It went against his all his natural instincts to leave the small woman there in the middle of the floor. Adrian squeezed through the narrow slant of rock to the previous cavern by the mouth of the cave. Her behavior led him to believe she felt uncomfortable that he had feelings for her. And something he couldn't put his finger on... He figured some space would be best for her.
"Hello, you." Jude reappeared to take Pen cheerfully in his hands. He waved a hand in a gentlemanly flourish to indicate that Kanna and Devon to back before him. "...You're sure you don't want to walk? You'll end up squished again." He warned Pen.
"Come on, Kanna." Devon urged and placed his arm around her shoulders. Though he seemed and felt remarkably tiny, the man was in all actuality decent sized for a human, standing at a gawky, spindly six foot one. Kanna watched Adrian go, feeling the ground shake beneath his every step. When Jude gave his polite indication, the pair set off through the section of wall.
"But it's the good kind of squished."
Pen grinned and folded her arms behind her head leisurely
"You're plenty soft to get squooshed into, Judeybaby."
A fond smile tugged on Jude's lips.
"You're adorable." He kissed her cheek, then lowered his hand protectively as he inched his way back to the group.
Adrian busied himself with gathering his bags and trying to repack a few things more comfortably. A cool mist seeped in from the waning thunderstorm outside. The last remaining water droplets were being wrung out of the weak gray sky.
"Looks like the coast is clear." Jude confirmed Pen's satisfaction with the current weather outside. The worst had passed, and the group was ready to move on.
Out of the corner of his eye, Adrian saw Jude pick up an eager Penelope after shouldering his travel bag. That left Kanna and Devon. Did Kanna still want to be near him like that for God knows how long? He picked Devon up-- fairly gently-- then reached tentatively for Kanna. He met her eyes; he never could tell what was going on in those swirling brown depths.
For some time now, Penelope had served as a silent observer of the other unlikely couple, even more-so than she and Jude in many aspects. She thought that they brought out the best in each other on good days, though the same could be said about the opposite scale of emotions. None the less, Penelope supported Adrian's obvious growing love Kanna even if the school teacher had a ways yet to go with her own sealed heart. Pen shuffled in and leaned her head against Jude's neck, eyes never leaving the pair save for when either of them would take the rare occasion to glance away.
Kanna eyed his hand and the hesitance it bore. Though being without Adrian's direct company might have been the wisest choice, that did not stop the sudden words that sprang as easily as a 'thank you' or 'good morning' to her lips.
She awaited the growingly familiar wrap around of large fingers to hoist her stomach droppingly high into the air.
"It's still pretty chilly. I could use some coffee."
Pen commented and clung to the warm Jude's skin provided.
His hand looked far too calloused, too imprecise in direct comparison to Kanna. Her body was small and soft in his momentarily grasp, alighting a rare combination of touch receptors.
Jude watched from just outside the cave as Adrian lifted the second human into his shoulder. He was so careful with her... An extreme contrast to how naively he had handled Penelope back in Rutherford.
Jude hadn't a clue what had transpired between him and Kanna, but Adrian hardly spoke a word the entire walk to Aryua. The jagged skyline began to take more detailed shape and focus as they got closer.
"Ade, I'm buying you a beer at the first pub we come across. You need to lighten up, man."
A smile tugged a corner of his lips as Jude successfully lifted his spirits a little.
"Thanks. I could use one." He heard the familiar scratching of pencil on paper by his right ear.
"Drawing a picture of me?" He said, a faint smirk returning to his face.
"Finishing one, actually. Hardly a complimentary angle to be drawing you from at present."
Devon drawled. Curious, Pen stood up and dropped down Jude's shirt, using the thick fabric and buttons as footholds and handholds as she crossed his chest. Pen scaled his body and reached Jude's shoulder closest to Adrian. After chanting a quick wind spell, she leaped an impossible distance due to the augmentation of magic and landed on Adrian's shoulder, promptly taking a seat beside Devon to get a look
"You are seriously a ridiculously good artist."
Pen practically gushed
"I can only really draw stick people, at best."
Devon hummed and kept adding in highlights and lowlights on a wrench he'd added in for creative flair.
"So You've drawn me before?" That was news to him. Adrian gave a start when another small body collided with his shoulder. He reacted so sharply that Kanna was jostled on her perch. Only Pen would try a stunt like that.
"Were you raised by flying squirrels or something?" He exclaimed, raising a hand to assist Kanna.
"It's possible. She is a bit nutty..." Jude said with a laugh.
Adrian did his best to glimpse the two occupying his right shoulder, then raised a shocked expression to Jude.
"This doesn't bother you?"
"She can definitely crimp in my nerves." Jude replied with a wry smile, recalling her daredevil feats right from the very beginning. "At this point, there's little left she can shock me with."
He walked a little close to Adrian, both out of curiosity and protectiveness.
"You have a handsome enough face. Symmetrical."
Devon remarked in a way that one would whilst talking about the schematics of a building plan. Pen giggled and reached over to flick Adrian's cheek
"He's symmetrical alright. And very handsome, right Kanna?"
the cleric smirked knowingly over at the school teacher who stumbled and struggled to right herself, earning a withering glare.
Jude raised an eyebrow; if he didn't know any better, he would say Adrian looked almost uncomfortable from all this attention on his face. But he did know better; Ade was more likely hearing the teacher's silence above all other compliments.
The sight of his friend carrying all three humans was immensely entertaining to Jude. He marveled at Devon's impervious nature, unable to be distracted by anything short of brute force.
Adrian felt a tiny swipe of air on his neck as Kanna true to regain her balance without touching him. He pinched her sides delicately and held her still until she was no longer in danger of wobbling.
"Can I see it?"
Between a finger and thumb, Adrian lifted the sketchbook for scrutiny. He squinted at the tiny cluster of markings on the page. It was humanoid, that was for certain. But many details were too intricate for his eyes to pick up on.
"Give it here." Jude made a motion with his hand and Adrian complied.
"It's good." He said as he passed over the pad of paper. Jude squinted similarly, bringing the drawing closer and farther from his eyes to focus on different details.
"From what I can tell, it's quite a likeness." He raised his eyebrows and gave Devon an impressed smile as the sketchbook was returned to its owner.
Buildings began to appear occasionally as the lush landscape became urbanized. A pollen-coated sign read:
Aryua City limits.
A giant couple was talking by a human diner joint, one of many small-time joints that paced the way to the more industrialized district. Two dirigibles propelled inbetween the skyscrapers up ahead. Jude stepped in front of Adrian to walk on the right side of the road, letting human civilians walk leisurely on the left.
A public transit train rattled across tracks. Adrian could immediately tell how old it was and why they probably weren't bothering with up keeping the outdated model in such a contemporary city; they were letting it run its course, then replace it with a sleek new efficient one.
A sign placed strategically at a higher level showed a simplified silhouette of a large humanoid figure stepping over the railroad tracks while the train was crossing. An undisputsble red "x" was painted over top. The message was obvious- no giants crossing while the train was in passing.
Jude stopped several meters away and took the opportunity to make eye contact with Penelope.
"Can I have you back?"
Quite frankly, a certain schoolteacher welcomed the reprieve of her pressuring pupil as Pen stood and grinned
She chirped and with another spell chanted, Penelope had leapt onto the front of Jude's shirt and grinned broadly up toward her fiancee. Ideas mounted one upon the next for uses of magic to change his size whenever he wished. Would she be able to figure something out soon? An affectionate nuzzle to Jude's vast chest served as further incentive.
The familiar pressure of Jude's hand instantly sandwiched the small girl to his chest.
"Mmph.. You're a bloody show off, I hope you know." A smile softened his face- the kind only Pen could elicit.
Adrian's eyes danced over the couple before averting entirely. They made it look so easy...
He caught a handful of humans gawking at him across the street, pointing and murmuring to each other. Their expressions were of horror or disgust, but rather of pity. That made him frown- what did they know bag he didn't.
When the engulfing hand surrounded her with the warmth, for the millionth time in her life, pressed her into Jude's chest, muffled giggles were produced.
"I know you love when I do shit like this."
She relaxed in his grasp and closed her eyes, the sensation of being held so gently enough to relax her head to foot
"You have got to be the warmest living being on the planet. And the most comfortable..."
She mumbled contentedly.
Jude loosed a gentle chuckle, looking down at her.
One of the things he loved about Pen was how honest and sweet she was. She said how she felt without a filter for the most part, and that was something he had rarely experienced with anyone in his life. He felt her tiny nose pressing into his chest when he stroked the back of her head with his thumb.
The caboose of the train rattled past at last. Adrian practically barreled past him.
"In a bit of a rush, are you?" Jude caught up with him.
"Would you two get a room? Honestly.."
"Adrian... after those Morrocan twins you have no room to judge me." Jude raised a daring eyebrow at him, as if threatening to share the details with the group. Adrian couldn't seem to decide whether to smile or frown. So he kept his mouth shut.
A circular-shaped forum was crowded with humans and giants alike. None looked too excited to be there.
At the mention of Adrian's sex life, a venomous glare fixed itself upon Kanna's face, melting away any trace of previous silence
"I suppose they must have been a good time, then."
She commented without a trace of tone though Devon instinctively moved over a bit away from her.
Pen wriggled in Jude's gentle mammoth grasp until she faced outward, curious blue eyes catching sight of the forum
"What do you suppose is going there?"
"...Maybe." Adrian said with a curious glance towards Kanna. Why break her silence over that?
"Dunno. Maybe it's tax day or something."
"Bloody inconvenience..." A middle aged mother tugged her child away from the hassle. Jude and Adrian exchanged looks. It was slowly dissipating as people lined up to deliver good and packages, receipts, or letters. There was an appropriately sized window for each species.
"I don't understand the big deal..." Jude veered around the lines and headed towards a street of giant shoppes and restaurants to the left.
"Excuse me, sir." A giantess wearing a variation of police attire stood in his way. Her enforcer badge glinted in the late afternoon sunlight. "This is a giant-only district. I'm afraid you'll have to leave your friends at the drop-off point." She looked pointed at the three humans, and the giants carrying them. Jude met Pen's gaze.
"You can't be serious." He said in disbelief. The officer didn't budge. He glanced back at the lines of people. It dawned on him that they weren't just sending off post;it must be a system to deliver things to the other sector they did business with.
He turned back around. "How is this ethical?"Jude demanded.
She ignored his question, re-iterating her strict stipulation. "I don't get paid to debate the issue with numb-skulls. Take them back to the square."
"And if I refuse?"
She narrowed her eyes. "If you refuse to cooperate, I'll have to arrest you for breach of peace."
"That is a flawed law, lady. So you honestly think it's close to alright to separate me and my fiancee? That's screwed up!"
Pen stoop up on Jude's should and made direct eye contact with the giantess
"How is this a 'breach of the peace'? Instead of arresting a good man for being around humans, go decrease crime rate where it actually exists. Don't you see something skewed about this? Think for yourself! How would you like being separated from the people you care about over a trivial thing like race?"
Pen's gaze did not waver, determination fixed within her blue eyes
"What harm is there in letting giants and humans interact? A giant only district? That is ludicrous."
Kanna felt the familiar dishonor of discrimination boil like cold heat in her blood. She would not allow her friend to stand alone
"She is right. Where I lived up until recently, I often tutored young giant children. The last town we were in played host to giants and humans intermingling. I want you to take a look around critically at faces of the innocent lives this ruins due to segregation."
Kanna stood tall as well but far more calmly, more rational
"Who is the true disturber of the peace?"
The officer's eyes widened upon the mention of "fiance" and continued to falter under the articulations of the young human women.
"I... Look I'm sorry. You can still remain together in any of the three approved drop-off forums." Her lips became a thin line. "The separation act was passed for the safety of all civilians. If you have a problem with the law, take it up with the council."
Jude squared his jaw, curling his fingers possessively around Penelope. "No." His eyes were alight with a rebellious flare.
"Are you refus-"
"Yes, I am." He cut her off. "I'm going, and I'm taking her with me."
Adrian's gaze darted from his indignant friend to the officer's eyes flashing dangerously as she reached for the magic fueled stun-gun on her hip holster. A growing number of civilians were spectating from the forum, drawing the attention of an additional enforcer. Ade quickly stepped in front of Jude, blocking his path with an arm.
"He's joking. Never been much good with humor, but he thinks he's a comedian..." He smiled at her, as if to apologize for his friend. He gripped Jude's arm, leading him back out to the square. "Keep up the good work, officer!" He flashed the female enforcer a dashing smile and shushed Jude's furious protests. The officer watched them suspiciously for several minutes longer.
"What are you doing?" Jude hissed. Once they were out of earshot, he wrenched his arm away.
"Saving your skin. You can't exactly lead a revolution from a jail cell, now can you?"
Jude let out an infuriated exhalation, but grudgingly knew Ade was correct.
"What's the point in leading a revolution if we can't even stand up to one law enforcer?"
Pen growled and glowered viciously at Adrian but received a calm, reasonable glance from Kanna
"He's right, Penelope. You can't fight every small scale battle. Conserve your energy for the ones that matter."
Pen lowered her eyes
"..But...I just...I just wanted to..."
Kanna gave Penelope the benefit of a gentle, almost motherly expression
"You want to be with the one you love free of prejudice, an understandable desire."
Jude glowered silently around him before coming to a decision. He knelt down near the human archway and took Pen off his shoulder.
"I'm not giving up yet. I want to know more a out the politics behind this 'separation act'." He gave her a small smile and lowered her to the ground. Adrian crouched down beside him. "We'll use their system against them. You go find Amir's sister. Ade and I will see what we can find out about this council."
Adrian plucked up Kanna, then Devon off of him and set both of them on their feet by Penelope.
Before Jude could pull his hand away, Pen had both of hers on his ring finger. She stepped forward to press her lips against the tip and gave him a soft, calming smile that showed she would try to see the best in this
"Be safe, both of you."
Kanna's own eyes found themselves filled with longing for the giant mechanic as well as the resolved to do what needed to be done. She offered her hand to Pen and kept her eyes on Adrian, emotion flickering within.
Devon straightened his bag and put his hands on the small of each of the women's backs
"Come on, now. No use in fretting idly when we've work to do."
Adrian felt the intensity of that small gaze boring into his. He looked down at her, his lips parting then shutting again as if choosing not to speak his mind. He glanced over at Pen.
"No promises." He grinned and stood up. Now was not the time for romance.
Jude smiled at her with a thick determination in his eyes. He closed his thumb over her dainty hands, rubbing once along her forearms, then following Adrian's lead and stood up.
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
Pen smiled lovingly and yearning up toward the faraway face of the man she loved and gave him a wave. She turned to Kanna then to Devon and her smiled shifted to something brighter.
"C'mon. I think there's a performance district. Let's try there first and see if we can get anything."
The trio set out with pen prattling on about Amir and his elder sister Idina, spinning nostalgic tales about dorm wide dance parties. Kanna, decided she refused to leave off on a foolish note and summoned the courage to shift her blushing smile toward Adrian, giving him a nod of confidence before catching up with the other two as they melded in with the small bustling crowd of humans.
A dopey smile clung to Adrian's lips as he watched the trio set off-- Kanna in particular. Some of Kanna's hair had fallen out of its strict bun, and the long strands swayed in time with her hips. A light slap on the butt made him snap out of his foggy state. He whirled to see Jude smiling devilishly, a rolled up newspaper in hand.
"Asshole." Adrian brushed past him, back towards the giant district.
Jude laughed. "I've never seen her smile like that..." He nudged Ade in the side, who shoved him back.
The same officer was still on-duty; she perked up when she saw them coming. Adrian went to smooth-talk her, but she stopped them again.
"Excuse me?" His eyebrows shot up.
"I need to ensure you're not sneaking those friends of yours inside." She raised a small heat sensor in-hand. They groaned loudly in exasperation and reluctantly raised their hands over their heads.
"You've got to be kidding me..." Jude groused.