Being back in the castle was enough of an experience for the army that had gone from being used to the cold temperatures of Nifl to the blazing heat of Muspell. It was welcome, really, while they planned their moves; after the Tempest had quelled, they needed to ensure that any damage sustained could be healed within relative peace. It resulted in their trip back home, and the army itself was more than happy to be able to sleep in their own quarters for once. One could never underestimate the luxury of a nice, soft bed in times of crisis. Among other things, of course.
"That should be any knots, yes...?"
Among those other things, as it seems, quite a few people in front of a vanity together; Aileen had a brush going through Deirdre's hair as she helped work on the woman's long mop, while Katarina and Sharena worked on their own accessories to either side of the women. Seliph was off on his own side, seeming to check the current accessories that had been delivered to them in their time away from the castle.
"Huh? Yeah. Got all of 'em, Deirdre." The forest woman's words get Aileen out of her own reverie for a moment, and she runs her hands through the woman's hair quickly just to see if she missed anything, before giving a nod of the head. "Wanted to be sure. Thorough, and stuff."
"Well, I'd say you did a good job..." Deirdre seems to smile at the raven, who almost seems to do the same in kind. Smiling was still hard for Aileen, but the praise did make her brighten. "Now, will you help me get this little head-dress on...?"
"Yeah. Might look better with hair tied, though. Yeah, nah?"
Deirdre seemed to contemplate it for a moment before nodding her head. "That sounds like a good idea. Please, go get one, and then I can try it on."
"Ah, please don't worry. Aileen, catch!" Seliph reacts quickly enough to the goings on to toss her a hairtie, and Aileen catches it easily enough and sets off to work. It results in Seliph going over to check on his mother, seeming to smile as he watches Aileen handle her hair with care and tie it into a ponytail. "Mother, I'm surprised you don't keep your hair up more often...it looks rather wonderful, I must admit."
"Thank you, dear." Deirdre smiles at Seliph from the mirror, practically beaming as Aileen passes her the bunny headband and watches her put it on.
...It's a little silly looking, to say the least, but it's definitely cute. Sharena finally gets the adjustments on her mask by the time Deirdre gets it on, and she winds up looking over and beaming. "Lady Deirdre, you look so cute! Ohh, we should have gone shopping way earlier, it looks so perfect!"
"...Looks silly, but...yeah. Cute. Real cute." Aileen's look is definitely pleased, to say the least, and she watches Deirdre giggle just the slightest bit.
"Oh, you two. You both flatter me so..." Deirdre clasps her hands together with a smile, though, practically beaming herself. Sharena looks over at them and smiles, finally having adjusted the vaguely reminiscent mask on her face to a suitable look, before shooting a look to Katarina.
"Hey, Katarina! You've got yours on too, right?"
"U-um--!" Katarina practically jolts from suddenly being called upon, dropping her accessory of choice to the floor; a seashell barrette, which causes Katarina to scramble to pick it back up. Of course, it resulted in Sharena puffing her cheeks a bit in annoyance. "I--I still don't know, I'm...I..."
Katarina felt herself wither a bit under Sharena's indignant look, in spite of the mask hiding most of it, looking elsewhere. Aileen perks at that, though, seeming to stare at the other girl. "Nothin' wrong with it, yeah?"
"Oh, no. No, there's...nothing wrong, it's just...it's very...nice?"
"Well, why aren't you wearing it?" Sharena piped up, though her look became a little less childish in the process.
"It's...it's too nice. For...for someone like--"
Katarina's words practically die in her throat when Sharena walks her way over and practically hugs the former assassin with enough gusto to force the air out of her. The mask she wears winds up getting messed up in the process, but Sharena's smile is...sweet. Warm, even, when she looks to Katarina. "Don't you dare say that! You're more than worth it--that's why Aileen picked it for you, you know? And why I thought it would look good too!"
Aileen tilts her head a bit at that, but shrugs a bit. Truthfully, Sharena had been the one to absolutely insist on it, but she wasn't going to harsh on the parade of confidence. "Yeah, what Princess said. Gonna look fine."
"She's right, you know...you don't have to worry." Deirdre seems to smile in encouragement, gently and expectantly almost. It took Katarina a few moments more, looking between all of the supportive faces...but...
Once Sharena takes a step back to get back with the others, Katarina clips the little seashell hairclip into her hair and folds her hands into her lap. "How...how does it look?"
"Katarina, it looks perfect!" Sharena practically pumps her fist into the air, beaming at the look. Katarina did manage to pull it off nicely, honestly--it looked super cute on her, and it resulted in the other three inhabitants clapping their hands for Katarina, resulting in the girl turning away with a flushed face.
"...Thank you. All of you. It's...so nice of you all to look out for me..."
"What are friends for, you know?" Sharena practically winks before she readjusts her mask, hands going on her hips. "Go show it off to Alfonse, okay? I'm sure he'll be just as happy to see it as we are!"
"W--what?!" Katarina's words proceed to die in her throat, looking to Sharena with a bewildered stare. "Princess Sharena, that's--I don't--"
"Ah, ah, ah!" Sharena's look practically goes mischievous as she 'helps' Katarina out of her seat, being the ever encouraging friend. "Go on, show him! Pretty please? I'm sure he'll just love it!"
The dreaded L word makes a shiver go through Katarina's spine, causing her face to redden even more as she starts for the door--a muffled 'okay' as the only sort of response before she leaves. Assumedly, to find the Askran prince as requested.
Sharena looks practically prideful as she rejoins the group, though Aileen gives her a bit of a look. "Really had to go that far?"
"Huh? Aileen, you misunderstand! I'm just trying to be encouraging!" Sharena's tone is pretty spritely, though it does damper a bit as the seconds go by. "...Did I do it a little too much?"
"...Princess Sharena, with all due respect, I believe we have very different forms of 'encouragement'." Seliph finally speaks up, seeming...a little concerned, at least. "I mean...anyone can see those two are quite close, but that may have been just a little overbearing."
"Yeah." Aileen nods her head in Seliph's direction, as if to say 'what he said'. It results in Sharena's look going a little downcast, before Deirdre speaks up.
"...If it doesn't work, Sharena...try a different approach. Something more...subtle." Deirdre's look is a little softer, a little more kind, and it gets Sharena to smile just the slightest bit.
"Well...okay. If this doesn't work, then it won't be the end of the world!" Sharena beams a bit, going back to her chair and looks to her hair. "Lady Deirdre, could I get some help with my hair? You always know how to make it so pretty."
"Of course, dear, I'll get started."
It shouldn't be too hard to find Alfonse, Katarina thinks as she wanders the halls of the castle. Alfonse wasn't one to be everywhere and anywhere, not in the same way that Sharena could; he patrolled, but he refused to dally anywhere he wasn't explicitly needed or didn't offer explicit privacy. It narrowed down Katarina's ideas of where to search, hoping to find him quickly and alone so that she wouldn't have to worry.
The library is her second though, but it turns out to be the right one; Alfonse comes out of the library easily enough, and she sees Saias walk him out. The two appear to be talking, as she winds up backing into a corner of the hallway to not seem creepy. They're likely talking tactics; it's something that Katarina herself would love to do, honestly, and she had been meaning to go study in the library herself. Maybe she'd do so later, but for now...
When Alfonse finally separates from Saias, Katarina comes back out from the other end of the hall with a smile on her face. Okay, act casual. Don't mess this up-- "Oh, Prince Alfonse...hello."
"Hm?" Alfonse seems to get out of a slight daze when Katarina called to him, seeming to smile to her. "Oh, Katarina, good evening. Is there something to report?"
"Um...well..." And just like that, any attempts at being smooth or cute died in Katarina's mind. She could be a decent tactician, but being even halfway good at navigating romance? Not happening. Katarina winds up running a finger through her short hair, looking to the ground. "Not...not exactly, but..."
"Oh, then..." Alfonse starts to speak up, but his words seem to stall out entirely, causing Katarina to look up to Alfonse and see a very dumbfounded expression on his face. He tries to speak again--once, twice, raising a finger up in the air to try and let her know that he had something to say, even if it couldn't necessarily find it. It winds up making them stand in the hallway for a solid minute, the silence between them uncomfortable and almost suffocating. What was he trying to say? Katarina didn't really know, but it resulted in a concerned look growing on her face.
Eventually, however, Alfonse finds his words--his face is a little pink by the time he does, but he takes a deep breath and gets himself centered. "I...see you've begun to accessorize."
"Yes..." Katarina's first word is just a little too soft, uncertain, before she straightens herself up a bit and clears her throat. "Yes, I...I did. Um...is it...you know, okay...?"
Alfonse seems to pause for a moment. His look shifts a few times over, as if contemplative, then to a slight frustration that sees him shaking his head, and then to a bit more of an almost resigned look before he finally settled his gaze on her again. "Katarina. Please excuse me for a moment."
"Wh--what's the matter, Prince--?"
Before Katarina knows it, Alfonse takes a few careful steps forward and into Katarina's space, seeming to pause for a moment and look at Katarina. Katarina's look is utterly perplexed, but she stays still. She trusts him, at least, and once he gets himself settled...
He quickly unclips the hairclip from Katarina's hair, and seems to flip it over before putting it back on her head.
"...You had it on upside down, Katarina. It looks better like this."
"Oh!" That seems to finally help Katarina get back into reality, before she sheepishly smiles a bit. "Oh...I didn't even notice. I'm sorry."
"What? No, no. You needn't worry." Alfonse seems to smile, a hand going to reassuringly grip her shoulder. "It's fine. I think it looks...very nice on you, Katarina."
Oh. That was enough to get her heart to skip a beat, and her very face seems to soften it's features as she looks right into Alfonse's eyes. "...Thank you. It...it means...a lot to me."
It's by this time that the two find how close they are to one another; their sweet looks being exchanged for wide eyed looks into one another's eyes, their faces starting to redden like they've never been this close to anyone before. And really, they hadn't; it was an experience for them both, and it makes Katarina all too aware of them. He's so close...if she could just be brave for a moment, for just a second, she could kiss him, couldn't she?
But what if this was a mistake? She could ruin this. Katarina could easily mess this up and make a mess of it all, and she'd have no one to blame but herself. And considering what's happened when she's tried to express her closeness before, it's...
"Uh...um..." The sounds that escape Katarina are soft, and gods they're so close. She feels like she's going to boil out of her own skin.
"Ye...Yes?" Even looking at Alfonse, he seems about as lost at this as she does. It's a small mercy, she supposes, even if it makes her more nervous. He seems to be trying to calm himself, but it's a slow process.
"Is...is there anything else...?"
The soft words escape Katarina in the comfort of the hallway, and it causes Alfonse to think. His face twists in the cutest sort of ways when he contemplates; his look shifts back and forth between her and the walls around them, and it stays silent for a bit. Unlike before, at least, the silence almost feels comfortable. Katarina's gaze doesn't leave him while she waits, ever the devoted pseudo-retainer she is. When Alfonse finally forces himself to close his eyes and take a breath, he looks to her again.
"...I...I don't know." Alfonse says that openly, but he looks her in the eyes when he says it. "I don't...are you okay? Right now?"
"I'm...um..." Katarina pauses for a moment, looking away before looking back to him. "I'm not...uncomfortable. Right now. If that's...what you're asking."
"...Are you certain?" Alfonse waits for her, and the response she gives him is a nod of the head. It seems to give him a slightly determined look, if a somewhat serious one, and he speaks up again. "Okay. Okay, that's...good. I'm pleased to know that."
Silence hangs in the air again, and he tries to force up some bravery by closing his eyes and taking a breath. He places his other free hand on her unoccupied shoulder, and brings himself just a bit closer. "Is this too much...?"
It doesn't take Katarina even a moment to state her answer. "No. No, it...it isn't. I'm okay...Prince Alfonse."
Okay, this was...good. Better than she was expecting, especially if he's attempting to take initiative here. His eyes soften and he gazes into her eyes with a half lidded expression for a few moments more, before he speaks up again. "Will you close your eyes...just for a moment?"
"Yes." An unhesitating answer; just as she hopes he would expect from her, at this point. She can't read his expression anymore when she closes her eyes, but he doesn't move away from her when she does. It feels...warm, in a way she can't describe, that she's only felt prior for Kris. It felt nice. She didn't deserve Kris; she doesn't deserve Alfonse either, but at least she's had time to try to atone for what she's done. He's been warm to her, and she grew to adore him. Being close to Alfonse was fine by her, but...she wasn't sure if that was enough, now that those feeling have entered her heart. To think that he could even possibly return them...
Her thoughts are brought to a halt, however, when she hears him suck in a breath and finally close the distance between them. His lips are definitely a lot more chapped than she imagined that they would be, in hindsight, but...it wouldn't be him if they weren't. No, it was him; every bit of awkwardness that came with him, but also that inescapably warm feeling of of being with him. It...was nice. It was close, it was private, and she wouldn't trade it for the world.
He separates from her eventually, and one of those hands of his goes to cup her cheek and brush a thumb across it. She doesn't open her eyes quite yet, wanting to relish the feeling, but... "...For good luck. And...so that we are on the same page."
"...Yes." Katarina's tone is so dreamy and lost that she may as well have entered a dream. It gets Alfonse to chuckle, just a bit.
"Please, take care, Katarina. I'll see you tomorrow." His tone is so warm, and he leaves his hand on her cheek for a moment longer before pressing a small kiss to her forehead and walking away. And it's like that she stays, even as his footsteps wander elsewhere; she doesn't want to move, she doesn't want to forget that something like this finally happened, and--
She winds up losing her balance and falling flat on the floor of the hallway after his footsteps have long faded. Of course, it earns the rushed footsteps of Saias, who comes out and rushes to her with concern.
"Katarina, are you alright?"
It takes a few moments to respond from the ground, but Katarina's voice practically tells him all he needs to know about the situation.
"I...I think I've reached Nirvana..."