Dani woke to a dark room, the sound of her phone’s ringtone echoing off the walls. She reached for it quickly so as to not wake the sleeping form pressed against her side. Her fingers fumbled with the device, the bright screen blinding as she tries to answer the call.
“Hello?” She rasped, her voice scratchy yet thick with sleep.
“Come down to the shop. Bring Nikolai and Tobias.” The voice that came through was quiet and rough, and left little room for discussion.
Dani rubbed at her eyes, pulling her phone back to glance at the time. Her irritation sparked, she’ll make room.
“It’s four in the morning, Matthias! Can’t it wait?” She grits out in annoyance, though she did begin to rise from the comfort of her bed.
“Ten minutes. I won’t ask twice, Daniella.” The call cut out with a click.
Dani stared: You didn’t even ask once.
She imagined herself reaching through the screen and throttling the man that dare disturb her peaceful slumber. She got up despite her anger, pulling a hoodie that she’d carelessly tossed onto one of the bed’s post before kicking her feet around under the bed until they found her flats. A small sigh brought Dani’s attention towards the still sleeping figure lying curled up underneath the covers. Her heart squeezed at the sight. Knowing she was short on time, Dani quickly grabbed his little sneakers from the foot of the bed and shoved them on his feet. Slowly, she wrapped him into his fluffy blue blanket before carefully lifting him from the bed and hurrying across the hall to Tobias’s room.
“Tobi!” She called out to him as quietly as she could, kicking Tobias’s sleeping form harshly. His head of mussed brown locks is all she can see of him as Tobias groans in pain and annoyance, rolling away from her with the covers pulled up over him. “Get up, Tobias!” She urges him as she tries balance herself as she kicks at him again.
“The hell do you want?” He squints at her as he rubs the now sore spot on his side. The curtains in his room were drawn and through them she could see that it was not yet dawn. Dani felt another spark of annoyance run through her.
“Matthias wants us at the shop. ASAP.”
Tobias turned and cursed into his pillow. Dani suddenly remembered that he had been on rotating shifts for a stakeout the past couple of nights as she watched him rise from his bed fully dressed and in shoes. “I can never get some sleep around here.” He snatches up a jacket from the floor and begins a rant that continues out onto the street.
“Hate to burst your bubble but you’re no special snowflake, Tobias King.” Dani looks down at the bundle in her arms, his head resting on her shoulder, little hand gripping the red string of her hoodie. “Nik’s sleep schedule has been thrown off this week.”
“A four-year-old can get all the sleep they want in the world at the drop of a hat!” Tobias scoffs, pointing a finger at Nik. “Nikolai is no exception. The damn kid can sleep anywhere.”
“My son will continue to sleep if you lower your voice.” Dani snapped at him with a pointed look, pulling Nik closer to her. Tobias huffed and crossed his arms over his chest. Some might think it was Tobias who was the four-year-old.
Tobias pouted throughout the duration of their short trek to the auto shop run by Matthias in the poorest district of Spades.
“You guys were called down too?”
Dani recognized the voice as Asher’s and she watched in awe as he materialized from the shadows of the alley beside the shop, silent as always. Tobias startled, a hand pressed to his chest over the space where his heart beats. “A warning would be nice!” He exclaimed.
Asher only smirked in response, lifting a hand to brush away the fair lock of hair that fell too close to his eyes. He reached his arms out to take Nik from Dani, leaning down to place a kiss a top her head before turning to do the same to Nik’s cheek. Usually she’d be gushing over moments like this and reaching for her phone to take a picture of such a rare pure moment with the forever stoic Asher King, instead Dani felt her nerves spike as she became more aware of the situation. Matthias didn’t call for them at such an early hour for shits and giggles.
Tobias must have been thinking the same thing, he’d stopped complaining and his face had grown somber. “Best not keep him waiting.” He pulled the door open for both Dani and Asher, casually glancing around the area as they passed him. She heard the lock slide home behind her as she followed Asher down the narrow hall into Matthias’s small office space.
Matthias was at his desk, his face a blue tint from the illumination of his computers screen. It took a moment for Dani to recognize the figures lying on the couch pushed up against the far wall of the small space, their faces partially hidden from their drawn-up hoods. Noah pushed his hood back to smile at her, shaking August’s head of unruly red curls from his shoulder. August blinked slowly, rubbing at his face with his sleeve as Noah pulled him from the couch so Asher could lay Nik down. Dani smiled as she watched the boys from the doorway, August had pulled his sweatshirt off and folded it into a makeshift pillow for Asher to lay Nik’s head on, his dark hair blending in with the fabric. Noah adjusted Nik’s blanket around him, tucking it around his little form carefully. Even Tobias expressed some concern as he started to shoo the others away from Nik so the boy could sleep in peace. She didn’t miss Matthias glance at them from time to time, moving his head slightly to get a clearer view of Nik.
“Such caring uncles.” A voice teased from over her shoulder.
Dani felt her smile stretch into a grin. “Don’t act like you don’t want to coddle him too, Roman.”
She turned to him just in time to catch his shy smile as he ducked his head. It was amusing for her to watch them like this knowing who they are and what they’ve done.
“The Kings are killers,” The people say in warning to their children and those new to the city of Spades. “Those marked with the spade crown are cold hearted and merciless against anyone that stands in their way, laughing at the destruction and chaos they leave in their wake. They’re demons and their leader, Kaden King, is the devil himself.”
These guys were her brothers, her family even if they shared no blood, and somehow Kaden had become their father. They had done some unspeakable things, she won’t deny that, it’s just what you had to do if you wanted to survive Spades. Dani looked around the room, remembering the story of how each person was brought into the life of Kings.
Matthias, the oldest at age twenty-five, the first child Kaden King ever took under his wing when Matthias was just seven-years-old. It was back when Kaden first took over the Kings from his father, a young man of twenty leading a broken gang whose members were many years older than he, taking in a child at such an age. If Mason King could have risen from the grave, he would have to knock some sense into the young and reckless Kaden King. Kaden didn’t care. He first saw Matthias stumbling down the street, bloody and bruised, shivering in the cold November air. Despite his condition, there was a fire burning in Matthias’s child eyes that sparked something in Kaden, leading him to believe that the kid was only the beginning to the rise of the Kings: and he was. Matthias’s determination to prove his worth to the man who saved him from his past and the streets of Spades lead for the Kings to gain lost territories in and around the city of Spades. It also led them to Asher.
Asher is only a year younger than Matthias and twice as bold: he sought out Kaden King himself. The first and only person who ever dared to sneak into the King’s room in the middle of the night. Kaden had been surprised that the nine-year-old kid had managed to get through all his men, even Matthias who had been sleeping in the room next to his, undetected. Kaden was even more surprised to discover that Asher had all the skills of a trained spy, offering information about the Diamonds next big targets in exchange for a warm meal and some clothes. Kaden decided to give him a home if it meant that he would spy for the Kings when necessary, an offer that had brought Asher to tears according to Matthias, though Asher always denies this part of his story.
It was Asher who found the six-year-old Daniella a year later during a stakeout on the Hearts private meetings with what he thought was a Joker, he would never find out because Dani sprinted out from a room like a bat out of hell, she was shrieking, her hands bound in front of her and tears streamed down her cheeks. It seemed to him as if she were a valued prisoner to the Hearts as they hurried to capture her using any means necessary, Asher followed after making a call to Kaden. Dani had been sold into the Hearts’ fighting ring by her parents, she’d been there for a month before she made her escape into the open arms of Kaden King. Though many would say otherwise, Dani felt as if she were the luckiest kid in the world when Kaden asked if she would like to become a King. The man never asked anything of her, people always told her that he was greedy and cruel, and he’d take what he wanted when he wanted it no matter who it hurt in the process. He gave her a choice, something that hasn’t been given to her even by her birth parents, and it was her decisions that brought her to live today at the age of twenty. Albeit not without a few close calls along the way.
“Did you call us all here to admire us?” Tobias asks Matthias irritably, breaking Dani from her reverie. She smiled ruefully to herself as she pulled herself back into the present and watch Matthias push away from his desk and advance towards them.
The story of Tobias and the younger Kings would have to be for another time.
“There was a leak of information from Kings Landing.” The room grows quiet. Matthias leans against his desk as he allows them to absorb the information.
Asher doesn’t look surprised at the news as he is the one to gather such information. Tobias chews on his lip, a nervous habit; Roman is as unreadable as Matthias, Noah and August exchange similar looks of confusion. It was Dani, the calm in every storm, who broke the silence. “What does it have to do with us?” Dani looked to Asher, “It’s your job to handle them.”
For the first time in a long time, Dani saw that Asher looked unsettled. It made her nervous.
“I did. It was who that information was taken to and why they would want it that concerns me.” Asher had taken to staring at a spot over Dani’s head as he refused to look anyone in the eye.
“Oh?” Dani felt a shiver creep up her spine as he imagination ran wild.
“The Queens have taken an interest in Nikolai.”
The air felt as if it had been sucked out of the room. The Queens, their biggest rival yet, are showing interest in her son, the youngest of the Kings. Dani felt the words as if it slapped her in the face. All eyes were on Nik now, who let out another sigh in his sleep as his fist curled into the fabric of the sweatshirt he lay on. August and Roman shifted closed to Nik as if to shield the innocent boy from Asher’s next words.
“They want him.”