Chapter 6

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Tik. Tik. Tik.

Korin opened his eyes, held his breath. The sound came again.

Tik. Tik.

Something against the shutter. 

Korin crept out of bed and over to the outside wall. Pressed flat, so he wouldn't be visible from the outside.

Tik. Tik. Tik.

Tiny stones against the wood. Korin leaned over, cracked the shutter open, looked out.

Ádan was in the alley with a handful of gravel. He stopped mid throw as he saw Korin's face. He smiled.

Korin slammed the shutter closed. 

This wasn't happening. Except that it was. Why was this happening? What had Korin done to deserve it?

Korin slipped downstairs, out the door, around back to the alley. Where Ádan was still standing, waiting. Still smiling.

Korin wanted to hit him. Instead he asked, calm as he could manage, "What are you doing here?"

"Korin, I thought we should—"

"No." Korin cut him off, as pissed at Adán's chatty tone, like they were friends who'd just run into each other on the street, as he was at everything else that had happened that day. "What are you doing here? Are you bored? Summing with me and my filthy magic?"

Ádan flinched and the smile vanished from his face. He stepped forward, raised his hand like he was reaching out for Korin, then pulled it sharply back. "Oh no. No, Korin. Where did you get that idea?"

Korin crossed his arms, glared. "Your friend Nikki told me exactly what you've been saying behind my back."

"What? No!" This time, Ádan came all the way to Korin and put his hands on Korin's shoulders, holding him there as Ádan talked. "I would never say anything like that. What makes you think I would?"

Woken out of deep sleep, in the middle of the night, Korin's mind wasn't turning at full speed. And Adán's touch wasn't helping. The warmth off his skin that had so quickly transmitted through the thin fabric of Korin's shirt. Korin pulled himself free before Ádan's closeness distracted him too much. "He doesn't even know me. Why would he lie?"

Ádan's answer was slow and careful. "Nikki has never...he doesn't like that I'm friends with you. He doesn't like people like you."

Korin's confusing was clearing into anger. "People like me?" 

"Wizards."

Exactly what Korin expected. "And what about you, Ádan? How do you feel about people like me?"

Adán's eyes swept down and back up Korin's body, and his wide smile just about short-circuited Korin's brain. "Sunshine, if all people like you were people like you, I'd drag them home and never let them out of my sight."

Ádan couldn't possibly be saying what it sounded like he was saying. Just because Korin had an aching hole inside him didn't mean it was a good idea—a safe idea—to pretend Ádan wanted anything more than friendship.

Even friendship was dangerous. Could Korin trust Ádan? What was more likely—that Ádan was telling the truth? That Korin had randomly stumbled onto one of the few people in the world who didn't harbor any sort of fear or distrust of magic? Or that Ádan's friend—who, yes, was probably acting on his own agenda—had also been telling the truth about things Ádan had said?

Was Korin ready to take that risk? After everything he'd been through, was it worth inviting so much more pain on the tenuous hope that Ádan truly was everything he claimed to be?

Ádan gave him a quizzical look, studying his face. "Korin, what's wrong?"

Which was too much. "Oh my good god!" Korin yelled, "Did you honestly just ask me that?"

"Shhh." Ádan held up a hand, looked up at the other windows that opened onto the alley. "You'll wake people." He stepped in close again and Korin had to brace against softening his posture one little bit. He would not, did not welcome Adán's proximity. 

"We should go somewhere," Ádan said. "I can apologize some more."

"You haven't apologized yet."

"Well then, we should go somewhere and I can apologize. And we can talk. But we can't keep out in the street all night."

Korin had already been out longer than he wanted to be. "I can't. I have to sleep. I have to sleep, in my room, like a normal person who has a room and needs to sleep."

"Another time, then." Ádan flashed Korin another smile that, despite all Korin's best efforts, made Korin's whole body tingle. "Good night, Korin." He gave Korin's shoulder a friendly squeeze, then slipped off down the alley, disappearing into shadow.

Korin trudged back up to his room and returned to bed, hoping that the light of dawn would bring sense to everything.

                                                               *    *    *     *     *

It didn't.

                                                                *    *     *    *     *

Sunlight through the open shutter roused Korin from his fitful sleep. From dreams of himself and Ádan in the alley, in the darkness. Dreams where Ádan hadn't stopped after taking Korin's shoulders. Dreams where Adán's smile had been a clear invitation. Dreams Korin had to lock away in the darkest, deepest corner in his mind if he was going to make it through his next encounter with Ádan with any grace.

Even this early, Trisome was awake and bustling. Korin fell in with the moving crowd, kept his head down, tried to avoid attention.

Until a familiar voice said, "I'm sorry."

"What?" Korin looked up, surprised, almost tripped.

Ádan caught his elbow, steadied him. "That's what I should have started with last night. I'm sorry."

Had Ádan held on longer than was necessary, or was Korin so focused on every casual touch that they seemed to go on forever? 

Oh, Light, he was in trouble. "You're not forgiven." But the words didn't have the energy to be convincing.

"What Nikki said was terrible, and I know you have no reason in the world to trust me. I don't know how to prove to you that I'm not like that. But..." Ádan's voice lowered, his tone now utterly serious. "There's something bad happening in this city. We both saw it. And no one else seems to care."

Even harder to believe than the idea that Korin had found the one non-wizard who was completely comfortable with magic was the idea that he'd randomly stumbled across a nobleman concerned for the health of people in his city. "You're telling me you want to help track down the blight."

"Was that in question?" The familiar cheer had returned to Ádan's voice. "So where are we going?"

"I suppose it does me no good to say you aren't invited."

Korin expected a quick retort, but there was only silence from Ádan. When he looked over, Korin had to stop walking, his entire attention drawn to the serious depths of Adán's blue eyes. "Do you truly want me to leave you alone?" Ádan asked softly. 

The rational answer was yes. The answer that belonged to this new life, a life of keeping his head down, of staying safe. But the word caught in Korin's throat. He couldn't say it, not caught in the trap of those beautiful eyes. "I'm going to talk to Renée. She's been in the city longer than me. I'm hoping she might have some idea of how to start looking into the blight."

Ádan broke the eye contact. A good thing, or Korin would have stood like that all day. Ádan waved his hand forward, gesturing for Korin to precede him. After only another moment's hesitation, Korin started walking again and allowed Ádan to follow.

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