door. We all exchanged our goodbyes and promised to meet back up at the right time before heading our different ways. It was not long before Lily and I were alone, walking to her family manor on a street that would probably have been just as quiet before all of this happened. She did not let go of my hand for the duration.
At some point, she spoke up, breaking the few minutes of silence without even turning back to look at me. “What’re you gonna do?”
“I can’t tell if you’re going to give up after that loss,” she clarified, sounding slightly more worried than before. Or maybe pitying.
“Thought you were supposed to be able to know things like that.”
It took her several seconds to compose her thoughts enough for her next reply. “You want to, but you can’t.” Her hand squeezed mine comfortingly after I neglected to respond to that. “At some point, we can’t really do anything except keep going in spite of everything. And hey, no one’s even under attack right now, that’s really good!” I could practically hear the dopey grin in her voice now.
“Good to have time to undertake Elva’s plan,” I agreed.
“I mean, who knows, they might have gotten everything they wanted. More refreshing to think optimistically in a time like this, don’t you think?”
“Not really. If anything, it sounds like a setup to disappointing yourself.”
She sighed. “Maybe, but I can’t just let the mood get pulled down every time.”
“You always do that,” I remarked, an unpleasant, accusatory tone to my voice, “picking apart everyone’s feelings and putting it on yourself to make things perfect.”
The sound of the door opening interrupted me slightly, us having finally returned to her home, and we stepped through, causing my anxiety to freshly flair. Was starting to feel kinda horrible about being so insensitive, especially over how she tries to help other people, and her lack of a response made things feel even worse. I should just apologize for it, hope she is okay, and move on.
“Um… I am sorry for probably hurting you with that. Are you-”
Her sudden action shut me up quite effectively, shoving me into the wall adjacent to the entrance. She made the appearance of her hands pinning my shoulders, but with no actual weight behind it, I was just supposed to get the idea. Her piercing gaze was more than enough to convey what she wanted, though. It was more depressing than intimidating for me, if anything; a rather pained expression emphasized what I had already guessed was the case.
“Look,” she almost pleaded, “I’ve been very deliberate all this time, trying to help everyone in the only way I’m fucking useful, and I’m very deliberately trying to keep myself from thinking it’s all meaningless and that we’re all dead, okay? I. Need. You. Supporting me.” Her face was getting closer, voice a mere few steps away from breaking as she spoke.
My eyes averted instinctively. God, I really fucked up again. Impressively so. Apparently getting too comfortable around people made me say stupid shit without thinking, and she was the last person I wanted to hurt like that. All I could do, and did, was promise to try supporting her as best I could, and she thankfully seemed to accept that. After a brief pause, her face softened, and our lips met briefly in reconciliation.
It was much less over-the-top, but she smiled at me again after pulling back, a smile that felt more genuine than anything she had shown to other people. That was my favorite thing to see, ever prompting me to return the gesture for her. She always made me feel so nice. I think she knew that, too, with her smile growing into a full-blown grin right before kissing me again.
“Speaking of supporting me, I’ve thought of something else you could do to, mm, help,” she murmured, low and sultry as one hand of hers found its place on my hip. My nervousness was back now, for an entirely different reason.
“I thought you did not want, uh… that.”
Her face scrunched up a bit in apparent confusion. “Why d’you say that?”
“Just… you certainly knew how I felt earlier,” I reasoned, frowning slightly, “and did not act on it. That usually means you do not share the desire, right?”
“Now you’re the one picking apart my feelings, and you can’t even know for sure that you’re right.” Almost felt like I was being scolded. “I just didn’t want our first time together to be because we felt like we needed to – like, feeling rushed because of the situation.”
“That is a nice sentiment,” I had to admit. “Could have told me earlier, though.”
“That’s fair. I’m sorry.”
“So, is it going to be more special now that we have not died and things seem quiet, or what?”
At that, she gave me quite the coy smile, pulling away from our previous closeness in favor of beckoning me towards the stairs. “Well, guess we’ll need to see about that, huh?” she teased, leaving with an obvious invitation for me to follow. Both my face and my heart were burning in the wake of her sudden forwardness. Even having been getting used to this kind of intimacy lately seemed insufficient, for so many reasons.
My footsteps echoed behind hers. I think she was intentionally swaying her hips at this point, just hoping I would be looking so she could tease me some more. It worked very well, too. By the time she turned to pass through the door into her bedroom, I was tensing up and aching to be held by her again. Just those brief few moments where I was unable to directly see her, before I had turned that same corner, was enough to give me a pang of unhappiness. I was like some sort of lovestruck teenager all over again.
By her utterly smug and self-pleased expression, I knew she was very proud of that fact, of how much of an effect she always had on me, even without her powers. She could probably make anyone fall for her just with that, but we were both here of our own free wills. We were here, together, in a way I have craved for such a long time, from before I allowed myself to think about such a thing with her, or with anyone at all.
There Lily was, seated on that pristine little bed of hers with one hand patting a place by her side. Opposite where I was, in fact, closer to her pillow. Upon taking the offer, she gently turned me, pushed me down til my head was resting against her pillow. I felt her touching my heart, a seeping comfort emphasizing the sensations of being kissed deeply. Everything, every iota of my being wanted to submit to her in that moment.
My wrist being pinned down gently was such a simple gesture on her part, but at this point it was enough to drive me crazy. Or, to just cause a pitiful little whine to escape my throat. I felt her mouth curl up into another smirk in response even as she kept kissing me. I was all hers, and she knew it, and she loved it. Hell, I loved it too.
My free arm wrapped around Lily’s waist, pulling her closer encouragingly and causing her to giggle a little. Her mouth moved lower, nipping at the tender skin of my neck. Every little gasp and moan I gave her just prodded her further, her hands now starting to roam along my skin wherever it was exposed, or even where it was not. She moved back up to kissing me, pulling at my clothes and venturing into more intimate areas.
I asked her hesitantly if I should just get rid of the clothes entirely, since I had made them to begin with, and she seemed a bit disappointed in the idea. One could easily imagine that she wanted to take her time teasing me with that, too, but it is a bit of a hassle to try and manually remove clothing that technically is attached to you, so she acquiesced. Her disappointment did not last long, once her gaze was occupied by my newly exposed body. The attention was at once gratifying and making me nervous.
That, too, failed to last, my nerves being washed away under a warm bloom of peace and sheer love. The effect faltered for a moment, as did her previously confident facial expression, and culminated in a pause.
“It’s okay for me to use my powers for this, right?” she asked, the concern evident in her features. “I just wanna make you feel good, that’s all.”
“I trust you,” was all that needed to be said.
The warmth entered me again, deeper and more intense than I had felt from her before. Above me, she had sat up, hastily working to remove most of her own clothing before moving back and pressing her bare skin against mine. Lily’s hands found the places I was most sensitive, and she continued delighting in every minute reaction I gave her as she played with me. It felt like heaven, to be there with her.
Once she had gotten her fill of the slow pace, she bent down to give me a decisive little peck, then shifted her position atop me in a way that left no doubts as to what we were doing now. Her eyes locked with mine the entire time, even as we trembled together in unison. My hips moved in tandem with hers, careful to preserve the rhythm we were building together as one. I was determined to keep going until she was satisfied.
Soon enough, I heard the sweet sounds of her climax, and she gently collapsed back onto me. After getting into a better position than that, we settled in together for the night, occasionally whispering sweet little words to each other. There was nothing more peaceful in the world than lying with her here, right now, making her feel warm and loved as she drifted off to sleep.
This meeting would be the first time I’d seen my own daughter in, well, days, probably. The exact time always escaped me, but she was always in the back of my mind, even as I worked. And now, here she was, on the arm of that… girl, standing there like nothing in the world was wrong. At least, that’s sure what it looked like. It helped that I knew about this little situation beforehand, but having someone like that so casually accepted among us felt wrong. Especially with Lily.
“Looks like we’re all present,” Elva began, “so let’s cut right to it. We’ve been a bunch of sitting ducks ever since this invasion began, and we need to change that before their next wave arrives.”
“If it arrives,” my daughter corrected.
“Sure, but the fact of it being an ‘if’ doesn’t change what we have to do.” Lily shrugged at that, apparently conceding the point. “I have an idea for something proactive, something to protect those who remain in Hateli. No, potentially everywhere else, too.
“From what we’ve gathered,” she continued, “the nomadic peoples of Karrian, far in the south, haven’t been attacked at all. Meanwhile, every settlement has. It’s not much, but we can get some kinda correlation there, and if it’s right, we could all be much safer if we evacuated from the safety of the walls.”
“Not like they gave us much safety in this situation anyways,” Jacquir pointed out.
“Sure didn’t seem like it,” agreed another.
“We’ll just take the supplies we need for survival, as well as our transmission sets. Sorry, Krishov, but your work needs to be put on hold for the time being.”
“Oh, that should be fine,” I replied. “The invaders aren’t actually destroying anything, right? Except in Belenon, but that was a special case. I don’t think anything bad will happen if we just leave it there. Plus, more time to spend with the, uh… family, right?” Lily shot me a glance at that, along with her reassuring smile.
“Right. You’ll be able to help with some packing, I hope.”
“We’ll all pull our weight,” Jerome interjected, “but I think the town watch should mostly be spreading the word of what we’re doing, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, to start. We’ll also have transmissions sent out advising others to do the same, so there’ll be plenty of word-spreading. In the meantime, though, we just gotta do what we can for this city.” A round of agreements echoed through the meeting room.
Once that bit had been settled, Elva went on to divide Hateli’s sections and assign them to various members, instructing them to meet back up at the office once they had informed all the surviving households and whatnot. I was apparently to start helping with the packing immediately, which made sense, given that I would not be as fast as the younger ones. Still, having to wait for some actual time to spend with Lily was a bit sad.
It was several hours before people started returning, despite how few people there were to inform anymore. By then, we’d had a few carts and vehicles fully loaded, and our speed at that would just get faster with more people working. Some time later, the first families started arriving, too. Most looked utterly broken – if not physically broken apart by a missing member, then broken in spirit. Was almost too depressing to look at.
A few had brought their own vehicles to load up, too, and everyone had quite the busy day. In spite of these families bringing everything they could think of from their own homes, there was still so much we needed to extricate from the storehouses before we could leave, and every moment felt like we might just be getting closer to another onslaught. Not like this is something you can or should rush, though. Or maybe it was? Better to be without some supplies out on the plains or in the hills than to be taken by those people, that’s what I’d say. But, wasn’t my call, in the end.
Honestly, it felt good to be working so hard. I always got engrossed in whatever I was putting my mind to, and even though this was a far cry from screwing around with bioalchemical processes, it still filled that need in me. Occasionally seeing my daughter out and about working just as hard lifted my spirits, too, gave me even more drive to see us all safe. Seemed she in particular was already safe, though, at least from what I’d heard. As much as I should just be grateful and happy, I couldn’t help but feel some bitterness alongside that. Didn’t want to let it get me down, in any case.
As the sun started dipping towards the horizon – or at least I knew it was, since it had already dropped below what the walls obscured by now – it became apparent that we weren’t going to be finished in a day. As usual, a binary of emotions surfaced; the usual anxiety over possibly imminent attack being one half, and the other composed of a certain somber relief. Relief, specifically, at the fact that we still had enough people to make this evacuation take such a long time to prepare at all.
One could only hope that this would be an ultimately unnecessary endeavor.