[P] Though your whole world has gone up into flames
Heavy grey clouds hung overhead, blotting out the cheering warmth of the sun. Evelyn tugged at the edges of her shawl, the fabric conforming to the sharpness of her shoulders, and pulled it more tightly around herself in an effort to keep out the cold. Or maybe to ensure that her emotions remained securely trapped within.

Between the death of her infant son, the torment of her sweet daughter, and the murder of her dear friend, it was by the power of her own mind (or, perhaps, the hardness of her own heart) that kept the Vicar from shedding tears.

The silence and the stillness of autumn surrounded them as the passed along the well-worn trail, the trees shedding their brightly colored leaves like dancers disrobing after a night on the ballroom floor. There was a tenuous peace between them that Evelyn did not yet care to disrupt, and so the hush stretched between them until a series of shrill, bloodcurdling cries from a blue jay cut through her like a knife.

She started and swung her head around until she found the cerulean corvid, following it with a curled lip as it flew from tree to tree and took its taunting shrieks away with it. But it left behind a flare of ire that smoldered within her and refused to be contained.

"How could this happen?" she began, her voice even but sharp. Tilting her head up, she looked at her husband with bitter, aching sadness in her eyes. "How could you let this happen?"

[WC -- 257]

OOC: ;-; || WC: --


He'd faced many trials and tribulations, seemingly foolish choices in retrospect that had costed him dearly in the long run, but nothing ever seemed to change. Was there a way to foster a sense of foresight? Would he ever attain it?

Perhaps it was this inexplicable lack, the failure to learn from his experiences and incapacity to restrain what he'd always felt was the right motions at the time - an impulsivity, at its root - that barred him these vital lessons. Santiago could've done better. He should've done better.

He could not be condemned for his lack of trying, and each mounting failure had been adding to the weight. Had he not spared the youngsters who started the fire at that homestead, where would they have all ended up?

At the very least, he had his family - his ailing, weak, and fragile family - a silver lining to the aches and pains and weariness of life and all it had done - that he'd done - through his own actions and inactions alike.

He should've ridden with Luciana. He knew that now, but thought she was a stronger rider, that the repercussions wouldn't have been so dire. Maybe she wouldn't be sitting at home, subdued and ailing and crippled. Maybe Dutch would've still been alive. Bluejay harping fell on his deafened ears, his eyes sunken and weary, as he and his fair, fire-touched wife made way for his companion's corpse. Evelyn's cutting words, though, jabbed through the cottony haze of his stupor, and his sunbaked green eyes looked to her abruptly, alarmed, and he was equipped to answer.

These things happen. How could we have known - how could we have possibly accounted for- endless excuse, keeping in mind the warning that he wasn't to carry these burdens alone at the wake of the Reverend's funeral, but any of his molifying platitudes were smothered as he drew breath at her second question, much more accusatory than the first.

Santiago stopped, and paused, thoroughly shaken from his state as his heartrate picked up and trembled through his hands in a shallow, quick beat.

"I-- Evelyn-" How could you say that? He stared at her, her own expression a mirror of his own wounded features, and he snapped his gaping mouth shut a moment, quelling his stunned fumbling.

"Don't talk to me like that, Miss Escuella," he answered, his voice hushed and strained as he desperately reached for his cracked composure, looking for the waifish and thin lines that Luciana wore on her face in the visage of his wife, and found those glossy eyes peering just a little too closely at him. The rasp of his voice wobbled, and the volume grew in gradual crescendo. "I was trying my best. What was I supposed to do, Evelyn?"

With an incredulous shake of his head, and a pull of breath past parted teeth, he blew his breath out, exasperated, and went on, seemingly unaware of just how loud he was speaking.

"Enlighten me! What was I to do?"

Tethered together by trauma and tragedy, theirs was a relationship strengthened by mutual trust and deep respect and genuine love. Never before had these virtues been tested; never before had she had reason to doubt.

Evelyn drew back her fire-bitten ears, Santiago's voice more vehement than expected. Her lips quivered and her nose twitched, her efforts to keep from baring her teeth at him visible.

Dry as a rattler and twice as venomous, Evelyn bit back. "Used your damned head for once instead of your fool heart is what, Mister Tejada! Though she kept her volume in check, there was bitterness in her tone. "If you'd just stopped to think, maybe our daughter--"

A wave of something heavy and disconcerting roiled within her, cutting her words short. Realizing what it was just in time, she bit back the sob with a sharp intake of breath and turned abruptly away from her husband.

She was rarely one to shed tears. They had never done a damn thing for her except to make her feel vulnerable and weak. Falling silent for several beats, Evelyn breathed in steadily, deeply, and regained her composure. Straightening her shoulders, she looked at Santiago again.

"You would do well not to raise your voice again, Mister Tejada," she said softly, the glistening in her eyes betraying emotion despite the strength of her voice.

After a measured look at her husband -- a deeply flawed man that, beyond her own comprehension, she found that she still loved -- she turned away from him.

Pack grounds or not, dangers lurked everywhere. She knew that, but she had become complacent. The truth was, it was easier to blame Santiago than it was to admit that there was fault in her actions as well.

"Never should have sent her off alone," she said flatly and began walking slowly ahead.

[WC -- 309]

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