Tik. Tik. Tik.
Korin opened his eyes, held his breath. The sound came again.
Something against the shutter.
Korin crept out of bed and over to the outside wall. Pressed flat, so he wouldn’t be visible from the outside.
Tik. Tik. Tik.
Tiny stones against the wood. Korin leaned over, cracked the shutter open, looked out.
Ádan was in the alley with a handful of gravel. He stopped mid throw as he saw Korin’s face. He smiled.
Korin slammed the shutter closed.
This wasn’t happening. Except that it was. Why was this happening? What had Korin done to deserve it?
Korin slipped downstairs, out the door, around back to the alley. Where Ádan was still standing, waiting. Still smiling.
Korin wanted to hit him. Instead he asked, calm as he could manage, “What are you doing here?”
“You seemed upset earlier. I thought we could—”
“No.” Korin cut him off, as pissed at Ádan's chatty tone, like they were friends who’d just run into each other on the street, as he was at everything else that had happened that day. “What are you doing here? Are you bored? Summing with me and my filthy magic?”
Ádan flinched and the smile vanished from his face. He stepped forward, raised his hand like he was reaching out for Korin, then pulled it sharply back. “Oh no. No, Korin. Where did you get that idea?”
Korin crossed his arms, glared. “Your friend at the bar told me exactly what you’ve been saying behind my back.”
“What? No!” This time, Ádan came all the way to Korin and put his hands on Korin’s shoulders, holding him there as Ádan talked. “I would never say anything like that. What makes you think I would?”
Woken out of deep sleep, in the middle of the night, Korin’s mind wasn’t turning at full speed. And Ádan's touch wasn’t helping. The warmth of his skin that had so quickly transmitted through the thin fabric of Korin’s shirt. Korin pulled himself free before Ádan’s closeness distracted him too much. “He doesn’t even know me. Why would he lie?”
Ádan’s answer was slow and careful. “Nikki has never…he doesn’t like that I’m friends with you. He doesn’t like people like you.”
Korin’s confusing was clearing into anger. “People like me?”
Exactly what Korin expected. “And what about you, Ádan? How do you feel about people like me?”
Ádan's eyes swept down and back up Korin’s body, and his wide smile just about short-circuited Korin’s brain. “Sunshine, if all people like you were people like you, I’d drag them home and never let them out of my sight.”
Ádan couldn’t possibly be saying what it sounded like he was saying. It didn’t matter how much Korin wanted to hear it. Just because Korin had an aching hole inside him didn’t mean it was a good idea—a safe idea—to pretend Ádan wanted anything but friendship.
Even friendship was dangerous. Could Korin trust Ádan? What was more likely—that Ádan was telling the truth? That Korin had randomly stumbled onto one of the few people in the world who didn’t harbor any sort of fear or distrust of magic? Or that Ádan’s friend—who, yes, was probably acting on his own agenda—had also been telling the truth about things Ádan had said?
Was Korin ready to take that risk? After everything he’d been through, was it worth inviting so much more pain on the tenuous hope that Ádan truly was everything he claimed to be?
Ádan gave him a quizzical look, studying his face. “Korin, what’s wrong?”
Which was too much. “Oh my good god!” Korin yelled, “Did you honestly just ask me that?”
“Shhh.” Ádan held up a hand, looked up at the other windows that opened onto the alley. “You’ll wake people.” He stepped in close again and Korin had to brace against softening his posture one little bit. He would not, did not welcome Ádan's proximity.
“We should go somewhere,” Ádan said. “I can apologize some more.”
“You haven’t apologized yet.”
“Well then, we should go somewhere and I can apologize. And we can talk. But we can’t keep out in the street all night.”
Korin had already been out longer than he wanted to be. “I can’t. I have to sleep. I have to sleep, in my room, like a normal person who has a room and needs to sleep.”
“Another time, then.” Ádan flashed Korin another smile that, despite all Korin’s best efforts, made Korin’s whole body tingle. “Good night, Korin.” He gave Korin’s shoulder a friendly squeeze, then slipped off down the alley, disappearing into shadow.
Korin trudged back up to his room and returned to bed, hoping that the light of dawn would bring sense to everything.