Time with Sebastian seemed to pass faster. Twice a week, the two of us and the girls would have dinner together--usually after their dance classes. Every Saturday, without fail, we made plans for the girls to play. Seb had grown more likely to refer to them as our dates instead of the girls’ playdates, however. The label change was welcome, though.
Regardless of how fast things seemed to be going in the span of months, I noticed how much I’d let myself go with Sebastian. After the ring incident, I’d more or less cleared him of further suspicion. My powers had been used to deduce whether people were threats, whether they were lying, for decades, after all. If Seb had been attempting to capture me or surveil me for the Ring, I would’ve known.
Anyway, the Ring knew how my abilities worked. They sent the bugged jewelry in place of a deep cover agent, because they knew I’d see through them the second they came within my range. That was what had made me valuable to them, and the organization was smarter than that.
With the suspicion settled, Seb and I had just fell into an easy routine with one another. We chatted about work, about the girls, Aurora, some of his friends, it wasn’t as though we ran out of things to talk about. We tended to steer clear of conversations regarding our pasts, but they came up every once in a while. The second I noticed him attempting to get on the subject, the ring on my finger seemed to weigh one-hundred pounds more. I’d change the subject or dance around the topic. If I said a goddamn word, or if he revealed some of the more sensitive information I’d told him during that first conversation, everything would go downhill fast.
The Ring would show up at my home, execute everyone on the premises, and have me back at HQ before I could so much as take my own life to avoid all the hassle.
As long as things remained similar to how they had been, everything would be fine. Surveillance was something I could live with as long as Seb didn’t push on the subject of either of our pasts or the Ring. But, I could usually catch it before he brought it up, simply because it changed his mood a bit, and I automatically picked up on it.
“How about you and Maggie come back to the house for dinner tonight?” I said, curbing Seb’s impulse to bring up The Topic.
He nodded. “Sure. You sure you and Blaine aren’t sick of us yet?”
I snorted softly, shaking my head. “Maggie’s a sweetheart, we couldn’t get sick of her.” I grinned, tracing my fingertips over the back of his hand. “You aren’t what I’d call a pest either.”
“How sweet of you to say.” Seb chuckled, leaning forward a bit, edging closer. Another impulse hit him, but that one was different, filled with nervous energy and maybe a bit of lust. Seb’s eyes trailed down to my lips as he ran his tongue over his own.
Even though we’d been doing the dating and playdate thing for a few months, we still hadn’t gotten much farther than hand-holding. It wasn’t for lack of trying, because we both seemed ready to take the particular leap. What kept standing in the way was the girls. Neither of us had any clue how to broach the subject of our relationship with our daughters, so we decided to keep it platonic in front of them until we were more confident in the relationship ourselves. That meant we had to keep anything like kissing to ourselves, which was difficult when all of our time together was spent during business hours or on playdates.
I looked away from Seb, watching as Blaine and Maggie ran over to us. “Yes, little one?”
“Maggie and I wanna play dress up. Can we go home?”
I nodded. “Sure. Seb and Maggie were going to come over for supper anyway.” I glanced over at Seb. “You good with leaving the park now?”
“Sure, it’s up to you two.” He ruffled Maggie’s hair as he stood from the bench, then turned to extend a hand to me.
I took it, letting him pull me to my feet. “Maybe we can make some tea, get comfortable for the evening.”
Seb cocked a brow at me. “I’m sure we’ll find something to do for the evening.”
I teleported the four of us back to my home. The park vanished in place of the front gate. I opened it up and let Blaine, Maggie, and Seb through first. We went inside, and the girls dashed upstairs to play while Seb and I headed into the kitchen. He took a seat at the dining table--his usual spot--while I went over to the counter to pull out a small box of peppermint tea.
“Want a cup?” I asked, glancing back at Seb.
I set to work on brewing the tea, making cups for the girls as well. Once it was set, I walked over and leaned against the kitchen counter, right in front of Seb. “I know what you were trying to do at the park,” I said, smirking.
A light pink tint colored his cheeks. “Picked up on that, huh?”
“Mhm.” I folded my arms over my chest. “I’m not sure in the middle of a park with our curious children was the best place though.”
“When do you suggest then?”
I shrugged, chewing my lower lip as I toyed with a stray string on the sleeve of my shirt. “Maybe we could have a date with just the two of us one night. Aurora could watch the girls for a couple hours, we could have dinner, look at the stars… We’ve only had one date with just the two of us, so it might not hurt to steal another.”
Seb nodded slowly, latching onto the idea. “I’ll talk to her about it.”
“Let me,” I said. “She still owes me for the last wedding she dragged me to.”
Seb snorted, but agreed. Once the tea finished, we drank in a comfortable silence. With the girls laughter and feet thumping against the floor above us, Seb and I sat with our fingers intertwined, staring out the French doors at the back yard covered in obnoxiously colored flowers--just what Blaine had picked when we’d gone shopping for flowers to plant in our garden over the spring.
As the evening grew later, Seb and I made dinner while the girls created fruit people by placing pieces of fruit on toothpicks, which we had for dessert. Since it wasn’t a school night, we piled into the living room afterward and put on a movie. The girls laid together in the floor, heads propped up on their hands. Behind them, Seb and I sat on the sofa in the center. He had an arm around my shoulders, and I leaned my head on his shoulder.
It was cozy and simple, and I could see that being the rest of my life. If that were the case, I would consider my life to have turned out perfect. That was all I could really hope to have at that point, anyway--a healthy, happy family that I loved and that loved me. And as long as things remained quiet and Seb didn’t start interrogating me again, safety wouldn’t be an issue either.
“I don’t feel good.”
I startled, pulling back from Seb when I saw Maggie had gotten up and come over to us. She stood in front of her father, lower lip jutted out and blue eyes teary.
Seb brushed her hair back from her face. “What’s wrong?”
“My tummy hurts,” she sniffled.
“Oh, baby, come here.” Seb slid forward and wrapped his daughter in his arms, hugging her tightly. He glanced back at me. “We’d better go--”
“Stay.” I bit my lip, hesitating for a second. I hadn’t meant to spit it out, but Seb felt weird, possibly disappointed, like he wasn’t quite ready to go. And Maggie certainly didn’t feel up to more than laying down and getting some rest. While the teleport would be fueled through Seb’s magic, the magical transport could make the symptoms worse. “You guys should stay,” I said at last. “We have a spare room, and this way you won’t have to move her any more than necessary.”
Slowly, Seb nodded, the idea seeming more appealing to him. “Yeah, sure. Thanks, Plato.”
“It’s no trouble.” I stood up and motioned for them to follow me. “I’ll show you guys up to the guest room. Little one, will you go upstairs and find Maggie a pair of pajamas she can borrow?”
Blaine nodded and darted past us to get to her bedroom. Seb followed with Maggie on his hip as we trekked up the stairs and halfway down the hall to the guest room. It was right next to Blaine’s room and right across from mine. I turned the blankets down so Seb could get her comfortable.
“I have some anti-nausea medicine in the cabinet if she wants it,” I said, stepping back to give Seb and Maggie more room to get settled.
“That’d be great, Plato.”
“I’ll be right back.” I left the room and took the meds from the bathroom. As I headed back to the guest room, Blaine met me in the hallway, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt in her hands. “Thank you, little one.”
She beamed. “I’m giving her a shirt with birds on it, cause she loves birds, and they might make her feel better.”
I smiled. “That’s very thoughtful. I’m sure she’ll love it.”
When we went into the guest room, Maggie was puking into the trashcan next to the bed. Seb sat next to her, pulling her hair back into a ponytail and rubbing her back, speaking softly to her. His gaze jumped up to us as we came in.
I held up the medicine bottle and tossed it over to him. It landed on the bed next to him. Blaine put the pajamas at the foot of the bed and cocked her head at Maggie as she sat back up, away from the trash can.
“I brought you a shirt with birds. I hope it makes you feel better.”
Maggie smiled a little, but didn’t say anything.
Blaine waved. “Goodnight, Maggie. Don’t puke on my stuff.”
I shook my head and pinched the bridge of my nose. “Go ahead and start getting ready for bed, little one. I’ll be by in a second to read, okay?”
Once she left, I looked over Maggie’s head at Seb. “If either one of you guys need anything, just text me. I’ll be awake for a while, so don’t hesitate. And just let me know if you want some pajama pants or something.”
“Maggie, I hope you feel better. Sleep tight.” I waved awkwardly and took my leave, pulling the door shut behind me.
While it certainly wasn’t how I imagined Seb’s first night staying over at my house, I didn’t mind it. Helping him and Maggie didn’t feel as weird anymore, and I actually almost enjoyed it when Seb took my offers. They always made him feel warmer and comfortable, like he could trust me more.
For starting out as nothing more than shop neighbors, Seb and I had built a solid relationship for being so fucked up. But, neither one of us had had much opportunity for our fucked-upedness to wreak havoc yet.
Not allowing myself to dwell on that thought after such a good night, I went into Blaine’s room and tucked her into bed. Once she was off to sleep, I padded back downstairs and tidied up the living room. Every few minutes, I stopped to check my phone for any texts from Seb. An hour passed and the kitchen and living room were clean. Another hour passed and I found myself sprawled on the sofa, eyes half-lidded, watching the news.
Right as I felt myself starting to doze off, my phone vibrated against my chest.
Seb: You still awake?
Plato: Yeah. You and Maggie okay?
Seb didn’t respond for a few minutes. I sighed, put my phone down, and started to heave myself off the sofa when I heard footsteps on the stairs. As I sat up, I saw Seb walk through the door. His hair was more tousled than usual and a sleepy light shone in his soft blue eyes. Relief and exhaustion radiated off him in gentle waves.
“She’s asleep,” he said, walking around the sofa to sit at my feet. “Before she nodded off she seemed to be doing better.”
I nodded. “Think it was something she ate?”
“I bet it was that stomach bug that’s going around school. She seemed a little flushed this morning, but I figured it’d be better to let her play than to keep her cooped up in the house when she was feeling well for most of the day.” Seb put a hand on my leg and looked over at me. “Thank you again, Plato. Maggie gets dizzy from teleportation anyway, so this was great.”
“It’s no trouble at all. I just want her to feel better.”
Seb settled against the sofa, leaning his head against the cushions. “This wasn’t how I imagined our first night together, you know.”
I snorted. “That makes two of us.” I chewed at my lower lip, glancing up at the ceiling as I stretched my magic to check on Blaine and Maggie. Both felt calm as they slept soundly. “I know you’re tired, but we finally have a second alone.”
Indecision wracked Seb as he quirked a brow at me.
“My magic encompasses the space of the house, so if Blaine or Maggie were to wake up, I would know as soon as it happened, or if Maggie needed anything, I’d know almost instantly.” I shrugged, leaning back against the arm of the sofa, folding my arms over my chest. “Just a suggestion, but again, it’s fine. You’re tired, I’m tired. We should both probably get some sleep. Um--”
Seb stood up and walked over to me. He leaned down and pecked me on the lips. “Is that really all it takes to stop your babbling?”
I shrugged, fully ignoring the fact that my face felt like it was on fire. “I mean, I don’t think it’ll be nearly as effective once I get used to it, but for now, yeah. That’ll do it.”
Grinning, Seb sat down at my side, twisting so he could face me. “Maybe we shouldn’t get you used to it then.”
“Or maybe we should,” I said. “You think it’s cute when I babble. Your emotions change when I start doing it, and--”
Pressing his lips to mine, Seb interrupted me yet again. Unlike the last kiss, Seb plunged headfirst into that one and didn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. I couldn’t really bring myself to mind all that much, though. His lips were warm and soft, just like the rest of him. I hadn’t really noticed it before, but he also smelled like lilacs.
He pulled back a fraction and readjusted, straddling me on the sofa with a knee on either side of my hips. “This okay?”
I nodded, resting my hands on his hips as I fingered his belt loops. “Yeah, great.”
Lips met mine briefly once… twice… Seb rubbed his nose against mine and kissed the corner of my mouth. In a heartbeat, his lips were back to mine, parting them and delving into me. Ravishing me and leaving me senseless, knowing nothing but Seb, the rhythm of his pulse, the happy calm and nervous lust fueling his every move. His hands were in my hair, working it out of its bun so it fell loosely around my shoulders. Threading his fingers through it, Seb softened the kiss and pulled back a fraction.
His lips were pink and swollen. I cupped his cheek, running my thumb over his lower lip.
“This is nice,” he said.
“It is.” I leaned up, kissing him as I stroked his face, slid my hands back through his hair. The hand I left on his hip was caught in his as he twined our fingers together, and--
Seb and I sat on the sofa, tangled up in one another, attached at the lips.
We jumped back from one another and darted upstairs. The window at the end of the hallway was shattered. I ran into Blaine’s room, and Seb took off down the hallway to get to Maggie. I burst into the room.
“Daddy!” Blaine screamed, reaching out for me even as a soldier, cloaked head to toe in black armor, restrained her and vanished.
I ran back out of the room and into Maggie’s, finding Seb standing in the doorway, while Maggie was nowhere to be seen.
I gasped loudly, breaking away from Seb as I blinked, looking around, trying to anchor myself to the present. “What the fuck was that?” I managed between grated breaths.
“W-what? What do you mean?” Seb asked, frowning as he searched my face, looking eerily calm despite the vision he’d just had.
“What the fuck was that? Was that a premonition or--?”
“Plato, how did you see that?”
“I…” I bit my lip, realizing I’d fucked up. The vision had been so off-putting that I hadn’t really been able to stop myself, though. I took a deep breath and leaned back, away from Seb. “I can pick up on more than emotions with my empathy. When I’m making physical contact with someone, I can mimic their magic, and I just fucking saw that.”
Seb nodded slowly. “I didn’t realize you were that powerful.”
I swallowed audibly. The conversation Seb wanted to have about my lethality would have to wait. “We have to get upstairs.”
“The girls are fine.”
“They’re not going to be if we keep sitting around down here.”
“Plato, I know my magic better than you. That vision, if it comes true at all, might not occur for another week or month, maybe even years.”
I wriggled around, trying to get out of Seb’s grasp. “Get off of me.”
Concern and irritation flooded Seb as he moved to the other end of the sofa. I stood up, brushing myself off as I headed toward the stairs.
“Even if it doesn’t happen for a while, there’s no reason to be reckless.”
Seb sighed and heaved himself off the sofa, trailing me. “Plato, we should just get some sleep.”
“I’ll sleep when I know my daughter is safe. I have an idea of who would come after her, and I’m scared shitless that they’re going to be able to manage accomplishing their mission. Now, are you going to keep getting in my way or are you going to get your ass up here and help me watch over our kids?”
Silence settled over the room, but the shock and concern and exhaustion that weighed down on Seb sounded like bombs detonating all around us. He hadn’t thought I was anything more than the quiet, awkward artist, and over the last few years, he was right. That was all I’d been. But before, before Seb, before Blaine, even before Aurora, I was so much more.
Swapping out those metaphorical masks, sliding back into my old self as easily as I discarded it, it was almost frightening. But, it allowed me to take charge, to stop any motherfucker that attempted to take my daughter from me. It made me dangerous.
“I’m right behind you,” Seb said at last.
“Good.” I turned and walked up the stairs with Seb in tow. I peeked in on both Blaine and Maggie. Both girls continued sleeping soundly, none the wiser of Seb’s vision or anything else. Leaving both of their doors open, I came to stand in the middle of the hallway, where I could keep an eye on both of their rooms. I leaned against the wall and slid to the floor, sitting cross-legged.
Seb stood next to me with his arms folded over his chest. “So this is where we stand for the rest of the night?”
I glanced up at him. “Feel free to go to my room and get some sleep. I’m not going anywhere.”
Sighing, Seb sat down next to me and tilted his head back against the wall. “I wish you would trust me.”
“I trust you, that’s why I’m giving you the incredibly important task of going to get the pistol in my nightstand.”
Seb frowned at me. “If I honestly thought Maggie was in danger, do you really think I’d be arguing with you on the floor of your hallway?”
“Just because you have good intentions and don’t want to do any harm doesn’t mean nothing bad will happen. I’m not about to sit back and watch someone take Blaine.”
“It’s the Ring, isn’t it? That was in the vision?”
I nodded minutely, not giving the wiretaps in the ring on my finger anything to hear. The cameras in it were probably too weak to see the slight tilt of my head as well, which protected me.
“I really don’t think anything is going to happen tonight, Plato. My premonitions rarely work that way.”
“Just go get my gun.”
Seb sighed, but did as I asked and traipsed down the corridor, into my bedroom. I wrapped my arms around myself tightly, biting my lower lip. Even if Seb’s premonition didn’t happen that night--or any night--I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep. I was too scared for Blaine and what would happen to her if the Ring found if, if they found out who she was.
I pulled my knees up to my chest and leaned my head on them, feeling hollow and disgusted with myself. I hated everything happening, and I hated that moment. More than anything, I wanted time to turn back to how it’d been earlier that day, before things went wrong.
Seb came back, sitting next to me. He rubbed my back as he passed my gun to me. He felt so calm, so still. The only disruption in his serenity were tendrils of concern for me. If what I had seen hadn’t been Blaine’s abduction, I might have been able to listen to Seb and understand that the vision was unlikely to occur that night, but the vision was about Blaine’s abduction. Nothing in all the realms could soothe the panic I felt right then.
“Just us coming upstairs has already changed the outcome of the premonition,” Seb said. “You having your gun changes it. Our awareness of them, of their plan, might be all we need to stop it.”
I took a deep breath, itching for a razor blade or exacto knife, something to bring a bite of pain strong enough to drown out the fear and panic. “I appreciate you trying to help. I really do, and it’s sweet, but right now is not the fucking time.” I tipped my head against the wall and roughly raked my fingers through it, clawing at my scalp, just enough to get a small stinging pain.
Seb shifted closer and took my chin in his hand, turning me to look at him. Without so much as a warning, he eased his lips against mine for a brief second before pulling back. “I just want you to relax for a minute. Even if the fucking calvary comes bursting in, sitting here and freaking out won’t do a thing to help you defend Blaine.”
I blinked at him, not sure exactly what to say to that. Seb saved me from replying when he kissed me again, a little deeper that time, like we were still on the sofa and we’d never stopped.
I jumped. “Fuck,” I muttered, pulling back as I got to my feet. “That was downstairs.” I went over to the stairs, peering around the wall to look for anyone about to clamber up. Below us was nothing but darkness and shadows. Everything remained still in the foyer.
I whipped around to look at Seb. He darted in Maggie’s room. Dashing down the hallway, I burst into Blaine’s room. Her door cracked against the wall. I stopped, frozen.
An agent dressed in all black, a mask covering their face, stood with Blaine in their arms. A gun rested in their hand. The muzzle pressed against Blaine’s temple. Despite the commotion, she hadn’t woken up. Her breathing even, little eyes closed and long lashes dusting the tops of her cheekbones. It looked so fucking wrong.
“Let her go,” I whispered. “I’ll do anything.”
Using the hand that held the gun, the agent pressed a finger to their lips in a gesture for me to be quiet. I tried to step forward. The gun snapped straight back to Blaine’s temple. The agent’s finger rested on the trigger.
I stopped again. Before I could so much as attempt another bargain, the agent vanished with my daughter in their arms.