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Korin’s words had scored a sharp, painful cut into Ádan’s heart. How long since Korin had felt truly safe? Not in the war, certainly. Not, from what he’d described, in those years he’d spent on the road with his teacher.

What was Ádan bringing him? More danger. Threats Ádan himself didn’t even understand yet.

Hard as he fought, Ádan couldn’t get the image out of his head of Derian’s body hanging, swinging gently in the wind. The creak of rope. Empty eye-sockets; skin ripped and torn.

This was the future Ádan threatened to bring to Korin. Simply by being with him. Simply by existing in his space.

Derian was gone. No one had been able to protect him. In the depths of his heart, Ádan didn’t expect there was a different future waiting for Varajas, for Nikki, for him. They would try their best, but the bitter, likeliest truth was they would most likely fail. They would most likely die.

Ádan didn’t know if it was in his power to protect the knife. He didn’t know if it was in his power to protect his friends or himself. But maybe, just maybe, he could protect Korin.

Because if ever he had to look up at Korin’s body swinging gently in the wind, or hear that same creaking or the ropes from which he hung…

Ádan swallowed the questions he’d been meaning to ask—about the blight, about the long-dead prince. Ádan could find another wizard to help. Or he’d figure out the answers himself. They hadn’t gone through all the resources at the academy and safehouse yet. Perhaps a miracle would happen. Either way, he would keep Korin clear of it.

And wasn’t that what Korin had wanted? When Ádan had come to him right after they’d rescued him from the cultists—when they’d had that first chance to talk, clear-headed—hadn’t Korin said he wanted nothing to do with the knife?

Ádan, Korin wanted. And Ádan would find a way—somehow—to make it work. To give Korin security and safety and keep the danger well clear of him.

If Ádan failed at everything else, he would keep Korin safe. Then, maybe, hopefully, the other dreams would stop. He wouldn’t have to hear that creak creak creak. He wouldn’t have to see—

“Did I say something wrong?” Korin asked, his voice rough with worry.

“No. Never,” Ádan answered, knowing he had been quiet too long. He wrapped his arms around Korin and turned sideways, pulling them both down on the bed. “I want to be here with you, too.

“Always,” Korin sighed, surrendering to Ádan’s embrace, pliant in Ádan’s arms.

“Always,” Ádan repeated, knowing the promise to be hollow.

The melancholy that had fallen between them was the opposite of what Ádan wanted. He shoved down the dark thoughts as he rolled Korin onto his back and leaned down over him. He kissed the tip of Korin’s nose, then his chin, then a light, brushing progress down Korin’s pale throat. With gentle brushes of lips and tongue, he teased the spot where neck met shoulder, where he knew Korin to be ticklish.

That earned him a gasp and squirm and—what Ádan had been fishing for—a smile that brightened Korin’s face until he was breathtaking. “Not fair,” he said, the words belied by the laugh behind them. At the same time, Korin’s fingers burrowed under Ádan’s shirt to trail lightly up Ádan’s side, and it was Ádan’s turn to gasp and squirm.

Then it was all-out war, as they both sought each other’s sensitive spots, laughing as they wrestled. Predictably, the wrestling turned more sensual, as clothing was pushed aside and now skin pressed against skin.

They ground together, hands wrapped around each other, deep kisses joining them together so Ádan could taste Korin’s moan as he climaxed. Ádan was not far behind, Korin’s pleasure being its own stimulation.

After, they cleaned up, then returned downstairs for dinner. From then until, much later, when they fell asleep on Korin’s narrow bed, the talk was light and pleasant as Ádan did everything in his power to keep the weight of his responsibilities from falling down upon them both.

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