Half an hour later, the Arab set her down on her feet just inside ‘base’, and Arana glanced around.
Last place was a hotel, this place was a house. Large open living room, a giant fireplace, plain whitewashed walls, huge bay windows with actual curtains, a cream-tiled kitchen, and several worn couches. Everything was clean too. And warm. The only odd thing was that were no decorations and no other furniture but the couches and a lone table with an odd number of chairs. She could only assume there were beds somewhere.
“Nice place,” she muttered, though it was hard to tell if she was being sarcastic or not.
“It’s the furthest thing we could find from a warehouse,” Christoph told her, walking past.
“I hate warehouses,” his partner muttered as he followed, pushing Medic ahead of him.
The last two, Ruby and Wolf, said nothing, simply dragging their gear into the house and vanished up the stairs.
“Me too,” Arana mumbled. She pulled away from Dari and walked over to the couch, plopping down. “I’m sorry.” Her face was turned toward the fireplace, eyes sweeping over it. “I keep putting you two through so much crap.”
Dari took off his shoes and walked over to sit next to her, frowning faintly. She always ended up doing this. The apologizing.
The chemist walked out of the kitchen, holding a couple of beers and a whiskey bottle. He handed a bottle to Medic, kept one for himself, and set the whiskey down by her elbow. “Stop running away,” he said shrugging. “We’ll always be chasing after you anyway, and it’s just easier if you stay with your partner if not the whole group.”
“Not that we’re forcing you into some kind of marriage,” Svorak added, leaning over the back of the couch to hand her a glass. “But fucking tell us when you run into trouble.”
She smiled faintly, accepting the glass. “Well, by the time I’m in it, it’s too late, and trouble never gives me time anyway.” She took the whiskey bottle and poured a glass, offering it to the Arab, who shook his head. She looked at the drink in her hand. “You boys are sweet on me. I’d like to stick around… I just… I keep…” She sighed.
“How long have you known them?” Dari asked, brows lifting. When she didn’t answer, he snorted. “A while, then. And they’re still alive.”
Dark and pale brows rose. Svorak shrugged a little. “Dari, what do you like to drink?” he asked, moving off the couch back.
The tall dark man glanced at him. “You don’t have it,” he replied. “A beer’ll be fine. Thanks.”
Barking out a laugh, Svorak grinned. “Geez, make me feel inadequate. I’ll get you that beer.”
Christoph smiled and watched as his partner sauntered back to the kitchen, then brought his gaze back down, bouncing between the Arab and the… Mentally, the chemist shrugged and settled on ‘woman’. “Dari knows this,” he drawled, “but maybe you don’t realize. No offense, Lady, but our profession doesn’t have retirement packages. We don’t usually live very long. So whatever we can get, we grab.”
Lifting a hand, he waved between himself and the kitchen. “It took me five years to convince Svorak he couldn’t just walk away from me out of fear that I would disappear. I have full faith that Dari would chase you for even longer. According to Medic, the big lug worries about me when I’m not around and when I’m in danger. Especially after he realized I was actively hunting him down.”
The blond took a drag on the bottle and frowned for a moment. “There’s safety in numbers, but there’s never a guarantee. Only, if you have something precious, you hold on to it. Cuz it never lasts. So, grab the time while you can.”
“I plan on it,” Dari added, quietly, eying her.
For a long time, she didn’t say a word. It was long enough that Svorak returned with Dari’s beer, and the ice in her glass melted. The others shifted, the blond and his lover speaking softly off to the side. Her partner relaxed against the couch with a resigned sigh.
And then she sighed. “Could I… stay with you a while?” she asked, voice just loud enough for the two somewhere behind her to hear.
The men leaning against the back of the couch traded glances. Christoph nudged his partner with a hip and murmured, “Is she asking us?”
The other man shrugged, “She should know she doesn’t have to.”
“You know, she’ll drink your whiskey stash dry right?”
Svorak gaped at his lover for a moment, then: “Naw, she’s probably talking to Dari. I mean, sex. Helloo.”
The blond reached out and thwacked the other over the head. “Not everything is about sex.”
There was a very long pause.
“Okay, maybe she’s asking Dari. I dunno. Wait and see?”
“That was the plan.”
And the two of them lapsed into silence. Neither had turned to look at the pair on the couch.
The Arab watched her, blinking bemusedly, also wondering much the same thing… and then he nearly fell over in shock as she suddenly burst into a fit of helpless giggles. Chuckling, okay. Short laughter, sure. Giggles? Not Arana.
“That was a general question,” she gasped out after a moment, aware they were all staring. “As in all three of you.”
Svorak snorted and Christoph twisted around to give her an arch look. “You expect Dari to live in the same zip code as this guy?” he asked, jerking a thumb at his lover.
“Not to mention, you aren’t exactly quiet,” Svorak retorted, narrowing his eyes on the blond.
The chemist straightened in mock affront and glared at the man at his side. “Excuse me?”
Rolling his eyes, the black man arched his back to look past his partner and straight at Arana and her Arab. “If Dari’s fine with it, then yes,” he answered finally. “But only if he brings in that drink he likes so much,” he added with a grin.
Dari’s brows lifted when she looked at him, and he smiled faintly. “I know a guy,” he said thoughtfully. “Can import.”
Her entire expression lit up like a Christmas tree. “That’s a yes?”
“Yes,” Dari said, and snorted. “Like I could tell you no.”
There was a cough from Svorak, and then a wheeze as the taller man elbowed him.
Christoph turned with a wide smile. “Welcome to the household then!” He lifted his bottle as his partner grumbled and lifted his own tumbler.
Smirking, Dari nodded, lifting his beer lazily, while she hopped up and lifted her own glass before guzzling it. Then she smiled. “I feel like cooking,” she said thoughtfully.
Behind her, Dari choked on his drink and shook his head quickly and hard at the other two, flailing a bit. ‘NO! NO!’ he mouthed.
One man smiled wide. The other taller one opened his mouth. “I think Dari is offering to taste test.”
She turned, smirking at her lover, who looked like he might decide to launch himself straight off a bridge. He jumped up. “Pizza! On me. Many as you want, Arana!”
He winced. “Yes, even twenty.”
Author’s note: And there ends the introductory arc.