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Ádan moved through the evening city like a shadow. He crept through alleys, over rooftops, muffling his already soft steps with magic and wrapping darkness around himself like a blanket.

He knew this city, knew its secret pathways and shortcuts. Knew its dangers as well as he knew its pleasures. A gift Derian had given Ádan, that after he’d joined the knights, Ádan spent more years here than in Ulek. Triome had never been exile to him. It was home.

How long had Derian known what was coming? How long had he been laying plans, preparing for this possibility? Fourteen years ago, when he’d sent Ádan to Ritalle under orders to make friends with Lysander, to worm his way into the Prince’s confidence, had Derian been thinking about politics, or had he, even then, been creating a bolt-hole for Ádan to escape to when the world fell down around them?

It was full dark by the time Ádan reached the boarding house. Korin’s shutters were open, and a warm light filled his window. Ádan climbed the building across the alley. From the roof, he had a clear view into Korin’s room.

Korin was there, sitting on his bed, eyes closed. Meditating or doing magic—Ádan couldn’t tell which. Either way, Ádan was in no rush to interrupt him. Just the sight of Korin relaxed something in Ádan he hadn’t realized had been held tense.

When Ádan had left, Korin had still been recovering from his ordeal with the cultists. He looked so much better now. Relaxed, healthy.

Beautiful. After everything Ádan had seen in Ulek, it was a relief to find Korin safe. Not that Ádan had any reason to suspect otherwise, but still…

Derian’s body hanging

Ádan shoved that thought away.

Korin. Better to think about Korin. Ádan had missed him, worried about him, more than was warranted by the fact they’d only even known each other a few weeks before Ádan had ridden off to join up with Lyssander. How had Korin so quickly become so central to Ádan’s thoughts? To his life?

Everything felt so fragile right now—the future, the world. Everything Ádan had known in his life had been shattered and he was still feeling his way through the aftermath. Given that, it was no surprise the hesitation, the fear that was keeping him here, lurking in shadows. The last time they’d talked, Korin was still recovering from almost getting killed. He was still working through the shock of finding out what Ádan was. Now Ádan had been gone and Korin had time to think—what if he’d changed his mind about wanting to be with Ádan?

When they’d first met, Korin had needed Ádan’s help. Ádan had been happy to offer it, especially once he’d realized the kind of wizard Korin was. What had started with Ádan cultivating Korin as an asset had turned into something more. Something bigger, that Ádan knew was dangerous.

The simple truth was the tables had turned. Right now, Ádan needed Korin. He needed someone alive and warm and safe. If Korin had changed his mind while Ádan was away, had decided he didn’t want to see Ádan…

Ádan stood. He took a running leap, using magic to give him the momentum he needed to land on Korin’s roof and more magic to keep the impact silent. Reflex, rather than intent. He wasn’t trying to sneak up. Ádan just hated making noise.

Korin opened his eyes as Ádan dropped through the open window and his face lit up with a wide, open smile that immediately burned away every one of Ádan’s doubts. “Hi.”

Ádan returned the smile reflexively. It was hard not to smile at Korin. “Hey, Sunshine.”

Which left them grinning at each other like idiots. And that wouldn’t do. So Ádan took the two steps necessary to reach Korin on the bed, hauled him up by his arms, and kissed him.

It was a relief. It was everything he’d been dreaming of: Korin, warm and solid against him. Alive. His pulse under Ádan’s fingers, his breath hot on Ádan’s cheek.

Korin pulled his head back, still smiling. “I saw you today, in the parade. I hoped that you’d…” his gaze dropped and he blushed, “well, this.”

“And here I am.” Light words, teasing tone. Korin deserved a happy reunion. Ádan’s burdens were his own.

“Can you stay?”

The honest hope in Korin’s soft blue eyes would have melted Ádan if Ádan weren’t already utterly undone. “My night is yours.”

Korin flushed a brighter red, and pulled Ádan with him back onto the bed.

Figuring people out—that was Ádan’s job, and he was developing an in-depth mental file on Korin. He knew, for example, that Korin’s embarrassment at that moment wasn’t about sex. They’d only been together twice, but Korin had never shown a lack of comfort in his body—with the exception of his hands. Korin wasn’t shy of the physical. Wasn’t afraid to see or be seen.

No, it hadn’t taken Ádan long to figure out that what embarrassed Korin was the wanting itself. Korin felt bad for thinking of himself, for admitting his own desires—be they for a sugary treat or for a night of being ravished. Ádan didn’t know who to blame for that—whether it was a mindset instilled by Korin’s teacher Teriad and his rather obvious desire to be a martyr, or whether it came from former lover Jonathan, who had used Korin rather carelessly, based on every story Korin had told.

It didn’t matter. Ádan was here now and Ádan was happy to give Korin whatever Korin wanted.

Ádan ignored the flare of guilt. He was good at that. He didn’t need to listen to the little voice saying how convenient it was that his generosity towards Korin would also go a long way to pushing the waking nightmares out of Ádan’s mind.

Certainly, giving Korin what he wanted was no hardship. Ádan relished the feel of Korin’s skin as he slid his hands beneath Korin’s shirt. Ádan watched Korin’s face, the little tensions and relaxations that played across it as Ádan explored Korin’s body. Like learning to play an instrument.

And Korin was the best kind of instrument—the sort that wanted to play Ádan right back. Korin knew—Light above, did Korin know—how to find Ádan’s sensitive spots. Where to brush by and where to linger and—

Ádan caught Korin’s hands as Korin worked them under the waistband of Ádan’s pants. Korin’s still-gloved hands. Ádan wanted Korin’s skin, not the rough, prickly linen. Korin tensed—not in the good way. Nervous of attention paid, nervous, in this one small way, of being seen.

Ádan slid his fingers under the gloves. He circled his thumbs over Korin’s palms, felt Korin squirm beneath him. The skin was rough, textured. Ádan was learning the map of Korin’s scars, the lines and ripples that ran over his palms and up Korin’s fingers.

Korin let out a tiny whimper as Ádan lifted Korin’s hands, peeled the gloves back, and traced the same path with his tongue. This was the truth that only Ádan knew. Korin might hide these hands away, but he loved the attention Ádan gave them. This was all it took to melt Korin, to open him up, to make him desperate for more.

Korin, tonight, seemed determined to give as well as he got. He leaned in, pressed his cheek to Ádan’s, and let out a long, warm breath against Ádan’s ear. Followed by his tongue tracing a light path just inside the shell.

Ádan moaned. He couldn’t help himself. And any thoughts of long, leisurely foreplay evaporated. “Clothes—off.” He’d meant that to sound like an order, but Korin’s tongue made him shiver and it came out more of a plea.

Korin obeyed all the same, biting his lip over a pleased-with-himself smile as he hurried to undress. Ádan squirmed out of his own clothes, his eyes never leaving Korin.

Naked, Korin pushed Ádan back on Korin’s narrow bed and bent down to take Ádan into his mouth. Ádan groaned at the wet heat, at Korin’s swirling tongue. In this, too, Korin knew what he was about.

It wasn’t enough. Ádan slid his fingers through Korin’s hair and applied enough pressure to be clear he didn’t want Korin to stop as he twisted around, got himself turned in the other direction, and slid his head between Korin’s kneeling legs.

Ádan wrapped his arms around Korin’s thighs, closed his eyes, gave himself over entirely to sheer physical sensation. To Korin’s cock filling his mouth, to the slick, sweaty heat of Korin’s body along his, to the blissful touch of Korin’s lips and tongue. It drove away everything else.

So easy to lose himself in the pleasure of it. Until his pleasure crested. Until Korin, too, came with a gasp and a sigh. He rolled off Ádan then stretched out next to him, on arm draped across Ádan’s stomach. With a sated, heavy-lidded smile, he said, “Welcome home.”

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Barbara J Webb

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