After a solid meal and another nap, Korin was almost back to himself. He took a long soak in the bathtub, daring enough magic to keep the water hot. It made him think of the springs beneath the knights’ academy. It made him think of Ádan.
Lily brought him some dinner, which he ate in his room, flipping idly through one of the library books without really paying attention to the words on the page. His window shutters were open, and Korin was content in the warm breeze blowing through, listening to the soft evening sounds of the city.
He was surprised, then, when Ádan swung in through his window. As he had that night that now seemed ages ago.
“There’s a door, you know,” Korin said, as he had before.
Ádan grinned and repeated his own words. “What fun would that be?”
Ádan looked as good as ever. Whatever had happened out there in the jungle after Korin had passed out, Ádan had come out well. “How is everyone? Nikki and Varajas?”
“Never better. And eager to see you again once you’re ready. Even Nikki. Not that he’d say so. I swear, he’s never so happy as when he’s pissed at someone.”
So strange to be sitting here, after everything. Korin wasn’t sure what to say, what he wanted to say. Where even to start? “Thank you. For saving my life.”
Ádan crossed the small room and sat down on the end of Korin’s bed. He made himself comfortable, leaning back against the wall, but Korin noticed Ádan had arranged himself in a way that put distance between them. “I came here—two days ago, I mean—to apologize. I shouldn’t have blindsided you with the knife like that. Except you weren’t here. No one had seen you. It took Nikki and V and I the whole day to find anyone who’s been awake to see you with that girl and which way you went. I was terrified we’d find you dead.”
“You found me. I’m very much alive.” Like infection in a wound, most of Korin’s anger had drained away. He understood, now, how much of his anger at Ádan had really been anger at Teriad. Anger at himself. “I’m sorry too. For leaving like that. It wasn’t all about you.”
Ádan’s perpetual smile faltered. He looked tired. “Listen, I wanted to tell you, you don’t owe me anything. You were right when you said I shouldn’t have asked you to help us. If you want to walk away, I understand. I won’t stop you.”
Korin had nothing left in him but honesty. “I don’t know what I want.”
Except was that true? In the madness of the past couple weeks—discovering and dealing with the blight, getting to know the city, his fights with Nikki, with Ádan, the secrets he’d learned—there’d been anchor points of happiness. “I want to help people. I want to heal people. It’s what I’m good at.”
Ádan nodded. “That’s a good thing to want.” He stood up, patting Korin’s foot as he did so. “Get some rest, Sunshine.”
A good-bye, if Korin had ever heard one.
But Korin wasn’t done. “I want you,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper.
Ádan stopped, closed his eyes. “Korin, I’m not sure—“
“Neither am I. About much of anything. I don’t know about the blight, or those people who were causing it. I don’t know about the knights or that thing you’re guarding. I don’t know that I want any part of it. But you, Ádan, I don’t want to walk away from you.”
“I don’t want you to,” Ádan confessed softly, eyes still closed.
“So what do we do?”
Ádan turned back to face Korin, his smile and self-possession firmly back in place. “Right now, you rest and get better. That’s what you do. As for everything else…” He shrugged. “We’ll figure it out.”
In two steps, he’d closed the distance between them. He slid a hand through Korin’s hair as he leaned down and brushed his lips against Korin’s in a whisper of a kiss. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he promised.
Ádan left and Korin lay back down.
Korin was alive and warm and comfortable. For the first time in weeks—maybe in years—he wasn’t afraid. Maybe he should be. Certainly he had a better understanding now of the evil that moved through the world—through his new home—than he had just a few days ago.
Teriad had been afraid. Korin could see that now. Teriad had wrapped himself so tight in his rules of right and wrong that in the end they’d strangled him. And Korin had failed Teriad, but in the end, Teriad had failed Korin.
Korin had buried himself in Teriad’s rules, in Teriad’s disappointment. But as Ádan so eloquently stated, Teriad was dead. And Korin wasn’t. Maybe it was time for Korin to figure out what he believed. To find the right and wrong that made sense to him, and stop living in the constant fear of disappointing a dead man.
Before Korin could figure out all the rest—Ádan and the knights and the blight and the tree—Korin was going to have to figure out himself. But not today. Today he would rest and recover and simply be happy to be alive.
For today, that was enough.