Disclaimer: Vivian claims she gave Mrs. Snyder inspiration for the Study Series…should I believe her?

Thankfully, Valek's adventures with his neice and nephew came to an end in the next few days as Vivian and Yelena returned home.

"Welcome back, Love." Valek embraced Yelena warmly when she returned. "Did you miss me?" He asked expectantly.

Yelena laughed. "Yes, I did, actually. Did you miss me?" She teased back.

Valek sighed dramatically. "Unfortunately, yes. I was so sad and depressed, I nearly opened my suite up to Ayden and Chiara. Thankfully, I learned my lesson before everything got ruined."

Yelena laughed in surprised delight. "Really? Tell my everything."

Valek spent the rest of the day regaling Yelena with his traumatic stories and occupied his night with getting "reacquainted", since Valek insisted that so much time with the children may have caused faulty memory.

After thoroughly making sure his memory was correct, Valek finally asked the questions Yelena was expecting to hear. "So, how was your time with Vivian? Terrible to the point where you don't wish to relive the experience, I hope." He winked mischievously.

Yelena rolled her eyes. "Actually, I had a great time. I'm going to be so sad when they leave."

"Hm…" Valek said noncommittally. He would miss them but he didn't like admitting it. In his experience, the more you thought about something, the more it affected you. "Do you know when they will leave?" He asked. Usually he would know but between his job and the kids, he hadn't had much downtime with Cai.

Yelena nodded sadly. "A few days. As long as it takes for the soldiers to get packed up and ready to move."

Valek's eyes shot up in surprise. "So soon? They'll be done in two days."

"Yeah." Yelena rubbed her arm and it was then that Valek noticed she was wearing an armlet. He fingered it, noting the almost pure gold embedded with rubies of all shapes and sizes. He poked at the ring, wondering if it would dent and he felt a flare of magic.

"What's this?" He asked, knowing Vivian had given it to Yelena.

"It's an armlet. Isn't it beautiful?" She said, running her hands over it as well. "Vivian said that if I wear it, it will help expand my magic. So you know how there is a limit to how far I can mind talk with others?" Valek nodded. They didn't know the exact range, but there was a certain point where Yelena couldn't connect her mind to others. "Well, now I'll be able to talk to Vivian when she's in her homeland and you know how far away that is." Yelena explained.

Valek nodded, pondering the gift. "So, will it enhance the other aspects of your magic as well?"

Yelena nodded. "Yes, and that kind of scares me, having so much power."

Valek agreed. "It can be dangerous, I don't think you should wear it all the time."

"I know." Yelena sighed. "But it's so pretty and once I take it off, I'll probably forget about it. You know, out of sight is out of mind."

Valek shrugged. "Sometimes it's better to keep distant people at a distance."

Yelena gave Valek a strange look and he was sure she was going to explain but she surprised him. "So, did you actually receive any of the letters Vivian claims to have sent you?"

Valek stared at her in surprise and then burst out laughing. "I may have received a couple, years ago." He grinned. "But there is no need to tell her I couldn't find time to respond to them."

Yelena rolled her eyes and grinned back. After a few moments of content silence, both Yelena and Valek tensed at the sound of someone banging on the door. They both exchanged looks and said "Ayden" in unison.

Yelena shot off the couch and opened the door, revealing not only Ayden, but Chiara too. Ayden walked into the room, all business, dragging a big, black suitcase behind him. He walked all the way up to Valek and garbled something to him proudly.

Valek nodded and pointed to the ground next to him. "Thanks, you can put it there."

Yelena walked in, carrying Chiara. "You understand him?" She asked incredulously.

Valek shrugged. "Not really, but it's quite clear what he wants."

Chiara, who had been previously preoccupied with Valek's bracelet on her arm, suddenly huffed and began yelling. Yelena and Valek exchanged startled looks before Yelena cautiously put Chiara on the ground. Chiara stalked over to Valek and shoved her bracelet clad hand in his face. He looked at the bracelet curiously, and finding nothing wrong, settled for simply tightening it.

Chiara inspected it again and looked at Valek with a pleased smile on her face. She stalked forward and planted a kiss on Valek's cheek. And then, as if realizing what she had just done, she leaned forward and bit him, as if trying to redeem herself.

Yelena and Valek exchanged shocked looks before Yelena burst out laughing. Valek scooted away from a niece a little bit. "I swear, you are exactly like your mother." He told her. "Incomprehensible even to the most intelligent minds."

"And I suppose you think of yourself as one of those intelligent minds?" A cool voice asked and Valek turned to the doorway to see Vivian arching an eyebrow at him. Cai stood behind her smirking.

"Well, obviously." Valek said as if he were surprised she would think otherwise. "I mean, look at where I am. Obviously, I'm smart. But beyond that, everything I do makes sense, unlike this little demon here, who decided to bite me when I helped her." Valek waved his hand at Chiara.

Vivian slapped Valek in the back of his head. "Don't talk about my daughter like that!" She narrowed her eyes at him. "That was her way of showing affection."

Valek snorted. "Really? Because I wasn't feeling it. Usually when I show affection, it doesn't hurt."

"She's a child." Vivian said exasperatedly. "Goodness, you act as if you've never had to deal with children before."

"I haven't." Valek replied bluntly. "The only kids I ever had to put up with were the King's and I killed them along with their parents.

Vivian's eyes bore into Valek's. He stared right back before deciding to add fuel to the flames. "I kill your kind too. I don't think it's very wise to be disagreeing with the King Killer." He said seriously.

Vivian's eyes turned more dangerous, if possible, but Cai just burst into laughter. "Bro, you need to make your threats a little more frightening. That's one of the weakest ones I've ever heard."

Yelena frowned. "You get death threats often?" She asked Cai.

Cai grinned. "I have an open policy for those who wish to threaten me. I find it amusing. But I've got to say, Vivian does it best. It kind of makes me jealous sometimes."

Vivian sighed and rolled her eyes. "Of course, of all the things to be jealous of, my dear."

"Well, you don't have any other redeeming qualities." Valek quipped and smirked.

"Funny, unfortunately, this trait it seems to runs in the family because clearly, you're lacking as well." She said in a bored tone.

Valek let the comment slide. "That's fine, as long as you're admitting your inferiority."

"Inferiority to whom? Not you surely. There is a donkey attached to one of the carts outside who displays more intellect than you do." Vivian shot back.

Cai sighed loudly before Valek could respond. "Listen guys, as much as I love the battle of wits going on here, I really want to go to sleep, so could you tone it down?" He rested his head on the cushion behind him and started snoring loudly.

"He's a real gem, that one." Valek said disdainfully.

Vivian burst out laughing. "You have no idea. I wish you could see him when he's dealing with the court." She rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Ayden has more patience. Cai's leg starts bouncing three minutes in, two minutes later he's pacing. In 15 minutes he's tired of listening to others and starts a question and answer session and then closes within an hour after hearing multiple death threats. I swear, it's like the man can't sleep if he's not being threatened."

"True story. I work a lot better under pressure." Cai said without opening his eyes.

"Go back to sleep. It makes me happy when you're quiet, I can pretend you're dead." Valek said seriously.

Cai burst out laughing. "You remind me of my brother. I don't think he's ever said a nice word to anyone. Even his wife."

"Growing up with you could probably do that to a man." Valek said in deadpan.

Yelena watched the three bicker and knew if she didn't step in, this would go on all night. "So, guys. What's in the suitcase?" She cut in.

"Gifts." Vivian said, striding over to the suitcase and opening it.

A slow, predatory grin curled on Valek's face and he slipped over to the suitcase, looking like a kid who'd gotten his favorite birthday gift. Yelena came closer and frowned at what she saw. "Weapons?" She asked.

The suitcase was full of various weapons that resembled what Ixia already had but seemed slightly different and higher tech. Valek reached out, hovering over a couple weapons, as if unable to choose which one he wanted to examine first. When he finally decided, he reached for the crystal handle of a double sided sword. The moment his fingers touched the smooth surface, he hissed and pulled back quickly. "It's magic." He looked at Vivian accusingly.

Vivian rolled her eyes. "Yes, it has to be if you want to be able to use it more than once."

"Explain." Valek raised a single, unimpressed eyebrow.

"Cai." Vivian picked up the weapon and tossed it casually to her husband.

Cai caught one side of the blade neatly between his index and thumb. "Ah…beautiful." Cai stared at the blade adoringly for a moment before standing up and demonstrating how to use it. "As you can see, there are two swords attached in the middle with the crystal." Cai said after taking a few experimental swings. "Say you wish to detach them…" He held the two opposite ends of the middle handle and brought it down on his knee, breaking the crystal and effectively separating the sword in two. He spun both swords around in his hands. "And if you want to made one large sword again…" He held the ends of the two swords together and the crystal restored itself.

"Hm…" Valek observed it from where he stood. "Good, I don't like the magic. What else?"

Vivian held up a clear shield and something that looked like a large, extremely serrated sword. "These two go hand in hand." She picked up another clear shield from the briefcase. "The shields slot together like this." She attached the two so there was nothing in between except a thin seam. "If you have many of these, you can make a border shield going all around your interior soldiers. Getting through will be almost impossible in hand to hand combat. And you will have to use missile weapons to hurt the soldiers inside." She handed the attached shields to Cai. "That is where this comes in." She held up the new sword. "It is thin enough that it slides between the two shields…" She shoved the sword in the seam and Cai curled his body back protectively so it didn't stab his chest. "And if you go deep enough, you will probably hit someone. If the objective is to simply break up the shield, you can slide down and back and it will break the handle." She carefully pulled out the sword so it didn't damage the shields.

"But the sword only works if the other side has this type of shield, or else you don't want people running around with this kind of sword, wounds get messy." Cai's seriousness indicated he'd seen the brutality of the sword first hand.

"And while this shield is very effective, it would stop us from attacking as well." Valek frowned. "No, I don't like it."

Vivian was about to reach in for another weapon when Yelena spotted a row of bottles attached to the top of the suitcase. "What are these?" She asked.

"Poisons." Vivian said. "Some of these I've acquired from my travels and others I've made myself. There is a note attached to each stating the name, taste, and side effects."

"You make poisons? Why?" Yelena asked, bewildered.

"I have free time. Plus, there are certain people that need to be disposed at times and using a commonly known poison would make all the leads point back to us. If I use one of my own poisons, I'm the only one who knows if the person died from true poisoning or from something else."

Yelena shivered. She couldn't imagine making poisons to kill people. "So, as Queen, you have to dispose of people often?" She asked cautiously. Suddenly Vivian didn't seem as harmless and fun as she did on their vacation.

Vivian shrugged. "Think of it this way, I do what Valek does, simply on a more focused level. We have a chief of security, he's good, and we have an assassin, he does his job but has an attitude to match his skill. Sometimes you need someone in between. Someone with clout, friends, and special skills. That's where I come in. I know how to get the job done without getting caught. And if I do, who's going to have the guts to tell Cai his wife is a criminal?"

"Um…" Yelena couldn't believe her ears. But then again, Vivian was part of Valek's family and there wasn't much Valek couldn't get away with. "So…you're okay with that?" She asked Cai.

Cai sighed. "It's work. Someone has to do it. I'd like to do it myself but I've got so many people after my own skin I can't. Vivian is next best. I know I can trust her."

"Is this how all royalty works?" Yelena looked between Cai, Vivian, and Valek.

"No, those two are a rare case. There is intrigue, obviously, but most royals like to hire someone. Vivian is common born like me so she likes to handle her own dirty work." Valek explained.

Then, as if the kids had become bored of the adults talking, Chiara suddenly let out a high pitched scream and Ayden burst out laughing, running to hide behind Valek's legs. He shoved his face through Valek's knees to get a good look at the still screaming Chiara on Valek's desk.

"What did you do?" Vivian asked Ayden sternly.

"More like what did Chiara do?" Valek pointed to the little girl who was currently covered in ink and still screaming as she left a blue hand print on all the papers on Valek's desk.

"Chiara…" Vivian warned. Chiara promptly quieted and looked at her mom guiltily. Vivian stalked forward slowly and pointed to the ground in front of her. Chiara obediently crawled off Valek's desk and stood in front of her mother.

"Please get her cleaned up before she ruins more of my room." Valek said, leveling Chiara with a glare.

Vivian snorted. "Please, you're still miffed that she bit you."

"Obviously." Valek rolled his eyes. "If that leaves a mark, you have to give me 12 more of those magic healing salves."

Vivian's mouth curled into a feral grin. "Oh, really, and if I don't, what will you do about it?" She asked.

Yelena glanced at Cai, who was watching the verbal sparring with a grin. The day was winding down and Yelena was tired. If she didn't put a stop to this, it would be going on all night. "How about we continue this tomorrow?" She suggested. "I'm tired."

"Good idea. I have to clean these guys up, too. Good night, Yelena. Good night, old man." Vivian said cheerily and scooped up Chiara as she headed to the door.

"Good night, unwanted one." Valek smirked back. "Please pack your things and leave quickly!"

Vivian sent a rush of magic at Valek, trapping him in his place for a moment. Yelena rolled her eyes. How childish. "Oh, they forgot their stuff." She gestured to the briefcase still lying on Valek's floor.

"No." He grinned. "This is my payment for allowing them to visit."