Korin stopped outside the Academy, hearing Ádan’s footsteps behind him. “Just how long have you been able to do that?” Ádan asked.
Korin couldn’t bring himself to look Ádan in the eye. “There may be some things I haven’t been telling you.”
Ádan’s hands landed lightly on Korin’s shoulders. “Yeah, well…call it even?” Korin gratefully leaned back into him and Ádan’s arms slid around him, holding him tight.
They stood like that for a long moment, as Korin’s heartbeat slowed to something approaching normal and the stress of the fight faded. Until Ádan broke the silence. “We should check on V. And tell him and Nikki the threat’s over.” He pulled back and turned Korin to face him. “Is it over? You let him live.”
“I pulled his fangs. He won’t be able to do magic any more. It’s over.”
Ádan studied Korin’s face. “You called on the knife. It talks to you.”
“For a while now, yes.”
Korin waited for censure, for accusation, for horror. But all Ádan said was, “Okay.” And took his hand.
They went into the safehouse. Korin saw to Varajas, undoing the damage Loukanos had done. Nikki was upset with Ádan, with the secrets he’d been keeping that put them all in danger. V was quieter, and, after Korin was finished, simply said that he was still planning to go south, and they’d all talk about this when he returned.
Nikki wasn’t happy with that answer. “You’re just going to let—”
Varajas interrupted him with a shake of his head. “There’s no let here. There are no rules. No order. And we’re going to have to figure that out. But we won’t be able to do that until we know—for sure—that we’re the only ones left.”
“I’m sorry,” Ádan said, subdued.
“I know. You did what you thought was best. But you did it without talking to anyone, and maybe you should take some time to figure out why you’re still keeping secrets when there’s just three of us left.”
Ádan said nothing. It was only after Korin had finished and the two of them had sought privacy in Ádan’s room that he spoke.
“They hung Derian’s body off the main gate and left him there to rot. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. I see him in my dreams. I see him…” He fell back onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling. “I just keep thinking that will be you. Or V. Or Nikki. I just thought if I could keep you safe—if I could keep all of you safe—that would…”
“Would what?” Korin asked softly when Ádan trailed off.
“I don’t know.” Ádan draped his arm across his eyes. “I don’t even know what I thought would happen.”
Korin sat down next to him, put a hand on Ádan’s thigh. “I got hurt by plenty of things before I ever met you. You can’t keep me safe by staying away. But maybe, together, we can look out for each other.”
“I led him here.” Ádan pulled his arm away, looked up at Korin. “I thought I was being clever. I thought I was a step ahead of him.”
“He’s an archwizard.” Was an archwizard. Loukanos wasn’t going to get to hold onto that title much longer. “And you’ve been—Light, Ádan. Have you even had a real night’s sleep since you got back from Ulek?” Korin reached up with his other hand to brush light fingers across Ádan’s temple and back into his hair.
“I almost died today. I would have died, and Loukanos would have taken the knife. And everything Derian asked of me, expected of me, I would have failed at.”
“Because you tried to do it alone,” Korin said, scolding as kindly as he could.
Ádan sat up, leaning into Korin so their foreheads rested together. “I never should have pushed you away like that.”
“And I should have told you from the start about the knife. You were trying to look out for me, and I was the one who said I didn’t want to be part of…” Korin waved his hand to encompass the room, the safehouse, the knights.
“Do you still feel that way?” Ádan asked softly.
Korin rocked his head side-to-side in a no.
Ádan’s bright smile broke free—the one Korin had been missing for weeks. “So is this the point where we kiss and make up?”
Ádan pushed Korin onto his back, took Korin’s face in his hands, and kissed him hungrily, and Korin was flooded with weeks of pent-up wants and needs and desires. He wrapped his arms around Ádan’s waist, pulled him down so that Ádan’s entire body was pressed against him.
Korin had needed this. He needed it never to stop. He needed this to be forever. “Don’t leave me like that again,” he whispered against Ádan’s lips.
“I won’t. I swear I won’t. That was the worst decision I ever made.”
“I’m not—you can’t protect me by hiding things from me. You can’t keep me safe by walking away. You keep me safe by staying with me. And I’ll keep you safe the same way.”
“Together,” Ádan murmured back. “From here out on. I promise.”
Later, they would have to talk about the knife. They would have to talk about the future. Varajas was going out to look for more knights and whether he found them or didn’t, each possibility brought its own complications. But for tonight, they were safe and they were together.
For now, that was more than enough.