Alexei and Ri both have to decide where their loyalties lie.
|Word count: 1,000
Summary: Written for the week 5 May 4th-May 10th prompt(s): Friends helping friends.
“So . . . what happens, now?”
I shifted in Ri’s arms but didn’t move my face from where it rested over his heart. The beat was strong and slow and comforting, and I sighed.
“I don’t know,” I whispered to his heart. “I know Theya will expect me to go back with her. There can’t not be an Oligarch in Hightower.”
Ri sighed, too, running his hand through my hair. “Hey, why can’t your Auntie Riva be the Oligarch?”
“Because she’s not a Hightower. She was chief of my mother’s personal security. When the Feuds between the Cities began to get bad—just before War was declared—my mother had Charris Bellechaine, smuggle me out of Hightower and take me west. She became Riva Stanton and I became Alexei Stanton.” I drummed my fingertips lightly on Ri’s abdomen. “She risked letting me keep Alexei because she thought I’d respond to it more naturally.”
Ri laughed suddenly and I looked up at his face. In the golden, westering light coming in through the barn window, he was beautiful: an onyx god whom I rightfully worshipped and adored. “I always wondered if your Auntie was ex-military or somethin’.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” I said, thinking of the day she’d taught me to not only make my own bed—something young Oliver Hightower had never done or had to do—but to make it with military corners.
Smiling, I briefly, wistfully remembered the past ten years with Aunt Riva, who was, despite the resemblance, quite a different being than Charris Bellechaine. . . .
“You’re going, ain’t ya?”
I sighed again, laying my head back over his heart. “I think I have to. Things must be . . . bad. If I can help, even by being a figure-head, I have to try. I want to try,” I admitted. Ri blinked and looked away.
“Don’t suppose you’d want comp’ny, out there in Hightower?” he mumbled so quietly I could barely hear him. But hear I did, and found myself looking back up at him, gaping, shocked beyond all other feelings. Then Ri was meeting my eyes, his own determined. “I mean, friends help friends, right?”
That hit me like a hammer in the heart, and before I could even think about it I was sitting up, saying: “Don’t put yourself out on my account, friend. I can handle Hightower all by my lonesome, so don’t let me take you away from whatever really matters to you!”
“I didn’t mean it like—aw, c’mon, darlin’, don’t—” Ri sat up and grabbed me before I could stand up, and wouldn’t let me go. And I couldn’t break free of his effortlessly iron-like grip, I knew from experience, so I didn’t even try.
“Let go of me.”
“Let me go, Riley!”
“Never.” I looked over into his eyes and they were more determined than ever—more solemn than I’d ever seen them. “It wouldn’t be right to let you just go, not without back-up. ‘Side from that . . . I l-love you too much to let you go off somewhere without me. ‘Specially when I might never see you ‘gain if I did.”
I frowned. “Not . . . never.”
“I think it might be. Why’d anybody in their right damn mind come back here when they could be livin’ the life in Hightower or any one of the Twelve?” Ri asked ruefully. I reached out, brushing my fingers across his cheek and he shivered.
“If they had a friend like you waiting for them here, I’d say anybody would.” I smiled and Ri returned it, small and sweet, and kissed me.
“You’re more’n my friend, Alexei Stanton. But boyfriend seems like such a silly, small word for what you are to me. It don’t quite fit.” Ri searched my eyes, his own still solemn. “Boy-I-wanna-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-with sorta fits. But it’s kind of a mouthful. I think I like husband a lot better.”
My eyes widened till it felt as if they’d fall out of their sockets. “Ri . . . what’re you saying?”
Ri’s smile turned into a grin and he got up to one knee and took my hand.
“Alexei Stant—Hightower, I’m askin’ you to marry me. Hear me out,” he went on before I could say anything. Not that I would have, shocked as I was, once more. “You’re eighteen and I’m seventeen. We’re over the age of majority—we c’n smoke, drink, fight in a war, vote, and get married, if we want. If we want. . . .”
And it took me a few second to realize Ri had tossed the ball into my court. By the time I did, he was speaking again, nervously: “Well? What d’ya say, suge?”
Uncertain of what was going to come out, I opened my mouth to speak. . . .
I sat on the express hover-tran to Verdant—the last Western City-state before the Eastern City-states began—alone, but for Theya, and pensive.
Out the window, scenery, as dry and arid as any back home—back in the small, dusty town that’d become my home for going on eleven years—rocketed by. Tears welled up in my eyes for another home, lost to me.
“Don’t worry, Lord Hightower . . . you’ll be back, someday,” Theya murmured from the opposite seat. I glanced at her, and tried to not think of all I’d lost—all I’d given up—and smiled limply. Just then the door to our private car opened and in came my husband of one day . . . give or take a few hours.
Ri looked mildly uncomfortable in his nicest blue suit, and he was fiddling with the simple gold band on his ring finger. But his eyes lit up when they landed on me and he came to sit by my side, kissing my cheek.
My smile firmed up. Became genuine, when I thought of all that I had gained and the future that now lay spread before me like uncharted territory.
In three days, the Western City of Verdant, and beyond that. . . .
Beyond that, my City.