No one should have to be alone. Easy to say, but it was such a fucking lie. It was certainly a promise beyond Varajas’s power to keep. But that haunted, hopeless look on Samir’s face—Varajas had no idea where it came from, but he knew he wanted to make it go away.

But who was he to offer comfort? He was still lying, and now that seemed an even worse crime. Before, he’d simply been protecting secrets. Now he was actively manipulating Samir, feeding him just enough information to sound like he was confessing something important, making it sound like he was opening up. It was a technique Varajas had learned in the Brotherhood, a way to trick people into trusting you. Varajas hadn’t meant to do it—he really had simply meant to give Samir information that could be useful, to prove that he could be a help—but now that he’d said it, he saw exactly what he’d done.

In that moment, if he could have told Samir everything, he would have. If the stakes had been any less than they were, if Samir hadn’t been the personal protege of the Archwizard who had been instrumental in the knights’ downfall, if the knife weren’t a burden no innocent person should have to share—if everything had been different, Varajas might have options that didn’t all make him sick.

All those thoughts flashed through his mind, and they were absolutely true, but Varajas shoved them back down and away, because Samir was still standing there and there was something so fragile in his eyes.

They’d spent enough time together by now that Varajas would have had to be a special kind of oblivious to not notice the contradiction that was Samir. On one level, he behaved with the sort of firm decisiveness that only grew out of confidence. On another, there was confusion and fear, the way he flinched like he was expecting a blow. There was no pattern to it that Varajas could find. It wasn’t magic, or people, or any one thing.

It called out to every protective instinct Varajas had. To things he hadn’t felt for years.

The silence had now lasted too long, but Samir still looked like he was struggling to make sense of what Varajas had said. So Varajas repeated the words, made them clearer. “You’re not alone.”

“Everyone is alone.” Calm conviction in Samir’s voice. A resignation that cut straight to Varajas’s heart.

Varajas stood and closed the distance between them. He took Samir by the shoulders. Slowly, over-annunciating, he repeated. “You. Are not. Alone.”

That was when Samir kissed him.

A note from Barbara J Webb

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About the author

Barbara J Webb


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