Robin headed over to the supplies tent, checklist in hand. Now that the army was so large and with Risen appearing more and more often, he tried his best to keep their weapons fully cared for. While many of the Shepherds took turns performing said chore, Robin did not want to take any chances.
He parted the tent flap with a heavy sigh. It was a hot day and everyone else was resting, patrolling, or training. His estimate was that he would be holed up in the stuffy equipment tent for a good two or three hours simply looking over each weapon, and then going back to sharpen and polish the blades. At that rate, he was going to miss dinner.
Robin’s train of thought was suddenly stalled when he saw who was already in the tent.
It was Aversa.
The Dark Flier was carefully observing each sword, axe, tome, bow, stone, and lance, which she had taken the liberty to sort around the cramped area. She looked up as he walked in, and a sultry smile curled her lips upward. “Hello, Big Brother.”
Robin frowned. “I thought we went over this – don’t call me that,” he said irritably. For some reason, he was still miffed at Aversa after their last conversation where she berated him for attempting to befriend her.
“Aw, is Big Brother mad at little old me?” she feigned a pout, batting her eyes at him. It was so frustrating speaking to the woman because she would bristle up and say nasty things.
He tried a different approach. “I see you beat me to inspection.”
Aversa’s snide expression faded. “While I may not be your friend, I’m certainly not a foe. This is just a meager contribution anyhow.”
“Thank you,” he started, aiming to surreptitiously change the subject. “Dinner will be served soon. You should finish up and beat everyone else to the front of the line.” Robin gave a forced laugh.
“Oh, but a sad vixen like me should watch her figure, so when you Shepherds decide to give me the boot, I can make a living.” And there was that snarky remark.
“Aversa, we are not going to abandon you, okay?”
She smirked, stepping closer. In her heeled shoes, she was a hair taller than Robin, which intimidated him a bit. Well, that and her raw sensual aura. “Well, if my Big Brother will protect me,”
Robin glared at her. “Don’t!”
“Ooh, I’m scared. Are you going to punish me?” Aversa gave him a suggestive smile.
“No, I,” He took a breath to calm himself. “Look, can we be friends without calling me unsettling names?”
The Plegian woman thought for a moment. “I suppose.”
“Good.” Now to initiate friendly conversation… “So have you been training lately? I noticed you used a lance in the last skirmish with Risen.”
Aversa shrugged, absently twirling a dagger form the table between her fingers. “Yes, I did change it up a bit. I must admit, though, magic is my strong suit.” She set the knife down. “Do you think the others would mind if I used an elemental tome? I find using dark magic…unsatisfying.”
This was progress, thought Robin. “The supplies in here are for everyone to use.”
“Ravishing.” She turned on her heel and sat down at the flimsy table, on the little wooden stool Robin found himself on at least twice a week. “Come here, would you?”
Robin complied, albeit hesitantly. “Is there something wrong with one of the weapons?” he glanced at the layout of sharp and or magical objects on the table.
“Nothing is wrong with those. I fear my back is quite sore from…certain activities. Be a good boy and give me a rub?” Aversa looked back at him expectantly.
Suddenly, Robin’s heartbeat quickened. Was it a trap? A ploy to embarrass him? “Uh, you should ask Nowi about that. She’s a surprisingly good masseuse, even in dragon form. Her talons get the knots out in a flash.” He said nervously, finding his cloak interesting. It was a nice garment, after all…
“Oh, please? I’m begging you.”
“Aversa, are you toying with me?”
“Not at all. No one else trusts me. I thought we were friends now? Isn’t this what friends do? Help one another?” Her tone was half sincere but full of a twisted amusement at his discomfort.
Robin sighed. And here he was just trying to get Aversa to mingle with the rest of the army. He was quickly remembering why it was so damned hard: her often lascivious remarks and standoffish nature made the men nervous and the women jealous. With all of the married couples around camp, it was easy to think Aversa was some sort of temptress, which was a role she played many times before. Honestly, Robin believed each couple would last lifetimes over, but Aversa’s presence unnerved everyone.
“A-all right. Turn around.” Robin slowly, tentatively reached out to put his shaking hands on Aversa’s exposed shoulders. He could see the definition of her shoulder blades and back muscles. He kept wondering why he was so jumpy around her. It was so odd and infuriating. Maybe it was her choice of clothing – he worried that she would be wounded with such little protection. Maybe it was her rich, chocolate skin. He shook his head. He did not have such untoward thoughts towards a comrade!
Finally, his hands were on either of her shoulders. Robin took another breath and gave an experimental squeeze.
“Ahh!” Aversa purred, and arched her lithe body. Robin instantly removed his hands and jumped back, his face burning with humiliation. What if someone heard?
“Don’t do that!” he said indignantly. “I know that was on purpose!”
“I’m just playing with you, love. Who knew a grown man’s voice could go so high?” She winked. “Now for real.”
He wondered if Aversa was testing him. She was a tactician as well… “Fine, but don’t be so loud.”
“I can’t help it.” She countered slyly, letting the innuendo sink in.
Once again, Robin stood behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. Was it his imagination, or did he feel Aversa tense at his touch? Putting the unusual thought out of his mind, he began his amateur attempt at a back massage. It was extremely awkward for him, to say the least. He felt like a shy schoolboy, stammering and blushing at a full-grown woman.
As it turned out, Aversa did seem to need a massage; her muscles were tight. “Don’t you stretch when you train?” Robin asked as he let his hands fall away from her back.
Aversa rolled her shoulders and raised an eyebrow. “Oh-ho you’re making this too easy for me. Of course I do. But playing with new toys leaves me with a different sort of soreness.”
Okay, perhaps he laid the groundwork for that one. “I think I know what your problem with making friends is.”
“I think I know what the issue is, thank you very much.” She said a tad defensively. “I intimidate the other women, and the men don’t know where to look when I walk by. You think I don’t know?”
“I didn’t say that,” Robin raised his arms to try to get her to hear him out. “If you know what the problem is, can’t you work to fix it? No one is going to hurt you here. If anything, I bet they’re curious and want to get to know you better.”
The Dark Flier let out a hollow laugh. “Little man, you haven’t the foggiest idea of what I had to do for your father.” Her words cut into him like sharpened blades. “The unspeakable acts I committed in the name of the man who slaughtered my family and loved ones.”
Recalling the events at the Wellspring of Truth, Robin found another argument. “But that’s not you. You were being manipulated. I don’t believe that you’re some sort of temptress. In fact, I don’t even think you’re promiscuous.”
Her eyes were ablaze with so many emotions Robin couldn’t easily identify. “I’ve broken countless families in order to hone my skills of seduction. I’d put money on whether or not I have killed more people than you, innocent besides. The others are right to hate me.” Her hands were balled up into tight fists at her sides. “You men are a disgusting bunch. I do believe I took pleasure in killing those nobles.”
Robin let her anger sink in. This was what he had been hoping to hear. “Did you? Did you like breaking those families?” he asked in a hushed tone.
Aversa opened her mouth, but no words came.
“Exactly. You’re a good person. You didn’t enjoy the ‘practice’ Validar put you through.”
“And how are you so attuned to a woman’s heart? Unless…oh dear. I think I know why.” Aversa shook her head in a mock-pity way.
Robin was growing weary of her insinuations. “Then why were you so on edge when I touched you? Were you afraid?”
That struck a nerve. “Of course not!” Aversa snapped. “I’m merely used to dealing the pain, not receiving it.” She looked at her long nails agitatedly, refusing to meet Robin’s gaze.
He could see how fragile Aversa could be. Luckily for him, it was suppertime and the others were around the campfire and not buzzing around the arms tent. Otherwise, they might think of him differently for what he was about to say. “All right, kiss me if you have no problem with being a harlot.” He was uncomfortable as it were, but he wasn’t counting on her doing it. He was calling her bluff.
Aversa stalked up to him, getting closer to him than he would have liked…or maybe deep down, he did enjoy it? She ran a long nailed finger down his chest, over his tunic. Her face was a breath away, but he could see nervousness in her eyes. She bit her soft-looking bottom lip.
Robin backed away. “See?” he fought to keep his breathing under control. “You have some sort of trauma from all the crap Validar made you do. I won’t ask for details, but I can tell you this: no man in this army, aside from Virion, will ever take advantage of you.”
She straightened up. “Why are you so interested in my wellbeing? Have you forgotten how many times I tried to kill you and your dear comrades?”
Robin shook his head and raked a hand through his pale hair. “No, but you didn’t kill any of us.”
“I murdered those Pegasus Knights.”
“You were under orders.”
“Does that negate my culpability? I didn’t think so.” Aversa said bitterly. “Do yourselves a favor and put me in the front the next time we fight archers.” She made to leave the tent, but Robin blocked her way.
“Aversa, didn’t you say you wanted to destroy Grima? Isn’t that your new purpose in life? If you help save the world, you can be redeemed.”
She glared at him venomously. “You sound like your father. The families I tore up will not forget. The loved ones of those I killed will want my pretty head on a silver platter.”
It was a blow to the gut. Robin realized he did sound like he was dismissing a whole group of people and it disturbed him. “I’m sorry. Please, just do not give up on living. I know people care about you.”
“The people I cared about are dead by Validar’s hand. And even if they had survived, they would spurn me if they saw what I’ve become. Move aside, little man.” Aversa pushed past him. Without thinking, Robin pulled her hand and made her face him.
“Maybe I wasn’t being clear enough. I care about you, Aversa.” Robin said, finally coming to terms with the growing feelings he held for the woman. He wanted to hold her, kiss her, even, but he refrained for fear of scaring her.
For a long while, they stared at each other. “Not many men are able to render me speechless, I’ll give you that much.” She looked him up and down. “I suppose if we’re going to do this we should do it before the others finish supper.”
The implication made Robin’s face burn. “That’s not what I meant!”
Aversa chuckled. “I know, I was teasing, love.” Now, her eyes didn’t express so much pain and regret.
Robin steeled himself for his next request. “I would like to court you properly.” He said hastily. “I don’t think anyone has ever had the decency to ask you formally, so,”
“Don’t pity me.” Aversa took her hand away, frowning.
“Trust me, I am not pitying you.” Even so, he girded himself for rejection.
It didn’t come - not exactly.
“Very well. Impress me, little man.” Aversa put a hand to his chest and moved him out of her way. “I do have standards, I’ll have you know.” She said as she slinked out of the tent with an alluring swagger.
Robin felt himself relax. So she was giving him a chance. One chance was all he needed. “Don’t worry. I am the tactician after all.” He called after her. It was a challenge he would gladly take.