d i s t r a c t i o n

Karis didn't feel guilty at all.

So maybe she just happened to know that Amiti would return from the bath in approximately five minutes, and, while he did wear "real clothes" for the sake of their travels, he still slept shirtless. And so what if she just happened to be in the perfect position to see him, hair still damp, dressed only in his sleek sleep pants? She was a healthy teenage girl, after all, and he just happened to intrigue her. His soft voice, deep eyes, gentlemanly manner...okay, so he did, on occasion, make her seriously consider her "no boys" rule. She could handle it, and all she was doing was watching, anyway. It was completely safe. Nobody had a clue what she was up to - after all, she was just fiery, little-girl Karis to them. She wasn't old enough to be interested. Especially not in the newest acquisition to their party.

She comforted herself with this information as she pretended to flip through the book laying on the sill. In fact, Karis was so absorbed in pretending to be absorbed by the book that she didn't notice Matthew's approach until he spoke.

"Karis?"

"Y-yes?" She closed her book with astounding rapidity and looked up at her "fearless leader". His expression was serious, and she couldn't keep her eyes from flicking around the room. Everybody was present and accounted for, except for Amiti, which meant that they couldn't have too big of a crisis.

"We need to talk." He gestured towards the balcony outside the inn, crowded with dusk. Karis raised an eyebrow.

"What, are you breaking up with me?" she joked, but Matthew's expression didn't change. He held the door and followed her onto the small balcony. Nobody inside seemed to notice their absence.

"Karis," Matthew began, once they had comfortably arranged themselves outside, "I'm worried about this little...distraction of yours."

She scrunched up her nose. "Distraction?"

"I'm sure it doesn't seem like a big deal," he continued, "but if it goes any further, it could seriously ruin our dynamic."

"What did I do? What are you even talking about?" she asked, rather irritated. His expression still remained the same, becoming (if possible) more stern.

"Well...you haven't so much as done something yet. But you're considering it. Don't think I don't know what's going on here." Matthew said all of this with the utmost seriousness, but she could have sworn something else flashed in his eyes for a split second.

"Matthew," Karis said, exasperated, "just spit it out! What's this about?"

"Or rather...who?" A smirk crept up on his lips, and this time she caught it for sure before he banished it.

"Matth-"

"That's right," he elaborated, barely keeping the grin off of his face. "I'm talking about Amiti."

Karis shoved him. "Sometimes, I think you're worse than Tyrell," she grumbled, trying to keep her composure. Matthew looked wounded. "Because you actually pick up on things."

"You're not exactly subtle." Matthew laughed, but then grew serious again. "I wasn't kidding about the dynamic, though," he said softly. "Especially when he's just joined. Just...don't do anything rash, okay?"

"Matthew!" she protested, giggling. "I'm not in love with him or anything. It's just a little crush. It won't go anywhere, okay? ...You can't deny that he's attractive," she added as an afterthought.

Now it was his turn to wrinkle his nose. "I really don't want to think about that."

"So...conversation over?" Karis asked hopefully. Amiti still hadn't returned, meaning that she might still have a chance to catch him...

"Mm," Matthew said, mulling it over. "I could say something about how 'little Karis is all grown up' now, or-"

"Conversation over," she cut him off. Karis reached forward and hugged Matthew briefly. "Thanks for your concern."

His laugh was deep, deeper than she'd remembered. "Anytime."

As soon as they exited the balcony, Amiti entered the scene. He met her eyes and she held his gaze until he broke it off and walked into his own quarters. Karis, flushed and restraining a giggle, looked up at Matthew's disapproving, yet amused, expression.

"Just a crush," she muttered, and shoved past him to her own room, still blushing a sharp red.

-bonus-

A few weeks later, when Karis caught Matthew watching Sveta for a little while longer than usual, she nudged him. "Hey, Matthew...take your own advice."