Two Parvac warships sped from Galaxic space with two Galaxic starships following closely behind. Through the observation deck viewports, the stars which were usually soothing points of light had become dizzying blurs. I sat with my feet up watching Princess Neema play with her new favorite toy, a soft replica of an Arachnean Silk spider’s rainy season web and several stuffed silk spiders created in bright primary colors. Each spider my infant daughter pulled from the nest ended up in her mouth for a short period of time before ending up on the carpet. Thunderdrop, my bonded Arachnean Silk spider, eyed her warily from where he played with his ball.
The Lady Emma Alaric, or Gram as we all referred to her, had been correct as usual when she had warned me a week earlier that I would remain under a permanent and unrelenting scrutiny for the rest of my life. Days ago, I had been released from the Medical Bay after suffering a cardiac episode. A gel patch with a monitoring device remained stuck to my chest, and I had been forbidden to remove it. However, Dr. Svenson had no fear that I would be tempted to remove something that had tiny wires attached to my heart. The thought of doing such a thing made me cringe. Apparently, ventricular fibrillation during pregnancy could be fatal. My husbands, Lord Yukihyo Alaric Montgomery Lee and General Nico Cassian, had me under their constant surveillance. Dr. Phillip Svenson and Dr. Avitus were aware of my heart rate from wherever on board the ship they happened to be.
While the dizzying passage of the stars had me feeling a bit sick, I feared mentioning it. This was my first venture out of the Imperial quarters since my release from the infirmary. I decided to concentrate on Neema and Thunderdrop where they played on the carpet. Prince Niklos gave me a series of hard kicks causing me to laugh. Strong hands landed on my shoulders from behind my chair and began a soothing kneading motion. I closed my eyes and sighed.
“I know you crave a change in scenery, but perhaps it is time we go back to our rooms,” Yukihyo said.
“Will you play a game with me?”
“On one condition, lady wife.”
“If I win, you must select another opponent.” Yukihyo laughed and kissed my temple. Yukihyo wanted me to coerce Kaoti, my Parvac bodyguard, to play stones with me. Yukihyo got some kind of perverse satisfaction out of watching me try Kaoti’s patience.
“Fine. I won’t make Kaoti play with me though. He’s having too much fun playing with Violet.”
Violet was Kaoti’s Arachnean bride who he had convinced to move with him to Parvac. I hoped Violet would decide to reside with Kaoti in my wing of the Palace. Pierce, the nurse my grandmother had hired to help care for Neema, began making a game of placing silk spiders back into their nest. Thunderdrop attached a line of silk to his ball and dragged it behind him as he jumped to Yukihyo’s shoulder.
“I have another opponent in mind for you.”
Yukihyo grinned at me as he carefully moved my feet from the padded ottoman and helped me to stand. I wanted to complain that I wouldn’t break and that I could get up without any help, but a large part of me was terrified at the useless erratic fluttering to which my heart had been reduced a week ago. Instead of complaining, I glanced out of a viewport at the lights as we streaked past.
“Do we have to go so fast?” I asked as I took the strong arm Yukihyo offered me.
Yukihyo’s eyes had begun to return to a calm solid white, but all of the striations of color that allowed me to read his moods had yet to disappear. He had been terrified that my heart would kill me. After experiencing first hand with Dr. Crispus what the loss of a spouse could do to the emotional and psychological well-being of a Laconian, I was hesitant to cause Yukihyo any kind of upset. He and Nico often spoke in whispers attempting to hide from me their growing anxiety that I wouldn’t survive the delivery of my son. While they might be able to hide their conversations, they could no longer hide from me their emotions. That had ended when I had formed bonds with Yukihyo, Nico, and Quaid while vacationing on Sinope. My thoughts turned to Quaid, who unlike Yukihyo and Nico who watched me constantly, worried about me from the Hadrian, one of the Galaxic ships following in our wake.
As soon as Pierce had picked up Neema, we began our slow procession back to the Imperial quarters. What would happen to them if my heart stopped again and Phillip couldn’t fix it? I felt Yukihyo tremble under my hands. He said nothing, but I knew my morbid thoughts had unsettled him.
In a strained voice, Yukihyo said, “You will one day have the same white hair and wrinkled cheeks as Gram. You and she share this genetic condition. You will entertain no more thoughts of leaving me. As your husband, I order it.” Yukihyo spoke with such firm conviction and in such seriousness, that I began to laugh, hard. I couldn’t stop.
“Oh, no. Now, I have to pee.” I wiped the tears from my eyes that my fit of laughter had caused. “Oh, no. Hurry!”
I got Yukihyo to speed up our walk. Once we entered our quarters, I rushed past everyone in the sitting room without noticing their faces and made it to my bathroom with no time to spare where I continued to laugh to myself. What Yukihyo had said hadn’t been funny or even meant to be taken humorously, and I wondered if I might be having a breakdown. I calmed myself down and splashed cold water on my face from the sink. I stared at my pale reflection and the dark circles under my eyes. I was scared. This wasn’t someone from whom I could run away or protect myself. I had to worry about my own body killing me, but even worse, I had Niklos depending on my body, too. I couldn’t let anything happen to him. Feeling sorry for myself and hiding in the bathroom to cry wouldn’t do Niklos or me any good. I patted my face dry and walked out to the sitting room.
Nico hurried to me and guided me to the couch where he lifted my feet up and covered me with a soft white blanket. “Are you feeling well enough for visitors?” Nico asked. Thin lines spread out from the corners of my blonde giant’s eyes.
“If it is someone who will play a stones game with me, yes. If it is someone with needles, injectors, and medical devices, no.”
Nico stared at my face recognizing immediately the signs of my tears when he saw them. He rubbed his thumb across my cheek as he rested his fingers along my jaw.
“I assure you. I have brought nothing with me to annoy you other than myself.” The sound of the deep calm voice was like finally hearing a piece of music after struggling for days to recall the tune.
“Xavier?” The end of my nose began to tingle, and rapidly I blinked away the growing moisture in my eyes. “Xavier, is it really you?”
Nico moved to sit on the couch placing my feet in his lap as he did so.
“Yes, Teagan. I am here.”
Once Nico’s large body was out of my line of sight, I held my arms open. “I had begun to fear you were just a dream, an imaginary friend I had invented in my troubled sleep.”
Xavier hesitated in front of me before going to his knees on the plush carpet beside me. I wrapped my arms around his neck and breathed in the scent of him feeling the same comfort I took from doing the same with Neema. An involuntary relieved sob escaped me, but sensing an increase in my heart rate, the monitor stuck to my chest made those beats audible to everyone in the room. Suddenly, calm fell over me like a gauzy scarf. My emotions were thinly shielded from me, but my thoughts and awareness were not dimmed as was the case when Yukihyo or Isidora calmed me. My heart returned to its approved rate silencing the monitor. Thunderdrop, at the sound of the monitor, had jumped from the table upon which Sue, his octopus, resided in her tank, to perch atop Niklos and blink at me.
“Aren’t you going to hug me back?” When I felt Xavier’s hand awkwardly patting my back, I gave his neck a little more of a squeeze. Then, I loosened my arms and kissed his cheek before leaning back against my pillows. I examined his brown hair, strong nose, and nice lips. Xavier looked as Jazon, Xander, and Rozz did. I placed my hands to either side of Xavier’s face. There was one very obvious difference between Xavier and his brothers. “Cool. How’d that happen? Do you see the same out of each of your eyes? Do you get an ache in one eye or the other if it’s too bright outside?”
Xavier’s deep laughter rumbled through me like it had been long trapped under a mountain of boulders that only now tumbled away as it freed itself.
“What?” I asked.
Xavier’s smile transformed his face into a thing of beauty. “Yours is not the reaction to which I have become accustomed.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“Laconian women tend to either fear or revile me,” Xavier said.
“Well, Parvac women will be wanting to tend to you in other ways. I hope you know how to defend yourself.” I narrowed my eyes at Xavier. “We are in space. We’ve been headed toward home for days. How did you get on board Kane’s ship?”
“My brothers and I boarded this vessel while on Arachne after the apprehension of our father.”
“That was a week ago. Were you injured?”
“Were you sick?”
“Okay, let me get this straight, Xavier. You’ve been on this ship with me for a week. You weren’t hurt or sick, but you are only now stopping by to say hello?”
Xavier stared at me with one black eye and one white eye. I pursed my lips at him and felt my jaw begin to clinch. “That is correct,” he said.
I pinched his arm. His hand covered the spot, and he looked at me with what I assumed to be shock. Angrily, I said, “Shame on you. I didn’t know you were here or what had happened to you. You didn’t call, speak to me in my mind, or anything. However, you were steps away the entire time?”
“Teagan, calm down or Xavier will be forced to leave,” Nico said.
“Oh, he’s not going anywhere. Where is everyone else?”
Nico answered while Xavier continued to stare at me in stunned silence. “Your doctors are only allowing you a visitor or two a day.”
I rolled my eyes. “They are such controlling….”
“Teagan, not in front of the baby,” Yukihyo admonished as he placed my stones game on a table and positioned it within reach. Yukihyo motioned Xavier toward a chair and began chuckling softly to himself. Xavier reached for the white pieces.
“No, Xavier. I use the white pieces. I’m a princess. You get the black ones. Oh, your uniform will be black, too. Papa wants me to wear white to formal occasions. You can go first.” Nico smirked at Xavier while rubbing my feet. As Xavier began to beat me for the third game in a row, I asked, “Everyone is here, even Zared?”
Looking at me with a solid black eye and a white eye laced with pink, gold, orange, and grey, Xavier said, “Yes, Princess Probus. We are all on board. While our feelings for our father range from mixtures of intense anger, pity, betrayal, and love, we all agree that the Parvac Empire has demonstrated considerable compassion and understanding. We are grateful.”
I blushed. “Dr. Stanley Crispus is a difficult man with whom to empathize, but my family helped me to see him more clearly. I just can’t understand or forgive him for not saving my mother.” Wondering what it might have been like to grow up basking in the love of my parents caused a deep ache within me that I feared would never go away. “How can we truly understand a man motivated by his own delusional madness?” Not knowing the answer to my own question, I shrugged and lost another game.
“Alright, Cupcake. You’ve played with your new little friend long enough. It’s time for your nap,” Phillip said.
Traces of blue and red entered Xavier’s white eye. Recognizing the signs of rage when I saw them, I laughed and covered Xavier’s hand with mine. “Phillip is bossy because he is my big brother and loves me. Be nice.” Through my touch, I tried to send my feelings of love and trust for Phillip to Xavier. When the red and blue vanished from his eye and his black eye began to lighten around the edges, I laughed and silently congratulated myself for my success. I squeezed Xavier’s hand. “I’m happy you’re here. I hope you and all of my new brothers will be happy with me in the Parvac Empire.” I pictured Xavier finding himself a cute Thalassan wife and having cute babies with eyes like his.
“Teagan,” Phillip scolded.
Xavier stood, bowed to me, and excused himself. Nico stood, picked me up, and carried me into our room. After I had changed into a gown and been tucked into bed, Phillip ran his scanner over me. Then, he pulled an injector from his pocket and pressed it to my arm.
“Phillip, all of those times you stuck me with an injector, it wasn’t always vitamins, was it?”
Phillip’s blonde head lifted from his attention on my arm, and I caught a flash of his blue eyes. “No, Cupcake. It wasn’t. I want you to try to rest for a while. Alright?”
I nodded. “Phillip, am I dying?”
He froze, turned, and sat on the bed beside me. “I won’t let anything happen to you. We are prepared for the worst.”
“What’s the worst?”
Phillip took my hand in his and rubbed his thumb over the top of my hand. He stared at my hand and not my eyes. I stared at his eyelashes. “Should your heart fail, we have an artificial one prepared.” I watched Phillip’s eyes as they went to my stomach and quickly returned to our hands.
“This is serious, Teagan.”
My throat began to ache. “Phillip, you have to swear to me right now that you won’t let anything happen to my baby.”
Phillip’s eyes locked onto mine. “No, Teagan. You mean too much. We can’t lose you. He’s far enough along to have a fighting chance.”
“Phillip, I can’t lose my baby. I’ve survived a lot but not that. You have to promise me that if it comes down to a choice between saving me or my baby, you will save my baby.”
“Teagan, you can have more children,” Phillip said quietly as he wiped at his eyes. He held the fingers of his hand at the base of his nose with his eyes squeezed shut.
I whispered, “Promise me, Phillip.”
Phillip made a choked noise, but nodded and said, “I promise. Teagan, damn it. You will do every single thing I tell you to do. Do you understand me? Everything. You will not argue or get into a snit about it.” Phillip looked at me now with red eyes, but used his index finger to wipe my tears away.
“If I die, try to keep my family together. They’ll need each other.”
“No more of this talk, Teagan.” Phillip stood and kicked his shoes off. Then, he removed his belt and climbed into bed beside me.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to hold you while you sleep. Do you have a problem with that?”
“No, Yukihyo and Nico might.”
“They went to the exercise deck to let off some steam.”
“They are afraid, aren’t they?”
“We all love you.”
“I love all of you, too.”
Phillip stroked my hair until I fell asleep.
On the exercise deck, sweat dripped from the shirtless chests of Yukihyo, Nico, Eli, and Xavier as they deflected each other’s punches and kicks. Nico landed a fierce blow to Yukihyo’s thigh but failed to defend himself from contact in his jaw from Eli’s fist.
“I feel her giving up. She expects to die,” Yukihyo said with eyes that appeared more orange than white in his despair.
Xavier swept Eli’s legs out from under him and leapt away.
“Have you spoken to Quaid?” Nico asked as he glided to a spot out of Yukihyo’s reach.
“He has submitted to his captain a request for a leave of absence,” Yukihyo said as his foot sailed over the space Eli’s head had just occupied.
Across the deck, Yukihyo’s new clan members engaged in similar battles. Their fear of losing Teagan was just as real and painful as his own.
“I have a plan to put the fight back into her,” Nico said.
“How?” Eli asked moments before Yukihyo’s knee struck him in the side.
“I will exploit a subheading in our marriage contract. In times of war, I control her movements. When I take matters to the extreme and forbid her to set foot off of the Palace grounds, she will be furious. She will fight to hold onto her life while fighting against my tyranny.”
Yukihyo stopped moving. “She will be livid. Do you mean to prevent her visits even to the Valens?” Yukihyo asked.
“Yes, nothing could anger her more,” Nico answered grimly.
“She will hate you and refer to you with unsavory language,” Yukihyo warned.
Nico grinned. “I don’t mind. I’ll get her to forgive me later.”
Yukihyo snorted. “How will you manage that?”
“With my mouth between her legs,” Nico wickedly answered.