i am so tired.
i will not die,
but i cannot live.
She had grown complacent -- there was no question on that. While her place was undeniably at House’s side, the days had grown quieter and longer. When the Graverobber spent long hours at a time within the confines of the Grave and Aladdin’s travels ranged far, she tried her best to keep her skills honed. Bastion practiced. She trained with the Centurions (as best she could while lacking their certain skillset), toned her body, or manned the walls at Dee Cee. But that wasn’t the same as feeling something dying at the end of her sword, and was perhaps worse with her mind eating itself alive like a disease for her lack of faith and family. Even on the rare trade meets where they returned to Hayven, it was no longer tense with the chill of war in the air. It had changed and Bastion had not.
And Bastion was never so clearly aware of how dulled her skills had become while her insides spread out against her shield, her body hucked carelessly off to one side in a room where another half-dozen others were dead or dying. They were all screaming; she didn’t bother. Her own would add nothing to the cacophony while her comrades were being assaulted.
Oh. I’m dying, she thought. There was a strange, familiar ease with the sensation. It had been years, but it was not so different from when she went into the Grave with House. She would slip away. Maybe House would be there, too. Bastion felt her shoulders slump toward the floor, her breathing stuttering as her heart began to slow.
A familiar darkness overwhelmed her like a thick black cloth, cold and suffocating. Bastion could almost hear it, as tangible as life: a whisper, a song that said home. How many little pieces of herself had she left here, like a breadcrumb trail to her former lives? How much had she left behind? She reached for them in the black and her fingers became fire.
No. Not fire. Pain. Undeniably real.
The cloth snapped away like a curtain withdrawing. A pain that started in her chest utterly overwhelmed her whole person, worse than anything she had ever known. This was not pain that laughter took away. This was the kind of pain she saw weaker people feel. Bastion realized the scream she heard was her own and the wetness on her face was tears, not blood. She couldn’t see the faces of the people holding her down, but she did see the thick needle sticking askew from her chest, moving as he writhed, and she could smell the acrid scent of the Lazarus Drought still dripping from the hole it left behind.
This was not death, familiar and cool. This was worse.
i am so tired.
She stood above Jeb, looking down at him with half-lidded eyes, and something stirred within her. It was not lust -- she felt no real want for the man beneath her, his limbs little more than slabs of flesh with jutting shards of bone -- but it was something else, something she knew very well and missed deeply. Bastion was aware of the Final Knights lurking on the boundary of her vision, but she sighed gently as she straddled his legs and pressed the serrated edge of her borrowed blade against Jeb’s chest. Her heart fluttered. Jeb stared up at her from the tired pits of his pale eyes and she dug the blade a little deeper until she could see his jaw tighten.
Yes: the feeling of sinew and bone bending to her will, the smell of blood, skin peeling from flesh like a piece of ripe fruit. She wanted to watch his face, but all of it was so intoxicating to her, and it took everything for her not to lean down and set her teeth on his throat and squeeze until there was nothing left.
He did not scream when she was finished. An ache within her lingered, unsatisfied.
why am i here?
“Connections are weakness.”
Her voice was hushed, though the roll of conversation around them was thick enough to mask their conversation. The room still smelled of blood. It was splattered on both of their faces, occasionally sloughing off and causing the candle between them to sputter as Jeb crouched across from her. Not for the first time that day, she saw both herself and House within him.
He lowered his chin, brow furrowing before he spoke. “Why?”
“Because you open yourself up to the things that will hurt you the most. And they will hurt you, or someone else will hurt you through them. Or they’ll leave.” Like Oddfellow. Like Feargus. Like TJ, like Castor, and now like Tex. A spark of anger, bright and hot, began to sear her heart. A dog left behind. Left for greener pastures, left for the Grave, left for a song and a stage.
“No,” he answered, almost immediately and without hesitation. “Connections are advantages. They make you stronger.”
Bastion said nothing, but she looked up at his face again and recognized that she had collected another weakness. Someday, he would go too. Whether by will or by the Grave, they all left where she could not find them.
“Do you feel alive?”
She sat in the library on a makeshift chair of books while Alexa crouched beside her. The two of them had their bad days and good days together, but they were no longer young and all of memories blended into simply days and were forgotten. They were parallels, mirror images of decisions made and lives forged, and now they sat alone in the dark. Two women, one a murderer and one a warrior, a leader and a dog, loved and unloved, as they waited for death to once again find them. There was a time when Bastion was jealous of Alexa, but now she knew it was pointless. There was no point in growing angry at your reflection.
Mickey’s shadow stretched along the wall as the candlelight flickered. His movements were steady and smooth; the crack of his knuckles against his knife were comforting.
Bastion breathed in the dusty air and lifted her head as a wailing scream trailed through the hall. The three of them rose again as their wait ended. Death had come, like it always did.
“Let me show you.”
Bastion’s whole body ached, lying in a filthy puddle of sweat and blood when the pain finally began to settle into a tolerable throb. Her eyes were still hazy, and she had to blink away the blood and tears to see their faces: Alexa, Maya, Jeb, Mickey. Others she did not know, but recognized, now covered in the filth of the Remnant’s hover at the brink of death. They were there, like they always had been, the silent observers in her turbulent life, now her debt to pay and repay with her body like she always did and would. Her body was a knife. Their knife. She could not die.
When Bastion sat up she saw a shadow of someone at the corner of her eye, but when she turned around, no one was there.