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*This chapter is unedited. Feel free to point out mistakes so I can correct them later :) 


"You've seen the data, Commander Leonger. 

It will not benefit the team to have a mate pair. 

Issues will arise."

--Dr. Natalia Dyer, Royal guard field analyst, 

in a memo to Commander Adrian Leonger

"How?" Marlee asked.

"How?" I frowned at her, "How what?"

"How did you know you two were mates?"

Quiet, I picked at the edge of a newspaper. My knees were starting a dull ache--I straightened my legs and flexed the muscles there. "Wes and I--we went to the same foster home when we were kids. He was my only friend there--him and...another girl. The three of us were inseparable. Foster care does that to you--it forces you to make family in interesting ways."

"How old were you? When you went into foster care?"

I traced random patterns into my thigh. The bitter laugh bubbled up past my lips before I could stop it. "A baby." Parents didn't want me. Didn't find enough use in my existence worth keeping.

Marlee squeezed my shin. "And Wes?"

Going back to nonchalance, I said, "He came when he was six. He was two years older than me."

Surprise lit her face. "You knew he was your mate at four?"

"No! Creator, no. I was a quiet kid. Didn't say much. Wes--he looked after me." He'd become my big brother of sorts. My protector from the other kids who looked for trouble. When they threw insults, he threw them back. When they tried to take my few toys, he'd do what was necessary to get them back--even going so far as to trade his own to get them. He'd lost his bike that way. Something I still felt guilty about. "He was...he was a good kid."

Marlee's face softened. "Sounds like it."

"Anyway, we discovered the whole mate thing when I was six. He was eight. The lock on our bathroom door didn't work and that foster dad at the time had wandering hands. Wes was my door guard."

She grinned. "And you sang in the shower."

My cheeks warmed. "Everyone sings in the shower."

"That's adorable."

"It was nice at the time."

"And now?"

Slowly, robotically, I went back to sorting newspapers. "Now is different."


I was tired the next day. Enough so that waking up and getting my feet moving was like trying to move cement blocks with my pinky toe.

My memories had snuck into my dreamland and wandered there. Even in sleep, my brain refused to give me peace. My dreams had mixed with fire, with screams and pain which molded into a dark form that had me waking with a rock on my chest. With agony heavy on my skin.

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