Language of the Waves

potassiumboron

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"We voluntarily rescued you. Any danger we are in, it is... of our doing. Pearl deciding to harbour us, help us, is her choosing, also voluntary. She accepts the danger. It is nothing you should feel guilty over. We are choosing this, to help you. You do not have to feel like it is your fault, we... brought this onto you. Ambrose made the deal, the consequences-- they are our fault. Not yours," countered Ben as firmly as he was capable of being, his voice remaining level but with an added edge in that effort to have the truth of his words register and be accepted as the fact of the matter, rather than just his opinion.

Granted, he doubted that they would have that effect when Sereia's expression bore so much weight of the guilt she placed on herself, but he wouldn't rest easy without attempting to convince her otherwise; without trying his hand at alleviating the troubles coursing through her mind. Regardless of the success (or inevitable lack thereof) of the attempt, what sort of friend would he be to her if he shrugged off her discomfort and left her to handle it without a word or two of comfort and reassurance?

And, in that determination to be a good friend, he would always press to reassure her even if she wasn't likely to accept his words as fact... though he knew when to take a step back and not press the point too much, be it when he was in danger of overstepping a mark or, in current circumstances, prolonging Sereia's exhaustion by continuing a conversation that needed to draw to a close. Recognising that he was venturing further into that territory, he shook his head to himself in mild annoyance at overlooking her injured (and mentally exhausted) state before taking a step backwards, now determined not to overstay any longer than truly necessary.

"Half an hour. Okay. I will come in half an hour," he agreed, opting not to enter a discussion on the matter by arguing that she was entitled to -and in need of- a longer rest than that, both because a) he wanted her to rest and not talk more than she had to and b) he knew anything he said would be shot down before it had time to really settle. As such, he offered a smile, typically soft in nature, before taking his leave, albeit not until he had checked her once over to ensure there was no cut nor bruise that needed immediate attention.
 

Viverescribere

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His words were genuine and sincere, Sereia knew that. If that was anything she had learnt about Ben was that he was always honest. Or at least in her experience with him. He had not lied to her, had kept his word and not once gone back on what he said he would do. He didn't betray Ambrose, he remained with Ambrose during all of this despite strongly disagreeing with choices that were made and he had been nothing but kind and gentle with her during their time together.

However, Sereia couldn't rid herself of the thought that she would still be Ryvel if she hadn't asked Ben to reveal the truth about her link with Ambrose once she had been handed over. Would Ambrose really have come back for her if there wasn't that bond that tied their souls to one another? Would he have risked his life if she was just a normal mermaid? Perhaps he would have felt the same guilt, but just not as intensely and not enough to stop him from celebrating his bounty with his crew, who he would still be with if it weren't for her. On a ship that he would still be captain of, if it wasn't for her.

Those thoughts, along with the bruised ribs, made for difficult sleeping. Not to say she didn't try. The exhaustion was there, waiting to pull her over the edge. The shell bra she was forced to wear was immediately removed, uncaring as to the fact that it was the only piece of clothing she really had now to her name. It was extremely uncomfortable. She would wear the blanket she had brought with her if she had to, but for now it was pulled over her, despite the scratchy nature of it. However, sleep just refused to come. Sereia guessed she may have gotten ten minutes of actual sleep within the thirty she was supposed to have. Between her tortured thoughts, the bruising and the fact she saw Ryvel's sneer everytime she was about to drop off into unconsciousness... there was no chance of her really getting much rest.

Before the thirty minutes were up, Sereia quietly pushed herself up out of bed with a wince and pulled the blanket around her, careful not to do it too tight in case it pressed against anything that was sore and sensitive to touch.

The mermaid then proceeded to move downstairs, each step taken delicately and slowly. Only she paused before coming into sight of the three, hearing voices and not wanting to disturb the conversation. Not to mention, there was a curiosity to hear what they were saying without her present.

Plus the desire to find out if Ben truly meant what he said. If she should feel the guilt she still harboured and if they blamed her for all of this. She knew it was wrong to eavesdrop, but after everything, Sereia only wanted the truth.
 

potassiumboron

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"--and that's what I'm saying, Ambrose. I can make my own decisions and you haven't a right to tell me differently. If my mind is made up--"

"I don't give a shit if this is what you've decided, Pearl. I ain't letting 'ya come with us. Fuck that. We can't stay here, we know that, but like fuck am I letting you come. You've got a home, a business."

"And what do I say when that psycho's goons come by? They will, you know that. What do I do then?"

"Plead ignorance. Feign obliviousness. I dunno, but you sure as hell ain't giving all this up for god knows how long for us. Sereia ain't expecting that of 'ya; none of us are."

The back-and-for between Pearl and Ambrose, a conversation which, from their heated tones, had gone on for a fair few minutes, proceeded without the knowledge that Sereia was residing just around the corner to the main space of the tavern, listening in to a discussion that revolved around the circumstances surrounding her - and Ryvel's desire to capture her once more. Between Pearl's indignation and Ambrose's expected stubbornness on the matter, neither was willing to give an inch in their view, leading -inevitably- to a tense exchange and a growing anger lacing the words, residing, for now, just beneath the surface.

"I know she isn't but the girl needs as many friends as she can take right now. People in her corner, defending her. Helping her," continued Pearl with as much forcefulness as she was willing to exhibit when at work - after all, they didn't have the luxury of discussing the matter in an empty tavern, the steady trickle of regulars making that an impossibility. As such, she disrupted the talk to serve a handful of usual faces before returning to stand before her friends, the brief few seconds away at least encouraging her to release a pent-up breath and exhale a little tension.

"Look," she murmured, resting her hands on the bar and easing in, lowering her voice from its previously outrage-heightened tone. "She needs someone she can turn to, Ambrose. Someone who can comfort her. Offer a gentle word here an' there. Now, I ain't saying Ben can't do that too but... I wanna be on hand for her too. The tavern'll be alright, I got people I trust to help me out in looking after her--"

"Hang on, you saying I can't be comforting to her?" Interjected Ambrose bluntly, the sound of his beer glass hitting the bar silencing Pearl's efforts to not necessarily backtrack but reassure him that her words weren't intended as an insult. "That I can't fuckin' be... nice?"

"You ain't in the habit of dishing out reassurances or compliments, hon." Pearl, carefully, defended, sharing a quick glance with a silent Ben who knew better than to add himself into an already tense conversation. "You're sweet in your way, Ambrose, but you ain't the one I'd go to for a heart-to-heart, are 'ya? You're... rough around the edges, have a way of talking that ain't... traditionally comforting. Love you to death, hon, but I don't see you parting with the sort of gentleness that that girl upstairs might need, 'specially after the stuff you've been involved in regarding 'er."

"...Sure, but she ain't gotta like me. I don't 'ave to be her biggest fan for me to do the right fucking thing and help her. I can be blunt but I ain't immune to-- to being supportive, 'specially with her 'cos she's-- she's important, is all. She deserves an easy ride; I ain't looking to make it worse for her," concluded Ambrose, having teetered on the edge of confessing to Pearl the nature of his connection to Sereia - though evidently, such words, with their emotional impact, were better left unsaid, the choice to do so purely so he didn't lose what little composure he still maintained. With much of the anger and animosity now evaporated, he silently slid his empty glass forward for a refill, sighing aloud in his own effort to relax.

"Fine, come with us then," he relented with a faint snort beneath his breath. "You're fucking mad to want to put yourself in danger like that but... sure, come along. Why not? More the merrier, I s'pose."
 

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"What's the difference between her wanting to do this and you coming back to break me out of that cell?" Sereia questioned quietly, finally stepping out from behind the wall and through the archway leading to the bar. She glanced between the three of them, not one ounce of sheepishness on her expression - she didn't recognise any incorrect behaviour since it all involved her anyway. "You and Ben have put yourselves in danger now, no? From doing such a thing? If anything, Pearl possibly has no other choice."

She hesitated, realising she would need to explain her thoughts and tentatively climbed onto the barstool that was around the corner from where Ambrose and Ben sat, meaning the counter and the corner of it sat between them. "Ryvell's people-- goons? They will be asking about me, about you," she gestured to Ambrose, "and about you," she gestured to Ben, "and once people start mentioning that you come to this tavern when you dock and... are good friends with Pearl," she glanced to the barmaid, "then they're going to come straight for her." She paused again, turning her gaze onto Pearl and lingering there, "And I don't think they would leave you after a simple questioning."

Despite her best intentions, her eyes began to water as she thought to the hellish two days and two nights she had with the main man of the group. However, no tears spilt over, the mermaid quick to brush at her eyes and clear her throat softly, averting her gaze.

"...But I can make this all so very easy for all of you. I can get a new ship for you and Ben," she peered to the two men, not daring to look too long at Ambrose as she rapidly turned her attention to Pearl, "You can join them, or I can ensure you patrons don't breathe a word. You don't need to ask how, but just know I... am able, yes?"

Her hands moved to rest on top of the bar counter and she leaned forward, eyes focused on her fingers as they clasped together to press her one palm against the other. The mermaid allowed herself a brief moment of reflection as she again attempted to formulate her words.

"...None of you owe me anything. That much I must make clear. No matter what you think or the uncertainty or hesitance you have..." Sereia couldn't stop herself from looking directly at Ambrose in that moment, the weight of unsaid words heavy on those she did speak, "Your safety is now paramount. We all know he won't just take me back and leave you all to live. And I--" She looked down at her hands as she choked on her words, brow furrowing deeply at herself, "I cannot have any of you dying. Not when you have done enough."
 

potassiumboron

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"None of us are gonna die anytime soon, I ain't worried about that," countered Ambrose without hesitation, choosing to latch onto that point in order to instil confidence and reassure the mermaid of his dedication to the cause, to her safety, at the same time - though it also served as a valuable distraction from anyone turning the conversation onto his inevitably flushed expression. He wasn't naive to the burning of his cheeks and just how noticeable it inevitably was, the colour rising to the surface as a result of discovering Sereia's eavesdropping.

Ordinarily, it would provoke a little annoyance, even mild anger, at having someone deliberately stay out of view in order to listen in to a conversation they weren't a part of, but he felt no such emotion when Sereia stepped out from behind the corner. No, the only emotion was a rush of nervousness, even anxiety, that she had heard him discuss how "important" she was to him and put two and two together; figured out that it was in reference to the bond they shared.

There was no guarantee that she had -she hadn't alluded to it thus far- but he had to believe that wasn't the case - and inevitably, it caused his heart to beat fast in his chest as that rare nervous energy took hold. There had yet to be a discussion between the two of them of their bond (at least not a discussion in a stable, safe environment) so frankly, his emotions regarding it were still up in the air; still erratic and undetermined.

But what he did know was that he felt... something or the idea that she had overheard him mention her importance to him wouldn't make him feel like a teenager with a crush all over again.

Choosing to push past his awkwardness (and avoid Pearl's eyes to keep her comments about it at bay), he took a swig of beer to ease his nerves and turned his eyes back towards Sereia, repeating her comments through his mind once or twice before deeming it an appropriate time to remark upon them.

"I ain't getting on any new fuckin' ship until Ryvell and his men are dead under the ground - or at least not capable of findin' 'ya, Sereia. If you ain't going to the sea, to your home, until this is over, then I sure as hell ain't making my escape either. 'Cos they'll come looking for us both; for all of us, yeah? The bastard's relentless like that," he snorted, rolling his eyes to himself at the sad, depressing reality of Ryvell working tirelessly around the clock until he retrieved what he deemed to be 'his' - and get his revenge on Ambrose and Ben for reneging on the deal.

"We'll figure it out, have some faith in me, goddamn," he continued humorously, a grin parting on his lips in the attempt to ease the brewing emotional tension between the gathered group. "We got every reason to be confident. I've led my own crew for years, done some fuckin' great things, overpowered the damn Navy ships. Pearl's got smarts, she's a good thinker, keeps a level-head. Ben's tough, strongest fuckin' guy I know, an'-- we got you, Sereia. You're... you know. You're you. We make a formidable little team so-- none of us are gonna die anytime soon, I promise 'ya that much."
 

Viverescribere

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Of course Sereia had heard him say she was important and she couldn't deny that it didn't cause a warmth to flutter in her chest. However, the cynical part of her - the part that had only grown with her over the last few weeks - was hardly in the mood to allow her optimistic, romantic side to celebrate. Yes, her apparent soulmate had just confirmed that he thought of her as important. But she hardly felt eager to show any gratitude or excitement given how their first few days together were.

He had shown disgust and hatred towards her, after all. There was no forgetting that. Besides, he was human, and Sereia wasn't aware of any cases in which a merperson's mate was a human. But then again, they hardly ever interacted with their kind. Now she knew why.

"Let's not pretend we don't know the real reason why I am not going back to the sea." She mumbled, drawing her hands in to her chest as they laid on the counter, eyes lowered on to them to avoid the gazes of the three humans sat or stood opposite her. Sereia couldn't know for certain if the two had explained the truth to Pearl. However, she did know that the truth would eventually come out in some way eventually. Pearl would need the full story.

Sereia also couldn't ever be certain if Ambrose would have come back for her if it wasn't for the bond. If that was the only thing that was making him act the way he was in that moment, she wasn't sure if she wanted that bond to be between them. She didn't want him to grow resentful of something that was supposed to be sacred and beautiful to her people. She didn't want her mate feeling trapped.

Quietly, the mermaid rubbed at her forehead, exhaustion still evident by the slow movement and the darkness under her eyes. "I... am sorry. I do not mean to... speak so cruelly." She turned her head slightly so her face was no longer in view for any of them, taking a moment to compose herself. Perhaps she should have slept for longer.

"But you have not... had the same two nights, two days, as I have. You do not understand the full... extent of what he is like. I have seen, in his eyes, what more he had to give if he had not chosen to step away when he did." Sereia looked back to them now, "I am scared... but I should not be taking that out on all of you. I just.... wish to protect you." Her eyes landed on Ambrose, holding there, "All of you."
 

potassiumboron

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Initially taken aback by the rather barely audible mumble, any response Ambrose might have had to it was undercut when he took in just how tired Sereia was - and when she proceeded to explain the fear she was wrought with (the extent of which he really should have understood before she expressed it), he was thankful not to have interrupted when he wanted to. It was better to have sat back and allowed Sereia to speak without disruption, to express herself rather than bottle her feelings up behind a façade of ease and feigned bravery.

Granted, hearing how fearful she was did little to boost the confidence he was eager to present. If anything, it made him feel helpless; made him realise just how precarious and dangerous their situation was - because he didn't have the luxury of obliviousness when it came to understanding Ryvell. He might not have ever been on the man's bad side until recently, never spent more than a few minutes in his company at a time, but he didn't need to to gain the impression that this was someone he was best off not pissing off.

Besides, he hardly needed to rely on intuition to settle on that belief when countless tales had been shared within the four walls of the tavern amongst men and women who were hardly innocent in their approach to manoeuvring through society - and yet, there was always a hushed tone when discussions amongst them turned to Ryvell; always that sliver of fear and unease that settled on their expressions and various stories of his latest expression of cruelty, ambition or power had come to light.

Ambrose had known of those stories before he accepted to work for the man, the promise of gold and riches for the job having been too tempting to turn down even if, on reflection, he should have fled to the seas and never stepped ashore until he was certain his paths wouldn't cross with Ryvell or his men again. He couldn't regret his decision too much when it had led to saving Sereia -and discovering the bond they shared- but that initial choice had also resulted in exposing the mermaid to a handful of days of misery and degradation; days of fear and pain.

And though he could pin the blame entirely on Ryvell, how could he ignore his role in it all?

Pushing his guilt back as best he could (it was just a discussion that went around in circles if he did bring it up once more, with his insistence he did wrong countering Sereia's reassurances without compromise), he took a swig of beer and allowed his eyes to meet the other's, even if having to face her in such a way did little to put his own fears to bed.

"...I don't know, you're right. I know what the guy's capable of, I've heard stories an'-- being in his company is enough to make the hairs on my neck stand up, he gives that energy off-- but you're right, I dunno the extent of it 'cos I ain't... suffered at his hand like you have. I ain't pretending otherwise," he relented, exhaling a puff of air when he eventually realised how he had been holding it in in his own discomfort and -of course- guilt. Allowing his eyes to drop when he failed to sustain the contact (when his chest felt tight at his regret and self-disgust, he couldn't continue to face her in such a way), he stared instead at the wooden countertop at the bar, his brow knitting as he fought to find the right words, or any words, to alleviate some of her troubles.

"But we're gonna be okay. I get that pulling out words out of thin air like that ain't... comforting when you're scared, but we will be, okay? I'm not letting that fucker get his hands on any of us. I don't know him, that's true, but he also don't know us and what we're capable of; what I'm capable of when my back's against the fucking wall. It goes both ways, don't it?" The pirate offered up, another smile on his lips as if that would help himself to believe in what he was uttering-- because he wanted to believe in it, desperately; to give himself something to cling to when they eventually left the tavern and ventured out into the unknown.

"What you can do for us all right now though is go an' get some more sleep," he murmured, nodding in gesture to the dark rings framing both of her eyes. "You look exhausted an' I can't tell you when you'll get a chance to sleep in a comfy bed, so go make the most of it, yeah? We'll-- we'll wake you up when we gotta make a move."
 

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It was if his voice broke whatever spell Sereia had been put under. The confidence she felt to hold his gaze vanished and she sharply averted her own back to the counter top. Her thumbnail quietly scratched at the softened wood beneath it as she listened to his response.

She hadn't wanted him to feel any further guilt or self-disgust and, once again, she felt an ache in her stomach at the distress she was causing her mate. It was a different sort of feeling to if it was just Ben or Pearl she had hurt. If it was either of them, she would feel guilt however, with Ambrose, it was an ache to her stomach and a pain in her chest. As if the bond itself was being sliced into. Nor did she not want to cause him any negative emotion because of the influence it had on her. He was her mate and she wanted to protect him from everything and anything.

Which is why she had begged him to leave her in the cage that night he came to rescue her. She feared not being able to protect him from what was to come.

His words, while she knew they were meant to be reassuring, did not alleviate any of her worries. She knew he was putting on a brave face and attempting to calm her (plus probably Ben and Pearl). However, Sereia could not allow herself to feel comforted. She had experience of what Ryvell could do; seen what he had done to others like her; heard what he would do if anything didn't go his way. She knew it would be even worse for her if she were caught and returned, to a point where she wondered if she would last the month if she did go back.

Instead of voicing all of that, knowing that there would be no point otherwise they would simply end up going round in circles with him offering reassurances and her refusing to take them, Sereia remained silent. Him basically ordering her to go back to sleep did cause her shoulders to hunch slightly in naturally defensiveness, however she knew he was right. She just couldn't sleep.

Reluctantly, however, she nodded and carefully slipped off the bar stool. They didn't need to know she most likely wouldn't sleep, that would only cause them more worry and they already had enough on their minds with how they were all going to stay out of Ryvell's clutches, along those of his men and anyone who would be greedy enough to take the bounty that would eventually come down onto their heads.

"Not much longer... I'm usually woken at dawn by them. It will not be much longer before they are here." Sereia warned quietly, only raising her gaze long enough to look at each of them in turn. After a brief hesitation, the mermaid walked back around the bar and past Ben and Ambrose to ascend the stairs again. Slowly, and with a slight pain to her legs, until she was able to collapse back onto Pearl's bed and curl up on her side, staring at the wall opposite.
 

potassiumboron

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It was only when Sereia left the main area of the tavern -and he was certain she wasn't lingering at a corner listening in again- that Ambrose's confidence, his well-intentioned bravado, hit a wall and crumbled. It wasn't necessarily ideal to have it falter in front of both Pearl and Ben, much preferring to instil them with the same confidence he had attempted to instil in Sereia, but he would rather clutch his head in his hands in a moment of panic and hopelessness in front of them than in front of... his mate; the person he was supposed to support and encourage.

The fear had been gradually rising within him throughout the duration of their shared words, even whilst he spoke of reasons to be confident and positive about the battle ahead of them. He had no idea if he had successfully masked it or not but he couldn't deny that its presence in him was overpowering, to the point that there were a mere handful of seconds between the mermaid taking her leave and Ambrose shifting into that state of unbridled unease, all culminating in him holding his head and relying on the bar to keep him relatively upright.

Were it not there, doubling over in the effort to block out everything around him and just think, refocus, would have been the move to make. Fortunately, he was spared having to reduce himself to that level of panicked desperation, even if his current body language did little to ease the concern -and shared fear- in the friends observing it all play out before them.

It didn't take too long for the pirate to get a grip of himself-- not that the few seconds of pitying the position they were in and having no plan to alleviate their issues, was enough for him to regain his confidence. Far from it, the panic that he felt about their situation remained rooted within him, settling up permanent residency in the centre of his chest - but he didn't have the luxury of time on his side to work out those particular issues. Granted, he wasn't the sort of man who looked on opening up and emotionally expressing his vulnerabilities or insecurities too fondly (when it specifically came to his case; he didn't remotely care if others chose to live their lives in that way) but even if he wanted to pour his heart out and receive reassurances from his friends, they just... couldn't.

There were far more important matters at hand than him muttering on about how useless and hopeless he felt.

No, he had to get things ready in preparation to leave and, before waking Sereia, remind himself that all the things he had said to her hadn't been plucked from thin air. Even if he had to delude himself of the fact, he had to tell himself that there was some validity to them; some basis that meant they were rooted in fact rather than fiction.

That they had every reason to feel confident as opposed to... hopeless.

The responsibility to alert Sereia to their preparation to leave was left unofficially to Pearl, the barmaid taking it upon herself to do so when deciding that Ambrose perhaps wasn't in the best mindset to do so - and with Ben opting to remain at his side in silent support, she was the only one left to head up the stairs and to the mermaid's side.

Gently knocking at the door before making her entrance, she headed across to the small closet in the corner of the bedroom to begin packing a few light items; nothing that would drag her down during the walk ahead of them, nothing too essential, but still things she felt she might need if they were gone from the town for weeks (or even months) on end.

"...Are you awake? We plan to leave in a few minutes-- at least, that seems to be the consensus. Sooner the better, really," she murmured in hushed tones, not daring to speak louder until she was sure that the other was awake. "We're heading north through the woods-- I think we're hoping t' reach Snowsfront by nightfall, stay there for some rest an' then get back up, on the move, in the mornin'. That's-- the plan right now, at least."
 

Viverescribere

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Sereia must have fallen asleep, because she found herself startling awake at the sound of a knock at the door. At first her heart raced at the prospect of it being Ryvell and his men. However, once her mind had shaken off its exhaustion, she came to realise those men wouldn't knock. They would barge down the door and take what they saw to be theirs. As the door creaked open, she remained still with her back to the door and eyes fixed on the wall opposite her.

The mermaid didn't move even still when Pearl's voice broke the silence, the hushed tones barely reaching her with how gentle they were. The rest she had been allowed to take didn't feel as though it had helped at all. She still felt a heaviness to her body that she hadn't experienced before. She didn't want to leave the bed, but stay cocooned within the sheets and to remain nestled within the mattress for a while longer. Sereia was all too aware of the fact that she couldn't, however she was so desperately tired.

Reluctantly, she forced herself to sit up, keeping her back to Pearl and pulling her legs from the bed so they hung off the side. She reached up to pull her hair over her one shoulder, revealing the branded mark on her left shoulder before her hands lowered and fingers scratched at the coarse blanket she had taken from her cage to keep her lower half modestly covered. Considering her upper half still had that shell bra clothing it, Sereia was aware she would need to now borrow something from the barmaid. Yet was hesitant to ask - how could she ask for more when they were already asking her to shelter them and, now, go on the run with them?

"...I've seen humans riding around on some large creature in the streets. Saw them when we first came to your tavern." She began, keeping her back to the woman as she leaned forward to rest her elbows on her knees and rub her eyes with the heels of her palms, "What are the large creatures? The four legged ones. Long necks, eyes on the side of their heads, long hair coming from their rear. Ears that swivel? You use... long pieces of material to guide them." She finally turned her head to look at the barmaid over her shoulder in her quest to understand what would be horses. "Would they... help in our escape? Do they move quicker than we would on two legs?"
 

potassiumboron

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"Horses? Oh, they'd be quicker but we can't use 'em. They'd need feeding and resting an' I don't think Ambrose is willing to make the extra time needed for that. More than that though? We don't have one, let alone enough of 'em to carry all four of us. No, we-- we'll walk. It'll be fine. We'll manage," the other replied without turning her head, too focused on determining which articles of clothing she was willing to leave behind. It wasn't necessarily a difficult choice if she was just heading off on a temporary basis - she would have been able to toss in a few items into her bag without much care or thought.

But the idea that she might not be able to return to her tavern, her home, for such a lengthy amount of time meant she had to be smart; had to pick out things that would sustain her throughout the oncoming seasons, help and not hinder her through whatever terrains they had to trek through. And so she sacrificed turning to Sereia, holding a conversation with her full attention devoted to her, in order to ensure her bag was packed with a variety of clothes, just in case the worst occurred and she didn't get to return to her port town for months.

...At least, that was the worst she was allowing herself to consider. Even if she knew there was a chance she would never be able to return home to the business she had grown from nothing, to the place she cherished and the familiar faces she saw as friends and family, she couldn't willingly devote more than a second to thinking it could materialise into reality. Was it wise to prepare herself for that possibility? Of course - but doing so would cut her up far too emotionally for her to proceed forward with the sort of strength and confidence she knew the group required from her.

Eventually packing a decently suitable set of clothing, she set the bag on the bed before reaching beneath it, her hand smoothing along the wooden slats before reappearing with a medium-sized knife. Aware that the weapon and its placement in her bedroom needed explaining, she offered a slight smile as she carefully slid it into its sheath and pocketed it.

"I love this town, don't go getting me wrong, but it ain't the safest place to be. Even with the clientele I get in 'ere, the folk that I see as family, there's always a bad apple among 'em who'd think me an easy target to rob from. Pays to be prepared," she answered matter-of-factly with a shrug in dismissiveness, not seeing any need to explain her reasoning further. Besides, the choice to purchase the weapon in the first place from one of her customers had been a good one, not solely in providing her a feeling of safety as she slept but also for the benefit of their journey now.

It was as she turned to take the mermaid in that she took in the clothing -or lack thereof- she had been reduced to wearing for the benefit of whatever aesthetic Ryvell had been eager to promote to his paying public. Inevitably, Pearl had a great deal to say about it, the corners of her lips twitching in her disgust-- though now was not the time to delve into the critique of it. Instead, she turned away to rummage back in the wardrobe before passing across a turtleneck sweater, woollen and dusty pink in colour.

"You might want to put that on, hon. I've barely worn it, not my style. Had it as a gift from my cousin, god knows why she thought it'd be my thing. I can't pull off that colour to save my life," she snorted, crossing her arms over her chest as she observed the other woman in front of her. "You can share my clothes on this-- journey, you ain't gotta worry about that. I'll look out for 'ya. The boys will too, obviously, but girls gotta stick together sometimes, don't they?"
 

Viverescribere

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"...But I-- I could get us what we need." Sereia argued quietly, turning her body slightly to face the wall to her side in order to face Pearl a little better. Given that the barmaid now knew the truth about her, Sereia wasn't entirely certain how to act around her. Even more so when Pearl had failed to react as so many people did. There was not one twitch of a lip to suggest disgust, or the furrowing of a brow to hint towards uncomprehending horror. But she had noticed that the tavern owner had yet to come close to her, and Sereia had to wonder if that was just her own paranoia or if it truly was something on Pearl's end.

The mermaid, with a good grip on the blanket keeping her lower half covered, moved on the bed to face Pearl completely. Her legs hung over the other side of the bed, the bruises and scrapes hidden beneath the coarse material. "I could get us at least two of these... horses, should Ambrose decide upon having them. I could make sure no one even remembers us taking them. If they are faster, like you say, then surely we must consider them, no?"

However, all such thoughts were briefly forgotten as the woman brought out a large knife from a hidden location. Sereia's lips parted, jaw dropping, as Pearl inspected the weapon and then placed it on her person. Merely nodding as a result, Sereia didn't ask any questions given that Pearl had seemed to have said all she wanted to on the matter.

Given her culture, Sereia was not unused to seeing women with weapons or knowing how to handle them. In her colony, women were just as able to be warriors and hunters as the men. Her brother's mate was a warrior, just like him. She supposed she just hadn't expected to see Pearl bring out the weapon that had been hidden under the bed during the time she had been asleep on it. Or while she had slept in the same room as Pearl those few days ago.

Her gaze lowered as Pearl turned to inspect her and Sereia got a glimpse at the first twitching of lips. Her fingers picked and pulled at the loose strands of fabric that were coming off the blanket, the object that worn and old. If this would be the first time Pearl would say something, in the safety of her own bedroom without Ambrose and Ben to hear, then Sereia didn't want to have the full experience. She had received such a thing from Ambrose when she was first pulled up on deck and then by Ryvell, who had left his own marks in the form of the branding on her shoulder and the bruises on her skin.

But when a soft pink piece of clothing settled in her lap, Sereia's confusion was evident. Her hands moved from under the item to take it between them, her fingers rolling the material before it was brought up to her nose to sniff. It smelt musky but with a hint of whatever perfume it was that Pearl wore - very faint, clearly not sprayed onto the jumper but from where other, more popular pieces of clothing had rubbed off onto it while they were all in the wardrobe together. The words spoken also struck a cord with Sereia and soon the mermaid found herself with tears in her eyes.

As they began to fall, she hurriedly began to wipe at her cheeks as to not make a fuss, nodding in agreement to Pearl's words as she did so. She glanced up to the other woman, hands pulling the piece of clothing to her chest and holding it there firmly, as if it were comforting and reassuring.

"I know you... do not know me and that the reason you do this is for Ben and Ambrose," Sereia began, voice thick with unshed tears, "But please know how grateful I am. I was deceitful; I did not tell you who I was or what I was, but even with that and now knowing what I am... you are still good and kind. I am... I am very thankful. Please know this."
 

potassiumboron

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Her words garnering such an emotional response wasn't entirely unexpected if Pearl, for a mere second, considered just how difficult the other's past few days had been. She understandably didn't know every detail that had gone on in that time but the few details she had gained were enough for her to build a picture of those events... and quickly come to realise how dark, torturous and horrid they had been for her. She had been torn from her home by men who hadn't offered her mercy until things had become treacherous in nature; until she had been reduced to entertainment for the hungry eyes of the public, forced into the ownership of a man who Pearl knew from tales and gossiped stories was capable of a cruelty like no other.

With all that in consideration, it wasn't too difficult to understand why Sereia would at first be quizzical regarding any kindness shown to her but then overwhelmed by it entirely. Pearl herself wasn't an overly emotional woman, but she would have to have a heart made of ice not to be moved by the tearful expression; by the tight voice, words suffocated by the emotion behind them.

"Hey now, there'll be none of that; no putting yourself down. I don't blame you for the deceit, hon! I was a stranger to 'ya, you didn't know me. You were taken by those idiots downstairs. Why disclose what you were when I could 'ave reacted to it like Ambrose and his men had? It makes sense that you were cautious. It was the smart thing to do, I promise 'ya. No hard feelings on my end. Nothing but understanding, actually," she countered gently in reply, the hand that rested on the handle of the bag loosening its grip in response to the display. She knew of the importance to get going, set out on the supposed journey north to a secluded village for the night, but abandoning Sereia in her moment of confession, of openness, didn't feel right, and she could only assume that parting so abruptly from it would do the mermaid no good whatsoever.

As such, after a moment of further hesitation as she considered the options available to her, Pearl made her way to the side of the bed and rested a hand on the other's shoulder, initiating a little contact to show support without being overwhelming. She wasn't averse to contact - on the contrary, she was someone who offered out warm hugs without hesitation, often claiming that nothing could quite come close to settling emotions like one.

But Sereia had been through a lot at the hands of humans in her short time upon the land, with much of the physical contact she had received being violent and uncaring in nature. The last thing Pearl thought would be good for her was to startle her with an abrupt hug; at panicking her if it backfired and brought back memories of cruelty at Ryvel -and his men's- hand. Working up to a hug, or at least allowing it to transition gradually on Sereia's terms, was the respectable thing to do; the wise thing to do.

What was also wise was allowing Sereia to feel like she was useful; a help to the cause rather than a hindrance, though Pearl's agreement when it came to the horses wasn't solely out of that desire. She didn't just mention it as a good idea out of sympathy, to keep Sereia satisfied and somewhat confident. No, the instant she mentioned that she could bring the horses to them, Pearl was eager to take her up on the suggestion - and when it would allow them to make ground on Ryvel's men, she doubted Ambrose would be in a position to argue against it.

"Let's get downstairs and you can get those horses for us. If you're certain of it, Sereia, then we should take 'em. They'll get us places faster, give us options we won't have on foot. Ambrose will see that, don't worry about him," she assured as she gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze, in both support and encouragement, before retrieving the nearby bag and exhaling softly through parted lips. Her stomach churned nervously at knowing the time had fallen on them to make their leave into the unknown but the idea of staying behind was one she had abandoned a good while back.

"If you're ready, we should make our move. Only if you're ready. What those boys are not going to do is force you into doing this. You pay 'em no mind if they try to force you to take that step without being prepared for it, hon."
 

Viverescribere

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The sudden tension that tightened her body was only natural given what she had been through in the last three days or so alone. The motion of a hand rising up towards her face had Sereia's mind flashing back to Ryvell's camp and, despite herself, she felt her head pull away for a second. Only until she felt the hand rest on her shoulder, soft squeezing there in a manner that was warming and soothing. Unlike any other gesture she had had before.

Of course had had Ben and Ambrose carry her from the camp and thus had had contact that hadn't been wholly negative. However, neither of the two men had reached out, physically, to reassure her before. This was the first and there was a small part of her that was grateful that it was Pearl. Ben had been kind and careful with her from the start. However, his hulking figure could be rather intimidating at the best of times, let alone while she was still coming to terms with softer physical gestures. And for Ambrose... the whole situation with her supposed-mate was one big mess regardless. She wasn't certain how she felt towards him, let alone knowing how she would react if he attempted to touch her.

Sereia acknowledged she had changed a lot in the last few days alone. Previously, she would have spat and snarled. She wouldn't have accepted any attempts to help her walk and she would have provided a few sharp words downstairs. All if she had been the same person she was when she first got pulled up onto deck.

However now, all she felt was a tiredness. Physically and emotionally and mentally. She wanted to tuck in on herself and become as small and quiet as possible so she wouldn't be noticed. After two days with Ryvell, she no longer backchatted or argued or retorted. She wanted to be overlooked. She wanted to be left alone.

So when Pearl's hand rested on her shoulder, Sereia's eyes fluttered closed and her body sagged, the tension in her shoulders being released as she came to understand that the movement was nothing that was going to cause her harm. Sereia would not move to place her own on top of it or reach out for Pearl herself, but she also didn't try to remove the barmaid's hand and allowed it to sit there for as long as Pearl would leave it.

The mermaid nodded as Pearl mentioned it was time to go and wiped once more at her cheeks and eyes. She sniffed a few times too, releasing a few heavy breaths as she tried to control her breathing once more. A few minutes later and Sereia was standing, fetching some bottoms from Pearl's wardrobe at her agreement to change into the large leg trousers and the jumper provided to her by the tavern owner (although she needed help getting out of the bra-like top that Ryvell had forced her into.

Shoes and socks were the last things she had to borrow from Pearl, the mermaid's cheeks heating up with how little she had to offer in response to everything she was being provided. However, she kept herself going by reminding herself that she would be getting them horses and that that would hopefully make up for things.

"...Let us be off. It makes me nervous, staying here much longer." Sereia confessed, fingers picking and playing with the edges of the jumper sleeves, "You will need to direct me to whoever may have these horses. It will be with the master that I speak with, not the animals themselves. And it... it may be safer if you three remain clear. Or at least you and Ben... Ambrose would be fine."
 

potassiumboron

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Throughout the time Sereia took to put together an outfit far more suitable for the journey ahead, Pearl had made the conscious decision to not say a word. Not only because she wasn't sure she had anything to say in general, but because, even if she did have the words, there seemed no need to utter them. There was only so much she could say to show her support before those words washed over Sereia; before they began to sound empty and murmured aloud solely for something to say, rather than out of genuine devotion to be a supportive -and comforting- presence for her.

The urge to continue to ask her whether she was okay, whether she would continue to be okay, was still there, lingering at the back of her mind, but Pearl wasn't naive to the unfortunate repercussions that could arise from pushing that energy to the forefront. At some point, she had to stop convincing herself that consistently asking that of Sereia was helpful and accept that allowing the mermaid to pull herself together and move forward without being reminded of all she had endured whenever she was asked how she was feeling was... the best way to proceed.

Besides, if nothing else, the time constraints placed upon them in their eagerness to head out and avoid the inevitable arrival of Ryvell and his men made sure that all those lingering questions Pearl continued to house were left unsaid, put aside in favour of the necessary actions.

Nodding quickly in response to her plans, Pearl heaved her bag over her shoulder and chose to leave the bedroom without making a comment aloud. As far as she was concerned, there was little point in discussing the matter of the horses further when it wasn't ultimately her choice - she could offer her agreement forward, communicate that Sereia's idea was a good one and accepting her help in providing it for them all was the smartest choice they could make, but if Ambrose kicked up a fuss, it was unlikely to happen.

He might not have his ship nor his men to lead but he was still a leader, still clung to his title of Captain with everything he had, every fibre of his physical and mental being - and Pearl didn't really have the heart to challenge that, regardless of the consequences his stubbornness might have on them.

But frankly, she was hoping that that renowned stubbornness wouldn't show its head when she arrived at the bar and made the men aware of the plan; hoping beyond anything that this would be one time Ambrose would accept that he needed to relinquish some control and allow Sereia to help them.

Once the words parted from her lips, she stared quietly at her friend as the thought process, his contemplations, took hold. The debate existing within his head physically manifested on his face, his brows knitting together and eyes darting quickly to Sereia as he considered the benefits -and the potential detriments- to allowing her suggestions to come to fruition.

Eventually, after a lengthy and heavy silence, the pirate slipped on his long coat and nodded across to Sereia. He wasn't entirely fond of admitting when his plans were inferior to another's but he couldn't afford to be stubborn when their lives, quite literally, were on the line and dependent on them making the best choices available to them.

And if horses were a choice they could act upon, he would have to be a fool, and an unbelievably stubborn one at that, not to grab at it with both hands.

"Come on then, you can get those horses for us. I'll go with 'ya in case-- you know, you need backup or somethin'," he mumbled in eventual response, his lips forming a flat line as he considered his words, the protective nature of which wasn't lost on him - but again, they didn't really have the time to consider the reasons behind his defensiveness of her.

And frankly, he was grateful for that fact, not being too sure that he would emotionally be able to handle another revelation regarding the bond he had with her right at that moment.

"Seriously, come on," he continued as he moved to the door, carefully taking a peek outside and surveying the area before daring himself to hold them open fully for the two of them. "Time's off the essence an' all of that. Get a wriggle on."
 

Viverescribere

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Considering Ambrose didn't exactly look the happiest with going along with her offer to get them horses, Sereia remained silent as she hurried along after him. His lips were firmly pressed together, he muttered in his speech and barely looked in her direction. It didn't exactly fill her with confidence that this was a man that wanted to go with what Pearl suggested thanks to Sereia's gift. However, she also wasn't certain just how she really wanted Ambrose to look at her or how she wished to be treated.

There was that bond that would link them together for eternity. One that Sereia believed and would forever treat as sacred and special. It was why she hadn't fled; it was why she had tried to protect him. Yet, that bond was unmentioned and unspoken between them. They had no time alone (except for now) and no time to discuss such matters. Then, given how their last major interactions had gone, she wasn't exactly filled with confidence and reassurance that their next one would be so different.

So the mermaid pulled down the sleeves of the jumper she had been gifted until the hems were caught between fingers and palms, and quickly ducked out of the tavern doorway. She scraped back her hair with her fists, not ready to release the ends of the sleeves just yet as she stuck close to the tavern wall, waiting for Ambrose to step out after her.

"...You just need to find me someone who owns these horses. I... I know I need not worry about telling you to cover your ears. But it is a good thing you came instead of Ben. Or Pearl." She frowned down at the brown boots on her feet, unaccustomed to shoes. Her toes wriggled within them and she found it odd that she couldn't see any movement as a result.

Realising she was losing her focus, she sharply looked up to Ambrose, cheeks burning with the embarrassment of her distraction. "They will not be harmed. They will merely be as your men were, on the ship a few days ago. They will give us the horses gladly and forget they even saw us. They will believe the horses got loose and they were unable to find them." She smiled slightly, the faintest of upturns to her lips, "An easy cover, no?"
 

potassiumboron

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His response to the offer may have been unenthusiastic, lacking in an overt show of appreciation for a suggestion that would only help (rather than hinder) their efforts to evade capture, but it was perhaps better to appear subdued than allow his thoughts to physicalise on his expression - because he highly doubted trepidation, unease and discomfort would make Sereia feel any better.

As such, he offered a swift nod and a tight-lipped smile in response, at least having the ability to acknowledge that he owed her some sort of reply if he wanted to avoid venturing into 'rude' territory, but openly thanking her for the duty she had opted to take on was something he currently wasn't able to bring himself to do. That wasn't to say that that gratitude didn't exist, but it was somewhat marred by his apprehension.

After all, the memories he had attached to Sereia's former use of her gift weren't... the best. Images flooded to mind of his crew standing around him, glazed-eyed and motionless; strong, brave men brought to robotic, vulnerable states at the first note of the mermaid's melodic tune. His feelings regarding those men were rightfully bitter given the abandonment he had faced at their hand, but he couldn't look back on the moment they fell victim to the mermaid's song and detach himself from the fear that had hit him during it.

And just because he was seemingly immune to the song itself didn't mean he was able to brush aside that fear. No, regardless of his ventures on the sea, hearing drunken tales of the monsters and the creatures that lurked beneath the murky waves, he was still a human. All the inhuman powers, abilities and skills that Sereia possessed were still... a lot for him to wrap his head around and absorb as a simple fact of her life, particularly when he had seen with his own two eyes just how capable the other was at weakening even the strongest of men.

"...Old Ted has a few horses, he's had 'em a good year or two now. Said he was gonna sell 'em on for profit 'cos he has no need to go riding a horse at his age but-- they're still with him. Do nothing all day but stand about in that stable so... they'll at least get some fun outta coming with us. Something other than standing about for all hours of the day anyway," he eventually offered up in verbal response, his arms folded across his chest as he gestured with a simple nod of his head to a standalone, run-down property on the outskirts of the equally run-down town, the accompaniment of a haphazardly built extension serving as the horses' stable.

"The fella will be up in that stable now, serving 'em some apples-- but he ain't no pushover. He looks like a gentle old man, like your grandpa, but appearances are deceiving, y'know? He knows that, s'why he wears those fucking knitted sweaters. Likes lulling people into false senses of security so he can rob 'em blind-- all that to say, don't go looking at him and faltering on the plan. He ain't no innocent old guy deserving of sympathy, Sereia," he continued with a swift glance in her direction. He knew better than anyone just how capable she was, with an old man, regardless of his own abilities, being absolutely no threat to her safety whatsoever-- but sending her into the situation without forewarning her, without offering her an insight into what she would come face-to-face with, would never sit well with him.

"...I can come in with 'ya if you want," he subsequently proposed, a shrug laced with bashfulness appearing shortly after. "If you want, anyway. S'cool with me if you'd rather take all the glory for yourself."
 

Viverescribere

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Holding his gaze as he warned her, Sereia couldn't help but feel bitterly amused by what was being said. How funny it was that he was telling her that looks could be deceiving about someone who could do her harm, when merely days ago he was uttering the same words to his crew about herself. How he and his crew would all be telling themselves and each other that, while she may look beautiful and alluring and captivating... she would kill them in an instant if it meant getting free.

That she too was a creature undeserving of sympathy.

"...I do not know what knitted sweaters are." Sereia decided to ignore all the irony and push back the reminder of the hurt such words had caused her a few days ago; choosing instead to push onwards. They needed to move quickly now and she was all too aware that, even if they argued against her, she was the one slowing them down. Both with her mental and physical exhaustion along with her limited experience of being on legs. "But I will be on guard. I need no reminding about appearances being deceiving."

Alright, perhaps she couldn't ignore it in its entirety. There was still a bitterness within her that she knew would take a while to wiggle free from her soul given all that had happened. Given all that had been said, mostly by a man who had turned out to be her mate. And if she was reacting in such a way now, Sereia couldn't help but be rather apprehensive about how any direct conversation about their delicate situation would go.

At his offer to join her, Sereia had already taken a few steps forward with the purpose to begin what she needed to do. So she halted and partially turned to face him by looking slightly over her shoulder. Her lips parted to respond, however she caught herself without anything to say. She wasn't certain how to react, hardly wanting glory as he said.

"I do not want glory. I want horses." Her brow furrowed, not understanding completely what he meant but continuing to press on nonetheless with what she had to say, "And you may come... But I need not need you there if you are going to treat me with the same blank, glazed-eye look and tight-lips that you wore on your face a moment ago when I first mentioned my Song. I... do not need you looking at me like that again." The last part was a little quieter, more uncertain and more akin to perhaps how one would speak to their lover when wanting to be heard but not wishing to incite an argument.

Giving him a moment to make his decision, Sereia turned back around and began down the slight slope to the rundown home and stables.
 

potassiumboron

~I'm drinking coffee on a trampoline~
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Was Ambrose tempted to continue the conversation, even if it might teeter into argumentative and combative territory? Admittedly, yes - being told that he had seemingly looked at her a certain way (and not to do so again) did rile him up a little, certainly more than he wanted to experience given the gravity of their situation.

He wasn't oblivious to how his visible reactions could be hurtful; could cause offence regardless of his lack of intent in doing so. After all, who could be comforted, or find confidence, when faced with expressions of discomfort, both visceral and unsubtle in presence? So he understood the reaction he was met with, the desire from the other that he keep such reactions as limited as he was capable of - but that didn't mean he accepted the words just as easily.

How he felt was... well, it was how he felt. He couldn't pretend he didn't innately respond to her use of her gifts negatively; that deep down, he still regarded the existence of such talents as unnatural. His realisation that he harboured those thoughts, fostered by the heteronormative codes of the society he had been raised within, was there; it existed and was acknowledged enough for him to keep them silent - but he couldn't control his expressions with the same firmness.

And that was where the annoyance stirred. He was doing his best to adjust to the extreme change in his circumstances and opinions, the latter having gone from seeing Sereia as a monster to an ally, and juggling it all together was a headache he was sure he would fail to work past in the long-run. He didn't want to be offensive, or allow any judgements he was trying desperately to work through to somehow slip past his lips-- but managing his expression, something that occurred so instantaneously and expressed the bubbling emotions he was fighting to limit in intensity, evidently wasn't something he was successful at.

And being reminded of it, being made to feel (however inadvertently) that this was just another failure of his made him frown to himself - again, the expression rose on his features before he was able to brush it aside, which, he reflected with a bitter humorousness, highlighted his point better than anything else could.

"...I'll just hang back, I reckon we'd both be better off that way. Can't go having you judge whatever expression comes onto my face, however fucking natural it is," he muttered across to her in return, despite having nothing but her back to direct his comments to. Frankly, he preferred that than having to look at her as the snarky remark left his lips - it wasn't wise, nor particularly mature, to allow the quip to be voiced, but he opted to indulge himself in it.

Because one small comment, drowned in sarcasm and spite, was hardly comparable to the criticisms and the rants he could otherwise launch into.

"Just be safe," he concluded after a moment of thought, deciding that whatever childishness he was clinging to wasn't a good enough reason not to offer support. "Just-- do what you have to do; I'll keep watch. An' be quick about it, yeah? We ain't got all morning."
 

Viverescribere

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His comment stung, however, the only reaction from the mermaid was her halted steps and a half turn of the head as she began to look at him from over her shoulder. Yet she paused with that too, deciding not to engage with the comment that came from him at one simple request from her. One that she believed wasn't too much to ask for, considering she herself was already controlling her own expressions towards him. Despite everything he had said and done, Sereia still had that innate desire to keep him from hurting. If seeing the copious amount of emotion she felt towards him would hurt him, then Sereia knew better than to let it show.

It was why she hardly looked him in the eye since the rescue. It was why she didn't interact with his snide remark. It was why she made the slight effort to ensure they didn't touch when they were close together. This all only added to the stress and pain that Sereia felt. This was not what she had been raised to expect if she found her mate. She had been told stories of unconditional and undying love. It was about acceptance, compromise and understanding. Friendship. Trust. Love.

Just as he thought about himself having to adjust, so Sereia thought the same about herself. She was having to adjust to a narrative that involved a human as a mate, instead of another mermaid; someone who didn't understand her culture, her life and what it meant to have a mate. She was having to make a massive change from a tail to legs and learn fast lest she was the cause of their capture and the death of Ben, Pearl and her so-called mate. Then, not to mention all the trauma of what had already happened - being mocked, tied up, branded like an animal, physically and mentally abused... and all she wanted was for her mate to keep his expressions under control.

Instead of responding to his offer of support, the mermaid turned her head back and continued her descent back to the derelict farmhouse.

It would take a further 20 minutes before she came back into view. Three horses, all with saddles and bridles, being led hesitantly by Sereia with two on one side and one on the other. The old man was easy enough to catch off guard, clearly having never suspected her of anything other than simply being a woman. A woman that he could take advantage of, if he bided his time correctly. But Sereia did not allow him to bide his time at all, instead wasting no time in getting him to do as she wished with her Song.

"I obviously do not know how to ride. I believe it useless to get myself one when I am incapable of walking on my new legs, let alone using them on these creatures." She glanced up to the lone one on her left, hesitating with a small smile as she studied the animal. Eventually she looked back to Ambrose, "So I will need to ride with one of you, perhaps Ben or Pearl." She averted her gaze as she handed the reins of the two other horses to him, "I needn't burden you with my touch or presence in such close quarters." She added in a murmur, she too now unable to help herself with her own impertinent retort.