Drone and Maisa watch from the edge of the clearing we’ve made for sparring while Remise and I take stances opposite each other. Our fifth day of sparring, training, and testing our powers, which marks our eighth day overall being at Echo’s property.
Remise steps into a left leading strike aimed for my head. I warp to the side with my power, strafing out of her range of threat, and at the same time, I respond with a low fist to needle her elbow. I’m just a little too slow. Remise dances out of my jab and drives forward, trying to push her elbows into my torso.
I kick back with kinetic energy, warping left and right as she employs her one-two combo of choice. While I warp, I draw in energy from the heat in the air and from the force of gravity pulling me down toward earth.
I can cover more distance in a shorter time than she can, but up close and personal she’s faster than me. She attacks my guard, and I spin with the momentum to land a heel into her jaw, bounce off my back foot, and follow up with a hard kick into her side. Remise tumbles backward from the sudden flurry of kicks.
Oh, my god, I can win this one. Fifty fucking bouts of training and I can finally count one for me!
I warp after her, frantic at the prospect of victory.
Remise snarls, flips up and grapples my waist, and then bends back, tipping me over her.
No! I’m not losing this one! I follow her movement with energy, and push us further, landing on my feet. With a final burst, I stand up straight and hurl her into a nearby tree.
Remise falls to the ground with a dull thud and then doesn’t move.
Shit. I rush to Remise’s side.
Right before I try to see if she’s okay, I hear her cackling.
The next thing I know, I’m seeing stars, I’m on my back, and somebody in the forest is ringing bells.
Remise grins down at me. “I’ll count that one for you.”
“You fucking sucker punched me!” I jump up to my feet and smile. “But good, I really wanted to win that one.”
“I could tell. Gabe 1, Remise a bajillion. Mark it down, Drone!” Remise snaps her fingers at my work wife.
“I’d win more if you’d let me absorb kinetic energy from your attacks,” I say.
“You’re the one who wanted to train to fight without relying on it,” Remise retorts. “Gold contacted you, yet?”
“Nah. He’s probably too busy.” I have to admit, I’m a bit worried we haven’t heard from him all week, but Iso would have been able to warn us if Gold had gotten pinched. “He’ll get in touch when he knows how to get Flashfire.”
Remise turns her head, and says, “Ah. Thought I heard another heartbeat.”
Bedevil floats in from the edge of the clearing. She’s in a yellow, flowery sundress that stops just short of her knees, and flip-flops with cat faces on the thongs. Her eyes are bright and golden, her hair wild and free. She lands gracefully on one foot and immediately steps into a bouncing walk. Her face looks fuller, her skin not as sallow. She’s not nearly back to her former glory, but she made a significant step in the right direction.
I warp over to her. “You look great! How are you feeling?”
Bedevil smiles at me. “A lot better. Maybe a little queasy.”
“Good, I’m glad. Hey, do you want to see something?” I ask.
I step back from her.
I close my eyes, and I try to focus in on all the forces pulling me around. Down, to my right. I tense my core and draw in the energy of falling, feed it back into itself, and lift a few feet into the air.
I laugh while I play with the energy of Earth’s spin so that I whip around the clearing, taking as much as I dare before the energy starts to overflow. Which it does, very fast. I waver in the air, shoot out all of the energy in a blast of hot air, and fall on my ass.
“You can fly!” Bedevil says. Her tendrils help me to my feet.
“I’d call it falling with style.” I chuckle and wipe my ass of dirt. “And check out what Maisa can do!”
Maisa pumps her fists in the air and hops into the clearing. She holds her hand out and shoots blindingly bright flashes of color from her fingers. Bedevil winces and looks away.
I give Maisa a thumbs up, and she curtsies back and grins.
“Soon as she’s all trained we can just forget about Flashfire,” Drone says. “Leave him in the icebox and start a new group in another country.”
I roll my eyes and turn back to Bedevil. “Hey… so… until Gold calls us, we have some downtime. Are you feeling up to that date?”
Bedevil tilts her head and makes a funny face. “I totally am but aren’t we on lockdown?”
“I got Iso to bring the date to us.” Right as I say that, thunder growls across the sky. Storm clouds slowly advance toward us from the south. Shit, I forgot about the tropical depression. “Well, it’s fucked now.”
Bedevil’s face lights up. “You were going to take me on a picnic!”
I’m a little pissed about the storm but Bedevil’s smile melts that frustration away. It’s so good to see her walking around. “Yeah, I was. I guess it will have to wait.”
“Bull hock it will! We’re not gonna let a storm pooch this,” Bedevil says. She grabs my hand and pulls me into a jog, away from Remise, Drone, and Maisa. Remise grins at me, Drone rolls her eyes, and Maisa waves. She smiles, but it’s still tense.
Bedevil drags me back to the house. “Where’s the stuff?”
“It’s in the kitchen. I’ll grab it. What are you thinking?” I ask.
Bedevil skips away from me. “Meet me at the cabin!”
I retrieve the picnic basket Iso got for me. The basket carries the ingredients for peanut butter sandwiches, chips, a blanket, and a movie case for a Broadway recording of a musical called Les Miserables. Never heard of it. I bring all of this back to the cabin, plus my laptop so we can watch the movie, and start to wonder if I should have dressed up. I’m only in a t-shirt and some sweatpants, and Bedevil looked really pretty in her sundress.
Bedevil opens the cabin door as I approach. She vibrates with excitement, bouncing up and down on bare feet, though she still has the sundress on.
A confused smile worms its way to my face. “I kind of feel like you’ve commandeered my date idea.”
“I’ve only improved upon it.” Bedevil grins. “We’re having an indoor picnic.”
I step into the cabin and close the door behind me. “Okay. Are you sure you’re up for this? A lot’s happened, and you only just-”
“Spread the blanket out, loser,” Bedevil says.
I chuckle. “You’re awful chipper for someone who just had a week of bed rest.”
Bedevil bounces on her knees on the bed. “I haven’t felt this good in a long time. What are we eating?”
“Sandwiches?” I offer, opening the picnic basket.
“Ooo!” Bedevil floats to the bed. “How daring.”
I clear as much space as I can from the middle of the cabin and lay out the blanket. I make her a sandwich and hold it out for her. “My lady.”
Bedevil grins, and the sandwich floats over to her. “Hey, so about all those books on your desk. Do you like philosophy?”
“Yeah.” I smile as I make my own sandwich. “I like to read a lot, actually. It’s… it’s nice to read people’s ideas.”
“What’s your favorite book?” Bedevil asks.
I tap my chin. “That’s hard.”
“You really do like to read.” Bedevil bites into her sandwich. “People that like to read can never pick a favorite book.”
“Do you have a favorite book?” I ask.
“The Giver,” Bedevil says. “You’re really don’t have a favorite?”
I finish making my sandwich. “I really like philosophy. Maybe the Bible.”
“If you tell me the Bible is your favorite book I’m going to kill you,” Bedevil says.
I crack up. Then I remember, we have activities planned. “Ah, right, Iso brought us a movie, if you wanted to watch it. Technically not a movie, it’s a recording of a stage musical called Les Miser-”
“LES MIS?” Bedevil half shrieks. She practically pounces into the basket. “OH MY GOD, WE’RE GONNA WATCH LES MIS.”
“I was Cosette in my high school production!” Bedevil beams at me, holding the movie case up and pointing at a young woman in a blue dress singing with a handsome dude. “Just, shut up, and get on the bed. Settle in, because this is a long one.”
I crawl up to the bed, mumbling, “You’re aware of the words coming out of your mouth, right?”
We watch the musical together on my laptop, and as soon as the music starts she ugly sobs and doesn’t stop sobbing until the very end.
At the very end, Bedevil sings along with a line of music that I burn into my memory because I think it’s an important piece of the puzzle of Ruby Dawson:
And remember the truth that once was spoken. To love another person is to see the face of God.
After, we talk for hours. With each passing minute, it’s like someone takes a dropper and drips a little joy into my heart, and before long, my heart is full. I can’t recall the last time it ever felt more than half empty.
Another rumble of thunder peels my attention from her. Rain pours down on the garden outside. “Ah, the storm.”
“It’s been raining for a while, Gabe.” Bedevil smiles, and plays with her hair. “Losing track of time, huh?”
My cheeks flush. I cough, and say, “So, Basics?”
Bedevil chuckles. “Basics was wild. It’s where I first…” She shakes her head suddenly. “You don’t want to hear about that.”
I can feel my heartbeat in my fucking ears. “You mean sex.”
Bedevil tries to retract her head into her torso. “Yep. Yep. Yep.”
“Well…” My face feels like it’s gonna melt off. “You know.”
“It wasn’t anything special. Just so you know.” Bedevil tries to meet my gaze, and fails. Her attention falls on rain pattering against the window. “When did you first… you know?”
Oh, no. This is going to be a very awkward conversation. I stammer instead of replying.
Bedevil looks back at me, confused.
I manage to find my voice, and tell her the truth, “It was with you.”
Bedevil gasps, and her eyes widen. “I took your virginity?”
“Yeah.” Fuck, I’m screwing this up. We were having a really good time. “But, it’s okay.”
“No, it isn’t,” Bedevil says. “I ruined your first time.”
“No, I was stupid.”
Bedevil shakes her head. “Gabe, this… this doesn’t have to happen, okay? You don’t have to suffer through-”
“No!” My voice rises. “I don’t… I don’t want to lose you.”
Bedevil stares at me, her mouth agape. She swallows, and says, “Lose me?”
All I can see is her cold, unbreathing, lips blue. “You almost died.”
Bedevil recoils from me with a gasp. She holds a hand to her chest. She shivers like she’s cold, but I’ve been heating the room up so I know that can’t be the case.
I groan and rub my neck. “The night in the Second Ward, you had a seizure. It scared me. Then, during your detox, you almost died and choked. Before that, even, you almost got hit by a guy named Alabaster John, way back when we first started going on missions together. He would have killed you with a touch.” Thinking about how close she came, how close I’ve come, I see how right Remise is. We could die anytime. I should enjoy life and just chase her, but I also feel like a black hole, still. “And I’m hurting you just by existing because I look like him. I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to be another broken ring.”
Bedevil crawls toward me. “Can I?” she asks, holding her hand out.
Bedevil rubs my cheek with her thumb. “That’s exactly how you end up with a broken ring. You don’t have to struggle for this. If you look at it that way, you’ll turn our relationship into a battlefield. And trust me, I know a lot about that.”
“Is that what this is?” I ask.
“If you want it to be,” Bedevil says. “We can take it day by day.”
I lightly trace her arm, afraid that my touch might break her. “I don’t know how to be in a relationship.”
“The rules are simple.” Bedevil stands up and goes to the door. She opens it. “I’ll teach you.”
The rain drenches the garden, and thunder grumbles every few seconds. I join her at the threshold, and we watch the downpour together for a moment. “I wonder how long it will last.”
“I don’t know,” Bedevil says. “I’m on birth control, by the way. Just so you…” she trails off.
We lock eyes.
The rain smells fresh and clean, and the downpour drowns the sound of my heartbeat with a relaxing wall of noise. The only light is the small lamp on her nightstand, outlining her in a golden halo.
She glances down at her sundress, and it shifts a little to expose her shoulder. The laces on the back untie themselves.
Bedevil looks back up at me. “Your move.”
A current arcs between our skin as I brush my fingers along her collar, jump-starting my heart. I tug her sundress down. The yellow dress slips right off her, revealing blue, lacey panties, and nothing else. Her body is small, almost frail, but she is warm and soft under my hands.
She traces a finger along my neck. “Rule one: appreciate the nice panties.”
Her hands explore my arms and slowly lift up my shirt. “You’re so muscly.”
I chuckle. “You’re… really soft.”
That elicits a bashful smile, which becomes a taunting smirk. “Still your move.”
I strip out of my clothes, stumbling over my pants as I try to get out of them as fast as possible. Bedevil giggles, but that laughter becomes a tiny squeal when I stand up straight in front of her.
“You know, most heroes have abs sewn into their costume or something.” Bedevil traces my stomach with the tips of her fingers. “Gotta say the real deal is hella nice.”
Her skin is covered in goosebumps and my heat sense shows me the room is cold since we let a breeze in. She felt so cold while she was detoxing, she needs heat. My heat. I want to give my heat to her. I shift my body temperature around so it radiates from my skin.
Bedevil gasps. “That’s… that’s really nice.” She presses against me. “You’re like a human electric blanket.”
The pressure of her against my body turns me on. Bedevil lifts her head and grins slyly at me as she feels how hard I am.
Bedevil wraps her arms around me and holds me close for a few heartbeats. She whispers, “This is a really nice way to celebrate sobriety.”
She isn’t perfect. Hell, she just barely got sober. But Doc’s right. She can make me happy. I want her.
I kiss her and gently prod her toward the bed. Bedevil lies on her back, opens her legs, and reaches out for me to join her. I take her hand and press my hips against hers, just shy of sliding into her. “I don’t know what you really like.”
“We can figure it out,” Bedevil says. She grabs me and guides me to her entrance. “I don’t know what all you like, either.”
Her eyes widen as I thrust into her. I let myself feel how warm she is. She wraps her legs around me, pulling me in more.
“I like that,” I say.
Bedevil wraps her legs around me tighter. “Will you play with my nipples? I love that.”
I follow her guidance with my mouth and fingers, and Bedevil gasps.
We fuck the covers beneath us into a tangle. Bedevil suddenly tenses up, starts shaking, and her head rolls back. I worry for a fraction of a second that she’s had another seizure, but then she moans, “Cumming,” and moves again.
Bedevil gasps and stares at me with wide eyes, whispering my name over and over. She’s warm, sweating from the sex, and breathing in heavy gasps. Heat flows from her, a vibrant energy I could draw from if I wanted. She grabs my neck and looks at me with those hazel golden eyes, and I know she sees me. I finish with her legs wrapped around me, her arms pulling me into her embrace.
I never lost touch with my body, I never felt like I’m a ghost floating away. If anything, I feel the opposite, I feel more in tune with every inch of my skin. That same thrill of me that followed the fight with Sledge, that I’ve so rarely felt in my life.
We fall asleep kissing, snuggled together, our legs entangled. I drift off barely able to breathe over her wild, gold hair. I’ve never slept in the same bed as anyone, and it’s a little uncomfortable, crowded, and I love every second of it.
I wake up to a heavy thunderclap. Bedevil is out cold, it doesn’t disturb her at all. The clock says 3:09 AM. The storm still rages outside, so much that I’m worried the cabin might start taking on water.
I snap up.
Megajoule stands at the end of the bed, and he doesn’t look happy.