The ringing phone acted as our alarm, cutting through the morning silence.
The man whose arms were currently tangled around me groaned out an exhausted exhale I couldn't agree more with.
I don't think either of us got much sleep last night.
Despite what I tried, my thoughts wouldn't slow down enough for sleep to take me for a decent amount of time.
And Xander tended to absent-mindedly rub my back until either I fell asleep, or the incredibly rare occasion showed where he fell asleep first.
And there wasn't a second I remember of last night that didn't include that touch against me.
I lifted my head as he begrudgingly pushed himself up and out of the bed, stretching his arms over his head with a cat-like yawn while padding over to the phone.
His absence caused me to turn over and curl up into a ball, my exhaustion and excitement still going at it with each other.
Maybe I'll follow his lead and end up crashing during the drive there.
The ringing finally stopped as he reached the phone.
"Good morning my beloved brother," the tiredness in his voice only added to the coo in which he spoke.
A typical manner in which I've heard him speak to Nico before, but this time it was absent of any of that underlying nervousness that usually trailed behind the words spoken to his brother.
Given the distance, I couldn't make out what Nico was saying on the other end, just some incoherent mumbling in the pitch of his voice and Xander's replies.
"Yeah, we're ready."
"Wait you what?!" the sudden energy in his voice prompted me to push myself up with my arms to face him.
"Dude..." a slight laugh bubbled his words, "yeah we can take him down with us."
Xander turned to face me, leaning his hips back on the desk.
His amused smile lifted as he met my eye.
That with the mess of his bed hair and the lack of coverage his 'shirt' was giving made for an interesting sight first thing in the morning.
"Give us like five minutes to get our crap together and then we'll- Yes, Nico I'll get us a good limo. Who do you think you're talking to here?"
I looked away to rub my eyes, pushing the blankets off of me.
It sounded like I only had five minutes to get ready.
My limbs protested at their movement as I tore myself out of this bed.
I think of all things, I'm gonna miss this bed most of all.
I gave it a little pat once my feet hit the floor, making my way to scoop up the comfy travel clothes I had laid out the night before.
"Yes, Yes, I know. being sneaky is what I'm good at... yeah okay, most of the time, but you didn't have to bring that up." The flat tone he always got when he talked about the times he got in trouble as a child caused an involuntary smile to rise onto my face.
I swear I heard a short laugh from the phone as I crossed the room to go change in the bathroom.
"Yeah okay, I'll see you soon then," and with that, he hung up.
"So who are we taking with us?" I asked, stopping just a few steps from the bathroom.
Xander stood straight, pushing himself off of the desk.
"Nico put us in charge of getting the limo, and he... took one of Bronwyn's favorites from his floor to drive us."
My eyes bulged.
He snuck onto one of the royal floors and just grabbed one of the slaves there?
And got away with it?
"Right?! That's what I said. But I guess he's coming with us, and I really don't blame him for wanting to."
"So they'll be here in... four minutes."
We just kind of looked at each other for a few seconds before rushing to prepare what we needed to in such little time.
We worked effortlessly around each other as we threw ourselves together within the timeframe given until we were both dressed and moderately presented.
Xander insisted on carrying the instruments, leaving me with just the bag over my shoulder.
My guitar case sat against his back with the strap going down his torso, and his violin in his right hand.
His hair was still a mess, but what else was I supposed to expect?
We finished just in time, a knock sounding as soon as we deemed ourselves ready.
I stayed a bit behind Xander as he went to open the door, Nico and a new face standing on the other side.
The first thing I noticed was the light blue oversized hoodie he was hiding in.
Though since we were apparently sneaking him out, that was understandable.
The boy's dark blue eyes widened and were full of caution as Nico pulled back the hood to expose his face.
"This is Marcus," Nico introduced, "He's very well known around the castle, so make sure you keep him hidden from absolutely everyone who works here. I don't know if word has gotten out that he's missing yet, but you can't be too careful."
His gaze stayed glued to the floor, the wavy wheat blonde hair still shifting from the sudden absence of the hood.
His posture was odd but also familiar in a way, though even in his hunched position, I could see that he still stood taller than me.
It was obvious enough that he was nervous, for good reason given his circumstance, but there was something else to it.
"I will be," Xander guaranteed, " I know a route that would get us there with minimal attention,"
Nico nodded, his look alone showing the trust he had in Xander.
With no annoyance or disappointment anywhere to be seen.
It was refreshing to see, honestly.
I hadn't seen these two together since they talked it out while I was at the clinic.
I could tell that Xander was basking in that fact as well, that being even more evident through the way he was carrying himself right now.
It felt nice knowing that he's been successful lately in his attempts at fixing everything.
I liked seeing him happy.
"And he uh," Nico paused, taking a step closer towards Xander. His words were quiet, "He was Bronwyn's latest plaything. I fixed him up as best as I could given the timing, so cut him some slack if you need to move slowly."
His words caused something to click.
That posture was that of someone who'd recently been whipped and trying very hard not to move in such a way to anger the affected area.
Which, when it's on your back, is nearly impossible.
A little more inspection lead me to the darkened marks around his wrists that I could see.
It seemed that getting personally victimized by a Bronwyn was a trend around here.
"No problem at all," Xander assured, and I could hear the sympathy in his voice as he glanced down at Marcus, "I'll head down then and we'll see you...?"
"Fifteen minutes tops" he filled in, stepping back, "Good luck."
He sent Marcus a final little nod before speeding back to what I can only assume was his room.
His body looked to tighten the further away Nico got.
I suppose since Nico got him out of that situation, it was only natural for Marcus to be the most comfortable with him.
I'm sure randomly trusting this completely new vampire was the last thing on his mind right now with what he'd gone through.
"Alright well," Xander began, turning towards me, "After you," He insisted, gesturing me out the door."
My entire life up until now and I was leaving it behind so quickly.
For something so much better.
I stepped out with my chin up, turning to watch him shut that door for the last time.
I really wondered how that room would compare to the one he has at his place.
He explained some of it to me, but nothing was going to sate my wonder more than just seeing it myself.
The three of us stood there in some... odd silence.
The atmosphere was a bit off with this new person, but nothing we couldn't manage.
"Lead the way," I said to Xander, adjusting my hold on the bag.
Another soft smile followed by a "Yes ma'am" and we set in motion.
I still kept my obligatory step behind Xander as we did, keeping Marcus in my periphery as best I could.
I noticed him switch his gaze between Xander and me, probably at how casually the two of us spoke to each other.
After a few steps and us turning into the main hallway, he looked to be struggling to return the hood to where it was to hide again.
His arms would only lift so much before he felt that resistance all over his body forcing him to stop with a harsh wince.
He was trying not to make it look too obvious, but I've been there.
"Here," I spoke, falling behind a step to grab the hood myself and settle it where it was before.
He froze under the touch for a moment but relaxed after it was done.
"Thank you," He breathed, finally meeting my eye.
"Don't mention it" I began, walking beside him for the moment, "I know those lashes can be a pain."
I felt something in my catch at my wording, realizing that it'd only be natural for him to assume it happened from Xander.
Shit...I need to work on that.
That weird need I had to make sure people knew that Xander was a good person kicked in again.
That, and somewhat understanding his situation, I wanted to help him believe that right now he was in good hands.
With what he's been through with this sudden change, I can only imagine what he might be needlessly stressing over, and I felt like it might come off better from a human right now.
"You do?" His confusion was evident, stealing a glance at the falter in Xander's steps as they both thought about it.
"Yeah. You know how those Bronwyn's are," I cleared up, trying to fan away the serious undertones in favor of light-hearted ones, "Though I got mine from his daughter, I can't imagine how much worse it can get."
"His daughter?" he questioned. His voice was soft, yet I couldn't tell if it was situational or just how he always spoke, "Which one?"
Right... if he was one of Lord Bronwyn's favorites, then he must have worked closely with the entire royal family.
Though with what Xander told me, Layla isn't really his daughter, I doubt he knew that.
I waited for us to pass a vampire going the opposite direction before speaking again.
"Oh," He went silent for a second, his lips pressing together "Yeah. That makes sense."
I managed to catch my laugh at his immediate understanding meanwhile, Xander very audibly stifled his.
Which Marcus found surprising.
"Good to know we call all agree that she's insane," Xander turned his head to say.
Ah... Xander dissing her always sounded so good to me.
Marcus looked at me as if asking if it was okay for him to laugh at that.
After I did, he looked to have deemed it okay.
"It looks like the entire family is," I added on.
We both looked to Marcus for some sort of addition
We may know about their family mishap and quite a lot about Layla, but I think we both knew he had more details about the entire family.
"The others aren't nearly as bad, but Layla and the Lord... yeah..."
Okay... talking a smidge more freely. We were getting somewhere with him already.
"You can speak your mind about them all you want now," Xander spoke to Marcus, looking at me before his next thought, "We'll never have to see them again."