IN A CABIN ‘NEATH A TREE (IV)
Lino was currently rubbing his cheek tenderly with a frown on his face, eyes scrutinizing the masked woman standing in front of him. There was a faint trace of dissatisfaction in his eyes, almost pouting. Both had just left the lake’s water, translucent droplets slipping down their bodies and hair, still in their undergarments.
“... now, tell me again, do you know what you did wrong?” Hannah asked with a halfway firm tone.
“... I honestly don’t get it,” Lino sighed. “It’s clear you’d like nothing more than to jump me and stab your nails into my skin. And not in the ‘oh I’ll skin you alive with my nails’ sort of a way either.”
“You’ve got some grand delusions there.”
“Do I?” Lino glanced up, grinning. “Or am I hitting the sore spots?”
“... you go in to talk to every woman with the expectation that she would just be unable to resist you, do you?” she asked.
“Oh? Is that what this is?” Lino chuckled. “You’re thinking you might just be ‘another’ woman?”
“I’d always known you had quite a big ego,” Hannah said after a short pause, sighing. “But this... this is taking things to a whole new level of insanity.”
“You can try to dodge your way out of it as much as you want, won’t work.”
“You don’t even know who I am.”
“What do you mean ‘so’? What’s with that sheepish expression?”
“... what’s it matter if I know your name, or if I remember you or not?” Lino questioned with a serious gaze. “Shouldn’t it be more important that I’ve gotten to know you over the past week well enough that I’d go for it?”
“... oh, wow. Well, that’s one way to weasel yourself out of this.”
“Besides, I think the bar is way too high.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I mean that I’m fairly certain I’ve never even kissed you in my life, let alone slept with you,” Lino said. “How in the fuck am I supposed to remember who you are then? Do you know just how many people I’ve met?”
“I saw a twitch there,” Lino said. “Wait, don’t tell me I actually failed to remember the softness of the woman’s lips?! Aaagh... yeah, you’re right. I don’t deserve this. I’m too much of a scumbag. I’m despicable. The worst. Atrocious.”
“Listing out your character’s flaws won’t earn you any free points, you know?” she chuckled faintly, shaking her head.
“... just be honest with me.” Lino suddenly said as he turned around and looked at her again. “I know you’re attracted to me. So... why?”
“... are you sure you want to know?” Hannah tilted her head.
“Ah! So you admit you’re attracted to me?”
“Of course I am,” she shrugged. “Any woman who doesn’t think ‘oh, yeah, I’d like to bury my face in those abs’ probably streaks the other way.”
“... heh.” Lino smirked in satisfaction.
“But, it’s just a fleeting attraction. Nine out of ten times, it would practically collapse the moment they got to know you. You’re impulsive,” she continued. “Indifferent, fake down to your bones, uninspired, arrogant, emotionally broken, self-centered, a compulsive liar, a womanizer, a drunkard, a battle-maniac, and though I can’t know for certain most-likely a casual thief who does it for shits and giggles. Tell me, then, does that sound like someone I’d be attracted to?”
“... oh, wow. That actually hurt.” Lino said, taking a deep breath. “But, yeah, why not? I mean, I always tell people: I’m a complex young man with numerous layers that require deep inspection.”
“No, you’re just a walking denial wrapped in a bubble of insecurities that’d wear down an entire freaking platoon of us, let alone just me.” she persisted.
“... yeah, I suppose you’re right.” following a short silence, Lino spoke out with a faint, bitter chuckle. “I took a leap of faith... didn’t pay off. Can’t fault the guy for trying, right?”
“...” after saying so, Lino turned around and picked up the clothes sitting on the ground, slowly putting them on with the clear intent of leaving. “Is that it?”
“What?” he glanced at her, putting the shirt on.
“No back-talk? No counter-psycho-analysis?”
“Oh, sorry,” Lino smirked. “I just wasn’t as obsessed with you as you were with me to the point of being able to completely analyze your character.”
“... a charming tongue can only go so far.”
“Further than you might think.” he winked.
“... man the fuck up already.” she growled through her gritted teeth.
“I said man the fuck up already!” she exclaimed, jolting over toward him and pushing him onto the ground. “Not everything is a goddamn joke!”
“... if you keep sitting on me like that, a part of me will sit up too, one you’ve clearly rejected so you might get a bit uncomfortable.”
“... heh,” Hannah chuckled after a short silence, her lips curling up in a smile. “That’s how it is, huh? Forever a joker?”
“... you’re not a joker, Lino. You’re just a joke.” she got up, walking over and putting on her dress. “Nothing more and nothing less.”
“... how’s Ally been doing?” Lino asked suddenly, causing Hannah to freeze in spot and turn on her heel, staring at him with eyes wide open.
“... w-what... who’s Ally?” she managed to spit out, stuttering.
“Oh, you know,” Lino smiled, leaning back against the rock. “That cute little girl I helped you recruit that eventually took your position in the Sect.”
“... I-I don’t know what you’re talking about...” she mumbled.
“... I’d seen her from afar over ten years ago,” he said. “It seemed like she’d come back for me. Has gotten quite strong, to be honest. Was already an Exalted back then. She killed all the nuns that you’ve banned me from doing back then. I, however, doubt you were smart enough to plan that far ahead. Must be a coincidence.”
“... though I can’t know what,” Lino continued, ignoring her silence. “I imagine something must have happened to her. Knots in the heart are quite a deterrent for cultivators, and that visit probably made hers worse. What was it? Memory wipe? Emotional disconnect? Or did she really manage to overcome it on her own?”
“... e-emotional disconnect...” Hannah gave up, crumbling onto the wet stones.
“Heh, it’s the safest one, after all,” Lino chuckled. “Though it’s a shame. She grew up to be quite a beautiful one, hasn’t she?”
“What about you?” Lino asked.
“... what about me?” she asked back, glancing at him.
“Well, geez, I don’t know,” Lino laughed lowly, getting up and walking over to her and crouching next to her. “Are you still a beauty I remember you to be?”
“... you, too, are impulsive,” he said as he put his fingers on her chin, lifting her face up and forcing her to look him in the eyes. “You’re too kind-hearted,” he continued, tracing his finger over her lips. “Too defenseless, too naive,” the tip of his finger met with the bottom of the mask. “Too invested... too caring...” he slowly pressed it and slowly lifted it off an inch. “Too stubborn...” he lifted it up further, exposing slightly flushed cheeks. “You’re a trickster who can’t play tricks, you’re just as insecure as I am if not more, you’ve once sexually assaulted a twelve-year-old boy,” he grinned as her eyes popped from beneath the mask, ethereally emerald in their hue, piercing. “You’re too self-conscious, a walking paradox...” Lino put the mask down next to the two, the last barrier vanishing. The blood-crimson hair spilled wet over her forehead, creating a rather peculiar contrast to her somewhat pale skin. “But...” he mumbled, caressing her cheek gently with a smile. “You’re... Hannah.” he chuckled. “Even if you were a hundred times worse, you’d still be ten thousand times better than anyone else I’d ever met in my life.”
“... when... when did you figure it out?” she asked timidly, her lips trembling.
“... when we first met by that lake,” he smiled. “Red hair... green eyes... the gaze that could disarm the Devils themselves... you did leave quite an impression on me back then, you know?”
“... I... I didn’t recognize you, though...” she tried to avert his gaze yet he stubbornly followed.
“Ha ha, of course you didn’t,” Lino grinned. “Back then I used to be some scrawny, broody, listless, weak brat. Now I’m a handsome, brave, perfect stud. Quite an evolution, no?”
“... the only evolutionary thing about you is your ego.” she smiled faintly, shaking her head. “But, yeah... you’ve changed... quite a lot.”
“... I was right.”
“About what?” she asked.
“You’ve grown to be far more beautiful than her,” he smiled. “Far, far more beautiful.”
“... when did it become a competition?” she rolled her eyes at him, chuckling, seemingly having recovered from the initial shock.
“You’re right,” Lino said, pressing closer. “It never was.” he stopped a mere inch away from her lips, staring piercingly into her eyes.
“... really?” she asked, grinning.
“Hey, gotta pay your dues.” he replied, grinning back.
“I am older than you, you remember that, right?”
“Oh, yeah, you’re quite an old one.”
“... ugh, fine.” she rolled her eyes yet again. “You’re still just a kid, I see.” she crossed the final inch and pressed her lips against his, her arms slowly wrapping themselves around his neck as his rested on her back. Like stone statues they remained embraced for a little while, shutting out the world around and beyond them, entirely wrapped in a small bubble surrounding the two.