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the definition of insanity

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Laslow balanced the tray full of food on one hand and adjusted the short, lightweight scarf he’d tied in a knot around the side of his neck with the other. It was tighter than he would have liked, but it didn’t feel like it would budge anytime soon. Good.

It was lucky he’d caught Peri before she’d delivered Lord Xander’s breakfast, Laslow thought as he adjusted his stance once more. He was already behind schedule by a several days. It was better to get back to his duties as soon as possible, even if all he really wanted to do was lay in bed and sleep forever.

He mentally steeled himself one last time and knocked on the door. Laslow entered without waiting for an answer, remembering to plaster a smile on his face at the last second.

“Good morning!” he chirped to Lord Xander, who was already awake, dressed, and looking over what appeared to be several important documents at his desk. “Ready to start the day?

“Laslow.” Xander straightened immediately, frowning as Laslow kicked the door shut behind himself and made his way over to the desk. “You’re back. I was beginning to worry.”

Laslow made sure to beam at Xander with his best worry-free smile. He busied himself with placing the breakfast tray on the corner of the desk and pushing a few odds and ends out of the way. This was routine. Normal. Or so he tried to pretend.

“My apologies, milord,” he said. “I got in late last night and didn’t want to disturb you. I know I was supposed to be back several days ago, but I ended up being delayed. I’m very sorry about that. But I’m ready to make up any extra work I missed now!”

Xander’s frown deepened. “Did you encounter any trouble on the way back?”

“Oh, no,” Laslow said quickly, standing back up and tucking his hands behind his back in a formal stance. Then he winced at how the lie sounded. “Well, some, but not the way you’re thinking.”

Xander inspected him quietly. Laslow hoped he wasn’t shaking too obviously.

“You never did say what personal business you were attending to,” Xander reminded him. It felt like he was poking and prodding for a deeper answer, but Laslow wasn’t ready to give the truth up just yet.

Laslow winked. “Well, it wouldn’t be very personal if I told everyone, would it?”

He watched as Xander’s eyes dipped low.

“I don’t believe I recall you ever wearing something like that before,” Xander said with a gesture, referring to Laslow’s scarf.

“Oh, this old thing,” Laslow said dismissively. “I just pulled it out of my trunk this morning. Thought I might try something different.”

“Really?” Xander said slowly. “Because it looks quite new.”

That was probably because Laslow had bought it from a very sympathetic looking market vendor not three days ago.

Laslow shrugged. “You might want to eat breakfast before it gets cold, milord. You have a long day ahead of you yet.”

Xander reached out and took a sip of his tea, his eyes never leaving Laslow’s face. Laslow was very viscerally reminded of why it was never good to be on Xander’s bad side. He shuddered at what their enemies must have thought when facing him down on the battlefield.

“Peri was catching me up on some things before coming here,” he continued. “Was there anything you think should be on my list of priorities today?”

Xander set the teacup aside.

“Would you mind removing that scarf for me?” he asked.

Laslow froze.

“Ah.” He forced himself to remember how his vocal cords worked. “Any particular reason why, milord?”

“Curiosity,” Xander said simply. It felt like a dare.

Laslow forced himself to keep smiling despite how much he felt like running away instead. “If you’re interested in trying out some new accessories, I can probably go down to the market and—"

“Laslow,” Xander said firmly. “Take off the scarf.”

Laslow mentally flailed. There weren’t many ways he could wiggle out of this one. He said the only thing that came to mind.

“No.”

Xander narrowed his eyes. Laslow wanted a hole to appear in the floor and swallow him whole. He was definitely going to be in trouble for this one, but he couldn’t think of what else to do, especially now that he’d blurted out his rejection so bluntly like an idiot. Being Lord Xander’s retainer didn’t matter; nobody spoke to royalty that way.

“Excuse me?” Xander said.

He looked as serious as Laslow had ever seen him. Xander had never held much patience for Laslow’s games, and he did not look at all happy that Laslow was defying a direct order now.

If Laslow was going to back down at all, now was the time.

He didn’t.

“My apologies, Lord Xander,” he said, as professionally as possible, focusing his gaze somewhere beyond Xander’s shoulder, “but I’d rather keep everything where it is, thank you.”

Xander did not immediately snap at him. Instead, he appeared to be taking in Laslow’s words calmly. That was almost worse. Laslow had no idea what to expect next.

“Laslow,” Xander said. “That was an order.”

Laslow nodded. “I understand.”

Neither of them moved.

Laslow watched Xander’s expression grow stormy. But he couldn’t take off the scarf. He couldn’t. That would have been worse than whatever Xander would do now.

“Do you take me for a fool?” Xander asked. He didn’t snap, no. Xander was too composed to do something like that. But frustration was threaded under every word. “If there’s something I need to know about, then you should tell me.”

It didn’t seem like Xander was going tale the argument that this wasn’t anything he needed to know about very lightly.

Laslow tried anyway. “It doesn’t concern—"

“I am your lord,” Xander reminded him, hand clenched into a fist on his desk.

“But you are not privy to every detail of my life,” Laslow shot back, dangerously bold. His spine tingled.

“I am when you request time off out of the blue, disappear without a trace for so long that I begin to debate sending a search party, and then come back clearly hiding something.” Xander looked mad. “I am not asking you to humiliate you, Laslow. I am asking because you are my retainer and someone I care for, and as your superior, if you are in trouble, I should help you.”

His lips were pressed tightly together, but his fist unclenched and his shoulders relaxed with a great sigh. The tension bled out of Xander like a sluggish wound. Laslow remembered how that felt. “I would like to help you.”

Laslow forced himself to look Xander in the eye. Guilt bubbled up in his throat along with the words he wished he could say.

What he stiffly said instead was, “I appreciate the concern, milord. But there is nothing for you to concern yourself with.” After a moment’s hesitation, he added, “It is taken care of.”

Xander looked unconvinced. “Is it?”

His words were flat.

In truth, it wasn’t. But it was as taken care of as Laslow could manage for the moment.

He couldn’t bring himself to answer. Laslow kept his eyes downcast and stayed silent, unable to bring himself to lie again. His smile had long since cracked and fallen off his face. The very air felt heavy.

Eventually, after a long period of silence, Xander said, “You are dismissed.”

A great part of him wanted to thank Xander for letting the subject drop already, even if it wasn’t dropped completely, but the rest of him wasn’t strong enough to speak at all. He bowed and left without looking Xander in the eye.

 

 

 

The first time they had tried to kill Anankos, they hadn’t even gotten close.

It had been a year after their arrival in Nohr, and while Laslow wasn’t sure he’d grown to like the craggy landscape and endlessly gloomy skies, he had grown used to them. He’d grown to like Lord Xander and Peri, at the very least. In return, the people of Castle Krakenburg had grown on him as well.

Nohr wasn’t the same as Ylisse, with its sunny skies and golden fields, or even Regna Ferox, which some people argued was just another dead, frozen land even though it wasn’t. Not in the least. But Nohr wasn’t terrible.

That was to say, Nohr had become less terrible with time.

He had never forgotten why they had come to Nohr, however, and after a year of zero progress—after a year of running errands and building trust and hearing whispered rumors of an untouchable little princess tucked away in a tower somewhere—Selena said, “We should just do it ourselves.”

She hadn’t meant it like that. Not really. They couldn’t take down a dragon with just three of them, no matter what extra powers and altered appearances they had been gifted, no matter what they had done in the past. It had taken much more than just the three of them to vanquish Grima. It had taken years and years and a lot of help.

But what else was there to do, Laslow had thought. It was something. And a little reconnaissance never hurt.

It had hurt. A lot.

The three of them had requested a week off—just a week, because they hadn’t planned on going far, even if they had planned on going into another kingdom entirely—and ignored the curious looks they received for going off somewhere all together.

They had gone to the Bottomless Canyon. Even though Laslow knew for a fact it wasn’t really bottomless, that it was a portal, it had looked daunting. He and Selena both had to push Odin off the side of the bridge to get him to jump.

Odin hadn’t been unwilling, necessarily. He just had a thing about heights these days. Laslow understood.

He’d fallen silently. Laslow had swallowed and jumped after him. He’d had to close his eyes with the force of the wind sailing past his face, and then there had been only darkness.

And then there wasn’t. All three of them had woken up in Valla no worse for wear. The grass was green, the water floated upwards with chunks of land, and there had been a castle in the distance. They’d marched.

That first year, they hadn’t even made it to the castle.

They had been caught. Found out somehow, though Laslow had no idea what had tipped them off. Invisible soldiers had surrounded them. Laslow and Selena and Odin had fought and fought until they couldn’t fight anymore. Laslow had fallen to the ground with blood in his mouth from the cut on his lip. Selena had broken her ankle under the blunt end of an axe, and Odin had carried her back to the canyon as they retreated because even while bruised and aching, he was the least hurt that time around.

Selena had refused to cry over the pain of her broken bones. She had gritted her teeth and barely spoken until they made it back into Nohr and Laslow ran to find a cleric who could help, but she hadn’t cried. Between worried looks and unanswered questions, the cleric had eased the worst of their wounds and anything else that couldn’t be hidden under their clothes. The three of them made it back to the castle from their “vacation” early.

They hadn’t tried to go back again that year.

 

 

 

They’d tried again the next year.

Laslow almost hadn’t wanted to. He remembered how quickly they had been surrounded by enemies they couldn’t see. He remembered how outnumbered they’d been. Going back alone—with just the three of them, when no one else knew were they were—felt almost like suicide. He was sure they’d be killed.

But they had made a promise, and the weight of their oath sat heavy on Laslow’s shoulders. Selena and Odin were determined. So Laslow was too.

The second year, they made it to the outskirts of the castle.

Just the outskirts. Barely. They never would have made it inside, and Laslow was grateful they hadn’t tried.

That year they’d gone slower, been more careful, practiced hiding their tracks and speaking with signs instead of words. Laslow had just begun to feel good about their chances before the surprise dagger had caught him in the lower back. He’d fallen with a too loud cry, and Odin and Selena had spun on their heels, ready for a fight.

Somehow, they made it back to the canyon. All three of them had been scared they wouldn’t, though they hadn’t said as much at the time. It felt like ages had passed before they finally limped their way back.

When they got back to Nohr, all three of them had looked at each other through bloody vision and without speaking, Laslow knew it had been progress.

They never thought of waiting for a better time to infiltrate Valla, of telling anyone back in Nohr for help. For one thing, no one could speak the name “Valla” outside the kingdom’s borders, and what little they could have said sounded unbelievable. For another, it was their burden. No one else’s. A burden they had been asked to take on by a stranger in exchange for a handful of graves, but they had said yes, so it was theirs now.

They had made a promise to a desperate dead man, and he’d asked them to find his child to put his other half to rest. But that child was a child, and the three of them? They had been born to fight dragons.

(Even if it wasn’t really true, it might as well have been.)

 

 

 

Laslow and the others went back, every year.

Every year they made progress, except for the fourth year when they didn’t. The frustration after that event had lingered for months. But mostly, they made progress.

Obviously none of them had died yet, though there had plenty of moments where it felt like they should have. But they hadn’t. Obviously. And if they weren’t dead, they had to keep going.

Laslow almost didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t talk about asking for help. The option didn’t seem to be on the table in any capacity. Lord Xander and the others had come to expect the week or two off duty once every year, though most of them had stopped asking where the trio planned on going after so many dismissive answers of “Oh, here or there” they received.

They got closer to Anankos’s chambers every year. Every year, they got just a bit faster, stronger, a little more prepared. Every year, they made it just a little farther.

He knew they couldn’t take down a dragon themselves. Not with just the three of them. Not the way they were. And yet none of them brought up the idea of stopping.

This year they had made it to the edge of the dragon’s chamber.

But even they couldn’t fight an army alone.

 

 

 

There had been a couple of times while hacking and slashing his way into Vallite territory that Laslow had sworn he’d heard Anankos’s voice in his head.

He wanted to say it was the human Anankos that he heard, but it had been so long since their brief meeting that he couldn’t say with certainty that he remembered what the human Anankos had sounded like. Laslow couldn’t be certain he’d experienced a divine act rather than his own wishful imagination playing tricks on him.

But he’d thought he’d heard a voice, once or twice.

The first time had been during their first attempt, when Selena hit the ground with a pained cry and Odin stood too far away to be of much help even with a spell. Selena had clutched at her leg. Laslow had had tried to throw himself between Selena and her attacker, but he swore he wasn’t going to be fast enough to block the incoming blow.

He heard it then. It hadn’t really been a voice. It had felt more like a soft sigh in the back of his mind.

No, not even a sigh, really. It had felt like the barest puff of air tinged with smoke. It felt like the smallest shift. It had felt like… something.

He swore the Vallite soldier, barely there and flickering in Laslow’s vision, had hesitated then. Just for a moment.

Laslow had cut it down in seconds. By that time Odin was already grabbing Selena and calling for a retreat. They’d ran. Laslow had never been sure if that small hesitation from the Vallite soldier had been his all in his head or not.

The second time Laslow swore he’d heard Anankos’s “voice,” it hadn’t really been a voice then either. So maybe he couldn’t say he had ever heard Anankos at all.

But even so.

The second time he felt a presence, it had been the closest they had been to the Valla castle yet.

They hadn’t been on the castle grounds. Not in any way Laslow would have counted. But he swore they must have gone through some type of barrier or passed over some kind of invisible boundary because between one step and the next, Laslow swore he felt a bubble pop. He heard a deep, happy rumble in the back of his mind. Felt it, even. It was the kind of rumble that shook the bones. The kind one only heard from the mouth of a dragon.

It felt pleased.

The feeling had been gone in an instant. Laslow had looked around, but Odin hadn’t seemed to be paying attention. It had only been Selena who looked back at him, frowning, but then she shook her head and continued on before he could think to say anything. They had been trying to be stealthy, so Laslow hadn’t said anything then. Later, he’d almost forgotten entirely.

He couldn’t say either of those events had really happened. Laslow’s imagination had been known to get away from him a time or two. But there had been something familiar about those brief moments where he thought he’d felt something other than himself in his mind—some kind of invisible tie to Valla that only ever seemed to pull when he least expected it.

Laslow couldn’t say for sure that he’d ever heard his friend’s voice in his head. He had no proof to say he had.

But he couldn’t say he hadn’t either.

 

 

 

This year, they had made it into the castle.

They had made it into the castle and before the disbelief had even worn off, they’d found themselves in the throne room.

And in that very throne room, the Silent Dragon had taken one look at them and roared. Invisible soldiers had seemed to pour out of the walls—or maybe they had always been there, waiting for them, Laslow remembered thinking. And Laslow had fought and fought and fought, and none of them had been able to reach the exit again—foolish, Laslow had thought, and Mom, Lord Xander, I’m sorry—and then—

And then Laslow had been bleeding out on the floor from the cut in his neck, trembling, choking on the blood in his mouth and in his lungs. His body shook and shuddered in its death throes. Odin had laid on the ground next to him, unmoving, face hidden in the debris, and then Laslow’s vision had begun to go dark around the edges.

Selena had screamed something then. Not to Laslow. Not to Odin. She’d hurled the words in the air like a weapon.

She’d screamed something like, “Don’t you know who we are?”

Or… maybe it had been something else. Laslow had been dying, after all. He couldn’t be sure. It might have been something about memory. “Don’t you remember us?”

 Or maybe something else altogether. He couldn’t quite remember. But he thought she’d said something like that.

“Don’t you know who we are?” Selena might have howled, the last one of the trio standing and only barely at that.

Yeah, Laslow thought. Something to that effect.

The world had gone still.

The world had gone still for a long, long time.

And then suddenly Laslow’s vision cleared and he choked on air, but the very fact he could breathe at all was a miracle so he hadn’t care. Odin’s body had jerked and he’d shoved himself upright, looking dazed, and Selena had grabbed them both by their shoulders, hauling them to their feet.

A deep, rumbling voice Laslow both did and didn’t recognize said, “GO.”

They had gone.

They had run out of the castle and didn’t stop running until they made it back to the canyon, and then they had jumped.

When they’d made it to the other side—back in Nohr, back to the home that wasn’t really home—Laslow had laid there on the dry earth with his friends for a long, long time.

Eventually, Odin had rolled over and torn a strip of cloth from the bottom of his cape. He’d pressed it into Laslow’s hands while Selena eyed them with a frown.

“Here,” Odin had said, looking sorry. He had a very large and very ugly scab just below his ribs. “You might want this.”

Laslow bought the scarf from the market two days later.

 

 

 

Laslow didn’t see Lord Xander again until that evening.

He saw Peri and the other servants. Laslow made sure to greet them after his long absence. It was only cordial, after all. Most of them commented on his new scarf. Laslow played their comments off like compliments and slipped away as soon as he could. He was grateful to the ones who didn’t comment at all.

Laslow had been the one to bring Lord Xander breakfast, so it was Peri’s turn to bring dinner. He’d planned on biding his time until late evening so he could give Xander his daily report as quickly as possible and leave it at that. He hoped he wouldn’t have to see Lord Xander for until tomorrow. He also hoped they would do the not-so-adult thing and mutually pretend their argument had never happened.

Because things never went according to plan for Laslow, Xander found him at the training grounds.

Laslow wasn’t even practicing. He’d sat down by one of the training dummies, practice sword at his side, and stared off into the distance. Nobody else was around to call him out about it. He wasn’t thinking of anything in particular. He just was.

After a time, he heard heavy footsteps approach from behind. Laslow could have recognized that gait from a mile off, and while he may have been a bit of a coward, he couldn’t bring himself to run away.

Instead of telling Laslow to stand, Xander chose to surprise him by sitting down.

He didn’t “plop” down. Laslow would have never described a crown prince in that manner. At least not out loud. But if Xander had been another person, Laslow might have.

Xander descended with a great sigh. Laslow kept looking straight ahead, staring across the open fields and into the distance. The two of them, a prince and his sorry retainer, sat in silence on the grass for a long while.

“I was wrong earlier,” Xander said suddenly, breaking the silence.

Laslow strained to smile. His neck itched. “Pardon?”

“When I asked you to take off your scarf,” Xander clarified. He was looking at Laslow with heavy eyes. “I was wrong.”

Xander didn’t take apologies lightly. Laslow breathed in. He looked down at the thick, squat blades of grass that made up the training grounds and began picking at them to keep his hands occupied.

“No harm done,” he said. “I apologize for the way I spoke back to you as well. It wasn’t proper.”

“And it wasn’t proper for me to use my position to ask you to do something you were clearly uncomfortable with,” Xander said. Considering his station, he could have gotten away with not arguing with Laslow on the matter, but Laslow was secretly grateful anyway. It was things like this that made him glad to serve Xander. “Even as a prince, there are some things that are not my business, and I apologize for overstepping my bounds. Though you are my retainer, you are allowed to have your secrets.”

It did not sound like Xander was very pleased about said secrets, but Laslow couldn’t blame him. He didn’t think he’d be very pleased either if they tables had been turned.

“Thank you,” Laslow said. And then: “I’m sorry.” Another thought occurred to him. “Were you really going to send a search party for me?”

Xander gave him an unimpressed look. Laslow shrank a bit.

“Right. We’re at war.” And Laslow hadn’t returned when he said he would. He could see how that looked from the outside. Granted, Laslow had nearly died—just not because of the army Xander had suspected. “Sorry.”

Xander sighed again. Laslow was no stranger to the sound.

“So long as it doesn’t happen again,” Xander said, “we should call ourselves, as you say, ‘even.’ Otherwise this conversation may run in circles all night.”

Laslow snorted. It was rather unbecoming, but Laslow wasn’t very focused on personal imagery tonight and Xander didn’t comment.

“That sounds fine to me,” he said. “Thank you.”

He wasn’t even sure what he was thanking Xander for that time. It sounded better than saying sorry again.

Xander nodded. There didn’t seem to be more to say.

He waited for Xander to leave, but his lord made no move to stand. Laslow wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be the first to go or not. He didn’t feel much like moving.

Belatedly, he realized this was probably simultaneously the most relaxed and most awkward he’d ever been around Lord Xander in all of Laslow’s years of serving him.

After a while, without looking at Laslow, Xander said, “It was wrong of me to ask you as your lord to remove your scarf.”

Laslow frowned. They’d already done this. “My lord—"

“So may I ask you as a friend?” Xander asked stiffly. This time he turned to look at Laslow.

Laslow froze, a handful of grass stuck between his fingers. Of all the things he expected Xander might have said, that hadn’t been one of them.

Xander wasn’t wearing his armor. His clothes were nice and well pressed, but they were not the extravagant garments Laslow had seen him don a time or two for political functions or for audiences with the king. With no one else around to see, Laslow could almost forget Xander was a prince and Laslow was his subordinate. He could almost pretend they were just two regular people, talking.

But Xander wasn’t a regular person, and Laslow couldn’t pretend. They were different. There would always be a distance between them.

“My lord,” Laslow said, a bit hoarsely. “I’m not sure…”

He’d always liked Lord Xander. More than was appropriate for a lord and his retainer, perhaps. More than King Garon would have liked, certainly. But to consider them friends…

Not that Laslow would mind being friends. But…

Xander nodded, the careful mask of a prince sliding back on his face.

“I understand.” He moved to stand. “I should have considered your position more carefully. I apologize again. I will—”

“Wait,” Laslow said, reaching up to stop Xander from leaving. His hand curled around Xander’s forearm before he realized what he was doing. Xander looked down at him with mild surprise. “Wait, you—” His teeth clicked together as he shut his mouth quickly. “Wait.”

“Do not force yourself,” Xander said, not unkindly. His hand hovered over Laslow’s, though he didn’t force Laslow to let him go just let.

Laslow let him go anyway. They looked at each other.

Xander began to sink back down.

“I’ll show you,” Laslow said. His chest constricted at the idea. He both wanted and didn’t want at the same time.

“Laslow—” Xander began.

Laslow reached up and gripped the edge of his knotted scarf. Xander went quiet.

He undid the knot with shaking fingers and pulled the scarf off.

Xander didn’t recoil, which was nice.

He didn’t gasp or stiffen or do any of the things Laslow would have hated. Perhaps Xander’s eyes hardened a bit, but Laslow couldn’t tell if that was wishful thinking or not. After a beat, he averted his own eyes.

Xander also didn’t ask anything like “Did it hurt?” either, because obviously it had. It had hurt something awful.

It didn’t hurt now though. The raised scar sweeping across the left side of Laslow’s neck looked ugly and painful, but it was only one of those things.

“Are they dead?” Xander asked. There was something dangerous in his tone.

Somehow the question surprised Laslow, but he knew what Xander meant. He asked anyway. “Who?”

Xander’s gaze never wavered. His voice was flat. Hard. Laslow knew he wasn’t imagining that much.

“The person who hurt you.”

Even with healing magic at the tips of one’s fingers, a wound like this could have easily killed a person. Should have killed Laslow, if not for the last minute intervention of… whatever had happened. Xander knew that too.

Obviously Anankos had done something. Had taken pity on them, though Laslow had no idea why. Part of him wanted to say Anankos had remembered something of his other self, had experienced a moment of clarity within his madness, but he had no idea if that was true or not.

He really knew too little these days.

Laslow reached up, though he didn’t quite touch the scar. He let his fingers hover just above his skin.

“No,” he said eventually. He could have said “maybe,” because Selena might have struck down the lucky Vallite soldier whose swing had nearly severed Laslow’s head from his shoulders, but even if she had, it was Anankos who had truly been at fault here, even if the dragon hadn’t used the sword that injured Laslow himself. “Not yet."

Then, before Xander could say anything else, Laslow started knotting the scarf around his neck again.

It was suddenly too much. All of it. The feeling of cold stone under his back as Laslow trembled and gagged on the taste of copper came rushing back at full force.

He needed to get away. That thought raced through Laslow’s head as he fumbled with his scarf.

Laslow couldn’t smooth the worry lines away from Xander’s face, but he could at least cover his own with a too large smile.

“But there’s always next year!” he said, faking the brightness in his tone.

He knew he’d made a mistake even as the words were leaving his mouth, but Laslow sat there dumbly, unable to recall them. Those words were nearly the worst thing he could have said. Nearly, because he could have really let some secrets fly if he’d wanted. But even lonesome and melancholy, Laslow wasn’t that much of an idiot.

Xander was no fool. Even without looking at Xander directly, Laslow could see the gears turning in his lord’s head.

“Laslow,” Xander said, “are you telling me that every year—”

His scarf wasn’t properly knotted all the way, but Laslow stood up anyway. He’d fix it later.

“It’s getting late,” he said. “Would milord like dinner in his chambers?”

Or had Peri already taken care of that? Had Laslow missed dinner? He didn’t know and couldn’t bring himself to care.

Xander shook his head, standing up as well. “Laslow, you—”

Laslow cut him off again, which was dangerous.

“I’ll go fetch it now and meet you there then,” he said, pretending he hadn’t heard a word.

He began to walk away. Xander tried to reach out and grab him, but Laslow ducked out of his grasp gracefully.

Xander wasn’t trying to hurt him. He knew that. But Laslow had said too much, and he just couldn’t do this. Not now. Maybe not ever.

It wasn’t just his secret to keep, after all.

Somewhere in a tower, a little princess was relying on them to do this. Even if she didn’t know it yet.

“Laslow, wait.”

Laslow did not wait. He thought it said something about his lord’s integrity when Xander did not chase after him, but Laslow was much too preoccupied with simply leaving to feel anything besides distantly grateful again.

Behind him, Xander said, “This conversation isn’t over.”

Laslow kept walking. From Xander’s perspective, Laslow didn’t doubt it wasn’t. But it was over for him, and Laslow would keep dodging the questions, again and again, until Xander got the point.

Or at least until next year.