Season Content Notes: abduction, blood, sexual content
I stood up from my desk and stormed out of the room. Karen, who had been at my back, followed, and Benj peeled off from the door to follow us. In the last week, they had fallen into a routine, and I had found that even Karen was serious and focused on duty. Behind me, Benj murmured into his fancy Bluetooth — comms, the team called them — letting Marcus know about my ‘change in status.’
I ignored him, ignored both of them. I had wanted sotii who would be bodyguards first; I would not complain when I got my wish.
But right now, I needed someone to talk with.
My office and the ‘grandparents suite’ were both in the basement. I turned left out of my office. Right would have led me to where the hallway turned on the way to the garage. Left took me to the rest of the house, but I wasn’t going far. Before Benj had finished speaking, I was knocking on another door. Ozanna answered it a moment later and immediately sighed.
“Nastasia.” She pulled me into a hug, and I let go a bit of my anger as she squeezed me.
“I can’t do this!”
She tsked at me and dragged me into her and Emil’s bedroom. I felt more than heard Karen and Benj tense behind me, sotii or bodyguard instincts kicking in. But they didn’t say anything, either because they trusted Ozanna already or… other reasons. Instead, Karen followed me in while Benj stayed on the door. Again.
Ozanna pulled me to the loveseat that took up the entirety of the closet and pushed me down. Then she scowled at Karen and pointed to the cushion next to me. “Sit.”
Karen looked unhappily between me and Ozanna, then sat as far from me as she could get and still be on the loveseat. That had started the day after I brought them home. The teasing and playfulness and touch disappeared into… distance and professionalism.
Ozanna sat herself on the bed that took up most of the main room. “What can’t you do, fica?”
“I can’t find them,” I said, wrapping my arms around myself. “I thought that finding my sotii, that being able to be safe while searching for the clan, would be the hard part. But even with all the work you and Mama did, it’s all dead ends.” I was whining. I was whining and acting pathetic, and Karen and Benj could both hear me, and I couldn’t stop myself. I couldn’t…
“Nastasia.” Ozanna’s voice wasn’t a comfort this time, it was a command. “Nastasia, listen to me. You knew this would not be easy. You know this would not be fast. But you are doing it. Every dead end is progress. It is eliminating the wrong knowledge so you can focus on what is useful.”
Her eyes held mine, and I clung to them. I breathed as Emil had taught me as a child, and I clung to Ozanna’s eyes. After a few minutes, she nodded and sat back. “I should not need to tell you this.”
“I should not need to tell you this because you should not be doing this alone. Where are your sotii?”
Confused, I gestured to Karen sitting on the other side of the loveseat.
“Nastasia,” she chided. I never understood how she could say so much with just my name. Not even Mama could pull it off. But I would not be chided this time.
“Fine,” she gestured to the room’s second door. “We built in a training room for a reason. I haven’t seen you in there for a week. Use it, work your frustration out. That, at least, your sotii should be willing to help you with.”
I nodded, stood up, and, once again trailed by my guards, stepped into the small ‘training room.’
Mama told the builders it would be the ‘sitting room’ for the grandparents’ suite. Just a private extra room when they wanted some quiet time together. But as soon as the builders cleared out, Mama, Ozanna, and Emil went to work. They covered the floor with canvas, turned the closets into weapons storage, and covered the one high window with privacy film so no one could see in.
It wasn’t a big room — maybe 100 feet square. But it was enough for sparring and some knife work. Close combat, which is what Emil said I would need most if we were discovered before we were ready.
Not even taking my shoes off (and Emil would chew me out for that later) I walked up to one of the punching targets on the wall and started hitting it.
Karen didn’t know who worried her more, Nastasia or Benj.
Benj should still have been in bed. Karen knew better than to try to send him away.
Nastasia had been right to compare what happened to them to a bad flu. It had hit Victor, Leyla, and Karen hard and passed quick. But it had snuck up on Benj and Marcus, so Benj had been doing close guard most of the first day or so, then fell on his ass.
Not that Karen could complain. She’d spent most of that first day on her ass. When she was on her feet and tracking again, everything felt off. Nastasia wasn’t being Nastasia. And the team was… was being the team. But that wasn’t right, was it?
Karen let her eyes flick to the closet. Nastasia’s knives were probably in there. Why hadn’t Karen seen the sharps yet?
But no, she was on duty. She had to focus.
Benj was pale in the doorway, too pale, but he was being stubborn. With Marcus still down, they needed Benj in the rotation. For two days, she’d been telling herself that was why things felt wrong. That with the team lead down and Benj still sick, of course things felt off. But…
Focus. She never had this much trouble focusing on duty. That’s why she loved working. It let her let go of thinking, letting her senses and trained reflexes take over so her brain could rest.
Ozanna had expected Karen and Benj to train with Nastasia, to help her stay in practice. And they usually did that with their protectees. Worked with them so they could move with the team, help the team help them. As soon as he was on his feet, Marcus would…
No. No, this was wrong. Something was wrong, something…
She clicked the comm, asking Benj if everything was okay. He clicked back twice. Safe, he didn’t see any danger. But then he clicked again, just once. Everything okay?
And it wasn’t. It wasn’t. It wasn’t.
Reflexes. Karen couldn’t focus because she was fighting her reflexes. Because her reflexes didn’t want to treat Nastasia like a protectee.
As soon as she stopped fighting, reflex had her across the room in a moment. She put out a hand, catching Nastasia’s next punch, grabbing vamp-lady’s attention.
“What?” Nastasia growled, and Karen couldn’t answer. Couldn’t put words to her feeling that something was wrong, something was…
But it was Benj who answered. Benj, who had words she didn’t.
“Ma’am,” he rasped, “You need to tell us what we’re doing wrong.”