“Ten more,” ordered Crunch.
Lexi flexed his fingers. The motion set off a scream in the muscles above his wrist. His fingers were cramping in the open palm strike position while his tormentor counted. Crunch smirked, knowingly.
The skin-tight biocyber suit Lexi wore reduced fatigue and monitored for injuries during the training. Crunch, standing like a column of muscle and smooth lines off to the side, watched the changing colors of Lexi’s sleeves and was probably linked to the suit through the hive as an additional precaution against pushing his boss’s boyfriend too far. Still, Lexi’s arms burned all the way up to his neck. His legs felt stiff as if he’d been dancing all night instead of squatting slightly for the lesson that had fallen outside of time.
This wasn’t too much?
He wanted to cry out to stop the next set.
Crunch had already joked about how the training was an introduction to hell at its border. Lexi couldn’t complain. The torture was to help him grow stronger and more dependable. Better than letting Feratu Hunters nab him if Aaron or their security team had to leave his side.
“One — “ called Crunch.
Lexi struck at the projected sim-target.
“Two — “
“Three — Keep your elbows down!”
His elbows flapped, always rising out of position, getting him yelled at by Crunch. His subconscious wanted to fly away.
Yeah, why can’t I? Lexi thought, edging on delirium. Let’s fly. Ohshiiii —
He realized his mistake the instant the implant in his skull threw him into the hive. Thoughts not his own rattled his head.
<Crunch, what did — >
<Kid, can you hear — >
Lexi pushed against the cacophony of thoughts, <Too much!>
<Everyone, silence.> A deep voice as smooth as silk bedsheets shut off the noise. <He’d activated his cell.>
<Aaron!> Lexi called in the darkness.
<My wonder, are you hurt?>
<Yes, Crunch hurt me — No, that’s not what I wanted to say, you can hear me I don’t want to talk like this how do I make it stop? My thoughts won’t — >
<Wonder-love,> Aaron said in Lexi’s head, <I overrode your security. We’re in a private channel. Me and you. No one else. Did you access the hive by accident?>
Lexi opened his eyes to see Aaron’s concern displayed in dark green irises. The color changed to a gold when Aaron laughed hard enough. The green lightened as its owner’s expression relaxed into a smile. Sighing, Aaron caressed Lexi’s cheek. <You’re okay,> Aaron reassured himself.
A hard surface pushed against Lexi’s knotted back. “I’m on the ground.”
<Yes, you are. What happened?>
Lexi realized his boyfriend was leaning over him, bracing between limbs sprawled out in an awkward angles. Everything ached. At least his spine was intact.
“I flew,” Lexi said. “And fell.”
<Do you want me to mute your thoughts to our hive connection?>
<Why bother? You’re going to hear all my thoughts eventually. And, um…> Lexi shoved down the panic at feeling as if he needed to stand to finish his set. Crunch peeked over his boss’s shoulder.
Lexi pleaded, “No more self defense drills today.”
“Don’t ya worry none, honey. No more.” Crunch rubbed his pale, bald head and chortled at Aaron’s side-eye. “So far, he’s hit his own behind less than you did, boss.”
Aaron dropped a cool kiss on Lexi’s forehead and breathed into a damp slick of hair, “We all fall when our wings grow.”
<Then fall down with me, Big Man.> Lexi grabbed his boyfriend’s thick shoulders and pulled, accepting the burn in his arms and back. Aaron’s weight crashed into sore, scrawny limbs that numbed, the new sensations overwhelming his fatigue.
He didn’t care that Crunch and other security team members watched. They spent too much time in his head for modesty. What mattered was that Aaron could make all the unwanted voices go away.