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Cause [2.2.8]

“Hey, you good?”

Zack glanced up and saw Serafina grinning at him. Her shades always made her look calm and collected, and Zack couldn’t help but shake his head and gesture for Serafina to sit down.

“What’s up?” came another voice. The pair looked up to see Caroli.

“…Nothing.” Zack replied. “I just need to take a second. I still can’t really believe what’s happening.”

“Zack, we’ve been here more than a few days now.” Serafina said.

“Nah, I get it.” Caroli said, sitting beside the pair. “You have Mizar all like ‘uh, bluh, the universe is in danger’, and Alcor all like ‘never fear! These children shall heroically save us!’ and in the middle of it all… Antumbra. Sits heavily on the shoulders, huh?”

“Pretty much it, yeah.” Zack muttered. “And I guess tomorrow, we’ll find one of the two things we need to beat Antumbra. It’s happening so quickly.”

“Ngh, I just wanna become an anime action hero for the rest of my life but the journey will be over in just a month, ugh.” Caroli said, in a strikingly accurate New York accent. Serafina giggled and grinned at Zack.

“Hey, no, I never said-”

“You wanna be Kirito, huh?” Serafina asked.

Zack couldn’t help but chuckle. “Who doesn’t? He’s pretty amazing.”

“Now, I don’t make a habit of watching Earth television,” Caroli said. “But I’ve heard from your friends that you have an atrocious taste in anime.”

“OK, that’s just not true. SAO is a masterpiece of storytelling.” Zack said seriously, and Serafina giggled again.

“I can’t blame you, Zack, I mostly watch trash as well.”

Zack sighed to himself. “…OK, I guess the pacing and characterisation could be a little better…”

“Well, I’d best get some sleep. I just wanted to make sure you were all good, sitting on your lonesome out here.” Caroli said, standing. Serafina stood up too, looking down at Zack and offering her hand. He shook his head.

“I’ll stay out here for a little while. I’m not very tired.”

“Alright, sure.” Serafina said. “‘Night, Caroli.”

The two girls went off to their own tents.

 




 

Lola looked up as she heard somebody opening her tent. “Zack?”

“Nah,” Geoffrey replied, making his way in and sitting beside her. “He’s still outside moping.”

“He’s not moping.” sighed Lola. She was going to continue arguing, but gave up.

Geoffrey looked at her curiously.

“You alright?”

“Yeah.” Lola replied. “I’m just a little tired. What did you want?”

“Just wanted to chat a while. We haven’t like, properly spoken for ages. What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing much. I usually just expect you to flirt with me, so I don’t tend to seek out your conversation, Geoffrey.” Lola replied.

Geoffrey looked mock-offended. “Oh! Well, goodness me, Miss Zeller, I didn’t realise I had that effect on you. Do you want me to flirt with you?”

“It’s nice that someone does.” Lola murmured. “But perhaps now isn’t the time.”

Lola began to play with her hands – they were shaking with a nervous energy. Geoffrey made himself more comfortable, and leaned backwards slightly.

“I see. Well, if you ever need compliments, you know where to go.”

“…Right. Thanks.”

Geoffrey’s hand slid slightly – almost imperceptibly – across the tent, just centimetres from Lola’s leg. A creeping feeling went up Lola’s spine.

“You know, it’s nice that we can be here together with our friends.” Geoffrey said. “Seeing all of you guys in person is a dream come true. We’d been talking about how we’d all meet up in the future… now it’s actually happened.”

“I know what you mean. It’s nice to see everyone without there being a screen in the way.” Lola said. She shifted slightly over to the other side of the tent, away from Geoffrey. He continued to move towards her; slowly, surely.

“I’ve, uh, always wanted to… see you in the flesh.” Geoffrey mumbled. He was going red, and almost paralysed with panic, Lola applied her telepathy.

Alright, come on, Geoffrey. You like this gal a lot. She’s giving you all the signals…  the mood’s getting intense… come on, dude! Don’t pussy out for once in your life. This isn’t some random chick; this is Lola. Now just… move… in… and do it. Kiss her.

Geoffrey turned and leaned in, a confident expression on his face.

It vanished moments later when a terrified Lola lifted her pistol and pointed it directly at Geoffrey’s chest.

“Get out of my tent.”

Geoffrey put his hands up, eyes widening in sheer horror, and nodded. “R… right! OK, no worries, no worries, don’t shoot…”

He stood up, hunched over, and exited the tent. Lola, hands still shaking, didn’t lower the gun until his shadow had moved well away from the tent. Her eyes were hollow and her breathing quick. That was too close.

“…Lola?”

Lola gasped in fright as a concerned Serafina entered the tent.

“Fin! I, uh-”

“I saw what just happened. Did you just… uh, threaten Geoffrey with a gun?”

Lola opened her mouth to explain herself, but no words came out. Instead, she began to tear up. Serafina saw this and went white, knowing how infrequently Lola cried. She placed her hand on Lola’s.

“…What happened?”

“He… he didn’t do anything.” Lola said. “But he just… did I ever tell you about Derron?”

“…Derron…” Serafina muttered. She took off her sunglasses and folded them up, placing them on her bedroll. “Oh, wasn’t he that shitty boyfriend your sister had a while back?”

“Yeah, that’s… the one.” Lola said. “I didn’t tell you everything.”

Serafina nodded. “If you want to tell me, you can.”

Lola took a deep breath and tried to steady her voice. She grasped Serafina’s hand.

“My sister was struggling to cope. My mother had been gone so long, and I was getting to that, uh… troublesome age, let’s say. She wanted a man around the house, so she started dating properly again. She met Derron. He seemed decent. Very loud and fond of drink, but he was a pretty decent handyman. Played football with ‘the lads’ on weekends, you know the type.”

“Yeah.”

“They started dating, and just a month or so after, he moved in. He was… I didn’t like him. Not at all. Scared of him. And I had a right to be. Whenever Lianne was out of the house or in another room, he’d…”

“It’s OK.” Serafina said, looking into Lola’s eyes. “Take your time.”

“He’d give me compliments. Touch me. Nowhere bad, but… even just grabbing my arm made me feel really uncomfortable. But I knew Lianne needed stability, and I thought… I thought I should keep quiet. So I didn’t say anything. And he got worse.”

“No…”

“His touches were more bold. He’d tell me to sit on his lap. I was only twelve at the time.”

“That’s disgusting.” murmured Serafina.

Lola convulsed as she tried to hold back tears. “Eventually I got too scared of him, and all the things he said he was going to do. So I bought a lock for my bedroom door. It was a good call… just a week later he tried to force his way into my room in the middle of the night.”

“Oh, my god. What happened?”

“My sister woke up and found him trying to get in. She flipped out, and ordered him out. I… stayed in my room and… didn’t really know what happened. Knowing that she owns a handgun, though… that’s probably how she managed to get him to leave without causing problems.”

“Lola…” Serafina whispered.

“So… yeah. This felt… exactly like that.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“And right now, I’m thinking the same thing I was thinking then.”

Serafina glanced at her. “…What was that?”

“‘Why can’t boys love me as kindly as Serafina does?’”

Lola fell quiet after this. For a few moments, Serafina didn’t know what to say, but looked down at Lola’s hand in hers, and realised just how much she had done for Lola over the years. She tightened her grip and looked at Lola with a soft smile.

“Hey… if you want to be loved, I’ll…”

She pulled Lola close.

“…I’ll do that for you. Come here.”

Lola tried to hold back tears, but could no longer, and embraced Serafina.

“…Thank you.” she whispered.

When Zack returned to the tent an hour later, he was pleasantly surprised to see the pair sleeping in the same bedroll, slumbering in the peace of dreams. Heading to the back of the tent, he allowed himself, too, the rest he needed. The time to approach the Incubator was coming.

Cause [2.2.7]

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