The idea was to leave Gislan as soon as possible to give the Forces less time to zero in on James. Louisa seemed in support of Baylor's idea to leave "certain people" behind, but she put him in charge of telling Johanna. She said she would have nothing to do with it.
So, while Cyrus pulled Erestina aside to inform her that she would be staying at the complex, Baylor asked to speak with Johanna privately. Johanna seemed nervous at this notion, but she nodded and followed Baylor away from the cart where they would be theoretically out of earshot.
They weren't: Johanna's enraged reaction to Baylor's decision was loud enough for everyone to hear, and probably would have been loud enough regardless of how far away they were standing.
"How can you even think about leaving me behind?" Johanna shouted angrily.
James aimed not to watch, but he couldn't help it. He, along with just about everyone else, tried to discreetly observe the scene, acting as though they couldn't hear what was transpiring.
Baylor glanced briefly at the crowd which had formed, and tried to be delicate with Johanna's feelings. He began to say something quietly to her, but she screamed something incoherent to him. Her interruption seemed to be enough to try his patience because he immediately met her volume with, "I'm not going to argue this with you."
Even though he said it loudly, he said it calmly.
"He generally speaks tenderly to her," Louisa told James. "He cares for her."
"She cares for him," James added.
"I know," Louisa said, rolling her eyes. "The two of them just can't really come to figure it out, though."
"Is it the same kind of care for both of them?" James asked.
"Actually, to be honest, I think Johanna is much more aware," Louisa said as they watched the two, now standing in front of each other absolutely silently. "I think she's just waiting desperately for one day for Baylor to suddenly whip around, scoop her up in her arms and then…"
She mimed a spin with another person and dipped the imaginarily partner.
"And kiss her," she finished, standing up straight again.
"You think Johanna's in love with Baylor," James decided finally.
"I don't think it," said Louisa, rolling her eyes. "It's so obvious. He's the only one stupid enough not to notice."
"I want to go!" Johanna suddenly shouted, and then looked back at Louisa. "Louisa, do something! Baylor says I have to stay here!"
"Daigh has a good point," said Louisa even though she didn't want to be brought into this discussion in the first place. "You'll definitely be safe here."
"Was this your idea, James?" Johanna practically demanded.
"No," said James. "Of course not."
"Because I am a good fighter!" said Johanna. "I fought the Forces in the Mines! Baylor, you know that!"
"Jo, to an extent, yes, you are a good fighter," said Baylor. "But there are very high stakes right now. We've found a safe place for you to stay, and I want you to stay here for just a few days, maybe a week. You can spend some time practicing on your skills and by the time we get back, maybe you'll have improved."
"Yeah right," said Johanna, looking as though she was going to burst into tears. "That's convenient, isn't it? I don't want to wait around here! I want to go with you guys!"
"Too bad," said Baylor, sounding somewhat harsh.
Johanna spun around to hit him across the face, but he was prepared for her assault and immediately took her wrist, then her other wrist and held them in place.
"How dare you!" Johanna exclaimed.
"I should have just let you smack me?" Baylor questioned.
"No, you should just let me come along," she whined. There were now tears forming in her eyes. "I'm not useless. I'm not just a girl who needs to be protected. I can fight! I can be strong! I can give everything I have and then do more after that! Please let me come!"
Baylor looked down when he realized he was still holding onto both of Johanna's hands, and then let her go. "No," he said. "You're staying."
Johanna put her hands over her face to keep herself from crying.
"Just think, Erestina will need someone to protect her anyway," said Louisa. "You're that person."
"Yeah right," said Johanna dismissively. "I am so not that person. This is beyond unfair. If I was a man, then you would take me along, wouldn't you?"
"Frankly, you're not doing us any good," said Baylor harshly. "You can't even think rationally when we're in stressful situations. You act prematurely. You argue and contradict us at any chance you can get. It's better for the team if you stayed here. Protect Erestina, and protect William."
"Protect William?" William questioned angrily. "Am I staying too, then?"
Everyone gave heavy sighs and went back into the explanation as Johanna crossed her arms and huffed away towards the complex. She stepped up onto the pathways and disappeared down the halls.
James watched and could see that no one was going to follow her, so he took it upon himself to go after her. She seemed to have instinctively made her way back to the room where Baylor had woken up after his long stint of unconsciousness. She sat down on the bed in a huff, staring at her feet, and then exhaustedly kicked her shoes off and lied down.
"You're going to bed?" James questioned.
"I might as well," said Johanna. "I'm going to be stuck here after all. I've got nothing else to do."
"You've got plenty to do," said James.
"No, I don't!" Johanna said as she stood back up, looking even smaller when she was not wearing her boots. "I have been trying for years to become the type of fighter Baylor would be able to count on, but he's not ever going to see me in that kind of way. No, it's just because he sees me as the little girl who had to be told that her older brother was killed. Yeah, that older brother who is actually her dad." Johanna frowned and nearly collapsed back on the bed. "Yeah, makes sense."
"Johanna…" said James slowly as he sat down on the edge of the bed where she was lying. "I think you just have to see things out of his eyes. He's trying to keep as many people safe as possible. The fact that any of us have to come along has got him all freaked out. You'll be here with Erestina and William."
"But I don't want to be here," Johanna said softly. "I want to be…you know. I want to be with him. I want to be by his side. I want him to see me more than just a little girl cause I'm not a little girl anymore am I, James?"
"No, I don't think so."
"But you act like one," came Louisa's voice as she poked her head in the room.
At first, Johanna looked angry that Louisa would interrupt, but once she realized Louisa was there to offer a hug, she graciously stood and dove into to older woman's arms.
"I know you're feeling a lot of everything right now," said Louisa. "But you have to work through them. This might be a good time to do that. Just stay here for a few days. We'll be back soon enough when we have to go to Cyanyanka. And, maybe by that time, Daigh will realize that he actually does want you by his side. At least, rest assured, there's no competition. I don't think Daigh's actually on the look out for any potential love interest right now."
Johanna turned bright red and pushed Louisa away. "That's not it!" She looked at James and her redness deepened.
"It's all right, Jo, we all know," said James with a casual shrug. His action made him wince a little bit as the pain in his chest flared up.
Johanna was a little too eager to redirect the attention and immediately asked, "What's wrong, James? Did you hurt yourself?"
"Don't bother yourself worrying about him, he's a baby," Louisa advised Johanna before James could respond and explain.
"Hey," James said with feigned offense.
Louisa suppressed a smile and faced Johanna again. "Now put your boots back on and come outside to say goodbye to everyone."
"Fine," Johanna said, rolling her eyes. "But I won't say goodbye to Baylor."
"All right, you can kick him in the neck or something," Louisa suggested.
"Surprisingly, that would be really satisfying," Johanna groaned.
"Come on, James, I have to talk to you really quickly," said Louisa, gesturing for James to follow as Johanna sat down to put her boots on. James felt awkward as Louisa tugged him along and into the hallway, walking quickly back towards the exit where the others were obviously waiting.
"What's this about?" James questioned finally.
"I need you to kiss Princess Erestina goodbye," Louisa said, stopping him once they reached the pathways.
"What?" James practically demanded as he checked over his shoulder to make sure Johanna wasn't standing right there. "Why would you ask me to do that?"
"I'm not asking you to do it, I'm telling you to do it," Louisa said. "I don't mean I want you to make-out with her or feel her up or anything, you just have to kiss her on the cheek all reassuring and manlike. It will put her at ease and she'll finally start talking about something else."
"What do you mean?"
"The whole time you were at the Shrine, she was constantly saying, I wonder if James is all right, and all that. While we're on the topic, don't tell her you're injured either. She would probably drop dead from panic or something."
James groaned and shook his head. "I'm not going to lead her on just so she'll stop worrying about me. That's not fair to her, and it's really not fair to Cyrus."
Johanna suddenly came out onto the landing and looked at them skeptically. Louisa gave her a stern glare, so Johanna hesitantly continued walking and, once she was out of earshot, Louisa continued.
"Cyrus knows he's got no place courting the princess."
"That aside," said James with a frown. "I'm kind of thinking about this other girl I met. I don't know, we're not serious or anything, but I don't want—"
Louisa loudly moaned and put both her hands on James's shoulders, shaking him slightly as a way of saying, "Shut up, I don't care!" Instead, she said, "James, don't be such a baby. Again, I'm not telling you to go and marry her. Just give her something. Just like this."
She leaned over and kissed him lightly and briefly on the cheek, barely pausing a moment to let him process what she was doing. Then, she pulled away and let go of him.
"Okay?" she confirmed, standing up straight and crossing her arms. "See? Was that so shocking?"
"Fine," said James, still reluctant. "But you have to make sure Cyrus doesn't see me kiss her."
"I think I can do that," Louisa said unconvincingly.
"Louisa, he'll cut my head off," James warned her. "Then what?"
"All right, fine, I'll actively attempt to do what you're asking me to do," Louisa sighed as if it were a major inconvenience.
"You're not nearly as bothered by this as you should be," said James.
"Should I be bothered by it?" Louisa questioned.
"No, I guess not," said James.
"Now stop being an infant and come on," said Louisa as she took James by his arm and had to practically drag him back outside.
Despite Johanna's earlier proclamation that she was not going to say goodbye to Baylor, apparently she had pulled him off to the side to apologize for attempting to hit him. William was sitting on top of the carriage wearing a pout of epic proportions while watching his brother interact civilly with Johanna.
"I don't see why I have to stay behind," William grumbled.
"We'll be back soon enough," Raven assured him.
"Why does he get to suddenly walk into our lives and make all these new rules?" William demanded, gesturing his hand indignantly towards Baylor. "If I let all the slaves go like he says, then who will maintain all the land?"
"William, you always said that you didn't like slaves anyway," Raven pointed out.
"Cause they're dirty," William mumbled.
"Hey, our older brother was a slave here too," Raven reminded him. "For an entire year."
William's pout did not soften and he angrily looked away from her.
"You're just mad because you have to stay behind," said Raven, shaking her head at him and watching as Louisa and James came over.
"Are we mostly all set to go?" Louisa inquired of Cyrus who was only standing idly by with Erestina standing next to him.
"I suppose," Cyrus answered, perhaps a little confused as to why Louisa was asking him this.
"How many horses are we bringing?" Louisa continued.
"Two to pull the carriage, and then two others," Cyrus replied. "Luke's horse won't be able to carry many supplies, though."
"Is there any room inside the carriage for something I want to bring?" Louisa pressed.
"What do you want to bring?" Cyrus asked.
"Come inside," Louisa instructed. "You can carry it for me."
At first, Cyrus seemed a little disinclined to oblige, but he finally nodded. He briefly made eye contact with Erestina, as if to ask her if she wanted to come along, but of course the princess only leaned against the carriage and conveyed to him that she would wait for him where she was. Louisa winked discreetly at James who hesitantly tried to avoid her gaze, then she and Cyrus headed back to the complex.
A few uncomfortable moments passed as William and Raven continued to bicker amongst each other. When James raised his eyes to look up from the ground, he found Princess Erestina was staring directly at him. She did not shyly look away when their finally met eyes. In fact, she stood up a little straighter and cleared her throat, apparently waiting for this moment for a considerably long time.
"James," she said, clearing her throat a second time as the single word distinctly softened her voice. "I'm regretful that I will have to stay here while you continue your journey. I wish I could offer more useful assistance to you."
"We just want to do whatever we can to keep you safe," James said, trying to wrap up the conversation as quickly as possible. "Once we defeat Devin, we'll need to get you back on the Ailyth throne. If you stay here, you'll be safe from the Forces, and that's something we need more than anything else. That's the way you can help us the most, by being…safe."
He felt rather foolish for repeating the same word so many times, but Erestina seemed thoroughly satisfied with his apparent words of wisdom. She closed her eyes to take a deep breath, and James saw that as his quick opportunity to kiss her very briefly on the cheek. As he leaned in, her eyes opened, but she did not seem startled by what he was attempting to do. In fact, she deliberately turned her head to the side to intercept him with her lips. James withdrew without touching her, and then tried to redirect his friendly gesture to her other cheek, but she again turned to the side to kiss him on the mouth.
Awkwardly, he withdrew all together. She looked up at him with a hurt expression, unable to comprehend why she was being rejected. He hesitated a moment and put his hands on either side of her chin to hold her head in place, and then leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
When he lowered his hands, he initially thought if he didn't look at her, things wouldn't be embarrassing. But, as a result of her failed attempt to kiss him, the princess looked extremely ashamed. He was pretty sure that whatever ease he was supposed to be giving her while he was gone had been entirely unsuccessful. It was likely he had just done the exact opposite of what Louisa intended him to accomplish.
"Erestina—Princess Erestina, please don't be embarrassed," James said haltingly.
"It's all right," she said quietly. William turned his head to glance back at the two and see what had just transpired over the past thirty seconds, but Raven snapped at him not to bother them, which of course only proved that she was eavesdropping.
Thankfully, James was interrupted from any further humiliation when Johanna suddenly made herself known in a less-than-graceful manner, nearly tripping over as she and Baylor walked back over from their conversation.
"So it's going to be just the three of us," Johanna said, looking at William and eyeing Erestina as she came out from behind the carriage, perhaps solely to avoid being alone with James for any longer. "It won't be bad. It'll actually be kind of interesting. I've never been to Gislan before."
"You won't be going outside the barrier," said Baylor. "Any of you."
"I've lived here all my life," said William. "I go outside the barrier all the time."
"William, please," said Raven with an exasperated sigh.
"No, he can't make another rule for me," said William, hopping off the cart. "Why should I listen to him?"
"Because he's your older brother," said Raven.
"I'm not making this rule as your older brother," said Baylor. "It's a rule I've made as a member of the Prophecy attempting to keep the princess of a fractured nation alive. Understand?"
"And free the slaves. And don't draw energy from living things." William's tone was bitingly sarcastic. "Anything else?"
"Yeah, if anything happens to either of them, I will kill you."
James was taken aback by the statement which seemed very serious. The others were equally startled at the casual presentation of a death threat, prompting Baylor to raise his eyebrows at them.
"I'm kidding," he said as if it were supposed to be obvious.
"I knew that," said William, though he obviously didn't.
"Come here," Baylor ordered, opening his arms for William to hug him.
His younger brother seemed more than apprehensive to engage in this action, but once Raven gave him a little shove forward, he was basically forced into it. Once he was in Baylor's arms, he returned the gesture and then cautiously let go of him.
"Be safe," Baylor said. "My rules are to help you stay that way. When all of this is all over, we're going to be a family, I promise. All right?"
"All right," said William, still pouting, but sounding hopeful.
Raven then began her goodbyes with William as Johanna leaned into the carriage to bid farewell to Luke as well. James watched as Baylor wished the princess luck and told her to be careful above all other things and then, astonished, he watched as Baylor leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. He almost groaned after seeing the ease of it all, but withheld it at the last second.
It was then that Louisa came out of the complex with Cyrus in tow; he was caring an extravagant length of cloth which James immediately recognized as the same color of the curtains in the room they had stayed in. Of all the things for her to make an excuse about needing help to carry, she outrageously chose the curtains.
"Curtains? Really?" James questioned with a frown at Louisa.
"I really like this cloth," said Louisa as Cyrus stood next to her, rolling his eyes slightly that he was basically forced to pillage.
"You can't just take the curtains from the Angel!" said William, sounding beyond offended.
"She's dead," said Louisa. "What is she going to do?"
"Why do you even need that, Louisa?" said Baylor, putting his hand to his forehead, but looking somehow amused.
"I could probably make something out of it," Louisa mused. "I could make us all matching clothes. We'd all look very cute walking around in matching clothes."
"You don't sew," Baylor reminded her.
"And do we even have room for all this?" James said.
"I could put it back," Cyrus suggested, probably just not wanting to wear matching clothes.
"I think that would be best," Baylor said.
"Fine, whatever," said Louisa since she really didn't want it in the first place anyway.
"I'll come with you, Felix," said Erestina hesitantly without looking back.
"All right," said Cyrus.
He slung the curtains over his shoulder and headed back towards the complex as Louisa threw a piercing stare at James, perhaps sensing the unnecessary tension Erestina had expressed.
"As soon as Cyrus gets back, we're leaving," Baylor declared.
"Maybe it would be best if you all stayed at least a night to rest up," Johanna suggested optimistically even though she knew it was useless to even bring up. It was pretty obvious that she knew the answer was negative before she even asked it, so no one else felt as though they needed to justify it with an actual response.
So they stood in somewhat awkward silence until Cyrus came jogging out of the complex, but Erestina was not following him. He simply said that she didn't wish to say any further goodbyes because she thought it would upset her, and so therefore she decided to stay inside. James felt a little guilty, especially when Louisa glared at him again.
Johanna went around and hugged everyone once, trying to keep herself from crying and Baylor pulled the reins of the horse to turn the cart around. Raven and Louisa climbed inside the carriage where Luke was as Cyrus and James each mounted a horse to trot alongside the cart.
"Wait," Johanna requested as she ran to the front of the cart and put her hand on the seat next to Baylor.
"We have to move quickly," Baylor said.
"I know," Johanna said. She glanced at everyone for a few seconds, and then her eyes fell back to Baylor. She said something barely audible, so Baylor leaned over and asked her to repeat it. James peered at her curiously and she nodded, then looked right at Baylor and said, "I love you."
"I love you, too," Baylor said almost mechanically, an instantaneous response to Johanna's statement. "We all do."
Louisa peeked out of the back of the carriage and frowned.
Johanna vigorously shook her head. "No," she said. "Not like that. It's…I've never known how or when to say it so I'm just going to say it now. I love you. Like a woman loves a man. I love you."
The others went silent, and Baylor went near rigid. Johanna withdrew her hand and crossed her arms awkwardly, biting her lip and stepping back from the carriage.
"I just wanted you to know that before you left," she whispered. "I've wanted to say it all the times I've been left behind. I guess I just have the courage now."
She smiled weakly at James who couldn't help but feel proud of her, somehow.
"Johanna," Baylor started, but was clearly unsure how to proceed from there because he did not continue speaking. He looked quickly to Louisa who was still quietly observing, and she just shrugged. After some moments passed, he uneasily placed the reins down and climbed down from the cart where Johanna was standing.
She allowed him to approach her, keeping her eyes fixed on his. He was finally close enough to touch her and so he rested a hand on her shoulder. Gently, he intertwined her long black hair around his fingers, and then let her go. The gesture was something he had done hundreds of times before.
"Say something, or I'll just go on feeling embarrassed," she requested.
Baylor actually looked utterly stumped. As James watched, he felt as though he should say something, but he figured he'd remain quiet just to be safe. He looked at Louisa who was leaning over and observing intently, as if the scene unfolding before her was a dramatic production. Raven had a similar expression of amazement and, much to James's surprise, Cyrus was similarly intrigued. Baylor seemed to be stalling, waiting for someone to offer him some advice on how to proceed.
Finally, Louisa coughed, but her cough was clearly a disguise for the much needed advice Baylor was seeking. She distinctly instructed, Kiss her, in a muffled choke, which she promptly excused herself for. Baylor glared back at her for her failed attempt at subtlety, but Johanna tried to laugh a little bit.
"It's all right," Johanna said. "I'll wait. I'll wait right here, and when you guys come back like you said you would, then you can tell me what you think. I'll just wait until then."
Baylor nodded very slowly. Finally, he only said, "We'll come back. And you and I can talk then, all right?"
"Okay," Johanna said somberly.
Baylor put his hand back by his side and began to climb up onto the carriage. He stopped midway and faced Johanna again. Following a second of hesitation, and then he leaned over and kissed her lightly on the cheek. An outside might not have seen the implications of the kiss; in fact, it was a kiss identical to the one he gave Erestina only a few minutes earlier. He did not linger or offer an opportunity for her to return the gesture. The instant passed, and then Baylor pulled away from her and climbed back onto the cart.
"Let's go," Baylor muttered as he picked up the reins and urgently encouraged the horses to get moving. James caught sight of Louisa grinning as she returned to the inside of the cart.
They traveled progressively further away from the complex, moving at a fairly enthusiastic pace that would be ambitious to keep up for very long. James stopped briefly to check back as William entered the closest building of the complex, and Johanna remained where she stood. He imagined she would stand there until she couldn't see them anymore, and probably long thereafter.
He didn't know what Baylor's answer to her was going to be. He didn't know how long it would be until they returned to the complex. He didn't even know if it was the right decision to leave them behind.
But, he did know it would not be the last time he would see them. He knew he would be successful in his journey. He knew he would fulfill the destiny outlined in the Prophecy.
A/N: So believe it or not, that's the end of part 2!! omfg! Okay, so if there is demand, I'll begin a part 3. Let me know! :)