Night after night, month after month, Zeke sleeps alone in the master suite. Aside from brief glimpses of Tavares and Nida around the manor, it’s as if Zeke lives alone but for the servants that see to his every need. For Zeke, who grew up surrounded by people that adored him and enjoyed his presence, the lack of regular contact is upsetting to say the least.
All of that tension has to come to a head, however, and when it does, it changes everything for Zeke and the other two members of their unhappy little triad.
Zeke has a plan.
It’s not much of one, granted, but it’s better than what he’s been up to for much of the past four months of his loveless, sexless, and mostly husbandless marriage.
He rises with the sun and then slips downstairs, dressed in comfortable clothing that he’d… borrowed from one of the servants shortly after moving into this prison of a home instead of the soft, expensive fabrics that are his due as a noble bearer. His shoes – also borrowed – make little to no noise on the polished stone staircase as he creeps down them.
He’s been planning this for weeks.
Every time that Zeke has managed to find Tavares to ask him to escort Zeke somewhere – to his family’s house in the city, shopping, or even to the God Quarter for worship – his husband has had some excuse or another. Many times, he simply shuts Zeke down with a narrow-eyed look and goes back to whatever he’s doing, pointedly letting Zeke know that the conversation is over.
Four months of being trapped in a house that he cannot leave without an escort and being denied the right to one. Not even the servants are allowed to take Zeke with them on their errands – and Zeke knows this because he’s asked.
But Zeke has a plan.
Forever if he must.
The front door looms in front of him, foreboding in a way that sends chills up Zeke’s spine. This will be the first time that Zeke does anything like this – anything this… rebellious. He unlocks the front door, turns the handle, and then –
A large hand closes around Zeke’s left shoulder, spinning him around and pressing him back against the door in a swift motion that frightens a squeak out of his mouth and leaves him wide-eyed and breathless with fear as his shoulders smack against the heavy wood.
Zeke’s husband glowers down at him, a frown tight on his full lips. “Where exactly do you think you’re going?”
“I want to leave,” Zeke blurts out, fear loosening his tongue. “You and Nida don’t want me here and I want to leave.” Zeke tries to pull free from Tavares’ grip, but his husband only holds him tighter until it hurts, and he cries out in pain. “Let me go, Tavares! You’re hurting me!”
Nida’s voice cuts through the tension.
“Hurting your husband won’t solve anything, Tavares,” he says, a chilly sort of contempt clear in his voice, “Let him go and we’ll all sit down and talk about this.”
Zeke stamps his foot, childishly.
“I don’t want to talk to either of you,” he snarls. “I’ve been trapped in this miserable house because he –” Zeke pauses to jab the tip of his index finger against Tavares’ chest. “He won’t let me out of the house without a chaperone, but he won’t let me have one. I spent my first heat scared and suffering because of him and neither of you even look at me when I talk to you. You don’t treat me like a bearer or like I’m precious. You – you treat me like I’m be-beneath you and I – I – I can’t do this anymore.”
The sob that tears its way out of Zeke’s throat at the end of his sentence startles him.
It must startle Tavares too, because the older demon lets go of him.
Immediately, Zeke crumples to the ground.
This is not what marriage is supposed to be like. He’s supposed to be happy. He’s supposed to be beloved.
Without looking, Zeke slaps Tavares’ hand away when the older demon reaches for him.
“Don’t touch me,” Zeke snarls.
“Go upstairs, Tavares,” Nida says, his voice sharp and unyielding. “I’ll take care of Zeke. You’ve done enough for now.”
Zeke doesn’t look up when Tavares leaves.
Or when Nida comes up to him and then crouches down.
He only looks up when Nida makes him, tilting up his chin with the tips of his fingers. When their eyes meet, Zeke chokes on another sob and tries to pull away. Nida doesn’t let him.
“H-he hurt me,” Zeke says, the words pushing free on a shaky exhale. Tears prick at the corners of his eyes and he knows that if Nida is just a little kinder to him that – that they will spill down his face and never stop.
Nida croons out a wordless attempt at comfort, fingers sliding up along Zeke’s jaw to stroke over his cheeks. His thumb strokes over the tender skin just underneath Zeke’s right eye and that touch, coupled with the uncharacteristically soft look in his dark eyes, is what undoes Zeke.
Zeke bursts into a round of noisy sobbing, shoulders and chest heaving as he stares into Nida’s gentle gaze. The tears pour from his eyes as snot trickles from his nose. He’s crying because of everything – because of the dull pain in his shoulder, the hunger pangs in his stomach from going weeks without feeding, because of the husband that doesn’t want him – and once he starts, he can’t stop.
“Let me see your shoulder, Zeke.” Nida’s voice is low, the emotion in it, a near-touchable thing. When he reaches out and eases down the side of Zeke’s wide-collared shirt to reveal skin reddened from Tavares’ grip, his touch is gentle. He exhales a curse and draws back slowly, almost as if he doesn’t want to startle Zeke. “This is – this is my fault,” he breathes, frowning harder. “I – I’m sorry.”
Zeke blinks, stunned into silence as his sobs peter off into nothingness. “What reason do you have to be sorry?”
“You and Tavares bonded,” Nida says quietly, his voice hushed to the point that it is barely audible. “That first night when he took you, you bit him at some point during the night. I – I don’t know when. He didn’t remember. But you have an unstable bond now, and Tavares is the one that’s feeling the brunt of the bond’s pressure to be close to you and to complete it. He’s been half-mad for weeks, torn between your bond and ours. I should’ve told him, should’ve told you –”
“Tavares hurt me,” Zeke blurts out, frustration tightening his throat. “He hurt me, and he’s ignored me, and I – I have done nothing wrong but want to be his. There’s no reason – I can’t excuse that.”
Nida sighs. “You shouldn’t have to,” he says. “But it won’t happen again. I swear it.”
“You can’t make that promise,” Zeke says, mulishly. He doesn’t meet Nida’s eyes.
“I can and I will,” he says in response. “If not for my jealousy and my fear that you would take him from me, I could have made sure you both knew what would happen if the bond wasn’t completed.” He pauses, combing strands of ink-dark hair back from his face as he sighs. “If I wasn’t too busy being an immature and jealous child, you would be in our bed where you belong. You would be safe and happy, not hurting. You’re right. You should be beloved. By both of us. Instead, you’re here scared out of your mind and hurting because your king married you off to two thick-skulled asses.”
At that, Zeke manages a soggy bit of laughter. “I’m glad one of you realizes it.”
“Tavares and I will do better,” Nida says, so solemn that Zeke can feel it. “That is – if you’ll let us.”
Zeke doesn’t know what to do. It would be so easy to shake his head and leave. To go back to his family and return to life as the spoiled smaller sibling in a house full of them. If he left –
If he left, he doesn’t know when he’d have another chance at finding something all his own.
“I – I – “
Nida shushes him, gently. “You don’t have to decide now,” he says, his voice so kind that Zeke nearly bursts into tears again. “Whenever you’re ready, Zeke. We will be here.” His voice sharpens then, features tightening, “And both of us will make things right. I swear it.”