Actions

Work Header

Night Crawler at Portia

Chapter Text

Nothing of Jude Adams fits in the picture of Portia.
Bloodless pale skin, messy jet-black hair, same colored turtleneck shirt and pants, deep grey jacket. He might look like he just stepped out from a white and black picture if it's not for his fiery amber eyes. From certain angle they almost look like crimson colored. What's worse is that his totally unfriendly expression doesn’t help at all.
However unlikely the situation seems, there he is, standing at the doorstep of his father's old workshop and gazing at it with dark glare. The workshop, or more precisely, the shed that once was a workshop, looks unkempt and shabby from outside. Jude is sure that it must be the same on the inside, too. Weeds grow wildly in the yard and the fences are either broken or decayed.
"Um, you are Jude, right?" After about 5 minutes' silence, Presley finally decides to break it. "Your father wrote to me about you and your aunt. I'm deeply sorry about your losses. I can't imagine how you must feel right now."
"When did you last see my father?" Jude asks abruptly, like he wasn't listening to what Presley said before.
"You mean when did he left Portia? That must be 7 years ago. He stayed here for 2 years as a builder. Speaking of your father," Presley fumbles through his pocket and pulls out a letter, "he asked me to give you this letter when you arrive."
Jude does not take the letter immediately but stares at it with obvious loathe. The words "to my son" on the envelope are written in unmistakable untidy handwriting of his father. His writings always look like they have been scribbled down in a hurry. After a few seconds' staring he snatches the letter then crushes it in to a ball and throws it aside.
"What do you do that for?" Presley is taken aback.
"I'm not gonna listen to or read a word from that jerk before I punch him square in the face." Jude says expressionlessly in icy tone.
"How-How could you call your own father a jerk?" Now Presley is getting a little irritated. Although he's an experienced commissioner, he has rarely dealt with this kind of rudeness.
"I'll call him whatever I want." Without waiting for a response, Jude steps into the workshop and shuts the door, leaving Presley all speechless and dumbfounded. Looking at the crumbled letter on the ground, he even forgets to get angry with Jude.

 

Inside the workshop, Jude does not seem that cool any more. His eyes burning with anger and frustration but he tries to control himself. After taking several deep breaths, Jude sits down on the bed and looks outside through the window. He can see Presley turning back and walking towards the town's gate. The sun is setting down and casts a red glow on everything. The reddened town of Portia looks so unfamiliar to Jude: the statue of Peach in the fountain, grey brick sidewalks and buildings, blue and red rooftops, passing by strangers whom he could not recognize. Jude lies down and closes his eyes, waiting for the sun light to go completely out and letting uncontrollable thoughts run through his mind. His aunt, their workshop in Barnarock, the old days. Then the memories progress to the sad chapters, his father departing, his aunt falling sick, him struggling through everyday afterwards.
Jude suddenly feels very lonely and has the urge to cry but he holds it back. The house is quite small but feels so empty at the moment. Jude thinks it's probably because there's nothing but the bed and several holes on the floor in here. Then he remembers he left his baggage outside but feels too lazy to get up and go get it. The journey from Barnarock to Portia was quite tiring, he thinks. Slowly, he falls asleep in his new bed.

 

By the time Jude wakes up again, it's already next day morning. The sun light shoots straight in his face that he cannot open his eyes without covering them by hands. Suddenly a sharp pain emerges from his temple and harshly pokes at his still fuzzy nerves.
"What the hell?" Jude rubs the painful temple and gets up. He notices the holes on the floor. "Wind must has got in from those. Gotta fix'em..." Mumbling to himself, Jude rolls off his bed and stands up. A new day has started.

 

The commerce guild is not hard to find at all since it's basically the first thing you could see when you are about to enter the town's gate. Jude checks his pocket watch and finds out it's only half past 7. According to the info plate the guild is not open until 8.
Jude slides his pocket watch back into pocket and sighs. He feels kind of bad for what he did yesterday. Not about crushing his father's letter into a ball of course, Jude could do that again if he gets another right now. Shutting door in a kind stranger's face is not something that Jude would be so proud of doing. He regrets about how he talked to Presley, too. Jude is used to being a jerk to jerks, but not to non-jerks. Absentmindedly wandering around, Jude sighs again and decides to apologize next time. It seems to be the only right thing to do to amend this.
"I've never seen you around. So, you must be the new builder." Jude stops and briefly looks at the man with squinting eyes in front of him. "I'm Higgins the number one builder of Portia. You will have no chance against me. Just take my kind advice and go back to where you are from." Even idiots could tell that this Higgins belongs to the category of jerk. Jude simply continues his wandering like he didn't hear or see a thing.
"Hey! I am talking to you!" Higgins raises his voice but in vain, Jude just ignores him. Instead, Jude checks his pocket watch again, it's 7:55 now. Another 5 minutes.
"Are you deaf or something?" Higgins says incredulously. Jude shots him a side look which seems only irritates him more. "Why you little-"
"Higgins, are you picking on the new builder?" A soft voice comes from behind them. It's a young man in a purple dress shirt whose hair is dyed pink on the top and rest blonde.
"Antoine! This guy is impossible! He-"
"Now now, don't get all worked up. I'll open the guild now, why don't you go in and pick some commission?"
“Hmph!" With one last irritated glare at Jude, Higgins enters the guild as Antoine holds it open for him.
The door closes, and Antoine turns to Jude. "You must be the new builder I've been hearing so much about from Presley." Jude rubs his neck nervously at the mentioning of Presley whom he still feels guilty towards. "Hehe, don't worry about it. He said he wasn't really mad at you though he still wanted a talk. Why don't you go to that cafe over there and meet with him now? He usually goes there to relax every morning before work." Antoine gestures towards the cafe on the slope in distance. "I'm Antoine by the way, I work at the guild. We'll probably be seeing each other a lot, teehee."
"Thanks." Jude says in a volume hardly higher than a whisper and heads to the cafe.
Antoine stands there and watches behind him. "Hmm, what a new builder. Things are gonna get interesting in Portia."

 

Presley is reading today's newspaper while enjoying his morning coffee when Jude approaches. Noticing someone standing in front of his table, Presley shifts down the newspaper a bit and looks up.
"Ah, it's you." Presley smiles warmly and put the newspaper on table. "Please take a seat."
Jude sits down in the opposite seat and Presley orders another coffee.
“You don’t have to. “Jude tries to stop him.
“I Insist.”
The order is taken. Jude fidgets a little bit and rubs his neck, then finally decides to speak. "About yesterday, I, eh," His index finger runs uneasily across the pattern on the table cloth while his eyes are transfixing on it, too. "I'm sorry." Jude finally says in a low voice. "I've got some problems to deal with and shouldn't have taken it out on you. It's not fair."
Presley is a little surprised and then widens his smile. "Jude, I understand. It must be a hard time for you right now and I know you didn’t mean to act like that. No matter what kind of problem you have with your father, I believe we could sort it out later.” Jude frowns but doesn’t comment. “Anyway, I hope you will feel at home in Portia after you have everything settled down. I’m sure you can meet a lot of friendly faces here.”
“Not that guy with squinting eyes.” Jude suddenly says.
“Ah, so you’ve met Higgins. Yes, he can be a little, well, competitive. Sometimes I don’t agree with his ways of doing things but he is not a bad person. Every builder in Portia has to get commissions from the commerce guild so there’s no way avoiding him. Just work hard and you will beat him in ranking someday!”
“I’m not interested in being the top one.” Jude turns his head away and looks at the vast green field in distance. It’s still early spring, the wind is chilly but slightly warm. He suddenly feels so at peace. “My aunt, when she was still healthy and strong, dedicated everything to her work. Even disease could not stop her from working until she collapsed.” Jude stops for a few seconds and continues. “She said the Adams had always been the top builders that she couldn’t fail the family’s name. I never understood her for that and I never will.” Jude turns back. “I think I’m still trying to figure out what kind of builder I want to be.”
Silence falls again. Jude begins to study the decoration in the cafe and Presley feels a little bit speechless. All these years he’s been giving young builders pep talks about hard working but rarely, no, never got response like this. Thinking about this amuses him somehow and he can’t help but chuckle. Jude looks back at him questioningly.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You sure are a very different young man, Jude. I’m looking forward to the answer you might find, too.”
Jude simply nods and does not say a thing but Presley can tell his mood has lightened up a little bit.
“Here’s your coffee, enjoy.” The coffee is served by a waitress.
“Thank you. The coffee here is pretty good. Give it a try, Jude.”
Without adding sugar or milk, Jude takes a sip. “It’s good.”
They enjoy their coffee in silence. Presley figures Jude wouldn’t like to be engaged in regular small talks so he leaves him in peace and picks up his newspaper to keep reading. Jude very much appreciates Presley for leaving him alone and takes his time to observe the main street of Portia. He likes to memorize every detail of his surroundings.
After they’ve both finished their coffee, Presley checks his watch and it’s almost 10.
“It’s time for me to head to the guild. Come with me, Jude. I’d like to give you some simple tests before issuing you a builder license. I believe you still don’t have a license now, do you?”
“No. I worked only as an apprentice at my aunt’s workshop.”
“Good. Then you must have a lot of experience. These tests might be too easy for you.”

 

It’s only half an hour later when Jude comes back with crafted items for the tests.
“That was fast. Such an efficient builder.” Antoine says and occasionally sneaks several glances at Jude with curiosity.
“And of top quality! These are no work of a starter. I would say they are made by an expert builder!”
“So I passed?” Jude says in the same impassive tone.
“Of course! I already have the paperwork prepared. Now you just need to come up with a name for your workshop.”
“A name?” Jude frowns like he’s never thought about it.
“Every workshop needs a name, silly.” Antoine seems a little amused. “You’ve worked at a workshop before, right? What’s its name?”
“Just Adams Workshop, it was a family business.” Jude shrugs.
“Well, now you have a workshop of your own. You can name it in your style.”
“In my style, huh?” Jude repeats with interest. This sounds fun. Several names immediately appear in his mind and Jude contemplates for a bit to decide which one to pick while stroking his chin.
“Devil Anvil.” He finally decides.
“What? Devil Anvil?” Presley is caught off guard. “Are you sure about that?”
“Aw, don’t be a grandpa, Pres.” Antoine chuckles. “It’s a cool name.”
“Yes, it is.” Jude is quite pleased with himself for coming up with such a great name.
“If you say so.” Presley says, a little disapprovingly. “You can change it any time at my desk.”
“That’s not gonna happen.”
“Alright, then.” Defeated, Presley writes down ‘Devil Anvil’ in the blank after ‘Workshop Name’ on the registration paper. “Now if you will sign here… and here… “Jude does as told.
“All done. Now you have officially become a builder of Portia! Congratulations and welcome.” Presley holds out his hand and Jude shakes with him.
“Congrats!” Antoine shakes hands with Jude, too. “Too bad there’s no more commission for you to take at this moment. “He gestures towards the empty bulletin board. “Normally there would still be some commissions left at this time, but Higgins took all of them this morning while I wasn’t looking.”
“That Higgins.” Presley sighs. “I’m afraid you have to come back tomo-“
The door is kicked open and a man barges in.
“Hey, Pres. I have a new commission for you!”

 

End of Chapter 1

 

 This is how Jude looks like! (I finally figured out how to insert art.)

 

Chapter Text

A gloomy looking dude. This is the first impression Arlo has of Jude.
Captain Redhead. This is the title that appears in Jude’s head at the first sight of Arlo.
“This is…” Arlo looks at Jude and Jude averts his eyes. He generally does not like eye contacts, especially with strangers.
Presley introduces. “Jude, this is Arlo. The leader of Portia’s Civil Corps.” So he really is a captain. Jude nods mentally at his perceptiveness. “Arlo, this is Jude. The new builder in town. He just arrived yesterday.”
“Oh, yeah. The new builder. You’ve mentioned before. Well, nice to meet ya I guess.”
Jude simply nods while studying his bandana.
Does not seem to be a social type. Arlo takes a mental note.
“Anyway, we’re looking to build a bridge to Amber Island.”
“So the Mayor finally put up the money? Well! Young builder here is up for the challenge.” They both look at Jude and he nods again.
“Are you sure you can handle this?” Arlo eyes him doubtfully. The deep shadow under Jude’s eyes against his pale skin gives him a somehow gaunt look. He looks more like a dark wizard or necromancer than a builder.
Jude shoots an impatient look at him but says nothing.
“Of course. Jude is a very skillful builder indeed. We’ve seen his work earlier. Right, Antoine?” Presley reassures.
“Oh, yes. He certainly is.” Antoine chuckles behind the counter.
“If you say so.” Still has doubt with him, Arlo hands the commission paper to Jude. “Here you go then.”
Jude takes the paper then leaves the guild without a word.
“Not only bad at greeting, he doesn’t know how to say goodbye either.” Arlo comments after the door’s closed.
“Despite his manners, Jude is actually a nice kid.” Presley smiles.
“We’ll see about that.” Arlo says, not quite convinced.

 

After the workshop is officially set up, Jude has gradually developed his daily routine in Portia. Wake up at noon, go to the guild and pick up whatever commission that’s still remained on the board, then back home until sunset, out again to deliver the commission, rest is up to the mood that day. To the town people, they have got used to ocassionally receive their commissioned items by a silent builder after the sun light’s gone. Some of them, for example Martha and Carol, think Jude as cold and rude therefore tell their children to stay away from such a bad influence. Others are satisfied with the quality and speed of their completed commissions and simply regard him as a shy new comer that doesn’t easily open up. Well, with eccentric manners, too. As for Jude, he couldn’t care less about what the town people think of him.
Right now, he is enjoying his quality contemplating time during the quiet hours of night, sitting against the huge tree that grows in the graveyard. After spending a few nights strolling around Portia, Jude concluded that even in midnight there’s still quite huge a risk of encountering people returning home from Roundtable on the streets of Portia. The best spot where he can find total solitude is naturally the graveyard. Wilderness is out of option though, Jude does not want to be attacked by some nocturnal monsters.
The moon’s gone tonight. Away from the lights emitted from remote houses, the star light of countless stars is undisturbed and bright. Jude looks up at the starry night sky and hums starless and bible black in his head. Somehow this tune just comes into his head at the moment and he finds it kinda funny to think of Starless while sitting under so many stars.
When he’s relishing the imaginary saxophone tune, a strong voice suddenly calls from behind.
“Who’s there!”
“HOLY CRAP! I almost got a heart attack!” Jude yells almost immediately.
Startled and annoyed, Jude rolls up and steps out behind the tree. He stares at the dark figure of a tall male, it’s too dark to make out anything else.
“Don’t move! Who are you? I don’t recognize your voice!” It’s same for Arlo, too. He can merely tell a male of middle-height is standing several steps before him and he’s trying to recall if he has ever met anyone that this person is likely to be.
“I recognize yours though, Captain Redhead.” After the first shock has died down a little bit, Jude regains some of his composure. Out of irritation he remembers this man is the Civil Corps leader he has briefly met during the day of registration.
“What?” Arlo sounds confused.
“I don’t remember your name.” Jude sighs, he hardly ever remembers any names. “You are the leader of Civil Corps in Portia.”
“That I am.” Arlo says and folds his arms. “Who might you be?”
“I’m the new builder.” Self-introduction is one of the things that Jude hates most but under current circumstance there is just no way out. Reluctantly, he adds. “Well, I’ve been here for about 3 weeks now, so technically I’m not new, just a builder.”
“There’s a new builder in town?” Arlo responds incredulously then it occurs to him that there really was one and he has even met him. “Ah, that gloomy looking dude.” He clasps his hands. “You haven’t said a word to me last time, no wonder I couldn’t recognize your voice.”
“Took you long enough.” Jude murmurs. It does sound like it’s partly his fault. Only partly though.
“How come I never saw you after that day? And what are you doing here in the graveyard at this time?”
“Well, for your first question, I don’t come out much during the day so you probably just missed me.” Great, more inquiries. Jude thinks sarcastically. “As for the second, it’s none of your business.”
“What? Were you preparing some dark art ritual that can’t be told?” Decides that he’s not dealing with any dangerous unknown outsider, Arlo eases down. Despite the rude response, he somehow just feels like to joke with Jude.
Jude falls silent for a sec to let the joke sink in. “Ha ha, very funny.” Then he turns around to leave.
“Hey, where are you going?” Arlo follows.
“Home.” Jude answers flatly.
“Let me escort you back.”
“Huh? Why?” Jude turns to him, taken aback.
“I have to make sure you aren’t up to anything funny.” Arlo pauses. “Like summoning evil spirits and raising the dead and stuff.” He then laughs to himself.
“I wish I could.” Jude rolls his eyes but no one can see that in the dark.
“Seriously though, I have to ensure the safety of a citizen.”
“What’s so unsafe about me walking back on my own? Zombies are gonna crawl out from their graves and get me?”
“You don’t say. I did see some zombie like monsters during my adventures before. You can never be too careful.”
“If zombies invade, I’ll just be a good shut-in and keep myself from anything with teeth.”
“I have no problem imagining that.”

 

The conversation goes on like this till they reach Peach Plaza and stop under the street lamp. Seeing the dimly lit figure of Arlo makes Jude realize that he hasn’t talked this much with another person since he moved to Portia.
“Do you stay in the graveyard often?” This question has just come to Arlo.
“Not every day.” Jude shrugs. “Though you should have caught me sitting there weeks ago.”
“It just happened that I took a different path today. Normally I would return Civil Corps going up the stairs.”
“Lucky me.” Jude sulks.
“Sorry for startling you like that.” Arlo scratches the back of his head nervously.
“Don’t worry about it.” Jude turns to leave for his home.
“So you really don’t know how to say goodbye?” Arlo raises an eyebrow.
“What’s the point?” Jude stops and turns to him, impatiently.
“Being polite, for example.”
“Alright. Good Bye. There, you happy?”
“Very. Good bye to you, too. Eh,” Arlo pauses for a bit, suddenly being aware of an impossibly critical question. “It just occurs to me that I still don’t know your name. Pres might have mentioned it last time, but I forgot.” Then he remembers. “And I believe you said you forgot mine, too.”
Realizing that this is true, Jude bursts out with laughter, genuinely, for the first time for hell knows how long. He wants to stop but this situation seems too funny he just can’t help it.
“Come on, it’s not that funny.” Arlo smiles at his laughter, too. At this moment Jude does not look cold or gaunt at all, the barrier that he’s been putting up against the outside world has vanished in an instant. No one in Portia would believe that he can laugh like this, Arlo thinks, even himself before actually hearing it.
After a short while the laughter dies down and Jude wipes tears from his eyes.
“Jude.” He says, a faint smile still remains on his face. It feels surprisingly unpainful to introduce his name to another person this time. “My name is Jude.”
“I’m Arlo. You will remember this time, right?”
“It’s hard to forget after all this.” Jude snorts with tiny laugh.
“Great. Good night and good bye to you, then. Jude.” Arlo pats on his shoulder.
“Good bye.” Jude hesitates. “Arlo.” Calling another person by his name makes Jude feel kind of awkward. He certainly hasn’t done this in a while. Not wanting his awkwardness to be noticed, he goes straight to his workshop without looking back.
Watching Jude’s back disappearing into the darkness, Arlo finds tonight’s event bizarre and unreal in retrospect. If someone told him an hour ago that he’s gonna have a pleasant chat with the gloomy new builder in the graveyard at a moonless midnight he would have bet 10000 gols that it would never happen but it just did. In fact, he’s even become quite fond of the dark-haired builder who’s also dressed in dark.
Never judge a book by its cover, huh. Thinks Arlo while heading back to Civil Corps.

 

End of Chapter 2

 

I drew Arlo, too. Damn it, how can he be so cute XD

Chapter Text

Friday is the day for morning training. After they finished, Arlo stops in front of Jude’s workshop while others going back to their daily routine.
“Arlo? What are you doing?” Remington asks curiously.
“Oh, nothing. You guys go ahead.” It’s gonna take some time to explain what happened the other day so Arlo decides to leave it to another day.
It’s been several days since their little night stroll and Arlo hasn’t seen Jude since then. The appearance of the old workshop hasn’t changed much from what he remembered. It’s still a shabby looking shed that does not even have a name plaque. A small difference is that there’s curtain behind the windows now so he can’t see anything from outside. However, the several lines of working furnaces and machines that have occupied every inch of the tiny yard clearly tell that this workshop is in business.
Arlo hesitates before the door. He doesn’t even know what he’s doing here. Just stop to say hi? That’s not gonna work on Jude, he might just shut the door with a sulky look. Arlo chuckles while imagining Jude doing that. Ask him if he wanna hang out? No, they hardly know each other except their names and are basically strangers.
Failed to come up with anything to say to Jude, Arlo sighs and is about to leave. At the same moment, the door opens itself.

 

“Pffttttt! COUGH! COUGH! COUGH!”
Jude chokes heavily on the coffee he was drinking. He does not expect to see another human being standing right before him when opening the door casually to check his machines after waking up.
“What- cough- in the bloody hell -cough- are you -cough- doing here??” He struggles to utter the question through a series of convulsive coughs.
“Take it easy.” Arlo pats him on the back nervously trying to make him feel better. “Sorry that I startled you again.”
“I’m -cough- fine.” Jude takes another sip of coffee to smooth his throat and the cough finally subdues. “Damn, dude. You are really good at this.” Jude frowns at him. “Have you considered taking a part time job in that Haunted Cave the Baron is planning for business?”
“Baron? Haunted Cave?” Arlo suddenly feels like they are living in different realities.
“The mayor.” Jude explains. “I think he gives off the aura of a baron so I’m calling him that to myself. And the Haunted Cave is literally the Haunted Cave. The one on Amber Island.”
“Heh, now that you’ve mentioned it, the mayor does look like a baron from some aspects.” Arlo smiles at the comparison. “Yeah, I’ve heard about that cave, too.”
“Now it’s your turn to answer questions.” Jude narrows his eyes. “What the hell were you doing on my doorstep? To practice your ambush skill?”
“Nothing in particular.” Arlo scratches his head. “Just wanna check how are you doing in here.”
Noticing the nervousness on Arlo’s face, Jude sighs and holds open the door. “Come in then, I’ll pour you a cup of coffee.”

 

It’s not just a mess in here, Arlo gasps in almost awe, it’s chaotic.
There are things littered everywhere that the floor is barely visible. Books, CDs, blueprints, tools, raw materials, crafted items and junks he can’t recognize at first sight, they are either just lying on the floor or stuffed randomly in the shelves against the walls. The biggest furniture is the huge workbench that takes up the center of the house and it’s also taken over by things. He can see Jude’s bed at the far corner, the sheet is left in the form of a pile that looks like someone just got out of bed.
“Dude.” Arlo finally finds his voice. “How can you live in a place like this?”
“What do you mean?” Jude glances at him while searching for a spare coffee mug inside the cupboard, or the cabinet that Arlo assumes is a cupboard because other than dishes there are also things that normally doesn’t belong to a cupboard in it, in the area that supposed to be a kitchen which is simply a corner with cooking set and sink.
“You need to clean up sometime.” Arlo is busy searching the floor for spots that he can set his foot on.
“I clean up.” Jude claims, finally finds a red mug. “There’s no dust in here.”
“I mean you need to put things into order. How can you even walk in here?” Still standing at where he is, Arlo gives up the searching.
Jude comes back to Arlo with two mugs filled with coffee one in each hand. Arlo watches closely to his steps, he seems to know exactly where to set foot on without looking.
“Hold them.” Jude thrusts the mugs into Arlo’s hands and begins to pick up things on the floor then pile them up against the wall. After a moment a path is cleared out.
“After you.” Jude gestures mockingly and takes back the black mug from Arlo. He notices it has ‘HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE’ written in white font on one side.

 

There are only two places that look safe enough to sit on, Jude’s bed and a couch that covered by a mess of clothes. After a quick thought Arlo decides to take the couch so he pushes everything to a side and sits down. Jude brushes several items aside and sits on the work bench facing Arlo. Their knees can almost touch each other’s since the house is so small that there isn’t enough space. For a while they just sip their coffee in silence, Jude turning his head aside looking absentmindedly into the distance and Arlo crossing out every icebreaker that won’t go well with Jude in his head.
Then something catches his attention. Arlo thinks he just saw something moved out of the corner of his eye. It’s in Jude’s bed. He turns his eyes to that direction and sees the piled-up sheet twitching.
“What’s that in your bed?” He starts.
“Hm?” Jude’s thoughts come back to Arlo and looks to where he is staring at. “Oh, it’s just the cat.”
“Meow.” Pinky sticks her head out under the sheet. Like she isn’t aware there’s another person in the house, she jumps off the bed and climbs onto Jude’s lap. Pinky purrs loudly as Jude gently strokes her head. His eyes grow soft looking down at Pinky and a small smile appears on his face without knowing.
Arlo wants to ask how did Pinky end up being in his house but he doesn’t feel like to interrupt this moment. He looks happy. Arlo watches with interest. And kind of cute.
Sensing the gaze from Arlo, Jude suddenly realizes there’s still another person in front of him and quickly stiffens his face again. “Eh, go eat your breakfast now.” A little flustered, he drops Pinky to the floor.
“Mauww.” Pinky protests reluctantly, but heads to her bowl in a lazy pace anyway.
“You like cats?” Arlo smirks at Jude’s trying-to-hide-embarrassment looking face.
Jude shoots a narrowed glare at his smirk and looks away sulking. “Yeah, I like cats. So what?”
“I’m just a little surprised.” Arlo notices that Jude’s ears have gone slightly pink. “Pinky is usually quite cautious towards strangers. Yet she decides to sleep over at your place within only a month.”
“I gave her fish several times and she followed me home.” Pinky is now burying her head into the food bowl. Jude looks at her fat furry butt. “I’ve always wanted a cat.”
“I think Pinky has always wanted a home, too.” Arlo smiles. “Good for you both.”
“Thanks, I guess?” Jude mutters and his ears go even pinker. Then he grows annoyed and raises his voice. “Gosh, I hate sentimental moments.”
“May I ask why?” Arlo asks in amusement.
“How can anyone stand this?” Jude turns to face him and exclaims. “Being all mushy and soppy and stuff, yeesh,” He gives a disgusted look. “Just think about it makes me physically uncomfortable.”
“You are so weird.” Arlo can’t help but laugh. “I’ve never seen anyone to be offended by sentiment.”
“As a Night Crawler I just don’t fit in with you Day Walkers.” Jude rolls his eyes dismissively and takes another sip of coffee. It’s almost cold now.
“Night Crawler?” Arlo chuckles. “Is that what you call yourself? Because you like going out at night so much?”
“Sort of.” Jude falls silent as the electric guitar intro enters his head uncontrollably after the title being mentioned. Damn, why is it so good. He doesn’t feel like to explain what does Night Crawler refer to. It’s gonna be painful.
Noticing that Jude’s thoughts have definitely drifted to somewhere else, Arlo decides it’s time to leave.
“Sorry for bothering you today and thanks for the coffee.” He gets up from the couch and this catches Jude attention.
“Oh, eh.” Jude stands up as well and awkwardly says “Thanks for stopping by?” in an unsure tone. Then he grimaces a little bit like he just swallowed a piece of bitter herb.
Understands why he looks so disgruntled right now, Arlo laughs, begins to leave. “Alright, I’ll say no more to save your torment.” Then adds. “I have to say your bar for sentiment is pretty high, though.”
“I’m the one to wonder why your bar is so low.” Jude frowns and follows him to the door.
“Alright, good bye now, Jude.” Arlo is standing at the open door as if waiting for something.
Jude reluctantly repeats. “Goodbye.”
Arlo raises an eyebrow. Jude curls his lip for a sec, defeated, then mutters. “Arlo.”
“Yeah, that’s better.” Arlo nods approvingly. “You have to learn your manners one way or another.”
“Goddamnit would you stop treating me like a child…” Mumbling to himself, Jude is about to shut the door when Arlo holds up a hand to stop him.
“What do you want now?” Jude looks at him impatiently through the crack.
“I just had this idea. Do you plan to explore the Haunted Cave on Amber Island recently?”
“Of course. The Baron commissioned me to install a battery in there. Or how else could I know about it? I don’t gossip.”
“Right, I told him the generator needed a battery. I figured it was you the mayor commissioned.”
“So?”
“Let’s go together! I’ve been thinking about exploring that cave myself anyway.”
“What? Are you kiddin- “
“This Sunday. I’ve been busy investigating the town thief case lately so I’m only free on Sunday now.”
“Huh? Wait, I –“
“It’s settled then. I’ll see you on the bridge to Amber Island at 9 in the morning. See ya!” Leaving no time for Jude to protest, Arlo shuts the door right after he finished.
Staring incredulously at the door, Jude even forgets to reopen it to object.

 

End of Chapter 3

Chapter Text

Arlo arrived an hour earlier than the meeting time he proposed.
Leaning against a nearby tree, he begins waiting with both anticipation and anxiety. Jude is such a peculiar character from everyone else he knows and maybe that’s why he can’t stop himself wanting to know more about him. Yet Jude always seems so reluctant to be engaged in interaction with other people that Arlo had to force a proposal on him last time because he felt that if he just casually throws an invitation at Jude, he will probably turn it down immediately without a second thought.
What if he doesn’t show up at all? The worst possible outcome keeps gnawing at the back of his mind. No. He shakes his head. Jude wouldn’t do something like that. From what he has learnt so far, Jude might act cold and uncaring but he will never hurt anyone’s feelings.
Being so distracted by his inner argument, Arlo doesn’t notice someone’s approaching him from behind. He suddenly feels something’s poking at the small of his back and a close-up whisper into his ear.
“You are already dead.”
“Arrgh! Wha-“Startled, Arlo turns around and sees Jude smirking at him.
“Revenge is so very sweet.” Jude nods at himself with an evil grin.
“Dude. Not cool.” Arlo scowls at him but only makes him grin wider. Looking at Jude who’s apparently in a good mood after getting back at him, Arlo smiles again anyway. He’s real glad that Jude actually came to meet him.
“I thought you would come from that way.” Arlo points at the direction he was facing.
“I stopped by at the research center this morning.” Jude explains.
Then Arlo notices what Jude is carrying on his back.
“Do you use … bow and arrow?” Arlo widens his eyes.
“Yeah. My aunt was into hunting. She taught me archery since I was a kid.” Jude turns a little to show him the recurve bow and quiver he’s carrying. “I designed this bow myself. I named it Seek & Destroy No. 7.” His voice is full of smugness now.
“That’s an awesome looking bow.” Arlo examines the elegant outline of the completely black metallic bow in awe. “Archers are quite rare these days. I’ve only met a few before.”
“The church banned the existence of firearms.” Jude shrugs. “Then some people became phobic even of any kind of long-ranged weapons.”
“Be sure to show me your archery skill later, okay?” Arlo pats him on the shoulder.
“My pleasure.” Jude says in a mocking tone, but he looks pleased.
“Are you ready to enter the cave? Got everything you need at hand?” Arlo asks and Jude nods.
Without further ado, they both start heading to the cave for their adventure.

 

“Dude, could you hurry up?” Arlo urges for the twelfth time today.
“Slow down, captain.” Ignoring Arlo’s eagerness to head forward, Jude keeps searching every corner in the cave for hidden treasure. “Aha! A bunch of mushrooms. Great, saves me the trouble to go to the tree farm to hunt for these.”
Defeated, Arlo sits down on a large rock and watches Jude sniffing around like a well-trained hound.
“Is searching around for junks really that interesting?” He asks in boredom.
“Materials don’t come for free, you know. And sometimes you can find treasure among junks.” Jude responds without lifting up his head.
“Don’t you think adventure should be more about adventuring? Not digging up every stone just to see if any mushroom’s growing under there?” Arlo complains.
“I don’t feel like going on if there might be anything missed.” Jude checks the last suspicious corner. “Alright, let’s go. I’m through with this area.”
“Finally.” Arlo quickly jump off the rock and rejoins him. He sneaks a glance at Jude and finds him looks a lot livelier now than usually, by his standard though.
“So, you like adventuring, too?” He inquires in a casual tone.
Jude shoots him a side look and hesitates for a sec. “Sort of.”
Getting the impression that Jude does not want to talk more about this issue, Arlo decides to drop it. Then they walk in silence for a long while, until finally Jude decides to speak again.
“When I was little, I looked up to my father.” He sounds impassive. “I dreamed of being an adventurer like him. One day he went on an expedition and never came back. I felt like being abandoned.” His voice lowers, “Then I didn’t want to be an adventurer anymore.”
“I, I didn’t know.” Arlo is taken aback. He didn’t expect he would give an answer like this. He feels guilty and also a little sad for Jude. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I still like adventuring though.” Jude shakes his head then looks up at him in the eyes. They both stop walking spontaneously. The shade of his amber eyes resembles burning embers in this semidark cave, Arlo feels his insides warms up a little while looking into them. “It actually feels pretty good to get it off my chest. I never had the chance to talk about this with anyone else. My aunt was even more offended by sentiment than me. She was like a stereotypical silent and strict father all the time.” Jude chuckles softly and feels reminiscent. “We never talked about feelings or showed affection like families usually do. Can you believe she never even hugged me? The family bond was more like an unspoken thing to us.” Suddenly realizing the air between them seems to be heavy, Jude flusters and rubs his neck nervously. “Eh, sorry for dropping all this on you? Just forget about what I said! I shouldn’t have made you feel all weird and –“
The rest of the sentence is cut off when Arlo pulls him into a hug. Jude subconsciously tries to wriggle himself out at first but Arlo is just too strong. Then he subsides in defeat and begins to feel both extremely awkward and a little bit strangely comfortable. Tentatively, he puts his arms around Arlo, too. How can another human being feel so warm? He wonders. For a moment he even forgets about his automatic repulse for intimacy and sentiment. They stay like this for a while till the sense of embarrassment comes back to Jude.
“Aren’t we moving too fast?” His sulky voice is muffled since his head is still held against Arlo’s chest. Jude starts trying to push him away.
“I figured you needed this.” Arlo says in a hushed voice and let him go.
“Geez, thanks for being such a great mother for me.” Jude tries to sound sarcastic to hide his embarrassment and hurriedly turns away to keep walking but Arlo already saw that his face was all blushed.
“Anytime you like, my dear lovely son.” Arlo smirks and follows after him.

 

It turns out that Jude is quite a good archer.
There are five snaillobs about 50 yards ahead of them. Jude is taking cover behind the bending cave wall with Arlo beside him watching. The targets are off their guard, Jude pulls an arrow from the quiver and holds the bow into position. Pulling the string into fullest, Jude takes his aim. Then with a quiet swishing sound, one snaillob is down. The rest of them become alerted now but still clueless. Another two shots fired, the number is cut in half. However slow snaillobs are, the two left are now aware of where the attacks are coming from and begin charging forward. 50, 40, 30… Jude holds the arrow tightly and waits for it. At the instant when they are exactly in a lined position, Jude releases the arrow and the last two snaillobs fall to the ground at the same time.
“Wow. That last shot was excellent.” Arlo examines the nearest dead snaillob in awe. There is a perfect hole through its head shell. “I’m even thinking about learning archery, too.”
“You sure?” Jude says casually when pulling out an arrow stuck in another dead snaillob. “Somehow after watching you punching that giant snaillob senseless singlehandedly, I just can’t picture you holding a bow.” Decides this arrow is too damaged to be salvaged, he throws it away. “You might break it in half when aiming too hard.”
“Come on, you are exaggerating.” Arlo shakes his head ruefully.
“It looks like we’ve reached the generator chamber.” After retrieving last arrow, Jude finds the entrance door at the end of the path. He stands in front of several piled-up crates waiting for Arlo to catch up.
Arlo suddenly notices a shadow is lurking behind the crates but Jude seems to be oblivious of it.
“Jude! Behind you!” Arlo shouts and begins dashing to him.
Jude rolls aside just in time to dodge a blow. There’s no time to get his bow, Jude draws out a dagger from the sheath tied to his thigh and blocks another blow. Next moment, the unknow attacker is kicked into the air by Arlo. Jude then realizes that it’s a human sized rat. With a painful squeak when landing on the ground, the huge rat quickly gets to his feet again and squeezs into a hole inside the wall, disappears.
“Are you okay?” Arlo asks concernedly and puts a hand on Jude’s shoulder.
“I’m fine. Thanks.” Still able to feel the cold sweat on his back, Jude rubs his neck uneasily. “Sorry that I let my guard down.”
“It’s okay.” Arlo reassures him. “I didn’t expect to see a Bandirat in here, either.”
“This is not their normal habitat?”
“It’s hard to find enough food for them on a small island like this.” Arlo strokes his chin while thinking. “It is likely that this cave is connected to some other area.”
“The plot thickens.” Jude nods in agreement.
“It looks like our adventure has to last a little longer than expected.” Arlo looks at Jude. “Can you still keep going?”
Jude nods without a word.
“Great. Let’s proceed.”

 

End of Chapter 4

Chapter Text

The power is restored after Jude installed the battery. Dim yellow light emitted from the ceiling lights now has softly filled the chamber. There isn’t anything special in here except the generator to distinguish the chamber from the rest of the cave. Jude is making the last adjustments while Arlo investigating around.
“Hey, I found a door here.” Arlo calls from the deeper end. There is a door hidden in a corner which only became visible a moment ago. He gives it a kick but it won’t budge. “I think we need to find a way to open it.”
“Uh-huh.” Jude replies absentmindedly from where he is, still focused on his work.
“What is this machine for?” Arlo finds a small device imbedded into the wall next to the closed door and begins to study it.
“What machine?” After giving one last check to make sure everything will work just fine, Jude rejoins Arlo and his attention is drawn to that device, too. “Looks like a control panel to me.” He tries to operate the buttons and levers, but nothing happens. “It’s either broken or out of power.”
“I thought you just restored it.” Arlo tilts his head curiously.
“Yeah, I mean the connection to the power source might be damaged.” Jude pulls out a screwdriver from his pocket and unscrews the outlet plate on the side of the machine, the inner structure is revealed. It’s quite clear that most parts of it are heavily decayed and some even have mold growing on them.
“Yikes, is it still gonna work?” Arlo grimaces.
Jude pokes at the stained circuit with screwdriver. “Hmmm.” He examines the decayed parts to calculate the damage. “I think this thing can still work one or two times if I replace the broken power cable, but the circuit is very likely to be completely burnt when activated. The problem is, we still don’t know the purpose of any of the buttons and levers. Even if we decide to give it a try, there’s probably just one chance.” He looks up at Arlo. “What do you think?”
“I say we give it a try.” Arlo says firmly.

 

They are both looking at the now ready-for-last-activation control panel with so many unknow buttons and levers.
“You do it.” Jude suddenly says.
“What?” Arlo is taken aback. “But I know nothing about machinery!”
“That doesn’t matter right now. It’s completely guesswork.” Jude pats him on the arm with a wry grin. “I believe in you, captain.”
“Fine.” Arlo sighs. “Just don’t blame me if it doesn’t work.”
Resigned to his luck, Arlo pulls the lever on the middle. To his great relief, the door immediately starts moving with a creaking noise while the control panel buzzing with tiny smoke and spark as if giving out its last breath.
“Look, it wor-“ Arlo’s excitement only lasts for an instant as the creaking noise also appears from behind them.
“You gotta be kidding me.” Dumbfounded, Jude widens his eyes. They are now both staring at the slowly closing door from which them entered before. A few seconds later it becomes dead silent again in the chamber.
“Well this is unexpected.” Arlo looks into the newly revealed path. “I think we don’t have a choice now.”
“I wonder what kind of bastard would make the control panel work that way.” Jude shakes his head in disbelief and follows after Arlo.
“This is a haunted cave after all, so it’s probably a poltergeist.”
“That makes sense.” Jude snorts then notices something strange lying in the shadow by the wall. “What’s that?” He picks it up with two fingers. “Is this … a shoe? Oh, now I see the other one over there, too.”
“You find a pair of shoes in here? Do ghosts wear shoes now?” Arlo laughs. As Jude brings the shoes to him, he finds them look familiar. “Hey, wait a second. I think they are Remington’s.”
“Who?” Handing over the shoes to Arlo, Jude tilts his head.
“My friend who also works for Civil Corps in Portia.” Arlo examines the shoes and becomes certain about it. “These are definitely his and I remember he said they went missing last week. How did they end up here?”
“I’ve also found a cooking pan and a desk lamp.” Says Jude, now searching the ground with interest. “Despite dirty they look pretty new for an abandoned cave. Someone must have brought them here recently.” He gives the newly discovered items to Arlo.
“This can’t be.” Arlo exclaims incredulously. “These are the items that had been stolen from the town people! We’ve been looking for the thief for weeks now.”
“Uh-huh.” Being apathetic to the town thief story, Jude is now fully focused on treasure hunting again. It’s even more exciting when knowing there are items to be found.
Noticing that Jude is too busy to talk, Arlo chuckles and slows his pace to follow after him. “Well, I’ll just leave the retrieving job to you then.”

 

“Don’t you think it’s been too quiet since we went through the door?” Jude asks, finally decides to take a break from treasure hunting.
“It is pretty strange.” Arlo strokes his chin. “I’ve been keeping an eye out for monsters, but nothing has come for us yet.”
Just at the moment when he finishes the sentence, two groups of Bandirats suddenly jump out from both sides and strike at them. Jude quickly gets hold of his bow from behind and shoots an arrow which kills the nearest Bandirat. Arlo throws a dart to the other side and get rid of another one.
Seeing their allies getting killed, the rest of the Bandirats become cautious and retreats to form a circle surrounding them. Arlo and Jude have their backs against each other and face opposite directions.
“Guess it was too early to say that.” Arlo holds up his fists, ready to fight. “I’ll leave my back to you, Jude.”
“Okay.” Jude tightens his grip on the bow and pulls out three arrows, sets them on the string and aims at the enemies waiting for them to make first move. Then all of a sudden, the Bandirats from both sides begin to charge at them at the same time like they’ve planned this. Arlo first dodges an attack and grabs that Bandirat to throw it forward. It collides with the ones on the behind. While they are still not quite recovered from the impact, Arlo lunges forward and finishes off two of them. The rest try to swing their iron pipes at him but he quickly retreats to his original position. Jude shoots the three arrows in a single shot, killing two and injuring one which keeps its attack despite of the injury. He holds up his bow with two hands to block the striking pipe then kicks hard into the Bandirat’s abdomen and sends it flying backward which stops the rest for a brief moment.
As their number keeps going down, the Bandirats start to lose their confidence and become hesitant between their attacks. When there’s only one of them left, it turns back immediately and attempts to flee but an arrow pierces its skull almost at the same time.
“Whew, I wonder if there are still more ahead.” Arlo tugs his collar although he does not seem to have sweated at all. “They seemed pretty well-coordinated as a bunch of rats.”
“Yeah. Maybe we have stepped into a huge rat lair.” Jude comments as he collects the last used arrow from a Bandirat corpse. When he tries to straighten up, he trips a little and nearly loses his balance.
“Watch out.” Arlo catches him by the arm and finds it’s slightly shaking. “Let’s take a break. We haven’t rested since entered this cave.”
“I can keep going.” Jude frowns, trying to hide his tiredness.
“There’s no need to act tough like that. It’s important to keep your stamina in check.” Arlo smiles reassuringly at him and goes sit down on a nearby rock, patting at the empty space next to him. “Come and sit for a while.”
Jude hesitates for a few seconds. “Okay.” Then he joins Arlo.

 

After retrieving several more stolen items and defeating another wave of Bandirats, they finally see an opening with light source at the end of the path ahead. It looks like it leads to a large clearing.
“I think that should be the end of this cave.” Arlo says. “Stay vigilant till we get out of here.”
Jude nods, ready to pull out his bow at any time.
Then the unexpected happens as he steps into the clearing first, a trap door suddenly drops and separates him and Arlo apart.
“Jude! Are you okay?” Arlo is smacking at the door and calling from the other side.
“I’m fine.” Jude says and tries to make himself sound calm enough. Next moment a haughty looking Bandirat with blonde fur on head who’s acting like a prince and two regular ones jump out from a hidden corner and begins to move towards Jude menacingly. “Looks like I’ve got some accompany. I’ll find a way to open this door when they’ve been taken care of.” Without waiting for a response from Arlo, he begins to dash to the right before the three rats could corner him up and draws his bow and arrow into position.
The Bandirat prince doesn’t seem eager to attack but let his underlings chase after Jude instead. What an arrogant rat. Jude thinks while taking down one of his pursuers. The other one is close enough to reach him and launches a blow which Jude dodges with a roll. Then still half kneeling on the ground without getting up, Jude quickly shoots another arrow that goes straight through its head at this close distance.
Jude is slightly panting now and beads of sweat have appeared on his forehead. Even though he does not want to admit it, but he’s already overdoing himself at the moment. Keeping high accuracy with arrows takes a lot of concentration and all the dodging and rushing have consumed a great amount of stamina, too. This kind of exhaution could not be recovered by just a short break. Like he’s noticed that Jude is at his limit, the Bandirat prince grins viciously and jumps high into the air then lunges at Jude with his huge fork.
That was pretty close. Jude thinks as the fork narrowly missed him right after he took a swift step aside. Right next moment the Bandirat prince swings the fork at him again which he hurriedly blocks with his bow but get knocked a few yards away. With no time to take a breath, Jude manages to get on his feet again before the Bandirat prince jumps at him with another swing.
Damn it, this bastard is too fast that I can’t even pull myself away from him. Jude forces himself to keep thinking among the unstopping dodging and blocking. Then during one moment of distraction, failed to notice a protruding stone on the ground, Jude trips over and falls to the ground. He also drops his bow in the process.
Triumphantly, the Bandirat prince kicks away his bow and raises his fork for the final stab. The infuriating pain from his ankle tells him that he must has twisted it. Jude tries to move away from the Bandirat prince but it just doesn’t seem likely. Seeing his opponent now struggling helplessly on the ground, the Bandirat prince thrusts his fork at Jude with full strength with the taste of victory already in his mouth.
The stupid rat finally let his guard down. Jude gathers the last strength he has to shift his upper body away hastily and the narrowly missed fork only leaves a cut on his cheek. Then he grabs the fork’s handle with one hand to pull himself up from the ground as fast as he can and with the momentum he buries his dagger deeply into the Bandirat prince’s neck with the other hand. Blood gushes out violently from the lethal wound and the victory has switched side in just one second. With one last disbelieving look, the Bandirat prince collapses down like a lifeless puppet.
It’s safe again. Jude let himself fall back to the ground. Not until now that Jude has realized how exhausted he really is and his shirt is drenched in sweat. For a while he can hardly lift a finger. After taking several deep breaths, he finally recovers a little bit and has just noticed the noise coming from the shut trap door.
“Jude! Are you still there! Answer me!” Arlo shouts urgently from the other side.
“It’s clear.” Jude responds weakly and tries to stand up. The twisted ankle makes this a hard job.
“Thank god.” Arlo sounds relieved. “I’ve been calling you for a while now. You got me real worried.”
“Sorry, I got distracted.” Jude looks around and sees a lever on the cave wall over a pile of stolen items. “Hold on, I think I find the switch for the trap door.” He limps towards the lever and pulls it up. With a series of clanking noise, the trap door is lifted open.

 

“Jude!” Arlo immediately rushes over to him after he’s been let in. He grabs his shoulders tightly with both hands and examines him intently. “Is this … your blood?” He asks in a shaky voice full of panic noticing the amount of blood soaked into Jude’s jacket and splashed on his face.
“Huh?” Jude looks down at himself. “Oh, crap. The rat’s blood has got all over me. My jacket’s ruined.” Then notices the deep concern mixed with panic on Arlo’s face, he reassures. “I’ve just got a scratch on the face.” Then the pain from his ankle reminds him of the other injury. “And a twisted ankle.”
After running his hands all over Jude’s body hastily to make sure there’s no other injury, Arlo finally let go of him. “Seriously, dude…” Jude mumbles, looking annoyed and embarrassed.
“You don’t know how awful you looked.” Knowing he’s really okay, Arlo relaxes a little bit. “Drenched in blood, all pale and weak, I really thought you were a goner for a sec.”
“Hey look, there are more stolen items over there.” Jude points at the pile of stolen items next to them as a desperate attempt to divert his attention to another matter.
“Nice try.” Arlo narrows his eyes. Then he grabs Jude’s shoulders again and looks at him in the eyes. “I’m being serious. Jude, I know this is not your fault but you need to be more careful. Next time remember to stay closer to me and don’t wander off too far, okay?”
Being exposed to so much concern makes Jude want to shake Arlo's hands off and pull himself away but he presses down the subconscious urge and instead, looks back at him and slowly nods.
“Good.” Arlo smiles and ruffles his hair affectionately.
“Hey, what’s that for?” Jude frowns at him disgruntledly.
“You’ve twisted your ankle, right? Let me carry you then.” Arlo offers.
“What? No!” Jude refuses indignantly. “Just lend me your shoulder.”
“Are you sure? You look like you can hardly walk.” Arlo looks at him doubtfully.
“Of course.” Jude tries to straighten up a little bit more. “I’m totally fine.”
“If you say so.” Arlo shrugs.

 

End of Chapter 5

Chapter Text

The sun light feels so bright after spending so much time in a cave. Jude hastily holds up a hand to cover his eyes which makes him stumble a little bit.
“Be careful!” Arlo’s voice sounds really close from above as he tightens his arm around Jude’s waist to stabilize him.
“You are overreacting.” Jude complains. He almost let go of his arm around Arlo’s shoulder because of his sudden move.
“Arlo! What are you doing here?” Arlo turns to the direction where that familiar deep voice comes from and sees Remington looking at them incredulously on his horse. He quickly jumps off to the ground and walks towards them. “And who’s that with you?”
“Hey! Remy!” Arlo waves at him excitedly with his free hand. “Guess what we’ve found!” He then fumbles through his pack with that hand and pulls out Remington’s shoes then holds them forward to show him.
“These are ... my shoes!” Remington takes them and examines with surprise. “Where did you find them?”
“Jude and I just solved the town thief case!” Arlo grins happily. “Let me introduce, Remy, this is Jude the builder. Jude, this is Remington my fellow coworker at Civil Corps.”
“Nice to meet you, Jude.” Despite still having some questions he wants to ask, Remington decides to put them aside at the moment and holds out a hand towards Jude.
Jude shakes hands with him after a brief hesitation but says nothing, just nods.
“Now what did you say about the town thief?” Remington asks Arlo.
“I’d like to fill you in with all the details but that has to wait. By the way, can I borrow your horse?” Arlo looks to Jude. “I need to escort Jude back now. He’s injured and tired.” Jude shoots him an annoyed look like he’s trying to say he’s fine but Arlo ignores him.
“Of course. Go ahead.” Remington looks at the even paler than usual face of Jude which is also stained with blood. “You take care now.”
“Remy, before I come back, could you find Sam and bring her here?” Arlo says to him while supporting Jude to walk to the horse. “Tell her that the stolen items are all stored in that ca-, hole.” Arlo looks back at the weed covered hole they just came out from which he was about to call a cave.
“Got it.” Without further ado, Remington heads towards the town, running, leaving them two alone.
Jude is now staring at the horse and clearly at a loss. Noticing his pause, Arlo asks. “Never ride a horse before?”
“No.” Jude begins to think that maybe riding a horse is not such a good idea realizing how tall the horse really is while standing this close in front of it. “I think I can go back on my own so Aahhhh!!” Jude can’t help but let out a scream when Arlo suddenly lifts him up onto the horse without any announcement, then he mounts the horse right after as well sitting behind Jude.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you fall.” Arlo puts his arms around Jude to hold the handle on the saddle. “See? You are safe like this.”
Jude does not respond since his head is currently under short-circuit from the triple shocks of being lifted off the ground by another person, sitting on a horse for the first time and being trapped in the embrace of the very same person. He wants to make sense out of what just happened but these events just seem too unreal to even imagine about so instead his head stops working and has entered some kind of daze. Taking his silence as a sign of agreement, Arlo gives the horse a pat on the neck and it starts trotting forward.

 

Jude has not said a word during the entire journey even when Arlo took him to the clinic to let Dr.Xu give him some treatment. He simply nodded when felt someone was talking to him without actually hearing what they said. Arlo just reckoned that he’s being too tired to talk. His head is still a total blank when Arlo helps him get down from the horse as they have arrived at his workshop.
“It’s time to say goodbye now.” Arlo sees his expressionless pale face and the remained shock in his eyes. “Well, I’ll spare you this time. It’s been a great adventure. I really had a good time and I hope it’s same for you, too.” Arlo smiles and gives him one last pat on the back. “Go get some rest now. I’ll see you around.” Then he mounts the horse again and leaves.
Jude stands where he is for a while then heads to the house. He falls into his bed after automatically showered himself and got changed into clean clothes.
Then all of a sudden, he explodes. “WHAT IN THE BLOODY HELL HAS JUST FUCKING HAPPENED!!” He blushes furiously into his pillow as the previous events now begin replaying themselves vividly in his head despite he’s giving everything to try to make it stop. The heat of Arlo’s body pressed against his back, his arms which held tightly around him, the mental image of them riding a horse together like a prince and - Arrgh! Damn you stupid brain! Stop remembering and stop applying outrageously ridiculous metaphors! Jude rolls over facing downwards and buries his face into his bed. Lying motionless and feeling both physical and mental fatigue taking over his body, Jude loses his consciousness drifting through the vortex of his inner turbulence.

 

The news of the solved town thief case has spread across the town of Portia like wildfire. It quickly becomes the most popular topic among the town people. Although Arlo has mentioned many times that Jude has played an important role in solving the case and he wouldn’t be able to do it on his own, but only a few actually believed it. Most people simply conclude this as Arlo being generous to share his glory with a sidekick who happened to be in the same cave while doing his own errand. This version of story is much easier to accept than admitting Jude, who never presents himself at a fireside meeting and said no with great dislike when being asked to give an interview of what happened that day by Mei, to be a town hero. Arlo feels frustrated about people’s reaction but Jude is glad. He would rather bury himself alive than have to walk under the admiration and adoration of every Portian. However, even to his own surprise, he will share his story with one and only person by the riverside on a full moon’s night.
It’s been several days since the adventure in Haunted Cave. Jude decides to take a week off to let himself recover and more importantly, to avoid being asked about what happened back in there. Even though there were only a few people came to him for the story, just the mere slightly-more-than-usual attention people paid him made him uncomfortable enough to keep himself away from them as much as he can.
There’s a full moon hanging in the center of the velvety night sky. The silvery moonlight flows over everything like shining new snow. After refilling the machines with raw materials, Jude straightens his back and sets his eyes at the far riverbank and the pale lit field. It’s so quiet tonight, he thinks, nothing can be heard except the weak breeze brushing against his hair. He suddenly wants to take a walk along the river though it is not his usual routine. Body fully recovered and still unwilling to set foot into town, Jude decides to give it a try.

 

It turned out that it’s not bad at all to try out a new path. Jude is enjoying the silent view of the landscape surrounding the neighboring farms while sorting out his thoughts in peace. The one thing that has occupied the largest space of his mind these days is of course, Arlo. Jude has mixed feelings toward him. It’s very rare for Jude to have someone treat him like Arlo did. Most people either talk to him involuntarily only when it’s necessary or simply greet him like they usually do to others out of courtesy, but Arlo is different. He approached Jude with genuine interest like he really wants to be his friend. Jude appreciates that and he thinks he likes Arlo as well but feels intimidated by his affection and intimacy nonetheless. God, would he stop touching me like I’m a cat or something? Jude slams his face with palm in renewed embarrassment when recalling what Arlo did the day before.
“Umm, are you okay? You seem troubled.” A tentative voice of a girl comes from somewhere by the riverbank several yards ahead of him.
“Huh?” Jude hastily looks up. Lost in his thought, he didn’t notice there’s a person sitting there. Seeing the girl with long wavy hair dressed in white who talked to him makes Jude panics a little bit as he rubs his neck and looks away. “Oh, it’s nothing.” He is totally not used to talk to girls.
“Sorry, did I interrupt you?” Ginger asks shyly noticing the uneasiness in his tone.
“No.” Jude says quickly. Then he adds. “I was just thinking.”
“You looked like you were thinking real hard.” Ginger smiles. “I believe I’ve never met you before. I’m Ginger, nice to meet you. It’s always pleasant to see new faces.”
“I’m Jude. A builder.” The gentleness in Ginger’s voice makes Jude feel too bad to just nod and walk away so instead he gives a self-introduction though as short as possible.
“Ah, so you are the new builder Jude!” Ginger gasps in surprise. “I’ve heard a lot about you. I’ve always wanted to meet you in person.”
“Am I an urban legend of this town now?” Jude scratches his head, thinking of the possible rumors about him.
“I heard from Papa that you helped finding the town thief?”
Jude nods reluctantly. He really hopes this event could fade away from people’s memories soon. However bright the moon is, it’s still too dark to fully make out his expression for Ginger so she continues. “Could you tell me how you did it? I haven’t got the chance to hear the full story of it yet. I don’t go out much so I really like listening to stories.” She fidgets a little bit nervously.
Feeling the air of expectancy from Ginger, Jude resigns with a sigh after some hesitation and sits down two steps next to her. Well, it won’t hurt to tell it just once. Jude thinks. He hasn’t noticed it yet but there’s something about Ginger that makes him feel less strained than being with other people.
After a few seconds of organizing his thoughts, he begins. “It all began with the Baron commissioned me to restore the generator in the Haunted Cave, then the next day Captain Redhead asked me to explore that cave with him.”
“The Baron? Captain Redhead?” Ginger asks curiously.
“Captain Redhead is Arlo and I call mayor the Baron.” It’s really getting old to explain these names every time he mentions them. “Oh, right, he’s your father, right?” Jude just remembers.
“Hehe, you are very good at making nicknames.” Ginger chuckles. “Sorry for interrupting. Please continue.”

 

Even though Jude is terrible at telling stories, Ginger still seems to enjoy herself quite a lot. She asks a lot of questions when Jude either forgets to mention or feels too lazy to elaborate at first. However, Jude does not feel as impatient as he thought he would. Normally he wouldn’t like to be asked so many questions over trivia like this, but this time he’s even surprised by his own patience. Seeing her react with interest and awe every now and then through the story, Jude can’t help but feel a little bit content, too.
“Haha, what a surprise! Running into the Bandirat Prince like that. But you beat them all! You must be getting good at ruin diving! Thanks for telling me your adventure, I really loved the story.” Ginger smiles warmly towards Jude. “I have to say you are quite different from what I heard, Jude. Papa said you are the best young builder Portia has ever had but also the only Portian who has never attended a fireside meeting. He was really bummed out that you didn’t show up even when he announced the success of the town thief case that you helped with.” Ginger chuckles remembering Gale’s face when said that. “I think my brother likes your style though. He said he likes people who don’t waste his time.”
“Paladin said that? I’m impressed.” Jude says in mocking awe.
“Paladin? This is my brother’s nickname?” Ginger giggles. “It sounds so cool.”
“Well, I saw him escorting you once or twice before. He totally looked like a Paladin then.”
“So you’ve made nicknames for everyone.” Ginger looks down shyly. “Do you have a nickname for me, too?”
“Oh, of course.” Jude hopes she will find her nickname acceptable. “You are Moonchild.” Not wanting her to misread it, he then hastily explains. “I’ve only seen you out when it’s night and most importantly, you remind me a lot of this song named Moonchild from one of my favorite albums. Both the melody and lyrics fit you very well.”
“A song that fits me?” Ginger is now very intrigued. “I would really like to know what it’s like.” She fidgets timidly. “Could you perhaps … sing it for me please?”
“Wha-?” Jude is caught off guard. Never in his life has anyone asked him to sing, so naturally he never sang in front of other people. Sure, he often sings along while listening to music alone, but it’s a matter of completely different level.
“Ah, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.” Ginger quickly adds noticing his hesitation, but Jude can still feel the disappointment transformed from expectancy in her voice.
“No, no. It’s just, I’m not used to this.” Jude decides to do it on a whim. He feels nervous as hell but it’s too late to turn back now. “Ahem.” He clears his throat, his heart beats fast. “Excuse me if I sound too rusty.”

 

After a short moment of playing the imaginary intro in his head to find the tune, Jude sings.
His voice has a unique coolness in it that resembles thin ice. After keeping the first verse on the right tune without making any mistake, Jude gains some confidence.
The first part is over. Jude keeps playing the instrumental in his head and waits for the beginning of second part. His mind becomes fully focused on the song.
The second part goes smoothly, too. The whole vocal part of the song ends now. Whew. Jude quietly let out the last breath he’s been holding. He feels satisfied that he did better than he imagined. Then realizing Ginger’s been quiet all the time, he begins to feel nervous again. “So... what do you think?”
“Sorry.” Ginger hastily wipes her eyes, her voice shaky with a little sniffing. “It’s a very beautiful song. Thank you so much for singing it for me.”
Jude remains silent as he senses that Ginger is crying. He doesn’t know what to say at a time like this so he chooses to say nothing at all.
It doesn’t take long for Ginger to subdue the tears. Then she speaks again with a quiet voice. “I didn’t mean to… It’s just, no one has ever sung a song to me. I’ve never got to see my mom. My dad and brother are really nice to me but I guess it just never came to them.”
“I don’t remember anything about my mother, too.” Jude says.
“I’m sorry…” Ginger murmurs.
Then they just sit there in silence. Jude looks up over the horizon and the night sky. The moon has drifted down a little since he came out for a walk. He feels strangely relaxed even with another person present not too far away. Perhaps it’s their similar pasts without any memory of a mother, or the deep experience of dealing with loneliness and solitude, Jude feels like he can relate to Ginger somehow.
“It’s time for me to go home.” After no one knows for how long, Ginger breaks the silence. “It’s been really nice talking to you. And just sitting here with you, too.” She chuckles shyly. “If it’s possible, could we meet like this again some time?”
“Okay.” Jude says. It is quite uncommon but he does want to see her again, too.
Ginger gets up from the ground and smooths her dress. “Thank you again for singing the song for me. It was the most beautiful song I ever heard.” She smiles at him again. “Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Moonchild.” Jude lifts up a hand and gives her a wave as she leaves. Soon blocked by a tree, Ginger’s out of sight.
Huh. Jude thinks to himself. Can’t believe I just talked to a girl.

 

End of Chapter 6

Chapter Text

It’s already been two months since Jude arrived in Portia.
People still don’t know much about him but they certainly have got used to him. Although he generally does not seem to be friendly but there aren’t any bad rumors about him either. Even those who held dubious attitude toward him have to admit that it’s good to have another skillful builder in town. As for the people who get to see him on a much more frequent basis, they even start to consider him as a buddy though it’s unclear that whether Jude himself thinks the same way or not.

“Good morning, Jude. Well, it’s morning for you and almost noon for the rest of us.” Antoine says when Jude enters the commerce guild. He nods without a word as usual.
“Hi, Jude. Nice inspection work yesterday. You really showed them what a perfect inspection is.” Presley greets from his desk. Jude gives him a nod, too.
“Is this the only commission left today?” Jude asks after checking the bulletin board. It’s commissioned by Sam. Running all over the town to look for a patrolling Civil Corps member to deliver the commission is definitely not one of his favorite hobbies.
“Too bad, it is. You know how fast commissions are taken on Mondays.”
Jude sighs but takes the commission anyway.
“Say, you look dehydrated.” Antoine leans over the counter. “Skin care is a serious issue. You need to take more care of yourself since you’ve got such a cute face.”
Jude nearly trips at his last comment while leaving and then hastily closes the door behind him, leaving Antoine chuckling to himself at his reaction.
“Eghhnn.” Jude groans. He’s not used to being teased.

 

“Let's see here. Not too shabby, good form, this will do. I'll have this installed soon, thank you.” Says Albert, examining the result of another completed commission by Jude.
“Jude, why won’t you hang out with me?” Albert puts the commissioned items away. His offers for play date to Jude have been turned down every time, it becomes more like a habit for him to keep asking. “Come on, I think we could be good pals.”
“Nope.” Jude refuses curtly.
“Awww, you are no fun. I could tell you a lot of useful information about the ladies in this town.”
“Not interested.”
Jude has become some kind of regular of A&G Construction since the development of South Block started. Most times he’s just here to deliver commissions but he also comes for trading materials from time to time.
Gust turns his head a little from his desk to nod at Jude as acknowledging his presence and he nods back. It’s like their ritual thing to do when seeing each other.
“Ginger wants me to ask if you are free tomorrow night?” Gust suddenly says.
“Tell her I’ll be there.” Ever since they first encounter by the riverbank the night before, they would hang out like this once or twice a week.
“She seems happier these days. You have my thanks.”
“Hey, how come I never get to hang out with Ginger?” Alberts interrupts. “Gust, you are not being fair!”
Jude leaves A&G as Albert keeps protesting and Gust simply ignores him while getting back to his work.

 

“Hahhh.” Arlo sighs deeply and sits down by the table in Civil Corps, sulking.
“What? Are you still upset about Jude turning you down last weekend?” Sam asks, sitting against the wall at the other end of the hall, working with the maintenance of her gears.
“I just don’t get him.” Arlo runs his fingers through his hair slightly frustrated. “We got along really well in the last adventure but the next time I saw him, he seemed to be his old self again! Then I tried sparring with him every time we met to get closer, but that didn’t work either.”
“You mean him being wrestled down to the ground by you within 20 seconds every time?” Remington snorts, seated at the opposite side of the table. “For an archer, he really is doing the best he can. You need to go easier on him.”
“I already tried. I’m just not very good at going easy, okay?” Arlo complains.
“Well, if this will make you feel any better, you are the person that Jude likes most from my perspective.” Sam says. “Remy and I haven’t even got him speak more than three words at a time when talking to him. You have undeniably most of his attention among all of us.”
“But he’s still keeping his distance from me. It’s like I’ve hit an invisible wall.” Arlo gestures with his hands. “I can see him right there but he won’t let me reach him. It’s almost like he’s afraid of something. What could possibly be holding him back?”
“I don’t know much about Jude’s past, so I’ll just tell what I learnt of him from my experience.” Remington says. “I think he’s like a cat in a new environment and people is what scares him the most. Although he won’t run away if you approach him alone but he’ll hiss at you if you reach out your hand and this is where most people stop. However, Arlo just went ahead and pet him anyway. Even though he won’t bite, it still takes a lot of guts to hold out your hand casually to a hissing cat, so that’s why only Arlo can be his friend.”
Arlo bursts out with laughter. “Haha, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Remy, I didn’t know you are a cat person.”
“I used to feed stray cats.” Remington smiles. “Too bad I never had a chance to keep one living in Civil Corps.”
“Speak of the devil, or cat.” Sam snickers when the door is pushed open and Jude appears.

 

Noticing all three of them are staring at him somehow, Jude stops at where he is. He looks at Arlo questioningly as if asking what the hell is wrong with them.
“Oh, hi, Jude.” Arlo tries real hard to repress the urge to laugh. “We were just talking about cats. Do you know that Remy likes cats, too?”
“That’s true.” Sensing his gaze diverts to him, Remington says, with faint amusement in his voice. “I heard from Arlo that you adopted Pinky? That’s very nice of you.”
Still oblivious of why they are all acting so weird, Jude rolls his eyes and doesn’t intend to dig into this. Instead, he walks towards Sam and hands over the commissioned item receiving a “Thank you” with giggles from her.
“Hey, Jude. Wait.” Arlo catches up after him as he’s about to leave. “Let me walk you back.”
The door closes after they both left. Remington and Sam look at each other.
“Arlo is really obsessed about being friends with Jude, huh?” Sam says. “I’ve never seen him so interested in someone like this. He can hardly stop talking about Jude these days.”
“You know he’s always up for challenges and Jude is like the toughest nut to crack in town.” Remington shrugs.
“Do you think he will succeed with this task?”
“I can only hope so.”

 

It’s almost dark when they walk past the town gate.
“Are you okay?” Says Arlo, watching Jude massaging his back.
“Fine. At least I lasted 30 seconds today, isn’t that an improvement?” Jude says sarcastically and narrows his eyes. “Or were you going easy on me?”
“Nope. Don’t know what you are talking about.” Arlo diverts his eyes quickly and denies. “You are really getting better at this.”
“Whatever. Goodbye.” Jude is ready to part ways when his workshop is in sight but he freezes as he notices something is different.
“What’s wrong?” Sensing his pause, Arlo asks. Then he sees it, too.
Under light from the lamp post beside the workshop gate, the mailbox is smashed into pieces. There’s also a note can be seen left upon the remains. Jude picks it up and gives it a brief read then throws it aside. Arlo catches the note and it reads,
‘Little pest,
You might notice work is a little harder without your precious mailbox. It'll be even harder to work without your Resource Box. Quit doing stuff around town like you're some sort of gift to Portia and leave.
X’
“Why, this is a threat! How can anyone do something like this!” Arlo raises his voice in anger. “Leave it to me, Jude. I’ll find out who did it!”
“Heh. Don’t bother.” Jude lets out a humorless laugh. “There are jokers like this everywhere. Just ignore them and they’ll get tired. It’s not worth anyone’s time to try to find them.”
“What?” Arlo widens his eyes and looks at him in disbelief. “But this is a crime! At least it’s my job to get to the bottom of this.”
“Well, if that’s the case, I’ll choose not to report this then.” Jude folds his arms. “Really. Just forget about it. I’ll see what I can do about it.”
They look at each other in silence for a while, then Arlo sighs.
“Jude, are we friends?”
“Huh?” Jude is caught off guard by this question. “I don’t know, are we?”
Noticing the slight hurt in Arlo’s eyes, he quickly amends his answer. “Of course! Yes, we are friends!” He rubs his neck nervously. “I’m sorry. I really don’t know much about how friendship works. I mean, I do like having your accompany even though you can be annoying some times. Overall, I think you are good.”
“Let’s talk about how you think me being annoying next time.” Arlo narrows his eyes and Jude looks back at him with a I’m-not-good-at-being-subtle look on his face. “I see you as my friend, too.” There’s sincerity in his voice. “As a friend, I’m really concerned that something like this has happened to you and I want to help.”
“Thanks? I really appreciate it?” Jude says with uncertainty. Gosh, the sentiment. It’s really getting on my nerve. He thinks. “But I don’t need help.”

 

Hearing him say it without any hesitation in an indifferent tone, Arlo thinks he now knows what has been holding Jude back. Relying on others has never been an option for him, either emotionally or practically, he takes everything on himself without a second thought. Arlo could not imagine how did he live through all the tough times on his own.
“It’s only natural for friends to help each other.” He says gently. “You would help me if I’m in trouble, right?”
“Sure. I’m willing to help.” Jude says. “But I’m not sure if I can kick the ass of someone that even you can’t deal with.”
“It’s the thought that counts.” Arlo chuckles. “Then why won’t you let me help you?”
Jude sighs, organizing his thoughts. After a moment, he speaks. “When I was in grade school, there was one time that I beat the shit out of a kid. His gang and him had been picking on me for a while, like calling me names and messing with my stuff. However, the adults really favored him and decided it was solely my fault and I got detention for the rest of the semester. When my aunt learnt about this, she told me to calculate the consequences before acting and think about is it really worth the price you may pay.” He shrugs. “That’s a very valuable lesson. From then on I stayed away from trouble and paid the jokers no mind. That’s what my aunt did when she received anonymous hate mails, too. I tried to be as tough as her.”
There’s something that doesn’t sound right in what he just said but Arlo can’t put his finger on what it is at first. Then it suddenly comes to him, it’s the way that Jude talked about himself. It was like he’s telling another person’s story that doesn’t matter to him despite the injustice and mistreatment in it.
“There wasn’t anyone for you when the other kids picked on you?” He finally asks.
“Huh? I think this is not the point that I tried to make.” Confused, Jude scratches his head. “No. All the other kids stayed away from me and my aunt never intervened with anything except work.”
Arlo is speechless. He tries to imagine how it feels like to be a child that has no one to turn to when facing all the unfairness and this is what Jude has been dealing with all these years. He can’t help but feel deeply sorry for Jude.
“Hey, why the sad look?" Jude says nervously, looking up at Arlo.
“I’m here for you.”
“What?”
“You can depend on me, even if it’s just small things, you can talk to me about it. You can’t deal with things like this in a cost-effective way like it’s just work or something.” Arlo looks him in the eyes firmly. “Your feelings matter. They matter to me. I’ll feel upset too if you are upset.”
“I’m not-“ Jude tries to deny it immediately but what Arlo just said makes him feel like something’s stuck in his throat. All of a sudden, the feelings that he’s been repressed for so long that he even forgets they still exist surface into his mind. A strange sensation spreads across his heart that feels like it’s out of control for a moment.
“Fine. I’m upset.” Jude says when he’s finally able to speak again, smiling. He does feel pissed off by the broken mailbox but the overflowing warmness inside him is the only thing he can tell right now.
“You look awfully happy for someone who’s supposed to be upset.” Arlo smiles, too. “Seriously, though. Let me handle this. I have to teach whoever did this to my friend a lesson.”
“Okay, okay. You can have this one.” Jude holds up his hands as if he’s surrendering. “I’m counting on you.”
“You got it, I’ll start the investigation right now! See ya!”
“Shouldn’t you wait till tomorrow?” Too late, Arlo is already gone. “Seriously…” Mumbling to himself, Jude shakes his head ruefully. Then he realizes that he’s still smiling.
So this is how having a friend feels like? He thinks, looking towards the direction where Arlo disappeared. The lights from the town look so bright under the dark purple night.

 

End of Chapter 7

Chapter Text

The following two days made Jude almost regret letting Arlo take care of the searching for culprit.
Wherever he went, people would ask him about this incident and show their sympathy and indignancy, especially his acquaintances. For example, Presley. “This is unforgivable! I don’t believe anyone in Portia would do something like this. Jude, if you need any kind of support, just ask. I’ll help as much as I can.” And Remington. “We are on this case as well. Rest assured, it will be over soon. Arlo is really serious about this investigation.” Even Higgins had something to say to him. “Why won’t the Civil Corps leave me alone! Did you suggest to them that I did it? That’s ridiculous!” Going into town had once again become a huge pain in the ass for Jude. Although he didn’t want to sound like an ungrateful bastard, but he did think they were overreacting. Seriously, it was just a broken mailbox which only took like ten minutes to repair. Judging by the magnitude of people’s concern towards him, he would think it was his house that had been taken down.

 

It’s almost noon but Jude does not feel like to get out of his bed. Thinking about another day filled with overwhelming attention almost brought him a fresh headache.
“Purrr.” Pinky jumps onto his bed and snuggles against his arm.
“Good morning to you.” Jude says and reaches out a hand to scratch behind her ears. It’s always a mystery where did Pinky find the way into his house.
“Meow.” Pinky enjoys the scratch for a while then jumps down to the floor. She looks back at Jude with expectancy.
“You hungry?” Jude asks, but Pinky goes straight to the door and looks at him again as if telling him to follow her.
Not sure what does Pinky want, Jude follows her out anyway.
“What the-“ After he got out, the first thing Jude notices is the broken resource box. Although it is quite useless at this point, it doesn’t mean that it’s okay for it to be broken. Also, like last time, there’s a note left there.
“Little pest,
Leave. This is your last chance!
X”
“My last chance, huh?” Jude is thinking about whether to let Arlo know about this or simply ignore it since he’s already on the case so it won’t make much of a difference.
“Meow!” Pink is meowing at him to get his attention and begins to walk down the road.
“You are being very mysterious today.” Jude tilts his head, confused. Suddenly, the dots are connected with each other in his head and he thinks he got the idea what is on Pinky’s mind. “Wait, are you trying to help me solve the case, too?”
“Purr.” Pinky blinks at him.
“Alright. Let’s see what you’ve got to show me.”

 

Pinky finally stops at the entrance of Haunted Cave. She sits down and begins to lick her paw as if her job is done now. This place looks exactly the same as the last time Jude has been here except the several pieces of decoration hanging above the entrance. It seems that the preparation is not finished yet.
“You sure it’s here?” Jude asks but Pinky is busy grooming herself like she didn’t hear a thing. He shrugs. “Well, guess I’ll have to check it out myself.” Then he proceeds into the cave. Not long after that he hears someone talking from somewhere ahead.
“Huehhuh. 'Nother one smashed. Shouldn't be long now.” Says a stupid sounding voice.
“And those Civil Corps fools are still running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Revenge sure is sweet! That little pest will regret wrecking our collection scam.” Another stupid sounding voice but shriller than the last one.
Are those the ones that I’m supposed to be looking for? Jude thinks. Sounds like there are two of them. He weighs the trouble of dealing with this himself and going all the way back to town to find a Civil Corps member, then decides the former option is much more favourable than the latter one.

 

“No more builder, back to work! Huh?” Huss thinks he just saw someone at the other end of the cave.
“What is it, bro? Hwwaugh! It’s you!” Tuss turns his head to the direction Huss is looking at and sees Jude folding his arms and scowling at them.
“Do I know you?” Jude asks. “Are you the jerks who broke my stuff?”
“What do you mean by ‘Do I know you’??” Tuss exclaims irritatedly, his mouse-like whiskers twitching. “We tried to scam- oh no, collect your debt last week and you told us to get lost when we’ve just started! How could you shut the door in someone’s face when he’s still talking! This is outrageous!”
“Yeah, that’s outrageous!” Huss repeats indignantly after his big bro. “And just now you said you don’t even remember us! That’s just rude!”
“You’ve been to my house?” Jude tilts his head. After a brief recollecting he remembers. “Oh, you were those assholes that knocked at my door at 7 that morning. I thought that was just a dream.”
“Argh! Why you! Well, whatever! I guess we'll have to move forward a few steps in the plan.”
“This time we smash you for good!”
As they begin to close in menacingly and ready to fight, Jude raises an eyebrow. Well, he certainly didn’t start it this time and no one’s gonna give him detention for this, there’s just no reason to hold back anymore.

 

“….Oooh…Can’t believe we lost…”
“…Uuhh…You are tougher than you look…”
Defeated, the bandit brothers are both lying on the ground each with a black eye. That was almost a one-sided fight. Jude dodged every attack with ease since their patterns are too easy to spot and also greatly lack of finesse. He feels kind of satisfied finally being the one that stands with triumph after a fight. No wonder Arlo always wants to spar with him.
“Sooo, should I call the Civil Corps now?” Jude says slowly.
“Run away!” Tuss quickly scrambles up from the ground and drags Tuss along to flee.
Watching them hurrying away clumsily, Jude snickers with glee. He’s not really mad with them. Knowing how dumb the vandals actually are, he feels like this is more like a prank than sabotage. Too bad that Arlo has wasted two days and a half for nothing, Jude thinks and ready to go back.

 

“What? You already found the culprits?” Arlo widens his eyes.
“Uh-huh. Pinky led me to them.” Jude is studying the beat-up dummy standing at the centre of the Civil Corps hall. The poor old thing looks like it could hardly keep itself together. There are only them two in here right now, Remington and Sam are off to do their own business.
“Who are they?” Arlo slumps onto a nearby chair and asks.
Jude stays quiet for a sec and realizes that he doesn’t know their names. It would be shocking if he knows though. “A troll-like man and a mouse-like man.”
“Heh. That must be Huss and Tuss.” Arlo laughs at the description. “These two are the troublemakers in this town for a long time. What did you do with them?”
“Nothing. Just beat them up.” Jude sits down on the chair next to him. “Then they ran away. I think they’ve learnt their lesson.”
“Only for now. They will never learn.” Arlo shakes his head ruefully. “Sorry that I wasn’t of much help. You should probably leave beating criminals to us. That could have been dangerous... but I'm glad to see you in one piece.”
“Nah. They are pretty weak and all that matters is it’s over now.” Jude crosses his legs with hands deep in the pockets and looks away. After some inner struggling, he finally whispers. “I’m glad that you helped. Thanks.”
“No problem.” Arlo smiles to himself and does not look Jude’s way for he knows that would embarrass him even more. He’s glad that Jude seems to have opened up a little bit more to him and he does not want to ruin that improvement. He waits for a moment to let Jude regain his composure in silence and speaks as casually as he can. “By the way, it’s my birthday this Friday and we are gonna throw a party.”
“Your birthday?” Jude repeats in surprise and then his face drops like he’s been told to have detention for a month. “A party?”
“It’s nothing big, I just invited some friends over to have dinner together.” Noticing how much he hates party exactly as expected, Arlo quickly explains. “Anyway, you don’t have to come to the party. What I want to ask is, could you come meet me after the party’s over? I just want to spend some time with you on my birthday.”
He waits nervously for Jude’s response as he’s quiet again. Arlo has asked him to hang out together for a couple of times and got turned down immediately every time. He thinks maybe the words ‘hanging out’ are like an embodiment of socializing that repel Jude at the mere sounding of them. Putting it in other words with some more specific reason is the best strategy he could come up with. Please let it work. He mentally crosses his fingers.
“Okay.” It didn’t take him long to decide, Jude then adds. “But mind that I will only show up when everyone else is gone.”
“Great! Thank you!” Both happy and relieved, Arlo throws his arm around Jude’s shoulder. He tried to dodge that but failed. “You can wait for me at the back of Civil Corps around 11. I’ll make sure everyone has gone home by that time.”
“Have as much fun as you want. I’ll wait.” Jude says sulkily because Arlo won’t let him go. “I don’t want to be a party pooper even if I’m not present.”
“Don’t worry! I’m looking forward to the after-party just as much as the party!” Arlo beams at him.

 

End of Chapter 8

Chapter Text

Jude arrived 15 minutes earlier than 11 at the back of Civil Corps. He drops the large item wrapped in fibre cloth to the ground and wipes his forehead with sleeve. It’s so damn painful to carry something so heavy up to somewhere so high. Why does Civil Corps have to be built at the highest and furthest spot of Portia? Jude slumps onto the ground next to the cause of his pain. Oh wait, maybe the church is at higher altitude than here. Good thing that the church is the least likely place that I might go. Jude thinks, still slightly panting.
The abandoned ruins is quite visible under the moonlight. Leaning against the wall, Jude is sitting in the shadow of the building. Nothing makes him feel as comfortable as darkness. It’s like being separated from everything in the light. He’s merely an observer and no one could detect his existence. He’s free to be whatever he wants to be. He’s the master of his own reality.
Speaking of reality, the muffled laughter from the party inside drags Jude’s thoughts back to the present. He checks his pocket watch and it’s already 11. Sounds like it’s still gonna take some time for the party to end itself. Jude does not blame them, it’s only normal for people to love hanging out rather than hating it. He slides down to be lying in the grass and puts his hands under his head, it’s easier to look at the stars this way. He likes stars, because them remind him how vast this world is and there are endless possibilities out there somewhere. It’s always fun to imagine about different versions of reality when having his sight full of the mesmerizing deep dark space. Slowly Jude gets fully absorbed in his contemplation and loses the sense of time.

 

Inside the Civil Corps building, the party is still going on.
Arlo isn’t the type of person who likes to invite a lot of guests to party. In fact, there are only 5 people here except himself. Remington and Sam are definitely included, they are his closest friends in Portia. There are also Dr. Xu and Phyllis, the clinic is just next door so they basically see each other every day which makes them good acquaintances. Phyllis is also Sam’s good friend and that adds another reason why she would come. Lastly, Nora. They hang out pretty often and Arlo likes telling her stories of his adventures. She’s a good audience.
Sam has brought booze to the party though most of which was consumed by herself. Right now she’s telling funny stories about some dumb things that her family did before and keeps laughing with everyone else through it half-drunkenly. Still laughing, Arlo accidentally glances at the clock and freezes. Oh my god, it’s half past 11 now! He has really lost the track of time. Trying not to act too obvious, he gives Remington who sits right next to him a small nudge under the table.
“Hey, dude. Do me a favour.” He says in undertone.
“What is it?” Remington keeps his voice down, too.
“I have to go. Could you please pretend it’s bedtime for you now so everyone could go home?”
“Is this about Jude?” Remington raises an eyebrow.
“How do you-“ Arlo is totally caught off guard and almost forgets to keep it quiet.
“So it is, huh?” Remington smirks. “Don’t worry. I’ve got this.”
“Yawwnn.” He stands up and stretches his arms while yawning slowly. “Guys, it’s really late now. How about let’s call it a day and go home to sleep?”
“Boo! Party pooper!” Red as a tomato, Sam protests like a drunken teenager. “It’s- *hic* it’s not even midnight yet!”
“Remington’s right. It’s not very good for your health to stay up too late.” Dr. Xu says, then stands up and ready to leave. “Well, guess I’ll see you guys on Monday then. Thanks for the food.” He looks at Sam. “And booze.”
“Goodbye, Dr. Xu.” Phyllis says. She grabs Sam’s arm to put it on her shoulder. “Come on, Sam, let’s go. Don’t be a baby.”
“We can *hic* keep drinking at my plaaccee! I’ve got beeerss!” Sam keeps rambling while being dragged away by Phyllis.
“We’ll be going now, goodbye. It’s been a great night.” Phyllis says to the rest. “Do you want to go back with us, Nora?”
“Thanks, but I’ll go back later.” Nora smiles with her face slightly blushed. It’s unclear whether it’s because of the alcohol or some other reason.
“Okay. See you then.” Phyllis leaves with Sam.

 

With half the people left, it’s suddenly becomes so quiet in the Civil Corps hall.
Nora fidgets with her fingers and keeps looking between Arlo and Remington like she’s got something to say. Figured what’s on her mind, Remington yawns again like he really is tired.
“Yawn. I’ll go back to my room now. Good night you guys.” He says and leaves for his room. Arlo gives him a thankful look. Remington can’t help but quietly chuckle to himself after he turned his back to them. Things have gotten really interesting tonight. He thinks amusedly.
Nora finally speaks when Remington closes his door. “Um, Arlo. I’m wondering… could you walk me back?”
“Huh?” Arlo didn’t expect this turn of events. The expectancy on Nora’s face makes it really hard for him to turn her down. “I’m sorry but I’m actually tired, too. Yawwnn.” He fakes yawn and stretches his arms exactly like how Remington did minutes ago. “Maybe if you hurry up you can still catch up with Phyllis and Sam.”
“Oh.” Nora tries not to let herself sound too disappointed. “That’s okay! I mean, it is pretty late. You need to get some rest.”
“Sorry. Maybe next time?” Arlo scratches his head and apologizes again. He really doesn’t want to lie to her like this but Jude is probably still waiting for him.
“Don’t worry about it.” Nora forces a smile. “I will go now. See you next time. And happy birthday again. Good night!”
“Thanks. Good night.”
Arlo sighs with a little bit guilt after the door’s closed. I’ll have to think of something to make up for her next time. He thinks. Then he waits anxiously for another 5 minutes to make sure everyone is gone and no one’s coming back halfway before hurriedly heads out to where Jude is waiting.

 

“Sorry I’m late!” Arlo’s face suddenly appears above him while Jude is thinking what it would be like to live as a ghost to haunt a horror attraction and make it a real thing. For a moment he couldn’t understand what is Arlo doing here.
“When I saw the clock it was already half past 11! Did you wait long?” Noticing Jude is quiet, he says nervously. “Are you mad at me? I’m so sorry. I’m the one to ask you out but-“
“Oh, right. I was waiting for you.” Remembering why he’s here, Jude interrupts his apology, then he sits up from the ground. He smells of grass. “No problem. I would be sitting somewhere watching the stars right now anyway. See? I even forgot why you are here just now.”
“Heh. Yeah, that sounds like you.” Arlo gives him a hand to help Jude stand up and finds that his hand feels ice cold. “Your hand is cold! How long have you been waiting here?”
“Not too long. It’s normal for my hand to be cold.” Jude says nonchalantly. He doesn’t want Arlo to make a big deal out of this but too late, he has already taken off his jacket and wrapped it around Jude. “What the hell are you doing?” He says irritatedly.
“To help you warm up.” Arlo is still holding the jacket on him so that he couldn’t shake it off. “Thanks for coming. It really means a lot to me.”
“Whatever.” Jude rolls his eyes. He gives up the struggling and lets the warmness from Arlo’s jacket transfer to his body. It feels weird to be wrapped in a jacket that smells of someone else, it’s not bad to get warmer though.
“Okay. I’m warmed up now.” It didn’t take long for Jude to call an end to this. He thinks his face is getting hot, too. “Take it off me.”
“If you say so.” Arlo puts his jacket back on. It smells of grass now, too.
“Oh right! I made you a present.” Jude says, trying to divert the topic to relieve himself from the embarrassment.
“Really?” Arlo grins, both at his reaction and the fact that he prepared a present. “What is it?”
Jude picks up the package he left on the ground. “It is clear in Civil Corps now, right? I’ll go and install it then.”
“You really got me curious now.” Eager to know what his present is, Arlo follows Jude back into the Civil Corps building.

 

“Tada!” Jude raises his head proudly as he removes the wrapping cloth. “Meet your new dummy!”
Instead of the old beat-up dummy, now standing at the centre of Civil Corps hall is a brand new bright coloured one with its lifelike clown head swaying back and forth a little bit. It has wide opened eyes and a huge red lipsticked grin with two huge front teeth sticking out. The open arms of it look more like it’s a deadly trap than welcome for a hug.
“Why… clown?” Arlo asks hesitantly. He’s not sure what to feel about this. He knows he should be happy right now but the creepy grin of the clown face kind of spooks him out. It must be the light. He thinks.
“To help you conquer your fear of course.” Jude says, gives the head a tap and makes it sway harder. “Nothing’s creepier than clowns. If you can hit something like this, then you can beat anything.”
“Maybe you’ve got a point.” Arlo slowly says while examining the clown dummy, then he launches several punches to test it out. Despite how unsettling the swaying clown head looks, the torso of the dummy feels bouncy and solid on impact. It’s much better made than the old one. Jude must have put a lot of work into it.
“Thanks. It’s really a great present. This dummy will make me stronger.” He looks back through narrowed eyes at the clown face and decides he’s not scared of it. Unlike him, Remington will be scared out of his wits by it the next day morning when he steps out of his room and the clown dummy is the first thing that he sees, but that’s another story.
“That’s the spirit.” Jude checks his pocket watch, there’s only a minute left to midnight. It’s now or never. After some hesitation he finally says. “Happy… birthday? Technically speaking the date is still 5th so it’s not too late.” He rubs his neck a little nervously. “So, eh. Happy birthday, Arlo.”
“Thank you!” Arlo smiles at him. Somehow it feels different than others when Jude said happy birthday to him, it’s like the soft spot of his heart has been touched. This is definitely his happiest moment tonight.

 

“Come to think of it, I still don’t know when your birthday is.” Arlo asks when walking Jude back.
“My birthday? Hmmm.” Jude thinks hard for a few seconds. “It’s 3rd… no, 4th of summer.”
“Why is it so hard to think of when your birthday is?” Arlo finds it quite strange.
“Well, my aunt wasn’t really a birthday person so we didn’t pay it much attention.” Jude is searching for his memories about birthday. “When I was still a kid, I got some pocket money around my birthday. After I started apprenticing in the workshop at 15 and receiving payment for it, I stopped getting that money.” Then he adds. “I know what people usually do on their birthday though. Like cake and present and stuff.”
“Wow. So you never got any birthday present when you were a kid?” Arlo says with pity. “Don’t worry, I’ll get you one next year.”
“Thanks.” Jude snickers. “It’s just that we didn’t consider any date to be special. It’s just like any other day so why make a big deal out of it? If you want to eat a cake or buy yourself a nice thing then do it. Why do you have to wait till a specific date?”
“Haha, maybe you are right.” Arlo laughs. “But birthday still serves as a reason to let people do nice things to each other. It’s the people who care about you that makes it special.”
“Meh. Sentiment is for suckers.” Jude waves his hand dismissively.
“Come on.” Arlo shakes his head ruefully. “Your aunt sounds like she’s really a character though.”
“She sure was.” Jude reminisces. “It’s twice as hard for a woman to maintain the top rank as men so she worked twice as hard as them. The fame of Adams workshop also made others jealous so she really had a hard time when she was young. I think that’s why she’s so obsessed with work, but she never forced the same idea on me. Although she was still really strict with my works.” He chuckles. “Seriously, she was REALLY strict. The inspection standards are like child’s play compared with hers.”
“She sounds like a great person.” Arlo smiles. “Wish I could meet her.”
“Probably in afterlife.” Jude shrugs. They’ve already arrived at Peach Plaza and stand under the streetlight. “It’s late, you should go back now.”
“Why does good time always have to end so soon?” Arlo says and quickly reaches out a hand to ruffle Jude’s hair before he could pull himself away. “You sure you are not gonna invite me over for some tea?”
“Knock it off.” Jude says disgruntledly and steps aside. “And I don’t drink tea.”
“See you then.” Arlo laughs and waves him goodbye as Jude leaves for his workshop.
None of them has noticed that someone is watching them from the apartment window.

 

End of Chapter 9

Chapter Text

Nora has been waiting for the right time to let Arlo know her feelings toward him.
They have known each other for more than a year now since Nora came to Portia for her 2 years’ mission. She knew that she’s attracted to Arlo at first sight. He’s tall and strong, also adventurous and responsible. He’s got everything that the ideal boyfriend she dreamed of should have. She’s glad that Arlo and she had become friends pretty soon but their relationship seems to have stopped progressing at the point of just being friends. Sure, Arlo is always willing to meet her in the night and tell her stories, but Nora can tell that he is not doing that because she’s special. It’s a thing that he would do for a friend. What’s been troubling Nora is that Arlo doesn’t seem to be interested in her romantically, or maybe he just doesn’t show. That’s what Nora keeps telling herself to not lose hope.
Then she thought the time had come when it’s Arlo’s birthday. She had been waiting for too long and there’s no point in doing nothing but waiting. She had made up her mind to confess to him when they are alone after the party. It was a fun party but she was too distracted to actually enjoy it. All she could think of is that heart knot lying in her pocket. The critical moment was coming nearer as the time ticking by. Finally, someone called an end to the party and there are just her and Arlo left.
“Um, Arlo. I’m wondering… could you walk me back?” Relax. Nora tells herself. I can do this.
“I’m sorry but I’m actually tired, too. Yawwnn.”
This is unexpected. “Oh.” For a second Nora doesn’t how to respond to the rejection before she even gets the chance to confess. “That’s okay! I mean, it is pretty late. You need to get some rest.”

 

She had no idea what she said afterwards. Not after she automatically returned to her room in the apartment has she realized what just happened. She takes out the heart knot that didn’t get the chance to be presented and stares at it blankly. It’s strange how rejected she feels even though she didn’t actually confess like she planned. Then she recalls the way Arlo acted. He wasn’t really tired. He’s always a terrible liar. Probably he had something else to do. Nora thinks. But what could it possibly be? It’s almost midnight. She knows that Arlo wouldn’t refuse to walk her back if it’s not for something important.
With these thoughts and questions troubling her restlessly, Nora finds herself still wide awake after lying in her bed for a while. She sighs and sits up, decides to look out through the window to let the view distract herself from thinking too much. Then she sees them walking towards Peach Plaza. The bright red hair of Arlo is unmistakable under the streetlight even from some distance away.
She leans to the window hastily and opens a crack. Immediately she hears the faint laughter of Arlo and another cool voice of a male. It’s too far to hear them clearly, Nora is not sure who the other person is. So he wasn’t about to meet another girl. Nora feels relieved a little bit but next moment she sees Arlo ruffles that person’s hair. Although she can’t make out the details, but they seem to be really close. Arlo has never showed this kind of affection to me. Nora thinks bitterly. The idea that Arlo has ditched her to meet with this mysterious guy is like a sharp claw gripping her heart that makes it hurt. A part of her is still trying to come up with excuses like ‘maybe it’s because I’m a girl so he won’t behave too intimately or it’s gonna be weird’ or ‘maybe they really have some important issue to discuss’, but another part of her just won’t listen to the reasoning and feels sad uncontrollably. ‘Maybe I’m just not that special to him’ is the only thing the negative part has to say.
“No, this doesn’t mean he is going to reject my confession.” Nora shakes her head as if trying to shake off the negative thoughts. “I have to at least try it before give up or feel heart broken.” She says to herself and finds determination.
Nora decides that she won’t stop trying until she has showed the heart knot to Arlo and let him know her feelings for him.

 

This week has been very miserable for Jude. It all began with that cursed morning.
It’s half past ten, the normal getting up time for Jude. There he is, just got out of his house to do the routine morning check on the machines. Then he spots a figure running towards his workshop.
“Huff, huff, of hey Jude, want to join me on a run?” It’s Arlo. He’s slightly panting from the running.
“Haha, that’s a good one. Very funny.” Jude gives a sarcastic laugh. “Do I look like someone who enjoys running around for no reason but the heck of it?”
“Yes, you do!” Arlo grins and ignores his sarcasm like always. Without further arguing with him, Arlo grabs his arm and drags him along anyway. “Let’s go! Come on!”
“Wait, what are you-“ Before realizing what’s happening, Jude is already being dragged on the running with Arlo. “Hey! Let go of me! Running is stupid and I hate it!”
“Nonsense! It’s good for your health. Trust me, you need this!”
“Goddamnit this is ridiculous! Let me go! Let me gooooo!”
Jude has never hated the fact that Arlo is way stronger than him more than now.

 

When they finally arrive at the tree farm, Jude feels like he’s dying.
“You know -huff- I rarely say -huff- the F word out loud -huff- but here you go -huff-” Jude is stumbling and panting heavily like a fish out of water. “FUCK RUNNING!” Then he falls face down to the ground like all his strength is gone.
“Haha, that’s why you need it! The more you exercise the less painful it is!” Arlo laughs and wipes sweat off his face. Then he keels down on one knee next to Jude and rubs his back. “There, there. You feel better now?”
Still unable to catch his breath, Jude half turns his head to let his face out. “What’s your deal though? I thought today is not your normal training day.”
“Yeah, that’s true.” Arlo looks down at Jude. His face is very pink now and covered with sweat. Arlo thinks he looks cute like this. “I haven’t told anyone about this, but the reason I’m doing extra training is for the entrance exam of The Flying Pigs.”
Jude rolls over so that he could look at Arlo. “I know you are a big fan of that guild, but you really registered for the exam?”
“That’s right.” Arlo sits down on the ground. He lowers his voice. “And I’ve failed the entrance exam several times already. I'm training for the next time. I cannot fail again this time, so I must train harder.”
It’s silent between them for a moment as Jude is thinking about what to say. It a real tough task for him.
“The point is to keep trying, isn’t it?” He finally says. “Until you finally did it or admit your own limit, but none of that would happen if you never give it your all. In that case, you’ll just keep wondering what would’ve happened if you have tried harder.” Then he finds that what he said was too negative. “Oh, sorry, does that sound too dark? I don’t believe in bullshit like ‘you can do it’ or ‘everything is gonna be fine’.”
“Haha, you are right! You never fail to impress me.” Arlo laughs out loud. He actually feels better hearing that than some empty words. “Just like you said, I have to give it my all. It’s all or nothing. Thanks!”
“No problem.” Jude is too tired to feel attacked by the sentiment now.
“Alright, time to back to work!” Arlo stands up and gives Jude a hand to help him up, too. He’s wobbling a little. “Are you okay? Do you need me to carry you back?”
“No thanks, I’ve got legs.” Jude refuses flatly. He feels that when Arlo says something like this he doesn’t really mean it but just for teasing him. Although he also feels that Arlo really would do it if he says yes.
“It’s been really great to have you running with me today. Thanks.” Arlo grins. “Can we do this again tomorrow?”
“WHAT? Are you kidding me?” Jude widens his eyes in horror.
“Please?” Arlo says with puppy eyes.
“Aaauuuggghhhh.” Jude groans painfully. How could he say no when being asked like this?

 

It’s almost sunset now and Nora is waiting outside the Civil Corps. Her palm is slightly sweaty for holding too tightly onto the heart knot in her pocket for too long. Arlo usually would come back from his patrol around this time. It’s been several days since they last saw each other and that was at Arlo’s birthday party. Nora has been avoiding seeing him so she could gather the courage. She takes deep breaths to suppress the swelling anxiety inside her chest.
“Oh, hey, Nora.” Arlo appears at the end of the road on his horse and stops before her. “What are you doing here?” He jumps off to the ground and lets his horse trot back to the stable.
“I… I’ve got something that I want to give you.” Nora fidgets with her fingers, too nervous to look at Arlo.
“What is it?” He asks curiously. He just had his birthday so it’s not very likely to be another present.
“I want to give you… this.” Nora finally pulls out the heart knot from her pocket and presents it to him.
Arlo feels his jaw dropped when he saw what’s in her hand. This feels pretty sudden for him. He never even noticed that Nora has this kind of feelings for him.
“I’ve been wanting to let you how I feel about you for some time now.” Nora blushes and continues, after the hardest part’s done it feels easier for her to let her feelings out. “I like how you were telling those stories to me and the look on your face when you were talking about your dream, sitting next to you makes me feel happy and safe.” Nora bites her lip. “I want to be with you. More than just friends.”
“Oh, eh, this is… a little sudden for me.” Arlo is flustered. He’s not sure how to react under this circumstance. The heart knot in Nora’s hand looks surprisingly red. “I think you are great and I like spending time with you, too. But…”
Nora feels like her heart has dropped into a pool full of icy water hearing that but. Buts never lead to any good things.
“I don’t know. Could you give me some more time to think about this?” Arlo finally says. He feels that he’s sweating. “Sorry but I think I need to think this over before giving you a proper reply. I mean, I’ve never even thought about starting a relationship before.”
“That’s okay.” Nora says, a sliver of hope has returned to her. “I’ll wait. I’m glad that you are treating this seriously.”
“Yeah… Sorry.” This is all Arlo can say at the moment. He still can’t make heads or tails out of the thoughts running wild in his head.
They stand in silence for a while before Nora breaks it. “Well, I’ll have to go now. See you.” She hastily turns around and walks away quickly without waiting to hear anything else from Arlo.
She realizes that she’s still holding that heart knot in her hand after she arrived at the front door of the apartment. She sighs and slides it back into her pocket.

 

Another several days have passed.
“Hah done! Your body is getting stronger and stronger!” Arlo is standing by the waterfall, listening to the roaring current and feeling satisfied about another day’s training has been done.
It’s already been more than a week since Arlo first dragged Jude on a run, then he’s been doing it every day. Their destinations have become further and further. First the tree farm, then the riverbank, finally the waterfall. Jude kept complaining about how stupid and meaningless running is, but he still managed to follow Arlo all the way here.
“Huff, huff.” Jude grips at his heart which feels like it’s gonna explode. One improvement is that he won’t collapse to the ground anymore, he’s able to control himself to sit down without falling. “Goddamn this is impossible. Huff, huff.” Sitting on the ground and struggling for air, Jude looks at the waterfall, too. He likes this spot, but he prefers to take a DeeDee instead of running.
Arlo sits down next to him and they rest for a while in silence. Then Arlo speaks. “Say, Jude.” He hesitates a little bit. “Can I have your opinion on something? It’s… a little personal.”

Chapter Text

“What?” Jude raises an eyebrow. It’s really rare for Arlo to be this wavered about something or want to start a talk about something ‘personal’.
“You see...a few days ago, Nora, that pretty gal missionary, laid out her feelings for me.” He fidgets a little bit uneasily.
“Huh?” Jude doesn’t understand what was he talking about at first and then he gets it. “Ohhh.” He drawls. “Don’t know if I can help you with anything about love issue. I’ll try to be a good listener at least.”
“Thanks, that will do. So the thing is.” Arlo continues. “I haven't really given her a response yet...”
“Uh-huh.” Jude is listening.
“It's all a little sudden, I like telling her stories about my adventures, but I always saw her as a younger sister.” Arlo pauses for a bit then adds. “Well, I'd be lying if I say I'm not attracted to her at all. But I'm all about the Civil Corps right now...”
“So you are saying, you are attracted to your little sister.” Jude smirks.
“Hey, I’m being serious here.” Arlo protests. “I don’t know what to do. Should I accept her feelings? If so then it would be a big change for me. If I get into a relationship, I'll need to make sure I prioritize my time on her. But I really don’t want to hurt her feelings. She’s a good friend to me. What do you think?”
“Well.” Jude is trying to organize his thoughts. “First thing first, what matters now is not her feelings.” He looks at Arlo. “It’s yours.”
“What do you mean?”
“People should be responsible for their own happiness.” Jude explains. “You have to decide upon your feelings for her, not based on some nonsense like ‘don’t want to hurt her feelings’.” He does a quote gesture.
“Okay, help me figure out my feelings then.” Arlo narrows his eyes.
“How could I know that? I’m not you and I know nothing about love. I don’t even use it as a verb.” Jude shrugs. Sensing Arlo’s disappointment, he sighs and tries harder. “Umm. How about… what did you think of her before she confessed to you?”
“She’s my friend and I think she’s a nice person?”
“And you think she’s attractive, correct?” Jude adds.
“Correct.” Arlo nods.
“Is there anyone else that you consider as a friend and attractive?”
“Friend and attractive, huh? Sam maybe? Or Phyllis?” Arlo strokes his chin and tries to think. “But I always see Sam as my bro and I don’t really know Phyllis that well.”
“How would you react if one of them confesses to you?”
“Ehhhh.” Arlo imagines Sam presenting a bundle of rose to him and saying ‘Arlo, I love you! I want you to be my man!’ He flinches at that imagination which seems much more like a prank than confession. Then he pictures Phyllis standing in front of him in a seductive manner and saying ‘I think you are a good man. Wanna go out with me?’ He does a heavy facepalm. Phyllis would never act like that. He sighs and concludes. “I honestly can’t imagine that kind of scenarios.”
“Geez. What a tough customer.” Jude sighs, too. “Then any of your friends will do. Keep changing your object.”
“I don’t think this is gonna work.” Arlo frowns. “I mean, it’s just not like the real thing. It doesn’t feel right. It’s impossible to imagine the kind of thing that I never heard they say, not even remotely.”
“Fine, how about this? I’ll pretend that I’m confessing to you so that you can compare it with how you felt when that girl did the same.” This is such a stupid idea and Jude is regretting about suggesting it the instant after he did.
“Huh?” Arlo is caught off guard by this suggestion.
Doesn’t intend to give him time to react, Jude just wants to finish this as soon as possible. He leans closer to Arlo till their shoulders almost touch each other’s and looks into his slightly widened eyes. He can see his own reflection among the clear ocean blue. It’s difficult to keep a straight face knowing what he’s doing but Jude tries as hard as he can to make himself sound sincere and serious.
“Arlo, I like you. Could you be my boyfriend?”

 

Arlo stays where he is motionless with a surprised look on his face like he’s been frozen on spot. Jude holds still for another few seconds before quickly pulls himself back and turns away to look at somewhere else. Great, now I have another embarrassing memory that will keep haunting and torturing me without mercy until my death. He thinks sulkily and stares as hard as he can at a Goliath swimming by under the water nearby as a desperate attempt to replace the still fresh embarrassing memory with the fierce looking fish. One, two, three… He starts to count the number of stripes on it.
After he can almost memorize every detail about that fish, he has managed to subdue the infuriating embarrassment and turns back, then he finds Arlo still remains dumbstruck and hasn’t said a word yet.
“Hey, what’s wrong with you?” Jude elbows Arlo and pulls him back from his trance.
“Oh? I’m fine! I’m okay!” Arlo flusters and blushes. He hastily adds. “I just… didn’t expect you to come up with an idea like that!”
“Pfft- Hahahaha!” Jude bursts out with laughter at Arlo’s reaction. “Were you like this when that girl confessed to you? Hahaha! You should’ve looked at your face! Oh man, this is priceless.”
“Come on. It’s not that funny.” Arlo protests weakly and blushes even more.
“Of course it is! I have never seen you blushing like this! Oh my god, this is the best day of my life.” Jude keeps laughing for a few more seconds before he decides to drop it as Arlo shoots annoyed look at him. “Alright, alright. Let’s get back to the point.” He wipes tears from his eyes. “Now you can make the comparison and get the answer. Although from my point of view, you are just easily impressed by confessions.”
“Is that so? Well, I certainly can’t call myself a veteran about this kind of things so maybe you’ve got a point.” Arlo says uncertainly, he has calmed down now. He did seem to fluster a lot when being confessed both before and just now, but he thinks he flustered even more when hearing the confession from Jude. It’s probably because that was the least expected thing to hear from him considering his usual behaviour. Arlo finally concludes.
“Thanks for your help! I think I know what to do now.”

 

The rest of the day went by like usual. When Jude gets in his bed and ready to call it a day, today’s event comes back to him. He can’t help but snicker recalling how flustered Arlo was and his blushed face. Then he thinks of the possibility that Arlo might accept that girl’s confession. If that happens, he will be dating that girl. The images of Arlo holding some girl’s hand -Jude doesn’t remember what does the church girl look like- or putting his arm around some girl’s waist as they walking by, or even kissing that some girl. These thoughts give Jude a strange feeling but he’s not sure it is. Annoyance? Disgust? Bitterness? Or… jealousy? Jude mentally shakes his head dismissively at the last option. Whatever it is, the idea that Arlo treating some girl differently is absolutely not pleasant for Jude to think about.
“Hmmm.” Jude puts his hands under his head and keeps his train of thought moving forward. Thinking about the possible interaction between Arlo and some girl reminds him about the times before when Arlo hugged him or ruffled his hair. So he will do things like that to some girl like he did to me? The next moment he realizes what did he just think of, he hastily rolls over and buries his face deeply into the sheet like he’s gonna suffocate himself. What the hell was I thinking about??? He furiously questions himself. Goddamnit stop being ridiculous! Whoever Arlo dates is none of your business! Stop making it all about you! This is stupid! Don't be stupid, stupid! He mentally yells at himself.
After a long self-debate and numerous attempts to distract himself, Jude finally regains his composure, but the strange feeling still dangling at the back of his mind. He sighs and admits. Maybe I just don’t like the idea the Arlo will have to prioritize his attention to his possible girlfriend over me. Damn, I hate being emotionally attached to someone else. This sucks. He thinks grudgingly and slowly falls asleep.

 

This night is a rough one for Arlo, too.
Among the haziness, he finds himself back at the spot under the waterfall and Jude is leaning close to him. Arlo turns his head to look at him. Everything is exactly like what it was earlier today. Except the look on Jude’s face. It’s different from before when he acted slightly forced and stiff. Instead, the fiery amber eyes that looking into Arlo’s are soft and gentle just like when he was looking at Pinky. He’s smiling a little bit timidly and his face slightly blushed. Then he says.
“Arlo, I like you. Could you be my boyfriend?”
Arlo suddenly wakes up in the middle of the night and sits up in his bed. He looks around the still pitch-black room then realizes that was a dream.
“Ugh. What’s wrong with me?” Arlo heavily slams his hand across his face. The image of the dream version Jude is still quite vivid at the back of his mind and thinking of it makes his heart beat faster. Then he remembers that at the moment right after Jude confessed to him before he woke up, he was about to lean closer to Jude and… Oh, no. This isn’t right. Arlo shakes his head and forces himself to stop remembering but the emotion he felt at that moment still lingers. There wasn’t any astonishment or hesitation, he just felt happy. He thinks that the dream version of him was going to say yes right away if it wasn’t interrupted.
“It’s… it’s just a dream.” Arlo tries to reassure himself. He lies back down and stares at the ceiling in the darkness. It’s just because I’ve been thinking too much about romantic relationship and it has gotten into my head. I was being obsessed. Yeah, it must be it. He thinks, then decides to end this love issue as soon as possible so that he could get over it. I’ll go talk to Nora tomorrow and everything could go back to normal. Dreaming about Jude confessing to me like that? If he finds out about this he’s probably gonna kill me. Arlo chuckles at this thought and rolls over to another side. It feels so weird to combine the word romance with someone like Jude. We are just friends and it’s not even possible that he will ever think me that way… Without even knowing what he’s thinking about half asleep, Arlo slowly falls back into slumber.

 

The next morning, Nora finds Arlo waiting for her before the front gate of church. There’s an uneasy look on his face. She has a bad feeling about this.
“Um, good morning, Nora.” Arlo says hesitantly.
“Good morning, Arlo.”
They stand in silence for a moment until Arlo breaks it. “I think it’s time to give you an answer.”
Nora clenches her fists. She’s prepared for the worst outcome.
“I’m sorry but I can’t.” Arlo takes a deep breath and continues. “You are a great person, there must be someone much better than me for you to be with. My work at Civil Corps can be really dangerous and I’m still chasing after my dream. There’s so much uncertainty with me. I won’t be able make you feel safe like you wanted. You are still so young and I believe you will find the right person.” He pauses a little bit then says. “Sorry.”
Nora turns away quickly for a moment to wipe her tears away. When she turns back to face Arlo again, she has already put a small smile back on her face.
“It’s okay. I actually had a feeling that this is gonna happen.” There’s a little sniff in her voice. “I just hope we can keep being friends.”
“Of course!” Arlo nods earnestly, still feeling sorry for her. “I will always be your friend.”
“Thanks.” Nora widens her smile in a mischief way. “By the way, I saw you walked past my apartment the night before.”
“Which night?” Arlo is confused. Then he suddenly realizes what she’s talking about and feels cold sweat starts running down his back. “Ah! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to lie to you! It’s just that-“ Nora holds up a hand to stop his hurried explanation.
“The person you were seeing that night, was it the builder Jude whom you talked so much about?”
“Uh, yes.” Arlo scratches his head nervously. “I told him to meet me at 11 the day before and by the time the party ended it was already too late.” He sighs. “I’m sorry. This is all my fault.”
“Relax. I’m not being mad at you.” Nora chuckles. “I’m just curious.” She then thinks quietly for a little bit. “About you said that you couldn’t be with me… does this have something to do with him, too?”
“What? Why would you say that?” Arlo is flustered and feels there’s more cold sweat under his shirt. “It’s not like that! Jude is just a friend.”
“But you seem to like him a lot.” Nora lowers her head to look away from him. “He must be really special to you.”
“Of course I would like my friend, I like you, too!” Still flustered, Arlo waves his hands around. “He’s just a very different person. It’s not what you think it is!”
“Really? If you say so.” Nora is not quite convinced but doesn’t intend to keep asking. “He sounds like an interesting character. Mind introduce me to him sometime?”
“You bet.” Arlo grins while thinking of Jude. “He can be pretty shy towards strangers though, but after he’s warmed up you will find he’s a really funny dude.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” Nora can feel that Arlo wasn’t telling the truth a moment ago but she thinks it’s very likely that he’s not even aware of it himself. She mentally shakes her head. I’ll just leave that for him to figure out on his own. She takes a deep breath and exhales in relief. “No matter how this ended, I’m glad that I tried. I think I can finally move on now.”
“I just hope that you can be happy.” Arlo says sincerely. He’s relieved to find out that Nora seems to be not so hurt by his rejection.
“Me too.” Nora smiles. “Alright, I have to be in the church now. You’d better get back to your work, too. See you later.”
“See you.”
After the door’s closed and Arlo’s out of sight, Nora slumps into a nearby pew and lets the tears that she’s been holding back fall out which immediately blur her sight.
She wasn’t lying when she said the she could finally move on, but it still hurts to hear the rejection from the person she likes.

 

End of Chapter 11

 

I did a quick sketch of the scene at the beginning of this chapter XXXD 

Troubled looking Arlo is so cute! Jude looks kind of cynical tho lmao I'm sure he looks like this all the time XD

Invitation

Chapter Text

After their little conversation about romantic relationship, Arlo has been acting really normal. To Jude’s frustration, he’s being too normal to leave any trace to find out whether he has accepted that confession or not. The next time Jude saw him, Arlo greeted him like always and thrashed him in sparring like always. It was like nothing had happened. It should have been a relief for Jude that Arlo didn’t intend to bring up that awkward topic again but this also meant that he never had the chance to find out how did it end. There were several times where he was about to ask but before anything was said, he felt too stupid so instead he shut himself up.
Jude couldn’t understand why does this question keep bothering him despite the countless times he told himself that he doesn’t care whether Arlo has a girlfriend or not. The suspension just grew and grew on itself like a bad itch that just won’t go away until Jude finally has had enough and decides to find out the answer himself.
Today is a cloudy Saturday, a perfect day to conduct his plan. Jude is fully prepared for this. Well, by fully prepared, he didn’t do anything in particular but simply got up early and changed his turtleneck into a hoodie. He took a Deedee and arrived at the abandoned ruins. There’s no one else except himself nearby in sight but Jude still takes cover behind the bushes while sneaking towards the Civil Corps building. He swiftly climbs up the big tree right next to it and jumps onto the small balcony of the 2nd floor. Carefully keeping himself completely away from the window, he takes a peek inside. The full view of the Civil Corps hall is available from where he is and he immediately sees Arlo posing in a fighting position and punching the clown dummy vigorously.
Target found. Jude puts on his hood and tugs it low enough to cover the upper half of his face.
Mission started.

 

Arlo sits down in a chair and wipes sweat off his face with a towel after the workout. The clown dummy is silently swaying back and forth from being punched good a moment ago and its head facing the direction where Arlo is seated.
Something isn’t right. Arlo has had this strange feeling since this morning. It feels like he’s being watched but he’s the only person inside the Civil Corps building right now since Remington has headed out earlier. Usually he would trust his instinct if it’s during an adventure or mission, but it’s just a regular weekend day and he’s in Civil Corps. It’s not like he’s at some dangerous place where there are enemies lurking nearby and waiting to attack.
Unless… Arlo looks back at the creepy smiling clown face which is steady again now. It’s staring unblinkingly at him with wide open clown eyes. There isn’t any sunlight in here because of the cloudy weather and the walls around the hall look grey and pale. The silence in this building suddenly feels so disquieting which makes the hair stand up on the back of his neck. Arlo shudders and decides to take a walk outside even though he has just sat down for a few minutes.

 

Target is out. Jude crouches down and hides himself under the banister. There’s no way he could be seen from anywhere below. He peeks down between the banisters. Arlo exits the Civil Corps building and stops in front of the statue of the Flying Pig. Jude watches him admiring the statue.
10 minutes have passed. Arlo is just standing there.
20 minutes have passed. Jude checks his pocket watch again impatiently.
30 minutes have passed. Arlo shifts his weight to another leg, still not leaving.
45 minutes have passed. Jude groans soundlessly and rolls his eyes as hard as he could. He wishes that this is hunting so he can just shoot an arrow at the target and go home.
An hour has passed, Arlo finally walks away from the statue and begins to head towards town. Thank god. Jude sighs in relief and keeps his eyes on Arlo. After he has made a turn and is far enough, Jude slides down along the pipe attached to the wall to the ground, moves quickly across the road and jumps onto the roof of a house built under the steep slope, the downward structure of the town of Portia makes this an easy job. He leaps from roof to roof following Arlo while bending his body low to make sure no one could see him.
It didn’t take long for Arlo to reach Peach Plaza. Jude is now hiding in the tiny space between the exterior of 2nd floor of the commerce guild and a thin layer of wall extended from above the front door which is positioned like a barricade so that he can hide himself perfectly and also have a good clear view of the plaza down below. There’s a small crowd gathered in front of the plaza and there’s a stand and a box and the church people… Oh shit. Jude knows what this is though he has never been to any of these before. He’s glad that at least he can’t hear anything from where he is or it’s gonna be a huge pain in the ass to sit through the boring tedious speech about god and stuff when he’s trapped in a hiding place and can’t just disappear into nowhere.
Arlo now has joined the crowd. ‘WTF??’ is all that Jude could think of. He never took Arlo as a religious person and feels somewhat disappointed by this finding. After the preaching, that guy behind the stand steps down, the crowd begins to disperse and Arlo approaches the girl with a long braid next to the box. Oh right, the one confessed to Arlo was the church girl, so that’s why he’s here. Jude is not sure which idea he hates more, Arlo being religious or he’s seeing the girl who has expressed her feelings for him.
They seem to be talking, Jude watches intently, now he’s regretting that none of the conversation from down below could be heard from this hiding spot. They don’t seem to be too intimate though, Jude analyses in his head, they are standing in a safe distance that belongs to friendship not romantic relationship and no one has made any intimate move yet. They talk for a while and then starts walking towards The Round Table. Uh oh, does this mean that they are on a date after all? No, it’s still too early to make the conclusion. Jude thinks.
As they both entered the restaurant, Jude has realized a problem, he can’t just follow them in there since it’s a small town so everyone basically knows everyone which will make it impossible to remain stealth.
There’s no time to sulk, Jude takes a look around the Plaza and it’s almost empty around the lunch time. Perfect. He quickly jumps onto the roof of A&G Construction then the tree next to it and slides down to the ground. At the moment where the plaza is absolutely clear, Jude makes a dash towards the town gate and takes cover behind the bushes. If his memory serves correctly there should be a window connected to Round Table on the outside wall. Aha, there it is. Jude finds that window with one glance but it’s too high to reach and with nowhere to stand on. Without any other option, Jude climbs onto the nearest tree and peeks inside. Luckily for him, the targets are sitting at the table right under this window.

 

“You really don’t have to do this.” Nora says, sitting behind the diner table.
“Don’t worry about it. This is the least I can do. Besides, it’s just normal to treat your friend to a nice lunch.” Arlo passes the menu to her from the opposite. “This meal is on me. Order as much as you want!”
“If you say so.” Nora chuckles and accepts his offer.
Everything is just like before when they were simply friends. No one has brought up what happened last time. Arlo feels a little awkward at first but after several friendly small talks with Nora during the lunch, he’s able to relax like always. There’s no reason for him to dwell on the past when Nora has already begun to treat him like a friend again.
“So…” Nora stirs her drink and asks casually. “How did you become friends with Jude?”
“Heh, that’s an interesting question.” Arlo sets his chin on his palm. “I think I’ve been thinking him as a friend since our adventure on Amber Island, but I haven’t got him admit that not until recently.”
“How come?” Nora is curious. “I thought friendship is a mutual thing.”
“It might doesn’t work the same way with Jude.” Arlo chuckles. “He’s too used to keep to himself and I’ve never heard him requesting anything from another person. I think it’s because he’s been taught that way since he was a child from what I learnt about him.” He runs his finger across the edge of the glass with red tea, the colour of which reminds him of the eyes of Jude. “I do feel sorry for him about this and I want him to know that he can rely on me, but this is not the reason I want him to be my friend. I think I just like talking to him. He’s pretty fun to be with in many ways.” He chuckles fondly.
Seeing the expression on Arlo’s face when talking about Jude, Nora secretly sighs and becomes more convinced of her earlier guess. “He’s so lucky to have a friend like you.” She says quietly and stands up from the table. “Thanks for the meal. I’ll have to go now. Goodbye, Arlo.” This time she has truly let go of the last bit of feelings she still has for Arlo.

 

Nothing special has happened, they just had a lunch together. This is all Jude could conclude from watching them simply sitting there and eating their food which provided him zero information but only made him feel hungry. Damn it, why did I waste my time on this nonsense? Jude thinks sulkily. He is about jump off the tree and go home as the mission has proved to be fruitless but the next moment, he sees Arlo walking past the town gate and heading towards his workshop. Jude remains crouching down on the tree branch between the leaves so he could not be seen. If he makes any sudden move now Arlo will surely notice it. The space between the tree and his workshop is too clear for him to find any cover.
Jude watches Arlo knocking on his door. Please go away. He quietly begs to no one. He can only hope that Arlo would leave soon since there’s no way anyone will open the door- It opens. Jude feels his jaw dropped when he saw the door opened on itself. What comes out from it is, Pinky. Arlo seems to be taken aback by this, too.
Great, now he’ll see the house is empty so he’ll leave- Again, Jude has been proven wrong when Pinky begins to head towards the tree he’s hiding in.
“Meow! Meeooww!” She stops right under the tree and looks up at Jude, then meows loudly.
“Pinky? What are you doing?” Surprised by Pinky’s unusual behaviour, Arlo follows after her. As he looks up to see what has intrigued Pinky so much, he finds Jude clutching at the tree branch like a cat that’s been trapped on a tree and unable to get off.
“Jude?! What are you doing up there?” Arlo widens his eyes and asks incredulously.
Jude thinks this is the most stupid moment of his life and he wants to kill himself.

 

End of Chapter 12

 

This is the scene where Jude is secrectly watching Arlo and Nora. He could be a good ninja lol

Chapter Text

“Meooww!” Pinky claws at the tree trunk and meows again. She does not like being ignored, but right now Jude is too occupied to notice her eagerness for attention.
“Eh, good day isn’t it?” Jude says lamely. This pathetic comment on weather is the only thing that he could think of.
“I wouldn’t call it good since there’s no sun.” Arlo folds his arms, his eyes still fixed on Jude, who’s looking down at him from above the tree branch. “Anyway, do you mind telling me why are you staying on a tree? Were you trying to catch a bird or something but ended up being trapped up there?”
“Oh, right! The bird!” Jude nods desperately at his suggestion, even though it’s just a joke. “I was, umm, bird watching!”
“But I don’t see any bird here.” Arlo narrows his eyes, clearly not buying it.
“That’s because… it flew away! Pinky scared it!” Jude feels that his palm starts to sweat.
“Well, we’ll discuss about the ‘bird’ later.” Arlo does a quote gesture, probably picked up from Jude. “Can you get down from there? Need any help? It’s kind of tiring to look up at you all the time.”
“It’s okay! I can do it!” Jude flusters and begins to move, being too distracted by this impossibly awkward situation, his hand slips when he shifts his foot. “I’m coming down-Aaaaaahhhhhh!!” He screams as he loses his balance and falls off from the branch.
“Jude!” Arlo holds out his arm trying to catch him immediately but too late, with a muffled ‘thump’ Jude has already landed on the ground. Good thing it’s covered by a thick layer of grass.

 


“Ouch.” Jude mutters slowly. It actually doesn’t hurt much, except his ass, which must have landed first. I deserve this. He thinks sulkily, lying spread-eagle in the grass. For doing something this stupid.
“Oh my god, are you okay? Did you hit your head?” Arlo kneels down next to him and looks at him intently.
“I’m fine.” Jude sits up and shifts his eyes away from him guiltily. Sensing his concern makes him feel more uneasy considering what he’s been doing today.
“Meeoow!” Pinky jumps onto his lap and claws at his chest impatiently.
“Ouch!” Jude yells. That really hurts. Then he remembers Pinky is still here and how she led Arlo to the tree. “What do you want?” He stares down at her reproachingly.
“Purr…” Pinky looks back at him with innocent cat eyes. Damn, she’s too cute to be blamed for anything.
“Maybe she’s hungry.” Arlo snorts, suppressing his laughter. “That must be why she came straight to you.”
Then Jude’s stomach growls loudly as if it reacted on the word ‘hungry’, and Arlo bursts into laughter which he can’t hold back anymore. How can this day go any worse? Another wave of even stronger urge of killing himself has come back to Jude and he blushes uncontrollably.
“Well it looks like you are hungry, too.” Not wanting him to die from overwhelming embarrassment, Arlo manages to stop laughing not after long. He lifts Pinky up from Jude and gives him a hand to help him stand up. “Shall we get some food for the both of you?”

 

They are now sitting in the opposite couches in the living room of Jude’s house which has been expanded considerably after the last upgrade, but still remains chaotic due to the lack of order of the owner. An improvement is that there’s enough empty space to walk through since that total amount of the random items didn’t increase as much as the total space available did. At least now Arlo is able to walk around without tripping or stepping on anything covering the floor. Jude still remembers that vaguely repulsed look on Gust’s face when he first came in here to examine the house before making the new interior design, then he was told to put away his junk or else he’s not getting any upgrade. Jude had spent a day or so to stuff everything into chests or shelves. That wasn’t a very pleasant memory.
Pinky only ate about half of her lunch, probably because she wasn’t that hungry but just bored. She’s now curled into a ball on the couch snuggling against Jude and fast asleep. The motive of a cat’s strange behaviour is always hard to interpret.
“Are you ready to tell me about what were you doing before in the tree?” Arlo suddenly asks after watching Jude gobbling down a chicken sandwich he just made for himself.
“COUGH!” Jude chokes on this sudden interrogation while taking a bite from a second one. He hastily picks up his mug and gulps down a mouthful of coffee before he’s able to answer. “What- oh, that, eh.” He forces his brain to work faster to come up with a more credible explanation but in vain. “You know, like I said, just bird watching.” He looks away evasively.
“Hmm. You are being very suspicious today. I’ll make my own guess then.” Arlo narrows his eyes and starts to stroke his chin while thinking.
“You are wearing a hoodie today, which looks very shady.” Jude just realizes that he forgot to pull the hood off all the time.
“The tree you were sitting in, I think I saw a window next to it. Judging by its position, it’s very likely connected to The Round Table.” Since when did he become this observant? Jude wonders in frustration, feeling cold sweat sliding down his back.
“Also, I happened to feel like being watched all this morning until just now.” Jude does not like where this deduction is heading to.
“So…” Arlo drawls and Jude feels his blood turns cold. “Were you spying on me?”

 


There’s silence in the room for a while. “Yes.” Jude looks down and admits weakly, his shoulder sagged. There’s no point denying it after Arlo had found out the truth on his own. “I’m sorry.” He mutters nervously.
“Why though?” Arlo doesn’t sound accusing, just curious. “What’s so funny following me around? Did you find anything interesting?”
“Nothing actually.” Feeling guilty, Jude speaks in a low voice. “I just-“ Even though the secret mission has already been exposed, he still doesn’t feel like to reveal his motive. “I just wanted to do it, eh, for fun I guess. To find out what do you do on Saturday. That’s all.” He pauses for a bit and apologizes again in a whisper. “Sorry.”
“Really?” The faint suspicion that he’s not being perfectly honest still lingers, but Arlo doesn’t feel like to push it when Jude looks like he really feels bad about this. He’s strangely cute acting so submissive like this. Such a rare sight. Arlo thinks. “Alright then. Just don’t do it again, okay? It’s kind of dangerous, climbing trees and stuff. You might really hurt yourself someday.”
“Rest assured. I’ve learnt my lesson.” Jude mumbles. He swears to the devil that he will never do this again or anything that may drive him suicidal with an excruciatingly embarrassing outcome when it has backfired in any unexpected way.
“Don’t take this as an encouragement but you are really good at this.” Arlo says smiling, leaning back against the couch and putting his arm around the edge. “I hardly even noticed that someone else was around all morning.”
“It’s just like hunting. You keep an eye on your prey and don’t let them detect your presence.” Jude shrugs and casts down his half-eaten sandwich back to the plate. He’s done eating after the shock of being found guilty.
“Since when did you start watching me today?” Arlo asks with interest. “You didn’t peek inside my bedroom or the shower, did you? I hope you didn’t hear that weird song I usually sing when I shower in the morning.”
“WHAT THE- NO! It’s not like that- no- I’m not-“ Horrified, Jude raises his voice and stutters. “Why would I want to see you taking a shower??? I’m not a pervert!” Saying it out loud somehow makes him blush furiously.
“Relax! I was just teasing you. I know you wouldn’t.” Arlo laughs at his reaction, then he straightens his face and adds. “Seriously though, I don’t sing weird songs during shower, you are welcome to check that out if you want.” He laughs even louder after this.
Sensing that Jude might throw him out of the house any second if this goes on any longer, Arlo quickly stops laughing and says in a formal tone. “Ahem. Anyway, the reason I came to find you is that I want you to go on an investigation with me.
“I thought today is weekend, Mr. workaholic.” Jude narrows his eyes. Although still feeling moody after being teased, he plays along and lets Arlo divert the topic. It’s for the best to just drop it.
“It’s not about work.” Arlo explains. “I think there’s something unusual going on around town, call it a hunch if you want, but there are several reports of loud crashing noise recently. Since nothing has actually happened, it may not be a good idea to send all the Civil Corps members on investigation at this stage. That’s why I’m doing this on my own, well, if you’d like to join me that will make us two. I could really use the sharp sense of yours for finding hidden details. So what do you say?”
“Okay. I’m not doing anything today anyway.” Because I vacated the day for my spying mission which turned out to be a complete failure later. Jude adds secretly in his head.
“Great. Let’s go then.”

 

“Even though the fun of treasure hunting is in the process not the outcome, I have to say I’m not too thrilled to find more of these.” Says Jude, standing in front of a pile of mucus mixed with pieces of carcass belongs to some bug monster. Before this he has found a piece of llama fur tainted with blood and a little bit flesh, which clearly has been ripped away from the poor llama by some other monster. Following the direction indicated by the spilled blood on the ground, they have reached the small forest located east of town, where Jude has just found another trace of brutally slayed monster.
“You’ve already found another clue? Wow, that was fast.” Arlo walks towards Jude from the other side of the forest he was searching. “Have you considered joining Civil Corps someday? I would love to have you as a partner.”
“Ask me again when you’ve lost to me in a spar.” Jude rolls his eyes. “Though it might be the time for you to retire if that really happens.”
“Aw, don’t say that. You need to have faith in yourself.” Arlo laughs and begins to examine Jude’s finding closely. “Hmm… looks like there are shards of ladybug shell in the mucus. Can’t really tell if it’s the same monster that did all these though. All we’ve found are pieces and bits of dead preys, we don’t even know the genre of the attacker yet. The only thing that can be sure of is the frequency of monster slaughter is a little bit unusual.”
“You are saying, there might be more predator monsters around? An invasion maybe?” Jude is thinking about the possibilities. He likes mysteries when there aren’t other human beings involved.
“That’s a probability.” Arlo nods at his suggestion. “Let’s see where should we head next…” He looks at the dragging trail left at one side of the mucus and looks up to that direction. “I think that leads us to the waterfall.”

 

Standing under the waterfall again makes Jude remember that conversation they had the other day and the trouble he went through just an hour earlier. He can’t help but feel awkward again. The question which he failed to find an answer to has once come back to his mind and refuses to leave him in peace. Good thing that Arlo is too focused on the investigation to notice his uneasiness.
Maybe I should just ask him? Jude thinks. It couldn’t be worse than being caught spying on him all morning. I already lost all my dignity to him today so there’s nothing left to lose anyway. Yeah, it’s just a simple question. There’s nothing weird about it. Don’t be a coward. Right, let’s do this once and for all. Jude has made up his mind.
“Hey, eh, Arlo…” He starts in a casual tone. “I’m wondering, what happened after that day, you know, the day when we discussed about that personal topic right here?”
“What? Did you say something?” Arlo yells from some distance away. “You have to speak up, or else I can’t hear you over the noise of the waterfall.”
“I SAID, ARE YOU DATIN-“ Jude somehow has mustered the courage to ask that freaking question out loud on a whim, but really unluckily for him, an ominous shadow has jumped at him from the under the waterfall at the exact same moment and bites him in the arm.
“Aarrgh! What the-“ Without even making out what does the ambusher look like, Jude immediately draws out his dagger and stabs at it but missed since it quickly let go of his arm and falls off to the ground.
“Jude! Are you okay?” Hearing his scream, Arlo runs to where he is and just in time to see him rolling aside to dodge the attack from more of those monsters jumping out of water.
“Forget about me, let’s kill these things first.” Jude hides his bleeding arm away, not wanting his injury to be a distraction when the enemies just showed up. Now he has a clear view of his attackers. They look like a bunch of piranhas with frog legs, the sharp teeth of them glows viciously under the day light.
“Jump Dancers? What are they doing here?” Arlo says incredulously while kicking one that jumped at him unconscious and then finishes it off.
“Is that what they are called? Never seen these before.” Jude stabs one behind its head with his dagger and kills it. They are pretty fast jumping into the air but pretty slow after they’ve landed. Those frog legs aren’t exactly made for moving swiftly on the ground.
“They usually live in the hazardous ruins. It’s quite rare to see them out here.” Arlo grabs two and bumps them against each other which knocks them out. Even though he’s suddenly confronted by a dozen of Jump Dancers gritting their piranha teeth and waiting to bite, he just seems as collected as always without panicking even a bit. Jude thinks he’s more like a man-shaped monster compared with the lot of puny mutant fish.

 

The battle ends pretty soon when they’ve turned the group of Jump Dancers into dead fish littered around.
“I think we’ve reached the end of our investigation.” Arlo flips over a dead Jump Dancer with his boot and examines it. “If there’s been a group of Jump Dancers living under the waterfall, then it would explain the unusual casualty of the monsters around town.”
“Uh-huh.” Jude replies absentmindedly because the injury on his arm is too distracting. Despite it stings a lot, what he really worries about is how to prevent Arlo from noticing this until he gets home.
“There must be a reason why they- wait, what’s wrong with your arm?” And the next moment, Arlo notices he’s been keeping an arm behind his back. Oh, crap. Jude mentally does a heavy facepalm. Why does everything have to go against my will today?? Is this some kind of sick joke of the fate??
“Eh-“ Before he could come up with an excuse, Arlo has already grabs him by the other shoulder and pulls that arm he’s trying to hide forward. He gasps when seeing the blood dripping down from the wound.
“Oh my god! You are bleeding! Did you get bit by a Jump Dancer?” Holding his injured arm by the wrist, Arlo doesn’t seem that cool any more.
“A little bit, yes?” Jude says uneasily like a kid who’s been caught doing something wrong. Why does every time I got injured somehow I have to be with him as well? He wonders sulkily. What a weird coincidence.
“Hold still. I have to clean the wound first.” Still holding his wrist, Arlo pulls out a small bottle of clean water from his pack and flips open the lid with thumb. “It might hurt a little bit, don’t worry, it won’t be long.”
“Just do it.” Jude looks away and clenches his teeth. He decides to stay perfectly still and not let himself flinch at the pain. Any movement that may raise even more concern from Arlo is unwanted.
When the water runs across the bit wound, the stinging pain doubles and seeps deeply through his flesh. Damn that stupid fish, I’m gonna have fish for dinner and imagine that’s his cousin tonight. Jude tries to distract himself with a mental image of deep-fried fish served on table.
“You are doing great. It’s almost done now.” Arlo says in a soft voice trying to comfort him. “Now I’m gonna bandage it up but you still need to see Dr. Xu as soon as we get back. It’s just for emergency.”
“Okay.” Jude replies flatly, he actually feels more uncomfortable being treated like this. Watching Arlo carefully wrapping bandage around the wound with great concern in his eyes, Jude finds there’s an odd sensation bothering his heart. He can’t tell what it is because he has never felt like this before. It’s like a cat gently puts his paw against his heart without showing any claws, just the soft fur and warm toe beans. It actually feels pretty nice but he wants to suppress it down since this is such a strange and unfamiliar experience for him.

 

“Done. How do you feel now? Does it still hurt much?” While he’s still spacing out, Arlo has already finished the bandaging and pats him on the shoulder.
“Huh? Oh, it’s fine. I can hardly feel it.” Jude quickly pulls himself together and reassures.
“That’s good to hear.” Arlo smiles, then he suddenly remembers. “Hey, wait a minute. Wasn’t you about to ask me something before those Jump Dancers showed up?”
“Oh, that.” Jude shifts his eyes away to stare at a tree for a moment before turns back to Arlo. “I was just wondering… are you going out with Rapunzel after that day?”
“Rapunzel? What kind of nickname is that?” Arlo tilts his head.
“Just some girl with long magical hair.” Jude is surprised to find out that he hasn’t heard of it. They probably read different sets of fairy tales growing up. “I’m talking about the church girl.”
“You mean Nora? You really need to start remembering people’s names instead of making weird nicknames, it can be confusing sometimes.” Arlo shakes his head ruefully and then continues. “No, I turned her down. I don’t think I’m the right person for her. There must be someone better than me to make her happy.”
Hearing the negative answer, a grin full of delight appears on Jude’s face without knowing. Despite just had the probably most unfortunate day of his life, he feels like it’s all worth it in the end. He’s too glad to even question himself why would he think like this.
“Hey, why do you look so happy about this?” Displeased, Arlo puts his arm around Jude’s neck and ruffles his hair with the other hand using extra force. “Me not getting a girlfriend is such good news to you? You little bastard.” Then the realization comes to him. “Wait. Is this the reason why you’ve been following me around today?”
“Nope.” Jude says curtly without caring whether he buys it or not, he doesn’t even struggle against Arlo to try to free himself. Instead, he simply relaxes and lets Arlo have his way with his head. All he cares right now is the sweet relief that Arlo doesn’t have a girlfriend.

 

End of Chapter 13

 

Stupid me, almost forgot to insert the pic lol

Chapter Text

 

Something has changed with Jude. Concluded by Arlo.

The change has taken place ever after their last investigation. Although he mostly remains quiet and apathetic when there are other people presented just like always, but when he’s alone with Arlo, he becomes much less edgy and grumpy as before. Yes, he can be sarcastic from time to time which hasn’t changed much, but his attitude has softened significantly. For example, he begins to smile and be the first one to say hi when sees Arlo, which he pointed out the first time with surprise and that seemed to have embarrassed Jude a lot so he had learnt to just be cool with it and pretend nothing is out of ordinary. He has also noticed that Jude would stare at him occasionally for no reason that he could recall. It’s a little bit odd but Arlo considers this as an improvement anyway. He thinks it’s better than before when he’s only willing to make eye contact if it’s necessary. One day he even stopped by at the Civil Corps building for no reason just to, let’s quote his own words, ‘to see what are you doing up here?’

Arlo doesn’t know how to describe this feeling that is a mixture of content, happiness and proud. It’s like successfully helped a child to conquer the fear of darkness and become capable of going to the bathroom on his own in the night. Thanks to his endeavour, Jude finally has become as sociable as a regular human being, well only towards Arlo at the moment though, but this is a good start. Arlo is glad for him.

 

 

Jude doesn’t understand what has been wrong with him.

Ever after he found out that Arlo had rejected that girl, he only seemed to be thinking of him even more. To his frustration, Jude keeps wanting to see Arlo again and this obsession just won’t go away, even if they have just met each other the very same day. He can’t explain why but when he sees Arlo he just feels so, happy. He often finds him grinning like an idiot without knowing when meeting with Arlo. This is all so mysterious. How can the mere sight of someone bring me so much joy? Am I sick or having some sort of mental problem? These questions of his are still left unanswered.

Besides his feelings, he’s losing control of his actions, too. It’s not easy to come up with a reason to go look for him this frequently, that’s why he begins to take every commission posted by any Civil Corps member, which was usually his last option before because he felt reluctant to walk extra distance, just to justify his regular visits to Civil Corps building. One day there was no such a commission available, but he failed to stop himself from going there and when Arlo said, ‘Hi Jude, nice to see you! What are you doing here? I don’t remember we have posted any commission today’, he lamely replied, ‘I’m just here to, you know, to see what are you doing up here’. Then his library of embarrassing memories had one more entry.

One thing that troubles him the most is, every time Arlo smiles or laughs he finds himself can’t turn his eyes away from him and his heart would start to beat incredibly fast. He just looks so… Jude searches his mind for the right word, handsome? He is pretty certain that he’s never been this attracted to someone’s appearance before. Sure, he thinks Arlo is quite good-looking, he also knows other good-looking people but hasn’t ever been distracted by their look like this.

He tried to mention his problem implicitly to Ginger on one of their night meeting, but she simply giggled and refused to elaborate. She said it’s for the best to figure this out on his own without any interference from a third party. Baffled by her mystifying answer, Jude had to agree to keep this trouble to himself. Ah, the bittersweet of the young love. Ginger secretly said to herself dreamily.

 

 

As the end of autumn drawing near, Arlo’s level of anxiety keeps growing higher.

For people who have known him for years, like Remington and Sam, this is no news to them since Arlo becomes anxious like this every year around this time. He always blames this on the change of weather and how much he hates winter. No one except Jude knows the real source of his stress is the imminent entrance exam for the Flying Pigs. However, since it’s Jude, even if he knows the truth, he hasn’t done anything special except being a good listener when Arlo needs one. Partly because he considers this as the obstacle Arlo needs to conquer on his own, also more importantly, he doesn’t know what can he do to cheer up a friend who’s under stress.

Jude haven’t talked to Arlo for several days since a brief exchange of ‘hello’ and ‘bye’ can’t really be considered as a proper conversation. When Arlo running off shortly after them had just seen each other, Jude had to admit he felt a little bit lonely but respected his need for some space. No one understands that a dude has to be left alone some time more than Jude anyway.

 

 

It’s a blissful weekend for Jude, who is now having hell of a blast listening to his favourite band. Ever since he got the blueprint of boombox and built himself a new one, he felt that his life is whole again.

“SCREEEEAAAAMING!! SCREAMING VENGEANCE!!” He’s now basically shrieking along the loud heavy metal music rather than singing while banging his head like crazy. The knocking on his front door is completely drowned by furious electrical guitar and rapid beats. Then the knocking becomes louder, but still too quiet to be captured.

“SCREAMING VENGEANCE!! SCREEEAAAMIINNGG—“ While the song’s coming to its end and Jude is relishing the slowly dying out instrumental, he has finally noticed the loud banging noise coming from his door.

Who could that be? Jude hits the pause button of the boombox and gets up from his couch to open the door. He hopes it’s not Arlo wanting to hear some pep talk or encouragement because he sucks at that.

 

 

“Hi there, little fella!” Sam is beaming at him on the doorstep. “Surprised to see me?”

An unexpected visitor. Jude doesn’t know how to respond to this so he simply tilts his head and gives her a questioning look, waiting for her to explain herself.

“Took you some time to get to the door with all the screaming.” Sam giggles and looks behind him into his house. “Oh my, your house really is as messy as Arlo told me! I’ve never seen a room like this before! It’s almost impressive.” She pauses for a bit. “As impressive as your high-pitched scream! Does Arlo know you could scream like that?” She laughs out loud like crazy.

As if any more comments from Sam might kill him with embarrassment on spot, Jude hastily shuts door behind him with force and squeezes out “What do you want?” through clenched teeth. It has never occurred to him that some one else may hear him from the outside.

“Relax!” Still laughing, Sam slams him on his back which nearly knocks him down to the ground. “The song you were playing sounds really awesome. I mean it!” She grins at Jude, who has just steadied himself again. “Maybe we can listen to it together some time.”

Sensing that Sam is not making fun of him, Jude has calmed down a little and gives her a nod at the offer, also notes down ‘get a soundproof door ASAP’ as the current number one priority in his mind.

 

 

“Alright, enough of the chit chat. Let’s get down to business. It’s about your best buddy, Arlo.” Sam folds her arms and there’s a slightly worried look on her face. “I think something has been going on with him. He’s been acting strange lately. I’m sure you noticed that too, didn’t you?”

Jude nods quietly. He knows about this only too well.

Sam continues on. “Actually, he’s been like this every year during the days before winter and he always says it’s the coldness that makes him cranky, but this time I think he’s crankier than ever.” She frowns. “He wouldn’t even join us when we were having pizza earlier. I mean, it’s pizza night! He just locked himself up in his room and said he didn’t have any appetite. I could’ve just busted the door down but that really is not the proper thing to do given the circumstance.” She shrugs regretfully as if busting down doors is her favourite thing to do and it’s probably true.

Now Jude is worried. Locking himself away sounds more like something he would do not Arlo. Then it suddenly comes to him that today is the last day of autumn and he thinks he knows what has happened to Arlo that made him so upset.

“I’m wondering, could you go check on him?” Sam puts a hand on Jude’s shoulder. “You clearly mean a lot to him so maybe he will listen to you.”

“Okay.” Jude feels himself blushed a little at her last sentence under the expectant eyes of Sam.

“Thanks! I knew I could count on you. I’ll leave Arlo to you then.” Sam smiles and gives him a pat before lets him go. “Next time you have to let me listen to the music you were playing before! I think I like it. Bye and good luck!”

Jude gives her a wave as goodbye. He’s surprised to find someone to be interested in heavy metal in Portia, but since it’s Sam it’s suddenly not that surprising after all. Jude has secretly named her Iron Maiden anyway. Now she’s truly living up to her nick name.

Watching Sam walking away back to the town, he stands at where he is and begins to dig into his memory for things that people would do to cheer up a friend which he has never thought before. It’s tough task for him and it’s kind of painful, but if it’s for Arlo he thinks he doesn’t mind the trouble at all.

 

 

End of Chapter 14

 

There ain't much to draw in this chapter, here's how it's like to get crazy  and SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE!! Boy do I love that album XXXDDDDD!!! There are some more doodles I drew recently but they are not related to this chapter so I'd better not post it here. You can check it out on my tumblr if you are interested (it's the same id)!