The medics rushed Bastien into the skimmer.
After carefully laying Dancer’s head on the ground, Sumi moved out of the way. She watched and hesitated as they all boarded the craft.
Fain turned back toward her as she stayed put while the others scrambled. “You coming?”
Afraid, she bit her lip, debating the sanity of going. If she left with them, she’d never be able to go back to The League. While she had no doubt that Dancer would save Kalea, she wasn’t sure what awaited her at their hands.
She was a League agent. They were all enemies to The League. Dancer might love her, but none of the rest did.
Well… maybe Darice and Thia.
But Dariana would hate her guts, as would Dancer’s parents. For that matter, if she went, she might cause him to lose his lineage.
I’m not Omira. The last thing she wanted was to cause any harm to Dancer or to those he loved. Her presence with him would be nothing but misery and continued problems for him.
He was Andarion. She was human. Thia’s story about their asteroid belt went through her head. She had no business with him.
She couldn’t stand the thought of not having him in her life. It hurt so much that it made it hard for her to breathe. It was like losing her daughter all over again.
Fain stepped down from the ramp and approached her. “What’s wrong?”
Overwhelmed by it all, Sumi wrapped her arms around her chest as tears filled her eyes. She couldn’t hurt Dancer the way Omira had ruined Fain. She couldn’t. One look at that wedding band on Fain’s hand and his Tavali uniform, and she knew just how wrong it would be to take away everything Dancer loved.
Even his name.
Clearing her throat, she glanced away, scared she might lose her conviction. “Dancer’s where he belongs. I should be going.”
Fain scowled at her. “Are you nuts? Do I have to toss you over my shoulder and carry you into the skimmer?”
She raked a horrified look over him. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“For my brother, there isn’t anything I would not dare. I would defy the gods themselves to keep him happy and safe.” He moved to stand right in front of her. “I saw his eyes, Sumi, and I know that wasn’t from Dariana. And unless I need to keep Nykyrian from ripping Dancer’s spine out through his nose, there’s only one female who could have done that to him on this trip. The one he was clutching when I arrived. It would devastate him to wake up without you.”
Those words choked her even more. But still, she didn’t want to hurt him. Or cause him harm. How could she buy her happiness at the expense of his entire life and family? “I’m a threat to him.”
“So am I,” he said with a bitter laugh. “Every time he speaks to me, he runs the risk of losing everything he has.” Fain glanced back toward the skimmer. “Dancer’s never done anything the easy way. And he never will. It’s part of the little bastard’s charm.” He held his hand out to her. “C’mon. I’ll be with you the whole time. Nothing to fear. I will keep both of you safe.”
In that moment, something inside her shattered and sent a wave of uncontrollable sobs through her.
She wanted to hate Fain so much. But this was the brother she remembered having. The brother who had meant so much to her.
Just like Dancer, Fain swung her up in his arms and carried her into the skimmer.
“Damn, Fain,” Jayne snapped as she saw them. “What’d you do? Break another human? I swear we can’t leave you alone for five seconds.”
Fain shrugged. “I don’t know. Human women look at me and burst into tears. I’m kind of used to it.”
Another Tavali who looked a lot like Darling snorted at him. “I’d burst into tears too if I had to look at your ugly ass.” He took her from Fain and set her down on a small bench seat. Kneeling in front of her, he handed her a handkerchief. “I’m Darling’s brother, Ryn.”
Sniffing back her tears, she took his handkerchief and wiped at her eyes. “Thank you.”
He patted her knees then looked up at Fain. “How’s the beast?”
“He looked pretty beat up. But I’ve seen him worse. Hell, for that matter, I’m sure I’ve beaten him worse. And that was for just wearing my boots without permission.”
Snorting, Ryn stood and clapped a hand on Fain’s shoulder. “Syn would sooner kill himself than let anything happen to him. You know that.”
“I know. It’s why I’m not freaking out and going on a killing rampage. ”
Still nervous and unsure, Sumi glanced around the small group of men standing in the main cargo area – Darling, Fain, Ryn – and of course Jayne. Syn must have taken Dancer and Bastien into the small infirmary somewhere else on the skimmer.
“Where’s Nykyrian and the kids?” she asked them.
Darling pointed to the link in his ear. “They took the other skimmer and are already on board, waiting for us.”
“The kids were all right?”
Darling pulled the link from his ear and held it toward her. Even without it being in her ear, she could hear Darice’s and Thia’s excited chattering as they told Nykyrian everything that had happened while they’d been with Dancer.
She smiled. “Thank you.”
He inclined his head respectfully as he returned it to his ear.
Syn opened a door to their right. “Sumi? Get in here and let Hauk know that you’re okay. I can’t do anything with this unreasonable, surly bastard.”
“He’s not unreasonable. He’s just fierce.” She went into the small room where Bastien was now unconscious. But Dancer was fighting Syn as he tried to pull monitors off his body and get up from the lift.
It was actually rather comical to watch the two of them swat at each other like children, as they traded insults.
She tsked at him. “What are you doing, sweetie?”
Hauk calmed as soon as he heard her voice and saw her whole and unscathed. While he trusted his friends, he also knew how protective they were. And given Jayne’s actions to Zarya over what her men had done to Darling, he didn’t want to chance a similar occurrence with Sumi. “I wanted to make sure you were all right.”
Her eyes tender, she cupped his cheek and rubbed noses with him. “I will be, if you let Syn treat you without fighting him. Now be a good boy and I’ll give you a reward later.”
He grinned at her teasing. Holding her hand, he allowed Syn to put the monitors back on him. “By the way, Syn, Sumi has a League tag we need you to remove.”
“Okay. You’re not going to punch me for cutting into her to get to it, are you?”
“Don’t you hurt her,” he growled in earnest.
Syn rolled his eyes then looked to Sumi. “Gah, are all Andarions this ridiculous? Oh wait… Nyk and Kiara. Got it. Never mind.” His gaze dropped down to Sumi’s abdomen and he scowled. “Is that your blood on you?”
She glanced at it. “I was attacked by a tourah a couple of days ago, but it’s a flesh wound. I’m fine.”
“She’s not fine. She also has a blast wound to her arm.”
“Flesh wound,” she repeated. “I’m really not hurt.”
Hauk gave her a droll stare. “Now who’s being unreasonable?”
“Still all you, baby.”
Gods, how he loved her teasing. Only she could get away with being this flippant with him. I am a sick bastard.
Syn moved to put a mask over Hauk’s face. “If he pulls this off,” he said to Sumi, “beat him.”
Hauk made an obscene Ritadarion gesture to Syn.
“Not on your best day, Andarion. I don’t care how much you look like a woman.” Syn tilted Hauk’s head to one side so that he could examine the bruise above and below his eye.
Hauk focused on Sumi as his vision blurred. He didn’t want to be unconscious until he was sure she was safe from the reach of Dariana and The League.
There was no telling what any of them would do to her. It was his job to protect her, but as he felt the medicine kicking in again, he knew Syn wouldn’t leave him awake much longer.
She took his outstretched hand. “Right here.”
Panic set in as he struggled against the drugs. He tried to take his mask off, but neither of them would accommodate him. “Stay safe.” He wasn’t sure if she understood those badly slurred words as everything turned black.
Syn scowled at Sumi. “Why the hell is he so afraid of letting you out of his sight? He has to know we’re not going to hurt you.”
“It’s not you he’s afraid of.”
She looked past Syn to see Fain in the doorway.
“Then what?” Syn asked.
“She’s a League assassin in the middle of a Sentella-Tavali-Andarion and Caronese strike force that is at war with them. By going after Dancer when she did, she endangered a member of the royal Andarion family, and the last heir of a family the Andarions view as a national treasure. Queen Cairistiona can legally demand her head for this. As can Dariana, and Dancer’s mother.”
Sumi went weak at his words. “What?”
Fain nodded. “When we get to the ship, avoid anyone wearing a red-and-black battlesuit or uniform. Those are members of the Andarion Queen’s Guard.”
Syn scoffed. “Nykyrian won’t let them hurt her.”
“He can talk to his mother about Thia, but he can’t stop Dariana if she calls out for Sumi’s blood. And given how much she hates Dancer, she’s liable to do it just for spite. That’s what he’s afraid of. If she evokes her right of death over Darice, there’s nothing the queen can do. The law is the law. Sumi would have to die for endangering Darice’s life.”
Syn put his hand on Sumi’s arm. “We won’t let her touch you. Believe me, there’s not a one of us who doesn’t want a piece of that bitch’s hide for what she’s done to Hauk over the years.”
Fain nodded. “He’s right. Make sure you stay with one of our royal family members at all times – Caillen, Ryn, Darling, Maris, Nyk, Desideria, or Drake. They alone can keep you safe from her.”
She felt the skimmer landing on board the mothership. Fear gripped her. But she was an assassin and assassins never showed their fear.
With her head high, she would face this. Bracing herself, she mentally prepared for the worst that was waiting for her.
Sumi thought she was braced for the worst, but nothing could have prepared her for what awaited them in the landing bay of the massive ship. She felt as if she’d walked into a war-zone planning committee. There were creatures everywhere in battlesuits from more countries and organizations than she could identify.
Yet the weirdest feeling was seeing Andarions and humans working side by side without issue. Occasionally, someone might pass an irritated look at another, but they did that to their own kind as much as they did it to others.
A large number of the gathered beings pinned curious stares on her, which made her extremely uncomfortable.
Fain stood beside her with his hand on her shoulder to let her know he was there to protect her. “Just breathe, kisa. I’m with you.”
“What does kisa mean?”
“Little sister. Kiran means little brother.”
The word warmed her. But that feeling was fleeting as she saw the massive swarm of beings there to escort Dancer from the skimmer to the infirmary.
Thia hadn’t been joking. Their family was terrifying and huge.
She barely registered the call before she was practically bowled over by Darice. His entire face alight with joy, he seized her in a tight hug that left her breathless. Then he kissed her cheek and released her.
“We were so worried about you. Especially when Thia told me that Dancer and Bastien were down. We didn’t know if you’d been hurt or what… I’m so glad you’re okay.”
Shaking her head, Thia walked up behind him with a huge smile. “You must have performed an exorcism on Darice while you were on that mountain.”
He snorted before he playfully shoved at Thia, like any pesky little brother. He turned back to Sumi and sobered. “While we waited in the caves, we made these for you and Dancer.” He pulled a feathered necklace from his neck and placed it around hers. The other two matched perfectly. Each one had a single feather and bone.
Like father and son.
Darice bit his lip nervously as he showed her the one he’d made for Dancer. “You think he’ll like it?”
“He’ll love it, Darice. I can’t wait to see his face when you give it to him. And I can’t thank you enough for mine. It’s absolutely beautiful, sweetie. Thank you for the honor.” She kissed his cheek.
His eyes proud, he glanced from her to Fain, who tensed visibly.
For several heartbeats no one moved.