The Reluctant Journey Ch. 10byDarlin92©
This chapter was ridiculously difficult to write, but I'm happy with the finished product. I hope you all will agree. Sorry for the crazy long wait. No sex in this chapter either, sorry it would have been forced (in the writing sense, not the sex itself ;) ) if I'd added in there. Well enough talking, here it is. Enjoy
This house was ridiculously large. Really over the top for two people. Gwen had looked for Tristan in all of the usual places she would expect him to be. He really didn't go very many places. He hardly ever left the house. But she couldn't find him. He wasn't in the library, he wasn't in his suite. Gwen was starting to lose her nerve. She'd been so prepared to talk to him finally, and now for once she couldn't find him. She wasn't going to ask anyone where he was. Gwen was quiet enough that she didn't think anyone suspected her of having a debilitating crush on Tristan. She wasn't about to give them any reason to suspect anything now.
"Looking for something?" Gwen jumped when a voice rang out directly behind her. She jumped 180° to face the unknown speaker. Thankfully she'd used the restroom recently.
"Ohmigod, Tristan!" She instinctively brought her hand up over her chest. Her heart was racing. "You scared me to death." At least in her fear she wasn't stuttering anymore.
He genuinely looked apologetic. "It wasn't my intention, my sincerest apologies." He looked at her like she was a skittish horse. Fantastic, he thought she was even more neurotic than she probably was. She couldn't blame him. Every encounter they'd ever had really did suggest her insanity. "I was actually looking for you." He continued politely. "I was wondering if you might be able to help me with something."
"Yes, of course. Does something need cleaned? Did I miss something?" She nervously rambled. Tristan hadn't been displeased with any of her work, or anyone's as far she knew, as long as she'd worked at the manor. She feared that there was a first time for everything.
"No, no," he smiled reassuringly, "Nothing like that." He smiled wider. "I need a young woman's opinion on some redecorating I've been up to lately. I just realized that they are in short supply here. Do you feel up to it?"
She nodded, dumbfounded. Surprisingly Tristan grinned at her and took her hand in his much larger one.Before she had time to react he pulled her along, through hallways that had seemed like mazes to her when she'd first started working at the manor. She watched him walk in front of her. It never ceased to surprise her how graceful all of his movements were, considering his condition. He moved so fluidly. Even if he hadn't been using prosthetics it was impressive based on his size alone. He was tall and muscular, yet he moved like a very masculine, well trained ballerina. Gwen smiled at the mental picture of Tristan in a tutu. Okay, maybe more of a skilled quarterback.
They reached the west wing and Tristan let go of her hand. She wasn't sure if he'd ever even realized that he'd been holding it. She hated this part of the manor. It was widely unused, and she would occasionally have to vacuum and dust the entire wing alone. It was tedious, but that wasn't what bothered her. The wing was downright scary when she was alone. Those thoughts seemed monumentally silly now when Tristan was next to her.
She was wondering why he'd brought her there. She didn't have to wait long to find out.
"Come here." He spoke like and excited child. She smiled in response and walked into a room she was very familiar with. It was one of the largest ones in the hall. She was surprised to find it completely bare. The floors where pulled up, some of the drywall was missing, not to mention all of the furniture. The room had been gutted. She instinctively gasped.
"Oh my gosh! What happened?"
He looked at her, still grinning. "Malia has twin brothers who will be staying with us for a while. I wanted a fresh canvas." He looked downright eccentric as he said it.
Gwen burst out laughing. When she could catch her breath she attempted to speak. "Tristan," she laughed, " You tore apart a beautiful, highly luxurious, historical suite, because you wanted a fresh canvas?"
"Pretty much." He smiled charmingly. She finally noticed that he was studying her face, and looking at her strangely. She sobered instantly.
"So, um, what do you need help with?"
"Colors, lighting, et cetera. I hired a company to instal a jungle gym in here. They're going to instal tunnels and a ball pit and a slide that goes through the floor."
"Wow." Gwen responded. "How much time do you have, aren't they going to be back in a week?"
Tristan grinned. "Yep."
"That's very, um, ambitious of you."
"If you have enough money, people will work as fast as you need them to." The sentence would have seemed like bragging from anyone else. He said as a simple fact. He'd lived with an abundance of money his entire life.
"Isn't this a little over the top?" She asked gently, trying not to rain on his parade.
"It is." He grinned at her. "That's why it's so much fun. We could use some kid friendly areas in the manor anyway." He shrugged. "Cain is going to swallow his tongue when he sees it." He was back to smiling.
She laughed softly. "So what do you need help with?" She asked after an awkward silence. He brought her over to a flimsy table by the far wall. It had blueprints laying on the surface as well as a lot of other things strewn around. Tristan handed her a booklet of paint swatches.
"I know all of the fun things I want to put in here, but I have no idea what colors should be where, or go together, or whatever." He sounded charmingly clueless.
Gwen nodded as she flipped through the many colors. "This should be fun." She looked up to see Tristan smiling at her. This was going to be her chance. She had a reason to talk to him now. She didn't even have to make anything up.
"I never got a chance to thank you." He had his arms casually crossed across his chest.
She looked up from the colors she was flipping through. "For what?" She asked confused.
"For taking care of me when I was, indisposed." He was studying her face again, which made her nervous.
"No, I remember. It was you. Malia has plenty of good qualities, but nursing is not one of them." He chuckled.
She smiled at that. "I hardly did anything."
"Oh, don't be so modest. You had to clean up my vomit if I remember correctly." He looked slightly ashamed. "Not one of my finest moments. So thank you."
"You're welcome." She answered simply. She felt different. She felt braver. For once she had the courage to make her move. She just didn't have any idea what her move was going to be. Luckily he saved her from another stuttering embarrassment.
"You want to know a secret?" She shrugged at his unexpected question. He smiled charmingly at her. "I didn't bring you up here just to have you pick out paint colors."
"You didn't?" He had walked very close to her.
"No. Mostly I wanted to thank you." He paused, he was very close now. Gwen felt breathless. "Which I did." His voice was soft, as if being so close made whispering instinctual.
"You did." She agreed in as soft a voice as he'd used. Gwen was staring at his lips, they were so close. She was a almost sure he wanted to kiss her, but she waited and he remained there, just watching her. Gwen didn't hesitate to raise on tiptoes, grabbing his broad shoulders for support, and meet his alluring lips with her own. She watched his reaction, her eyes half-lidded. At the initial contact his eyes went wide with surprise. She tentatively brought her tongue out to glide along the crease his closed lips made. It was the only move she needed. He made a deep noise in his throat as his arms wrapped around her back, pulling her close. He opened his mouth, letting her tongue explore and impatiently did the same with her mouth. She squeaked in surprise when he unexpectedly moved his hands to her ass and lifted her easily to better meet her mouth. He didn't walk to deposit her anywhere, just held her in his arms in the middle of the room, seemingly effortlessly so their mouths would be at the same level. She groaned appreciatively at his physical strength. The kiss was very hot, as it contained all of Gwen's longtime repressed attraction.
Someone knocked on the open door and cleared their throat. Gwen's eyes shot open, as did Tristan's. He slowly lowered her to the ground and turned to face the doorway. She was now shielded by his large frame and used the opportunity to straighten her clothes as well as her head. Tristan spoke to the newcomers as if nothing had happened.
"Ah yes, you must be from Dixon contracting. Come in, please come in." He ushered the four men into the room friendlily. He began to speak enthusiastically about his plans for the room. Gwen felt terribly exposed and started to walk towards the side wall so she could slip out as unnoticed as possible. Tristan had her wrist in his grasp before she even moved away a full stride. He was still speaking to the men, but his intent on her staying was clear. She didn't pay any attention to what he was telling the contractors, but eventually they all nodded in agreement and started hauling various equipment into the room.
Tristan then smiled down at her. "You really didn't plan on escaping me so easily after that, did you?" And once again Gwen was at a loss for words.
Being back at the manor had turned into a tortuous dance. It reminded Malia of the circling of two predators before they attacked each other, going for the kill. She was trapped in the middle, trying desperately to placate all parties involved. Her parents' hostility was hardly hidden. Cain's patience was wearing thin, which was at least harder to detect. Malia could see it in his guarded dark eyes. She missed those few precious days when he'd relaxed at the cabin. She felt incredibly selfish for taking that away from him because her fragile feelings couldn't deal with a casual relationship. As they'd distanced from each other she'd wondered more and more if she could actually handle that kind of a relationship. As the pain grew stronger any kind of connection seemed better than the new indifference he showed her. She never realized the physical pain that could manifest from her emotions. It felt like there was a huge hole in her chest.
Malia needed to pull herself together or she would never be able to handle all of the people around her. She needed to stop thinking about herself. It was preferable to think about everyone else. She didn't want to be her right now. Tristan was holding everything together by a thin string at the moment and it was time she did what she could to help him out. She didn't have to be happy, she just needed to make them think she was. She could fall apart when she was on her own again, like she had for the past few nights. Malia closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth. When she opened her eyes again she was as ready as she was going to be. Time to talk to her family.
She walked into her parents' new suite. Olivia was already there with them. Derek and Aiden were more than likely enjoying the insanely elaborate room that had been built for them. She smiled at Tristan's eccentricity. Time to fake it like no one's business.
"Hi." Malia smiled widely. "Sorry I had to talk to one of my friends for a second." She lied, probably the first of many. She'd been trying not to hyperventilate in the attached bathroom of her new room. "Do you like it?" She asked exuberantly, trying to stay focused on the positive aspects of being at Milan manor.
Her parents looked relieved to see her, even though she'd seen them almost consistently since they'd left the unit. In fact, her brief departure to breathe had been the only time they'd been separated all day. How long would they look at her that way, would they do it forever? Olivia hugged her for probably the twentieth time that day. She didn't mind yet, she'd missed her little sister too. Her parents refrained this time, they'd had their share of group hugs for the day. It seemed it was time to redefine their 'normal'.
"It's definitely big." Kristen finally answered.
Jack snorted. "That it is. This place could house the entire unit comfortably." Okay, so much for staying positive.
Malia tried to keep smiling. "Everyone here is so nice. Mrs. Smith makes an amazing triple layer chocolate cake. She made some for tonight, just for you guys. All of the food is amazing actually." Malia could give a genuine smile about that at least. She was glad to be away from reheated casseroles. "And you met Tristan. He's very sweet and funny."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "He seemed insane to me."
Everyone laughed. "Only a little." Malia said.
"I liked him." Olivia added. "He was interesting." Malia's serious sister had a strange respect for people who were anything but serious.
"Do you like the rooms?" She asked them as a group.
No one answered right away. Kristen finally spoke. "Malia are you okay? Really okay?" She sounded sad.
"Yes." Malia answered immediately. "Of course I'm okay. My family is here with me now." She smiled, though she wasn't sure how convincing it was since it wasn't returned by her parents or sister. It was time to breach the subject she had been avoiding. "Cain didn't hurt me, he wouldn't do that." Strangely enough it was the most convincing statement she'd made all day. When had she started believing that. She used to believe, with good reason, that all Cain would do to get what he wanted was hurt her.
Kristen's motherly stare bored into her. She stared back straight-faced. "I'm okay mom, really." She reassured. Kristen studied her for a moment and nodded. Whether Kristen believed her or not was undetermined. Malia looked at her father. "I know you're mad at Cain, and justifiably so. I just want you to try and be civil to him, okay? For me?"
Jack clenched his jaw. "You're going to pull the 'for me' card?" He finally replied. Malia smiled and walked over to hug her father. "You know my weakness princess." He kissed the top of her head. She finally let go and turned to her mother to hug her just as affectionately.
The four talked for hours in her parents' borrowed suite. Eventually Derek and Aiden came in looking for their family members. Malia hugged both of them.
"Jeez Aiden you must have grown a foot." Malia exclaimed, though he looked unchanged.
"What about me?" Derek said angrily.
"Eh, not so much." She laughed at Derek's obnoxious angry face. She listened to them tell a story, though didn't take in a word with their uncontrollable interrupting of each other. Eventually one of the kitchen staff Malia didn't know came to announce dinner would be in an hour. Malia was surprised it had gotten so late. She had felt better for the first time in days as she spoke and interacted with her family again. It had been a beautiful distraction, but Malia knew it wouldn't last.
Tristan and Cain were standing in the dining room as she led her family in. Everyone had finally gotten rid of the ugly grey jumpsuit they'd inhabited for years. She never ceased to be surprised at Cain's resources as she browsed the newly stocked closets. Her brothers looked adorable in their black suits that matched their father's. Malia's mother wore black slacks and a coral filmy blouse. Malia had excitedly played dress up with Olivia, who'd shown as much enthusiasm about the closet as Malia had at first. She'd chosen a dark purple dress that showed off her legs. Malia had picked a simple black dress with a high neck and knee-length hemline. Malia noticed her lacy lingerie had been replaced by white and beige bras and panties. She became unreasonably sad at the discovery. It felt like he was trying to erase the memories she'd become most fond of.
Cain was laughing at something Tristan had said as Malia walked into the room. He kept his smile as he greeted her less than friendly parents. Olivia was more accepting of his greeting, not so indifferent to his masculine beauty. Malia mentally rolled her eyes. Dinner was delicious as she'd promised. Conversation was led by the over-exuberant version of Tristan. Eventually the discussion turned to the units.
"So, General, what is the future for the units. The population is happy to let entire communities rot in ignorance for some perceived past wrongdoing? How long will the people pay for their 'mistake'?" Jack asked.
Cain didn't look at all intimidated by the confrontation. "The units are more of a political issue than a military one at the moment. The reestablishment of a government has been a long and difficult process that is even now still ongoing. No one wants to breach the issue of the units for fear of the effects on their political careers." Cain sounded honestly disgusted.
"The advocate groups for the liberation of the units have been increasingly growing." Tristan added. "The records for the units are sealed, so people looking for their lost loved ones have always supported their release. Others are recently joining their cause as the anger from the war has lessened. I believe there are even more supporters than is let on."
"So as this political pissing contest takes place the segregation that will be inevitable once the units are finally freed will only continue to grow?" Jack asked outraged.
"Cain has repeatedly let his disagreement of the units be known." Tristan answered placatingly.
Cain looked like he wanted to roll his eyes at his brother. "It isn't in my power to do anything about it." He finally elaborated. "I take orders like the rest of the military. Our family isn't as influential as we once were, the politicians hardly go out of their way to please one man's opinion."
"We are less influential because of your opinions. You did what was in your power." Tristan finally addressed Cain instead of Malia's family. He turned to Jack and Kristen again. "Our late father had differing opinions on the units than Cain. It is because he chose to publicly announce his less popularly held opinion that we lost some of our friends in high places." Tristan snarled, sounding negative for the first time all day. "They were mad because they couldn't buy your allegiance. We're better off without them."
Cain looked annoyed again. "The point is," He said slowly and deliberately, " the liberation of the units is covered in so much red tape that it will take time, but it will eventually happen."
Thankfully Jack seemed semi placated by Cain's statement. Conversation turned to the history of the manor. Malia ate her chocolate cake and watched Cain's mouth move as he spoke. He didn't look in her direction once. She finally looked away, only to find her mother staring at her. Malia smiled but had no doubt about the less than reassuring effect it had, she didn't have the energy to fake it anymore.
"I noticed a courtyard," Kristen interrupted, "it's a beautiful night. Malia will you show it to me?" Malia wasn't sure which sounded worse, being forced to watch Cain be unaffected by their emotional distance, or being forced to talk about it with her mom. Luckily choice wasn't a factor.
"Of course." Malia answered. She could see Cain finally glance at her in her peripherals. She stood and left with Kristen. She had never felt awkward around her mother until now. They were close, they joked constantly and talked about everything. She'd never tried to hide anything from her until now. Malia could feel the same emotional barrier forming between herself and her family that she felt with Cain. Soon she would be alone, surrounded by people.
The courtyard was beautiful at night, as was to be expected. There were outdoor lights strategically placed to illuminate the brick path that wound through the gardens.