Other [FanFic] Rose & Sunflower 3: A Different Perspective (Updates MWF) -Ch 67 [14 August]

Discussion in 'Fan Works' started by Risukage, Jan 30, 2017.

  1. Risukage

    Risukage Existential Complex

    //Hello, and welcome back! For some reason you're interested in my strange little series, and seeing a THIRD book are probably expecting a continuation after Vox Arcana. Sorry, no. The short of a long story is that I was reading other stories one night on Archive of Our Own, and someone was writing a nifty story on Elliott's backstory. I got a kick out of it, and the next day drove 10 hours home from a business trip. I had planned to mentally block out more of Vox Arcana at that time, but instead found myself inspired by the other story, and thought about how I'd not done much character development and interaction between some people early on in R&S 1. Thus I ended up drafting a good six or seven chapters for a new story, this one told from Elliott's side. So yeah, it's not so much a "new" story as it is a retelling of the first book with more details. If this bores you, I don't mind! This is mostly to get it the hell out of my head and let myself feel better about not doing enough in the beginning of book 1 'cause I lacked the confidence to really expand on it.

    If you're new to all of this mess, go here for book 1: The Music Within (I know it didn't have a subtitle before, but that was BEFORE I made sequels), and book 2: Vox Arcana.

    Like it? Hate it? Let me know. At this point I've already navigated the rapids of insanity and am swimming about happily in a tranquil pool on the other side. Join me, the water's nice!

    Also, go on over to AO3 and have a read of the story that inspired this madness. It's quite good, and the least I can do is send them a bit of love: Write or Wrong.//


    Pacing restlessly back and forth, Elliott was lost in his thoughts, until a familiar and friendly voice brought him around again.

    "If you don't stop that you'll wear a rut in the floor." He paused and half-turned to address the person in the doorway. His brother, Charles, was leaning against the frame, wearing a slightly teasing smile. Elliott returned it, sighing and rubbing the back of his neck.

    "Then it would match my mood and mental state. Good afternoon, Charles, it's been some time. It seems that being a new parent has made exorbitant demands on your time and energy." The other man chuckled at his reply, running fingers through short, auburn-colored hair that was a vibrant contrast to Elliott's strawberry-blonde, looking very tired.

    "That it has. We have very nearly forgotten what uninterrupted sleep is like. But then, we knew what we were getting into, and mother has been such a wonderful source of support. She offered to watch the baby for the day, so that Jeanette could get a day to herself for a bit. When I told her of mother's offer she cried with relief for a bit. She immediately felt quite bad about it, but I do not blame her at all. For as trying as it all has been on me, it is nothing next to what she's been through, and she more than deserves a bit of time to herself."

    Elliott moved over to offer his brother a hug of support, which was warmly received. Despite the initial difference in appearances (their hair, and Elliott's deep blue eyes to Charles's deep green ones), there was an obvious similarity in their faces, as well as the way they carried themselves. It never ceased to perplex Charles that though he was older, Elliott was a few inches taller, and he frequently lamented this when growing up, as well as his self-perceived lack of talent compared to his younger brother. Strangely, Elliott never lorded any of this over him, and instead felt that he didn't have talent at all, that he had to work so very hard to make headway at anything.

    Further, he always felt uncertain in any task he'd attempt, as while Charles pretty much had his future laid out for him in taking over the family business, Elliott was free to choose his own path. This had created friction between them for a while, until they talked about it and found that they envied each other for the things that they themselves didn't like. They had begun to work together a bit more at that point, Elliott learning more about the business from Charles, and Charles trying his hand at whatever artistic medium Elliott was attempting at the time. This gave them greater confidence in their "assigned" endeavors, and having a peer of sorts helped them gain perspective. That support never waned, and Charles saw that Elliott was bothered by something.

    "What's on your mind? You've never been good at hiding your troubles, and something clearly weighs heavily on your mind." Sighing again, Elliott sat down heavily on the bench at his piano.

    "What am I doing with my life? I've got my college degree but I've yet to do anything with it. I have employment of a sort but it is hardly enough to live off of. I still desire to develop that novel but only the drive and no ideas. I am quite fortunate that our parents were amenable to my moving back in after college, but I feel so useless for it, as though I am unable to make it on my own." He chuckled darkly at himself, shaking his head. "I am fooling no one, I really am unable to make it on my own." Crossing his arms across his chest and staring off at a nondescript point on the ceiling, Charles considered this.

    "I do not think that that is true. You are quite capable, as I recall you being quite self-driven during your time at university, and you did have a place of your own. It was modest, but you were able to work and study, balancing both with each other. I think what you lack is not skill or motivation, but inspiration."

    "And therein lies the problem. I've no idea how to go about attaining that inspiration. Were it as simple as requesting a muse I'd have done so already. If you have any suggestions I am glad for them." Clapping him on the shoulder, Charles gestured to the door.

    "Let us have a coffee and discuss it, then. Perhaps a quorum will yield results."

    Downstairs in the kitchen, their parents, Elizabeth and Phillip, were seated at the kitchen table, going over business forms, statements of payment, and other such matters that go into running a business. Looking up, Elizabeth favored them with a fond smile, which was often perfectly mirrored in her sons.

    "I see that you have pried him from his habitat, well done, Charles. Good afternoon, Elliott, you've been up for some time today but have yet to have made your presence." He returned only half of her smile, still feeling rather downcast.

    "We were discussing the nature of my ennui and irritation. At least with myself," he remarked, preparing coffee for himself and his brother, as their parents already had theirs, "and he suggests a change of scenery, not self. I do not find this idea unpleasant, yet I am unable to fathom the method in which to enact it." Putting down the paper he was examining and removing spectacles from in front of the same deep green eyes that his eldest son had, Phillip tapped the bow of them against his lip as he thought about this statement.

    "You've always been fond of staying home. Even when at university I do not recall you leaving your apartment for anything other than class or work. Charles has a valid point, and I think it's an idea worth pursuing. As for where to go, perhaps something completely out of your comfort zone, something strange and unfamiliar. I do not wish to visit unpleasantries upon you, but it is often through adversity that one finds strength." Tucking auburn hair behind her ear, Elizabeth considered this as well.

    "Likewise I do not want to give the impression of kicking you out, but they both argue a strong position. And while you are reticent about travel, I do recall you being fond of the ocean. We went a few times when you were both young, and you were enamored with the location. Oh, where was it, now, it's been quite some time." The four of them thought about this for a minute, until Charles grinned and snapped his fingers.

    "Ah, yes! I remember, that little town off of the Gem Sea, not that far from here. Oh, what was its name... Gull Town? No, Pelican Town. A lovely, vibrant little community." Elliott presented his brother with a cup of coffee and sat to sip his own as he thought about this.

    "That's... Yes, you are correct, I remember as well. It's been a very long time now that I think of it, but those memories are pleasant. It would certainly be a change, from a large city to a small town. Although... No, that is my own prejudices and conceptions coloring my opinion. There's no reason to believe that they would be hostile to visitors, particularly since I recall such delightful events in my past."

    "You know, I do have a bit of time to myself," offered Charles, "perhaps the two of us could go and make a small trip of it. I'd love to go revisit the place, and I'm certain that you'd be far more comfortable having a friend along. Although, damn, I hate to leave Jeanette right now."

    "She can stay with us," Elizabeth stated, resting her chin on folded hands and elbows on the table, her dark blue eyes crinkling at the corners with endearment for her children, "I think that you need a bit of time to yourself as well, and with Phillip and I to help Jeanette will be more than cared for." The relief on Charles's face was obvious, and he immediately flushed and apologized for his eagerness in taking her up on the offer. Laughing brightly, she waved a hand at him.

    "Do not fear offense, I was a new mother once myself, and I was also grateful for any help and time that I could get. Jeanette is no different, and I am delighted to see you both continue to assist each other so readily. I will send her a message, you two can go ahead and make plans." Pulling out a smartphone from her pocket, she sent off a text message, just in case the other woman was asleep or busy. Charles and Elliott retrieved their own phones to pull up maps, figuring out their journey.

    "We seem to be about two hours out," Elliott observed, tapping and rotating the map, "so it is close enough to be approachable but not so far that I will be isolated. It is a bit late in the day for an excursion, so if we prepare today we can leave early tomorrow and have the entire day to explore and investigate. Though I should also consider other locations in case this one doesn't pan out."

    "I was thinking the same thing. I'll have to run home to assemble a bag. You should, too. Not a lot, just an overnight suitcase, just in case. This could just be a one-day trip, or we could be out for a while."

    "Do you really think that we'll be gone that long?"

    "Not necessarily, but if it does come down to that I'd rather have such items on-hand rather than wish I had them when I need them."

    "Fair enough. Well then," he sighed for the third time that day, holding his cup with both hands as he looked at the data his phone displayed, "it looks like tomorrow I'll be searching for a new home. And strangely, I find myself excited about the prospect."
     
      Last edited: Jan 30, 2017
    • Alkanthe

      Alkanthe Oxygen Tank

      Woo! I'm excited to see how this pans out, already we've got some new things happening! I love that we're getting to see more of Elliott's backstory!
       
      • Risukage

        Risukage Existential Complex

        Heh, then that makes two of us. :D

        Honestly, this book is pointless self-indulgence, so I'm quite grateful for anyone who wants to read this, especially as a lot of what both he and Lysander go/went through are similar to some of the crap I've dealt with (even though it's all headcanon and not real-canon). In a way it's a very public way of shitposting/shouting angrily about things while still being healthily therapeutic. Yes, this is straight-up self-insert fiction, I am Epic-Level Trash. Hurrah! *Throws confetti and glitter.*
         
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        • Risukage

          Risukage Existential Complex

          //Charles's car might, might, be based on one of mine. Maybe. : P//


          Early the next morning Elliott picked up his suitcase and walked out to Charles's car, which had just pulled up. It was an elegant, two-door coupe in champagne-gold, though Elliott recalled that sort being called "sparkling silver" for some reason. His brother stepped out of it to wave at him from over the roof and opened the trunk, his own suitcase stashed there as well.

          "Are you ready for a day of home searching? Well, reconnaissance, anyway, I doubt we'll find anything immediately, and there's so much to do to in order to move to a new place."

          "I've only had experience with that twice," Elliott replied, putting his cargo in the trunk and opening the passenger door, "moving into the apartment at university and then back home recently."

          Charles got back in on the driver's side and fastened his seat belt. "Wait until you have to buy a home. Right pain in the ass, it was. It was worth it after it was all over, but light help me, I'm so glad that we won't have to do that sort of thing again for a very long time." Docking his phone into the center console, he tapped the phone a couple of times to send the GPS route through the vehicle speakers and put on some music for a bit of background sound.

          Buckling himself in, Elliott rested an elbow on the door and his chin on his fist as he considered this. "I recall your frustrations, but I do not have the finances to purchase a home, though my credit rating is acceptable. Fortunately, I do not require much space, and studio apartments are slightly less expensive than those with a single bedroom. Oh, it occurs to me that I'd have to leave my piano behind, I'm certain that close neighbors would not enjoy my practice at any hour of the day. Perhaps a home will have to be in my future at some point."

          A quick check of the route showed about two hours to their destination, and Charles put the car in gear and drove off. "A car might be as well. You haven't needed one for ages, but depending on where you'll be and how far basic necessities are... Your license is still good, right?"

          "Yes, I renewed it last year, and I am a capable driver. Which reminds me, my thanks for being patient when teaching me to drive a manual. It is much more interesting than an automatic, I understand why you prefer them."

          "Which is why it's such a bother that they're so hard to find sometimes," Charles grumbled, turning onto a main road and shifting to fourth, "we were looking for a decent four-door saloon as it's much easier to fit a car seat and everything in one of those rather than this, but one that was decent and didn't break the bank was almost as bothersome as getting the house. I further admit that this trip will be lovely to get the opportunity to open the taps a little. It's not a sports car, but it is sporty, and I've not had the chance to put it through its paces in a little while."

          Smiling with humor, Elliott tapped the handle above the door. "So I should be reaching for this often, then? As I recall this vehicle has a bit of a rally pedigree, though I doubt that our path will take us through that sort of terrain."

          Charles's smile was cheeky. "Shall I find us one?"

          They bantered back and forth merrily, stopping off to grab a coffee before they got too far along, and caught up on each other's goings-on and events as they traveled. The two hours went by quickly, the landscape changing from a modern city to suburbs to pristine land. Winter was barely over but the smell and feel of spring was already in the air. The countryside was mostly varying shades of brown, with intermittent patches of green, slowly recovering from the snows that had covered and smothered it just a month previous. The GPS directed them to turn off eventually, onto a two-lane road that appeared to lead off to nowhere in particular. Only five minutes later, however, signs of a town (as well as signs for the town) appeared, and Charles eyed the on-screen map to see where they needed to go.

          "Not quite sure where to park, it looks rather small, and I don't feel quite comfortable trying to navigate the streets there just yet. Besides, it looks small enough that we can cover a good amount of it on foot, and we are here to investigate anyway. Ah, this looks promising."

          He turned off just past the bus stop onto a road going south. The road going east into town was paved, but the path west was hard-packed dirt and appeared to go to a farm in dire disrepair. Parking out of the way, Charles turned off the engine and got out, having a look around.

          "Yes, this should do. Doesn't seem to get any traffic so we won't obstruct anything, and puts us close to the town. Ready for a walk?"

          Charles was dressed a bit better for it, having traded out his usual suit and tie for nice jeans, a turtleneck, and a sports jacket over it. Elliott suddenly felt a bit self-conscious, not having considered this, and still sported his tailored shirt, waistcoat, and slacks. His double-breasted coat over it made it a bit less "posh," but he still wished that he'd thought of a more appropriate form of dress. However, he didn't have much else but that style, so it was a bit moot. Putting on his gloves against the early-spring chill, he nodded.

          "Let us go and have a walk down the lane of memories. We visited during the summer, yet there is something familiar about the scent of this place all the same."

          "You too? I wonder if it's the ocean. Where is it from here, I wonder," Charles mused, pulling out his phone, "we're here, so- Oh, not too far off, it's a bit south. Well, let's go. You're hesitating." Hiding a slight flush of embarrassment under the collar of his coat, he followed after his brother and strode into town.

          The remains of winter were still in evidence, as though the snow had melted here as well, the greenery was slow to make its presence again, leaving the plaza in front of them a stark white of tile and masonry. Elliott forgot his self-consciousness as he gazed around, quite taken in with the scenery, attempting to dredge up very old memories and match them against what he saw. It was mid-morning, and the townsfolk were going about their business, paying little mind to the newcomers. Except for one person. An older man, wearing a rather faded and worn hat with suspenders over a flannel shirt and old but serviceable trousers, stood up from the bench he was sitting on and walked over. There was a friendly smile under the fully grayed mustache, and curiosity in eyes that seemed to be younger than the rest of him.

          "Hello! Pardon my intrusion, but we don't often get tourists here. I am Lewis, mayor of Pelican Town. Is there anything I can do to help you with your visit?"

          Charles waited for Elliott to say something, then sighed with fond patience and nudged him before addressing the other man. "A little and a lot, I think. My brother is looking for a new home, and we're out scouting potential locations. We recalled visiting here before in our youth and it holds good memories, so it seemed prudent to drop in once more."

          Bushy eyebrows nearly disappeared under the lip of his cap as Lewis thought about this. "Then I welcome you once again to our humble community. The beach was long a popular destination for city residents, but that tapered off long ago. Ah, I forget much in my old age. What did you say your name was?"

          "Oh! My fault entirely, I never offered it. I'm Charles," he offered, extending a hand, which was warmly received.

          "Elliott," he said, after Lewis turned to him, accepting the greeting as well.

          "Good to meet you both. Well, I don't want to interrupt important business, but if there's something I can do I'll be here in the plaza a while."

          "Actually, you could be of invaluable help," remarked Charles, "it has been a long time, and we just got here a few minutes ago. If it isn't too much of a demand on your time, could we borrow your expertise and learn a bit more about this place? No sense in going blind when we have a knowledgeable guide, right?"

          Silent out of shyness, not sullenness, Elliott listened to them converse, having a look around. It was quite a lovely place, and he felt himself relaxing already. Perhaps Charles was correct, it was environmental and not personally mental that was his issue. He was pulled out of his reverie when he heard them talking about housing.

          "Well, most of the homes are that way," Lewis said, gesturing south-west from the plaza, "with a couple of small exceptions. Like the carpenter up the mountain. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around her building that lovely home up there all by herself, such a remarkable woman. The few who don't live directly here have ranches or cottages farther southwest in the forest, but- Oh, that's right, there's that old cabin at the beach that's been unused in ages, but it's been unused for ages, so I guess that doesn't count."

          Elliott looked south, seeing the road lead that way to a bridge over a river that ran east and west. "So the ocean is that way, then? And the mountains to the north?"

          "Yup. Well, basic tour is you're in the main plaza. Directly north of us is the general store, and to the left is the medical clinic. We're quite lucky to have Doctor Harvey here, small communities usually lack that sort of thing. A bit west of that is the path up to the park and the community center, though neither see too much use anymore. Take the road that goes north next to the general store and it'll take you up the mountain to our carpenter, as well as a very nice lake that is popular with local fishers."

          He paused for a second to smile at that thought, then continued with his impromptu tour. "That building over there is the saloon, and it's a nice place to visit and get to know people. Let's see. Ah yes, keep following that road east over the river and you'll hit the blacksmith's, and south of that is the library." Perking up, Elliott interrupted him with a question and excused himself as soon as he did so. Lewis chuckled at his enthusiasm. "Quite alright, you're one of the few that seems to appreciate it, then. It's only those of my generation that frequent it, most of the younger generations prefer to use the internet to look things up."

          "It is a useful tool, but there are few things as lovely as a book, a coffee, and a comfortable chair," Elliott remarked, lost in his thoughts again. "Ah, apologies, I keep interrupting."

          "Like I said, not a bother. It warms my old heart to see someone take an interest in our town! Where was I... Right, that road going west from the housing area goes into the Cindersap forest, which is pretty much uninhabited, except for Marnie's ranch and Leah's cottage. There's also a farm just north of there but..." He trailed off, looking rather sad, and shook his head. "Memories are in abundance here, it seems. Lastly, going south over the river takes you to the coast. That's about it, I'm afraid. It is a very small town."

          Feeling the breeze, Elliott looked south again, feeling a strange call as well. "Would it be a bother if we visited the ocean first? It's been some time, and I'd like to get that itch out of my system, so to speak."

          "Not a bother at all, Elliott, I want to go have a word with Willy anyway. Oh, he's our local fishing expert. He lives right on the pier, for reasons I still can't fathom. Well then, onward!"

          Lewis walked between the brothers as they took the path south, offering information and answering questions, though it was Charles who was doing most of the talking. On the other side of the river the road paralleled it heading west, and not very far south of it the dirt gave way to sand. Elliott turned up the collar of his coat against the sudden chill wind off of the ocean that rippled his hair, but he somehow didn't find it unwelcome. Breathing deeply of the salt-tinged air, he held shut his collar, now wishing that he'd brought a scarf, but not noticing it much all the same. The gentle, rhythmic, roar and crash of the waves was soothing, and though his memories were of playing in the sand, it was the water that now held his attention. He stared out over the ocean, finding a strange sense of inner peace and smiling to himself. Was this what he sought? He wasn't certain yet, but he was fairly sure, and for the first time in a little while felt a sense of confidence.
           
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          • Risukage

            Risukage Existential Complex

            //*Scratches nose.* Yeah, I've got nothing interesting to say today. Other than that I'm getting a kick out of writing for Elliott and Charles together. They seem to play off of each other well, and Charles helps define Elliott's character as well as give him the motivation/drive to change his lot in life. I'm actually glad that he didn't get any screen time in book 1 (except for the last chapter, heh!), as I'm really able to take the time to set up a good relationship here that I wouldn't have been able to do the first time around.//


            It wasn't the water that got Lewis's attention, as he saw one of the other townsfolk nearby, sitting on the sand and idly helping his younger brother build a sand castle.

            "Good morning, Sam, it's a bit cold for you and Vincent to be out here, isn't it?"

            The blonde, spiky-haired man looked up at being addressed, and shrugged as he stood, seeing that the mayor had guests. "Sorta, this time of year is kinda crap. The snow's all melted so you can't play with that, but it's too cold to have a good time here." He took a handful of sand and tried to form it into a ball to reinforce his point, which simply drained through his fingers. "So, who're the new dudes?" he asked, dusting off his hands.

            "Visitors, one of them looking for a place to stay."

            Sam was incredulous. "Here? Dude, why? There's nothing here!"

            Lewis was about to admonish him when Elliott laughed. "I don't know about that, there is little here, but what exists is fascinating. You have a curious community and one that I see is vibrant and full of history. Further, it is a lovely setting with a diverse environment. Long have I lived in the city, so I suppose that I am foolish to find such a varied locale surprising, but all the same I find myself desiring to learn all about it as soon as possible." He suddenly turned scarlet and hid behind the collar of his coat again, this time due to embarrassment.

            Laughing brightly, Sam's face was nearly bisected with a smile as bright as the early-afternoon sun. "You really wanna drop your fancy lifestyle and move out here? You're crazy! I like that. I'm Sam, cool to meet ya." He offered a hand and Elliott was almost too surprised to take it.

            "Oh, hello then. Elliott. Why do you say that I am 'fancy?' I'm not offended, but-"

            "Puh-leeze, you talk all posh, you're wearing expensive shoes, and you walk like someone that doesn't have any cares." He laced his fingers behind his head and shifted his weight to one leg. "Not taking the piss outta you or knocking your opinions, just saying that you look way too upscale for this place. If you wanna move out here power to you, dude, but there's also not a hell of a lot in the way of work. I'm working part-time at freakin' Joja Mart, for Yoba's sake. It's nice here but you're screwed for a job."

            "That shouldn't be a problem in the short-term," Elliott replied, "I have some savings, and am currently working on a novel. Once it is published I shall be far more stable, but..." He sighed as the weight of reality settled in on him. "I've yet to even begin. That is why I desire a chance of scenery, to find the inspiration and guidance that I need to start the project of which I dream."

            Sam shrugged again and shifted his weight to his other leg. "I get you, dude. Me 'n Sebby 'n Abby are putting together a band, but we still don't know what kind of music we're gonna make. Though some days it feels like most of my energy goes to prying Sebastian out of his basement and Abby out from her parents' thumb and I don't have anything left for practice. But I'll get there, I mean, I'm totally awesome, I've just gotta get everyone else to realize it, right?" Elliott was taken aback by Sam's straightforward confidence, while Charles covered a laugh with a cough, and Lewis bristled his moustache at him.

            "I'll be more convinced when a week finally goes by that I don't hear of you getting into mischief. What would your father think?"

            Turning a bit red with anger, Sam shoved his hands into his pockets and glared off into the distance. "Maybe if he ever comes home I can find out."

            "Oh, who lives there?" Charles asked, gesturing at the shack on the pier, sensing a sensitive topic about to be broached, "I think you said something about a fisherman?"

            "Yes, I did need to stop in and talk to Willy, thank you for the reminder. If you'll excuse me a moment I'll be back to continue your tour shortly." Sam hadn't moved, clearly unsettled but not upset. Not quite sure what to say, Elliott was saved having to think up a topic when Sam's younger brother waved a shovel at him to get his attention.

            "I need help with this, it's not working right."

            "Hunh?" Looking up, Sam noticed his request and smiled faintly, walking back over to assist. "Sure, Vincent, what're you trying to do? Oh, hey, I'm not suddenly ignoring you two," he said, now addressing the visitors, "but I did promise to spend time with him today and all, so..."

            Elliott smiled in a friendly manner and adjusted his coat. "Do not worry, we intruded on your time and activities, if there is an apology to be made we are the ones to offer it."

            "Heh, cool. Good luck on your book, dude!"

            "I wish you the same in your endeavors."

            Following Lewis's path to the pier, Elliott and Charles strode out onto the wooden structure, feeling a gentle sway as the Gem Sea buffeted it. Charles turned around to have a look back at the town from this perspective and noticed that he was the only one to do so.

            "You seem pretty enamored with this place already."

            "I have long scoffed at the notion of 'love at first sight,' but I am quite ready to confess that I may have been wrong. There is something about this place, a tranquility I've never felt before. What I felt previously was the childlike fondness for something. This is mature love, a deep respect for something. It is too soon to make a decision, but I should like to explore this town further."

            "Same. I don't quite have the same feeling you do, but I understand it. I hadn't expected to be successful on the first try, either. If this pans out for you then it'll be what you need. Already you sound more inspired. Oh? Finished already?" he asked Lewis, who closed the door of the shack behind him.

            "Just a quick check on local businesses. Winter is always difficult for everyone, and as mayor it's my duty to ensure that everyone's needs are taken care of. And now that the needs of the residents are met, I can take care of yours. Is there anything else I can help with?"

            "Actually..." Elliott, hedged, looking at the cabin, "I recall that being inhabited years ago, but now it seems to be unoccupied. May I inquire as to why?"

            "You're thinking that the previous owner passed away? Nah," he laughed, slapping him on the arm, "Willy just got tired of living so far from the water's edge and just moved into his shop. Says that he sleeps better with the rocking of the pier anyway."

            "Oh! Well... If we can further impose on you, I'd like to see the rest of the town, but only if you aren't busy!" He had returned to his shy, self-effacing self again, and Charles sighed and shook his head, but for his brother, not at.

            "He offered, so we're not imposing."

            "That you aren't. I don't often get the chance to boast about our modest home, so you'll excuse me if I talk your ear off." He was cut off as his stomach growled, and he coughed in embarrassment. "Hrm, though I should stop the words coming out of my mouth and put some food in instead."

            "A fine idea. We had some coffee earlier this morning but nothing since. Is there any place local we can dine?"

            "The saloon is open now, and we can drop in for a fast lunch as well as meet a few other people. Like I said, it's been a while since we had visitors."

            Chuckling behind his hand, Charles favored the other two with a smile. "This appears to be a good day for the both of you. You get to show off the town, and with every word Elliott becomes more enthralled by it."

            "I-! I don't mean to be a bother-"

            "Have you any idea how long it's been since I've seen you so enthusiastic about something? I'm happy for you right now. And you've always been so hesitant. Be bold! Do something daring and spontaneous for once. It'll do you good."

            Smiling softly, Elliott hid it behind the collar of his coat. "I might just do that."


            The saloon was nearly empty, save for the bartender, his assistant, and one woman alone at a table, munching on a salad. She paused in her meal to toss a long, orange braid back over her shoulder, then picked up the book she had set down and resumed reading. Upon the arrival of the three men, she glanced up, put down her book, and regarded them with interest.

            "Hi, Lewis, who're the newcomers?"

            Taking off his cap, Lewis nodded to her. "Hello, Leah, they're visitors, though one might be interested in living here."

            Giggling, she put her chin in her hands. "My money's on the blonde one, what with that blush and all." She giggled again as Elliott turned even redder. "Okay, sorry, that was mean. I'll leave you alone, you're probably busy."

            "We're just grabbing a bite to eat before we continue the tour of town. Mind if we join you?"

            "Oh! Sure!"

            "We won't be a bother?" Elliott asked, earning a thump on the back from his brother.

            "If it was she'd have said something. Have some confidence in yourself! First, though, let's get acquainted with the owner and order something to eat."

            Gus greeted them enthusiastically, but not as much as Emily, who appeared nearly giddy at the chance to meet new people, and took their orders in between asking them rapid-fire questions that they almost were unable to answer before the next one was asked. Finally served, they joined Leah at her table, who had put her book away.

            "So what makes you want to live out this way? I mean, I know why it's great, but I want to hear your story." Elliott hesitated and Charles nudged him, which seemed to be the impetus he needed to open up.

            "I have been attempting to work on a novel for quite some time, but I have so far been unsuccessful. My brother suggested a change of things, and we both recalled good memories of this place when we were younger. It stood to reason that it might still be as pleasant now, and thus we are here to explore and examine. I must confess that already I am captivated by this place and feel the stirrings of a story within me after so long without result."

            "So you're a writer? Wow! I'm an artist, so while you paint with words, I paint with, well, paint. I'm not sure where I was going with that one."

            Laughing at the failed joke, Elliott found himself enjoying the conversation. "Not yet a proper writer, as I have not had anything published, but I have aspirations of such. And you, an artist? What is your medium of choice?"

            "Like, all of them. Painting, sculpting, carving, all of it. I'm not making much money, but I'm just not that sure where or how to sell it, and it is kinda hard to let go of a favorite piece, y'know?"

            Conversing merrily as they ate, Charles happily took a back seat to supplying input and let his brother take the lead. This place definitely was good for him, he hadn't been this gregarious in ages. Finished with lunch, Leah departed in the direction of her cottage, offering the invite to drop in at any time, and Lewis led the three-person procession up the mountain. It was a decent jaunt, especially after lunch, but a beautiful one. The placid, vibrant, deep blue lake was particularly lovely, and Elliott and Charles could easily see how it was a favored fishing destination.

            Since they were already in the area, Lewis once more begged an indulgence to step in and check in with Robin, the carpenter, same as he had for Willy. Like the other townsfolk before her, she was interested in the new arrivals, though she apologized for half of the household being out and about; her husband and daughter were off in the mines collecting samples for an experiment they were working on, and they ran into Sebastian as he emerged from his basement bedroom to get a fresh thermos of coffee from the kitchen. Upon being informed of Elliott's intentions, he frowned in confusion.

            "No offense, but here? Really? I'm saving up to get my ass outta here, and you want to move in?" He saw the dark look from his mom and sighed. "I'm not telling you that your choice is bad, I just don't get it, that's all."

            "The man on the beach said something similar," Elliott noted, tapping his lip, "Sam, I believe?"

            "Heh, not surprised. He wants to get away, too, but I'm pulling in several times the income he is and even I don't think I can afford to live in the city right now."

            "Perhaps the two of you could pool your funds. Would living as roommates be suitable?" suggested Elliott, having considered the same thing when he was working on his degree. Sebastian winced at the thought and shook his head.

            "I thought about that once, and then I remembered the couple of times I stayed overnight at his house. He's a great friend, but I swear to Yoba I'd straight up murder him inside of a week if I had to live with him."

            After excusing themselves from each other, Lewis retraced their path down the mountain, and Elliott took the time to properly enjoy it this time around. It was getting on late afternoon, and the shadows got longer as the light retreated below the horizon. Stretching and yawning, Charles rubbed the back of his neck.

            "Today was a lot of fun, but I'm already tired. I'll need another coffee for the drive back."

            "...Do you think you feel comfortable making it alone?"

            At first surprised, Charles glanced at his brother with concern, then smiled. "Thinking of staying the night to get a feel for the place at all hours?"

            "I... Yes. Already I have been made to feel quite welcome, and I would like to see this place after a night's rest. I must know if what I feel is the byproduct of euphoria or if I truly am content."

            "I'm good to go alone, that is, if there's even a place to stay."

            Lewis nodded and hooked his thumbs in his belt loops. "The second floor of the saloon is also an inn, but it doesn't get much use anymore. If you plan to stay here the night then I'll talk to Gus and get something set up for you. Erm, do you have any luggage?"

            "Ah, yes, my suitcase is in his car."

            "Where'd you park?"

            Charles's eyes unfocused as he thought, remembering the morning. "Just by the bus stop, where the road splits and goes east over here and west to...a farm? I think?" There was a momentary flash of sadness that Elliott and Charles almost didn't see, but chose not to remark on it.

            "Right, I know where your car is, that's pretty close. Do you have a lot with you?"

            "No, sir, just the one suitcase."

            The sadness was completely gone as Lewis laughed. "That's quite alright, Elliott, no need for formalities. I may be the mayor, but every time someone calls me 'sir' I feel like I should wave a cane at them and tell them to get off of my lawn. I'm not that old."


            Hugging Charles as he retrieved and set down his suitcase, Elliott was surprised to notice that he didn't feel any sudden sense of unease or trepidation. He remarked on this, and Charles cuffed him on the shoulder, happy for his brother.

            "You know, I really do think you're going to be fine. I'll keep the sound active on my phone, so if anything comes up give me a call. I'll be back some time tomorrow to pick you up. Sounds good?"

            "It sounds excellent. Thank you again. You may have just given me the key that I need in order to unlock the door of success."
             
              Last edited: Feb 6, 2017
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            • Risukage

              Risukage Existential Complex

              //I really have lost my damn mind. I was tinkering with something and idly began generating ideas. Brainstorming, as it were. They were interesting enough, but nothing that I can use in this book, and I'm NOT writing a fourth. Besides, it's all little one-shots, and then I had the idea for a one-offs series full of these little vignettes, tentatively titled "Random Acts of Shitposting." TELL ME I DON'T NEED TO DO THIS, PEOPLE DON'T CARE. I mean, the NSFW Chapters has been a fun project, and it was an interesting experiment (AO3 only!!!!), but once this book is done I really, REALLY need to let this universe end. Just...shut up, brain, focus on finishing this book and I'll give you beer again.//


              Elliott was momentarily perplexed when he woke, finding himself in comfortable yet unfamiliar surroundings. Then he remembered the previous day's excursion and decision, and pulled his knees to his chest as he looked idly around the room, examining his own thoughts and feelings.

              I still feel no hesitation or concern. It is still early yet, and I have been here less than a day, but already I find this town growing upon me. There is so much to learn and explore, and so much has already been inspired within me. This could be the nirvana I seek in which to attain enlightenment.

              He sat there for a little while longer, taking the time to sort his thoughts and make a plan for the day. Once certain of what he wanted to do, he got up and took his time getting cleaned up and dressed. He wasn't out to impress, directly, but he definitely did want to make a good first impression, and he always took care and pride in his appearance. Suitably ready for the day, he re-packed his suitcase and went downstairs, suddenly wondering if anyone would even be about. Fortunately, since there was a guest staying, Emily had come in early in case he needed anything, something for which he gratefully thanked her. Smiling brightly, she waved it off and once more put her chin in her hands and elbows on the bar.

              "What can I get for you? I figure you're hungry, and I can make most anything on the menu right now."

              "Ah, to be honest, I do not normally eat this early in the morning. If I could trouble you for a cup of coffee, however..."

              "Sure thing! Cream and sugar?"

              "Cream yes, but no sugar."

              "Got it, be right back."

              He had smelled it when he had come downstairs earlier (it is such a lovely, distinctive scent!), and he had found that to be what he craved and not calories. Presently, she returned with two cups, one for each of them, with the pitcher of cream, and once more like the day before, grilled him relentlessly on his decision to move.

              "Y'know, a lot of people will probably tell you that you're crazy for wanting to live out here, but don't listen to them. It's a bit slow and small here, but that's part of the charm! If you need something you can go to the city and then come back."

              Chuckling, Elliott shook his head and sipped his coffee. "Do you know, I was thinking of something similar, and more than one person expressed their disbelief that I would walk away from my life as it is. Do not get me wrong, I do love the city and genuinely prefer it there, and I am so very grateful for what I have, but at the same time, it is where I have lived all of my life. I lack perspective and experience, which can only be attained through expanding my horizons. In less than a day here, however, I already feel myself becoming more than I was. I want to hesitate, to hold back and wait to be certain, but that is all that I have ever done and I have not grown because of it."

              "You sound like you've already made the decision to stay," she grinned, draining her cup, "want another?"

              "Yes, to both of your statements," he replied, handing over the empty vessel, "though I have not yet determined how I shall go about obtaining housing. I do not require much, something the size of a studio apartment shall suffice. But of what I have seen there appears to be little that is unoccupied."

              Emily returned with coffee, nodding. "Yeah, nobody new's moved in since... I can't think of when, actually. And thinking of all of the houses here, yeah, they're all being used. No apartments here, either, there's never been a need. Wow, I don't know what you're going to do, then. Maybe Lewis might have an idea. Roommates with someone?"

              He laughed at this, recalling his statement to Sebastian. "I am not averse to the idea, but as you said, who around here could take me in? I will not intrude upon someone's home because I failed to plan ahead."

              "Oh!" she exclaimed, snapping her fingers, "that cabin on the coast! Willy moved out of it ages ago, but it's still in good condition. I think he just uses it for a bit of storage or something. Maybe you can sweet-talk him into a price."

              "Do you have powers of telepathy? I inquired about it as well yesterday, and..." His gaze became unfocused as he stared into his coffee, "the ocean, it calls to me somehow. It is alive, roaring at times yet whispering at others. There is a musical pulse to it to which I nearly find myself dancing in time." He looked up and cleared his throat, blushing a little, and took a deep drink. "Ah, pardon me, I began to wax poetic."

              "Are you kidding? You can just do that? Your book is going to be totally great!"

              "You...really think so? But I've no plot nor characters nor a setting in which to put them."

              "You've got the drive and the skill, all you need is the ideas, and it sounds like you're already starting to get them. Tell you what, if I'm wrong, I'll... I'll...grow out my natural hair color!" This strange idea made him laugh brightly and he apologized for it, which was again rebuffed. "I mean it, I think you can do it. This place is full of artists and creators! I design and make clothes, Leah does all kinds of art, Sam is a songwriter, Abigail draws like a pro, my sister is into photography, Maru makes all of these cool little machines and devices, and Sebastian is a software engineer. You'll fit right in!"

              "That...makes strange yet logical sense. I can easily see how such a locale gives rise to such creativity in such a diverse quantity. But once again I encounter upon the dilemma of lacking a place to which I can call my own. Perhaps I shall broach the option of that cabin after all..."

              They conversed a little while longer, and he left the saloon with a brightness to his stride, wandering about town with no destination in mind. Then he remembered that Lewis had mentioned a library and went in the direction it should have been, and smiled when he saw a large building on the east side of the river that ran north and south on the edge of town. It wasn't a large library, definitely not if one compared it to ones from Zuzu city, but for a town of this size it was remarkable and in excellent condition. He was surprised by someone getting his attention (apparently for the second or third time, as he hadn't heard them at first), and apologized for it. The other person wasn't offended, and introduced himself as the librarian and museum curator.

              For a few hours Elliott conversed happily with him, asking about the town and its history, customs, legends and stories, the flora and fauna native to the region... Eventually Gunther chuckled and requested a break, as though he was delighted to have such an apt and enthusiastic visitor, he did need to find a quick drink and snack, as talking had rather worn him out. Elliott departed the library at this time, his mind made up. Crossing the bridge back over the river, he saw someone familiar tending the flower bed in front of an old, large, but well-kept house. He waved and quickened his stride.

              "Mayor Lewis, good morning!"

              The older man tilted up the brim of his cap to identify his caller, and brightened when he saw the blonde man approach. "I think it's closer to 'afternoon,' but it is good all the same. How was your night's stay?"

              "It was excellent, and today has been just as good. I have made up my mind. I..." He paused to take a deep breath and steel himself, checking one last time for any hint of trepidation-

              -And found none.

              "I wish to move here. It is sudden, but I have considered it continually since I arrived yesterday, and I have yet to arrive at an answer that gives me pause. Save for one... The issue of a home. I do not know if it is possible, but I should like to inquire about the possibility of purchasing or renting the oceanside cabin for my own use."

              "The-? Heh, finally it'll see some use. Willy's just been using it for a bit of extra storage space, a pity to waste a nice home like that in that way. Let me wash up real fast and we'll go and have a talk with him."

              "Please, take all of the time that you need, I have taken too much of it as it is."

              "You're fine, young man, your enthusiasm makes me feel younger, and you've no idea how valuable that is."

              Fifteen minutes later they were at the little shack on the pier, and though curious about Elliott's proposal, the fisherman wasn't averse to it. Stroking his beard, he pondered the offer and glanced out the window to the shore. "Gotta say it'd be nice ta see the place in use again," he mused, "it's lovely but too big, and I like the sound and feel of the waves b'neath me. Too many years wi' naught but a deck under me feet an' the blue sky above. Just gimmie a few days ta shift me cargo elsewhere. Prob'ly need ta sell most of it anyway. If I've not seen it in years I prob'ly don't need it, yeh?"

              "Whatever you ask, I insist upon compensating you for it."

              "Ye've not even been inside yet and ye're already makin' a deal? 'Ave a look in first."

              Elliott turned a deep shade of red, embarrassed at his overenthusiastic oversight. "Oh! That is a good idea. I was so caught up in the idea of it that I completely neglected the logistics."

              Leading the way with the keys, Willy unlocked the door, fumbled for the light switch, and was surprised to see the lights come on, as though he hadn't expected it to work. "Ah, right, been paying a bit of 'lectrical upkeep, in case I needed to get at summat. Means we'll need to be sure the water and gas and all are good, too, I remember I shut those off before I closed up."

              The interior was dusty and sand-coated, but in good repair. The roof was still in excellent shape, and the doors and windows had good insulation and weatherstripping to keep out the dirt and elements. It was only two rooms, a main room and a smaller bedroom with a sectioned-off bathroom. The main room was the size of the room he had back with his parents, and already he found himself mentally placing and sorting his bookshelves, as well as his piano, and he smiled as he realized that he'd be able to bring it and not have to worry about disturbing neighbors. He explored silently for several minutes, examining everything, leaving small imprints in the dust wherever he went. Lewis and Willy talked between themselves about something, but Elliott was oblivious to it.

              "Name your price," he said, returning from the bedroom to look around again, "whatever it is, whatever favor or material wealth I will give it to you."

              "Yer heart's really set on this place. Heh, well then, far be it from me ta turn down such a heartfelt offer. Let's off ta the mayor's for a cup 'o tea and work out the particulars."

              Around Lewis's table they drew up a contract of sale, as Lewis had a record of all deeds and property ownership in town. This took a surprisingly short amount of time, and soon Elliott was outside in the late afternoon sunshine, calling his brother.

              "Charles? How are you?"

              "Quite well, yourself?"

              "Excellent, actually. If it's not too much bother, I'd like to bother you for that pick-up. I have news that I'd like to share."


              Moving was a rather swift affair, as most of what he was bringing was books and shelves upon which to put them. The piano was also technically large, but it was more bulky and unwieldy than anything else. Everything fit neatly into one van, and he had hired a moving company to do so, as though he wasn't weak despite his proclivity for indoors activity, he didn't want to risk damaging anything. The final items were packed, and as the movers checked the last of their paperwork and plotted a route to Pelican Town, Elliott and Charles joined their parents outside.

              Hugging Elliott happily, Elizabeth stepped back to take his face in her hands, smiling with satisfaction. "I'm quite proud of you, my dear, this is a large step and you've taken it with confidence. I'm certain that you'll be successful, as you have put both your mind and energy toward this. Do give us your address once you're settled, we must visit some time."

              Phillip also favored Elliott with a hug, pleased with his youngest son's progress. "You will do the family name proud as you make one for yourself."

              Blinking back tears, Elliott nodded. "Thank you, I'll make you both proud. You've both done so much and supported my dream, even though it has never come to anything. Please be patient a little longer."

              "Take all the time that you need, dear, this is important to you."

              Turning to his brother, Elliott squared his shoulders and picked up his satchel, containing his laptop and other small items. "Shall we depart? This might be the last drive that we take together for some time."

              "If you're ready. You know, it appears that you won't need car after all. You always did go to great lengths to prove me wrong!"

              The two hours to Pelican Town practically flew by, and Charles listened with a smile as Elliott talked at great (and exuberant) length. At some point Elliott realized that he was dominating the conversation and apologized, turning a bit red for it. Charles laughed and told him not to worry. Like their parents he was happy for his brother, and was glad to hear him have such interest in something. They arrived just ahead of the van to open up the cabin, and they assisted where they could in unloading. It was a surprisingly swift affair, and though boxes of books were stacked haphazardly about, the shelves were in place, the boxes with clothes and other linens in the bedroom, and the piano safely transported and tucked against the wall.

              Elliott sank into his computer chair at his writing table and Charles dropped heavily onto the piano bench, rubbing the back of his neck as he looked around. "Got to say I'm impressed. And almost a little envious, you ended up 'buying' a home faster than I did!" He grinned at Elliott's look of embarrassment and leaned over to cuff him on the shoulder. "You know, one day you'll learn to take a joke. And really, this is quite nice. You've never needed a lot of room to yourself, and this feels comfortable but not cramped."

              Reclining in his chair, Elliott relaxed, feeling the tension of the move finally draining away. "It really is. It's perfect for my needs. I have no excuse, I must achieve my dream, because so many people have provided me resources and have placed their faith in my success. This is not just my dream anymore, it is shared amongst those who have helped me get this far."

              Later that evening, after Charles had departed and Elliott had taken a meal at the saloon (he'd pick up groceries and the like at the store the next day), he enjoyed a long, hot shower, feeling the ache of moving so many heavy things, as well as the stress of the move, wash away. He breathed deeply of the hot, humid air and stretched, feeling joints pop and muscles stretch, knowing that he would sleep deeply and well. Drying himself off but only toweling his hair to "damp," he carefully hung up the towel, turned off the lights, and staggered to the bed, feeling the grasp of sleep tighten slowly around his mind. Shortly after pulling the warm blankets over himself to offset the chill of early spring (the heat worked but it hadn't been on that day while they moved things in with the door open), and hugged a second pillow close as he relaxed further. Inside of a few breaths he was asleep, dreaming of nothing in particular, as even his mind was too tired to be creative.
               
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              • Risukage

                Risukage Existential Complex

                //No commentary of note. I'm heading back out of town for business, so apologies if this chapter isn't quite as good, I got caught up in packing and need to leave first thing in the morning. I am gonna need SO much coffee for this drive. :D//


                He awoke to the sound of rain on the roof, but it sounded strange. It wasn't bad, just...unfamiliar. Sitting up, he blinked as he looked around. The bed was his, but-

                Oh!

                That's right, he thought, sitting up, this is my home now. ...My home. Such an uplifting and reassuring thought.

                He sat there a while longer, looking out the window at the rain and listening to it as it drummed a random pattern on the roof.

                Eventually, he decided that he'd lounged about long enough and got up to get dressed. A beige waistcoat and trousers with an emerald green tailored shirt under it was his attire for the day, and he carefully brushed the tangles out of his hair that had formed in the night. Once that task was done, he reached for the simple silver hoop earrings that he always wore. They had been a birthday gift from Charles the year that he'd had his ears pierced, and he'd worn them ever since. It had been a whim to do it, to be honest, as he had been looking to change his image a little bit, but not too much, and found that he rather liked the look. He wasn't sure what style he wanted, though, and still hadn't purchased anything to replace the piercing studs with by the time it was to remove them, so his thoughtful older brother solved that dilemma for him.

                His attire and appearance sorted, he went to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, putting the grounds and hot water in the press to steep while he sought out a mug and the cream. Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he sat down with the prepared drink in his computer chair and checked the weather forecast for the day. It was going to rain all day, and he glanced over at the door and smiled, having hung an umbrella on the coat rack by the door. Savoring the caffeinated beverage, he rinsed the mug and left it in the sink for later as he strode across the room to the door. He shrugged into his coat, buttoned it up, put on his gloves, reached for a tote bag that he slung over his shoulder, grabbed the umbrella, and stepped outside.

                Once again he took a moment to take in the scenery and weather. The ocean was a deep, slow counterpart to the bright, swift pattering of the rain. Opening the umbrella, he stepped off of the porch onto damp sand that shifted slightly under his shoes, leaving deep footprints behind, a visible trail from his cabin to the edge of the bridge over the river. He walked slowly, taking in the view and enjoying the town being painted in soft, muted grays. It already smelled of green things finally sprouting and growing, but everything was enhanced and enriched, and he found esters and notes that he hadn't caught earlier. Breathing deeply as he walked, he found himself in a walking meditation, and eventually arrived at the general store.

                Under the awning, he closed his umbrella and shook it off before stepping inside, looking for a place to set it, and gratefully hanging it up over a waterproof mat that had been placed there for that reason.

                Pierre greeted him and then squinted as he looked across the store. "Oh, hello, I don't think we've met yet. You just moved here, right?"

                Striding across the store, Elliott offered a hand, which was accepted. "Correct, I just got in yesterday. Nothing is unpacked, but I will take care of that over time. However, I thought it prudent to fill my pantry before my closets." They conversed a little, pausing as a violet-haired girl bounded down the hall from the back. She was wearing a rain coat and held an umbrella in one hand and a backpack slung over her other shoulder. Pausing to examine Elliott, she made a noise of recognition.

                "Hey, you're that new guy that Sam was talking about, hunh?"

                "Correct. I am Elliott."

                "Hey, Abigail. Sorry to run, but I'm meeting him for band practice and I wanna get going before the rain comes down any worse."

                "By all means, do not let me hold you back."

                "Cool. Bye!" She was only slightly younger than him, but her energetic enthusiasm made him feel twice as old. Chuckling at this, he resumed his conversation with Pierre, learning of his family (of whom Abigail is his daughter), and met Caroline, who brought up a box of items to put on the shelves. After introducing himself to her, he excused himself to pick up the groceries that he needed, placing them in the bag that he had brought. He purchased his selections and returned home, intending to put everything away and then take the rest of the day to explore and visit. He would cloister himself away soon enough. For now, however, despite the drizzle it was still a lovely day and he wanted to have a long, pleasant walk.

                Later that afternoon he grew tired from his extended exercise and went home again, feeling quite refreshed from the weather and tranquil solitude. His mind buzzing with ideas, he hastily made a quick lunch and a cup of coffee, opened his laptop, and typed away furiously. This barrage of ideas didn't slow for several hours, and though he didn't have a story or a plot yet, that would come. For now, he let his muse work through him, compiling and transcribing his thoughts digitally, as fast as his fingers would let him. Finally, he was forced to push himself away from the desk and stand up to stretch and walk around. He went back outside to have a look at the weather, which was coming down twice as hard as it had been when he got back home.

                Home...

                He smiled again, leaning against the cabin wall, staring out over the ocean. He felt so at peace, so relaxed. His mind still bubbled with ideas, though not as furiously as it had earlier, and rubbing his hands to ease the ache from extended typing, put his dishes in the sink to take care of later and returned to taking notes. This lasted him until evening, when he looked up because it was dark enough indoors that the brightness of the screen was a bit harsh against the dimness of the room. He rubbed the back of his neck, now feeling an ache there from sitting so long in the chair, hunched over the keyboard. Saving his work, he closed the laptop screen, stood up, pushed his chair back in, and let his fingers dance across a few keys as he walked past the piano to the bedroom. He was still a little tired from the previous day, and he had done quite a bit of walking and then writing.

                Undressing for sleep, he plugged in his phone on the bedside table and folded his arms above his head as he leaned back into the pillows and once again listened to the rain on the roof, same as that morning. The soft, arrhythmic sound was hypnotic, and he soon drifted off, hearing it and the ocean sing in his dreams.


                The next couple of days played out much in the same way, though the clouds had cleared and the sun shone brightly. He still didn't have anything concrete for his book yet, but there was no rush. It would come to him. Already he had a small wealth of notes and had already begun expanding upon some of them. Shortly, he had a routine of getting up for a walk in the morning (and if he was short on groceries it was to Pierre's and back), visiting the library until lunch, returning home, and then writing the rest of the afternoon and evening. By the beginning of the second week he began to become annoyed with himself that he still didn't know what it was that he wanted to write, but cleared his mind of those thoughts. Frustration would be of no help, it would only block the flow of ideas. He read hungrily of the local legends and stories, of its history and that which grew and lived there. Despite this, no book of his own took shape. Perhaps he was going about it the wrong way? But what was the correct way?

                He realized partway through his second week there that he'd not gone back to the saloon and immediately felt a pang of guilt. That evening he returned to it and apologized profusely to Gus for not attempting to contact him sooner. He was immensely grateful for the lodging that he had provided that one night, as well as Emily's assistance (who thanked him and patted his hand, telling him not to worry about it), and felt better for having tied up that proverbial loose end. Their help had allowed him to find a home there, it would just be rude to not offer his gratitude. Since she hadn't seen him since that one morning, she poured the drink that he ordered and chatted with him about what had happened in the intervening time. He expressed concern that she was working and that other customers might need something, but once again she waved it off. She knew the "tells" for when someone required something, and proved it when she stepped away to pour another beer for Shane, who took it with a grunt and returned to his corner on the far side of the bar from Elliott, quite staunchly ignoring everyone else.

                Elliott resolved to come in there more often. He'd not been social much at all at university, despite the diversity of courses he'd taken (and the nature of his family's business!), and he vowed to change that here. Slowly he began to get to know the other residents, and though still shy, he made the effort to try to open up and meet everyone. It began to grate on him, however, that he could not quite yet call himself an "author" as he didn't have even a draft of anything, much less the start of a novel.

                Scribbling on a note pad that he kept in one pocket, Elliott sat at the bar one evening, the elbow of the other hand on the bar top and his chin in his hand. He didn't notice Lewis take a seat next to him until he'd called his name twice.

                "What? Oh! Mayor, how good to see you. Pardon the obliviousness, I was simply writing down ideas that had just come to me. I've had many, and they're good, but nothing speaks 'book' to me just yet." He sighed and put down the pencil to pick up his drink.

                Bristling his moustache, Lewis considered this as he ordered a drink from Emily. "Well, keep at it, my boy, you're a clever sort and appear to have the drive to do anything you put your mind to. It'll come to you eventually. But I was actually dropping by to remind you that the Flower Dance is tomorrow. I don't know if anyone else has mentioned, but it's the first big festival of the year, and it's always a lovely time."

                "I do not recall if... Wait, yes, it is on the calendar at Pierre's. I had completely forgotten. I was so wrapped up in myself and my own activities that I neglected those of the community. Um, what is this event, then?"

                "It's the festival held at the spring equinox, celebrating the end of winter and everything coming alive again. It's right around this time of year that the flowers bloom magnificently, too. There's a traditional dance as well that's done by our younger residents. A pity you didn't know about it sooner, you could have volunteered."

                Blushing a bit, Elliott held up his hands in defense without thinking about it. "I-! Ah, no, I could not, sorry. I am a writer, not a dancer. Such public displays of artistry are... I do not have the skill or the confidence to do such a thing. But I will attend and see the culture of this lovely town. I have spent many hours already at the library and I am simply fascinated by my new home."

                "You sound happy with your decision."

                "Never before have I felt so satisfied and confident with my choice. I shall not regret this, it is exactly the opportunity and environment that I require in order to succeed."
                 
                • Minimanta

                  Minimanta Space Kumquat

                  Gotta say I really enjoy reading Elliot's backstory. It's gonna be interesting to read the first book from his perspective :)
                   
                    Risukage likes this.
                  • Risukage

                    Risukage Existential Complex

                    Yay! It almost feels too fluffy so far, but...give it a few chapters. :p It's not going dark, mind you, but both he and Lys were both at a very low point in their lives when they meet in book 1, so suffice it to say that he's got a bit of a road ahead of him. But such is the journey to enlightenment and self-fulfillment. I'm glad to hit book 1 from this direction because I can also give a bit more "growth" to Lys's character as well, through his interactions with Elliott that we didn't see "on-camera." But we're not going to see him for quite a while, so that's not important just yet. :)
                     
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                    • Risukage

                      Risukage Existential Complex

                      //Two comments today. First, the injury that Sam mentions is something that my husband did as a kid, so IRL OUCH. Second, yes, I totally did reference that. Self-referential self-insertion FTW. :rofl://


                      The weather forecast had given a chance of raining, but fortunately, the skies were clear and the air crisp. Elliott enjoyed both as he departed his home and followed the road west into the forest. He’d not spent much time out that way, as he still wasn’t quite as comfortable in a “natural” setting, though he made a mental note to change that; the scenery here was just as lovely as it was in town, and he could already feel new ideas tugging at his mind. Still nothing for a novel, not yet, but that would come. It was a bit of a jaunt, but he finally reached the clearing in the woods where the festival was set up and marveled at all of the bright colors. Flowers were finally blooming, and they decorated every surface, both horizontal and vertical. Taking out the notepad, he began scribbling down thoughts and impressions, quickly losing himself to his imagination. It wasn’t until someone poked him in the arm that he realized that someone was trying to get his attention.

                      “Elliott! Hey! You goofy airhead,” Leah giggled, “is this place really that fascinating?”

                      Smiling, he put away both pad and pencil and offered a hand in greeting. “My apologies, and you are astute, I am intrigued and inspired by what I see. It is so colorful and bright here, such a lovely contrast to the stark whiteness of winter.”

                      “So I take it that your book is going well?”

                      His face fell a little and he looked away for a moment before he answered. “Not…quite. As I had hoped, I have a vast variety of notes, but while many are good for little short stories or vignettes I’ve nothing that I would want to call a .” He sighed, then shook his head and straightened his shoulders. “But I shan’t despair, it will come to me soon enough. I’ve not yet been here a month, so I shouldn’t be impatient. Perhaps short stories are exactly what I need in order to work my way to a full-length novel.”

                      Clapping her hands with delight, Leah bounced a little with vicarious happiness. “Oh, I just know it’ll be wonderful! Well, if you ever decide that you need a break, drop by my place. You passed by it on the way here, you know.”

                      “I did? Then- Oh, you are in that place right by the river’s edge?”

                      “Yup! Just a stone’s throw away from Marnie’s. And that’s literally, too, found that out when Vincent and Jas were playing one day and, well, luckily nothing broke, but that kid has a hell of a throwing arm on him. I don’t think he was expecting it to go that far.” She giggled again behind a hand and nudged him. “Hey, I’ve gotta go catch up with Robin real fast. Enjoy the festival, and don’t be a stranger, 'kay?"

                      “Certainly, I will take you up on your offer at some point.” She jogged away, waving, getting the attention of Robin, who had just arrived with Demetrius.

                      Retrieving the writing implements again, Elliott tapped the pencil against his lip as he thought, then found a bench and had a seat while he made a few more notes. His handwriting was remarkably neat for being so small and fast, though he did make a very large error when he suddenly felt someone impact the back of the bench with a grunt. Dropping both items in surprise, he quickly turned around to identify the source of the disturbance, and saw Sam sitting on the ground, rubbing the back of his head as he winced, but giggling. In his lap was a…what was that sport again? Oh, gridball. Sam looked up and offered it to the person walking over to him; a tall man with a muscular, athletic build, messy brown hair, and wearing jeans and a varsity jacket.

                      “Dude, nice throw, Alex. You put some serious speed behind that thing.”

                      “Yeah, but you’re crap at catching. I’ll never get a decent practice partner at this rate.”

                      “I did catch it, there was just a bench in the way. Oh, hi Elliott, sorry about that. You okay?”

                      “Ah, yes, thank you,” he replied, picking up his belongings, “though I must ask the same of you. That was quite a thump.”

                      “It’s all good, I’ve had worse. Like the time I fell out of a tree and broke my arm so bad my wrist touched my elbow.” Elliott made a face of sympathetic agony, imagining that sort of injury and unconsciously reaching for his own arm. The arrival, Alex, inspected him with interest, his hands in his pockets and head tilted to the side.

                      “Hey, you’re new.”

                      “That I am, of just a couple of weeks. Elliott.”

                      “Alex. Dang, you look rich, what house did you manage to buy? I didn’t think that anyone here was selling.”

                      “I-! No, I didn’t- Well, not quite, anyway. I bought the cabin on the coast. And I’m not rich, just… I am comfortable.”

                      Wrinkling his nose, Alex looked him up and down again, and Elliott tried not to wilt under the scrutiny. He didn’t dress that expensively, did he? Stylish, yes. Professional, definitely. Elegant, of course. Scratching his chin, Alex shrugged and dismissed that train of thought.

                      “So what do you do, then? There’s not a hell of a lot in the way of work here, either.”

                      “I…” The words didn’t even finish forming before he discarded them. Gripping the notepad, he sighed again and sagged a little. “I am a writer. I desire to be an author, but at the moment I’m still searching for inspiration. I have some notes here and there, but they’re only fragments or good for something small.”

                      “Oh.” Alex seemed disappointed, not interested in literature, and not sure how to continue the conversation. “So…do you do any sports?”

                      It was Elliott’s turn to be flummoxed for a conversation-continuation subject. “My apologies, no. I do not perform or follow sporting events. I rather prefer artistic pursuits.” There was an awkward silence as Sam got to his feet and tossed the ball back to Alex.

                      “You look like you were workin’ on something before I bashed into you. Sorry about that! We’ll take the game elsewhere and let you finish your stuff.”

                      “Not enough time for that,” Abigail remarked as she walked up, “we’ve gotta get ready in a few minutes, and if you get messy now Lewis and your mom are both going to have a total fit.”

                      “Awwww, it’s already time? ‘Kay, I’ll get going, she already got mad this morning ‘cause I slept through my alarm. We’ll pick this up again later, dude. See ya, Elliott, you’re so lucky.”

                      “I’m what? What did I do?” he asked, wondering what he’d missed.

                      Abigail grinned. “He hates doing this dance, but he keeps getting volun-told by his mom every year and goes along with it so he doesn’t disappoint her. I need to get ready, too, so I’ll run into you again at the saloon or something.”

                      Folding his arms across his chest, Alex eyed Elliott again. “Why didn’t you volunteer? You said you like ‘artistic’ stuff.”

                      He turned red again and tried to hide behind his notepad. “Light, no, I can’t dance for others! That’s… It’s not something I can do.”

                      With a shrug of resignation Alex tossed the ball in the air a few times. “Eh, I kinda get you there. Oh well. Guess I’ll see you later or something.”

                      “Have a good day,” he replied, still not sure what to make of him or how to respond.

                      Twiddling the pencil between his fingers, he found that he no longer had the mood to take notes. In that case, time for another change of scenery. He stood and walked around again, letting his mind wander, and soon again picked up his train of thought. People began to congregate in one area, and he followed, assuming (correctly) that that was where the dance was taking place. Finding a spot where he could observe unobstructed, he watched, and found it interesting. He wasn’t a dancer, no, but he did have a “classical” education, which included ballroom dances among others, as well as a few popular festival dances. This one was one that he didn’t know himself but recognized, and was delighted at this fact. More notes covered multiple pages, and he finally put away the notepad, satisfied with his work. He didn’t have an idea for a novel, not just yet, but a couple of short stories? Yes, start there and use that to practice and learn on for a full book.

                      When he returned home that night he made a cup of coffee and sat down at his laptop to transcribe his notes, and once done, saved it to open a fresh document. Sipping the coffee as he ordered his thoughts, he smiled to himself and began framing out a story. It was short, yes, but it was just a short idea. At least, it was supposed to be. It still ended up a short story, but he ended up working on it until nearly two in the morning, when he immediately saved his work and closed the laptop. Resisting the urge to go and write just one more line, he removed his earrings, undressed and hung up his clothes, and plugged his phone in on the nightstand before turning off the lights. There would be plenty of time to write tomorrow.

                      This little story took him nearly a week to complete, and he read it over from top to bottom with a fresh cup of coffee and a well-rested mind, having finished it the night before. It was…good. He could see where his writing could possibly improve, but his grammar and structure were solid, his prose was elegant but not pretentious or flowery, and the dialogue felt natural and spontaneous. Scrolling through his contacts list, he found the address to one of the publishing companies he’d looked up and saved for just this purpose. This work wouldn’t go to a major publisher, no, but something like a magazine or a place that does collected works from various authors would do just fine. Still wary of using his family name, he used his first name and then initials to sign it, wondering if he should just go ahead and create a pseudonym. But that felt as though he wasn’t confident in himself or his family, or his own name. It was a decision to make later. Typing up an email, he attached a cover letter as well and sent it off, picking up his coffee and very nearly dropping it again.

                      I… I’ve done it. It’s not a novel, no, but it is still a written work, and my own. My words, my story. What a lovely start, and only after a month here. Charles was right, and I cannot express enough my gratitude.

                      Smiling, he reached for his phone and sent off a quick message. He had just put it down when it rang. “Charles, hello!”

                      “Elliott! So you say that you’ve finished something,” he remarked, and Elliott could hear the smile in his voice.

                      “Correct. It is only a short story, one based on some of the local stories and legends, but I found it such a delightful idea that it called to me. I’ve only just sent it off, so I’ve no idea what will come of it, but still, I’ve done something. This is more than I’ve accomplished in the last five years. I owe you more than words can express.”

                      Charles laughed at his brother’s enthusiasm. “I just suggested it, you were the one who made it happen. Give yourself a bit of credit! When it’s published, wherever or whatever it is, let me know, I’d like to have a read. You’ve always been a skilled writer, and I know you’ve become even better.”

                      “I shall. And thank you again, for everything.”


                      Two weeks later he was working on another short story when he got word back that his submission, “A Legend from the Gem Sea,” had been accepted for publication. It didn’t pay much, but that wasn’t the point. He leaned back in his chair and let himself enjoy the sensation of success for a little while. Then he remembered his family and sent off messages to them all, promptly receiving replies and congratulations. He promised to ensure that they got a copy when it became available.

                      Another thing that he nearly forgot to do sent him to the sink to pour some water for the small potted rose on his table. He wasn’t very good with plants at all, nobody in his family was, but his mother was fond of roses and had a small but nice garden with a few varieties. He had taken a small cutting of one to bring with him, as a small reminder, and hoped that he would find a place to plant it so that it could properly flourish. However, it was nothing but sand around his home, and he knew that the salt water from the ocean would kill it, so for the moment it remained in its tiny home. Placing it back on the table, he glanced at the time and decided that it was as a good a time as any and closed his laptop, picking up his phone as he left.

                      It was mid-spring already, and the air no longer had any chill to it. He walked without needing a coat, and he almost felt as though he was floating on the breeze. The saloon was sparsely populated, as while it was nearing evening it was still closer to late afternoon. Leah intercepted him as he walked in, following him to the bar.

                      “Haven’t seen you around in a few days. What’s up? But then, I’ve been working on a project, so I haven’t been in much, either.”

                      He beamed as he ordered a drink, thanking Emily. “I finally got something submitted! It is only a short story, but still, it is a beginning. I’m finally achieving my dream.”

                      Eyes and mouth wide, she laughed and bounced happily, grasping his hands. “Oh wow! You really did it! And you’ve only been here a little bit. By this time next year you’ll totally be famous.”

                      “Oh, I don’t know about that, but yes, by next year, I hope… Ah, my novel will come to me soon enough. Right now I have several short pieces that consume me, and they should give me the practice that I need as well as a bit of pocket money. I do not yet know what the future holds for me, but for the first time in so long it looks promising.”
                       
                      • Risukage

                        Risukage Existential Complex

                        //Oh look, internal conflict. Yay, something's finally happening. I need to write longer chapters so you all don't have to sit through ANOTHER SIXTY OF THEM. Nobody wants that.//


                        It was already early summer and Elliott was surprised by how much time had gone by. He hadn’t been terribly social, but it was less of a lack of desire and more of a lack of time. He took his laptop with him whenever he left the house, in his satchel, in case the mood to write took him. The notepad and paper method had worked for a bit, for small snippets, but more and more he found ideas coming to him that could not be contained by mere marks of graphite upon paper. He was often at the library, researching and reading something before turning to the laptop to type furiously, the soft clicking of the keys the only sound other than Penny teaching Jasmine and Vincent.

                        But still...

                        He wasn’t satisfied. It wasn’t…right. It was missing, his story. It still hadn’t come to him. Yes, he had material for a number of short stories, and had written another two (one of which he’d submitted off the day before), but his novel… So much inspiration but none of it what he sought.

                        How cruel, he thought to himself as he sat at a table in the library, to be gifted with such skill and eloquence, to have such a font of ideas, yet have none of it be of use. I am a man dying of thirst in the desert, and though I am given water, it is drawn from the ocean and not the river.

                        He paused at this thought and chuckled darkly, remembering where he lived. With a deep sigh he saved his notes and closed his laptop, putting it into his satchel and standing up. Waving politely but quietly to Penny so he wouldn’t interrupt her instruction, he slipped out of the library. The air outside was warm and clean, and he breathed deeply of it, trying to clear his mind. He had been plagued with thoughts of despair lately, and it was getting harder to push them aside. Really, there was no call for it. Certainly, he did not yet have what it is he needed, but he had only been there three months. And in that time he had already penned- well, typed- three stories, one of which had already been published, though he didn’t expect anything to come of it.

                        Without a clear direction in mind, he angled north through the plaza toward the park. Maybe a bit of time by the fountain would help. On his way there he encountered Alex, heading south, likely to the beach, tossing a gridball to himself. The athlete regarded him with uncertain interest, not sure how to initiate conversation.

                        “Hey, uh…Elliott. Up for a bit of catch?” He tossed the ball into the air and caught it again for emphasis. Surprised, Elliott was at a loss for words. He was quite glad that Alex had given him another chance to talk and try to be social, something that he hadn’t done on his own very well, and realized that Alex was waiting for a response and struggled to reply.

                        “Ah, I don’t…” He didn’t know how to catch or throw any sort of ball, least of all that one, and was worried that he’d be terrible at it and be of no use to Alex. Before he could finish his statement and ask for help, Alex huffed and shoved past him, assuming that Elliott had brushed him off. “Wait, I didn’t mean-” It was too late, Alex was out of earshot, and Elliott was too embarrassed and worried to pursue him.

                        Damn, this is the second time that I have ruined the opportunity to build a bridge between us. We likely share no interests or abilities, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot at least try. Perhaps next time, if there is one.

                        Continuing his route to the park, his mood improved at the fresh breeze and soft warmth, filling him with contentment. He found a slightly shaded spot (to prevent screen glare, and he did have fair skin), sat down, pulled out his laptop, and resumed his typing. It was only an hour before he sighed again and leaned back against the bench, closing his eyes.

                        Damn again. Still nothing. Only scraps and snippets, fit only for a vignette but not an opera. What am I doing wrong? Surely I would have had the slightest idea of what to do, but…

                        He closed the laptop again and rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to again dismiss the frustration that was slowly generating a tension headache, and noticed Haley stroll into the park, her camera bag slung over one shoulder. Like Alex, she gave him a look of interest, but it was more bored than uncertain.

                        “Hi, Elliott. I haven’t seen you out here before.”

                        Smiling at the friendly greeting, Elliott tapped his laptop. “I often seek a place to write where thoughts might gather, and of late the library has been the best location for that. However, once again I find myself requiring a change of venue. It does not seem to have produced the desired result, though, and I am becoming rather vexed for it.”

                        She sat down on the edge of the fountain and opened her camera bag, pulling out the expensive digital device and fiddling with it. “Well, what are you trying to do? You said you came here to find inspiration for your book, and I heard that you’d had something published. Isn’t that what you want?”

                        “Publication, yes, but this wasn’t a proper book, per se. It was a short story, and I have another submitted and a third written, but they are not that to which it is that I aspire. I want to craft a novel, and while I have so many ideas for smaller works, I am unable to even find the spark that will later be the light that guides me.”

                        Momentarily losing interest in her camera, she set it in her lap and looked at him quizzically. “Okay, true, but you’ve got something published, that’s gotta count for something, right?”

                        “Yes, of a sort. It is a start, and it’s much, much more than I have ever accomplished in the past. But that is all that I have. There is nothing grander or greater, and I cannot fathom why this is. Surely by now I’d have the start of something, even if it isn’t any good and I would have to scrap it for something different later. Yet wherever I look I see nothing but a void. I…do not believe that coming here was a mistake, but at the same time…” He trailed off and rested his chin on his fist and elbow on the arm of the bench, staring off at nothing as he thought. “A change of scenery has done wonders, I grant that. I overflow with characters and concepts, but nothing with depth or gravitas. Nothing that I can develop as though they were a real person and spin a compelling tale.” He heard a soft “click” as Haley snapped a quick picture, grinning as she did so.

                        “Sorry for the candid shot, but that’s usually when I can get the best ones. When someone is just being themselves and not posing, y’know? Are you okay with me keeping it or should I delete it?”

                        “No, please, photograph what you like. Your muse whispers to you, and far be it from me to shout them down.” He mentally retreated inward again, considering her words.

                        When a person is candid, when they are their true selves. Unaware of observation, and therefore completely honest with and of themselves. Is this what I lack? In myself? In my efforts to write? That I am trying too hard to observe, and I am unable to perceive that which is in front of me? It is true that I had a greater influx of ideas when I first got here and just let them flow, and now that I am actively pursuing them that well is slowly drying up.

                        Glancing up, he cleared his throat, embarrassed that he had possibly insulted the second person he’d met that day. “Pardon me, I did not mean to ignore you, it is just that you said something that made me think, and I was momentarily lost in my own mind.”

                        With a shrug, she slung the strap of the camera bag over her shoulder and put the camera strap around her neck. “It’s okay. I kinda figured. You’ve got this very distant, focused look when you really lose yourself in your head.”

                        “…I do this often enough for it to be recognized?...”

                        “Like, every time you’re at the saloon. You’ll be talking about something, phase out for a minute, scribble down an idea, and go back to whatever it was as if nothing had happened. Alex thinks you’re an airhead, to be honest, but I can’t remember the last time he read something that wasn’t a fitness magazine, so his opinion probably doesn’t mean too much.”

                        With a wry smile, he hid a chuckle behind his hand. “He is entitled to his opinion, and I do admit to being rather distant at times.”

                        “Still… Oh well, I’ll let you get back to your work. Maybe something will come to you now. I’m off to get some pictures while the light’s still good. See you.”

                        “Until next time,” he replied, waving. He felt a bit better for the conversation (as well as the vote of confidence), but he was no closer to an idea. Putting away his laptop, he picked up his satchel and left the park, carefully taking the steps down to the plaza. Glancing to his right, he saw the road that stretched off to… Oh yes, that farm that Lewis had mentioned. And it was abandoned? He hadn’t been there yet. Everywhere else was “civilized” and inhabited, even the forest, so it all felt so “clean” and familiar. Maybe he could find inspiration there…

                        It was a longer walk than he had expected but still pleasant, and eventually saw two chimneys through the trees. The hard-packed dirt road led up to an old house in good repair, clearly not lived in for some time. Nothing was broken or damaged, and the shed next to it appeared to be sturdy as well. He set down his satchel on the porch and walked around, starting to feel the tug of ideas. Yes, this place might just do it…

                        The property itself was quite large, but it was difficult to estimate the exact size due to the enormous weeds and overgrowth that choked the landscape to the south. A small stream flowed into a small pond, which flowed out again into a larger stream, which appeared to flow south off of the property, and Elliott wondered if it connected with the river in the forest, or if it went another way. As he walked around the outside of the house itself, he saw a brown mackerel tabby, clearly a barn cat, with a litter of kittens in tow. She looked at him, flicked her tail, and padded off, having determined that he was neither dangerous nor interesting. Following her were a pair of tuxedo kittens, another brown tabby, and a ginger one. He smiled at the tiny parade that disappeared into the bushes and continued his exploration, intrigued by the dichotomy of run-down but kept-up nature of the property.

                        “Hey! Who’s there?!” someone shouted, making Elliott jump. He was around the back side of the house, and the voice had come from the front. At a brisk walk he completed the circuit to see who it was, and found the mayor looking around, fists on his hips, looking cross.

                        “Mayor, hello. I did not expect to see you here.” This was apparently mutual, as Lewis was astonished to see the writer wandering around the place.

                        “Elliott? What are you doing here? You’re quite a way from your home, and there’s nothing of interest out here.”

                        “That is why I came this way, actually,” he replied, sitting down on the porch and looking out over the tangled greenery, “I have had little luck with inspiration lately, and leaving the park I had a sudden urge to have a look at this place. You had mentioned it but not what it was, and I wondered if I might find what I sought here.”

                        Lewis suddenly looked quite old and tired, and sat down heavily next to Elliott, removing his cap and running a hand through thinning, gray hair. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you did. This was my friend’s home since… Light help me, it’s been in his family for generations. The von Morgensonnes have always lived here, but his son got married and moved away, and then some years later he moved to the city to be with them and his grandson as his health began to get worse, and… It’s been too long since this home was lived in. I had hoped that one of them would return, but it seems that that’s just a dream. They’ve always been artists, creators, musicians, what have you. Every generation there was someone who could create with skill, almost as effortlessly as they breathed. If you find something here that gives you what you need then I will consider the memory of my friend honored.”

                        Looking around with a newfound appreciation and understanding, something clicked in the back of his mind. “I recall you specifically not mentioning this place when I was looking for a home. Though it sits vacant, it belongs to another, one who may yet one day occupy it again.”

                        “Spot on. I’m sorry if it’s selfish, but-“

                        “No, not at all,” Elliott reassured, “I understand completely, and knowing its story, I would not ask for it. It is not mine, nor will it ever be. Maybe one day your friend’s son or grandson will return, seeking inspiration as I did, returning to their ancestral home to-“

                        Ideas. There they were. Still not quite a novel, but more than he’d had before, and he could still use them. Without hesitation he reached into his satchel and retrieved his laptop, typing away the moment that it was open on his knees. Understanding the sudden burst of energy, Lewis smiled and waited quietly as he looked around, recalling fond memories. After a few minutes, Elliott saved his work and closed the laptop once more.

                        “Not quite, not yet, but so close, much more than I have been. Something about this place does inspire, mayor, I can see how your friend’s family could have been prolific. Perhaps… The next time that I am at the saloon and you have the time, could you tell me more about them? I have learned so much about this town’s history and people, and I recall seeing this name in the records I studied. I would know as much as I can, if you would regale me with their stories.”

                        A sad smile became warm as Lewis thought about Elliott’s offer. “I think I’d like that, young man. I haven’t thought much about Lex in a while, not since he passed. I’ll be there tomorrow night. Drop in and I’ll talk your ear off.”

                        “I eagerly await our next meeting.”


                        The next evening Elliott brought his satchel with him to the saloon, and he and Lewis took their drinks to a table so that Elliott could more easily type. The mayor talked at length for hours, enjoying the opportunity to share with someone else the decades of fond memories that he had accumulated. This still wasn’t quite the seed of ideas that Elliott needed, but it was fascinating all the same, and he enjoyed the tales as a storyteller himself, amazed that he was able to experience history in living memory like this. He and Lewis met for a week straight like this, the mayor telling everything that he could recall, and Elliott fastidiously transcribing every word. After this, however, Elliott began to feel discouraged again, and Lewis was busy with preparations for the summer festivals, so they only met in passing at the saloon.


                        At the end of summer Elliott had submitted another two short stories with a couple more in the working stage (he now had two stories published, and had copies of the magazines in which they had been printed), but still had nothing for his novel. Every place in town had been explored, and while he had found a sudden rush of ideas each time, it quickly faded after a few days. He began to have difficulty in pushing back the noise in his head and the cold feeling in his gut, as he began to feel the sharp claws of fear latch on and dig in deeply.

                        I...was wrong…
                         
                        • Risukage

                          Risukage Existential Complex

                          //That was a long drive. I'm'a sleep now. Enjoy your update, I'm happy with it. :D//


                          Like the Flower Dance, Elliott had forgotten about the Luau until the day before it happened. It was a good thing that he remembered when he did, as it allowed him to mentally prepare for the entire town (plus some tourists) to literally show up at his front door. Well, not exactly his door, but very nearly so, as the entire beach west of the entrance to the ocean from the bridge was set up for festivities. He didn’t quite feel like celebrating, but there would be a large enough crowd that he could get comfortably lost in it. Maybe he might find ideas there, one never knew.

                          To his disappointment, he found none, but the company was pleasant enough, the music was lively, and the communal soup was tasty. There was a moment of consternation when Sam tried to put something nearly-inedible in there, but it was so clumsily done that Elliott was certain that he wanted to be caught. This brought up the question of what his true intention was, and when Sebastian inquired as to what Elliott seemed thoughtful about, shrugged at the writer’s reply.

                          “That’s the idea. He doesn’t have to do anything after this, everyone else is gonna do the work for him. He attempted a prank, and now everyone’s going to be paranoid all night. I’ve never seen anyone troll with this level of finesse before.”

                          This amused him somewhat, as though he was not given to pranking himself, he could at least appreciate the level of subtle psychological warfare in which the spiky-haired man engaged. Sam, Sebastian, and Abigail mostly hung out together at the fringe of the event, and Elliott honestly couldn’t blame them. He didn’t feel as though he fit in very well himself, but he wanted to push himself to participate in community activities and make the effort to be social. He had shut himself away far too much back at university, and simply in the past in general, and he was keenly aware that he would become a recluse given the opportunity to do so.

                          The next day he took his time in waking up, showering, shaving, and getting dressed. It was getting harder and harder to take care of his routine in the morning, fighting the urge to simply roll over and go back to sleep. Putting down the hair brush, he reached for and put on his earrings, then made his way to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. He held the cup between both hands as he stared into its surface, thinking about…everything… He hadn’t failed, at least not yet, but he hadn’t succeeded either. His drink was nearly cold by the time he finished it, rather lost inside of his own mind, and once again had to work up the mental energy to leave the house for his customary walk. On the way back, still the poorer for ideas, he stopped on the bridge back to his home and leaned against the railing, staring out over the gentle flow of the river.

                          Still nothing. So many little ideas, so many handfuls of scraps, but nothing that I can stitch together, not even rags, and I cannot create a tapestry from that. What am I doing wrong? Surely a change of pace should have done it. Every time I go some place different I am struck with a burst of concepts, but not that which I need. Am I cursed to travel endlessly, chasing a mirage through the desert, before I perish alone with nothing but the sand spilling across my fingers?

                          Resting his chin on folded arms, he watched the water silently for a little while, allowing his mind to spin in random directions, trying not to force anything, as it did nothing but give him a headache and made him too frustrated to think. With a sigh of weariness, he pushed himself up and continued the last leg home. At least the weather was nice. It was hot, yes, but it was preferable to not being able to feel his extremities, or, more annoyingly, feel nothing but discomfort from them. He didn’t like heavy, bulky clothing, either. As he crossed the sand to his cabin, he undid the top few buttons of his shirt and undid the waistcoat, sitting down on the steps of his porch. He reached into his pocket for his phone, stared at it for a moment as he gathered the energy to dial his brother.

                          “Elliott? How are you? It has been a little while. I gather that you are busy, then.”

                          “I… Not quite. I suppose that I have been busy in that I have been pursuing ideas, but for all of my expenditure of energy I am merely running in place, and feel as though I am sliding backwards.”

                          The voice on the other end grew concerned, hearing the listless sound in his brother’s. “Are you doing alright over there? You sounded enthusiastic last I called, and I recall that you’ve been published again. If it is the same place then I shall have to get a subscription so that I can help in funding your career!” His attempt at levity fell flat, as a smile tugged at the corner of Elliott’s mouth, only to fade as quickly as it had appeared.

                          “It is the same place, yes, and I have sent two more for consideration, but…” He sighed again and rubbed the back of his neck. “I still have nothing for that novel. I’m trying so hard, I’ve traveled everywhere possible here, I have talked extensively with any that I can, I have spent countless hours in the library… And yet, nothing.”

                          “Two publications with a possibility of two more is nothing to sniff at,” Charles remarked, “but I do see your frustration. Short stories are simple enough, I guess, but something epic, that takes a lot more and is much more satisfying. Surely there’s something that you can repurpose or expand on?”

                          “No, I cannot. Perhaps someone with more skill than I could do so from the notes that I have, but despite my wealth of ideas, I cannot combine any of them in a manner that would produce a coherent, cohesive, and compelling story arc. I don’t know what to do, Charles. It is too soon to cry defeat, but yet I have been here several months and I find myself beginning to want for ideas for even the most basic of tales.”

                          There was momentary silence from Charles. “I’m sorry, Elliott, not just for your situation, but that I don’t have any advice or a way to help you out of it. This is completely out of my element. I’ve never been a creator, and therefore don’t see the world the way you do. I have no idea what I can do, or even if there’s something I could do. Have you spoken with mother and father lately?”

                          “After the last time that we conversed, yes, but not since then. It is not that I am avoiding anyone, but I do not want to call without news, or, at least, something positive of note.”

                          “I understand, and I’m sure that they do, too. Give them a call, say hi. They may not be able to help, but we’re all looking out for you and we know that you can do this.”

                          “Would that I had your enthusiasm once more,” Elliott said, slumping and leaning against a support for the porch, “I will call them, but with nothing of which to speak our conversation will be embarrassingly brief.”

                          “We don’t care, little brother, we love you no matter what. Talk to us, however you’re doing, we’re here for you.”

                          “Thank you. I…needed to hear that. I will call them in a moment, then.”

                          “Good, that’s what I wanted to hear. Take care, and let me know when your third story gets published, okay?”

                          That smile returned again for a flicker of a moment. “I certainly shall. Thank you once more. Have a good day.”

                          He sat there quietly for a few minutes before calling his parents. Like Charles, they were delighted to hear about his current success as well as the works that he had in the queue, and also like Charles, were at a loss as to any sort of assistance, other than moral support. Elliott did not begrudge them this at all, as he knew that he was the only one with creative skill among them, while they were far more talented at business and “useful” matters. As he had with his brother, Elliott promised to inform them when the next short story would be printed, feeling a small pulse of warmth at the positive reviews that he had received from his family about his current works. They were sincere, he could tell, as none of them were given to giving empty praise, and this lifted his mood for the rest of the day, but it had faded by the time that he awoke the next morning.

                          This sense of despair continued to grow in weight, and by the time the summer was over, Elliott had noticeably changed. On the night of the Dance of the Moonlight Jellies, he sat alone on the pier to the far east, just beyond his cabin, which was not used by anyone else. Resting against one of the thick pylons, he gazed out over the water, looking at nothing as the sun set. He started a bit in surprise when he heard someone call his name, and looked up to see Sam, Abigail, and Sebastian approach. This was unexpected, he had thought that he would be alone out there, and expressed this. Sam shrugged and flopped down with a heavy thump nearby.

                          "We usually always chill out here whenever there's something on the beach. We're kinda the only ones our age, and a lot of the time we're not really into whatever's going on."

                          Sebastian sat down across from Elliott on the edge of the pier, the ocean to his side, as he pulled out a pack of flavored cigarettes (did Elliott smell strawberry?) and a lighter. After a moment of consideration, he offered one to Elliott, who politely declined, which didn't bother Sebastian any. "You're really looking out of it. Everything going okay?" he asked, lighting the cigarette and blowing a thin stream of smoke, which went away from everyone else due to the way the breeze was blowing.

                          Pondering the question, Elliott shook his head and pulled his knees to his chest. "No, I am far from it. Rather, I am concerned that I have made a grave mistake. I do not know what to do, and I do not know to whom I can turn for guidance."

                          "Well, we're here to listen, if that can help," offered Abigail, sitting down next to Sam and putting her chin in her hands. Elliott flashed an ephemeral smile and stared off over the ocean again.

                          "You all know why I came here."

                          "Yeah, you want to write a book," Sam said, scratching his nose, "and so far you've got a couple of things published, so it sounds like you're on the way, right?"

                          "Yes. And no. It is...complicated..." Sighing again, he relaxed his scrunched-up pose. "Long have I desired to be a writer. It is the path that I have chosen for myself, and I fear that it was one chosen on a whim, a mere dream that I have tried too hard to turn into reality. To gain insight into my journey, you must know about my past. I am from a...comfortable family. The family business is not wealthy, yet it is fairly prestigious in some circles. My parents needed an heir, male or female, in order to carry it on, and they got that in my brother, Charles. I was an accident. They were not expecting a second child. Not that I was unwelcome, far from it. I received nothing but love and devotion, same as my brother. However, there was little 'use' for me, so while my brother had his future decided for him, I was free to choose my own." Pausing to sort his thoughts, he ran a hand through his hair as the trio listened politely.

                          "We both thought this unfair of each other; he resented my freedom, and I resented that I was useless. It wasn't long before we worked together to help reinforce each other's strengths and work on changing our weaknesses. He learned business, etiquette, and accounting, where I branched into the arts and literature. Given our business, I was fascinated by stories early on, and desired to create my own. My early tales were rubbish, I will not attempt to fool any of us, but we all start somewhere. I continued to write as I grew up, in addition to learning the piano and some other skills. But none of them were ones that would allow me to 'work,' to have a job that supported myself. I pushed myself to write that novel that I had dreamed of for so long, but had no luck." He was silent again for a moment as his next thoughts got into a neat queue.

                          "Then earlier this year, my brother suggested that I try a change of venue. Perhaps I needed to be taken out of my comfort zone, be thrown into something new. For a while it worked, I had ideas. And I still continue to get them. But none are what I need for a novel. I do not see a future ahead of me; with the short stories I see simply a small cluster of flowers, but I need the branching tree of a proper book, and I have not yet found that. I fear defeat, not for myself, but for those I love. My parents endlessly indulged in my artistic endeavors, knowing that they had no 'real-world' use, and my brother never ceased to support my efforts to write and create. To fail at this task would be to say that I wasn't good enough, that despite everything that they have given me I was not worthy. I can tolerate failure for myself, but I refuse to bring shame to the family." Shifting to get comfortable, he sighed again.

                          "I also have gone to great lengths to hide my name. Not because I am ashamed, far from it! It is an honorable name that commands respect. But I have not yet earned that respect. I must earn it on my own merits, so that I can state that I have contributed to it and am not merely leeching off of it. Do I make any sense?" he asked, not sure if he was being clear.

                          Grinning Sam reached over to cuff him on the shoulder. "I totally get you, dude. It's easy enough to be a lazy shit and just coast on a family rep, but to hide it so that you can earn your status on your own? I respect the hell out of that."

                          Taking another drag off of his smoke, Sebastian nodded. "Respect here, too. You went way out of your 'comfort zone,' as you said. The way you dress and talk and act says that you're from a good family and a comfortable lifestyle. And you have a family that loves and supports you. Dropping all of that and coming out here to be alone? You're braver than I am, and I'm glad that you have people out there who are cheering you on."

                          Chin still in her hands, Abigail watched the three of them as they conversed, thinking herself. "I know art is a bit different than writing, but it sounds like you just need your 'muse.' This place is just full of ideas, but I get that you don't have anything 'epic' yet. There are a few large pieces I wanna try to do, but I just don't have the mojo for it, y'know? Just...I have something in mind, but there's no shape or color or texture, just a thing without any substance. I don't know what to tell you. Has Leah had any ideas? I remember that the two of you talk a lot. She's more of the hands-on art than I am, maybe she has something."

                          "I have not conversed with her in a few days, and even then, we work with drastically different media and therefore different sources of ideas. But I thank you all for your kindness, it really does mean something, and I wish that I had something of my own to offer in return."

                          "Just your company is good enough," Sebastian replied, grinding out the butt of his cigarette and putting it in a tin, "the migration should be starting soon. Maybe it will give you something."

                          His timing was impeccable, as soft, neon-pastel lights began to illuminate the bay. Watching silently, Elliott was fascinated, and actually forgot to take out his pad and pencil to take notes, but it was such a lovely and memorable sight that he didn't need it after all. He committed everything that he had seen to his notes that night, and it inspired another short story, but still nothing that he truly sought.

                          It was the last day of summer. Fall had arrived.
                           
                          • Risukage

                            Risukage Existential Complex

                            //I'm actually feeling bad for writing this. Good, 'cause that's called empathy. ...Even though he's a fictional character... I get way into this.//


                            The weather was getting cooler, but Elliott did not yet feel the need to wear a coat. To be honest, he didn't feel much of anything. The despair already wrapped around him like a permanent blanket, and while he still took his daily walks, he chose routes that would allow him to avoid meeting people. It wasn't that he didn't want to be social, it was that he wasn't very good company right now, and didn't want to be a bother. Every few nights he would make the effort to visit the saloon, but other than Leah, Lewis, or the mischievous trio, he was mostly alone.

                            He was still getting his short stories published, as well as praise from the source to which he was submitting them and a bit of income, but for his novel, still nothing. His frustration grew, a partner to the depression that clouded his mind more every day. So many small fragments, yet nothing that could be cobbled together into a single, long-running narrative. Again, as he found himself doing out of habit, he leaned on the railing of the bridge and stared out over the river for a little while.

                            Returning from his walk, he sat down heavily at his piano. Maybe a little music would help clear his head. He'd played often when he first moved, but had slowly tapered off, until he couldn't remember playing at all the last month. From memory, he let his fingers move over the keys of their own accord, grimacing as he made continual mistakes. Damn, he couldn't focus. Taking a deep breath to silence the noise in his head, he tried that piece that he'd been working on for a long time. He wasn't a composer, but he did have a small tune in the back of his mind that he wanted to write, but like his novel it never quite materialized. It was unfinished, but normally he had much more finesse. Now it sounded clumsy, and he pushed himself away in a huff, even more frustrated. Pacing the room restlessly, he gave it up after a few minutes to drop into his computer chair and idly scroll through his notes folder, not looking at anything in particular. Elbows on the table, he ran his fingers through his hair, hunched over his laptop.

                            What am I doing? Every day I struggle to no avail. What is wrong with me? I have been told that I am clever, creative, competent. Yet this dream I hold is as tangible as candle-smoke. No, that is wrong, for there is no light here. If I admit defeat, what then? What am I? What good am I? I have no useful skills, I have nothing to contribute. The family could give me a job somewhere, but it would be out of pity. I refuse to be a burden upon them like that, but... I have already gone this far, perhaps I should just disappear and save them the pain of disappointment.

                            His internal monologue was interrupted by a polite knock at the screen door. It wasn't so cold out yet that he felt the need to shut the door and windows, and he got up to let in his visitor.

                            "Leah, it is good to see you. What brings you in this direction?"

                            She hefted a bag for emphasis. "You've been looking really down lately, I figured you could use a snack and a chat. Is this a good time?"

                            Smiling faintly at her compassion, he nodded and walked to the kitchen. "I have nothing but time, so your companionship is welcome. I shall prepare a coffee. Or- You prefer tea, do you not?"

                            "I'll have a coffee, I'm not going to put you out when I'm the one that barged in." She set the bag on the counter to pull out a box of fresh-baked cookies. "Just swung by the Mullners to drop something off and Evelyn gave these to me. I figured that I should share them with someone who probably needs them."

                            "Your kindness cannot be described in words, and neither can my gratitude. I am grateful for company, though I fear that I will not be of much myself."

                            "Well, talk, then," she supplied, putting the cookies on a plate and walking over to the table, "I figure you need to get a few things off of your chest."

                            Following with two cups of coffee, he offered her his computer chair and took a seat on the piano bench, trading a cup for a cookie. "Only the same things that I have said before and will likely parrot for the rest of my days. I... What am I doing wrong? When I was a child I was a never-ending font of ideas. None of those are applicable anymore, the ones that I recall, anyway, but at some point I lost my imagination. Coming out here did help, it really did. I have a number of short stories published, and that in itself is a success, albeit small. But I find myself more and more frustrated and angry at myself. I fear that my dream is nothing more than a day-dream. A whimsical distraction, a way of playing at being an adult." Sighing, he took a bite and a drink, and Leah nodded, waiting for him to continue.

                            "I do not fear failing for myself, it is for my family. They have invested so much in me. So much trust and hope and confidence. To have to tell them that I am incapable of this... I do not think that I could handle the dishonor of admitting it to them. Yet I do not know what to do. There is creativity all around me yet I have been unable to coax a muse to my side, and I fear that I am not worthy."

                            They talked until the food and drink ran out, and while Elliott felt a bit better for it, that sensation faded when he awoke the next morning. This pattern repeated itself all of autumn, where he made the attempt to visit Leah now and then, but that, like his saloon visits, dwindled to once a week, to once every other week, to Lewis visiting him when nobody had seen him for a week at all. He reassured the mayor that everything was just fine, and he was grateful for everyone's concern, but he didn't want to cause anyone trouble. Once he was in better spirits he would socialize more, but until then he felt that he would be terrible company, and did not want to bring anyone else down with him.

                            It wasn't long into winter when snow fell, and though he was somewhat used to it in the city, it was never as heavy or dense as it was here. The cabin was well-insulated, fortunately, and he had a fair stack of wood for the fireplace (as well as internal heating), so he was cozy indoors. His winter wardrobe was a bit lacking, but he had a few warm layers that served him well on his rare jaunts outdoors.

                            Noticing that he needed a few supplies, he wrapped a scarf around his neck and shrugged into his warm coat, the one that he'd worn when he first arrived there, and snugged gloves over his hands before stepping outside. The snow was ankle-deep, and he momentarily considered boots, but the thought faded as he walked, buried by others that were much less pleasant. Lost inside of his own mind, he wasn't paying attention as he traversed the bridge, not realizing that there was a thin layer of ice under the snow. Losing his footing, he shifted his weight to try to catch the railing, but succeeded only in landing hard on his left hand. He gaped as pain arced up his arm, almost making him dizzy from the sensory overload. With difficulty, he sat up, his back to the railing as he gripped his wrist, teeth clenched against the pain.

                            How will I write now?

                            This strange thought caught him by surprise, and he found himself laughing, somewhat hysterically, at himself and his situation.

                            Fool. Utter, clumsy fool!

                            "Elliott! Are you alright? Oh, stupid question, you're obviously hurt."

                            The sound died in his throat as he looked up to see Harvey jogging through the snow to him, picking his footing carefully. The doctor knelt and carefully took Elliott's hand, grimacing at his gasp of pain. "Drat, looks like a sprain, but you're quite lucky you didn't break it with the way you fell. Here, can you stand? Good, let's get to the clinic. Lucky for you I was in the area, returning a book at the library." Silently, Elliott nodded, grasping his wrist tightly and holding it close to his chest as he walked next to the doctor, being very careful about where and how he walked this time. However, the plaza had snow without ice, and they made decent time.

                            Maru greeted them as they entered, and her eyes went wide at Elliott's condition. "Oh! What happened?"

                            "I fell," he offered, extremely embarrassed, "with any luck I've not broken it, but my luck seems to have run out recently."

                            Opening the door to the examination rooms, Harvey gestured for him to follow. "Let's get that imaged and be certain. Maru, if you could get it set up?"

                            "Sure, gimmie just a couple of minutes." Harvey assisted Elliott with removing his glove and jacket, offering sympathetic looks as Elliott continued to grit his teeth against the pain. Finally, they were able to get a quick x-ray, and to his relief there was no damage, just a wrist sprain. A brace was applied, and while he still ached from the residual injury, it wasn't the sharp jab that he'd been experiencing up until then. The offer for pain medication was refused, as though he was in discomfort, he knew his mental state was rather unstable, and feared the possibility of over-reliance on such a thing. Filling out the paperwork (thank the light he hadn't injured his dominant hand!), he thanked them for their help, especially Harvey for being in the right place at the right time, and stepped back out into the cold.

                            His breath making small clouds in front of him, he looked around to decide where to go next. He did still need those supplies, and it was just the one wrist injured, not broken, so he would be able to manage. Pierre expressed his sympathy for what had happened, and offered to have someone assist him on his way home, but this was also politely refused, as he did not want to put anyone out with the distance that he had to go. Besides, now that he knew of the danger he could be more mindful of it the next time.

                            He did make it home without further incident, however, and flopped into his computer chair when everything was put away. Sitting there quietly, unmoving for several minutes, he sighed again and pulled his phone out of his pocket, also grateful that he'd not landed on or damaged it in his fall. He hadn't called his brother in some time, and he had little else to do...

                            "Elliott, it's been a while, how are things? I picked up a subscription since you're getting a story in every month, they've been quite good!"

                            "Thank you. I..."

                            "What's up?" Charles asked, hearing the lack of energy in his brother's voice, "you can tell me anything. Talk to me."

                            Biting his lip to fight the urge to break down in front of his brother, Elliott put the phone on speaker so he could set it on the table, as though he'd not hurt his other hand, it still ached a little as well. "I... I can't do this. I'm sorry."

                            "You can, we believe in you. Some things just-"

                            "I can't!" he shouted, not intending to, and felt the hot sting of tears he couldn't hold back any longer. "I have tried, Charles, I really have, but I can't do this. All of you have been simply marvelous, just wonderful in how you've supported and assisted me, but at the end of it all I am a failure. I have been a waste of your time and resources and I know of no way in which I can pay my debts."

                            "There are no debts or favors to owe," Charles replied, in that supportive tone he always had when Elliott doubted himself when growing up, "we are family, and we support your decisions. I understand your frustrations, you have always pushed yourself so hard to be your best. I...don't know what advice to offer, and for that it is I who am sorry, but know that you're not alone. If you feel that you need to, our homes are always open to you, never forget that."

                            This kindness was too much for Elliott, and the tears came faster. "I do not deserve it. I cannot thank you enough, but... I must go. I'm sorry. Please, forgive me." He cut off the call and put his head in his folded arms on the tabletop, nails digging into his sleeves.
                             
                              611, Minimanta and Alkanthe like this.
                            • Risukage

                              Risukage Existential Complex

                              //Dang, this poor boy needs a HUG.//


                              Elliott ignored the next two calls that followed, not out of spite or hate, but because he didn't want to cause his brother any further trouble. However, when it buzzed with a text message, he picked it up and glanced at it, then sent a fast reply. Charles was in a bit of a panic, and was apparently in the middle of grabbing his coat and car keys to dash out the door. Elliott hastily sent a message that he was alright, he wasn't going to do anything drastic, and he apologized for causing him worry. The response to this still carried an air of concern, but he wasn't going to come out unless Elliott asked, however, he would be there in a moment's notice, all Elliott had to do was call, at any time. Elliott thanked him for this, and trudged to the bedroom where he tossed his phone carelessly onto the bedside table and promptly went to sleep, waking up to a near-dead battery that he charged while having his morning coffee.


                              There was nothing remarkable about winter. Elliott spent more time alone in his cabin, though very little of it was used for writing. It wasn't for a lack of trying, only ideas, and every attempt ended in failure, only adding to his frustration. In a strange way, he almost welcomed those moments of anger, because they were moments where he finally felt something other than cold despair, or worse, the emptiness of depression. Some days he'd feel nothing at all, and genuinely considered the option of just rolling over and going back to sleep. It wasn't as if he was useful or needed, or doing anything important. And nobody would miss him anyway, best to just not try and waste everyone's time and energy.

                              However, what little was left of his pride demanded that he get up and at least make the effort to be presentable and hygienic, and every morning after battling with his own thoughts, would get up, shower, shave, and clean himself up before getting dressed. The brush in his hair did at least provide some small level of comfort, and he found himself putting on the earrings as though he were donning a suit of armor. Not necessarily to protect against others, but as a reminder of those who supported him and made him feel safe and welcome. As though he deserved it right now, with his continual failures...

                              He did at least make the effort to attend the Feast of the Winter Star, and that did raise his spirits for a day. The bright, colorful lights helped to push back the frigid darkness of winter, and everyone's energetic, festive mood was infectious. For a little while he forgot his self-loathing and conversed with a few people, very carefully avoiding any inquiry about his work, instead asking about theirs and how everyone else was doing. After that event, however, he continued his mental downward slide, and he was aware of it. Yet there was nothing he could do about it. There was no reason to see doctor Harvey about it, because it wasn't an illness, the issue was himself. How could one cure that? He also continued to withdraw from the town, as though he valued their company, he wasn't a very good sort himself in return. Best to just stay away and not cause trouble.

                              Spring finally arrived, melting away the snow and bringing back the light that had been in such short supply the previous few months. Elliott checked something one morning and realized that it had been a full year since he'd moved there. One year. And nothing to show for it. Damn... Damn!! This pushed him even farther into depression, and the energy it took to get up in the morning consumed nearly all of his reserves, leaving him only enough to make a cup of coffee, do an errand if it was called for, and then to stare blankly at the screen for several hours, until he couldn't bother anymore and went to bed. Another week went by without him leaving the cabin, prompting yet another concerned inquiry from Lewis, which Elliott answered politely but unenthusiastically.

                              Later that day, he got up and restlessly paced his cabin, feeling slightly invigorated by the clean smells of spring filtering in through the windows and front door screen, but otherwise felt little else than the hard clench of self-contempt. Pausing by the table, he eyed the stack of notes he'd set next to his laptop, many old, many new, and all of them useless. Useless, just like he was.

                              In a fit of momentary anger and pique, he lashed out, scattering the pile across the floor, but caught the power cord for his laptop as he did so, yanking it free and sending the device tumbling off of the desktop. His heart and breath caught in his throat as he reached out to catch it, tripping himself on the power cord, and crashing to the floor, once more landing on his left wrist. He shouted in pain, as though it had healed over the winter, there was still a residual ache, and the flat, narrow edge of the laptop had impacted his hand quite hard. Lying there for a moment, he clutched the victim of his rage to his chest, feeling his pulse slowly come down to normal. It was the only thing that he felt, actually. That last moment of spite and hate had consumed the last of his emotions, and he now felt hollow and carved-out.

                              He didn't move for some time, until he felt an ache in his shoulder as well from how he'd been lying, and he almost welcomed it, that pain, as a reminder that he was still alive. Carefully, he stood up, set the laptop back in place, plugged it in, and staggered to the bathroom to inspect himself. He hadn't done any visible damage to himself, though the mental mischief was plain for anyone who took more than a cursory glance in his direction. With a deep sigh, he rested his weight on his hands on the edge of the sink, wondering what he should do. Well, Lewis had messaged. Perhaps he should show the courtesy of seeing him in person and thanking him for his concern. It was the least that he could do. Running the brush through his hair one last time, just in case, he grabbed his wallet and phone (also thankfully undamaged!), and walked outside.

                              It was late afternoon, but still warm (as much as spring could be), and he followed the path that he'd taken so often, yet had led him to no place of note. He arrived at the saloon in a little while, and nodded to those who waved at him in polite greeting. Lewis had his back to him and didn't notice the writer's presence until he sat down next to him.

                              "Oh, hey, Elliott, looks like you got my message. You doing okay over there?"

                              Searching for an answer, he sighed again as his shoulders sagged. Emily approached and asked him if he wanted anything. "Whisky, neat."

                              Lewis's eyebrows crawled up into his hairline at this request. "Sweet Yoba, my boy, something's really got you in a bind. You don't usually order something quite that potent."

                              Swirling the dark brown liquid in the glass, a smile equally as dark danced across his lips at Lewis's astute observation, and he gasped once he'd got his breath back after that first sip. Dear gods it burned, but he savored it, needing that pain, to keep him going, to remind himself that he was still alive... "Everything's falling apart, if it hasn't already," he replied, not bothering with any semblance of false cheer, "I have failed in my dream, and thus I have failed all who have supported me."

                              Emily leaned on the bar top, looking a bit sad for him, and chuckled. "Well, I guess I get to save on hair dye for a bit, hunh?"

                              Recalling her statement nearly a year previous, Elliott's eyes went wide as he made a "please don't" gesture. "That is completely unnecessary. It is bad enough for me to fail, I will not have others suffer on my behalf."

                              Certain that he was missing a conversation somewhere, Lewis remembered something else that he'd forgotten and pulled out his phone. "Good thing you're here, I almost forgot to let him know about the Flower Dance tomorrow."

                              Exhaling sharply again after a second sip, Elliott fixed him with a look of confusion. "Damn, I'd forgotten about that as well. Who do you need to inform?"

                              The message was sent, then another after it, making a correction to an error, and Lewis frowned again as he sent a third message, correcting another mistake. "Just had someone new move in last week," he replied, setting down his phone, looking extremely happy about it, "my friend's grandson is taking over the old place. By the light, it was good to meet him, he's damn near the mirror image of Lex when he was young. Oh, pardon a moment," he interrupted himself, checking his phone as it buzzed, "and he's going to attend the event. I'm glad, he'll need the break after clearing out that old mess."

                              Intrigued, Elliott prompted Lewis to continue, trying to remember-

                              Oh. That home to the west. Such a lovely place, and he's returned to it- No, Lewis mentioned that his friend's son lived there, but none of his other descendants. So this isn't so much a homecoming as it is coming home for the first time.

                              Lewis nodded and sipped his gin and tonic as he smiled, lost in memories both new and old. "He's right about your age, now that I think about it, and I feel so old for it, yet it brings me back to the days that Lex and I were the terrors of the town. You know, it's almost strange, you and Lys arrived under different circumstances and with different outlooks, but almost at the same time. Well, a year apart."

                              Confused, Elliott set down the tumbler and wondered what he'd missed. "Who-"

                              "Oh, right, sorry," Lewis chuckled, "his name is Lysander, but he prefers 'Lys.' I can see it, everyone in his family always goes by some shortened version of their full name."

                              What did Lewis say that family name was? Ah. Hmm, Lysander von Morgensonne. That's rather nice, actually, it sounds like the name of a legendary hero or the protagonist for an epic tale.

                              He felt a slight tug at the corner of his mind, but before he could follow that thread any further, Lewis finished his drink and ordered another. "But as I was saying, you came here looking for a place to write, and he's looking for a place to get away. I don't know what's haunting him, but whatever it is, I hope he finds peace here."

                              Picking up the glass again, Elliott swirled his drink again before taking another sip, and once again relished the liquid, heated pain. "I do as well, if anything else so that one of us can find success. I am defeated, but perhaps he will fare better in his endeavors."

                              From a few seats down, Shane snorted loudly, already halfway through his fourth beer, and shot Elliott a bleary side-eyed look. "Yeah, we get it, you're a failure. Welcome to the club and quit your bitching, nobody cares."

                              Shocked, Elliott was caught too off-guard to reply, but was saved a reply when Sam stomped over and roughly shoved the drunk man, looking very angry. "Get wrecked, Shane. Just because your life sucks doesn't mean you get to be an asshole to everyone else."

                              "Samson-!" Lewis began, about to admonish him, when Sam momentarily turned his glare to the mayor.

                              "Stay out of this, sir, I'm right and you know it. And you-" he growled, turning back to the unshaved and unkempt man, "you don't make any effort to change things. You just sit there and mope and get fat from drinking away your paycheck every night. At least he's trying, so shut the hell up and quit being a jerk."

                              Setting down his mug with a heavy thunk, Shane turned to his co-worker, ready to begin violence, which was met with a challenging stare from Sam and a command for the both of them to stop from Lewis. Gulping the last of his whisky, Elliott felt a surge of fury as he put the glass aside, slamming both hands onto the bar top.

                              "ENOUGH!!" His outburst surprised himself more than anyone else, and as he turned to address the arguing pair, he felt the hot burn of liquor be replaced with the cold stab of embarrassment as everyone in the saloon stared at them. Backing up against the bar, a wave of self-consciousness washed over him, and he pushed away, striding toward the door. Sam grabbed him by the wrist, momentarily halting his departure.

                              "Dude, it's okay. Just because he's got a bug up his ass doesn't mean that the rest of us don't want you here. Sorry for jumping in for you like that, but he had no right to say what he did. You are trying, we can all see it. C'mon, join us over at the pool table, you don't have to be alone."

                              For a moment, Elliott wanted to take him up on his offer, he really did. Sam's offer was genuine, and he honestly cared. But at that moment, Elliott felt the emptiness begin to fill with pain, and he knew that he had to deal with that alone. He wouldn't ruin anyone else's night any worse than he already had.

                              "I...cannot... Thank you, I truly do appreciate it, but my presence only brings conflict. I am sorry. ...I should never have come here..." Without resistance, he broke Sam's hold and left, his long stride eating up the distance to the bridge, where he slowed to a dejected walk, not noticing where he was going, just...forward. He kept going until he ran out of surface upon which to advance, at the edge of the longest pier out over the ocean. Standing there, he watched the waves pulse back and forth as he listened to its gentle crash and roar.

                              So peaceful, so vast. Uncaring, indifferent, unchanging, endless... Long has it been my companion, just outside of notice but always present. What would happen were I to simply resign myself to its embrace, to consign myself to the abyss? It is not as though I have contributed anything. Rather, I would finally accomplish something by no longer taking up time and resources from those who would use them constructively. But...no, there are those to whom this act would cause harm. That would be selfish of me. I can tolerate that which inconveniences me, but to hurt another, that is reprehensible.

                              With almost a sense of regret, he turned away and slowly trudged back to his home, pausing with his hand almost to the door latch as he suddenly realized what he'd considered. Turning sharply toward the bay, he forgot to breathe for a moment as the full weight of what his near-decision meant, and let himself inside with alarmed speed. He leaned against the closed door, hugging himself tightly, feeling a lump form in his throat, hating everything about himself.

                              Unsteadily, he made his way to his bedroom, kicked off his shoes, and sat down on the edge of the bed with a complete lack of grace, his elbows on his knees and hand between them as he stared at the floor. With one hand he tried to reach up to remove the earrings, the first thing he did when getting ready for bed, but gave up and sprawled on his back, his arm over his eyes, feeling as though he weighed twice as much as he actually did. Unmoving for several minutes, he finally reached over to grab a pillow that he hugged tightly as he rolled onto his side, begging for sleep to take him away from himself and his failures, even for just a few hours. The bit of alcohol in his system and mental exhaustion granted this desire, and he dozed off atop the covers, still fully dressed.
                               
                                611, Minimanta and Alkanthe like this.
                              • Risukage

                                Risukage Existential Complex

                                //And now begins the REAL challenge of writing this book. *Gets coffee, pulls up books 1 and 3 side-by-side, cracks knuckles.*//


                                He woke up much earlier than usual, but given how early he'd gone to bed, it wasn't a surprise. Lying there for a little while, he played out the events of the previous evening once more, feeling a notable lack of care for the entire situation. Save for his musings at the end of the pier, that gave him concern. Nothing to be done about it for the moment, however...

                                Stiffly, he got up and undressed, carelessly throwing his clothes on the bed before diving into a scalding shower, trying to wash away the memory of recent events. He wasn't even certain if he should go to the event that day, either. It had been a minor verbal altercation, nothing of real note, to be honest, but this was a small town, and he wasn't certain that he had a very good reputation at the moment. Perhaps it might be better if he didn't go after all.

                                And yet...

                                He admitted to himself no small amount of curiosity about a new face in town. It wasn't as though he was starved for novelty or the like, but Lewis had spoken fondly (and at extreme lengths!) of his friend, and seemed to already have a grandfatherly sort of interest in the newcomer. This was a strange endorsement of their character, but one that Elliott was inclined to accept and want to investigate. Something tugged at the corner of his mind once more, but he pushed it aside for the moment as he concentrated on not cutting himself while he shaved. Rinsing off the razor, he set it to dry and reached into the closet.

                                The weather forecast was to be warm, and he felt the urge to dress in a similar manner, selecting the charcoal waistcoat and trousers, and that nice red shirt he'd not worn in a little while anyway. Might as well give the more neglected bits of his wardrobe a bit of use. Fastening the buttons on his waistcoat, he returned to the bathroom and reached for the hairbrush, idly inspecting his reflection. Presentable enough, he supposed, and nothing notable at the same time. Excellent. He didn't want to be noticed, per se, but at the same time he was making the attempt to be sociable. The silver earrings were last, as always, and it was off to the kitchen for a pick-me-up coffee.


                                A couple of hours later he walked into the event area, to the very west edge of the Cindersap Forest. It had been quite the nice walk, and one he hadn't made in quite some time. Feeling invigorated, he roamed without a clear destination, feeling his mood lift a little. If anyone had heard of the event in the saloon the night previous they made no mention of it, and it didn't change their response to him, as everyone he talked to was likewise cheerful and welcoming. He saw Sam with his friends and remembered the kind words that the shorter man had offered the night before, and resolved to thank him for it.

                                Oh, it appears that he's in the middle of a conversation already. But with- Half a moment, I don't recognize them, he thought as he approached, trying to put a name to that face, but realized that he wasn't being forgetful, this person was new. I wonder, if this is...

                                Haley sighed with irritation at something that Sam said, and Abigail rolled her eyes, turning her attention back to the newcomer. "Sorry that everyone else here is so rude. I’m Abigail. That’s Sam, Sebastian, and Haley.”

                                The person they were talking with relaxed visibly and managed a small smile in response. “I’m Lys. Nice to meet everyone.”

                                Hoping that he wasn't interrupting, Elliott joined the conversation. “Not quite everyone, actually. I’m Elliott, pleased to meet you. Now, Lys is it? Short for Lysander if I’m not mistaken?”

                                You utter twit, he thought as the words left his mouth, how would anyone know the "full" form of that name out of nowhere? Excellent first impression.

                                This didn't seem to be a problem, as Lys gave him a look of startled surprise, silent for a moment. He was quite tall, Elliott could see that, even sitting down, and appeared to be of a rather athletic yet slim build, quite unlike Alex's bulk, who was the only person in town to rival his own height. Warm hazel eyes behind a pair of silver, half-rim glasses studied him in return, from a face that he wasn't sure was more "handsome" or "pretty." His most striking feature, however, was the copper-red hair that he wore loose and went past his shoulders. To his own surprise, Elliott had a strange realization in that he found Lys to be rather attractive, and he didn't mind admitting to himself that it wasn't an unpleasant thought to be interested in him. Before he could pursue this thought any further, Lys finished gathering his own thoughts.

                                “I… Yes. Sorry, I was just thinking. I’ve always wanted to try earrings but didn’t think I could make it work.”

                                The pleasant feeling deepened at the inadvertent compliment, and Elliott couldn't help but smile. “Not everyone can, but you might. Though your choker suits you well, and I doubt any of us could say the same.”

                                Lys's aesthetic was certainly curious, but it worked for him. And yet, it didn't... The tooled leather choker was interesting and stylish, and he wore it with a simple, forest-green button down and khaki slacks, the smooth, clean lines of which complemented his figure. But the two styles didn't seem to "go" together; it seemed as though he was deliberately changing something about himself and was in the middle of doing so. Further, though the glasses complemented the shape of his face, Elliott had the impression that gold looked better against his skin tone rather than silver, which seemed too harsh. During his musings he realized that he'd missed a part of the conversation, just as Lys replied to a query from Haley.

                                “No, I came here because…” He visibly sagged as he trailed off, shaking his head. “Nothing, I guess. Just a change. I did something stupid and I wanted to get away and try again. I wasn’t really thinking, and now I’m here with nothing to show for it.”

                                Lewis was right, we both arrived under different circumstances with different outlooks. Light help me, he looks like I feel. I wish that there were a way that I could help, so that only one of us has to suffer for the past.

                                Sebastian, who Elliott remembered being quiet, but profound when he did speak, offered a suggestion, asking if there was anything that Lys could possibly grow out at the farm. This was a sensible question, as Elliott recalled the property being quite large, and that the only restriction to growing it would be one's own time and energy, not space. Pondering this, Lys remarked that he liked flowers, even though he wasn't quite good at growing things. This prompted everyone else to chip in with what they liked, and Elliott voiced his preference for roses, to which Lys commented that he liked sunflowers (after Sam had made a rather indecent horticultural suggestion that Sebastian helpfully interrupted). Elliott recalled seeing a number of books on gardening and farming at the library, and suggested that perhaps Lys could visit it some time for help. All of this seemed to momentarily ease Lys's concern, and his smile was warm and grateful.

                                “...Thanks. All of you. I really didn’t expect to get along with anyone. I’m happy to be wrong. Not that I mean that I thought you’d be bad people, it’s just- Damn it, sorry.” The smile faded, like a cloud passing in front of the sun.

                                Elliott felt a twinge of sympathy for him, and resisted the urge to offer him words (or a hug) of comfort, not certain how it would be received. “I understand your sentiment. Meeting new people and trying to make a good first impression is daunting, and while some residents are standoffish and reclusive, just remember that most of us are gregarious and welcoming.”

                                The smile flickered at the corner of Lys's mouth but didn't return completely. “A little, yeah, but I’ve just never had much luck making friends before so I’m really not sure how it works.”

                                Abigail expressed surprise at this, which was the same thing that everyone was thinking. The smile returned as he mentioned his hobbies, and Elliott was intrigued to hear that not only was Lys a musician, but a theater actor. Before he could query about this, Haley leapt in, fascinated, asking what sort of theater that Lys had done, and the positive inquiry was apparently something that he was not expecting.

                                Scratching his nose, Lys thought out loud. “A bit of everything. Musicals, plays, classic lit. I’ve done just about everything in the Avonbard list, now that I think about it.”

                                Haley sighed with delight, and Elliott didn't bother to hide a smile, knowing that while to most writers and performers those plays were sometimes a bit silly and over-the-top, it was difficult to deny the cultural impact that they'd had. Her eyes unfocused a little, gazing off at nothing in particular. “Ah, his stuff is so good, it’s so romantic and tragic. Especially his Star-Crossed Lovers, it’s really his best.” She ignored Sam having a giggle at her expense, posing in a dramatic fashion that nearly left Elliott chuckling as well, and a quick glance at Lys showed that he wasn't the only one. Her attempt to recite a line from the play in question was met with mixed success, and once more Sam had a laugh. Recalling how that portion of the play went, Elliott's jaw nearly dropped as Lys stood up, donning the mask of a performer as he did so.

                                “Our bond is something true and strong, so tenuous but lasting long. As soft as breath, as hard as steel, there is naught else that I would feel."

                                Wait- He was so shy and withdrawn just a moment ago. Now he's quoting lines from one of the most famous romantic stories. And with such confidence, clearly this is a role that he's had before. Just what are you, I wonder?

                                Usually he would find it too embarrassing to open himself up to others in the same manner, but he was too curious to not see what would happen, and took his place next to Lys, reciting the next line, offering his hand as the script dictated. “Warm and gentle like breaking dawn, I pale like dusk when you are gone. But like dawn’s light you shine once more, and with your touch my heart does soar.” His heart skipped a beat as Lys welcomed him to the "stage," lacing his fingers with his own, completely immersed in his role.

                                “Though misunderstood and oft-maligned, our destinies are intertwined. They know not what it is we share, though I know for certain they do not care.”

                                I-! Perhaps I have made a mistake, I shouldn't embarrass him like this. And yet he shows no sign of self-consciousness or hesitation. There is no mask being worn here, it is a mantle, and it fits him to perfection. How strange yet delightful.

                                He almost held his breath as he continued the script, putting an arm around the other man's waist and feeling his pulse jump again as Lys stepped into it and against him. “Then just for now I’ll hold you tight, if you’ll permit to stay the night. Our passions burning pure and hot, we find the climax we’ve so long sought.” The hesitant uncertainty was gone; Lys was confident in his role, and not the least bit perturbed about being held by a complete stranger in a nearly-intimate manner. Elliott was only partially aware of the antics of the others watching them, but before he could say anything, Lys turned a shade of red almost as bright as his hair and let him go.

                                “Ah! Sorry! I really got into character there for a moment.”

                                He's... I almost cannot believe this; he's not embarrassed for himself, he thinks that this was embarrassing to ME. What... What are you? Who are you? You fiery enigma, what is your story?

                                His own smile returned, flattered that Lys's first concern was for him and not himself. “Don’t apologize. You have passion for your art, and that’s quite admirable. You are a true thespian." He and Lys shared a perplexed look as Sam remarked, "but you two aren’t girls," and nobody present was the least bit certain as to whether he was honest or jesting.

                                Shaking her head, Abigail turned back to the two impromptu performers, responding to a remark that both men had missed. “Haley is right, that was good. I didn’t know you read Avonbard’s stuff, I thought you were just a writer.”

                                Elliott was still caught up in the energy of the moment and replied with friendly humor. “I am no mere writer, I am an author. I am the artist who paints with words. Any author worth their work knows the classics.” As he said it he wanted to take the words back; he was a writer, yes, but not yet an author. Nobody called him out on it, though, as she realized and pointed out that most of them had to leave to prepare for the dance. They bantered amongst themselves as they excused themselves from Elliott and Lys, leaving the writer suddenly uncertain as to what to say.

                                The copper-haired man regarded him with curiosity, both personal and professional. "So you're not a part of this?"

                                “I am not. My talents lie in a more cerebral area, less physical. Besides, I only moved here about a year ago myself, and have hardly made more progress than you have in learning names and putting them to faces.”

                                I have tried. Dear gods, I have tried. I hope that you have greater success than I did.

                                The smile returned, giving Elliott a small pulse of inner warmth. "Fair enough. A writer, though? Sounds fun and tedious at the same time.”

                                “True enough. If you have the time and inclination I would welcome the company. I live in the cabin on the beach. I had hoped that the isolation and pastoral peace that came with it would bring me the inspiration I need, but that has yet to come to pass.”

                                Double the fool! he thought, realizing that he'd been saying nearly every wrong thing possible that day, you've only just met, do not scare him away by being too forward. He has come here to escape something, he does not need another reason to run.

                                This offer didn't produce any sort of negative reaction. Rather, Lys seemed interested as well. “I was thinking of getting out and about tomorrow. I’ll have to do that.”

                                The crowd began to shift and move, and Elliott almost couldn't hide his disappointment that the conversation had to end. “It appears that we will have to continue this later. If I do not see you sooner, I wish you a good evening.”

                                “Same. And thanks again. Especially for not laughing, I do tend to throw myself into things too much.”

                                That smile. Oh gods, that smile, Elliott could feel himself melting from it, and hoped that it didn't show. "If there is fault to be found it is mine for stepping upon your stage without permission."

                                "Are you joking? That was great! I didn't expect to find anyone else who knew it from memory. I haven't been on stage in months and it feels like forever. I needed that."

                                They walked together for a bit longer until they were separated by the crowd, as other townsfolk were taking a moment to get to know him, and Elliott thought it would be incredibly rude to wait around. He didn't see him again after the dance was over, but still felt quite upbeat as he left the festival grounds, his hands in his pockets as he strolled through the forest on his way back home. For the third time he felt the tug at the corner of his mind that he'd ignored previously, and this time he let it off of its proverbial leash to run free for a bit.

                                Lysander von Morgensonne. A man whose appearance fits his name. A man of mystery and secrets. From what are you running? Who or what is it that you seek? A musician and actor, skilled with song and story, fleeing his past and searching for a brighter future. The truth is likely mundane, but one can easily imagine him escaping memories that haunt him, or chasing a fortune and title denied him by nefarious men and deeds.

                                He let his mind wander, and suddenly, he realized something: he could see the future. Stopping in his tracks, his eyes went wide as he saw the spanning, sprawling, vast tree of a story. Not a mere tale, but an epic. The branching limbs of plot threads and dialogue fanned out in front of him, and he swayed on his feet as the possibilities staggered him. A touch on his arm startled him, and he was snapped out of his reverie by Leah, who looked both concerned and curious.

                                "Hey, Elliott, are you doing okay? You look really out of it."

                                "I... Leah, I am doing marvelous. That new person, Lys, I..." He was at a loss for words, only because there were too many to choose from.

                                "Oh? Oh! Yeah, I got the chance to say hi. He's cute," she giggled, "and a bit shy, but I think he'll do well here. Sounds like the two of you had a good talk."

                                "Not a mere talk, no, I have been inspired. Light help me, I have searched for years to no avail, and today, in a meeting of only a few minutes, have found a story. It may just be ideas and impressions right now, but that is irrelevant. We..." He put a hand to his forehead as he caught his balance again, bewildered by everything that passed in front of his mind's eye. "We had a moment of theater, performing a couple of lines of a play. Spontaneous silliness of which I did not think myself capable, but something about him, this aura, this presence, I could not hold myself back. And now I can see possibilities that never before existed."

                                Leah's expression grew more excited in synchronous with Elliott's enthusiasm, and she bounced and clapped with delight. "This is great! I don't think I've ever seen you this jazzed about something. He sounds totally amazing."

                                "He... Yes, he is."

                                It was a meeting of only a few minutes, but in those minutes I became captivated. Light help me, I am helpless before his charm and beauty, and I feel no shame or fear for it. I only fear that I may drive him away, to lose the light that has already illuminated a path. You strange, enigmatic flame, I cannot thank you enough for what you have done today.


                                For a brief moment he genuinely considered turning north at the entrance to the farm, just west of Marnie's ranch, but thought better of it. It was late in the day, so Lys was not likely to be interested in visitors after such a busy day, especially someone he'd just met, and in any case, that part of the property was still heavily overgrown, and Elliott lacked the gear to tackle it. He walked home with a brisk step, humming to himself as he let the myriad threads of potential plots take form from the spinning wheel of his mind. As he undressed for bed, he laughed merrily, enjoying the satisfying warmth that he'd not felt in so very long. This was the best day that he'd had in ages, and though he wanted so badly to sit and type for hours, he knew that he needed the rest. Previously, he might have worried that he'd forget these ideas, that they'd fade along with the dreams of the night, but this time, he knew that he'd remember. They were too special not to be remembered.
                                 
                                  Last edited: Feb 25, 2017
                                  611, Alkanthe and Minimanta like this.
                                • Risukage

                                  Risukage Existential Complex

                                  //It's kinda weird, writing this chapter from Elliott's point of view, as when I wrote the first book it just felt "natural" for him to just casually be all "oh yeah, this is a thing that I've done with pros for kicks, it's fun," because I've done it myself, and it No Big Thing. Now, I'm having a look back and thinking, "this must have blown Elliott's (and later Sam's!) mind, with this new person just offering to sit down and jam with them and being all chill about it even though they're a professional." *Laughs at self.*//


                                  He did recall everything that he had thought of, and upon rising early once more, showered and dressed swiftly before heading to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. While his drink steeped in the press, he seated himself at his laptop and typed furiously, in the off-chance that now that he was awake his thoughts would abandon him. It was a good fifteen or twenty minutes later before he remembered his beverage, and saved his work to go to the kitchen and pour himself a cup. Savoring the warm, smooth flavor, he sat down again and held the cup in both hands as he skimmed his notes. Yes, yes, this could work. It was still fragments, so many pieces, but these pieces, ah! These were ones into which he could assemble a full story, unlike the bits and pieces that filled so many document files until now. A smile of satisfaction spread across his face as he read, seeing the form of a story take shape. He still wasn't sure what it would be about, or who, or where, but it was coming together.

                                  Well, mostly.

                                  He hadn't hit a wall or a roadblock, so to speak, but now that he'd finally transcribed all that had been bouncing about in his head, he was left with quite a lot of empty space that was difficult to fill. Finishing half of the cup, he set it aside to stand up and stretch. No, he wasn't the least bit bothered. That conversation yesterday- that performance- had given him much food for thought, and having long been starved for it, he was grateful for the mental feast. Walking a lazy lap around the room, his hands folded behind his head as he thought, he let his mind wander and mull over everything. Suddenly, he felt the urge for music, and went to the piano, flexing his hands. How long had it been since he'd played? No matter. He was doing it now, that was what was important.

                                  At first he was stiff and clumsy, out of practice from the depths of depression and despair, but after a couple of songs he felt his old self again. After a moment of consideration, he began playing that composition of his that he'd been working on for so long, not only for the practice, but to see if he could expand upon it further. Humming along with the melody, he was lost in the beauty of its sound when he heard a message chirp from a phone. But not his phone. Curious, he stood up and went to the door, having heard it from outside. Leaning against one of the awning supports, Lys sighed with his face in his hand.

                                  Oh! So he was able to drop by after all.

                                  “I thought I heard someone. Hello, Lys.”

                                  Looking up at the greeting, Lys grinned ruefully with a shrug of apology. “Sorry about that, I wasn’t expecting any messages or I’d have turned off the sound. I heard you playing and was about to come back later when you aren’t busy.”

                                  Standing back and opening the door a bit wider, Elliott gestured inside. “To the contrary, I find myself vexingly idle right now. Please, come in.” Followed by the somewhat-embarrassed musician, Elliott looked around, noticing that while there were technically seats available, he was sorely lacking in anything comfortable. “I don’t have many places to sit, as I don’t often see company. There are many who would find that a sad state of affairs, but such is my state of mine at the moment.”

                                  “I lived in a studio apartment for a while, so you’ve got more furniture and space for company than I used to. Not that there was anyone to come visit," Lys replied, resting the guitar case against the edge of the table with a sympathetic shrug, sitting down in the computer chair as Elliott returned to the piano bench with a laugh at himself and his situation.

                                  “As I said yesterday, I had thought that I would find here what I sought in order to create literary works, but it seems that my vision is greater than my sight.” Also in his vision was the rather simple state of his home; the laptop, rose, and partially-finished cup of coffee upon the table, walls lined with books and shelves, and little else. “If I were using pen and paper I would have a room full of discarded scraps and only a handful of something useful. I would aver that my muse has abandoned me, but that implies that one was present at all.”

                                  That warm smile appeared again as Lys followed Elliott's visual path around his home. "You’re ahead of me at least, I just play stuff that others have written. The only time I’ve done anything of my own was when I was sitting in with dad’s group and- Hey, I’ve got an idea." He stood up and grabbed his guitar case, setting it upon the table and removing the instrument within. "That song you were playing, run it again.”

                                  Elliott played it once more, barely able to hide his amusement at the obvious change.

                                  How curious, Elliott thought with a smile that mirrored his companion's, he wears and discards a mask so easily. That quiet, almost meek persona is clearly a fiction, and a facade that he must consciously maintain lest his true face show. You intrigue me, newcomer, and though I fear appearing too eager, I cannot hold back the urge to learn more about you. Your voice, your posture, your movements, they all speak of someone with complete confidence in themselves. What has happened to you that would cause you to want to hide it away?

                                  When Elliott turned back to him, Lys nodded, the guitar already in place (a lovely instrument, at that!) and the pick between his fingers. “Okay, I’ve got it. We’re going to do some stream-of-consciousness lyric writing.”

                                  While he knew what stream of consciousness writing was, although he'd not done it in some time, hearing the suggestion out of the blue, and for music lyrics, caught him off-guard. “How do you mean?" he asked, both confused and impressed, "and you already know my song?”

                                  With off-handed modesty, Lys shrugged again and plucked each string individually to ensure that the guitar was properly in tune. “I can read sheet music but I usually play by ear, and I pick up on music fast. My dad also has a small local band back home that plays in the community center and the like that I sit in with now and then. In some pieces we’ll repeat the chorus section and each of us takes sixteen or so bars to do a quick solo, just something improvised based on the melody and chords, and on occasion our own lyrics. It’s a lot of fun because you never know what you’ll do, it’s just spontaneous.”

                                  He's a proper musician, then, not just a musical enthusiast like I am. A professional. That someone with such skill is willing to assist me is an unexpected honor.

                                  “That’s… Actually a good idea," he replied, having turned over the idea in his mind, feeling nervous but confident, "I’ll give it a go.”

                                  “We need a theme. Um…" Tapping the pick against the body of the guitar, Lys looked around. "Well, we’re by the shore, let’s go with the ocean. I’ll start off and do two lines and pass it to you, you do two and pass it back, and we’ll go around a couple of times and see what happens. I’ll give you four bars intro before I start.”

                                  Elliott listened as Lys played a quick intro with skilled fingers, and he very nearly stumbled after joining the song. The other man's warm, resonant tenor was a surprise, as well as the gentle confidence with which he sang.

                                  “The smell of sand and sunlit sea, a summer’s memory, comes back to me. Long-forgotten sounds and places that I’d forgot exist.”

                                  Uncertain of how to follow this, Elliott almost stumbled again. Then he gave himself a mental shake, letting his mind wander and pull the words from the ether. “So long it’s been since I had seen this windswept seascape, so blue and green. All of those old friendships and places I’ve missed.”

                                  The musician was in his element, grabbing and running with Elliott's addition. “Far from this home I left one day, I’ve journeyed blindly to my dismay. Is there anyone who will still remember me?”

                                  For some reason his thoughts took a wistful and slightly sad turn, but he went with it. That was the point of this exercise, after all. “When last we talked and said good bye, you said, ‘be sure to write me,’ I said I’d try. Now upon these shores it’s only you that I can see.”

                                  That smile again! Lys was clearly having fun, and that smile gained an edge of mischief. “Good! Key change and final verse!”

                                  "Wait-" he started to say, amazed that Lys was already so confident with this song.

                                  "Keep up," he laughed, cutting Elliott off as he played a quick "bridge" to give him time to catch himself and transition. Elliott only made one error as he synchronized with the guitarist and changed up a half step to the next key, and to his own surprise, felt confident enough to add flourish to the melody as Lys added his final verse. “Now I’ve returned and here I’ll stay, will you forgive me being gone away? I’ll wait here for you now, in sun or in the rain.”

                                  “Upon these shores we’ll reunite, no longer memories, the future bright. There is nothing more that I want than to see you again.” They closed out the song with four final bars, letting the sound linger on.

                                  “Not bad for a first try, that was fun," Lys remarked, once more twirling the pick as he regarded Elliott with approval, "you’re pretty fast on the uptake.”

                                  Elliott almost didn't hear him, slowly playing a bit of the melody with one hand as he thought, suddenly feeling something "unlock" in his mind. No new ideas came to him, but he DID find ways to connect and expand upon that which he already had, and in only a few seconds' time he almost felt drowned in inspiration. He laughed with delight at this, amazed that this strange, simple idea had given him exactly what he needed.

                                  “Damn if it didn’t work. I suddenly feel the urge to write. My mind is full of ideas that demand to be transcribed. From one set of keys to another." With energy that he'd not shown in months he very nearly leapt from the piano bench to his computer chair. He completely missed the chuckle that Lys smothered, as well as a satisfied smile, watching him type so quickly he seemed in danger of tripping over his own fingers.

                                  Lys slipped the pick back into the frets and put away the guitar carefully, trying not to bump the table. “I should probably leave, then, looks like you’ve got a lot to do.”

                                  You have no idea, and one day I shall have to properly thank you for it. Yet you still perplex me, with that deliberate mask. I wonder, since you claim to not be a gardener, how will you react to being asked something out of your expertise? I do not mean to unfairly test you, but at the same time you are a mystery that I am eager to solve.

                                  He nodded and pushed back from the table, reclining comfortably. “Yes, but I will do you the courtesy of at least seeing you off, first. Though if you get the time, I would ask a favor. If you have any horticultural skill could you have a look at that rose? I’m just not sure what to do for it.”

                                  Lys was the next to not notice someone's gaze, as Elliott watched him carefully while he closed the snaps on the guitar case and reached for the small potted rose. He poked, prodded, and inspected it from every angle, rubbing its petals and leaves gently between his fingers, and checking the soil. With an air of focused study, he remarked that it was in good condition but could use slightly different care to help it flourish, and listed a few things that could be done quite easily. As he finished his lecture, he realized what he was doing and appeared to be startled and apologetic, carefully putting down the plant and reaching for his guitar case as he hastily and almost haphazardly donned his "disguise" again.

                                  “Sorry. I didn’t mean to get- I’ll go now.”

                                  How fascinating. I still do not understand, but I am learning. I do not yet know who or what it was that hurt you, but if you let me I will help make it better. It is the least that I can do for you for what you have done for me.

                                  Elliot put a hand on the guitar case, not firmly enough to prevent him from taking it and leaving, only just enough to get Lys to wait. “You’ve got talent and knowledge. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed of it.”

                                  That look of hesitant fear was a sharp stab in Elliott's gut, but he knew that he wasn't the source, it was something in Lys's past. Hugging himself, Lys cast his gaze away from Elliott. “Maybe, but…”

                                  Forgive me, but I cannot see someone in pain and indifferently stand aside. Let me help you, please, for this kindness that you have shown me.

                                  Seeing this reaction, Elliott made a calculated guess. "You don’t need those glasses, do you? You wear them as a shield.” Silent surprise told Elliott that he'd hit his mark, and he pressed on, hoping that he wasn't also pressing his luck. “I won’t ask why, but you’ve been hurt and now you’re hiding. I’ve been there, for different reasons I imagine, but I know how to see it in others. You need a friend, and I’ll be that if you want. I confess to being bored and lonely out here, and this was the first time in a long time that I’ve felt properly challenged. Thank you for that.”

                                  Elliott watched silently and patiently as Lys fought an internal battle; he bit his lip, nails digging into his sleeves as he stared at an undefined point on the floor. Very nearly holding his breath, Elliott worried that he'd miscalculated. Then, that smile, warm but faint and hesitant, appeared again as Lys offered a hand.

                                  “I’d like that.”

                                  Feeling a knot in his stomach untangle that he didn't realize had formed, Elliott grasped his hand softly, feeling and seeing him relax considerably. Lys's smile was no longer wary, finally touching his eyes, and the knot of fear was momentarily replaced with butterflies, confusing Elliott as he stood. He stretched to dissipate it and lead the way to the door.

                                  “If you have the time tomorrow I’d like to try that again. I’ve got music scores stashed here somewhere that I haven’t read in some time if you want to try something different.”

                                  The copper-haired man strode with casual confidence behind him, hefting the case's strap over his shoulder. “That’d be fun. Most of my stuff is guitar tabs, so it’ll take me a bit to get used to regular scoring.”

                                  Once more that flutter of delight, at finding someone who understood and shared the same interests! “Then whenever is best for you. I’ll try to have coffee ready.” The smile and wave that Lys gave him as he left filled him a sense of content warmth, and he returned to his laptop immediately, his mind still spinning with ideas and thoughts.

                                  For the next few hours he typed tirelessly, completely forgetting to eat or drink. Eventually he paused to rub his wrists and reach for his coffee, which was completely cold by this point. He laughed at himself and took the cup to the kitchen, pouring the contents of the cup and the press (also cold and forgotten) into a taller glass, to which he added a bit more cream and a few ice cubes, recalling that coffee was one of those strange beverages that is delicious when both hot and cold, but almost nauseating at room temperature.

                                  As he walked back to the table with his repurposed drink, his phone buzzed with a message from Charles, and he picked it up to call him, leaning against the table as he sipped his beverage.

                                  "Elliott? How's it going out there? Haven't heard from you in a little bit. It's been about a year since you moved out there, isn't it?"

                                  "Things are marvelous," he replied, still feeling the euphoria from earlier, "and it's a bit past a year, but not by much. But it's the best that things have been so far."

                                  Charles could almost see the delight that he heard in his brother's voice, and he sighed with relief, his earlier concern completely erased. "You sound a hell of a lot better. Not to be rude, but what changed?"

                                  "There is no rudeness implied or assumed. It is simply that things have changed and I am now in a much more positive and productive frame of mind. Strangely, much like myself, someone else is new to this town, and though he is here for far different reasons than I, we appear to have some common skills and interests. So much so that he has been instrumental-" he paused to laugh at his unintended pun, "in providing me with the inspiration that I was lacking."

                                  "Wait- Really? So you've finally got a start on that novel?"

                                  "Of a sort, yes. It's still in the planning stages, I have been writing down possibilities and paths all afternoon since he departed. No, since before that. Our chance encounter yesterday opened my eyes and mind to countless possibilities that had never before existed."

                                  Laughing at his brother's enthusiasm, Charles felt elated at the change. "It sounds as though you finally found your muse."

                                  This produced a moment of contemplative silence before it was Elliott's turn to laugh, delving into a moment of rambling poetry. "Not just a muse, but their leader, Apollo. Tall and graceful, and possessing a voice and skill with stringed instruments fitting of any deity. Radiating the warmth of the sun, he illuminates the stage upon which he stands, and inspires all who bear witness."

                                  "Aww, my little brother finally found a sweetie," Charles teased, "he sounds delightful. I bet you two are simply adorable together."

                                  Sputtering, Elliott nearly dropped the phone. "Wha- No! He is a friend and a fellow artist! What is wrong with you?"

                                  There was hearty laughter on the other end, and Elliott was certain that Charles was wiping away tears. "I refuse to apologize for that, and I wish that this had been a video call so I could have seen your face. I'm just giving you sass, I'm honestly happy for you to have made such a good friend already, especially one who has helped you so much in such a short time."

                                  "I...thank you. Although I suppose that your jest was not unwarranted. After all that I put you through these last few months I suppose that I had something like that coming." Chuckling at himself and his brother's glee, he swirled the drink and took another sip. "But in all seriousness, I do hope that he considers me to be a friend, as I have never before met someone with his musical talent, and his mutual love for theater has given me hope for the first time since I can remember."

                                  "Theater? Really!"

                                  "I was more surprised than you, and-" he blushed a little at the memory but still smiled, "he performed a small segment of one of the Avonbard pieces for a few of us, and his love for the written work is genuine. It may be selfish of me to want to keep him so close, and I fear scaring him away with over-enthusiasm, but I'll be damned if I let slip by the opportunity to work closely with a professional."

                                  A soft laugh this time was heard on the other end of the line. "If I ever drop in to town I'll have to meet and thank the person that gave you back your energy and drive to create."

                                  "As long as you behave yourself. It is your right as an older brother to be a bother, but I shall frown upon any attempt at mischief."

                                  "And it seems to be your right as a younger brother to take the fun out of everything. Oh! Have you told mother and father about this?"

                                  Elliott shook his head as he took another drink, rolling his eyes at himself for the gesture that Charles couldn't see. "I have not, no. I had just paused for a break when you messaged. I will call them the moment we are finished."

                                  "Then I'll go ahead and let you go so you can tell them right away."

                                  "My thanks, for just now, and for back then."

                                  "We're family, and we love you. Never forget that."

                                  A soft smile tugged at the corner of his lips, despite the memory of the past year. "I did once. Never shall I do so again."
                                   
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                                  • Risukage

                                    Risukage Existential Complex

                                    //Wow, Stardew Valley is a year old now. Granted, I only started writing this series last April or so, but still, wow, weird to think that I've been at this almost a full year now, and that people have been reading it almost as long.

                                    ...

                                    Dang. You guys are AWESOME.//


                                    Sleeping well and waking refreshed, Elliott sat up in bed for a few minutes, taking a quick index of his physical and mental state. He was feeling much better than he had in quite some time. His usual routine of getting cleaned up and dressed took little time at all, and feeling mellow yet energetic, reached for dark but rich colors; black waistcoat and trousers, and a dark green shirt. Buttoning up the shirt and shrugging into the waistcoat, he left it undone as he rolled his sleeves up past his elbows, feeling the urge to write, and found it sometimes annoying to have his cuffs in the way when he did so.

                                    A little while later he was busy at work when he reached for a non-existent cup of coffee and chuckled to himself. He'd been so focused on writing that he'd forgotten to make any. The press was filled with grounds and hot water in a matter of moments, and he returned to the laptop to continue his work. He still wasn't quite sure what he wanted to do, or how, but there were a few things that he wanted to tinker with, and experimentally outlined a few. In the middle of a particularly large patch of thoughts, he heard a polite knock on the screen door. Upon rising to greet his visitor, he couldn't hold himself back from smiling at his friend's new appearance.

                                    “Welcome back, Lysander. You’ve had a haircut, I see, it suits you. Your timing is impeccable, as I’ve just put on the coffee. Ah, right, you prefer Lys, my apologies.”

                                    Lys was dressed as before, but had obtained a quick trim since the day before, as his hair was now pulled back with a bit of ribbon, save for slightly messy, asymmetric bangs that were a bit longer on the left side. It gave him a somewhat roguish appearance that fit the personality that he had let slip a few times before but now wore openly. Returning the smile, Lys followed him inside.

                                    “Actually, you can use my full name. Funny, from most other people it just sounds strange or insulting, but it sounds right from you. But then, I trust you more than I do anyone else.”

                                    This is certainly unexpected. You've hardly known me a week, yet I have already gained your personal confidence. And your body language, your demeanor... Something pleasant must have happened to be comfortable enough to wear it again.

                                    He remarked upon all of these points and asked about them, curious as to know more about Lysander's thoughts and motives as he returned to his chair, crossing his ankles over each other and folding his hands over his midriff as he leaned back, setting the tone for a relaxed atmosphere. The guitar was rested against the edge of the table before Lysander sat up on it the same way, removing and folding the half-rim glasses with elegance and setting them aside. As he did so, Elliott could visibly see the final remnants of his "mask" fade.

                                    “Because you’re honest. You are you. No masks, no agendas, nothing to hide or be ashamed of. You are on display to the world and you have the confidence to back it up in the face of anything."

                                    He seemed prepared to expand upon that, remarking that he'd lost the confidence to do so, but cut himself off before he could admit how or why, and from the sudden tension in his shoulders, Elliott could tell that the wound was still both fresh and deep. Shaking his head, he continued, stating that it had been a while since he'd felt comfortable being himself again, but because of it he felt that his initial impressions with everyone else had been a lie of sorts. And Elliott had been right, Lysander had had the opportunity to let a bit of his true personality shine that day, and it was accepted, not rejected, but he was still uncertain as to whether it was acceptance or if everyone assumed that, like at the Flower Dance, it was just another "performance."

                                    His monologue continued as he stood up and strode around the room, and Elliott could see the performer in him; his gestures and the way he moved belonged on a stage, but at the same time, it looked natural for him. Further, the way he moved, the flowing elegance, as if he knew where all parts of himself were at all times, was something that Elliott only saw in professional dancers as well. Given what he'd already learned about Lysander's history, it was likely. Elliott listened with attentive silence as the other man poured his thoughts into words and movement.

                                    “I feel. I am. I can’t do anything halfway. Everything I do is with all of myself."

                                    I can see it. You move and act without hesitation, and always with confidence. Being forced to hold yourself back must have felt as though you were chained down.

                                    Apparently emboldened or reassured by his audience, Lysander commented on his love of the performing arts, how it wasn't for self-gratification or accolades. It was for the love of it, and how it brings inspiration and wonder to those who view a performer's works. Elliott's smile became fond and sympathetic, as he had seen that first-hand, and greatly respected his position. Likewise, he agreed (at least mentally, he didn't want to interrupt) with Lysander that to do it just for the fame and fortune diminished both the art and the artist. Then Lysander's posture became a bit more guarded as his movements changed to more of a stalk than a stride.

                                    He described learning to fight, having had to defend himself verbally and physically from people in the past. Fortunately, he'd had no lasting injuries, but he had been hurt quite often and quite badly. With a dark twist to his lips he remarked that he always gave better than he got, and nobody ever tried it twice. But it wasn't just for himself, Elliott could tell, something about the way he spoke hinted that he'd also often gone into battle, so to speak, for the sake of others, believing strongly in himself and what was right. Pausing in his pacing he fixed Elliott with a look that nearly made him jump. There was a fierce determination to it, but at the same time, there was something about it, a wariness that only one looking for it would see.

                                    “So, now you know my real face.”

                                    He's taking a massive gamble; he's not completely certain that he can trust anyone here, that he will be openly accepted for who and what he is. Scared to be rejected, yet he still makes the attempt to seek friendship, wearing armor made of bravado. I had feared getting too close, that he would be unreceptive to companionship, and to my surprise he shares that same fear.

                                    Elliott assuaged this fear, describing his thoughts during Lysander's dialogue, and making the open offer to be a sympathetic and confidential ear should he need to delve further into his situation. This was exactly what the other man had been looking for, and his relief was obvious as the smile returned, momentarily giving warmth to his hazel stare. He thanked Elliott for the offer, and confirmed his guess that Lysander did want to open up to people, to make friends, but wasn't sure until then who he could trust. Then he tapped a finger to his chin as he thought out loud.

                                    "When I left yesterday it seemed that you had finally obtained the words you were looking for. So much so that I had forgotten to get your number so I don’t drop in unannounced.”

                                    This was also unexpected, as while Elliott was not averse to giving out his number, it had been quite a while since it had been requested. Confirming his statement, he gestured to the laptop, remarking that while he now had a lot of good ideas with which he could work, he was still having difficulty in organizing them into the framework of a novel. Mimicking part of Elliott's pose, Lysander sat down on the piano bench and considered this, offering suggestions. But it wasn't just story ideas, it was how they were written; genre, style, overarching story arcs, settings, the nature of the tale... Elliott's jaw nearly dropped at the flow of information, but reminded himself that while the other man wasn't a writer, he was a professional actor, and therefore stories were his lifeblood as well.

                                    As he spoke of genres, a playful smile appeared. "I’m partial to a good adventure, and-" his laugh was amused and friendly, "promise not to tell anyone?” At Elliott's affirmation of silence, the grin got wider. “I do like a good romance.”

                                    “I would not have guessed," he said, laughing in amusement at being privy to such an admission, "you are a man of many surprises.”

                                    Shrugging and continuing to wear that smile, Lysander expanded on his preference, that not just any romance would do, it had to be one that was believable, where the characters involved actually had chemistry and connections. Stories where it was based on mere physical attraction or the obvious and often-lewd expectations of the readers failed to grasp his interest.

                                    "Proper romance is more than that," he sighed, and Elliott was quick to agree, voicing the opinion that it was yet another area in which he assumed that Lysander devoted himself fully.

                                    “...Not anymore. Not again, for a while.” Feeling a quick jab of self-recrimination for misspeaking, he apologized, which was waved off cordially. “No, it’s okay, you didn’t know. Right now I’m happy to help others realize their dreams. I’ll find personal happiness eventually.”

                                    Deciding that it might be best to change the subject lest he say something else foolish, Elliott retrieved his phone and reminded Lysander of his offer to exchange contact information. New entries were made in both of their phones in just a minute, and Lysander seemed to already look more cheerful, despite his lament that he would likely be too busy the next few days to visit, as the farm was still a complete mess, though it was the volume of it that was the burden, not the difficulty. Noticing the look of embarrassment that Elliott was unable to hide, he apologized for appearing rude.

                                    It was Elliott's turn to wave away any implied offense. “To the contrary. I’ve been cavalier with your time and inconsiderate of your financial situation.”

                                    “No worries, I’m just getting started and can’t really do too much at the moment, which gave me the time to start making connections. Though I was sorta wondering how you sustain yourself, but you’re a writer, so you’re getting something published.”

                                    He isn't wrong. I have had some small success, and I am far ahead of so many others, if I am honest with myself. I have not completed that which I still desire, but I am working toward it, and even before his arrival I was honing and practicing my skills.

                                    Allowing himself to finally accept what he'd been able to do so far, he confirmed that yes, he'd had a bit of luck with minor publications, though he still hadn't begun on his large-scale project. Finally he remembered the coffee that he'd set to steep earlier and got up to serve them both. Comfortable enough to go into a bit of his own history, he talked of his departure from home to Pelican Town the year before, though omitting a number of details that he didn't feel were important at the moment. Much as he'd described his situation to Sam, Sebastian, and Abigail the previous summer, he related the tale again, though he no longer felt any of the self-doubt that he'd carried before. Financially stable, he could live and work like this for a number of years before income became an issue, and his only stumbling block had been himself.

                                    "Your arrival is perhaps exactly what I needed in order to once more move ahead," he admitted, taking a deep sip of his drink, "but I also hesitate to impose upon someone who does not have the luxury of time or money that I do.”

                                    That hazel-tinted smile was almost as warm as his drink, and Lysander shrugged. “You don’t have to apologize for that. If I can’t manage my own time properly then it’s my problem, not yours. You know…” He was next to drink deep and long from his beverage as he contemplated something. “I wonder if we all can sit down together and just...chill. I’m already getting along well with Sam, Sebastian, and Abigail, and Haley, too, I suppose, but I don’t know much about any of you all, really. Maybe when I get a few spare hours we can arrange to just get to know each other a bit. Up by the park? I dunno, haven’t been over there yet. I’ll run it by the others whenever practice starts.”

                                    Practice? Oh! That's right, they have a band that they've been attempting to start for a while now. So he has already been made a part of it? I am not the least bit surprised, given what I witnessed yesterday. And I find myself completely unable to believe his statement at the Flower Dance that he has difficulty in making friends. Rather, he is such an open and welcoming soul that he draws others to him. Ha! Bright like a star and with his own gravity and gravitas, he pulls in those around him, dancing with them in heavenly circles.

                                    Elliott couldn't help but mirror that smile and held his coffee cup in both hands, feeling warmth flow through him from two sources at once. “I think that I would enjoy that immensely. A chance to start over and properly establish connections with the residents of this lovely community.”

                                    The smile became mischievous as Lysander thought aloud about giving Sam someone new to bother for a bit. “I think that Sebastian needs a bit of a break and would appreciate a different foil for a while.”

                                    From his limited yet boisterous interactions with the spiky-haired man, Elliott was once more in consensus with him. “He seems very...enthusiastic…”

                                    Another merry laugh was his reply, as well as the (very correct) opinion that Sam simply enjoyed being a gleeful nuisance, but was certain that they'd be good friends. His musings were interrupted by multiple messages, which he skimmed with one hand while sipping his coffee with the other. He put it down to send a reply, then pocketed the device and retrieved his beverage.

                                    “They appear to be ready to rehearse,” he said, sending his reply, “it looks like I should get going. Sorry it’s been a short visit.”

                                    Thanking him for the time that he had been able to spare, Elliott suddenly remembered that he'd completely forgotten to look for the music that he'd promised the day before. This didn't bother the musician any, as he was going to be too busy for a while to really do anything about it anyway, and he promised to set up a "group day" as soon as he had some spare time again. Reaching for his glasses, his smile almost became sunlight filtered through a window; not quite as bright or warm, and a little diminished.

                                    “Thanks again. For everything.”

                                    Elliott was a little sad to see the "mask" return, but understood its necessity for just a little while longer. "I must thank you for your trust as well. I hope that soon I will do something to justify it."

                                    "...You already have."


                                    For a little while longer Elliott wrote, though it was less transcribing ideas and more thinking about how they were to be utilized, using the help that he had been given that day. He felt quite satisfied with himself when he finally pushed back the chair and stood to stretch some hours later. A quick glance at the clock made him consider a few options, and with a feeling of confidence he grabbed his phone and wallet to depart for the saloon. He completely ignored Shane, assuming that nothing good would come of interacting with him after the last time he'd been there, and the scruffy man seemed to be quite annoyed by this, though he couldn't figure out whether he should be more frustrated that Elliott was doing so much better already, or that he'd chosen to shut him out with a nearly cat-like level of snub.

                                    Lewis was already there, working on his first gin and tonic. Ordering a simple mixed drink for himself, Elliott raised the glass in a small toast to the mayor, who returned it, relieved to see the writer looking MUCH better than he had in months. Upon hearing that this was due to Lysander's influence he couldn't help laughing heartily.

                                    "I'm not the least bit surprised. His dad's side just has this...presence. Even his mom does, so no wonder he's got it so strong. They just pull you in, and you can't help but follow, because they lift you up at the same time and make you want to be a better person. Lex and I may have been terrors in our youth, but he always meant well. And Art, ha! Complete firebrand. If Lys didn't inherit at least part of that I'll eat my hat."

                                    "While I have not yet been privy to his temper, I have been gifted with the presence of his compassion, and I find it almost humbling. Working in conjunction with him so far has been a delight I've not known in years."


                                    The next couple of days he spent more time at the keys of his piano than that of his laptop, suddenly seized with the urge to play, having almost forgotten how much he enjoyed it. He didn't consider himself a professional, but he was quite good, having practiced since he was a child. Part of the first day was devoted to searching through his terribly-unsorted boxes of papers to track down his music, and for most of the rest of that day and a third of the next he pulled out random pieces, just to test himself and his memory.

                                    Halfway through a particularly tricky one, he heard his phone buzz with a message, and was interested to see four others in the conversation chain.

                                    "I’m finally done, it’s going to take a few days to see if this does anything. Let’s meet up at the fountain tomorrow morning to hang out for a while, I need a day to do nothing but sit around."

                                    How could he pass up this offer? The weather was lovely, and he could afford to take a day to be social. Further, he had promised to loan him the music, though he wasn't sure if Lysander would have the time to relax with any of it, as he had no idea of the state of the farm. He sent a reply that he would definitely be there, and upon sending it, had a moment of introspection. What was this strange feeling?

                                    I... Did I really forget what it was like to be excited for something? This last year has truly been unkind to me. This one appears to be making up for it already, and I am grateful for it.
                                     
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                                    • Risukage

                                      Risukage Existential Complex

                                      //No commentary today. I'm'a sleep now.//


                                      The anticipation remained with him to the next morning, and he had a laugh at himself for it. He'd been there a year and had known everyone longer than Lysander had, but in just the span of a week the newcomer had pulled everyone together and established connections that didn't before exist. Elliott still couldn't quite explain or understand it, but there was a strange aura that he had, an inexhaustible well of energy and confidence, both in himself and others. He just made one feel good about themselves.

                                      Showering and getting dressed in a leisurely manner, Elliott sat down in his computer chair to have a cup of coffee and review a few things before heading out. The windows were open, letting in the fresh smells of spring and the salt-edged mist off of the ocean. Everything felt so clean and bright, and he could feel the darkness and weight that had held him down the last few months almost completely shed themselves from his shoulders. He wasn't where he needed to be, not quite yet, but he was on the right path, and Lysander had illuminated it for him.

                                      Rinsing his cup in the sink, he set it aside to dry, then pocketed his phone and wallet. As he walked he breathed deeply of the cool breeze that swept inland from the sea. He strolled without hurry, not certain when everyone else would be arriving, but assumed that he'd be one of the first, as he recalled the others to be later risers than he was. Except for Lysander, he wasn't sure about him, but with the farm work it was likely that he and the sun greeted each other first thing in the morning. The plaza began to spread out in front of him, and he looked around, wondering where they'd meet up-

                                      Oh, Lysander was already there. And Alex, too, how strange-

                                      What?!

                                      He stopped and stared as he watched Lysander snarl angrily at something that Alex said, and flowed neatly into the most elegant and solid punch that Elliott had ever seen, using his entire body in order to throw his full weight behind it. Somehow Alex didn't see him winding up for it, and Lysander hit with accuracy and power, knocking the athlete to the ground. The two of them shouted at each other before Alex got to his feet and swung back at Lysander, who dodged skillfully, further angering his opponent.

                                      Oh no, this is very bad. What prompted you to do such a thing?!

                                      Elliott broke into a run, trying to reach them in order to break up the altercation before one of them got hurt. He wasn't the only one, as he saw the other four of their group approaching from the direction of their own homes, and seeing the fight, they likewise took to a run. To his amazement, Lysander eluded every punch, moving around Alex as though it were a duet. He was certain that his earlier impression was correct, as Lysander's movements weren't simply someone ducking randomly about, it was a trained dancer moving with confidence in their space. Elliott was quite certain that he'd also had some form of martial arts or other fighting training, as he also blocked and deflected some attacks instead of simply avoiding them.

                                      Seeing Lysander almost get clipped by a very close swing, he involuntarily called out to him, and realized his error as soon as he did so. Without thinking about it, Lysander turned to him, and this provided just enough of an opportunity for Alex to strike. Gasping in pain, he staggered and fell just as Elliott dashed over to try to catch him. He was successful, and barely was able to keep them both from being injured as he hit the ground hard enough to almost knock the wind out of himself.

                                      He sat up as he caught his breath, supporting his friend. "I've got you. Is it bad?"

                                      For a moment he was worried that Lysander had been hurt too badly to respond, but he put a hand to the side of his head as he set his jaw firmly in pain. “Nnngh, damn. Elliott? Is that…” Elliott just now noticed that Lysander had at some point traded the silver spectacles for a pair of small, black, round-rimmed sunglasses, which had somehow avoided being damaged when Alex had punched him quite firmly in the temple. Once more without thinking about it, Elliott pulled Lysander closer to himself as Alex approached, trying to be a shield against further attacks.

                                      With courage in his voice that he didn't feel, he stared up at the man looming over them. "This fight is over, stand down, Alex.”

                                      Somehow even angrier, the athlete clenched his fists as he glared back at Elliott. “So now you’re defending him? After what he did?”

                                      “You’ve never had something you wanted to protect?” This response surprised them both and got Alex to step back for a moment.

                                      “Alex, what’s going on? This isn’t like you.” To Elliott's relief, Alex turned his attention to Haley as she ran up, an impressive feat in heels, low as they were. He felt Lysander try to sit up under his own power, with middling success and gritting his teeth.

                                      “It’s okay guys, it’s not his fault. I started it, he finished it. Fair game.” Sebastian doubted this out loud while Alex did so silently, and Lysander managed a small, rueful grin in reply. “Mate, you have no idea. He was being friendly and said something I took the wrong way, then I overreacted and lashed out. My fault, Alex, sorry.”

                                      That's...not quite what I saw. Yes, you "lashed out," but his posture was arrogant, not friendly. Perhaps I am misreading it, however, as I have not had much luck in establishing a friendship with Alex, and this is likely coloring my perception of the events.

                                      His thoughts were interrupted as Lysander put a hand to his head again and almost went limp in his arms, obviously in great discomfort. Haley made the effort to check Alex's injury, but he refused her attempt and left quickly, looking as though his pride hurt more than his body. Sighing, she reassured everyone that she'd talk to him after he'd had a few minutes to cool off, though she was surprised that he'd hit Lysander as he had. With a chuckle, he admitted that he had put Alex on the ground, and Sam was the next to express doubt about his statement.

                                      “No, I really did," Lysander replied, unable to turn and directly address his friend due to the pain, "I didn’t hit him that hard but he still went down. If I’d just have clipped him he might not have tried to tear me a new one that bad.”

                                      The four still standing weren't quite certain how to reply to this admission, and Elliott gently moved aside Lysander's hand and hair to examine him before suggesting that they take him to be checked at the clinic. Shaking his head (and immediately regretting it), Lysander refused, stating that while it hurt, he wasn't. As proof of this, he tried again to get up on his own and collapsed back into Elliott, who was halfway between concerned and amused. He asked for a moment to clear his head when Elliott decided that they might as well get going, as sitting around in the plaza like that was not only uncomfortable, but might draw questions they didn't need to answer at the moment.

                                      Shifting a bit to get his feet back under him, he picked Lysander up, and was barely able to hide a smile as the other man refused this treatment, looking quite embarrassed. “I’m okay, you don’t need to- Ow. Friggin’... Fine, you win." To his further surprise, Elliott felt a wave of satisfaction as his friend gave in, leaning into and borrowing strength from him for the moment. He wasn't without a smile for very long, however. "But usually at the end of being carried like this there’s a bed, and I’m in no condition to do anything but sleep in it.” Mirroring the simile, Elliott riposted that all there was to offer was a park bench, and Lysander's grin somehow grew wider. “At least I’ve a decent selection of handsome princes and lovely princesses, perhaps one of you will be kind enough to bestow me with a kiss should I doze off.”

                                      He, Sam, and Sebastian bantered back and forth as they walked, and Elliott noticed that Sam was carrying a guitar case, which he recognized as Lysander's. That's right, he must have set it down before he and Alex had their...scuffle... Once at the park, Lysander thanked Elliott for his help as he let him down, steadying him while he caught his balance. Elliott took a seat on one of the benches as the others did the same or sprawled on the grass.

                                      With his usual grin of confidence, Lysander professed that he was in good condition, which was proven wrong when he swayed on his feet and put a hand to his head once more. “Sorry, but I’m gonna need to borrow you again for a little longer. I’m proper amazed that he didn’t knock me out with that, and I’m rather wishing that he had.” Yet again Elliott was surprised, as Lysander almost gracelessly fell onto the bench and across his legs. He didn't mind it, far from it, but the level of comfort that the other man had with him already was something that he did not expect. One arm across his midriff and the other across his eyes (almost dislodging the sunglasses), Lysander exhaled deeply and remarked that it was just now that he'd found himself again, and like his old self, immediately picked and lost a fight.

                                      This comment was interesting but confusing to Elliott, as he remembered him saying that he had often fought in the past, but it seemed to have been for the sake of others or in his own defense, not as an act of aggression. He wasn't sure if he should ask in front of everyone, and while he mulled it over Sam asked if he could borrow the guitar for a few minutes. Lysander gave permission, sounding a little distant, and Elliott noticed everyone settle into doing something of their own; Sam plucking at the guitar while Sebastian set up a laptop and microphone to record him, Haley brought out her camera, and Abigail was seated with her back to the fountain, already drawing something.

                                      How interesting. We only seem to be a "group" when he's directly influencing us. Left to our own devices, we revert to working alone.

                                      A gentle snore got everyone's attention, and Elliott almost had to bite the side of his hand to keep from laughing and waking the other man. It had been less than a minute and already he was sound asleep!

                                      Stifling a giggle as well, Haley raised her camera. “You know what? I don’t care, I need a picture of this, the two of you are just crazy cute like that.”

                                      This should have been embarrassing or made him feel self-conscious, but Elliott had to agree that technically, it was an endearing sight. “I am quite certain that he will be both pleased and amused to hear that," he replied, resisting the urge to brush aside a few stray, copper-red hairs. Instead, he took a minute to take stock of the changes that Lysander had made in the last few days. The simple shirt-and-khakis look had been replaced with sturdy cargo pants in black, and a dark grey, long-sleeved shirt under a violet, short-sleeved button-up that he'd left undone. He still wore the choker, but under it was a marbled, red, plastic guitar pick, that had been pierced and strung on a bit of waxed cord. This wasn't the only "jewelry" he had, as he wore bracelets on both wrists, with the same cord braided in a cobra stitch and two other picks woven in, in green and blue.

                                      How curious, he looked like a casual musician with this manner of dress, drastically unlike his "old" self. This was definitely his style, however, as though the clothes looked new, something about the way they were put together looked like it was something that he'd worn before. To his amusement, he also noticed that Lysander also seemed to have a preference for a neutral base with a single color, and once again had to resist a laugh that at least they hadn't dressed in a similar manner, that could have been something embarrassing!

                                      But...why would it have been embarrassing? This train of thought confused him. They were friends, yes, but nothing more, and it was not implied that they were. Elliott did feel something for him, strangely, but it wasn't just friendship, it was...

                                      I want to protect him. Someone or something hurt him, and he's still recovering from it. He's trying to put up a front to keep anyone from noticing, but I can see it. No, he let me see it, he took the risk of being hurt again and trusted that I could be someone in whom he could confide his past, so that he could move on and heal. For that, and for helping me move forward once more, I have appointed myself a guardian without realizing it, and without his permission. He is likely too proud to accept that, and he seems to be the sort who watches out for others instead. I'll not mention it, and will back off. He asked for a companion, not a protector. And yet, how very curious, this is new to me. Charles has always looked out for me, and I am accustomed to others fighting on my behalf. ...Perhaps it is time for me to stand up and be the strength that others need this time.

                                      With one arm hooked over the back of the bench, he carefully reached over with his other hand to brush his fingers against the bracelet on one wrist, curious about its construction, and felt a quick jolt of worry as Lysander twitched, taking his hand. But it wasn't to grab his wrist or to brush him away; he wrapped his fingers around Elliott's, and seemed to relax even further, the snores fading to deep, regular breathing. A quick glance around reassured Elliott that nobody had noticed, as everyone else was ensconced in their respective activities. Letting out a breath that he didn't realize he'd been holding, he gently ran his thumb over Lysander's fingers, interested at how warm his touch was.

                                      Over and over you surprise and confound me. Completely comfortable with yourself and others, yet quick to assume that your close presence brings discomfort. And that reaction to me, it was someone close to you that caused you to run here, wasn't it? You're still used to such a personal level of physical contact on an instinctive level. The way you reached for me, that wasn't the way you'd touch a friend, it's the way you'd hold a lover's hand.

                                      Slightly saddened by this realization, he wondered again what had happened, but put it out of his mind. If it were important and Lysander were comfortable discussing it, he'd do so. Until then, it was none of his business. He deliberately distracted himself by observing his friends (yes, they were his friends now, weren't they?) and the park, feeling the gentle tug of ideas again. This reverie was rather short, as eventually Lysander woke abruptly and sat up, looking a little bleary and confused for a moment. Elliott felt a pang of regret for a moment as he pulled back his hand, but also felt relief that he seemed to be doing better for his nap.

                                      Haley looked up from her camera to inquire about Lysander's state, to which he asked how long he'd been asleep. It had only been around ten minutes, and Elliott considered to himself that it hadn't felt that long, but then, he had been lost in his own mind for most of it. As Lysander sat up and stretched from his nap, Elliott felt the need to do the same, as he felt a little stiff from sitting so still.

                                      Lysander noticed this and gave him a look of apology. “Sorry, didn’t think I was that heavy.”

                                      “You aren’t, but I hesitated to move, on the chance it would wake you.”

                                      The smile returned and he got to his feet, looking much better and commenting on that fact as he tucked his thumbs into his belt loops and began to walk back the way they'd come. Sam asked where he was going, and Lysander paused to turn back for a moment.

                                      “Off to talk to Alex. I really do feel bad about that. Regardless of what was said, it’s his opinion and he’s entitled to it, and I could have done a much better job of dealing with it.”

                                      Having seen the start of the fight but not heard the words that started it, Elliott wondered if they could now get an explanation. “What was it that was said, or is that something you desire to keep in confidence?”

                                      There was a moment of silence as Lysander looked away. “I don’t like it when someone insults my friends. Back in a bit.”

                                      While this was cryptic to most of them, this was somehow reassuring to Elliott, as it reinforced his assumption that he only fought in defense, even if he had been the first to throw a punch. But who had Alex said something about to cause such a thing? Possibly Sebastian, as it wasn't likely that the athlete got along with the software engineer. Or Sam, but to be quite honest, Elliott couldn't think of anyone who didn't like Sam. It was like disliking puppies or something. There was also the possibility that there was someone else that Elliott wasn't aware of, but once again he put aside this train of thought. There was no point in speculating, and if they needed to know, Lysander would mention it.

                                      He got to his feet next to walk over to see what Sam and Sebastian were doing, and as he did so, a stray, strange thought passed through his mind: It seems that he did not need a kiss to awaken after all. Perhaps next time. This very nearly caused him to trip over himself as embarrassment washed over him. What?! Where did that thought come from? Clearly he'd been in the sun too long or something. That must have been it. He joined the other two men in the shade, frantically shooing away that thought. It wasn't as though it were an unpleasant one, just...unexpected. That's all...
                                       
                                        611, Alkanthe and Minimanta like this.
                                      • Risukage

                                        Risukage Existential Complex

                                        //*Bangs pots together and struts around the thread.* I HAVE NO CHILL AND REGRET NOTHING. WHOOOOOO.//


                                        Neither Sam or Sebastian minded the intrusion, rather, they were surprised to find that he had any interest in their work at all. He remarked that while he was more proficient with words, he did have a little bit of musical talent, and as a fellow creator, he could respect and appreciate their work, even if writing music wasn't a skill that he possessed. With a grin as bright as the afternoon sun above them, Sam shrugged and plucked a couple of strings randomly, commenting that he had no end of ideas for songs, but the lyrics, those gave him trouble. An idea occurred to him, and he played something experimentally, so Elliott returned to his bench to listen, wondering if there were a way to contribute. He was a literary writer, not a lyrics writer, but what were lyrics but poetry set to music? Perhaps this might be something he could try to further expand his skills.

                                        "Oh!" Sam remarked, turning to Elliott, "Lys gave me your number, but you don't have a Chatter account yet. Grab the app and I'll pull you in."

                                        "A...pardon? Ah, the instant messaging application? I can install it right now, but I'm not certain what the need is."

                                        "Uh, so we can talk with you and share stuff, duh," Sam grinned, pulling out his phone, "you're one of us now, so we gotta bring you into the loop."

                                        This was highly flattering, and as asked, Elliott installed the app (it was a rather small file, and downloaded quickly over the cellular connection) and created a username, at which point Sam added him to their chat group. Only another five or ten minute later Lysander returned, but what nobody expected was to see Alex in tow. Sam asked about this, and Lysander waved to him and seated himself next to Elliott as Alex went to the fountain, curious about Abigail's drawing.

                                        Crossing one leg over the other, the copper-haired man seemed pleased with himself. "We got things figured out. Matters were settled with a minimum of fisticuffs.”

                                        The sunny grin returned as Sam folded his arms over the guitar. “What, did you flirt with him until he chased you all the way up here?”

                                        With a mock pout of insulted injury, Lysander sniffed. “Of course not, we talked about it like adults. Besides, I’m still hurting from that punch. I’m in no mood to flirt with him.” Abigail offered the drawing for Alex to inspect as he rubbed the back of his neck, looking somewhat reticent, and apologized, particularly since he put his weight behind it. “Well, you can apologize by kissing it better," Lysander replied, then paused and blinked, chuckling at himself. "...Okay, I lied, I’m always in a mood to flirt.”

                                        Elliott was quite amused by this; Lysander was a completely different man than the one they had initially met only a week before, yet Elliott already found himself to be comfortable with this wild, flirty, boisterous personality. “You are truly indelicate in the art of love,” he teased, which now earned him a sniff of disdain.

                                        “What I do is not art, it’s a game, one at which we all win.”

                                        He couldn't resist the urge to tease Lysander a bit further, as he was interested to see what his response would be. “So the emotions of others are just playthings to you?”

                                        Almost as if it were scripted, Lysander stood and swept his arm across the group, gesturing grandly. “Not at all! The flirt is all about emotions, excitement and expectations. It is a fleeting moment of pleasure shared by two people selflessly, feeling the warm tingle of temporary passion. It is beautiful because it is momentary and ephemeral, created in just that moment for just that person.”

                                        This was almost too much for Elliott, who was only moments away from breaking into laughter. How delightfully absurd, how theatrical! Yet there was a genuine honesty to it, as though he played a game, one's emotions were not a toy. “And what of long-term affection?" he asked, his curiosity getting the better of him, "are you capable of understanding and feeling the gentle warmth of true love?”

                                        Devious giggling from Abigail paused their little scene for a moment as she made hasty alterations to her artwork, which was met with approval by Haley. Lysander took the sketch pad, and Elliott leaned over to see what had been done. While the both of them had occupied the bench when Lysander had taken his nap, Abigail had taken the opportunity to sketch it, and apparently just now had added feathery wings to Elliott and batlike ones and cute fangs to Lysander. The two men offered their approval as well, and as Elliott returned the work in progress, Lysander's face lit up and he snapped his fingers, turning to him.

                                        “Hey, that sounds like a fun idea for a book. Two beings of power, competing for the attention of a lovely woman, determined to prove that their method is the best."

                                        What? How silly, that-

                                        ...

                                        That could work...

                                        “That is…an interesting idea," he replied, as his mind suddenly spun up with ideas, "I do think that I could take that thread and spin it into a full story.”

                                        Elliott was not the only one to be inspired, as Sam bounced on the bench with sudden energy and prodded Sebastian to begin recording. Completely different than the somewhat lazy strumming and chord work he'd been doing earlier, this was bright and lively, but there was something else...

                                        "Run that again," Lysander said, grinning twice as wide as Sam did, "I have an idea."

                                        Now that Sam had a better idea of what he wanted to do with that piece, he started again, sounding more confident, and adding more to it. Elliott was impressed with this skill, but this train of thought was artfully derailed as Lysander launched into song, improvising lyrics on the fly.

                                        “I need you, my honey, the night is cold without you. Your touch, it excites me, it sets my heart on fire. Intoxicating sweetness, I crave the feel of your kiss. Tell me, my honey, what is it you desire?”

                                        By the light... Is this what he truly sounds like? Elliott wondered, I have heard him once already, but it was warm and resonant. This is passionate and daring, and it suits him. It draws me in and I know exactly how to reply. No one has ever inspired me like this before, and I would challenge you to see how far we can go.

                                        Lysander appeared to have a second verse ready, but Elliott stepped in, much as he had back at the Flower Dance, testing himself as much as he did the other man. “My lady, I hold you, you are the light in my day. Your smile, it controls me, my soul is opened to you. Overwhelming feeling, as bright as summer’s zenith. Tell me, my lady, what would you like me to do?”

                                        A look of pure joy and enthusiasm spread across Lysander's face at Elliott's addition, as though he hadn't expected a vocal battle, he was ecstatic to see his friend open up. As he had at the Flower Dance, he tapped into his theater training, setting a "stage" for them both. “This fight of hearts is mine to win.”

                                        Mirroring Lysander's moves, he echoed his words as well. “This war of souls I will not lose.”

                                        “My honey!”

                                        “My lady!”

                                        “Give me your heart!”

                                        “Give you my soul!”

                                        They harmonized against each other with one last line, knowing exactly what the other person would say. “Tell me, which is it that you choose?” As Sebastian replayed some of it, holding a headphone to one ear as he clicked a few settings, Sam watched the screen and asked if he'd been able to get their voices as well with the microphone. Fortunately, he had, and the recording came out rather well, all things considered.

                                        With a somewhat theatric gesture of his own, Sam pointed at Elliott, looking serious yet excited. “Lys said you play piano really well. We need to find a place where we can set up together.” Sebastian protested this, remarking that it was rather rude to just up and recruit people without their consent like that, and Sam rebuffed him, jabbing at the screen and microphone. “Chill, Sebby, you know that a piano and electric guitar duet would kick ass for this. And did you hear their harmony? I just wanna borrow him for one song.”

                                        Shaking his head and sighing, Sebastian agreed to these points, but brought up the very real one that there was no way to fit a piano into Sam's already-crowded bedroom. A solution was quickly provided as Alex nodded toward the building nearby, remarking that the community center had been closed for some time, but he remembered there being a piano there. Sam liked this idea, as it would let them move all of the equipment that they already had into a much larger space, but Sebastian shot him down again, reminding him that though it wasn't in use, it also wasn't being used at all.

                                        Listening to them go back and forth, Lysander offered to speak with Lewis to see if he could get them permission. "It would allow you to get a full professional setup. I’ve set up equipment for dad’s gigs, so I know how to run cables and hook up speakers and the like. It’d give you the chance to really calibrate your songs toward a live audience and how all parts will need to be balanced." This produced a couple of secondary thoughts, and he spoke out loud as he considered them. "Well, we’d probably need to purchase all of that since I have no idea what the setup is like there, so it’s kinda a future project, but it’s possible. Damn, I just realized, I know how to run a soundboard but it looks like I’ll have to teach someone else if I’m on bass."

                                        He trailed off as he noticed everyone watching him with quiet surprise, except for Sam, who had a rather punch-drunk grin, and Elliott understood; it was the same feeling he'd had when Lysander had opened up his mind to new possibilities and a greater future as well. Lysander cleared his throat and continued. “I’ll contact the mayor and see what I can do about getting it opened back up. A bit more space to work wouldn’t be a bad thing, and I also want to hear what Elliott could do with that song. Provided you’re interested."

                                        Yet again he is courteous of someone else's needs. He nudges and guides, wanting you to do your best, but never pushes you out of your comfort zone. This is an opportunity that I cannot pass up. I can become so much more than I ever could alone, and I must admit, no small amount of this is pure curiosity.

                                        He smiled, assuaging Lysander's concern. “This morning I might have refused, but I now find myself intrigued. However, I’ve never performed with an ensemble before.”

                                        Sam whooped in delight, eager to have him on board, not just as a musician, but also as a lyric writer, which flattered Elliott to no end, as he hadn't volunteered his skills earlier because he didn't want to be intrusive. He agreed to these terms, and almost stumbled as Sam reached out to grab him by the sleeve and drag him over.

                                        "Cool. Both of you, get over here, throw ideas at us. Sebby, start typing, this is gonna kick ass."


                                        The rest of the afternoon was spent working on this piece, and though it was challenging, it was also greatly rewarding, as he and Lysander already had a decent synergy going on, and they put together a few more verses that, while a little rough at the moment, had the potential for a very catchy song. As the shadows began to grow longer, Sam set aside the guitar to reach for the case, flexing his aching fingers. As he did so, he snapped his fingers and winced from the feeling, glancing over at Lysander. “Hey, Lys, what’s ‘Resonance’ mean?”

                                        This was a strange question, and before Elliott could ask, he saw Sam tilt the guitar toward his friend. Silver ink reflected brightly in the late afternoon sun, contrasting with the black instrument, and once he had a better angle, Elliott saw the word "Resonance," written neatly in simple script.

                                        Lysander's smile was fond and warm. “That’s its name,” he replied, and when Sam asked why he'd done that, he rubbed the guitar-pick necklace between his forefinger and thumb. "Why not? It’s been my closest companion for years. It’s actually my first instrument, bought with my own money. That’s also this necklace, my first guitar pick.”

                                        How curious, I hadn't expected that, but I am not surprised. The skill with which you handle that instrument is as though it is an extension of yourself.

                                        They all began to pack up their gear and prepare to leave; Sam put away Resonance and began disconnecting peripherals from the laptop as Sebastian stood up, walked away a few feet, and pulled out a pack of flavored cigarettes, lighting one. Abigail's sketch pad and pencils went into a backpack, and Haley's camera went into a padded case. Taking his guitar, Lysander remarked that he'd meet with Alex in the morning for a run, and would expect Haley on the farm in the next few days to photograph a few things. As Sebastian blew a thin stream of smoke, Abigail put her chin in her hands and rested her elbows on her knees, asking him what they tasted like, as they smelled rather interesting. Perplexed, Sebastian didn't quite have an answer, and Elliott saw an impish grin flicker across Lysander's face. Wondering what he was thinking of, Elliott began walking to the entrance to the park, when he noticed that Lysander was striding over to Sebastian instead.

                                        "Maybe I can help answer that?" Not at all impressed with Lysander's smirk, he offered the cigarette anyway, and his eyes went wide with surprise as, instead of taking the smoldering object, he gently flicked his fingers from Sebastian's elbow to his wrist, holding his friend's hand in his own and pulling his hand closer to take a slow, careful drag. Glancing over at his friends, Elliott noticed that everyone was trying very hard not to laugh at the sudden, sensuous display. "It’s clove and strawberry; sweet, but smoky and bitter. Dark, intoxicating, and intense. A bit like you."

                                        Elliott felt a sudden, surprising stab of jealousy as Lysander deftly plucked the cigarette from Sebastian's unresponsive fingers and kissed him on the cheek, waving to everyone as he departed with a jaunty stride and taking another puff off of the stolen cigarette.

                                        ...Jealousy? I must have been in the sun too long today. It is true, I find him to be attractive, and he is affectionate, but that is simply his personality, it is not personal. Why do I always make things so unnecessarily complicated?

                                        He playfully rebuked Lysander for his mischief as they fell into step with each other, heading south out of the plaza. With a laugh and a shrug, Lysander acknowledged it, as well as it being a rather naughty thing to do to their introverted friend, but promised to make it up to him soon. He couldn't help it, he admitted, it was nice to be able to completely be himself and be accepted for it. When Elliott commented on the cigarette, not having pegged him as the smoker type, Lysander replied that it was a recent thing that he'd picked up from Sebastian, and that it was an intermittent, social thing.

                                        “That is something for which I must thank you," Elliott smiled, "I had forgotten what it was like to enjoy the company of others, and I am certain that I’d likely never have obtained the courage to approach others myself." He'd almost never attempted to make friends his entire time in Pelican Town since everyone else had always come to him first. But now that he was a part of the group, he was enthusiastic about it, and it was Lysander's turn to express surprise, having thought that he'd dragged Elliott in without seeing if he was interested in the first place.

                                        Inhaling deeply off of the cigarette, he exhaled slowly, and Elliott could already tell that he needed to get something off of his chest. Elliott listened quietly as his friend chided himself for being too pushy and physical with others. There had been a number of lovers in Lysander's past, as he was comfortable with himself and casual physical contact with others. "For me, love and lust are two different things; there’s nothing wrong with physical pleasure, and sharing it with others is something I enjoy, as long as they’re comfortable with it." He had always been a considerate and caring partner, whether it was for one night or in a relationship, and he missed that sort of physical intimacy, but knew that not many people shared his views. Besides, everyone here was a good friend and he didn't want to risk ruining that companionship.

                                        It took a few steps before Elliott realized that Lysander's silence had also meant a cessation of movement, as he stared off at nothing for a moment. Lysander was lost in thought, recalling the source of his pain. “I got burned. Bad. I was stupid and reckless and got other people hurt, and in some way I deserved it. The pain and scars are still too fresh, and I don’t want to risk screwing up the friendships I already have here. Everyone here is so nice, genuinely so. I want to protect that. I’ll find happiness for myself once I finally deserve it. For now, I’m helping others realize their dreams; Sam, Alex, Haley, you… I wonder if I should just lock myself away again for a while longer until I can learn a bit of self-control.”

                                        Elliott said nothing, only offering a hand on his shoulder in silent support. This seemed to be what Lysander needed, as the smile returned and he squeezed his hand in return, quietly thanking him for understanding. Returning on their path back to his cabin, Elliott remarked that he was quite glad to have him as a friend, and that though he had never been quite so free and open with affection, he understood and respected Lysander's position. He explained his own upbringing, that while decorum wasn't exactly expected, his family did have a reputation to uphold, and he'd had to be a bit more discrete in his interactions with others. Where Lysander's love was physical and straightforward, Elliott's was in his music and writing, which produced a laugh of delight from the other man.

                                        “That’s mature for someone who was so young. I can see how you’ve been able to keep up with me, then. I’m a brilliant musician and vocalist, but still can’t do lyrics or composing that’s worth anything.”

                                        As Lysander wrapped what was left of the consumed cigarette in a tissue, Elliott found himself a little perturbed at this statement. “I feel that I must rebuff your statement with your earlier actions. That improvisation with Sam’s song? And mine? You heard a song twice- twice!, and you were able to immediately run with it. That’s talent.”

                                        Grimacing, Lysander rubbed the back of his neck. “I dunno, my lyrics weren’t very good-”

                                        As he had with his brother, Elliott flicked at Lysander's ear, a habit that they both had when the other person was being particularly bothersome. “Stop that or I shall become annoyed. Do not denigrate your skill in front of me. In your words, you are brilliant, and if you have a failing it is that you expect too much of yourself, and when you fail you believe that you aren’t good enough. You aim higher than nearly anyone I have ever met, and if you do not hit the target for which you are aiming then not only are you still ahead of so many others to begin with, you still end up further because you chose to challenge yourself.”

                                        For a moment he worried that he'd overstepped his boundaries, as Lysander's eyes were wide with surprise. This lasted an even shorter moment as Lysander laughed heartily. “You are so hot when you’re being commanding!” Elliott was caught completely off-guard as the other man hugged him around the shoulders and kissed him on the cheek, then immediately realized what he'd done and stepped back. “Ah! Sorry, sorry! I didn’t mean to- Um…”

                                        ...Oh. Well, he did say that he was accustomed to 'physical closeness around friends.' And once more he is concerned that he has gone too far and offended or embarrassed me. To see him have to hold himself back is an injustice. I am unused to such casual forms of affection, but I am also not bothered by it.

                                        “Do not change, Lysander," he said with a reassuring smile, "you are honest and energetic, and I need that in a friend.” Leading the way into his home, he remarked that he felt that he was too withdrawn, needing someone to help him get used to being social, and that Lysander's influence would help him change that. He retrieved the music that he'd found, handing over the folder, which Lysander eagerly skimmed.

                                        “Nifty, this looks like fun. I bet I can transpose and interpret these for guitar without a problem. Though I don’t know if I want to try rhythm backup or lead part first.”

                                        Elliott tapped him on the forehead, reinforcing his earlier point. "What did I just say? Listen to yourself, you are skilled, and I will not allow you to speak otherwise around me.” Just then he noticed something strange and instinctively reached over, but pulled back his hand suddenly. Glancing up, Lysander inquired about his hesitation, and Elliott gave him a small, embarrassed smile. "Ah, just, I think that your bruise is beginning to show. Apologies, I was almost a bit forward.”

                                        With a rueful grin, Lysander shrugged. “‘Forward’ is me glomping you a moment ago. This is you looking out for a friend. I don’t mind." He asked Elliott to have a look, commenting on his fortune that he'd not been hurt as badly as he could have been.

                                        Reassured by Lysander's indifference, Elliott brushed aside the bangs on the left side of his face and saw that the injury was already beginning to show. “It’s not that bad, it seems. You’ll be a little colorful for a few days, but your hair will hide it, and you don’t seem to be in any discomfort." This time it was Elliott that felt a moment of mischief, and he went with it, allowing himself to be spontaneous for once. "Which reminds me, you did ask earlier…” Lysander made a noise of curiosity as Elliott leaned over and kissed Lysander on the temple. His eyes went wide again as he nearly dropped the papers he was holding, eliciting a chuckle of success. “It appears that I am finally getting a grasp on this ‘flirt’ you do, and I suppose that I can see the appeal. I may be ‘hot’ when commanding, but you are adorable when flustered.”

                                        This was the first time that Elliott had seen him silent with surprise like this, and once Lysander had found his voice again, he commended him for it. His expression changed again as he saw the time, needing to get home while there was still light out to check how his garden had done during his absence. He thanked Elliott for the music before dashing off, promising to update him as soon as he had word on the community center's status.

                                        Around an hour later, as Elliott unbuttoned his shirt and hung it up, his phone buzzed with an unfamiliar noise, and upon checking it, saw a Chatter message.

                                        SixStrings: it’s cool for us to use the old CC, not sure on time yet

                                        Already? Lysander had wasted no time! Elliott typed a reply and saw that he wasn't the only one who had seen the message.

                                        RawkStar: whooooooo

                                        SeasideScribe: excellent, you are moving quickly on this endeavor

                                        L33tK3ys: not before noon, okay, I feel like sleeping in tomorrow

                                        PurpleGoth: he can just come over and give you wake-up kisses :3

                                        L33tK3ys: *sigh*

                                        SixStrings: soz m8

                                        L33tK3ys:

                                        SixStrings: no really, sorry, that wasn’t cool of me

                                        PurpleGoth: don’t care, got a new phone background

                                        L33tK3ys: wat

                                        SixStrings: um

                                        RawkStar: ROFL

                                        PurpleGoth: Haley is a digital ninja with that camera :D

                                        Still amused from the day's events, Elliott replied with a little bit of cheek and sass.

                                        SeasideScribe: it appears that your quota of fanservice was met for today

                                        PurpleGoth: I dunno who I ship more, though, Lys & Elliott or Lys & Sebby :rofl:

                                        SixStrings: ...thanks?...

                                        L33tK3ys: I’m out, see you tomorrow

                                        PurpleGoth: aww, but you know you’d make such a cute uke, Sebastian!

                                        Elliott wasn't quite sure what that word meant, and knowing her, and what she had already posted, he was quite certain that it was something naughty or strange.

                                        SeasideScribe: do I want to know?

                                        L33tK3ys: no

                                        SixStrings: no

                                        RawkStar: yes

                                        L33tK3ys: seriously?

                                        RawkStar: I just wanna see Abby explain ‘uke’ to Elliott

                                        SixStrings: later, trust me. See you all tomorrow

                                        He laughed at the rest of the replies, and on a whim did an internet search for the term. Finding it, he blushed deeply.

                                        ...Oh my. Well then. You learn something new every day.
                                         
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                                        • Risukage

                                          Risukage Existential Complex

                                          //Just one or two more chapters and we get to diverge a bit, where the chapters don't parallel as hard. You came here for new stuff, not just the old things repackaged all funny. I refuse to be the George Lucas of SDV, damn it. :p//


                                          Yawning as he awoke, Elliott folded his hands behind his head after a satisfying stretch, staring at the ceiling. He thought over the events of the day before, still feeling pleased with a day spent with, well, friends. It was new but fun, and it appeared that this day would hold more of the same. Then he recalled the end of the day and groaned to himself, turning over to bury his face in the pillow. Had he really done that? Augh! How unlike him, he shouldn't have done that.

                                          And yet...

                                          Folding his arms under the pillow and resting his chin atop it, he reconsidered that train of thought.

                                          Well, yes, it was unlike me, but not unlike him. And I did want to change myself coming out here. I have always been too withdrawn and antisocial, not because I spurn the company of others, but I fear their rejection. Here I have found nothing but companionship, and a particularly unusual one at that. Lysander did not appear to be offended or bothered by my...contact, and even seemed to be amused by it. He did state that he is accustomed to being close around friends, and aside from Sam, it seems that I am the only other one who feels the same way. Perhaps I can allow myself to open up without fear for once.

                                          Sitting up, he reached over to unplug his phone and check it, and as he did so, it buzzed in his hand. Sam had sent a group-wide message, reminding them all that they were going to check out the community center that day, so don't forget, and don't be late! This amused Elliott, as while Lysander had stated that they were getting permission, there hadn't been a set time. He couldn't fault Sam's enthusiasm, however, as he shared the exuberance of finally feeling a long sought-after project coming to fruition. The phone went back onto the bedside table as he got up and leisurely took a shower.

                                          The rest of his preparations were also done at a relaxed pace, and once his hair was brushed he fastened his earrings as he strolled into the kitchen, returning back to the bedroom to retrieve his phone, and saw that no new messages had come through. A cup of coffee was the only thing to happen quickly, which was sipped with care as he scrolled through news and events on his phone. Once he was finished with it he finally felt the tug of excitement and quickly washed out the cup. He grabbed his phone and wallet as usual, and left with a quicker stride than usual.

                                          His walk was brisk and pleasant, and a few last cherry blossoms floated on the wind as he walked. Everywhere he looked he saw nothing but spring, finally having pushed out winter and carved out its niche in the world. This town was magnificent, resplendent in every shade of green he could think of. It inspired him further, and he let his mind wander as he traveled, greeting the few townsfolk who were out and about at this time of day. Arriving at the park, he was not the least bit surprised to see that Sam was already present. Abigail got there only minutes later, yawning broadly.

                                          "Hey, dude, glad you could make it!" Sam grinned as he waved, "I can't wait to hear you rock out on that piano in there."

                                          Flattered once more, Elliott chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. "I thank you for your high opinion of my skill, but I'm not certain that I'm quite that good."

                                          "Pssh, you and Lys are so freakin' modest. He sounds totally awesome, and if he said that you're good I know you're excellent. And it means we've got a third voice for vocals, too. Abby and Sebby aren't keen on singing, and you and Lys, you two just... Just damn, y'know? I dunno if you and I'd mix that well, but we'll hafta try, I need to see what else you can do after that vocal battle yesterday."

                                          Elliott was almost knocked over by the torrent of information from the musician, who very nearly vibrated in place with pent-up excitement. This was something that Elliott wasn't used to at all! He was rather good at most everything he'd tried, but he'd never considered himself to be "excellent." And here was someone who he knew to be a very talented performer and composer that wanted his skills? He would have to do his best so as not to disappoint. As he considered this Lysander walked up, followed by Sebastian, and without thinking about Elliott smiled as he approached.

                                          "Good morning, Lysander, and to you as well, Sebastian, I hope we didn't rouse you too early."

                                          Haley entered the park at this time, though she was paying more attention to the photos on her camera than where she was going, and Lysander flashed them all a grin as he took in his audience. “Hey, I didn’t expect everyone to be here so soon.”

                                          Abigail shrugged as she stretched, having got up earlier but was still sleepy. “Sam woke up early for some reason and messaged everyone, so since that woke me up I figured I might as well head over.”

                                          Elliott's smile became a little self-conscious as he remembered Sam's text. “I am usually an early riser but was not planning on arriving until later. However, I found his enthusiasm to be rather...infectious.”

                                          Almost bouncing around, Sam remarked that it had been some time since it was in use, but there was definitely enough room for everyone as well as their gear, and Lysander cautioned him that it may be true, but whether or not things were in workable condition, especially the piano, assuming there was one, could derail their plans. The status of the piano, and its state, were confirmed by the mayor, who walked up, pulling a set of keys out of his pocket. Lysander thanked him for his generosity, which was waved aside politely.

                                          “Far from it, it pains me to see this place in disuse. Your grandfather and I spent a lot of time here in our youth, you know. Having it used for the same purpose lights a fire in my heart.”

                                          He opened the door, took a moment to find the light switch, and stepped aside to let everyone else enter. As he followed old memories to the others, the other members of the band took a look around. This thought made Elliott pause in his stride; he was a part of it now, wasn't he? Ah! And there was a piano!

                                          He heard Lysander set Resonance on a table and open one of the latches, pausing to take in his surroundings with the rest of them. “I remember that he said you two were close friends, and told me a lot of stories. He always smiled when he did, they seemed to be some of his most fond memories.”

                                          Before Elliott could test the piano, Lewis sat down at it, looking a little sad, and nodded with a sigh as he confirmed Lysander's statement. "You know, it’s been years since I played piano, and longer since I heard it, but I remember a tune that we always played together, with him on that old guitar of his. I wonder…”

                                          Listening carefully, Elliott tapped a finger to his chin as Lewis played a tune that he clearly knew but hadn't practiced in quite some time. It was rough, but the chords and melody were there.

                                          3/4 time, and a slow piece, but not plodding. It is set in a minor key, giving it a wistful sound, but I'm certain that it is a versatile piece and can be modified in a number of ways. I would like to experiment with this just as Lysander did mine.

                                          Vaguely aware of Haley complimenting Lewis's playing, it was her gasp of shock that brought him around. "Sweetie, what’s the matter?”

                                          Turning to see what had her so concerned, Elliott very nearly jumped himself to see Lysander completely in tears, nails digging into the hard guitar case. He said something about it being his grandfather's song, and the last time that he had heard it was when... He didn't finish his thought, instead roughly biting the side of his hand.

                                          Without thinking Elliott stepped over and pulled away his hand, holding it in both of his own. "Stop that, we're your friends, you can talk to us. What happened?"

                                          Pressing a handkerchief into his other hand, Haley asked him if the song was something meaningful to him, and the sudden grip on Elliott's hand told him just how much it was. He tried to apologize, still unable to complete a sentence.

                                          He is hurt. Twice. That song is something very close to his heart, and breaking down in front of us like that is embarrassing. You continue to amaze and surprise, and with each new discovery I want to protect you even more.

                                          Lewis appeared to be a little embarrassed as well, for inadvertently bringing up bad memories. “He taught that to you. It was your first song, wasn’t it?”

                                          With a sigh, he straddled the bench and rested his elbows on his knees, recalling his correspondence with his friend. As he talked, Elliott remembered some of it, as Lewis had told him at great length (and with great fondness) over drinks at the saloon over many nights, but it wasn't until now that they began to really sink in, how they were real stories and real people. And now one of those people was nothing more than a memory to two others in the room, and he began to understand just how much he had meant to the both of them. There had been no one in his own life so far that could evoke such a state in him, and he strangely felt regret for it; Lysander was clearly in pain over the loss, but at the same time his grandfather must have been a brilliant and wonderful person for him to feel this way.

                                          "That's Harmony, isn't it?" Lewis asked, gesturing to the guitar case. It wasn't, and Harmony had not been played since Lysander's grandfather had passed. For a moment there was a flicker of a smile, as though the memory cut him deeply, playing his song one last time for him had given his grandfather closure and peace.

                                          Having taken control of himself, Lysander quietly squeezed Elliott's hand one last time in thanks and opened the case. He handed over Resonance, which Lewis examined with interest, and commented on the unique properties of the instrument and how, like his friend, Lysander chose to be different and wore it well. As he returned it, he offered to share the letters and photos that had been sent to him, which appeared to ease the ache a little. This reminded Lysander of something, and he produced a photo of his own, tucked between the hard body of the case and the padding inside. It was quite old, possibly close to twenty years in age, but despite the distance of time it was obvious who it was; Lysander sitting on his grandfather's lap, deeply focused as he practiced something.

                                          By the light! Little wonder he possesses such skill. Mentored by one who has played most of his life, and playing for most of his own. Not just a professional, he is a virtuoso. And I must agree with Haley and Abigail, he was a cute child. He has matured quite respectably as well. Lewis must be so proud to see his friend's lineage flourish like this.

                                          As Lysander took back the photo and carefully put it back, Lewis returned Resonance, asking to hear the song from him. Elliott stepped back to give him room, and leaned against the piano, curious to hear how it would be rendered this time. Taking a deep breath to settle himself, Lysander was silent and unmoving for a moment. Then, his fingers found their familiar place on the frets, and the song began. This was...beautiful. Elliott had been right, it was wistful, and a little sad, but he could feel the years and memories within those notes. The first time he had an idea of what it could be, but now he knew what it should be, and sat down next to Lewis, who got up to let him have the entire bench. Closing his eyes, Elliott listened, taking in the entire sound, comparing it against what Lewis had played, and spinning together a new composition. He heard the song end, its final notes humming on the strings and in the body of the guitar. Yes, that's how this needed to go...

                                          He could not have done this a month ago. Not even a week ago. But after that lyric writing exercise at the cabin, and then that sudden duet at the park, Elliott no longer hesitated. He knew his skill and was confident in it. This song, this beautiful piece, it meant so much to this one person that already had done so much for so many here. It was a small thing, but he knew that he could take it and do something new. Not better, no, there was nothing to improve. But there were so many ways in which it could be made different and unique, and this was his change. From Lewis it was uneven and from Lysander it was melodic, but the memory was the same. From Elliott, however, it was elegant, a song that danced and flowed.

                                          Lysander was stunned by this, and Elliott didn't hide a smile at it. “You… You heard that twice.

                                          “As did you with Sam’s and my songs," he replied, without missing a note, "you aren’t the only one who can pick up a tune quickly. You know my song, and now I know yours.”

                                          He returned to the beginning, and was joined by Lysander, and the tone of the tune changed again; still elegant, but the dance was now a duet, and Elliott could also hear the change of the energy with which his friend played. Every eight bars they passed the melody to each other, transitioning without error. Remembering the last time that they had done this, Elliott could not resist the opportunity to test him once more.

                                          “Key change and final verse!”

                                          Lysander almost stumbled as he realized what Elliott had in mind. “Wait, what?"

                                          Like before, Elliott gave a four-bar bridge to step up from minor to major. “Keep up!”

                                          Of course Lysander caught on immediately. It was his song! He laughed at the call-back, and Elliott shared his delight, seeing the pain finally fade and be replaced with a vibrant warmth. The room and their ears were filled with sound, imparting an energy that they could see reflected in those who listened. It was marvelous! As the song finished Elliott almost held his breath, feeling the final vibrations of the instrument under his fingers fade away, and he was certain that Lysander was doing the same with Resonance.

                                          A new voice broke him from his reverie, as Alex gave them both a confused but inquisitive look. “That all was the same song? All three of those? But they all sound different. And the same. That’s weird.”

                                          Elliott wasn't certain how to explain it, but Lysander had one, and far better than he could ever have offered. “That’s how music works. On paper it’s just bits of dots and dashes and snippets of directions and notations. It’s logical, cold, and precise. But what makes it amazing is when someone reads and plays it, and everyone does it a little differently. You heard that just now; Lewis plays it stiffly but carefully because it’s a fond but old memory for him. I also have fond memories of it but flow with it because that’s how I remember playing it with Grandpa. And Elliott and I… That was someone learning something new and sharing it with the person who’s known it almost forever. His interpretation of it was what he heard of our own versions of the same song, and what he had just heard of the person who taught it to us, and together we created something new. It’s the same song, but the way it’s told changes with the people doing the telling.”

                                          A tingly warmth flushed through Elliott at this, not just at his own success at trying something new, but doing so well with something that belonged to another. Alex perked up at Lysander's explanation and offered one of his own, that it was like a family's heirloom sword, one that's been repaired and reforged so many times that nothing of the original is left, but despite that, there's something of it that has remained the same over time. This observation amused Lysander, who agreed, it was an heirloom of sorts, and now it was his, no longer just his grandfather's. Thinking about it produced another batch of tears that he scrubbed away as soon as they appeared.

                                          "Damn it, it’s been a few years and it still hurts. But I’m glad to have heard and shared this song again.”

                                          Lewis identified the tune as "Stardew Valley," but was unclear whether it was the name that his friend had given to it, or if the name had been handed down along with the song when he had received it. He stood and retrieved the keys from his pocket, handing them to Lysander, who almost returned them immediately. As the guitarist sought words of his own, Lewis remarked that he had duties to attend, so he'd fill him in on the care and running of the community center later. But for the moment, the stereo equipment was also in good repair, and was in one of the storage rooms, which they were free to use as they needed.

                                          Finally finding his tongue, Lysander alternated his gaze between the keys and Lewis. “You trust all of this to me? Just like that?”

                                          “My boy…" Lewis cut himself off and shook his head, smiling again. "No, you’re not a boy. You’re a young man, and you made a very old man feel almost half a century younger, and for a moment I saw a close friend that I hadn’t seen in a decade. This is the least I can do. I’ll be back later.”

                                          Lysander's mouth still hung open as Lewis departed, whistling the tune to himself, and tried to figure out how to juggle the keys, the guitar pick, and the guitar, not sure which one to set down first. He had just figured that out and set all three objects on the table when Haley stalked over and prodded him roughly in the chest with a well-manicured finger.

                                          “I am angry at you, Lysander, you lied to us!” His thoughts were completely in a tangle now, and he could only reply with a question of his own before she poked him again. “You said when we first met that you weren’t good at making friends and getting along with people, and here you are with six people all worried about you and ready to work on a project that you took charge of because you wanted to help everyone. The mayor even likes you and he’s usually a total grump. Further, that song nearly made me cry, and I don’t do that for just anyone.”

                                          It was difficult for everyone to not laugh at this scene, with Lysander being menaced by Haley's bright blue stare, fists on her hips, and somehow managing to pout while glaring. The mental gears finally stopped grinding against each other and meshed once more, and the shock became a smile again. He thanked her and admitted that yes, he had lied to them, but not quite. Elliott hid a smile of his own, remembering how Lysander had expressed this concern to him earlier that week, and was pleased to see him able to finally tell it to everyone else without fear.

                                          “This is me. Right now, right here, no more masks or disguises. I’ve still got secrets, and I’ll tell those when it no longer hurts to think of them, but otherwise, I’ve nothing else to hide. I’ll be completely and bluntly honest about anything you ask, because I respect all of you enough to tell you the truth. I don’t do anything halfway, so if you want or start something you had better be ready to finish it. No, I was never good at making friends because nobody else was willing to open up and be true to themselves. I refused to hide away and most people didn’t know how to handle that. So...if everyone will let me, I’ll be your friend and support and help you all in any way I can.”

                                          One by one, his friends offered their own support and gratitude for what he'd been doing, and his relief was obvious. Bouncing the keys on his palm, he flashed them a grin that very nearly lit up the room on its own. They had equipment to find and set up!
                                           
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