Language of the Waves

potassiumboron

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As Sereia headed off and eventually disappeared from view, Ambrose was left to consider how tense the atmosphere created had been; how... uncomfortable the conversations with the other seemed to be. Granted, the two had hardly shared time together that was relaxed or uttered words not charged with some sort of negative, difficult energy, but after a short period of politer words, of support and reassurance, they seemed to be heading backwards.

The words didn't need to be cruel or bitter in nature for an atmosphere to arise, as their present state served to prove - small, petty comments, awkward demeanours and uncomfortable glances, all undoubtedly stemming from the unspoken nature of their bond together, seemed to be doing a perfectly good job at it.

He didn't regret how he had acted, of course. Stubborn to a fault, the pirate refused to acknowledge his part in the disconcerting energy being fostered, happy instead to place the blame on Sereia and accuse her of encouraging the awkwardness by calling him out on his expressions and the flashes that appeared upon his features; signs that gave his thoughts away when his words otherwise remained tied up behind tightly-sealed lips.

At the sound of the horses, he was caught between wanting to offer a smile of gratitude and simply remain expressionless so his face didn't inadvertently expose the fear that also spiked. How could he take in the sight of Sereia's success without also acknowledging how that success had been achieved; what she had done to bring it to fruition? Her gift didn't personally affect him but he was still wary of it; still... uneasy with the idea that a single entity possessed that sort of power, particularly when it altered so greatly from the normal upbringing, surrounded entirely by humans, he had only ever experienced.

Her quip, not unlike his own in pettiness, did make a muscle flinch in his jaw as his teeth came to clench together. It was tempting to reciprocate the energy, to provide another sharp retort of his own to at least make him content in having not backed down and allowed her to have the final word, as immature as that mindset might be. It wasn't wise to engage in the behaviour, of course, and he was aware of that fact.

He just wasn't strong enough to resist it.

"Do what you want; ride with Ben for all I care. Kick up a huge damn fuss just 'cos I didn't fuckin' smile at you or feign an emotion I didn't feel for your benefit. Make a mountain out of a molehill, why don't 'ya?" He muttered just as sharply in return, reaching for one of the horses' reins with a quick glance at the animal in question. He wasn't accustomed to horse-riding, his preferred method of travelling being his ship upon the ocean's waves-- but that option had been cruelly torn from him, leaving very little else to adopt in its place.

"I'm doing my best here, but I ain;'t got a problem if you wanna argue it out. Timing ain't ideal but I can't be doing with your bullshit. I've shot a man for less."
 
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Viverescribere

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"Then maybe you should have shot me on the ship like you threatened to do so often. It would have saved us a lot of time and pain."

Sereia kept her eyes on the horse, having turned to the creature as he began to bite back at her. She gently stroked its cheek, undeterred as it shook its head once or twice due to the tension on the reins, caused by her tightening grip as they once more fell into the familiar routine of venom and spite being tossed back and forth. At least she felt no connection to him, no ache in her stomach suggestion she had hurt him.

Only angered him.

Lowering her hand and slackening the reins on the other beast, Sereia decided that there was nothing more that needed to be said. Even if she had more on her chest to let out. Such as reminding him that she didn't need to be here at all. If she did what she wanted, she would be in the ocean, swimming as far away from land as possible in the desperate hurry to return home to her people. To those she knew cared about her (not that she didn't think Ben and Pearl didn't, but Ambrose was another story). She wouldn't be milling about on land, running the risk of being put back in the tank and cage they had found her in. She would have happily have been free.

However, she couldn't leave without one final comment, pausing beside him and glancing across to him as she regripped the reins, "As soon as Ryvell is dead and I know you and Ben and Pearl to be safe, you will not need to worry about me making this molehill into a mountain, as you say." A muscle in her own jaw flexed as she clenched her teeth together and swallowed hard before continuing, "As soon as he is dead and you are all safe, I will leave. Then you will not have any problems, any more."

It hurt to even think about leaving the person she was supposed to be with for life. But Sereia was beginning to understand that it wasn't Ambrose she was scared to leave, it was the idea of him. Such was the stories that she had been told and the rarity of mates that she shouldn't leave what she had found. However, at that point, she couldn't see a way forward for them. Not when their interactions, when alone without Pearl and Ben to buffer them, were so full of distrust and an underlying layer of weariness and fear towards one another. Him for her Song, which didn't even effect him. And for her, the lack of understanding and influence their bond had on him as a human.

Not wishing to hear another smart quip from him in response, Sereia pressed forward (albeit clumsily on her foreign body parts) with the horses just a step or two behind her. To her, there was definitely no point in getting into the matter, especially when it seemed both had made up their mind about the other.
 

potassiumboron

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For all his protestations that he wasn't a bad person, that there were depths to his character that he had previously claimed a desire to show -and prove- to Sereia, mentioning the violence that had otherwise dominated his life on the seas was a misstep. He wasn't blind to the fact that the mermaid's overall impression of him had been moulded and shaped by their time on the ship; that his capturing of her, the bouts of cruelty and continuous threats on her life that had been communicated, had done little other than convince her that he was dangerous.

Perhaps that impression had been dented once she met Ryvell and realised that the cruelty that Ambrose had displayed at least had its limits, perhaps that had also been aided when he eventually came to her rescue and proved that he had a sliver of good within him, but he didn't expect her to brush aside her initial impression of him mere days later. No, he might want to convince her with his words that he did possess that depth, that there was more to him than cold words and cruel acts made out of desperation to convince himself of a plan he had lost faith in the moment he accepted it, but actions would fair far better than any word could.

Which was why the mention of violence was so regrettable. He didn't want to force her to consider that, before she had even crossed his path, blood had stained his hands; men had fallen to the decks of enemy ships, taken down by a bullet from his gun. Regardless of his reasoning, no matter his dismissiveness that these men were soldiers to kingdoms he had no respect for, they were still men; still people he had disposed through his motivation for financial gain, for power and by his own disgust of their profession and all it represented.

But idle mentions of violence had become so entwined with his character, so second nature to him, that the words slipped past his lips before he could consider the consequences of it. His obvious flinch, the deep flash of regret, did little to limit the damage - all he could do was silently lead the horse towards the pub just a few steps behind, the idea of actually falling into step with her at her side making him far more uncomfortable than he ever thought possible.

To say that the longing, strange but overpowering in strength, had disappeared wasn't true; he still felt that innate pull towards her - it was just relegated to the background, acrimoniousness and discomfort seemingly reigning supreme in the meantime.

"Ah, you-- got the horses," came Ben's comment as the hulking figure appeared at the doorway to the tavern, his features more or less unreadable as he took in the steeds. That neutrality barely lasted a few beats, however, replaced soon after with the gratitude that Ambrose initially wanted -and really ought- to show. Unable -and unwilling- to limit his smile, the broadness of it parted his lips as he slowly approached one of the horses, taking his time to establish that he was no threat until he was able to offer it a stroke.

He knew there was no time to devote to fawning over the animals, to expressing his genuine -and almost childlike, in its giddiness- delight, but he couldn't deny himself a handful of seconds when it was the most joy he had felt in a while.

"There are wonderful; they will aid us on this journey. Spare us the difficulty of travelling by foot. It is a good idea," he confirmed as he tore his attention away and devoted it back to Sereia, the gratitude having only amplified alongside his happiness given his inability to pick up on the underlying tension between the others. "We should go. Who will I be sharing a horse with? I am fine with whatever arrangement; it is no problem to me. I imagine-- it will be you Sereia, yes? You and I shall ride together?"
 

Viverescribere

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"You three have your own. I will share with Pearl. I do not have the ability to ride alone." Sereia mumbled, handing Ben the reins to the one horse as she allowed the other reins to drop from her hand. The silence between her and Ambrose for the rest of the walk back to the Tavern did not sit well with her. There was an unspeakable tension that she was beginning to find suffocating by the time they arrived back with the horses. Hence why she dropped the reins and began to walk for the door Ben had just vacated.

"Unless Pearl cannot ride alone either. I am not certain what skills humans have naturally and what you learn." She continued, brushing her hands down on her hips just for something to do. She was fidgeting and she knew that would betray her anxieties if she allowed it to continue. So she folded her arms tightly across her chest, hands holding firmly onto her upper arms. "Then she can ride with Ambrose and I shall stick with you."

It was tempting to throw in another backhanded comment, especially off the back of their little tiff a moment ago. However, Sereia bit her tongue. She didn't even look back over her shoulder to Ambrose.

However, she forced herself to offer Ben a quick, faint smile in an attempt mask her true emotion. Neither he nor Pearl needed to know about the barbs that were thrown between herself and Ambrose. They were both risking enough as it was, they didn't need to know of the tension between her and Ambrose, especially if it made them doubt their future survival.

Clearing her throat, Sereia hovered in the doorway, glancing inside as she hoped for a peek of Pearl. "...Where is she? As you say, we should go. The sooner the better. I am afraid we are already pushing our luck as it is. Is she ready? You have been with her while we were away, no?"

Also another reason why she didn't really want to be riding with Pearl or Ben. She wished, even still now that their lives were in danger, that they could both spend some time together. Develop a relationship. Find a truly different outcome to what she was believing she and Ambrose were hurtling towards in that same moment. She wanted happiness for Pearl and Ben.

Or perhaps she wanted it just so she could prove, to herself more than anyone, that a human and a humanoid-being could be happy and in love. Just clearly not her.
 

potassiumboron

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Once his enthusiasm died down, Ben wasn't blind to the tension that remained fixed in place, particularly as Ambrose had failed spectacularly in his efforts to erase the deep scowl from his face - evidently, hiding his emotions from presenting themselves onto his features was a task he wasn't destined to succeed in. Why that tension was in place was a question Ben wanted to spend time pondering, the orc even feeling a little tempted to probe into the matter even if he knew it wasn't his place to do so.

He didn't anticipate the two returning arm-in-arm, suddenly best of friends, but he had, perhaps naively, believed that the bitterest of their interactions was now resigned to their past; that they were willing to relegate the cruelty to that time and move forward with the best of intentions, especially when the gravity of their situation almost required them to work together; not be at one another's throats.

To see that that had apparently hit a stumbling block was... disappointing, with Ben's broad smile gradually faltering the longer he was made to witness the clear discomfort and the obvious simmering tension.

"...I will ride alone, I'm sure it will not be difficult. You ride with Pearl. She tells me she is a good rider; that she had horses as a child. You will be safe with her," he eventually responded as his eyes drifted from Ambrose, having been focused on his friend and the other's clear efforts to rearrange his features; push his frown from his face and resume, at the very least, a nonchalance, however falsified it would be. The focus was broken at Sereia's questions and he turned to her when his answers came, even if that analysis was renewed when his eyes fell upon her - his worry wasn't devoted solely to Ambrose, after all, the feeling spiking once more as he took in his new friend and her expression.

The moment was -perhaps fortunately- broken by an oblivious Pearl, who flung a bag over her shoulder and approached the group with a smile; one that belied the nervousness for the journey ahead and the unease that came with leaving the tavern -her business and her home- but one she also felt obligated to present.

"You lot gonna stand about chatting all day or should we get a move on? Before Ryvell's men stroll into town. If we're gonna do one thing, it's making it fucking difficult for them to get us. Ideally, they won't find us at all but if they do, let's make it hard for the bastards, yeah?" She grinned with a display of supreme confidence, that belief strong throughout her words and her demeanour alike. Approaching one of the horses, she spared a second to acquaint herself, to reassure the animal, before taking hold of the saddle and pulling herself up with remarkable ease.

"Been years since I rode a horse but it's something you don't forget in a hurry-- who's riding with me?" She hummed, her eyes gravitating momentarily to Ben before shifting without subtlety to Sereia as she corrected herself; forced herself to ignore what her heart wanted to instead listen to her head. It made far more sense that Sereia would ride with her, though it didn't prevent the faint voice at the back of her head telling her to be selfish; to invite Ben to sit behind her so she could enjoy their proximity, feel his hand rested on her hip, his chest against her back--

"Come on," she smiled as she interrupted her trail of thought, offering a hand down to the mermaid. "Leave the boys climb onto their horses and figure it all out themselves; serves 'em right to struggle a little. You and I will ride together, hon."
 

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It took a little while, but soon enough Sereia found herself on the back of a horse. Feeling too awkward to wrap her arms around Pearl's body, especially for the entirety of whatever journey they were about to partake in, the mermaid decided to grip the back of the tavern owner's own jumper. The movement and rhythm of the horse was uncomfortable and odd, leaving Sereia struggling to come to grips with the rocking of her own body which occurred due to the animal's steps.

She found, not long into the ride, that the saddle rubbed at the inside of her upper legs and her back ached from remaining upright. However, she refused to complain. Pearl was managing the creature wonderfully and the men in their group didn't seem as though they were tiring. She hardly wished to be the one that caused their group to halt. The mermaid attempted to keep from fidgeting in her seat, only shifting once or twice in an attempt to ease the soreness at her upper legs and get feeling back into her behind and lower back. Her fingers occasionally released Pearl's jumper to stretch out, only to grip back on soon after.

Sereia remained silent for that time, not wishing to engage in any conversation that may have introduced between the other three. Her mind was elsewhere, focused on both ignoring the exhaustion that was beginning to creep back in despite her few hours of restless sleep and the weight of the words she spoke earlier:

"As soon as he is dead and you are all safe, I will leave. Then you will not have any problems, any more."

The mermaid found herself wondering if such words even had an effect on Ambrose. He showed no reaction when she spoke them, so she had to assume that, despite the bond that they shared (however weak and strained it was), he could care less about her. Then she thought about her colony, how she would have to keep it all a secret. They could never know that she had a mate and abandoned them. Even if they were human and their relationship uncivil. She would never be forgiven for leaving behind her mate; giving up on something that was so rare and sacred.

These thoughts rattled around in her mind for the next hour, until she released a heavy sigh and leaned her head forward to press her forehead into the space between Pearl's shoulder blades. Her behind had fully gone numb and she could feel the sensation spreading to her legs; the skin was beginning to feel raw at her inner thigh and she found herself longing for a cool dip in fresh water.

"...I am sorry if this is uncomfortable for you. I will sit back up in a moment." Sereia told the other woman, eyes fluttering shut as she tried to sort though all her emotion and all her thoughts. "How long do we ride for? I know it is still light out but... have they spoken of a plan with you? Do you know where we are going? How long we ride for?"
 

potassiumboron

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The ride, though proceeding in almost near-silence, wasn't one that Pearl found awkward. Perhaps, if she had maintained her riding throughout the years, she wouldn't have been so preoccupied with the feeling and instead been more focused on the disharmonious atmosphere; the uncomfortable tension that Ben was unable to ignore. However, with so many years having passed since she last rode a horse, and subsequently with the activity bringing forth old family memories for her, Pearl was understandably distracted, caught up in -and enjoying- feelings of nostalgia.

Entering the woods as the headed northwards, she found herself further distracted by the scenery; the colours of the autumnal leaves as the sun hit them particularly caught her eye, a smile resting on her lips as she realised, for the first time, just how beautiful the area not too far from her tavern truly was. It was easily to overlook when her life was otherwise dominated by her work, with her spare time often devoted to ensuring things were running smoothly with the business given she was ultimately a one-woman operation, but she was able to at least finally acknowledge the beauty now.

The timing wasn't ideal when she was abandoning the surrounding area for wherever their travels took them, but she preferred to focus on the positives: at least she had noticed it all before she left. It was a motivation, on top of many, to return to her home alive; to make plans now for the future where she could venture into the woods on a day off, take a walk amongst the looming trees of every variety and colour.

Eventually, an hour or so into the journey, she was brought out from her reverie by Sereia, both as a result of her head resting against her back and the questions from her lips. Pearl's brow understandably furrowed at the several questions she was faced with, a sharp look shot briefly across at the sullen Ambrose in confusion.

"Did Ambrose not... tell you our plans? I can't imagine he would have let you get on the horse without letting you know what we'd decided," she murmured beneath her breath, tempted to bring the horse to a stop and allow Sereia the time to both rest and take in the answers, but there was no justification for it a mere hour in. If they wanted to reach their destination before nightfall, even Pearl was aware that they had to get at least another hour in before they could take a few minutes to rest the horses and collect their thoughts.

Opting not to question Sereia further on whether Ambrose had told her anything or not, she set her eyes back forward and encouraged a smile to her face, hoping that it wound sound through her reply.

"Snowsfront: it's a quiet little village up north, a good while away yet. We should get there by nightfall, find an inn to rest at an' figure out our next move from there. We're on track to get there just as the sun sets, I reckon," she answered, ignoring the look Ambrose had sent across when he realised that the two were holding some sort of conversation, inevitably paranoid that his name had been mentioned. "We can have a rest before then," the woman proceeded gently, "because it isn't easy, travelling all that way without a little stop between. Just-- another hour and we'll have a break. That okay for you? If not, tell me; we can stop if you really need to stretch your legs."
 

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If it hadn't been for their predicament, the tension between herself and Ambrose, the fear of being caught again and having her mate murdered in front of her... Sereia may have too enjoyed the beauty of her surroundings. In the ocean, she always marvelled at new things. Any new wreck she found or unknown item she discovered, she was in awe of. She loved to explore and cast her eyes on things never seen before by herself.

This would have been one of those times. Naturally, there wasn't much of a change in the sea when it came to the seasons. Everything retained its colouring for as long as it was alive and young. The only influence in the sea was time, with age causing things to wither and colours to dilute. So to be on land and see the seasons would be a discovery like no other. The autumnal colours, ones that she wouldn't have been accustomed to seeing (at least not together and up close), would have been a fresh palette for Sereia. The crunching of fallen leaves, the golden glow of the sun against the brown and red and orange, and the crispness of the air another two things she would have noticed and admired the differences of compared to her underwater world.

However, her mind was elsewhere. Her desire and love for exploration diminished by the nightmare tale she had had so far on land; her original ideas of being amongst humans and treading on land, all bright and excited and warm, tarnished and shredded.

"I am just...unaccustomed to a lot of things. I am starting to lose the feeling in my legs or at least... there is a numbness beginning to form." Sereia explained, shifting once again in the saddle in an attempt to get her body back to normal again. Oddly, the position she had taken up with her forehead pressed against Pearl's back was a comfortable one and she shifted back slightly so her back was stretched out a little more and the pressure moved from the back of her behind. "But no, do not stop on my account. As you said, we are on track, no? I do not want to be the reason why we do not make it before sun fall."

With her head lightly resting against Pearl's back and her eyes closed, Sereia missed the look Pearl shot across to Ambrose and, in turn, the one she and the tavern owner received. There was an uneasiness to her stomach, suggesting that there was something being felt on the other side of the bond but she couldn't be certain what it was.

Exhaling a soft sigh, Sereia couldn't help but wonder how much easier it would have been if she had just returned to the sea. Of course, her mind would always return to Ambrose (and Ben, naturally) and if he had been caught and killed for what he had helped her with. However, there were so many unanswered questions. Would Pearl have been dragged into this mess? Would they have a better, safer plan? Would they be making better, faster, progress without her slowing them down?

There were so many others, but none that she had answers for.

"Please do not say anything. I will be fine. Do not say anything, Pearl. Please."
 

potassiumboron

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At hearing that Sereia wasn't quite having the easy time on the horse as Pearl imagined -or rather, assumed- she would, she felt her lips twist to the side in annoyance at herself. Despite having accepted the being that Sereia was with an ease Ambrose could only wish for, it was easy to almost forget that fact - unlike the men, she hadn't seen the other's true form when she was pulled from the sea she called a home. All Pearl had witnessed was the human-like appearance that Sereia currently sported, with all she truly had to come to her acceptance being a confession from the other woman herself.

When that was the case, when all she had was a few words to express what Sereia was, she found herself forgetting that she was from the sea; from the waves. Despite it being as much of a part of the Earth as the land was (a much, much bigger part, in fact), it was almost like a different world, so culturally juxtaposed to the ways of the land that Sereia was forgiven for not understanding the arduousness of the journey, or failing to grasp in time just how uncomfortable that journey itself might be when she was -naturally- not accustomed to riding on a saddle or, simply, on a horse itself.

And Pearl knew she should have taken that naivety into account when there was really no way Sereia could know such things. She should have had an awareness on her behalf; ensured that she took the lead in informing the men in taking a break sooner than they planned for the mermaid's benefit, so she didn't have to feel any guilt in bringing their trek to a premature stop. Having failed in doing so meant that Sereia now would harbour that unease if Pearl did alert the men to stop before another hour had passed, and frankly, the guilt of failing in her self-imposed responsibility to look after her, to offer her a shoulder of support she felt she hadn't received enough of, only intensified the longer it rested at the pit of her stomach.

She wanted to offer up that apology, but in doing so, she would have to say something - and from the way Sereia pleaded with her to do anything but, she inevitably saw the idea, regardless of the good intent behind it, as a bad, misplaced one.

And so, with the weight of guilt pressed against her shoulders, Pearl merely nodded her understanding and proceeded forward without a word, maintaining that silence on the other's behalf for the next hour until, finally, they came to a stop; one introduced by Ambrose who jumped down from his horse first and encouraged the others with a glance to do the same.

"We'll rest for twenty minutes; let the horses drink from the stream, ease themselves, before we continue," he proposed as he ran a hand down his shirt to ease it of its crumpled state, his eyes firmly set upon the others for their agreement-- though only a solitary glance was sent in Sereia's direction, a result of a slip of his strength which had been in place to avoid looking at her whatsoever. He wasn't sure what the overriding emotion towards her was, or what descriptor could be used to summarise the feel of the tension bubbling between them, but he was sure that he wanted to avoid contributing to it, and simply avoiding communication with her (or even looking at her) seemed the best way to achieve that.

"I'd give it another few hours -three, four at the most- before we get to the village outskirts. Sun sets early this time of year so we should be there before it gets dark. Sunset seems the best bet," he continued as he set his hands on his hips, sleeves rolled to the elbows, and his eyes to the canvass of blue above, where the midday sun had hit its highest point in the sky.

"Hopefully we can get food once we arrive? We can't see through the day, after a journey like this, without food. We ain't invulnerable; we need energy," mumbled Pearl as she climbed down from her own horse, offering her hand up to Sereia with an encouraging smile to aid her descent. "C'mon, let's get you down; stretch those legs of yours, huh? It's... a long journey still ahead, best we try and ease some stiffness from our bones before we set off again, hon."
 

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By the time they came to a halt, Sereia's legs felt heavy with a kind of coldness she hadn't experienced before. She had, at least, managed to actually doze off a few times against Pearl's back but had woken with a start each time her body twitched or her head slipped from Pearl's back. The weight to her legs and her exhaustion had brought on a new kind of frustration, as the mermaid dwelled on her weakened state during the silent journey. She could feel a, by now, familiar burn to her eyes as tears formed with that bitterness towards her human state.

Sereia knew she could not blame it all on her new form, given that her lack of proper nutrition and sleep also linked with the lack of strength she once possessed. However, everything to do with her two legs was reason enough to be irritated and vexed. She thought about her tail, how powerful it was and how it could push her through the water with ease and at great speed. She thought about her overall strength, the ability she would have once had that would have allowed her to put up a fight against at least two human men - if not three. She considered what her brother had taught her, the skills necessary to defend herself if she found herself in trouble while searching wrecks.

All things that she was now incapable of doing because of her time on land.

When they eventually stopped, Sereia pulled herself from her doze and reluctantly sat up straight again. A wince was not suppressed at the twinges to her back and the dull ache to her behind. She attempted to wiggle her toes, only to find them slow in responding and feeling as though they were frozen - both in movement and temperature.

Her head and eyes lifted to Ambrose as he spoke, unable to not look at him as he laid out the instructions for their break. The quickness with which he looked away from her did not go unnoticed. But Sereia did not look away, finding herself transfixed on the being who she apparently shared a bond with. His hands set on his hips, sleeves rolled up to show off the strength he possessed alone in his forearms due to the flex of the muscles there and his head tilted back to view the sky, allowing the golden rays to land on his face, highlighting his jawline and lightening the dark hue of his eyes.

Sereia sharply cut her thoughts off as Pearl moved, cheeks flushing at the idea of almost being caught staring. Reaching forward with some hesitance to hold the front of the saddle - as she had watched Ben and Ambrose do - in order to descend, Sereia swung her right leg over. However, due to the numbness that had formed in her lower body, the mermaid lacked any real control over her lower limbs.

A yelp escaped her as the momentum carried her away from the saddle and the horse, eyes widening and hands slipping from the saddle as her right foot landed hard on the ground. Her knee gave way due to the numbness of being sat for as long as she had been and Sereia panicked as she felt herself fall back into Pearl. Her other leg immediately came down out of instinct to try and catch herself, but instead also gave out due to lack of feeling. The horse shied away, quickly tracking away from the falling mermaid, leaving her with nothing to grab on to as her weight and momentum continued to stumble into Pearl. Eventually, she came to a stop on the ground where she landed first on her numb behind and then flat on her back, looking up at the same sky that she had been watching Ambrose admire just seconds earlier.
 

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Oblivious to the focused, fixated stare sent in his direction, given his determination to avoid looking at Sereia as much as he was able to, Ambrose remained observant of the cloud-cluttered sky above, staring at nothing specifically but taking a great deal of comfort from that. There was a something nice in allowing his mind a moment to be free of the usual stresses that had, especially in recent times, come to overwhelm it; crashing, cascading troubles and worries that didn't hesitate to multiply and compound the pressure that the pirate already had to contend with.

Finding some peace, albeit a sliver and temporary in nature, was something he sought to cling to for as long as he could, while he could. The lack of specificity for his eyes to focus on allowed him to lose himself in the depth of blue above; free himself of all thoughts, of all troubles, and sink further into the rare tranquillity that had seemingly been granted to him.

Not that that fraction of peace was allowed to be sustained for longer than a minute. Whatever otherworldly deistical being had granted him it had also abruptly decided to tear it from him before he even had a chance to appreciate it, his attention immediately torn away at the commotion occurring just behind him. Though it took a mere span of seconds for Sereia to land on the floor, the fall itself seemed to play out in slow motion to Ambrose, whose expression only served to illuminate the horror that he experienced throughout its duration.

He might have wished to appear indifferent towards Sereia for his own sake, as typified by the deliberateness behind avoiding her eye completely throughout their journey, but he couldn't maintain it upon witnessing her fall. Even if it wasn't too serious in nature, and not a huge cause for concern, his stomach still lurched with an instinctive fear that she was hurt and, though it countered his desire for indifference more than he would have liked (a realisation he would come to when he later reflected on the scene), his body seemed to move into action before his head had caught up.

With purpose, fuelled by an instinctual response to both protect and reassure her, he abandoned his post beside the riverbed and approached Sereia with unsubtle swiftness. His movements eventually found him crouched down at her side, one hand against his own knee and the other resting to her cheek as his eyes, worried and quick, took her in, searching for any cut or blooming bruise she gained from the fall.

Though finding that behaviour, that overwhelming concern, slightly bizarre in nature when he considered the tension that had otherwise been brewing between the two, Ben couldn't remain focused on the scene playing out when his concerns were best situated elsewhere - namely the horse that the mermaid had fallen from. With a whinny as it rose to its hind legs, Ben's initial efforts to calm the spooked creature down (including bravely standing in front of it despite the risk of injury involved) were left in vain; left amounting to nothing as he stared after the horse in dismay, the latter wasting no time in bolting in the opposite direction to their travels as fast as it could.

"...We have lost the horse. It was spooked. Nothing can be done. It... happens," he murmured aloud, only caring to speak after calming down the horses that remained; after ensuring they didn't take after the other's lead and bolt. One horse abandoning them was unfortunate but not disastrous; the other two, their final two, doing the same would be.

Realising that fact, Ambrose was quick to nod his agreement - and it was that response that seemed to break him out of whatever strange moment he had found himself enveloped by. Tearing his hand from Sereia's cheek as though her skin burnt him to touch, he stood without subtlety to his feet as fast as he could, cheeks aflame with bashful crimson.

"Check she's alright," was all he was able to muster to a wide-eyed Pearl, who wasted no time in filling his position at Sereia's side.

"Gave yourself a nasty fall there, we've all done it at some point. You okay?" She whispered beneath her breath, forcing herself to look away from Ambrose as he wandered as far from the women as he willed himself. As much as her interest had been piqued, his antics and behaviour weren't of importance; not when compared to a potentially pained Sereia. "The men can ride together-- losing that horse ain't the end of the world, don't you go feeling guilty about it, y'hear? What's important is you. Making sure you aren't too hurt."
 

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The world seemed to pause as Ambrose's hand pressed to her cheek. The first bit of positive physical contact and Sereia felt as though she was frozen in place, until her own body moved of its own accord and soon her own hand was resting over that of his against her cheek. Her gaze flickered over his face and, despite knowing how awful it was, felt a bloom of warmth and even hope at the sight of the concern on his expression. There was something, regardless of how deep under the surface it may have been, that did resemble some element of care for her.

However, Ben's words then seemed to electrify Ambrose and Sereia was left disappointed, and frustrated, that such a moment was interrupted. His hand being ripped away from her cheek caused her lips to part in protest and she turned her head to track his movements, inner eyebrows knitting together and pulling upward while her lips (slowly closing back together) pulled down ever so slightly. Her hand hovered near the cheek he was just cradling, growing cold and painfully empty.

Even Pearl's words didn't immediately earn the tavern owner Sereia's attention, the mermaid's eyes still fixated on Ambrose as he put as much distance between himself and her as possible. Eventually, as Pearl was still talking, Sereia reluctantly sat up. She winced at the throbbing ache at the back of her head and lifted a hand to rub at it, grateful to see afterwards that only dirt adorned her hand rather than anything else.

Unsurprisingly, though, Ambrose's reaction after regaining his senses hurt more than the actual fall. The acknowledgement of such emotions caused the mermaid to partially turn her head and look to the former captain once again, despite being unable to determine any of his own feelings given she had only his back facing her. Her cheek, the one he had held, was now searingly cold after his touch and the warmth of his hand being taken away.

He had pulled away so rapidly once he seemed to realise, as if fearful of contracting something from her. Or perhaps more because he still viewed her as a monster. Still feared her, in some way, and was still somewhat disgusted by her. It was all the more reason why she would have to leave once the business with Ryvell was sorted. She could not remain with him if it was only the bond making him feel what he felt. She would not have a mate who was trapped by something they did not understand, or were not willing to understand. Or someone who was not willing to accept her for who she was.

"I am fine, please. There is no need to fuss." Sereia finally spoke, eyes flickering back to focus on the earth between her feet. Her legs were beginning to tingle, painfully, and so the mermaid reached down to clutch at her thighs, "My legs had just... they felt dead and I could not feel them. Now they are... hurting. Like I am... being stabbed with tiny urchin spines, all over," she glanced up to Pearl, hoping the woman knew what she was trying to explain, "Is this due to the fall? This does not feel normal. Do humans suffer with this?"

She would argue about them riding together in a moment. While she was ready to accept that she had no future with Ambrose, she was determined to deduce that once and for all. If riding with him on horse back so they could have a more private conversation on route meant she could figure out what her future held, then so be it.
 

potassiumboron

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Hearing that the apparent worst consequence of the fall was a severe bout of pins-and-needles did make Pearl smile in relief. That didn't strike out the possibility that pain would persist, or other currently unseen injuries would bloom into existence as the journey continued, but for now, the woman was able to shelve the majority of her worries regarding it all.

When her mind was overrun with countless concerns, all cacophonously, busily, battling away for her to focus and shine light on one of them, being able to part with one of those worries, if only for the time being, was something she could take great comfort -and find immense relief- in doing. It left greater worries to sit heavily on her mind, granted, but at least the noise was dimmed; the hive of activity somewhat subdued now there was one less thing to try and resolve.

It was probably why she had quickly moved past analysing Ambrose's reaction. Her gut told her that there was something to work out, a puzzle between them whose answer she was kept oblivious to, but the capacity to tackle the potential complexities and intricacies required energy she just... didn't have at the current moment. As intrigued as she might have been, a momentary spark igniting in her mind demanding that she at least keep her observations of her friend up throughout the journey, she was quick to shake that thought aside.

Compared to other problems, like that of their lives being on the line if they didn't create distance from themselves and Ryvell's men, Ambrose's bizarre behaviour just wasn't of a great importance to her. She wouldn't turn a blind eye if he came to her directly to discuss what, from his tense body language and clenched jaw, clearly weighed heavily upon him, but until then? She resisted the urge to enquire about it herself.

Guilt rose its head as she considered the fact that it might make her a bad friend to willingly ignore the other going through something... but, having become rather adept at it, she pushed it aside to focus on something altogether more pressing.

"You're fine; it's just pins-and-needles. It'll disappear by itself," she offered up in reassurance to her mermaid, after becoming acutely aware that her silence, in her own contemplation, had been somewhat prolonged. Apologetically smiling in response to it, she stood back to her feet and offered a hand down for her to take.

"Best if you get on your feet, shake out the tingling an' the numbness. If you wanna sit down, take that boulder over there; not the ground. You don't wanna go sitting around in mud."

The small laugh she playfully gave coincided with a glance from Ambrose; one he hoped was discrete enough not to be noticed, though at Pearl's laugh, he abruptly averted his gaze once more and settled simply on observing the river, as if the slow flow of it was of great importance and interest to him. It wasn't, but it at least gave him something to focus on; something to distract from the temptation of peering across at Sereia again.

"C'mon," continued Pearl with a brighter smile, oblivious to the brewing tension from her friend several feet away. "Let's shake out those pins-and-needles, hm?"
 

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Sereia held her tongue regarding her sitting in the mud - both because it had hardly been her choice but now, also, what did it matter? She undoubtedly would have mud on the jumper and trousers that Pearl had kindly provided. However, the mermaid kept herself silent on the matter and instead took the hand that had been extended to her.

It wasn't long until she was finally feeling her lower limbs again (despite the pain that the so called pins-and-needles had caused), Sereia having remained sat on a boulder she had been guided to after a small walk around to rid herself of the prickly sensations. She had remained quiet as Pearl chatted to her; uncertain as to if the barmaid was talking to distract her or distract herself. The mermaid had kept her eyes downcast on her hands, which she had briefly washed in the same river Ambrose had occupied himself with minutes ago, allowing whatever talk that had gone on around her to wash over her as the water hand done over her hands.

She had wondered, momentarily, what it would be like to submerge her entire body in the river. She missed the cooling sensation of water rushing over her. Not like the water in the tank, which had been still and stagnant. But actual living and moving water. She knew it would be refreshing but also comforting, knowing that it would lead to a larger body of water elsewhere... perhaps even carry her all the way to the sea.

Not to mention, allowing herself to become lost in such thoughts kept her from anxiously glancing to Ambrose. Their short-lived interaction (and she would even argue tenderness) was difficult for her to forget so quickly. She was certain that the ghost of his touch against her cheek would tickle her for the rest of the day and even through the night. The concern she had glimpsed on his expression had been so different to the disgust and fear she had seen earlier in the morning, when they had gone to get the horses and she had mentioned her Song. How he had responded when she fell almost convinced her that something between them was possible.

However, even though she hadn't continuously looked at him, she was still aware that he had yet to focus his attention in her general direction since. Not to mention, she hadn't been asked once by him if she was alright.

"...We should press on, no?" Sereia finally spoke up, tucking some hair behind her ear as she fixed her gaze on the two men, "I have delayed us for long enough. You said we must make the village by nightfall, yes? So we should press on. Pearl can ride with Ben and I..." Her eyes flickered to Ambrose as she trailed off with the obvious, a burning sensation forming in her sternum at the new fear of being rejected. However, she pressed on, looking back to Ben and Pearl, "That should work fine, yes?"
 

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After everything that had occurred between the two, the last thing Pearl could have anticipated was Sereia willingly volunteering herself to share a horse with Ambrose; to sit in such close proximity to him for what remained of their current journey to Snowsfront. And yet, that suggestion was vocalised, the words sounding out and silencing the short words that Pearl had been on the verge of uttering herself.

She didn't have a complete grasp on everything that had happened between her friend and Sereia. She had a general understanding, a gist, but that was a slither in comparison to the full weight of the history that spanned the last few days. She wasn't party to the hatred that had bubbled and fuelled the cruellest of cutting insults; she hadn't been present when Ambrose abandoned the mermaid to the ruthlessness of Ryvell and his men. Pearl might have been told the stories and caught up on the incidents along the way, but she hadn't witnessed the full extent of the heartlessness Ambrose had found himself capable of, irrespective of his apparent reasoning behind adopting such a callous, cold attitude.

Yet Ben had. He had been there, every second, throughout the exchanges; witnessed with his own eyes the seething looks and spewed venom, which was why his eyes could only widen in shock that Pearl, with her limited first-hand experience, was simply incapable of feeling to that extent. Even Ben's understanding of the bond between the two, the innate pull that seemed destined to bring them together at some point, didn't settle that surprise - just because that bond existed and had been sparked into life didn't mean that there didn't also exist an inherent distrust, only heightened by Ambrose's continued coldness.

Why Sereia had settled on pushing herself into what he could only assume would be an uncomfortable situation was lost on him, but, recognising that it wasn't his place to argue (and quietly longing for a chance to share a horse with Pearl), Ben bit his tongue and nodded his agreement to such an idea.

"That would work," he confirmed aloud to vocalise the agreement, nodding for additional measure. He didn't want his momentary silence to be construed as an unwillingness to share the ride with Pearl when, on the contrary, he yearned for it more than he could ever admit to aloud - so if he had to go a little overboard in communicating his agreement to make up for it, he was more than willing to do so. His eyes quickly scanned Pearl for any resistance to Sereia's suggestion though he peered away just as swiftly, unable to analyse her expression when the fear of witnessing such discomfort or upset stung him too bitterly for him to (potentially) face it head on. "I think... it is the best idea, it makes the most sense--"

"You want to share with me?" Blurted Ambrose suddenly, his tone steeped with incredulity. Any coolness he might have been hoping to adopt after the events following Sereia's stumble seemed to evaporate, the instantaneousness of his shock dulling any attempt he had made to play out his bashfulness. With a brow arched in continued evidence of his surprise, his arms came to fold over his chest as he sought a genuine answer to his question because, like Ben, he struggled to comprehend just why she would come to suggest riding together, on her own volition.

...Though that confusion didn't stem from a place of disgust; there was no rejection on his expression or in his tone. If anything, his eyes had sparked with curiosity, an openness to the suggestion taking hold regardless of his effort to play everything off with a distinct degree of ideal coolness.

He eventually laughed beneath his breath, unable to vocalise his confusion in any other way beside a breathy chuckle. With a shake of his head to rid himself of further questions, he approached one of the remaining horses, resting one hand on the saddle as the other came to reassuringly pet the animal stood before him.

"C'mon then," was all he was able to mutter after a further few seconds had passed by, a quick glance sent over his shoulder in Sereia's direction, albeit one that had been accompanied by a smirk. The expression might have existed on his features against his own knowledge, occurring naturally in his bewildered amusement at their current scenario, but, even when his mind caught up to it, he lacked the desire to forcefully remove it. No, instead, he leaned into the strange feeling of... merriment, his smile only seeming to widen the more he dwelt on what had caused it in the first place.

"You need a hand up on the horse? Don't want you falling back on your ass again, do we?" He continued as he adjusted his body enough to be able to peer at her from a side-stance, a hand held out in her direction - the words may have been teasing in nature but there was a genuine offer extended amongst them, as his offered hand served to prove. "Or you can ignore my help an' struggle up on the horse yourself. I just won't stifle a laugh when you go flying over the side of it again."
 
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Standing opposite him and besides the horse, Sereia looked up at him as she faced him full on. He had baffled her further by his incredulous reaction, one that was simply just that with no hint of disgust or disappointment or irritation. The smirk on his lips was not the same as the ones she had seen previously, full of cruel amusement as he revelled in her discomfort as he once did on his precious ship. He actually looked... strangely pleased. A complete juxtaposition to what she originally thought his reaction would be.

His tone was equally as light and teasing, offering to her a side of him that she knew she hadn't been allowed to see before. However, while she felt warmed to finally be granted the opportunity to see that side of him, Sereia was hesitant to provide such easy going comments in return. He had been temperamental at best the last two days or so and she was reluctant to fully let go of all that had happened. Yes, she had been the one to take a step in wanting to see if something could be salvaged, but she was still hesitant to fully commit given his changes in mood and decisions.

She was willing to have a conversation with him, to find out what he wanted - especially as she wasn't about to force herself or the bond she knew they shared onto Ambrose. Yet was prepared to get hurt and to have to close herself off again. If that was the case, she would prefer to keep herself mostly a mystery to him. He had already taken so much from her, she wasn't ready to compromise her true self too.

Instead of reacting and telling him to watch his jovial tone considering she was the last person he ought to be teasing and trying to joke with, Sereia kept her lips firmly sealed. Whatever had put him into this mood, she wasn't wanting to ruin it just yet.

The mermaid reached out for his hand, the action tentative and halting until her own finally rested within his. "I would rather not fall again. It did hurt a little last time." She finally commented, the faintest of smiles flickering onto her lips, "And I have ruined Pearl's... jumper? I forget what she called it. Either way. I would like to not re-enact my fall." Sereia then paused, a faint twitch of her hand causing it to tighten briefly around his, "Can I trust you to help keep me safe?"
 

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The earnestness at the heart of the mermaid's request did momentarily catch Ambrose off guard, the levity he was keen on continuing to promote subsequently faltering as a result. Experiencing a bombardment of different emotions, some diametrically opposed to the ones they succeeded, within such a slim timeframe did feel a little like whiplash, the consequences of it being difficult to wrap his head around - though the luxury of time to do so wasn't exactly something he possessed.

Instead, he put aside the strangeness behind the switching emotions at play and focused primarily on the one that arose from her most recent remarks - however difficult it also was to contend with the response those had on him. Vulnerability wasn't something that Ambrose often allowed himself to accept he felt, let alone ever allow to visibly show to those around him. He prided himself on being precisely who everyone saw him to be, without pretence or falsities, but there were elements, for whatever reason or justification, he preferred he keep behind a veneer - namely the aspects of him that served as proof for the fact he wasn't as tough, as invulnerable and impenetrable, as he liked to make himself out to be.

He certainly didn't want anyone witnessing him caught up in feelings that he struggled to accurately comprehend; feelings that were strong, overpowering and intense but... uncomfortable. He didn't necessarily despise feeling caught in them but they were... too new, too innate for him to really understand - and not understanding them was what brought on his discomfort the most. He knew what they were borne from, wasn't naive to the fundamental attraction and the growing surge of emotion powering it, but understanding it, accepting it, was... a difficult task; one that only served to ache his brain more than was presently needed.

None of it dissuaded him from offering a smile and aiding her journey up onto the horse. He could have chosen to once again distance himself from Sereia, determined to detach himself from the transitioning feelings towards her and the threat of them developing further into something that scared him, but what was the point? It seemed inescapable at this point that the emotions from their apparently innate bond were destined to come to the fore - why make his life more difficult, Sereia's more upsetting, by fighting against that?

"You can trust me to try my damn hardest; I can promise 'ya that," he instead chose to respond, a firm nod offered as proof that, behind the lightness of his response, there existed a fierce determinism to honour that promise. "So long as you promise me the same too 'cos you ain't some defenceless thing needing protection twenty four-seven, right? You don't need me treating you like some doll that's gonna break into pieces. If some bastards come out the woods an' run up to me when my back's turned, I wouldn't say no to you letting a ballad out an' cutting their attack short. That, or just letting loose and throwing a fist at their faces. Either will do; I ain't too fussy. Just so long as my ass is saved at the end of the day, yeah? I think-- we can both help each other out like that. Keep one another safe."

Aware that, during his impromptu speech, he had ceased all action and found himself entirely transfixed on the mermaid, Ambrose rubbed the back of his neck and awkwardly averted his gaze, as though that would somehow erase the preceding few seconds of uninterrupted, deeply connected eye contact, the intimacy of the moment only heightened by the natural smile that had come to rest on his lips.

"Ah-- we'll get a move on. Got a fair way to go before we get to where we're headed for the night," he mumbled, not quite as confidently as he would have liked as he, with considerable ease, took his place on the steed in front of Sereia. "...You might wanna hold on like you did with Pearl; put your arms around my waist or somethin'," he directed quietly back at her, the awkwardness from his earlier interaction still dominating. "...Don't want you goin' falling off when we pick up speed."
 
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"Until my strength is back, Ambrose, I am afraid I am just that. A defenceless thing, as you say. A fragile doll." Sereia said quietly into his ear once she was steady on the horse. She hadn't wished to interrupt him and ruin whatever it was that was keeping him fixated on him. She wasn't sure when he would look at her like that again after speaking so firmly and assuredly; giving her his promise. It was once more a mild shock to see such positive emotion on show, such determination to protect her given all that had happened just days earlier. And then also the go ahead to use her Song despite the conversation they had hours before and the disgust he had not so subtly felt.

Yet it warmed her. It would any merperson, to hear their destined mate speak so passionately about keeping them safe. But also that he wouldn't care about the lengths she would go to in order to keep him safe.

However, she had to remind him that she was in no place to protect anyone, at least not yet. Her lack of proper sleep and food since being captured meant that her strength was not as it was. She felt as feeble as she imagined a human babe would be. There was her Song, yes. But if someone were to creep up on them and gag her before she could make use of such a talent... then what good would she be? So she needed him to look after her. She needed all of them to look out for her. So she could look out for them later on in their journey with one another.

"As soon as I have my strength again... you will have my promise. You, nor Ben or Pearl, will have anything to fear so long as I am able to fight for you." She paused, considering her words and the loyalty that was pungent within them. It made her cheeks redden and she was grateful to be behind him.

She felt silent afterwards, allowing the heat to die from her cheeks as she reflected on the moment they just had. She didn't dare look across to Ben and Pearl (although she was curious to see how they were getting along for other reasons). It would be a few minutes longer before she came to realise she hadn't yet done as he had directed: put her arms around his waist. That was one part of the ride she hadn't considered before daring to see his reaction in her desire to ride with him.

Physical closeness.

Yes, they had been somewhat close before. Perhaps, properly, twice. Once when he had carried her over his shoulder to his room only a day into her capture and then the second time when carrying her away from Ryvel and his men. Either way, neither had overly sentimental or fond memories for her. The first time she had fought and struggled, hammering fists into his back (which was probably the strength of which a human woman would use given she had been left out to dry with no food or water overnight... and it had been very cold). The second she had fallen asleep, that innate bond convincing her body it was finally okay to rest.

Never had they had a physical interaction in which they were both awake, alert and feeling somewhat positive emotions. So it spooked her, leaving Sereia confused and uncertain with how to progress. She knew she needed something to steady her, given the way she felt so unnatural on the horse. And he had given her permission... she was simply anxious.

After a few more minutes, the mermaid eventually conceded and tentatively held his shirt at his sides. Her fingers clutched onto the fabric tightly but ensuring to pull it away from his skin so she didn't catch it by accident. A few strides later, her fingers released his shirt and her hands slid across his sides and stomach to meet in the middle. There, her fingers intertwined, locking themselves in place at the centre of his stomach. It pulled her forward, her chest against his back and forced her head to turn sideways. She looked the opposite side to Ben and Pearl, wanting to keep an eye out on that side (really she just still couldn't dare to look at Ben and Pearl), and her cheek pressed against the spot between his shoulders, just near the base of his neck.

There was a lingering scent of salt on his clothes and skin, which made homesickness rear its head for Sereia as the mermaid's arms momentarily tightened before loosening. The brine scent of seaweed and the ocean was a part of him, she thought, leaving her to wonder if it would ever wash out.

"How long have you been at sea?" Sereia murmured, not lifting her head from his shoulder, "You seem so young yet seem to have the experience of a man twice your age."
 

potassiumboron

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The request wasn't made out of some inner desire to bring forth a physical connection - at least not primarily. Perhaps an innate part of him, the part ignited by the revelation that his soul was apparently linked to the mermaid behind him, longed for that sort of contact; yearned for the warmth and the closeness of his mate, even if he wasn't yet in a position to readily voice such a longing. As such, he refused, inwardly, to lend too much attention to that idea, filing it away as something not to spend too much time contemplating under such pressing times.

Instead, he justified the request as the wise thing to do during a ride. It made sense to ask her to hold on, to encourage her to wrap her arms around him from behind and lean in close as the steed they were journeying on began its departure under Ambrose's command. That was the main reason, the need for her to remain safe and as unharmed as was possible; to ensure that their continued journey went without a hitch.

But he would be lying to himself, and to anyone that theoretically asked, if he said that there weren't advantages to the proximity that satisfied parts of him he preferred to keep locked away and ignored (because life was just simpler not giving them attention). He would be entirely untruthful if he said he didn't enjoy the closeness; hadn't silently dwelled on a moment like this ever since his mind had become aflame with emotions towards Sereia that weren't solely borne from irritation, judgement and annoyance. Ever since something shifted in his head and in his heart, ever since subsequent emotions of desire, interest and intrigue rose to the surface, he hadn't been able to prevent contemplations from taking place; from wondering how it felt to feel her touch on his skin, to take in her scent as she stood before him, to observe every fleck of colour in her eyes as she peered up at him--

Aware that he was just falling back into those contemplations -and just how dangerous it was for him to continually give attention to them-, Ambrose physically shook his head to himself as the journey finally resumed. Even as he made a mental note on how one of his contemplations was currently playing out, emerging as a reality he could never have imagined occurring so soon, he had to fight against dwelling on it, however difficult it was to ignore when her arms eased into a more comfortable position around him.

And it was even harder to ignore the instinctive satisfaction that innately hit him; the overwhelming power of the emotion that arose when he considered just how... natural it felt to have her so close; so near to him.

He didn't expect there to be conversation as the ride proceeded onwards and, not feeling the need to interrupt the surprisingly comfortable silence that had initially befallen them, Ambrose remained quiet as he encouraged the horse forward, the only alterations in his movement being the occasional glance to his side at their companions. Pearl leading the other horse with Ben sat beside her was a sight that made Ambrose smile to himself, an expression strengthened whenever Pearl's laughter rang out and something he presumed Ben had said to amuse her. That alone was all Ambrose needed, having no such need to replicate a conversation with his own rider.

It was that lack of expectation that led him to surprise when Sereia spoke up, though the surprise didn't solely explain his prolonged silence. No, that cause was the content of her words; the personal question that he had never truly had to answer before - because nobody had asked him it. It was a generally broad one, something someone might have enquired over a drink, but... they never had, and as a result, Ambrose had no readily available answer to rattle off; one rehearsed and separated from the emotion that he now found had sprung up as he thought through his past for the answers the mermaid sought.

He didn't need to give them, of course. He could snort derisively at her enquiry, scoff arrogantly and simply utter that she had no right to know such a thing - but he didn't. It might be well within expectation for such a reaction but whatever had shifted between them, however minute or minimal, was enough that he didn't want to disrupt the ease that -perhaps temporarily- existed between them. He wanted to maintain it, encourage it, and if that meant providing her with a slither of sincerity, a slice of his personal past, so be it. It was a sacrifice worth its benefits.

"Since I was a teenager; I had my boat when I was 17, believe it or not. Just a boy when I began, leadin' men into the seas. Some double my age. I've always had a quick tongue, a charm. Wasn't too hard to convince 'em I was the Captain they could trust," he murmured in return, a chuckle escaping him at how incredulous it was that he had succeeded as spectacularly as he had done, not only to convince his crew to follow him onto the seas but actively building a family, a true union, as the years progressed.

Granted, all that realisation did was make the pain of their betrayal reemerge and ruthlessly sting at him all over again, but he was quick to push it aside and proceed with the confessions, albeit lacking in some of the details - he wasn't prepared to admit how he got his hands on his ship, or the pent-up anger that had arisen over years of abuse he had endured rom the Navy men that had once owned it. Some things were best left hidden - for now.

"But I was on the seas long before that; started when I was a nipper. My father, my old Pa-- he was a fisherman. Whole family through the generations were. He used to take me out when I was a lad. Fell in love with the waves the moment I first saw 'em properly. It's in my veins, see. The sea; the ocean. 'S who I am. I-- I guess I don't 'ave to tell you that. You... get it, don't 'ya?"
 

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Pearl's laughter made Sereia's lips briefly pull up and the mermaid finally turned her head to look at the other two, if only for a moment. But seeing them both as they were was enough to convince Sereia that she had done the right thing in being Ambrose's riding companion for the rest of the journey, even if it didn't work out between herself and him. She could at least take some comfort in the knowledge that she had helped give the other two a nudge in being with one another.

The mermaid turned her head back to face the other direction, cheek gently pressing against Ambrose's back as she settled once more to continue listening to his response. The smile faded as she thought to the men that he spoke rather fondly off, expression becoming passive as her own thoughts drifted to their betrayal.

She had no knowledge, of course, of how Ambrose was as a captain. He could have been hard and cold and cruel for all she knew, yet something told her different. The way that Ben had spoken about him in the past. The fact that Pearl was a dear friend of his, to a point where the woman was with them now on this journey (or rather, the run for their lives). She had witnessed a few times how he was with his crew, including the gentle firmness he showed with Daniel, the young boy she had convinced to give her a shirt.

So it made it all the more difficult for her to comprehend why they would be so heartless to a man who had treated them so well in the past. Although, her tying to comprehend and understand their actions was a way to try and ignore the guilt that was beginning to grow. As she could only believe that there was one reason why they abandoned him in such a way.

Deciding not to focus on the answer of why they left him behind, Sereia zoned back in onto him to listen to the rest of his response.

"Then it is crazy to think that you had never come across someone like me before now then." Sereia answered quietly, thinking about it for a moment herself, "All those years out at sea, right in the depths of the ocean... but I suppose we do try to avoid being near ships these days. We never know which have cannons or nets or those... those big spears." Her brow furrowed at the idea of what would be harpoons, a shiver running down her spine as she recalled one horrific memory of a merman having died because of one going straight through his upper tail. His body had been brought back by other foragers who had been out with him.

"Or any other creature, for that matter." She hurriedly continued, not wishing to dwell on such a memory for too long. "What made you not wish to be a fisherman like your father? It is more... noble than being a pirate, no?" Her question was not one wishing to cause offense, and that was reflected in her tone, which was curious as she tried to learn more about him. And humans in general. "Fishermen, they... go, mind their own business. They are on quieter boats too. Smaller. Safer too... apart from the nets."