When Olivia meant she was grounded, she really meant it. Except Charlotte was not put into confinement with a lock and key as a reflecting child would. No, she was outside with Damien and Cesium working on any and all tasks assigned to them. Currently, it was their job to scale and paint a variety of the components on the deck. Normally, this wouldn’t be a civilian job, but Olivia mentioned that it was an appropriate haze for her sudden disappearance a couple of days ago.
Damien and Charlotte were scrubbing the paint away for what seemed to be a couple of hours while Cesium was lying on its haunches beside them. Sitting on the top of the rail was their supervisor, Aden, reading one of his untouched books to pass the time. She watched from her peripheral their raven-haired babysitter flip the page and continue reading. Damien noticed her looking and tapped the top of her hand with the scraping tool he was using. She gave a nervous chuckle before continuing in their long process of scraping the old paint away.
Damien shifted the paperboy hat on top of his blond hair and wiped a line of sweat from his brow. Today was humid but not so hot that it made it unbearable to stand, but luckily, they were in for some good sunny weather without the clouds within the next couple of days. He was surprised by the progress that they were making since it was only the two of them, but luckily, Charlotte was a diligent person who worked at the task at hand. He would never have guessed that she was this type of person, but that assumption was mostly due to previous actions like her breeches being put on backward.
She wore comfortable clothes that suited her, even though she worked outside. A white button-up shirt with a flared collar accented the black form-fitting vest that wrapped around her waistline and shoulders. Her choice of shorts were a pair of puffy black shorts with white trim and white buttons gathering the fabric at the front middle portion of the shorts. Then as a belt, she used a navy blue sash. She also adorned thigh-high socks that were mismatched but matched the outfit oddly. Her sock on the left leg was pure navy blue, and the one on the right leg was pure white with black lines running down straight. To finish the look, she wore black flats and had rolled up her long white sleeves to her elbows. Cesium was working beside her, trying its best to scrape off the paint but failing miserably. It looked like it used enough strength in its paw to make a noticeable dent.
Charlotte began to feel unnerved by the blond’s inquisitive glances and whispered, “Did I get some paint chip stains on my shirt?”
In response, the blond shook his head and began to chip away the old paint again. His hands were killing him, and they weren’t even halfway down with the main mast. They finished scraping the old paint from the railings, which Aden was sitting on top of, and they had then decided to move onto the main mast. Needless to say, it was the longest and troubling job they took on.
Olivia had told them early that morning that they had to work and work only. She wouldn’t allow any chitchat when they were being punished. Not able to bear the silence anymore, Damien whispered back, “No, I was just wondering when you got an outfit in the time we were in Refrazzya and grounded.”
The girl in question scraped another piece of paint of the mast before smiling. “Remember the raiment orders that Olivia wanted from the tailor? This was one of the many outfits she picked for me. Super cute, isn’t it?” she whispered to the boy but kept her sight on the mast in front of her. She didn’t want to alert the guy with super hearing. It was like he was a cat or something, being able to hear even the faintest of noises.
Damien tapped his scraping tool up and down his khaki uniform pants to clean it. The paint started to accumulate on the edge of the sharp tool, making it hard to peel off more paint. Whispering back, he continued with the last bit of rustic-colored paint of that particular side of the mast, “I didn’t peg Olivia to know a lot about fashion. Normally, she’s in her lab coat, black shirt, and slacks working around the clock.”
As they mentioned Olivia, Cesium barked in delight, which caused both Charlotte and Damien to jump in fright. They both reached their hands over to cover the Great Dane’s mouth so that it didn’t reveal they were talking much.
Aden, having heard the bark, lowered his book slightly and gazed over the top of it. He gave a slight glare to the Great Dane before shaking his head and returning to what he was reading.
When Aden had returned to his book, the two relaxed and gave each other a silent expression of laughing before releasing Cesium. The poor robot rubbed its nostril between its paws before looking up at Charlotte with a frown. Charlotte merely rubbed the top of its head and raised her index finger to her lips indicating to be quiet.
In the meantime, Damien threw the piece of rustic paint into the discarded pile within the bucket while Charlotte was warning Cesium about Aden. When Cesium understood, it gave a resolute howl and began its futile efforts to scraping off the rustic paint on the opposite side of the mast with its paw, thus leaving the two to sigh in frustration. It wanted to finish work on the deck so that it could play with everyone like that one day in the market.
Charlotte silently sighed before going for the last bit Cesium had missed and was about to scrape it off but found her tool chalked up too much paint and grime. She grabbed the extra handkerchief she possessed and wiped down the metal so that it was not piled with pasty old paint. She examined the tool closely, making sure it had not been chipped or damaged from the removal process. She then began to scrape off paint, indicating that it was still a good tool to use. Charlotte gave a victory peace sign to Damien, and he could only shake his head in amusement.
Now she needed to jump right back into the whispering again, “Olivia’s really fashionable with the times, so she knows what would look good on others. I think she wears the lab coat because it’s comfortable while she is working though.” Charlotte got up from her kneeling position to stand. She stretched her arms to the sky, and when she was done stretching her arms, she started to massage one of her shoulders to release the kink that formed there.
“That’s better,” she replied happily before she found herself finding eye contact with emerald eyes. She stared for a couple of seconds before remembering the night of the masquerade, realizing that she had been way too close and couldn’t find a way to stop gazing into his eyes.
The male in question merely walked over to the mast with his book in hand and looked at their handiwork. “It’s a decent job done by a duo and a stupid Great Dane who just chatted halfway through their duties.”
“Oh, come on!” Charlotte guffawed at the comment while Damien laughed earnestly. “You have ears like a fox mate.”
Damien went to stretch the muscles in his arms just like Charlotte had but couldn’t quite get it out. “Though I doubt you’d rat us out, Aden.” He gave his brother a genuine smile, which Aden just smirked at.
“You’re lucky I don’t give a rat’s ass about Cheric’s haze. What I don’t see is why you got sucked into it, Damien. It should just be Miss Ditz who somehow managed to be damsel in distress again.” He emphasized the “again” with a roll of his eyes to the girl in question. He watched her puff her chest out, which was strangely accentuated by her vest, and she crossed her arms resolutely in discontent.
“I’ll have you know this ditz took a gentleman’s sword from an enemy after she incapacitated him. How is that being a damsel in distress?” she defiantly said, and Damien turned to Aden with a bemused expression. The blond, knowing something good was about to happen, merely egged his best mate and friend on.
“I’m curious too, Aden. How is that being a damsel in distress?”
Aden gave Damien the “you know exactly what I’m talking about” side glance. “Okay, I’ll give you five points as to why she”—he pointed with his thumb over his shoulder to Charlotte—“was a damsel in distress.”
He tossed the book over to Damien, who caught it flawlessly in his hands, and then turned lazily to Charlotte. It was like he turned predator and had its mark in its grasp. All it needed now was the satisfaction of the chase. Aden could tell she realized what type of situation she was put into because he could see in her eyes that she wanted to jump off deck or run away.
Cesium, seeing something about to go down, ran away from his work and went straight into the companionway where he could find someone to settle the situation.
“Point one, you were stupid enough to leave a group of capable men and travel in a port city that was unknown to you.” He took a step closer to her like any predator would and watched as she slowly dropped her arms to her side and began to take her own step back.
Stuttering, she retorted back, “I am used to walking around by myself already. I wanted breathing space . . .” she inquired quizzically, hoping it would suffice as an answer. The dark glare she received meant that it was not. She once again took a step back. The unfortunate thing for her was that the rail would be coming quite too quickly to her back in another three to four steps.
“Point two, you attract way too much attention because of your foreign looks and extremely delicate features,” he continued his course to her and smirked when she hit the rail like he suspected she would. He could hear Damien trying to stifle a chuckle but ignored it. He was lucky Xavier wasn’t around to tease him about the “delicate features” part.
Charlotte flushed a red though and stuttered, “I was . . . raised in an estate all my life. I’m sorry I’m pale!”
Aden merely ignored it and put one hand on one side of the rail, preventing her escape on that side. He looked down on her as if to point out how much smaller she was than a normal-sized man. “Point three, while you ran away from the danger that merchant Giselle had put you in, you put yourself into danger by incapacitating a man you did not know you could take. You do realize that you were incredibly lucky he underestimated you.”
Charlotte furrowed her brows, about to complain that she wasn’t lucky in that situation at all, but Aden grabbed her forearm just like that other gentleman had in the alleyway.
She gave Aden a frightened look and couldn’t help from squeaking. He ignored her mouselike sound and replied in a bored tone, “I’ll give you ten seconds to perform any type of move on me. You’ll learn fast that you were lucky.”
The girl caught the challenge and narrowed her eyes. All she had to do was get away from him. That should have been easier now that she knew her limitations. She went to knee him like the other guy, but before her knee lifted off the ground, Aden had yanked the girl’s frame away from his body and forced her abdomen right into the rail. Her knee, not comprehending the swift swivel, continued up and banged into the metal rather painfully, causing her to hiss. Then she found herself being pushed down so that half of her body was leaning over the rail, and Aden had her arm pinned behind her back just like she had been a year or so ago. “We tend to come back to this position a lot, don’t we, damsel?”
“How in the world did you know what I did? Ow!”
Damien stifled another chuckle, and Aden gave him a side glance to be quiet. The blond merely saluted with a bemused expression. “So she now knows her infamous knee and chop are useless against men who know how to fight. What are the other two points you had, Aden?”
Charlotte felt the release as Aden let her go and allowed her to straighten up to then turn around but didn’t allow her to leave yet because he blocked her remaining exit with an arm on the rail. Now she was standing with her back to the rail, nursing a sore and bruising knee and rubbing her forearm, awaiting what other terrible reasons why she was a damsel in distress.
“Point four, when you acquired your sword from an incredibly miraculous situation, instead of counting yourself lucky and trying to find one of us, you run back exactly where the trouble is and put yourself in harm’s way again.” Aden leaned down so that he was right in her face, making sure that she was giving him all her attention.
He stared into her hazel eyes before she muttered, “I had a—”
“Before you even say, ‘I had a weapon, and I could handle myself,’ let me reiterate point three for you to understand: you were lucky. These men that were accompanying that man were trained military combatants. They would eat your swordplay for breakfast and not feel any sympathy for injuring a beginner. You were waving your sword like a toy, and that merchant had no choice but to take a fighting stance again to protect you. Idiot.”
Charlotte thought back to the situation before remembering Giselle was indeed resting. She was injured but still okay. Zeke, at the time, had his sword out, but it wasn’t even held in a fighting stance. It had been over before Charlotte had even barged in.
“Now you realize?” Aden drawled on. “Point five, you accepted an invitation that could have been a trap to a mysterious place with a known enemy and involved that merchant once again. All your choices are that of a damsel, and while no one had gotten hurt this time, it won’t mean it will happen again. Zaine and his pirates are a merciless bunch who will do whatever they want to whoever they see as their enemy. There’s your five points, Damien.”
Damien gave him a bemused expression. “Laying it on thick?”
“Not enough,” the twenty-year-old replied before pulling his head away from the girl. He only went into her space so that she could understand the threat of doing what she did and only watched when she merely dropped her head.
Charlotte was replaying the whole entire day in her head and realized exactly everything he said was the truth. She was nothing but a nuisance, and she might as well be a bird in a cage for people to gaze at only.
The feeling of being trapped in an enclosed space encompassed her train of thoughts then, and it took all she had to stop herself from breaking down. She could feel her world was shattering to pieces, and all because of what Aden had bluntly told her. Tears were escaping from the corners of her eyes.
Aden dropped his arms from the rail to his side and brought his head up to look at the sky. He was trying to enlighten the girl of her weaknesses, not make her cry like a kid.
Damien noticed her beginning to cry and walked over to the rail beside them. He put his back against the rail and looked up at the sky too, unsure of how to assuage the girl without breaking the truth Aden had spoken.
She was young, naïve, innocent, and inexperienced in the real world. While it was the roughest version of a “grow up” conversation, it did set the points out clearly.
“Look,” Aden replied sullenly. He brought his head down to look at the auburn-brunette in front of him, “I’m not saying everyone is perfect.” He felt himself lift his arms to comfort the girl but restrained them back down to his side. “At some point in our lives, we were all defenseless and making troubles for someone. See this scar here?” He lifted up his wrist and presented one of his many scars. “I got that from a knife fight growing up. And then this one?” He rolled his sleeve on his other arm to present a crisscross mark upon his bicep. “I got this one when I didn’t secure a line on the ship. I just don’t want you to go through the same painful experiences.” She paused momentarily in her crying to see the scars he was discussing. “And I’m not the only one who screws up. Damien accidently blew a canon off into one of our own vessels when he was still learning.”
Damien sputtered before retorting back in defense, “Aden somehow burnt down the cafeteria when he was presenting to Andy the capabilities of a propeller system on naval ships.”
Aden just shrugged as if no one could prove it was actually him. “My point here is that we all make mistakes and get involved in tricky and unsolvable situations. It’s a matter of what we do afterward that makes us a better problem solver. So saying things like ‘I was fine’ really isn’t the best way to learn from that type of thing.”
Charlotte gave a weak nod, and with a gargled “I’m sorry,” she tried to stop her crying. She continually went to wipe her face with both of her hands and even used her sleeve a couple of times.
It was at this point that Damien reached over with his hand and patted the girl’s head. “You’re strong at keeping everyone’s energy levels up as well as wanting to help out where you can.” He tilted his head to the side before offering Aden a smile. “You know you could comfort her too since you’re the one who made her cry.”
Aden gave his older brother the “I know” glance before taking a step forward and giving the auburn an awkward hug. It was awkward because he didn’t want anyone else to see him holding a crying lady, which could insinuate that he did something wrong.
A few seconds later, he tucked her head under his chin like he would in the past. “You’re persistent, boisterous, annoying as hell, but you have something people lack. You have heart.” He was about to pull back again, but Charlotte wrapped her arms around his torso, preventing him from leaving.
She was crying into his shirt, making him wish he had not embraced her. “I’m sor—ry for be—ing a pain.”
Aden gave a sardonic look to his older brother. “This is why I don’t comfort people—I make them cry more.” Damien chuckled at his expense, walking away with a smirk. He could hear his brother awkwardly speaking to the girl, “Okay—sure, use my shirt as a handkerchief,” He sarcastically said with a roll of his green eyes as Damien laughed.
“It’s not like you own twenty more of those similar shirts, Aden,” his blond brother replied before he cracked open the book Aden was reading. He opened to the bookmarked page and started on the beginning of the page.
“I’m sor—ry,” Charlotte cried into his shirt, and Aden sighed. “Whatever.”
The peace of the day continued for some time, allowing the three to remain situated near the rail with Aden merely holding the crying girl in his arms and Damien passing the time with a book.
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