“You are not my commanding officer. And I’m an adult.”
“We can’t, Zachariah.”
“Master Sam and—”
“And how did it end for them?”
“It was not their fault!”
Zach is startled by his own shout, and he drops his gaze. “I apologize, Master.” For raising his voice, but not for his words. His heart is tight. He wonders whether his mentor feels the same.
“When my training is finished,” he says quietly, stubbornly not looking at Sean, “they will split us apart, you told me so yourself. And we might never even meet again. Who will judge us? Not Ian—”
He presses his lips together, stung by Sean’s mentoring tone.
“You want me,” he continues, and these words are bitter and tempting on his lips, like dark chocolate, “and I want you.”
“My duty is to prepare you for what is to come.”
He sways to Sean. “I know what’s waiting for me!”
Sean’s face is blank, and Zach hates him for it.
“No. No, you don’t know anything.”
He feels like his bones might shatter, his teeth might turn into dust, choking him, and before he can stop himself, he spits out, “Good thing that you’ve failed to make me into your own image.”
He waits for a fist to the face, or the electric sting of a slap.
But this is Sean. He stays still, and his face has less life than faces of the statues in the Chapel.
“I wish I wasn’t one of you.” Zach turns to leave, because he’s not sure what he might do the next moment. It is physically difficult to be near Sean.
“I’m glad,” Sean says behind him in a voice that is as far from mentorial as possible, quiet and gentle, “that you are one of us.”
Zach closes his eyes tight and clenches his fists — then whirls around and leaps to Sean and closes his fingers on Sean’s shirt collar. “Why don’t you let yourself be happy, even for a moment?” he hisses. “Why won’t you let yourself be selfish?”
“I must protect you.” There is so much pain in Sean’s voice, as though years and years of not speaking that pain have pressed it into a solid and heavy object.
“I don’t need protection,” Zach whispers, leaning up, aching to touch — not on the training grounds in mock-violence, not in the isolated room with Sean guiding his charge — but closer, real, as lovers. “I need you.”
He can feel Sean’s breaths on his skin, hot and rapid and shallow, his mentor anything but the composed visage he has for the world. Sean’s charge prickles against Zach’s scars, and he shivers, closing his eyes briefly.
It is sweet and it is torture.
“Send me away,” Zach pleads. “Reject me, find me another mentor — but later, later. Just this once, Master. Please.”
Sean looks into his eyes as though there are answers found there, and Zach hopes he can give them. Then a hand touches his right cheek, sending that tingling feeling through him again.
“You have learned one thing from me awfully well, Zachariah. Lying to yourself. Because ‘just once’ is certainly a lie.” His mentor sounds more like himself — his private self, the one that arches a brow and trades jokes with Master Melvin that only the two of them understand.
“I’m a Rogue. I pick everything that isn’t nailed down,” Zach grins, his heart racing, and rubs his cheek against Sean’s hand.
“Perhaps,” Sean murmurs, leaning to him, “I shall tie your hands, then.”
Zach can’t tell what sends him moaning louder: the suggestion — or the following hard kiss.