Chapter 38 - Fin (Epilogue)

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It hadn't been easy for Sam to tell Sander that she would be leaving with Braeden. It was the right decision for her, she knew, and yet she felt a little ashamed of it.  But Sander was a singular man and had been surprisingly understanding.

She'd told him together with Braeden, and somehow during the telling of it their fingers had wound together. Sander's gaze fell upon their interlocked hands and his mouth had twitched, not into a disapproving frown but into an amused smile.

"It is not an either or," Sander had said. "As Uriel, you are not bound to this soil, only to the principles that guide us. Duty. Honor. Loyalty. Belief in the goodness of man." He put one hand on each of their shoulders. "Do what you need to do, and come back to us. I told you this once before—the Uriel always have room for courageous men." He grinned at Sam. "Or women."

It was worse telling Tristan.

Sam knocked on the door of his chambers in the Beyaz Kale—which was awkward in itself, since he shared the room with Braeden—and asked if he would be amenable to a walk outside. She didn't invite Braeden; she owed that much to Tristan.

It wasn't as though she'd accepted another man's proposal after turning his down, but it was close enough. And in the days following their first exchanged I-love-you's, she and Braeden had done a shockingly poor job of hiding their affection. Twice, Braeden had pulled her into a discreet corner and kissed her senseless, and twice Sam had accosted him. She blushed just thinking about it.

And thus for the sake of her friendship with Tristan, Sam thought it best she break the news herself.

In uncomfortable silence, Sam and Tristan trudged down the snowy slope to the Uriel training grounds, stopping when they reached the tree line. They stood apart, watching the Uriel men spar with swords and fists.

When Sam could stand it no longer, she said into the silence, "I'm leaving."

Tristan faced outward into the trees and did not turn. "With Braeden?"

"Aye."

The wind played across his hair, blowing overlong strands into his cobalt eyes. "Where will you go?" he asked.

"Across the ocean," she said, "to Yemara. We're going to pay a visit to the old orphanage where Braeden first met the High Commander. Maybe we'll find some answers there."

Tristan stiffened. "That's...far."

 "I'll come back," Sam promised. "Both of us will. The war will not be over so soon."

"I don't suppose it will," said Tristan. He looked at her then, really looked at her, his gaze intent on hers. "Is this what you want, Sam? To follow a man halfway around the world on what may amount to a wild goose chase?"

"I love him," she said simply.

Tristan responded with a single nod, and they fell back into quiet. "I could have loved you," he said finally.

She didn't want to hurt him, didn't want to lie to him either. "In another lifetime, I could have loved you, too." She offered him her hand. "Friends?"

Tristan stared at her extended palm. His eyes, blue and wintery, drifted up to her face. "No." The single word shot like an icicle through her heart.

Tristan whipped around, then, and with straightened shoulders, began the long trudge back to the Beyaz Kale. His pride was wounded, not his heart, and one day he would see it.

A quarter of the way, he halted. Slowly, he turned, the frostiness in his stare melted into something else. "Ask me again when you return."


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