“Theis!” Evy squealed as the apartment door slid open and he stepped into his living room for the first time. His face broke into a wide grin that pulled at the scarred skin along his jaw as she dashed across the room and threw herself into his arms. The two clung to one another fiercely, protectively, and their tears flowed freely with their reunion.
Thomas and Rett carefully stepped around the pair and into the apartment. Though a few boxes remained near the door, Evy had not only managed to make the apartment cozy and comfortable, but also had food waiting on the table. She was quick to credit Meli with helping, and Theis said he would be sure to thank her as the four sat down to bowls of ginger noodles.
“We aren’t the only ones who have been eager for your return.” Thomas paused between bites. “We’d like to have a Paladin Meet tonight, if you’re up to it.”
Theis sat back in his chair. “You know, my biggest worry in all this is that everyone else would keep their distance from me. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong but I also knew how suspicious it all looked.” He nodded. “A Meet would be most welcome.”
They finished up lunch and Thomas helped Evy with the clean up until a beep from his watch demanded his attention. “I have to head out for now, but I’ll be back to pick you up this evening.”
“Another date?” Rett quirked a brow.
Thomas shook his head. “Katey. I promised her a walk to the pond to feed the lily skippers this afternoon.” He stepped over to clap Theis on the shoulder. “Welcome home, brother.”
“Not so fast, Airhead.” Theis pulled him into a tight hug. “Thank you.”
“Any time, Professor.” Thomas smiled.
“Wait wait wait! Me, too!” Evy jumped up from her seat and scurried over to squeeze into the hug and pecked a quick kiss on Thomas’ cheek. “Thanks for bringing him home.”
Thomas chuckled. “My pleasure.” He extricated himself and gave a nod of farewell before stepping out the door.
Theis watched as the door closed behind his friend, then turned to Rett. “Another date? Is he at it again?”
Rett nodded. “Worse than after losing Dajo. We encountered at least three of his companions just this morning.
Theis shook his head slightly. “Maybe he’ll open up to me some.” He settled onto a couch. “So catch me up to speed. What have I missed?”
“What haven’t you missed?” Evy kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet under her as she plopped onto the sofa next to him. “Where do we begin?”
“You can begin with those circles under your eyes,” Theis’ jovial tone was replaced with concern. “Don’t think I wouldn’t notice.”
“You weren’t the only one investigated,” Rett answered for her.
Theis frowned and looked at the young woman. “Why?”
She wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Remember when I told you Jeff started hitting on me after you two broke up?”
“Mhmm.” The sound was a low, ominous growl as Theis narrowed his eyes. “They came after you because he hit on you?”
Evy shook her head. “He was setting me up. His ‘visits’ were so he could record me.”
“Jeff altered security vid to make it look like Evy helped him hack the systems and steal Dajo’s credentials. That’s how he accessed the vaults and stole the Trimbolen Crown.” Rett explained, his expression grim. “The vid was obviously faked but it took a week to convince the investigators to test its authenticity.”
“Sun and moons, Little Girl, I’m so sorry I brought this on you.” Theis pulled Evy into a hug. “I nearly married him so it makes sense they’d investigate me. But he never would have gone after you if it weren’t for me.”
“It’s not your fault, Theis.” Evy tried to reassure him. “All indications are that he really did love you even if he was a traitorous bastard.”
Theis chuckled. “That doesn’t really help, Little Girl, but thanks.”
“Even though she’s been cleared, Evy hasn’t been allowed to return to work in R&T. I’m hoping to get her reinstated in the Order.”
“Well, that should be easy enough,” Theis replied. “Is Paladin Creed still Head of the Order? I know he’ll support it.”
Rett nodded. “He is, but Director Evans requested Ken not take any action that isn’t strictly necessary until I return to duty and replace him.”
“So what is the Order supposed to do until you’re ready?” Theis frowned.
Rett shrugged. “We seem to be in a holding pattern for now. There haven’t been any missions since Raqmu.”
“None? Not even shutting down Thonic?”
“We’ve had people watching Thonic’s headquarters in case Thyla returns to her office, but otherwise, the Director says the company is not a target.” Evy’s voice was flat.
Theis shook his head. “This is too much to take in. I feel like I’m in some sort of really bad dream or psych experiment.” He looked around the living room for the first time. “So, paladin, huh?”
Rett nodded. “Director Evans promoted you and Thomas immediately after Raqmu. We can schedule a ceremony once you are both up for it, but the orders were processed immediately.”
“And Sparky?” Theis looked back to his former mentor. “Linc had to have been promoted, too, right?”
Rett clenched his jaw and looked away.
Theis felt Evy stiffen next to him. “Lincon remained in Raqmu,” she answered quietly.
The blood drained from Theis face. “He didn’t di…”
“No, he’s all right the last we heard,” Evy quickly cut him off. “Caelynn remained with the Alfath and Lincon stayed with her.”
Theis frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“What is there to understand?” Rett snapped. “Instead of breaking me, the Alfath seduced my son.” He stood abruptly. “I should let you get settled in.” He nodded to Theis before stalking out the door.
Theis watched Rett go and heaved a heavy sigh. “Looks like everyone has had a rough time while I’ve been locked away.”
“I’m sorry, Theis.” Evy pouted. “This isn’t exactly the best welcome home, huh?”
His gaze lingered on the closed door a moment longer before he turned to look at her. “Come here, Little Girl.” He pulled her to his side and wrapped her in a hug. “Right now this is the only welcome home I need.”