Several minutes went by as she waited for him to rejoin her, but he stayed in the kitchen, out of her sight. Worried and curious, she went to check on him.
He sat at the table, his food untouched. His head was propped against one gloved hand and he appeared to be staring at the table as if he were concentrating on an invisible spot.
Something definitely wasn’t right.
She took two steps into the room. “What’s wrong?” Immediately, he straightened up and retrieved a fork. “I’m tired.”
Kiara sat down across from him. Drawing her legs up in the chair, she propped her chin on her knees. “Hauk and I spent the afternoon playing games. Do you play any?”
His grip tightened on the fork. “No,” he growled from between clenched teeth.
She glared at him for that. “You don’t have to bark at me. I was just—”
“Look,” Nykyrian interrupted her, making her jump in surprise at the sharpness of his tone. “I’m in no mood to be sociable right now. Just leave me in peace.”
Her worry tripled. It wasn’t like him to lose control of himself like this. He never lost his temper.
Rising to her feet, she rounded the table to stand beside him. “Something’s wrong. I know it is.” She reached out to touch his forehead to see if he had a fever.
He caught her wrist in a tight grip. “I told you to leave me alone. Can’t you accept the fact that a man can be in your presence and not want to sleep with you?”
She sputtered at his insult as fury singed her. Where had that come from? All she’d been trying to do was help him. How dare he insult her so. “You arrogant bastard! Why would I ever want to sleep with you?”
His features turned brittle as he rose slowly to his feet to tower over her. This time, there was no mistaking his rage. “Get the f**k out of here before I kill you.”
A sharp knock sounded on the door. Nykyrian pushed past her to answer it.
Kiara stayed in the kitchen, gripping the counter as a multitude of emotions tore through her. Rage, indignation, but most of all hurt.
Did he really think her a whore? Why would he think such a thing?
That one undeserved and wholly unjustified insult made her wish she were big enough to give him the beating he deserved. So much for trying to be nice to him. What an ass**le!
A lump in her throat, she moved toward the front room to see who was here and what was going on. Why Nykyrian hadn’t returned for his food.
Syn was on his knees in front of him. That unexpected sight gave her serious pause as she watched Syn slowly unbutton Nykyrian’s pants and peel his shirt back.
Ooookay . . .
Maybe she was intruding on something very private and should leave them to whatever it was Syn was about to do with Nykyrian. Not that she was clueless about what it looked like they were going to do, but wouldn’t two such private people do that someplace other than her front room?
Her feet seemed to be riveted to the spot as she watched them. Nykyrian didn’t protest Syn’s groping in the least. Not even when Syn skimmed his hand over Nykyrian’s stomach. Instead of snapping at Syn, he just looked down at him while Syn lifted his shirt up to expose more flesh.
Syn cursed before moving away to pull his pack closer to him.
Kiara went cold as she realized Syn’s hands were covered in blood.
“How’d you reopen the damn thing?” he barked at Nykyrian. “I told you to be careful, you idiot. You’re lucky you haven’t bled out.”
“Stand down, ass**le. You keep making commentary like an old woman and I’ll put your rank ass in a dress.”
Syn glared up at him. “You better take a different tone, too, dick. Remember, I’m the one about to have my hands on that wound. You snap at me and I’ll have you crying on the floor like a little girl.”
“And I’ll have you lying dead at my feet.”
Kiara stepped forward.
At her movement, Nykyrian looked at her over his shoulder and bared his fangs. “Get out. Now!”
Kiara narrowed her gaze in anger at so much hostility when all she’d wanted to do was help. “Fine. Just keep your blood off my carpet.” She turned and went to her room.
Syn sucked his breath in sharply between his teeth. “That was a harsh thing to say to you. And here I thought I was the only one you pissed off to that extreme.” Rising to his feet, he pushed Nykyrian toward the couch.
Nykyrian didn’t say anything as he lay down and tried to hide how much the wound was hurting him. It took all of his concentration to remain conscious through the throbbing, heated agony splitting his side. Breathing was getting harder by the heartbeat. God, how he hated being shot like this. He felt like his guts were boiling. Like his skin was crawling over sandpaper, off his body.
He tensed as Syn struck a tender spot while trying to stop the bleeding again, but didn’t comment. He thought about what he’d said to Kiara and wished he could take it back. Truthfully, he hadn’t meant to insult her.
She’d only been trying to comfort him. But he wasn’t used to kindness and he’d never known how to deal with it.
Syn was right. I am an ass**le.
He could use the pain as an excuse, but that was all it would be—an excuse. He clenched his teeth at his stupidity. What did it matter? It was better if she hated him.
And yet the thought of her hatred shredded his soul.
Syn rummaged through his bag. “I’m going to give you some Synethol.”
Nykyrian hissed at him.
“Don’t even waste that sound on me, you shit. I know you hate it, but it’ll help you heal a lot faster and this is one time I can’t afford for you to be nursing a wound and neither can you.”
“You got guts taking that tone with me.”
Syn scoffed. “What you gonna do, oh great wounded one? I’m the one with the injector.” He clicked the trigger to prove his point.
It was now Nykyrian’s turn to scoff. “I could have that in my hand and shoved up your ass before you could even blink.”
Instead of being angry, Syn grinned. “Probably. Just make sure you put me totally out of my misery. I don’t need anything else to cripple me. Now shut up and take it like a man.”
“I f**king hate you.”
Syn laughed as he screwed the vial of medicine into its chamber. “Of course you do. That’s why you’re the one lying shot and I’m doing the tending. If you really hated me, I’d be dead right now and you’d be healthy.”
Nykyrian looked away as that one simple truth hung between them.
Syn rolled back the sleeve of his shirt. Exposing the crook of Nykyrian’s elbow, he positioned the injector over the skin. “I’ll stay over tonight so that you can try to sleep in peace. Don’t worry. If anything happens, I’ll pump your ass full of adrenaline cause I’m not going to fight alone while you sleep in a chemically induced coma.”
Nykyrian snorted at that as Syn pressed the trigger and the needle bit into his flesh. Like Syn was afraid of fighting. He could scrap with the best of them and come out on top. Hell, he was better at fighting and surviving than half the assassins Nykyrian had worked with.
He felt the thick syrup moving like fire through his bloodstream. When the capsule was empty, Syn pulled back and tossed the injector back into his bag. He pulled out a small green container and held it toward him. “Here, I’ll swap you.”
Taking it, Nykyrian opened the case to grab his retainer and put it in his mouth before he handed Syn his shades. He hated wearing that damned retainer whenever he slept.
Another thing the humans had done to him . . .
Images and memories sifted through him as he felt himself involuntarily relaxing. That was what he hated most about meds. They lowered the barriers he kept around himself and made him feel all the things he kept buried deep inside.
He had no resistance.
Most of all, they made him think about things he didn’t want to.
He looked at Syn who now had two heads and eight eyes. “Tell me something, aridos. What was it like being married?”
Syn paused at a question Nykyrian had never asked him before. Damn, the drug was taking effect fast. But then that was part of his friend’s human-Andarion metabolism and it was why Nykyrian couldn’t be left alone tonight. Both human and Andarion drugs could have unexpected complications with his unique genetic makeup.
One simple shot of an antibiotic could kill him and painkillers could burn out his insides. That memory made him wince.
Syn started not to respond, but the look in Nykyrian’s eyes was too sincere and too raw. His friend wanted an honest answer and he owed him too much to brush it aside snidely. “It was good.” He swallowed against the painful knot in his stomach as he admitted something he’d tried his best to bury. “Even on the days when it was bad, it was good . . . At least until the end.”
He pulled out his flask and uncorked it as he remembered the last days of his marriage. The anger. The fights. The accusations and insults.
But it was his wife’s hatred that he couldn’t escape from. To have gone from being her entire world to her nightmare in a matter of minutes . . .
I wish to the gods you’d been killed. Why are you alive, you lying, filthy bastard?
The worst part . . . he couldn’t agree more with her.
Why couldn’t he purge that misery from his memory? In a life marked by harsh brutality, those last few days of his marriage stood out as the ultimate in suffering.
And they wonder why I drink . . .
“You still miss them?”
Syn took a deep drink and tried not to feel the stab of pain that continually hammered his soul and the truth that haunted him constantly. “Every f**king day.” Yes, Mara had been shallow at times, and pretentious. But she’d given him the things he’d never known in his life.
Tenderness and respectability. She’d given him normality and, there for a time, he’d known what the word home meant.
Most of all, she’d given him a beautiful son, and together they’d made a family.
Until his past had come home to roost with a vengeance.
He cursed silently over that vicious stab.
Disgusted, Syn looked back at Nykyrian. “Actually that’s not true. I don’t miss what she became when she found out about my past. I miss the woman I married, the one I had Paden with. Gods, she used to look at me like she could eat me up. And hold me at night until I forgot about my past. Best of all, she made me feel safe. No matter how bad the day had kicked me, her touch made it all better. She was the only shelter I’ve ever known.”
And to have had it so brutally ripped away . . . There were times even now when his soul screamed from the pain of it all.
Nykyrian pinned him with that harsh stare of his that seemed to be able to penetrate all the way to his bloodied soul. “I’m sorry about what happened.”
“It wasn’t your fault, aridos. The gods know you did more than your part to protect me from it. Life just is and the gods have their plans for us. We’re powerless against them. In the end, we are what our pasts have made us and we live the lives the gods have chosen for us.”
Nykyrian scowled at him. “You never deserved what happened to you. How can you still believe in your gods after all you’ve been through?”
That was the question of his life and yet he’d never allowed his faith to waver. “We all have to believe in something, sometime.”
Nykyrian scoffed. “I only believe in me.”
Syn took another swig. “I know. Go ahead and call me a fool. I’ve been called a lot worse.”
“You’re not a fool, Syn. We’re both just seriously f**ked up.” Nykyrian closed his eyes. “Tell Kiara I’m sorry for what I said to her.” His speech was extremely slurred as the drug finally took him under.
Syn frowned as he checked Nykyrian’s vitals to make sure he was all right. It was the first time he’d ever known Nykyrian to apologize to anyone, for anything.
Damn, what had he said?
Shaking his head, he rechecked Nykyrian’s bandage. A red stain was already creeping back through the white cloth. Again. That thing was going to be messy.
Just as he pulled back, Nykyrian’s nose started hemorrhaging like a slashed carotid artery. Syn cursed as he tilted Nykyrian’s head back and did what he could to staunch the flow of blood. He quickly retook the vitals. They were still relatively strong. The drug didn’t seem to be eating anything, but something was causing his nose to bleed like this.
He just didn’t know what.
Damn it! He hated giving Nykyrian anything. No one ever knew how his body would react to it and it was a gamble every single time.
After a few minutes, Syn stopped the bleeding and had Nykyrian resting quietly. Grateful Nykyrian was all right for the moment and pissed over the needless injury, he shook his head. Syn and that little dancer had almost cost Nykyrian his life tonight.
That knowledge ate at him. In all his life, Nykyrian had been the only person he could rely on. The only one who’d ever tried to help him.