Outside there was a chill in the wind. The breeze from the afternoon had picked up into a full blow, carrying cold air over the hills and into town easily. It felt crisp and natural; something Alvin expected in places like this now. He'd visited all over, stopped in so many inns like this maybe a day or two and then he was gone onto another. By nightfall everything that kept the place running crawled to a pace he could better keep up with. When it was quiet and lonely later into the night he found himself more at home.

Nowhere was really home here, but in the soft moonlight with only dim sounds around he could pretend this was it. Pretending never lasted long though. The wind felt good through his hair and over his face, but a piece of him—like something ingrained in his skin—would remember home. The dry air and the constant barrage of noise, light and sensations would ring across his memories. It was distant and blurry sometimes, but others it struck with such clarity it was almost as though he could taste and feel it all.

That night it felt further away than usual. The feeling wasn't distinct and Alvin didn't want articulate it. Trying to make sense of it all made it worse.

His eyes fell to the letter in his hand. There were hopeful, fake words written neatly in lines across the page, all planned and executed accordingly. It was the least he could do. Chances were they would be forgotten anyway, but he couldn't do nothing.

A long sigh dropped from his lips and he focused instead on folding the letter properly. Each crease set in a particular way—so that it could be flown out more easily. Soon enough the orderly little letter was set to go and Alvin called out to his feathered carrier. Shortly, the reliable bird flew in and rested at Alvin's outstretched arm.

The bird stayed steady as Alvin tied the letter to his leg, only turning his head this way and that as if he were more interested in the things going on around them. There really was only Alvin, but he didn't blame the bird for his disinterest. "Bigger stuff out there, right?" he muttered, more to himself than anyone else. The bundle of feathers gave him a curious look and remained on his arm as if it were a question Alvin would have to answer for him.

A dry chuckle escaped Alvin's lips before he finished tying the note to the bird's leg. He wasn't entirely sure himself. In that odd quiet in the dead of night his thoughts felt too loud. Now couldn't really be the time.

Just one step at a time here. Got enough on my plate.

With the reminder he let himself sigh, slumping over a little. The bird on his arm stirred slightly.

"You're all set then? Okay, take it easy out there," Alvin said lightly, gesturing up a bit to give the bird the signal to go. With that and the ruffling of feathers the little bird was off—flying up and away off into the cloudy night sky. It wasn't until the bird was mostly gone from view that Alvin heard a rustling and footsteps behind him.

He turned slightly only to see Jude approaching at a casual pace. When Alvin's gaze caught his motion Jude slowed only slightly.

"Past your bedtime, isn't it?" Alvin started—only teasing slightly.

Jude shook his head and stopped a few strides from Alvin. "I don't need you telling me that. You're the one slinking around after hours," Jude said as he gave Alvin a pointed look.

The older man shrugged and laughed carelessly. "I wanted some fresh air. A man's gotta have a little space sometimes, you know."

Jude didn't seem convinced as his eyes narrowed. "You were sending another message."

"Another message. You didn't want to read the love letter before I sent it did you? You're looking for tips maybe?"

Jude crossed his arms and looked off in the direction the bird had taken off in. Looking Alvin's way was probably infuriating anyway. "I don't want to read your weird letters. I was just seeing why you were up."

Alvin's grin relaxed into a more easy-going smile. He was difficult and probably way too smart, but Jude wasn't so bad after all. "Only sending a letter and getting some air here. Charmed by the concern though," he replied, still teasing at least a little. He couldn't go all soft at once after all.

"You're only serious and weird when you feel like it, not when I'm asking," Jude huffed and slumped his shoulders.

"Serious and weird?"

"Earlier, when I saw you writing that letter you just sent off. You looked serious."

Alvin fell silent and spent a second digging up a response. Soon enough he cracked another grin and laughed. "Adult stuff. Don't worry about it. Besides, we got bigger stuff on our plates, right?"

A certain expression crossed on Jude's face, like just maybe he didn't believe him, but slowly the student let it go. Cooled off just enough, Jude nodded his head. "I guess if that's how you're going to be about it. I have enough to worry about with what happened anyway."

"Wanna give me another chat on how tough it is being a criminal on the run?"

"I don't even want to talk about it. I was hoping to forget for awhile."

Alvin gave Jude a bigger grin and laugh which helped the younger one crack small smile of his own.

"Take it one thing at a time here. Eventually we'll sort out where we stand, even if it's slow," the mercenary said with a softer voice and expression. "Tackle it as you can. No need to jump into anything too big."

Jude once more shook his head. "I might not be able to go slow with how fast Milla moves into things, but you did almost sound pretty wise there."

"Hey, almost isn't too bad! I'll get there one way or another."

There was something about Jude's reaction that showed he wasn't impressed, but at least a little amused. "You might have to pick up the pace if you want to keep up with us though."

He couldn't put his finger on it; however, Alvin could tell that stung just a pinch. Jude was teasing—he didn't know better. Getting left in their wake sounded pretty unpleasant though; especially when so much was riding on a lot that would be coming up soon with those two.

"I'll see where my pace takes me," he answered finally, settling on another empty smile.

It took what felt like an age, but eventually Jude's lips formed a thin smile to give him back. "We'll both see. I can tell you that I told you so when it's all done."

"Maybe you will. For now, I'll just be watching your back," Alvin decided right then, straightening up and taking an nonchalant stride toward the inn again. Jude watched for a moment only to join Alvin after he'd gone a few steps past him.

"If Milla will let you go that slow."

"If she does. I'll keep up. Besides, you guys are stuck with me a little longer at least."

Their conversation grew quieter as they reached the door. It all jumbled together a bit in Alvin's mind; his own thoughts muddling it.

One step at a time. We'll be in motion soon. It's fine going slow a little longer.

He had just enough to focus on for the time being; maybe it was best not to worry now.