Bastien continued to glare at Darling. “Are we good yet? Or do I have to don my ass-kicking boots?”
Darling glanced to her. “Don’t know. Are we good?”
Before she could answer, Dancer blinked his eyes open. “Sumi?” he whispered hoarsely.
Leaning over him, she placed her hand on his cheek. “Right here, baby.”
Darling and Syn exchanged a shocked, exaggerated gape as Syn pulled out a light and checked Dancer’s eyes.
With a savage hiss, Dancer shoved the light away. “Put that away or I’m going to ram it someplace both you and Shahara will curse me for.”
“Dancer,” she chided. “Let him tend you.”
He started to grimace then pressed his lips together. “I hate that damn light. It burns.”
Now it was Darling’s turn to pull Dancer’s eyelid back to see his eye.
Dancer grimaced and punched at him.
Laughing, Darling took it in stride. “You look like hell, buddy.”
“You ain’t no beauty queen, either. Asshole.”
Darling grinned in bitter amusement. “You better take a nicer tone. I walked out on my wife and son to be here for you to insult me.”
Dancer frowned at him as he rubbed at his eye in a very adorable boyish fashion. “Zarya had the baby?”
“Last night. About half an hour before Nyk called to say you were in trouble.”
Dancer scratched at his head. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. About time I get to save you, and don’t think I’m not holding your impeccably inconsiderate timing over your head for the rest of eternity. You will be paying for this, that I promise. By the way, Zarya wanted me to tell you that you better get back home and see your nephew or she’ll hunt your hulking ass down and skin it.”
And that reminded her…
Sumi touched Syn’s hand to get his attention while he evaluated Dancer’s condition. “Someone planted a tracking device in Dancer’s back. We’ve had incas coming after him for days.”
Nodding, he tilted Dancer’s head toward him. “You with me, buddy?”
With an irritable grimace, he slapped at Syn. “I’m thirsty.”
Syn pulled a bag out of his pack and handed it to Darling, who held it up while Syn prepared the IV.
When Syn stuck the needle in, Dancer hissed and started for him.
Sumi caught his fist. “Dancer, play nice with the doctor who might not want to help you if you clock him.”
He calmed instantly and nuzzled his face against her knee. When she went to brush his braids from his cheek, he took her hand and laced her fingers with his.
Sumi tensed as she heard the sharp click of a blaster from behind her.
Syn didn’t react at all. “Put it away, Jayne. She’s a friendly.”
He gave her a droll stare. “I’ve never known Hauk to cuddle an enemy. You? I mean, he is weird and all, but he’s usually consistent with his surly demeanor.”
Jayne decloaked and moved forward to join them. “What happened to him?” She pulled her helmet off to show that, like Darling, her pictures didn’t do her justice. She was extremely beautiful.
Syn sighed heavily. “He’s got enough toxins in his system that if he were human he’d be dead ten times over. Thank the gods Andarions are tough bastards.”
“Is he going to be okay?” Sumi breathed.
Syn finally met her gaze. The anger there dissipated into kindness. “Yeah. I think so. Unless something has happened to Thia, in which case, we’ll be scraping up his guts as soon as Nyk returns.”
Jayne continued to glare at her. “Who the hell are you, human?”
“Jaynie,” Dancer said weakly. “Be nice to my girl or I’ll turn her loose on your hide. Trust me, I think she can take you.”
Jayne scoffed as she squatted down beside Hauk and touched his shoulder. “What happened to your eyes?”
A knowing smile curved Syn’s lips. “I think Hauk got around to taking your advice, Jayne.”
Syn glanced at Sumi then laughed. “I’ll tell you later.”
Darling frowned as he finally looked over at Bastien, who’d opted to sit quietly and bleed while Syn tended Dancer. “Do I know you? You look really familiar.”
Bastien stretched out on the ground. “Summit meeting. Years ago. I was with my father. You were with your uncle.”
Recognition lit Darling’s eyes. “You’re the one who decked Nylan’s son when he spat in my food.”
“Don’t remember that, particularly, but it sounds like something I’d do. Hate that rank bastard.”
Darling shifted to study Bastien’s ragged condition. “You’re one of the Kirovarian princes.”
“Holy shit. I thought you were all dead.” Darling met Jayne’s gaze. “He’s one of Nyk’s paternal cousins, who was deposed about a decade ago.”
Sumi gaped at something Bastien had failed to tell them. Now that Darling mentioned it, she saw that regal bearing. She’d attributed it to his military training, but now that she knew, it was obvious what it really signified.
How had a prince become a League Ravin? Even a deposed one.
Suddenly, Syn grabbed Sumi’s wrist and shoved her sleeve back to expose her League brand. He drew his blaster faster than she could blink and held it to her jaw.
Dancer knocked it away. “Stop it!”
“She’s a League assassin.”
“Yeah, I know. Kyr sent her after me. Remind me to order him flowers and a thank-you card later.”
Syn, Darling, and Jayne exchanged a scowl.
“You know?” Jayne asked.
Dancer sat up slowly.
“Whoa, buddy.” Syn held him back. “You need to stay down until we get a lift here for you.”
Hauk hesitated before he stretched out again, only this time, he put his head in Sumi’s lap. “Jaynie? Darling? Don’t let anyone hurt my mia. Or I’ll take it out of both your asses.”
Darling arched his brows. “Look, bud, I know you’re drugged out of your mind, but you are aware that Sumi’s human, right?”
Dancer shoved at Darling. “Don’t insult my female by putting her in the same class as you.”
Jayne arched a brow. “How much crap have you given him, Syn?”
“That ain’t my drug, baby. That’s called l-o-v-e.”
Jayne scoffed. “Hauk? Love? Lorina shit.”
“It’s true. That’s why his eyes are red,” Darling said to her. “Can’t hide or deny that.”
Syn injected something into the IV.
Dancer shoved at him. “Why did you do that?”
“You need to rest.”
Still, he fought it. He grabbed the front of Darling’s battlesuit. “Keep Sumi safe for me. Don’t let anyone harm her. Swear…” He passed out.
Sumi caught him against her and laid him down gently.
They all three stared at her as if she was a three-headed Gourish snake.
Without answering her, Syn moved to check on Bastien.
Darling continued to hold Dancer’s IV while he studied her with an unsettling intensity.
“Jayne?” Syn called. “On my twelve, babe.”
She went over to him, leaving Sumi alone with Darling. “So what did you name your son?” she asked, trying to break the awkward tension.
“Congratulations. I know Dancer will be thrilled to meet him.”
Darling shook his head. “And he lets you call him Dancer, too… damn. He really must love you.”
“It’s a beautiful name,” she said defensively.
He scoffed. “Says the woman who didn’t have to go to school or into League training with it. Take it from someone named Darling, it’s been a constant source of agony for him the whole of his life.”
She hadn’t thought about that. “I-I didn’t mean to hurt him with it.”
Darling covered her hand with his. “Trust me, given the way you say it, he doesn’t mind. If he did, he’d stop you. Tolerance is not one of his virtues.”
That was certainly true.
She went absolutely still as she heard the one voice she’d been dreading most. Her heart choking her, she slowly looked over her shoulder.
Time froze in that heartbeat as her gaze fell to Fain. Much older than the teen who’d once rocked her to sleep, he was still huge. Even bigger than Dancer.
Dressed in a Tavali battlesuit, he had his face painted similarly to the way Dancer had done hers. His Tavali mask hung loose around his neck and his braids were pulled back from his handsome face by a black band. His black gloves were tucked into his holster. Her gaze fell to his hand where he wore Omira’s wedding band on his pinkie. Just like Dancer had said.
The pain on his face was searing. He stared at her as if she were a ghost whose sole purpose was to haunt him. As if he couldn’t believe his eyes.
Darling looked back and forth between them. “You two know each other?”
Sumi licked her suddenly dry lips as she tried to think of how best to answer Darling’s question.
“I was married to her older sister.” Well, Fain took that ball out of play. He blinked as if finally getting a handle on the fact that she wasn’t Omira and that she meant him no harm.
Funny, she’d been so angry at him for so long. Had hated his guts with such passion and blamed him for what Omira had done – when honestly, her sister had destroyed them all.
Sumi had stupidly thought that if she ever saw him again, she’d want to murder him on sight.
Now… that hatred was gone. Melted by a wave of feeling lost, abandoned, and heartbroken. She felt as if she was seven years old and, like Thia with her father, she just wanted to run into his arms and have him hold her the way he’d done when she was a girl. To tell her once more that everything would be okay and that he’d never let anyone hurt her.
Jayne smacked her hand against her own forehead. “That’s why she looks so familiar. I knew I recognized her from somewhere. Stupid me. I was thinking bounty sheets, not Fain’s wife.”
Fain’s gaze dropped to Dancer’s head in Sumi’s lap.
In that moment, Dancer blinked his eyes open as if he felt his brother’s presence. Guilt and anguish marked his features as he realized how this must look to Fain.
Moving forward, Fain dropped to his knees next to Dancer. “Hey, drey. You still with me?”
Hauk couldn’t breathe as he saw the raw agony in Fain’s eyes that his being with Sumi had caused his brother. And he felt like total shit over it. Fain was the one being he would never have hurt for anything. “I’m sorry.”
Fain scowled at him. “For what?”
He glanced at Sumi then back to Fain. “I never meant to hurt you.”
Fain cupped Hauk’s head in his hands. “Dancer… this doesn’t hurt me.” He gave him a sincere smile. “You deserve to be happy, kiran. It’s all I’ve ever wanted for you.” He dropped his hand to Dancer’s then he took Sumi’s into his other hand and joined them together. “Don’t let my past darken or taint your future. I love both my kisa and kiran. I always have.”
But even so, Hauk saw the ragged torment in Fain’s eyes. And he knew how much this hurt him to see them have what Omira had denied him. If anyone deserved to be happy, it was Fain. His brother was the most noble and decent being he’d ever known.
Pain in the ass at times, but always loyal and caring.
“I’d rather you hit me, drey.”
Fain laughed. “You’re too weak at the moment. Few days… I’ll be happy to beat you down.”
Hauk playfully slapped his brother’s face. “You suck as a brother. I want my money back.”
Fain snorted. “Could be worse. I’m stuck with you.”
Syn returned to them. He let out an irritated sigh as he checked Hauk’s IV. “How much do I have to give you to keep you unconscious? Damn Andarion metabolism. Stay down, beast!”
He fanged Syn then looked at Fain. “Kill him.”
“I would, but his wife would tear me up. And no offense, she scares me. You really don’t.”
Ignoring them, Syn added more medicine to the IV as a skimmer appeared. A small team of medics ran off with lifts for Dancer and Bastien.
It was only then that Fain saw who was with them.
“Bas!” he said with a laugh. “And here I thought you were dead. Should have known better.”
Bastien gave Fain a droll, offended stare as they placed him on the lift. “Your brother damn near finished what you started. Luckily, I’m like a cockroach. Hard to kill.”
Shaking his head, Fain patted him on his arm. “It’s good to see you again, drey. Thank you for fighting with my brother for me.”
“Only for you, drey. Only for you.”