The first time Eve tried to tell Espella that she was in love with her was after work one day, not long after Eve had realized this fact herself. Espella had come by the erstwhile courthouse in the evening to chat, as she did once a week or so, and on this particular occasion Barnham had left a bit early while Eve had stayed back to finish a report on the resources needed to increase hotel capacity to meet current tourist demand, so it was just the two of them.
“Why don’t we go outside?” Eve said. “I’ve had enough of this office for one day.” They’d never redecorated, so “dark, heavy, and imposing” was still the prevailing aesthetic, and it wore on one after a while.
Espella agreed, and so they went to sit on the steps out front. Eve asked Espella about her day, and Espella launched into a story about the latest mischief that Constantine and Eve-the-cat had got up to. Her enthusiasm for the subject lit up her face, and the setting sun turned her golden hair incandescent, and she was so beautiful.
“So he jumped up on the table,” she was saying, “and landed right on the plate of croissants, so it came flying off the-- is something wrong, Eve?”
“Ah,” said Eve. “No?”
“Only you were sort of... staring.”
If Eve had been any good at this sort of thing, this would have been the moment to come out with some kind of terribly smooth line, and then she could sweep Espella off her feet, metaphorically and perhaps literally, and they could kiss dramatically against the setting sun, or something like that.
Instead she said, “You have flour on your nose.”
“Oh!” said Espella, rubbing at her nose with her sleeve. “Honestly, that stuff gets everywhere. Did I get it?”
“Er, yes,” Eve said, not looking at her. “You’re fine.”
At home, in the mirror, Eve tried to practice.
Espella, I like you ... no, that was a bit childish. She sounded thirteen, not twenty-two. Espella, I... care for you... as more than a friend... although if you only want to be friends that is of course completely all right... She sighed, feeling foolish. This shouldn’t be so hard, should it? She felt like at her age she ought somehow to be better at this, but it wasn’t as though she had experience to speak of. Being the Great Witch and High Inquisitor Darklaw hadn’t left much time for romance, not to mention that most people in Labyrinthia had been afraid of her and that the ethics of dating any of the townsfolk would have been questionable at best. None of this had particularly bothered her at the time; she had had other priorities. But she was starting to wish, just a little, that she had had a normal adolescence.
It wasn’t as though she had any friends she could ask for advice, either. Her closest friend in town was, of course, Espella, and that was obviously out. The only other person she could say she was especially friendly with was Barnham, whose romantic advice she would not trust very far, not to mention that if he was still nursing a crush on her it would be extremely awkward. Maya, she suspected, would be only too happy to advise her on the subject, though whether she knew what she was talking about was another question, but Labyrinthia didn’t have much in the way of telecommunications infrastructure at the moment, so the only phone she had access to was at work, and she certainly wasn’t going to use it to make personal phone calls, let alone international ones. Perhaps she could stretch to making personal phone calls to London after hours, but Professor Layton would only say it reminded him of a puzzle, and Luke was a child, so he was no help.
No, despite being completely adrift and without the slightest idea what she was doing, Eve was going to have to figure this out on her own. Somehow.
Eve thought that perhaps it would help to wear the Great Witch costume, since it always made her feel more confident. The Great Witch had never been out of her depth like this. The Great Witch was in command of every situation. Anyway, it couldn’t hurt.
She waited for a day off to do it, because putting on that costume took a bit of time, so if she did it after work, she’d be leaving a bit later in the evening than she wanted to. Really, she thought, adjusting the headdress and applying a few more bobby pins for good measure, while the small number of people in the know meant some doubling-up was inevitable, she wasn’t sure the Storyteller had fully appreciated the effort it had taken to do all those costume changes.
She turned away from the mirror, knocking something off the dresser as she did so, and added “lack of peripheral vision” to her list of costume-related grievances. Despite that, though, something about the costume--its weight, maybe, or the way the skirt and the sleeves and the fabric trailing from the headdress moved as she walked--made her feel... different. Regal, perhaps, or stately. As she glided down the street, she felt herself slipping easily back into the role she’d played for so long.
The original plan had been to go to the bakery, where Espella was likely to be, and if she wasn’t Patty would probably know where she had gone, but fortune smiled upon the Great Witch, and she happened upon Espella in the marketplace instead.
“Oh, hello, Eve!” Espella said.
“Espella Cantabella... the one I have been searching for.” The Great Witch laughed mysteriously.
“Really? But if you were looking for me, why are you the Great Witch? I mean,” Espella added hastily, “of course I don’t mind it if you need to do that, but you usually don’t when it’s just us.”
“There are things I may impart to you in this guise that I could not otherwise.”
“What did you want to tell me, then?”
And here Eve’s plan fell apart, because the thing she had not considered was that it would not be in-character for the Great Witch to confess her love for anyone, and therefore pretending to be the Great Witch was no actual help in figuring out what to say. Fortunately, the mask mostly hid her facial expression, so maybe her freezing up came off as a meaningful pause.
Or maybe not. “Ah... perhaps the hour has not yet come for the revelations of which I spoke,” Eve said, and fled the scene as quickly as her outfit would allow.
As the Fire Festival approached, Eve resolved that she’d give it one last try on the day of the festival. The day perhaps did not have the best associations for either of them, but it had, after all, once been a day for telling people what was on your mind. If she couldn’t do it then, when could she?
So, in the weeks leading up to the festival, Eve tried practicing in the mirror again, and when that didn’t work she tried writing out little scripts. Those seemed promising at first, but they had a tendency to develop, or devolve, into rather embarrassing short stories, which then had to be destroyed before anyone could ever see them. So that was no good either. When the day of the festival came, Eve still hadn’t figured out the right words. But she’d been determined to tell Espella that day, and so she had to at least give it a try.
As the sun began to set, she made her way to the town square. The closer she got, the higher the density of tourists got, which slowed her progress, especially since they seemed prone to standing in terribly inconvenient places to take a few dozen pictures of someone’s house or something mundane like that. They’re good for Labyrinthia’s economy, Eve reminded herself. In fact, half of what she did on the Committee to Rebuild Labyrinthia (a rather fancy name for something that really consisted of her and Barnham, with Mr. Cantabella technically in charge but not particularly involved day-to-day) was tourism-related. But at the moment, they were in her way, and that was frustrating, not least because the longer it took her to get to Espella, the more likely it was that she would lose her nerve.
When she got to the town square, it was so packed with people, Labyrinthians and mainlanders alike, that it was hard to move. Through the crowd, she caught a few glimpses of silvery armor--the Vigilantes out in force patrolling the bell tower. Around the edges there were various stalls selling food and tacky souvenirs, but the lines to purchase things just melded into the larger crowd.
Just as she was despairing of finding Espella in this mess, though, Espella found her. “Eve!” she said brightly. “Enjoying the festival?”
“It’s a bit crowded for my tastes,” Eve admitted. “Perhaps we could go somewhere--” More private ? No. Where we can be alone ? Definitely not-- “... else?”
“Of course,” Espella said. “I was helping Aunt Patty at the bakery’s stall, but honestly there’s so little space we were just getting in each other’s way, so I’ve got nowhere particular to be.”
They wandered around a bit, trying to find somewhere the crowds were thinner, and ended up, more or less by accident, back at the bakery. The only light came from the dying fire of the oven, and there was nowhere really to sit in there, so Espella hoisted herself up to sit on the edge of the counter, and Eve just stood, feeling a bit awkward.
After a few moments’ silence, Eve, who had tried and failed to come up with a better conversational topic, said, “The turnout for the festival is very good, isn’t it?”
“Eve,” said Espella, “I know you have something you want to talk to me about, and I don’t think it’s the attendance figures for the Fire Festival.”
“I, ah, I suppose it’s been rather obvious,” Eve said, not meeting Espella’s eyes.
“What is it?” Espella asked. When Eve didn’t answer, Espella said, “Go on, I promise, I won’t be angry or anything.”
“I...” Eve said. “That is, I wanted to say... ah...”
Eve looked at Espella, who was sitting on the counter and swinging her legs a bit absent-mindedly, the dim glow of the firelight playing over her features. Her clear grey eyes looked earnest, entreating. And in a wild, irrational moment, Eve gave up on finding the right words and leaned forward to kiss her.
And Espella met her halfway.