“Being the man Zarya said you were.”
Maris snorted at the compliment that made him deeply uncomfortable. Born and bred in a warrior culture where they had thirty-three words for honor, twenty for loyalty and not a single one for love, Maris could count on one hand the number of times someone had complimented him for anything. “Trust me, I’m more bitch than hero.”
Ture laughed then winced as if pain cut through him.
The door opened. Maris turned to see Syn coming in with his helmet off. The Ritadarion thief and assassin was almost even to his height. Syn had his dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, and the liner Syn routinely wore into battle was smudged a bit around his left eye. “How’s he doing?”
Maris stepped back to give him room. “Not a doctor.”
“Yeah well, to hear Kip tell it, most days I’m not either.”
Maris laughed while Syn started examining the cuts and bruises on Ture’s face.
Ture wasn’t sure what to make of the newcomer. Not until he reached into a drawer by the bed and pulled out a biotec tablet. “I’m Syn,” he said in an even, calm tone as he turned the tablet on and entered a medical code. “And I really am a fully licensed doctor…graduated number one in my class.” He glanced up at Ture. “I’m assuming you’re purely Caronese?”
Syn narrowed his gaze on him. “One hundred percent? I don’t want to give you something and have a nasty surprise over it.”
Since Ture had only gone to local doctors on his home planet, he’d never thought about how hard a job it must be should a hybrid life form come in for treatment. “Yeah. As pure-blooded as anyone can be.”
“Okay.” Syn reached down into the pocket on the left leg of his battlesuit. “I’m giving you something for pain then I’m going to start a drip. I’m sure you’re more than aware of the fact that you’re badly dehydrated and malnourished.” Once he’d injected Ture, he looked over at Maris. “What about you, bud? Is that your blood all over your uniform?”
“Unfortunately. Bastards ruined it.”
Syn ground his teeth. “I can stop the bleeding, but you know I have nothing to give you, right?”
“I wouldn’t take it even if you did. Just clean it out and I’ll heal.” Too tired to move anymore, Maris sat down in the corner chair. “How’s Zarya?”
“Better now that I peeled Darling off the ceiling. I swear, I almost tranqed his ass. I would definitely not want to be in your brother’s shoes right now. We’ll have to ride herd on Darling…hard. Otherwise, he’s going to do something else really stupid to get to Kyr. But back to your question, they busted her up pretty good. Luckily, she’ll be fine in a few days, and the baby she’s carrying looks to be unaffected by it all. Gods willing.” Syn started the IV.
Ture blinked hard as his vision dimmed. Syn hadn’t just given him a painkiller. He’d put something in it to knock him out. He wanted to stay awake, but it was a losing battle. In a matter of seconds, he was sound asleep.
Maris frowned as he saw Ture go limp. “Did you—”
“Yeah. He needed it. Besides, I didn’t think you wanted him to witness what I’m about to do to treat you.”
Good point. Humans often had a hard time dealing with the oddities of the Phrixians. Darling was one of the few who could understand and tolerate Maris’s special health needs.
Syn moved toward the sink. “Take your top off.”
Maris purred at his command. “You know, I’ve been waiting for years to hear that come out of your mouth, baby. Should I remove my pants, too? I’m sure I could muster something down there that might require your immediate, personal attention.”
Syn laughed at his teasing invitation. “You’re the only man who could say that to me and still keep his best friend attached to his body. You’re lucky I love you, Mari.”
“I know, brother.” Maris opened his battlesuit while Syn ran a bowl of water.
When Syn turned back to face him, he froze. His eyes widened in horror.
Maris started to cover himself then stopped. What was the use? Syn had already seen the horrendous scars that marred his flesh. Why cover up now?
“I had no idea,” Syn breathed.
Maris shrugged. “You don’t grow up g*y in a fiercely heterosexual warrior culture without taking a lot of damage.” Not to mention his lovely stint as a political prisoner with their enemies for a full decade. Thanks, Dad and League, for those atrocious nightmares. “In spite of what my family says, I’m pretty sure they knew all along, and they went out of their way to beat it out of me.”
“Does Darling know?”
Maris shook his head. “I don’t get nak*d around Darling.” It was why he always kept himself covered from head to foot. Many times, he even wore gloves. Only his lovers had ever seen his body, and even then he kept the room as dark as possible so that no one knew the full weight of the shame he carried with him.
“If it makes you feel better, Nykyrian and I both have more scars than you do.”
And so did Darling.
He looked up at Syn. “For the record, Syn, it doesn’t make me feel better to know the people I love best have suffered even more than I have. Really doesn’t.”
Syn placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and gave a light squeeze. “And that’s why we love you, Mari.”
Maris didn’t respond as Syn started working on his numerous injuries. He did, however, grimace as the pain intensified. If only he could get to a tub of water…
“You okay?” Syn asked, his voice tense with concern.
“I’m not going to die. Darling would never forgive me for it.”
Syn laughed. “Knowing him, he’d follow you into hell if you did and drag you back out.”
“And all of you would be right by his side, battling demons the whole way, in and out.”
“Yeah well…we’re stupid that way.”
Yes, they were. And that was why he was devoted to all of them.
Syn stood up and wiped his hands on a clean cloth. “Anything I can get for you?”
Maris shook his head. “Thanks, though.”
“You need me, buzz. I’m heading back to Zarya.”
Maris pulled his battlesuit back on as Syn left. Then he stood and returned to Ture’s side. He couldn’t imagine what the two of them had been put through because of his brother’s sadistic madness. Guilt stabbed him hard. He shouldn’t feel responsible for Kyr’s actions and yet he always had.
“I won’t let him hurt you anymore,” he whispered, brushing his hand through Ture’s hair. “I promise.”
* * *
Ture came awake to the sensation of someone starting to pick him up. Thinking it was a League soldier, he opened his eyes, ready to fight, then relaxed as he met Maris’s dark gaze.
Maris released him instantly. “Sorry, love. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Ture smiled at Maris’s deep, pleasant accent. Sometimes he found it difficult to understand Maris’s words. Still, he adored the sound of his lilting cadence. “It’s okay. I’d much rather wake up to you than a League guard.”
“That’s not exactly a compliment since I’m rather sure the devil himself would be preferable to that.”
Ture bit his lip as he realized that while he’d slept Maris had combed his hair and freshened up. Damn, he was exquisite.
“Maris? Would it be rude if I asked you where you’re from? I know from your accent that you’re not Caronese.”
“Not rude at all. I’m Phrixian.”
Maris gave him a wicked, taunting grin. “You have no idea, do you?”
“Not a clue. In fact, if I had a starchart in front of me, I still wouldn’t know where to even start to look for it. I’ve heard of your people, but really know very little other than the name.”
“That is a personal choice.” Maris winked at him. “We don’t like or trust outsiders so we’re not real forthcoming with details about our people or territories.”
He nodded. “If you’re ready, we docked about ten minutes ago. Zarya wants you taken to the palace with her until Syn clears you, health wise. She said you don’t have anyone at home to watch over you.”
“I would argue, but she’s right.” The only person in his apartment was Anachelle, and he was taking care of her. She was in no shape to watch over him as he healed.
When he started to get up, Maris stopped him. He indicated the machine pole next to the bed. “You’re still attached, love.”
Syn reentered the room. “How’s he doing?”
“Not the doctor.”
Syn rolled his eyes at Ture over Maris’s words. “He always says that.”
Maris held his hands up in a very feminine and adorable gesture. “Hey, I respect expertise and when it comes to health, I know nothing. Especially not about other races.”
Without a word, Syn detached the bed from the wall so that it could be used as a stretcher. He put the fluid bag onto a smaller pole that was near Ture’s head. “You coming?” he asked Maris.
“Right behind you, precious.”
Ture felt awkward being wheeled into Darling’s palace. While he’d seen the royal abode thousands of times in his life and had toured the public governing sections as part of a school trip decades ago, he’d never dreamed of seeing the private areas.
They went in through a rear entrance, and toward an elevator. The staff turned to look at them, but no one said anything or stopped them. Syn took him upstairs to a room where servants were quickly preparing it.
Ture’s jaw dropped at the luxury. He’d never seen anything finer. The ceiling over his head held elaborate gold trim and was painted with a breathtaking celestial scene. It was like looking up at heaven.
The bed was larger than Ture’s entire bedroom…okay, a slight exaggeration. Still, it was giant. The bed held a navy blue canopy that was trimmed in gold and maroon— the royal Caronese colors.
The door opened.
Ture half expected it to be a guard telling them to get out. So when he saw Darling, the royal governor, coming into the room to check on him, he was stunned.
“How is he?”
Syn moved him to the bed. “Pretty busted up. Broken arm and shin. Severe hand trauma, but we should be able to get him up and running in a few weeks. I called in a friend of mine to do surgery on his hand. He should regain at least ninety percent usage.”
“Ninety?” Ture gasped.
“Sorry…you might have full recovery. I’m not an expert, which is why I’m calling in a favor from my friend who is. He’ll be able to give you a better prognosis than I can.”
Ture wanted to scream in aggravation. “How much will all of this cost me?”
“Nothing,” Darling said. “I’ll cover every bit of it.”
His offer offended Ture. “That’s not necessary.”
“You protected my wife. Zarya said she wouldn’t have made it through, but for you. I can’t do enough to repay you for that favor. You need anything, you let me know.”
Maris gasped in outrage of Darling’s words. Hands on hips, he sputtered at Darling before he spoke. “You married Lady Z without me? You beast! I’m so heartbroken. How could you? I was supposed to be her maid of honor.” He gave an adorable fake pout.
Closing the distance between them, Darling pulled Maris into a tight hug. “You were there in spirit. Besides it was so quick, we were married before we made it to my bedroom.”
Ture arched his brow. “You really weren’t kidding.”
Darling shook his head. “As I told Kyr, the priest was waiting inside the door and started the formalities the instant we entered. I came too close to losing her. Be damned if I’ll ever let that happen again.”
Ture was still amazed and stunned by the men in this room. That they were everything Zarya had promised him.
Darling kissed Maris’s cheek. “Let me know if either of you need anything at all. I’m heading back to Zarya to make sure she doesn’t lift anything heavier than a spoon.”
Maris laughed. “Good luck with that.”
Darling gave a heavy sigh. “I know, right?” Then he left them alone.
“I’m going to get cleaned up and will be back in a few.” Maris went to a separate door than the one Darling had used. Rather this one was in the middle of the wall and led to a connecting bedroom.
Ture wasn’t sure if he should be flattered or insulted that Maris’s bedroom connected to his. Did Maris think him some whore to be kept like a pet?
Syn tucked the covers in around him, and then checked his fluids. “Sorry about to confidentiality breach. But—”
“Darling is technically the government. Not like he couldn’t have found out anyway.”