Ture moved to cover her. Though he lacked her skill, he was by no means weak. Nor helpless.
A new group of soldiers rushed them. Zarya leveled her blaster at them and pulled the trigger, only to discover it was out of charges.
Ture cursed under his breath. Leave it to his luck...
Turning the blaster around in her hand, she intended to use it as a blunt object. But the men didn’t make it to them. Before they could reach her or him, blasts struck the soldiers and sent them to the ground at their feet.
Ture put himself between Zarya and whatever new threat was coming for them.
A second later, the smoke cleared to show another fighter in a burgundy battlesuit checking the fallen League soldiers for life signs.
This new soldier had barely stepped inside before he was attacked by three more League soldiers.
Even though he was wounded in multiple places, the newcomer used skills that defied description. He turned and caught the first League soldier with a blow so hard, he shattered his attacker’s nose. The next one, he flipped and stabbed. The third soldier paused as he saw what awaited him in the bodies that were littered all over the room.
Eyes wide, he ran outside.
The newcomer turned to face them.
Ture wasn’t sure what to make of him as he looked to Zarya to see if she knew this one. One glance and it was obvious she’d never seen him before.
Bleeding profusely from several wounds, the newcomer froze the instant he saw them. Then he spoke in a language Ture didn’t recognize.
More blasts ricocheted in the hallway behind him.
In one smooth, impressive move, the soldier hit the floor, slid on his knees and spun around to shoot the three guards who ran in behind him. Without hesitating, he body rolled until he came to a stop by their side.
Ignoring Ture, he touched Zarya’s shoulder with a gentle hand. “Zarya?”
Tears filled her eyes as she sobbed and fell into the soldier’s arms. “Maris?”
Ture’s heart pounded at the name of the man she’d talked about for countless hours. In her esteem, Maris was second only to her beloved Darling.
The newcomer holstered his weapon. “Can you walk, honey?”
Before she could respond, the room was invaded by even more League soldiers.
Jerking his weapon out again, Maris jumped to his feet and opened fire, forcing the soldiers back into the hallway. Oblivious to the fact that he was wounded, he fought on. Ture had never seen anything like it. How could Maris stand so strong and bleed like that?
But even more incredulous was the fact that Maris had come to rescue them. Period.
Zarya had been right. There were decent humans in the universe after all. Who’d have ever guessed?
As soon as Maris set the League soldiers fleeing, he returned to their side.
Ture helped Zarya to her feet. She took one step before her legs buckled. Faster than Ture could blink, Maris scooped her up into his arms. “Don’t worry, sweetie. I’ve got you.”
Ture hissed as he saw the targeting laser appear on Maris’s uniform. Without thought, he jumped in front of it. But no one fired.
Instead, a man dressed in a black Sentella uniform stood in the doorway as if frozen in place.
“Zarya?” he breathed. His tone that of a prayer.
“Darling?” Zarya said, her voice breaking as she reached for him.
Ture couldn’t move as he stared in total disbelief. God love her, she’d been right to put her faith in her king. In spite of his family name and birthright, Darling Cruel was everything she’d said and then some.
Stunned to the deepest level, he watched as Maris handed her off to Darling who held her as if she was the most precious thing in the entire universe.
Gods, to have one person hold him like that . . . .
“I knew you’d come for me,” she sobbed, laying her hand against Darling’s helmet that kept his identity completely hidden from his enemies. “I knew it.”
Ture caught himself against the wall as the room spun. For a moment, he thought he’d go down. But by some other miracle, he stayed on his feet. “She never once lost faith in you, Majesty.”
All of a sudden, Maris was next to him, helping him to catch his balance. He pulled Ture’s arm around his shoulders and held him close.
Still, Ture couldn’t believe they were here. “I told her it wasn’t feasible. That you’d never find us, but she was right. She said you’d promised her that you would bust hell itself open to get to her. And that you never lied.” Ture tried to take a step, but it was useless. His battered body was through.
Ture fully expected to hit the floor.
He didn’t. Instead, Maris swept him up in his arms and held him.
Maris tightened his grip to keep him safe. “Don’t worry. We’ll get you to help.”
It was inconceivable. Ture frowned at the blood on his hand that hadn’t come from him or Zarya. “You need a medic as much as I do.”
Even though he had him fully cradled, Maris shrugged. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
Yeah, right. At six foot one, Ture was anything but small. And while he was lean, he was all muscle and not light of weight.
Yet Maris carried him past Darling and Zarya as if he weighed nothing at all.
Just as they reached the door, a shot went past them.
Zarya had used Darling’s blaster to drive back another League soldier.
Maris fell back into the room, spun with Ture in his arms and then set Ture down on the floor. “They’re coming fast and furious,” he warned the others.
With an obvious reluctance, Darling placed Zarya on the ground beside Ture. “Let them bring it with all they have. You ready, Mari?”
Maris answered with laughter in his tone. “You know I hate fighting. But I think a little payback for my damaged battlesuit might actually make me feel better for once.”
“I know it’ll do great things for me.” Darling pulled a fully charged blaster off his holster and exchanged it for the one Zarya had shot. “Stay behind us.”
Maris handed one of his blasters to Ture. “Do you know how to shoot?”
Ture scowled at the foreign feel of the weapon in his hand. Ironically, his father had tried to teach him for years and he’d always sucked terribly. He offered a lopsided grin at Maris. “Not straight... in more ways than one. But if I aim at their feet I can hopefully wound them until one of you finishes them off. And that way if I really miss, I won’t kill an ally. You’ll just limp a little.”
Maris laughed. “Thanks for the consideration. I’m Maris Sulle, by the way, and I should probably warn you that it didn’t go well for the last guy who accidentally wounded me.”
With Maris’s air of bad ass machismo, Ture could just imagine. And he was doubly glad he wasn’t the one who’d shot him. “I’m Zarya’s friend, Ture Xans.”
“Nice meeting you.”
Well at least Maris had manners. Even in the middle of battle.
Darling tapped his link. “Hauk? Are you still evacing the civs?”
“Yeah. Are you pinned?”
“No. We’re coming out of the last cell. I just didn’t want you to shoot us by mistake. I know how caught up you get in a fight.”
Hauk hissed. “Why are you bitching about that again? I only shot you once and it was an accident caused by your premature explosion problem. Had you not startled me while I was changing our charges, it wouldn’t have happened.”
“Anyway,” Darling said, ignoring the outburst. “There are four of us. Don’t fire.”
Darling turned back to them. “Can you two walk at all?”
“Are you kidding?” Zarya asked. “Right now I could fly.”
Nodding, Ture agreed. “To get out of hell, I’d skip to the beat of the worst song ever recorded. Even if it means dragging my entrails behind me.”
Darling snorted. “We’ll go slow and if your entrails happen to start dragging, please let us know.” Then, he and Maris headed for the door.
“Stay put and we’ll be right back for you,” Maris said.
For the first time ever, Ture believed those words.
Ture waited behind with Zarya while Darling and Maris opened fire and made a pathway for them. Fearless and skilled, they moved in total synchrony.
Impressed with both their skills, Ture frowned at Zarya. “Are you sure Maris is gay?”
She smiled at him. “Absolutely.”
Ture wasn’t so sure. Not that he believed in stereotypes of any kind. He’d known many gay men who didn’t betray themselves. At least not to outsiders. But with Maris...
He really hid it well.
Maris returned to help them to their feet while Darling stood guard at the door.
They stayed behind Maris and Darling with Zarya giving cover fire while they walked slowly down the hall, then up the stairs with Darling and Maris taking turns to help them. Ture’s head was light and his stomach churned. Worse, the stench of burning wires aggravated his nausea.
Please don’t let me be sick.
Not when they were so close to finally getting out of here. He wanted nothing to delay this escape. Especially not with something that would make him look weak in front of Maris and Darling.
No sooner had they reached the upstairs landing than the entire building went dark. Maris and Darling fell back to cover them.
Darling swapped out his charges. “We’re on our way,” he said to someone who must have spoken to him through his link. “Just a few minutes more.”
They moved forward again.
As they rounded a corner, a group of assassins opened fire. Darling shielded Zarya while Maris covered Ture.
“Don’t worry,” Maris said softly to Ture as he placed a hand on his uninjured shoulder. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
Those words stunned him as much as Maris’s possessive hold. He wasn’t used to people who didn’t toss others out to protect their own asses.
Darling cursed. “I could really use the tricom right now.”
Zarya offered him an apologetic grimace. “Sorry. It was broken when I was taken.”
“Figures.” Darling cleared the assassins with a small bomb then nodded to Maris. They started moving again.
Slowly, they made their way down the hall until they met up with Nemesis who was helping a large group of prisoners get to safety.
Ture froze as he caught sight of the most feared free assassin known. This was a creature who had mercy on no one. It was said he’d even murdered his own father. Just for practice. And while Ture was far from small, this creature towered over him.
Even so, Darling and Maris greeted him like a friend.
“Is everyone out?” Darling asked the legendary killer.
Nemesis nodded. “The last group is coming down behind you, right now.”
Thank the gods Nemesis was on their side. But still...
This day couldn’t get any more surreal or bizarre.
Prisoners and Sentella soldiers filled the hallway. To his utter shock, Maris cupped Ture’s cheek in his gloved hand. “You still with us?”
Ture nodded as his vision dimmed. How he wished he knew what Maris looked like. But right then, Maris could have two heads and reptilian skin and he’d be beautiful to him.
Maris checked Ture’s pulse. “Catch your breath, sweetie. We’re almost out of here. Just lean on me as much as you need to.”
How pathetic that those words were the kindest thing anyone had ever said to him.
More than that, Maris draped Ture’s arm around his shoulders and held him tight against his side while he kept his other hand free to shoot.
Suddenly, the walls around them flickered and blinked as someone turned on the video monitors. Out of nowhere, a man’s face appeared all around them, on every wall. Floor to ceiling. Handsome and cruel, the man had one eye covered by a patch.
Maris cursed under his breath.
“Who is it?” Ture asked him.
“Kyr Zemin. High Commander of the League and my idiot brother.”
Now there was something Zarya had neglected to tell him. The man she’d been scheming to set him up with was related to the very nutcase who’d held and tortured them.
That didn’t bode well for Maris’s mental stability. Which meant Ture would fall in love with him and then get his ass kicked for it.
A furious tic beat in Kyr’s jaw. “Do you know who I am?”
Nemesis snorted derisively. “We know. We just don’t give a shit.”
Curling his lip, Kyr raked him with a repugnant glare. “You have breached the sanctity of one of our prisons. Have you any idea the sentence you’ve brought down on your heads?”
Now it was Darling’s turn to scoff. “Add it to the other twelve dozen death sentences we carry.”
Kyr’s tic picked up speed. “I don’t think you truly understand the magnitude of what you’re doing. Return my prisoners to their cells or—”
“Fuck. You,” Darling snarled, punctuating each word.
Kyr’s nostrils flared. “Those prisoners do not belong to you. They are League property. You have absolutely no right to them.”
Before anyone realized what he was doing, Darling snatched his helmet off and threw it to the ground so hard, it bounced three feet high.
Maris’s grip on Ture tightened. “Damn his temper. How can you love someone so much and still want to put your foot up their sphincter?”
Ture had no idea, and Kyr held the same shocked expression he was pretty sure marked his own face. While everyone around them, including Kyr, was rendered speechless and spellbound by Kere’s real identity, Ture’s shock came from the stupidity of Darling revealing himself to the one person who could seriously screw up his life.
But what made Ture want to choke Darling most was the fact that Zarya had been tortured for a secret he’d just callously revealed. She should have saved herself the misery and given it up the first day they were taken.
Fearlessly stupid, Darling went straight to the wall on the right and leveled a killing glare at Kyr. “The hell you say. They are
people, not yours. You sent your army into my territory and took not just my citizens, but
. How dare you!”
Kyr gave Zarya a look that said she hadn’t bathed in a month or more. “She’s not your consort.”
Darling shook his head in denial. “She wears my ring and was officially bound to me when we were children—something sanctified and approved by your predecessor.”