Story Arc Three: Chapter Eleven
The morning dawned that Riva would celebrate sixteen years of age. Months had passed since the traumatic attack in the back alleys of Castellan and she had slowly begun to piece herself together. Still, she wasn’t whole yet, and she knew it all too well.
For a while she hadn’t been able to sleep without Bastion’s presence at her side, something which wasn’t very easy for either of them, what with the unspoken, unresolved matters that lay between them. When the nightmares woke her, screaming in terror, or sometimes rage, he was right there to calm her down again.
Eventually the nightmares faded and she could sleep a room away, but even with that much distance there was an awkwardness between them that Riva could feel as strongly as her own soul. She didn’t like the awkwardness, though she didn’t know how to address it either. If she was honest with herself, she was afraid to address it. Afraid that if she spoke of it that he would say the words that would leave them always wondering What Could Have Been.
And the fact that she was afraid of anything grated on her.
She’d spent too many centuries, too many lifetimes chained and shackled by fear to endure that cold touch without any hint of anger at it. She was furious that, at her age, she would still be afraid of something. It wasn’t like friendship was some weak shadow of a true relationship, no matter what the self-righteous prigs liked to claim on more than one world. Friendship was a blessing in and of itself, even if that was all it was or would ever be.
Everlasting knew that she could use as many real friends as she could find, and friendship was infinitely less complicated than some of the other options they had going for them. Particularly in light of the fact that she was still devoted to Lenne and Rina, hidden in the refuge she’d so carefully built so long ago.
That morning, Riva entered his room from hers to find Bastion still settling his clothes on for the day, his hair still damp from an early bath. He looked up at her with a wry smile. “I think we need to talk, Riva.”
For a moment, her stomach clenched in immediate dread, and just as immediately she growled silently at her own fears. Talking wasn’t a bad thing. It was, in fact, a damn good thing. She had no reason, no reason at all, to be so damned scared of talking. She nodded slowly to him. “You’re probably right. What did you have in mind?”
He sighed and looked at her with an expression of such sympathy that she wondered for a moment if she looked as awkward as she felt, and hated the idea. She was old enough to be past this nonsense, so why was she so confused still?
“I had something of a visit from your friend his morning.”
Riva’s heart sunk into her stomach and she simply closed her eyes. “Ah Elar… he couldn’t leave well enough alone, could he?”
Bastion chuckled again and then his expression sobered. “Riva, just how good a friend is he of yours? He- he implied some things and I want to be certain that I didn’t misunderstand him.”
She sat down in a chair, unable to meet his eyes for a time. “He… I don’t know that I can put a name to what exists between us. He is a friend, a true friend. He has also been a guardian of mine, from time to time, and in that he is as devoted as Gabriel could ever dream of being.” She took a deep breath. “Simon… Simon has seen what I’ve been through. He’s seen the worst of it. He pulled me out of more than one Hell and pieced me back together only to see it happen again, and again, and again.”
She looked at her hands and realized that they were shaking so she clasped them together, hoping to still the tremors. “Don’t let him bully you into anything, Bastion. He’s seen how bad it can get and he…” she swallowed carefully around a dry throat, “he doesn’t want to have to destroy another world in retribution for the harm that has been done to me.”
Bastion blinked and pulled a chair up next to her so he could sit down close by. “He’s done that? Destroyed worlds?”
She nodded. “Yes. Usually the damage was contained to just whatever culture or nation countenanced what I suffered, but when his rage overtakes his control… well, he’s been known to take whole nations down to bedrock.”
Bastion shuddered at the mental image of what sort of power could cause that much damage. “I… I’m not certain what to think about things.” He paused for a moment. “Between us.” He took her hands in his. “I want to protect you. I want to be your friend. Simon, though, made it quite plain that he expected something within our relationship, what there is of it, that I don’t want to presume.”
Riva gave a deep sigh. “Ah Elar… he would. Much of the healing he has helped with has involved helping me learn to accept good where those who abused me would force wrongness. He has this idea that no one should be forced to go without, so to speak. Doubly so for me because I’m still recovering to an extent.”
“Which would be why he wanted to make sure you had a female lover.”
She nodded slowly. “It’s complicated as heck, I’m afraid, but it’s something that I can’t risk right now. I’m happy with Lenne and Rina, though, and someday I’ll be back with them again.”
He took a deep breath. “What do you want… with us?”
She felt like all the air left her body in one sudden rush. For a moment she couldn’t catch her breath and her pulse hammered in her ears as she struggled to bring her thoughts into order. “I… I don’t know what I want, to be honest. I know what I don’t want, though. I don’t want anyone to coerce you into something you don’t want to do. I don’t want a sense of obligation. I wouldn’t wish that burden on anyone, much less you.” Tears stung her eyes as she forced her gaze up to meet his. “I swear to you, if Simon’s protectiveness causes you to feel the least amount of pressure to act against your will, I’ll… I’ll…”
Bastion smiled softly and silenced her with a gentle finger over her lips. “Riva, I am under no coercion, I swear to you. But there is something I have wanted to do for a while now, something I would have done some months past if not for Simon’s dramatic arrival that day. I need to know, though, that I have your permission. Not just because of the horrors you have suffered. Not just because of what my brother stole from you the night you ran to find me. I need to know that you want it too.” He chuckled softly. “I’ll admit, though, that if not for them I wouldn’t ask directly.”
“M-my permission?” Why did her voice waver so strangely over those words? Was she some lovesick teenager with her first damned crush? She flushed in embarrassment.
He nodded. “If you weren’t who and what you are, and I weren’t certain that you had maturity to at least match mine, I wouldn’t dare.” He reached out and pulled her onto his lap, sliding her close to him. “Will you allow me?”
It was all she could do to nod.
He smiled and reached up with one hand to gently cradle her head in his palm, bringing their faces close as he kissed her. Even as her stomach simultaneously tightened and dropped within her from the softness of that kiss, he deepened it, gently, carefully, and with focused attention on how she responded to him.
And that response was strong enough to reassure and please him.
After the longest moment she’d experienced in a very long time, the kiss faded and Bastion stroked her cheek with his thumb. “So you liked that?”
Riva felt like she’d been reduced to the teenager she knew she looked like because all she could do was nod, still stunned. “Y-you can do that any time you want to.”
He chuckled and wrapped his arms around her. “I’ll take that under consideration, Riva, though I don’t know how often I’ll dare. I… I don’t want to push you into something you’re not ready for.”
She nodded, understanding just how delicate that line could be, and how razor sharp. “As long as we stop anything the moment one of us says stop… I wouldn’t mind.”
“Very well.” Then he pulled her close and kissed her again, as he’d been wanting to do for months.