Season Content Notes: abduction, blood, sexual content
Benj’s head was still stuffed with cotton. Talking was… not fun. But even if professionalism hadn’t required him to be here, he would have been drawn to Nastasia. He felt the bond, felt her. It felt like something was wrong. Like it was sick, too.
He hadn’t thought anything of it, that first morning, when Marcus had insisted on being the one to feed her and bled into a cup. He’d been a bit disappointed when Nastasia accepted but for all Karen’s quips, this wasn’t really a romance novel, and… whatever they’d all felt when they exchanged blood the night before, it wasn’t real. They were here to be Nastasia’s guards, not her harem.
And then the fever had hit, and he hadn’t been able to think of anything.
He didn’t feel much different. A little lighter on his feet maybe, but not likehe could go fifteen rounds with a pro fighter or anything like that. Marcus though… Benj had seen his wrinkles smooth out. The grey that had threaded his blond hair was gone, too. And whatever that.. magical virus?… was doing, it wasn’t done.
But something was wrong. If Benj had been the only one feeling weird, he might have ignored it. But when Karen started muttering about the timeline being off…
Benj didn’t understand Karen. The one time he’d said anything, Vincent had said something about ‘probably neurodivergent’ and ‘not our business as long as she’s a team player.’ One thing Benj had learned: she had an uncanny way of putting together odd bits of information. She’d make a picture no one else could see, but was usually pretty accurate. When her timelines got screwy — when she couldn’t put that picture together — there was an elephant in the room somewhere getting ready to smash them.
So when whatever was going on pushed Karen out of her guard routine, Benj backed her. Because she was his teammate, because he trusted her. But also because the bond told him Nastasia needed them. Needed him to step up.
“Ma’am,” he rasped, “You need to tell us what we’re doing wrong.”
Nastasia scowled at him, then looked away. “You are doing nothing wrong. You are good bodyguards.”
“Then why are Karen’s timeline’s not lining up?” He rubbed his sternum. “Why is this bond hurting?”
But Karen cocked her head, getting that distant look that meant the pieces were falling into place. “We are good bodyguards. Are we good sotii?”
For the second time in an hour, I wanted to run. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t be the leader my clan needed. I couldn’t even form a proper bond with my sotii! Instead, I stepped away, putting my back to the wall.
Benj came closer, and, for a moment, I thought I would freak out completely, but he just leaned against the wall next to me. Close, but no longer between me and the doors. Karen was murmuring in the bluetooth, saying something about my panic to the rest of the team.
I wrapped my arms around myself and looked at the floor.
I jumped when Benj touched my shoulder. “That’s it, isn’t it? We’re being bodyguards, but you need more than that.”
For a moment, I let myself lean into that touch, but Benj… Benj had made it clear that he became sotii for Marcus’ sake, not because of any draw he felt towards me. I pulled back, and he dropped his hand. “I need bodyguards. And I won’t ask for what you don’t want to give.”
“What if we want you to ask?” I looked up in surprise. Leyla was standing in the door. Victor was behind her, and even Marcus, leaning on the wall.
As soon as I saw Marcus, I forgot everything else. Even as weak as our bond was, I felt how he — my first — suffered. I stepped away from the wall and stormed across the small room. “What by Luna are you doing out of bed?” Up close, I could see his eyes were still glassy from fever. His skin was too dark to show a flush, but I knew if I put my hand next to his cheeks, I’d feel the heat pouring off him. “Bad enough Benj insists on following me around; you need to rest.
“Told you he needed to come,” Victor murmured to Leyla.
I glared at him. “I’ll deal with you later.” Then I pushed through them and grabbed Marcus’ arm. “Come on.”
He tried to pull away, but their blood, even taken from a cup, had strengthed Luna’s blessings. I was strong enough to hold on unless he made it a real fight. Well, and he was still weak from the fever.
“I’m well enough,” he protested. “Karen said there’s a problem we need to talk about.”
“No,” I said, trying not to hunch, to cringe away from the reminder. “I’m just stressed.”
I could feel them looking at each other, trying to decide how to handle me. I had no interest in being handled, but I knew them well enough by now to know that Karen, at least, would not let it go.
“Fine. We’ll go to the kitchen. If we’re going to talk, then we’ll do it with you and Benj sitting down.”
Still holding Marcus’ arm, I headed down the hall, then up the stairs to the kitchen. The others followed, and I waited, arms crossed, while Marcus and Benj sat at the granite-topped island. Mama had loved that counter. She said the black granite with white speckles reminded her of the night sky.
She would have been so disappointed in me.
I hopped onto the white counter next to the sink, pulled my legs up and hugged my knees. Leyla and Victor sat down with Marcus and Benj while Karen went digging in the fridge.