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“Ross pushed our meeting back an hour, said he and Ash are running late,” Tina told her Guardian. She basked in the kitchen’s yummy scent. “Whatever you’re making smells divine.”

“Pancakes.” Brandon quirked his lips.

With a faint smile, Tina reminisced on the past two weeks. Ever since her sister’s visit, and her pitiful attempts to understand Brandon, the lass found that they could be rather… neighborly. Now, her Guardian even allowed her in the kitchen to help with simple side dishes.

Food, the great equalizer, she thought.

“How are the lovebirds not gonna be on time if the meeting is at their place?”

With a dainty shrug, the girl threw a cup of syrup in the microwave. “No clue, but Ross wants me to open for him, so I’m heading over early with my key.”

Whilst the Protected claimed some butter for her pancakes, the Guardian busied himself with scrolling through his newsfeed. He sat at one of the remodeled stools whose feet were wrapped in felt, Tina’s creative solution to stop their painful drag.

After a few bites of food, the woman let out a shallow sigh. She tuned out her comedic video for worry, concerned about an upcoming test in Dr. Jade’s. As Tina thought, a memory was sparked, one where her annoyed professor pinched the bridge of her nose as Kyle ground his teeth and called the G/P breeding program that they’d learned of a waste.

A huffing Dr. Jade leaned against her desk. Sitting her red spectacles atop it, she clipped back, “Breeding has very little to do with love, Mr. Union” —the doctor crossed her legs at the ankles— “The propagation program was initiated nine years ago to creat e Guardians and Protecteds with increased talents.” The dreaded dame ignored Connor’s sly request to be her breeding partner as she gathered a lens cleaning cloth from her desk. “To date, no copulations have produced atypical children.”

“Well, that’s stupid,” Dee mumbled. “Who sinks money into something that doesn’t work?” She tapped her fingers against her chin.

“It’s been speculated that natural-born Guardians and Protecteds are more powerful than engineered ones,” the professor expanded, “hence the program remains, and compatible pairs continue to be explored.”

As she gobbled more of her pancakes, Tina introspected on the containment center conversation that had triggered Hailey to shudder and call the shelters isolated hell holes.

“I’m aware that several Guardians disagree with the centers’ methods.” The umber-eyed bible-wielder took on a sympathetic posture. “Protecteds, have you ever wondered where your Guardians originated , where it was that they lived their lives prior to your meeting them ?” After a few seconds of silence, the refined woman answered her query , “The answer is the containment centers, where Guardians remain until the age of thirteen . Once teenagers, they are acquainted with the outside world as part of their socialization prep.”

Tina remembered the instant she put two and two together, the instant her academician’s truth reminded her that Guardians don’t have blood-bound families. His favorite food is whipped cream because it was one of the few things that his primary G/P scientist, the one who’d cared for him and been like a surrogate mother, was able to sneak him from the outside.

As she moved for a drink, the teen recalled Denzel overzealous slurping of soda and his passive question of how the centers have remained unexposed.

Dr. Jade scoffed. “Mr. Gates, our government has had many a myth proven true.” Placing her frames back on her face, she kept on, “Ensuring ignorance is what our leaders do best. Take us as an example, as G/Ps we don’t even exist.” Pointing over her shoulder, to the board behind her on which some letters were scribbled , Dr. Jade asked if anyone recognized them.

They are an acronym for the G/P parent organization,” Roscoe speedily chimed in .

“Correct, Mr. Tyler. Our parent organization aims to secure, control, study, and, where appropriate, eliminate anomalous existences. Now, someone tell me, why would these be the organization’s goals?”

“If left uncontained, these oddities pose a threat to human life and civilizations’ perceptions of normalcy,” Ashley shared.

“As G/Ps , we have a duty to maintain order, ” Roscoe added his two cents.

With another deep exhale, Tina finally accepted that there was too much to review. Placing her long-empty cup on the counter, the girl eyed her paused phone. Turning her Guardian’s way to ask him why he didn’t pull her from her stupor, the sharp-eyed Protected hastily flushed. “So that’s what you’ve been disappearing to do.”

An addled Brandon looked Tina’s way before cheekily responding, “Wouldn’t you like to know what I do in my spare time.”

Registering the previously missing stud, Tina cleared her throat and clarified, “Fair”—she smirked—“I’ll just ask for the vampire’s name next time.”

With a string of expletives, the disheveled-haired man quickly cupped his neck and scurried to his room.

“Oops.” Tina bit her lip to stop her sarcastic smile. “Was it something I said?”

Returning to his seat, now clad in a sweatshirt and scarf, the stone-like guy coolly responded to his Protected’s chuckles, “Quiet, woman.”


“I’m getting angry,” growled the Guardian.

“Yes, right there! That’s the spot, right there!”

You’ve got to be kidding me. The fuckers put me on welcome duty, so they could CANOODLE?!

Cutting her eyes at the trio of Guardians whose body language told her that they’d known the couple was in their back bedroom, Tina began boiling. “So, none of you were going to say anything?”

Playing with the runs in her tights, Hailey sniggered from the bean bag. “Hey, they’re busy. Who are we to interrupt?”

When hypnotic bangs began, Monáe nearly choked on her juice.

“Damn, the big man’s gonna break some shit.” Hailey beamed.

Tina looked at the time and grumbled, “We’re scheduled to start in five, and dammit for once we’re all here on time.”

“God!” Ashley’s breathy moan echoed off the walls. “So good!”

“They know we can hear them, right?” A disapproving Denzel licked his fingers clean of candy. With a smirk, Brandon thumbed through a book he’d snatched from Roscoe’s private library.

“I don’t think they care.” The sheep Guardian smiled as the lynx’s sexy mewls rose in octaves.

“Trust, they don’t.” Tina stood from the steps.

“Hey,”—Dee, from her sun-doused seat, shot upright and chuckled—“don’t be a party-pooper, let the kitty-cat get scratched.”

Shivering at the mental image the panda’s words conjured, Tina said a silent prayer and ventured the hall.

“Hmph. Don’t get your eyes clawed out,” Brandon warned darkly.

“I think I liked it better when you didn’t talk.”

Wholly ready to give the bonded pair a piece of her mind, the Protected slammed the bedroom door so hard that the handle bounced off the wall. “Jesus!” She jumped back and shielded her eyes.



“Knock!” Tina heard the couple ping-pong back and forth as they maneuvered the blanket to cover themselves.

Peeking through her fingers, the girl managed a glare. “I swear to God, I’m two seconds away from hurting you both.”

“Mrow.” Ashley performed a yoga stretch, looking like the cat who got the cream as Roscoe remained on his knees behind her.

“Ya damn voyeurists,” Denzel yelled as he neared the doorframe. Once there, he was shocked by what he saw, unable to stop himself from commenting, “Wow, Ross, backshots? And, Ash,”—he blushed—“that arch-”

“PERVERT! GET SOME DIGNITY!” yelled Dee from the living room.

Roscoe sighed, sat back. “Voyeurism is not-”

“Can it,” Tina said, already done with the day. She pouted and put her hands on her hips to make herself wider, block the couple who’d earned her ire from Denzel’s view. “And,”—she turned to Denzel for a moment—“contrary to popular belief, Roscoe is a hot-blooded male. Anyway,”—she finally located Ashley’s earlier divested shirt and threw it at her—“the rest of us would like to start, so if-”

“Nah! We’re good! Take your time!” The panda Guardian’s smile was almost audible.

Rolling her eyes, the teen continued, “Like I was saying if you two could please”—she rapidly motioned to the door with random movements—“And continue this later.”

“Oh, come on, just two more minutes?” Ashley whined.

“You two can get it on later. Get your asses in here, so we can wrap this up!” Brandon threw his voice from the living room.

With a pout, Ashley ceased rubbing Roscoe’s rough handiwork, bruises forming at her waist and lower back, and draped her sheer top over her athletic bra.

“I think we should call it a night,” a half-listening Tina interrupted another report Roscoe had felt the need to divide into monotonous points.

“What? Why?” the man questioned, his sex kitten sat astride him with a laptop in front of her to keep the meeting’s minutes.

Tina quirked a brow before looking around the room, quietly showcasing the exhausted crew. Over the hours, nearly everyone had grown irritable; she, herself, was dangerously close to finding somewhere to dump Denzel’s body if he uttered another complaint about his low snack provisions.

“Fine.” The redhead’s noticeably flushed beau relented. “Meeting adjourned.”

They owe me, Tina thought with inflamed cheeks from witnessing Ashley’s spastic bum wiggles and Roscoe’s evident… desire.