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The Singers and the Endless Song

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The outer doors had been polished dark by centuries of hands. This was one of the older temples, in the center of the city and with a permanent staff of lower priests and acolytes to tend to the needs of the god and the people.

Some of the places Alex had visited growing up, tagging along after Ian on their trips around the world, had survived with only a few devoted volunteers to sweep the aisles and ensure that the altar stayed clean. He'd never really been devout himself, but he'd been raised religiously, and the significance of all this history was hard to brush off.

Alex hesitated before closing the door behind him, fingers carefully pressing where thousands had come before. Usually they were left open during the day. He’d been told when he was sent here that he’d be given privacy. 

A holy rite, all because he’d caught the right attention. It was hard to wrap his mind around. And even more strange that they’d traveled so far when Alex knew there were plenty of places that the High Priest could have used in his own city.

Gregorovich seemed to guess at the direction of his thoughts.

"It's one of my favored temples,” he explained. “It’s been repaired so many times over the years. That much devotion in one place leaves a mark." He was also staring at the doors, with a far warmer expression on his face than Alex had seen in their time together. "These were put up after the last set burned in a siege. Every other trace of the fire is gone - the acolytes who serve here have always been thorough - but We appreciated that the temple was made whole so quickly."

Alex wondered again how long Gregorovich had served as High Priest. The general assumption was 'a very long time', but nothing had ever been confirmed to the general public. With this sort of thing, information was released in generalities. But everyone knew he was old. One of the oldest. There were more careful records that were kept by the government and the order itself, but that type of thing had never interested Alex before.

He wondered if he could find records of the siege Gregorovich was talking about. If he even wanted to know.

There was a chill down his spine that sent his skin prickling into gooseflesh despite the heat of the day outside. Central heating must not have been a priority when they'd fixed up this temple. He couldn’t see any vents, even though he knew that most of the sprawling temple had to have them - he’d noticed plenty of modern touches to the furthest parts of the building when they were walking up. 

"Are we doing this?" Alex asked, after too long had been spent in silent reflection for his tastes. The doors were closed behind them, and all their stories would have to wait for another day. They had business to do.

Gregorovich blinked at the omission of any title to the question. Alex didn’t apologize. As the silence stretched on, a half-smile hooked the right side of his mouth higher that the other, curling up until it touched his eyes. Alex half expected to see a flash of fangs behind those lips - but that had more to do with the High Priest's demeanor than any actual superstitions about the man. He was as human as anyone, Alex knew. Just longer lived.

Alex refused to retreat, not even to the earthly conduit of a divine power. Yassen Gregorovich had approached him, and that meant he could put up with Alex’s impatience. He’d never asked for the attention of a god, much less the one who had gotten his family killed. He lifted his chin and stared into the chips of marble masquerading as eyes and waited for Gregorovich to answer his question.

“The pools are in the back rooms. Follow me.” Gregorovich turned on his heel and padded down the central aisle on silent feet.

Despite having won that little standoff, something about the sound of his boots clunking over old stone and Gregorovich’s easy concession left Alex feeling like a child again. As if he had folded his arms to insist you can’t make me in the face of someone refusing to be drawn into a squabble.

That he was trailing after the High Priest despite all his vying for independence didn’t help that impression.

The door out of the central chamber and into the private areas of the temple staff and priests were much less impressive than the oak behemoths they’d paused to consider at the front of the temple. A simple brass doorknob, a few scuffs at the bottom where someone propped it open with their foot as they juggled offerings and candlesticks and whatever else something like this place required. It opened into a more modernized living space, lit with recessed lights and soft music from speakers tucked into the corner. On one small table, a magazine had been left open invitingly.

Immediately Alex felt more at ease. It was still formal and everything reeked of expensive taste, but it was clear that this was a space inhabited by people, rather than the hushed stillness of the central chamber.

From the corner of his eye, he saw Gregorovich’s face twitch when he saw an abandoned cup of tea, the bag still in it.

“Does the devotion also mark the flats?” Alex asked, unable to stop himself.

“There have been accommodations made,” Gregorovich replied flatly. Alex grinned to himself.

As they proceeded down the hallway, Alex spied one of the senior acolytes sitting at a table, scrolling through his phone. Other doors opened up on people reading, or eating or talking together. With the temple closed for the blessing, everyone had been given the morning off, Alex guessed. The one thing everyone had in common was that they lept to their feet as soon as they saw Gregorovich passing by. 

The High Priest accepted their quick bows with a nod and nothing more - not even when they’d come across two women in priest’s robes, talking and laughing with their legs tangled together on the couch, one steadying the other as they’d scrambled to offer their respects.

Alex couldn’t stop his surprise. “I always thought you had to give up a life of your own if you entered the priesthood.”

Ian had certainly given him that impression, on the rare times he could be persuaded to speak of Alex’s father. That he had been devoted, nearly considering leaving the field to serve the god of war more directly when he’d met Helen.

Alex expected his question to needle Gregorovich - the man clearly didn’t like the more modern flourishes of the living space - but instead it earned him a considering look that he didn’t think he liked.

“Most do.” And then, more dry than Alex expected from a religious official he asked, “Are you thinking of joining us?”

“Thanks but no. I’ll stick with just the blessing.” His tone was lighthearted, but he meant it.

Alex’s CO had very nearly made it an order. And while his teen years had been rebellious at best, Alex was trying to get his career off on the right foot. No matter his opinions about the gods, a personal blessing from a High Priest wasn’t something to be lightly refused.

He only wished that it wasn’t this one.

Alex would have been just fine with the attention of a minor deity. One that had less history tangled in his family tree. But Yassen Gregorovich had taken one look at Alex when he was sanctifying the new base, and intoned in a voice that had sent the people around them to their knees, that ‘Alex Rider’ had caught his god’s attention.

Alex hadn’t even been wearing his uniform. And from the baffled faces of everyone looking on, no one had gotten around to introducing the green recruits. The High Priest had called his name out before any words between them were exchanged and sealed Alex’s involvement in things he’d really rather leave alone.

Gregorovich saw thousands of soldiers from countries across the world. It wasn’t like he would have remembered his father’s face. No matter how alike Alex had been told they looked. But that was the only explanation that made sense, because Alex himself was as boring a new soldier as you could get. 

He just hoped that would be true even with this in his file. Plenty of soldiers received blessings. Not all of them were yanked out of their lives to the oldest temple in the country to get them. 

Maybe the High Priest was just feeling particular today.

Soon they passed out of the living quarters, back into the older areas of the temple. Part of Alex wanted to ask if it had been designed like this on purpose - almost like a maze, dug down into the earth and reaching up into the sky, halls weaving back and forth. If this had been meant to confuse the uninitiated, or had been a simple product of time and human need.

Whichever it was, Gregorovich guided him without hesitation, around corners and down stairs until he opened a tiny door set between giant sandstone blocks.

The room was small and oddly purposeful. No decorations aside from the obvious quality of the wooden shelves and benches. Brass braziers lined the wall, burning quietly. Above them, smears of black indicated that they had been lit for a while. In the corner, a pool had been sunk into the stone floor, tiny alcoves carved out along the wall next to it.

Gregorovich noticed his attention linger on the bath, and shook his head. “For after. Once you’ve been consecrated.”

Alex didn’t know what blessing would require a whole bath, but he had a feeling that it was a more metaphorical dirt that was supposed to be scrubbed from him. The idea left him feeling prickly without any good target, and he didn’t bother disguising the way his lips tightened.

His bad temper must not have gone unnoticed, because Gregorovich raised one brow.

"Strip, please."

Alex wanted to make a smart comment - something to diffuse the situation of whatever awkwardness he was reading into it - but even his tongue wouldn't quicken under the weight of Gregorovich's eyes. Instead, Alex nodded jerkily and began to peel out of his trousers, taking pains to fold his clothing neatly as if he were in the barracks rather than his home. Something about the crisp lines on the High Priest's robes told him that sloppiness was not a trait he admired even in the pursuit of haste. He'd expected the man to look away, to try and give him his privacy. Or maybe for his eyes to linger - no matter the requirements for chastity in their religious orders, this couldn't be a frequent thing for Gregorovich. 

...or maybe Alex had this all wrong, and annointments of the flesh happened more frequently than he knew. 

Either way, he hadn't been prepared for the level, impassive examination Gregorovich gave his body as it was revealed, piece by piece. Careful evaluation, eyes only catching on the scars Alex had collected through training and an adventurous childhood. 

When he pulled his undershirt over his neck, he freed his head to find Gregorovich watching the short line on his side ripple with his movement. 

"I got stabbed," Alex explained into the silence. No demand or question, not even a silent one, but he felt like he should offer his past over anyways. Maybe it was the way the room was closing in on him. Less like a chamber in a big-city temple, and more like they'd been trapped in some underground cavern. The wood sometimes spit sparks or creaked as it burned, but aside from that the silence was oppressive. "A few years ago. I was in an argument and-"

"I know what happened," Gregorovich cut in. "You heal well."

He sounded pleased. A shudder wracked up Alex's spine. 

"Yeah. Ian always said so."

Alex had not been a shy child, and Ian was not a cautious guardian. Scrapes and bruises had been part of growing up, some more serious than others. 

Gregorovich nodded, gesturing Alex to continue until he was fully nude. 

"Thank you," was his quiet comment when Alex was finally bare in front of him. 

Alex stayed still without having to be told.  It wasn't exactly warm in the chamber, but the braziers staved off the worst of the chill from the stone walls. He was sure it was his embarrassment more than the air making him shiver. 

Gregorovich might have been impervious to the details of being human after so long in service to his god, but Alex was entering the prime of his life. The High Priest was not unattractive, which hadn't posed any difficulties until Alex was naked in front of him, hoping despite himself that he'd see a flicker of approval on his face. 

Once he was through this ordeal, he would make it a point to find a bar and be thoroughly distracted for the night. 

Alex rubbed his calves together, shifting his weight as Gregorovich turned around, attention switching to the wooden shelves against the far wall. Whatever was in the tiny bottles was beyond Alex's knowledge, but it didn't stop him from being curious. Some of them were made of thick, frosted glass. Some sealed with wax. And others looked like the type of thing you could buy from the first-aid aisle in the drug store with the label rubbed off. 

There was no hesitation in Gregorovich's hands - he plucked what he wanted from across the shelves, setting them to the side next to a large bowl. By the time he finished, there was a small collection of the things, and Alex found himself craning his head to try and get a better look. 

He might not have cared too much about this type of thing, but it was hard to keep that disinterest when age-old rites were being conducted in front of you. 

And on you, Alex amended to himself. 

The thought cast a different light on the way Gregorovich filed the bowl, stirring it with his fingers. 

Alex drew himself up into attention, stifling the nervous energy in his limbs. 

When Gregorovich approached him, still drawing his hand through the liquid, Alex couldn't help but ask, "will it hurt?" 

Pale eyes flicked to him. 

"No," the priest said in a tone half-off of reassurance, "it will not."

And then he placed his hand on the center of Alex's chest, just over his heart, and the world pulled apart and folded in on itself.

Heat under his skin, a thumping pressure in his head somewhere between a splitting migraine and the best drunken night Alex could remember having. His knees locked automatically to keep him from falling over, and his mouth hung open panting for air that suddenly smelled heavy with incense. 

High, just on the edge of his hearing, a shrill whistle built and built until the world was vibrating along with it. Hung on a struck chord.

For a moment, Alex was sure that he was being watched. Held in the palm of a giant, waiting for the vice to clench around him. At the edge of his vision, the walls shivered closer. Alex wanted to bolt out of the doors, but his feet wouldn’t move. To plead for this to stop, for the god to have mercy because Alex knew in his marrow that that was what this had to be, but his tongue was heavy and dumb.

The hand on his chest was a bright point of contact, and as Alex stood there, it was all that kept him in place as the world moved around him.

"Alex?" 

He shook his head, unable to drag his thoughts into words. It felt like a miracle that he could recognize his own name. 

The air was so loud .

A hand cupped the back of his head and cool breath puffed against his lips. They were cracked and dry, and Alex licked them to get the sandy feeling away. It was the first motion he’d been able to make since the High Priest had touched his chest. 

Against all odds, Alex felt his pulse in his throat, slow and steady as if nothing had happened at all.

“Alex?” Gregorovich asked again. He was standing much closer than Alex remembered, practically wrapped around him, keeping him between the hand on his chest and the one on the back of his head. Cradling him. His robes brushed against him, tickling the hair on his thighs and the thin skin of his stomach.

“Yeah,” Alex replied. Feeling a little slow. “I’m here.” 

Gregorovich smiled. It was the first real expression Alex had seen on him, and it made his face come alive. It was a relief to see him as more human than statue, but even in his current state Alex knew it was dangerous to keep noticing how good looking he was. 

“We’re glad.” 

Alex trembled again at that, ribs rattling together under Gregorovich’s palm. He believed in that little word now, more than he’d ever thought possible.

The gods had always been a distant fact of life - even the most skeptical of people didn’t question that they existed, only their proximity and relevance. Alex had the uncomfortable feeling that his own life had suddenly been pulled into their orbit. 

“Are we still doing the blessing?”

The hand on the back of his head tightened, fingers clenching in his hair. 

“I can’t stop now.” There was iron certainty in Gregorovich’s voice, and despite the return to a more human frame of reference, Alex had no doubt he meant it. Something had shifted, off-kilter now. The only way out was to keep going, to hope this made sense on the other side. 

He nodded his acceptance. 

And then, before Gregorovich could step back, Alex blurted: “you lied to me.”

Maybe it hadn’t quite been pain, but there hadn’t been a lack of it, either.

Alex was mostly back to himself, now. And close enough to see the expression shutter away on Gregorovich’s face, back to the uncanny control. 

“Most blessings don’t go that way,” he said. “I anticipated that you would feel a slight warmth. Most find it very pleasant.” 

As he spoke, he pulled his hand from Alex’s hair. If the touch seemed to linger, Alex was willing to accept that his senses were unreliable right now. When the hand over his heart lifted off his skin, Alex couldn’t help his flinch. Part of him expected there to be a rebound, or for his skin to abandon his chest and leave a shiny welt in the shape of those slim fingers. 

His movement didn’t go unnoticed. 

“I won’t let that happen again,” Gregorovich said. He didn’t sound apologetic, but he was firm. “The rest of the ceremony will be less… eventful,” he ended tactfully. 

Alex remembered all over again that one of the main duties of the High Priest was relaying information to various governments around the world. 

But Gregorovich was right - when his hands touched Alex again, dripping fresh oil, all that was left in their wake was summery warmth and the renewed awareness of the difference in their state of dress. The embarrassment was still there, but it was harder to hold onto it. Alex felt a little as if he’d been wrung dry in the space of seconds, though he was also unsure just how long they’d been down here. 

Even without the intense reaction he’d had to the initial blessing, time moved oddly down here. No windows, not even any candles to mark the passage of time. The fires burned low and steady, not seeming to need new fuel despite the split logs laying by.

He was told to close his eyes, and he obeyed just in time to feel feather-light touch daub oil on his lids. The path continued over his face and neck, even in the curl of his ears. When the priest’s fingers touched his lips, Alex had to stop himself from licking them again.

“You can open them, if you’d like.”

Alex kept his eyes closed and his breathing steady.

Gregorovich seemed more animated now than he’d been all day, but Alex wasn’t sure of what else he had to say. It was easier just to focus on the path of hands on his body, the long circular motions that covered every inch of skin. Up and down his arms with a firm grip, across his chest with one hand chasing the other in a spiral from the point he’d first been touched. Alex noted that despite coming close, Gregorovich never crossed over that first handprint. 

Part of him wondered if there would be a mark left behind, after all. 

The thought would be alarming later, when Alex felt less warm and peaceful. This must have been what the High Priest had expected, and Alex would have much preferred to feel this way from the start. 

Even the slip of oil between his buttocks or the press of a slippery hand between his legs failed to startle Alex beyond a tiny noise in the back of his throat. 

“It’s best to bless all of you,” Gregorovich said calmly. And then, a moment later, “as We learned from Achilles.”

It took a moment for his mind to un-muddle enough to process that, and by the time Alex blinked his eyes open to stare at him, the hands had moved to his right knee.

“You’re joking,” Alex said.

Kneeling in front of him, robes pooling on the ground in a ripple of thick fabric and vivid embroidery, Gregorovich tilted his head back to meet Alex’s incredulous gaze.

“Yes,” he admitted after a moment. That same small smile hiding in the corner of his mouth. “Some things are only myths.” 

Alex didn’t know what to say to that, either. Before he’d stood in the sight of something that had never been and would never be human, he’d thought all the old stories were myths. 

Apparently his silence was answer enough, because Gregorovich nodded, and slid his hands down Alex’s leg, over his foot. When a thumb pressed into the hollow beneath his ankle, Alex lifted his foot without further prompting. Oil on the soles of his feet would make standing a careful task, but not an impossible one. 

That was immediately challenged when Gregorovich switched his attentions to the left foot, leaving Alex balancing on one, trying not to send himself crashing to the floor and taking the High Priest with him. It was only hard-earned experience climbing up doorways and training courses and sometimes buildings that let Alex keep even the semblance of grace. 

It might have been his imagination, but he would swear that Gregorovich lingered over this foot more carefully than the other. 

Alex had the faint but nagging suspicion that the High Priest was more of a person than any of the acolytes wanted to admit. That that just made him like the man more was all the proof of an unjust world Alex needed, standing on one foot. 

It just made him feel more real. High Priest Gregorovich was someone from news stories and history books, not a man with a dry sense of humor who might have a well-buried streak of pettiness. 

That was almost as much a revelation as the earlier thunderclap had been, and a more pleasant one. 

After his foot was released the rest of the rite went quickly, until Alex was left standing there under Gregorovich’s careful eye. Looking for any sign that some part of him had been missed in his attentions. 

Alex lifted his chin and waited.

He could feel every part of his body, and was grateful for once that he was naked. With the way the oil had sensitized his skin, it would have been uncomfortable to even pull on one of the loose robes. 

At last, the High Priest nodded, satisfied.

“You can bathe. There is soap, and a cloth. All the oil should be removed before you leave here today. I will give you your privacy, if you would like.” 

There was a folding screen near the bath that Alex hadn’t paid much mind to earlier. If extended, it would hide him from view. He appreciated the offer, but after everything that had happened, there didn’t seem to be much point.

“I’ll be fine.” 

The reply came in the form of an extended hand, gesturing for him to move freely. Alex crossed the floor carefully, aware of the oily smears he left behind him as he walked. 

Stepping down into the bath was an experience all its own. The water wrapped around him, barely rippling even as he waded deeper, until he was up to his waist. It was warm enough to pink his skin, and Alex was tempted to dunk his head under immediately. The thought that Gregorovich was watching was the only thing that kept him from trying.

But he was hardly watching him intently - that earlier focus that had pinned Alex in place had faded. Instead, he had turned back to the shelves, setting aside the bowl and arranging his materials again.

It was clear that the most significant part of the day was over. 

Alex sank down, sitting on one of the ledges underwater, and grabbed the cloth, working it over the cake of soap until a sweet-smelling lather rose up.

He cleaned himself carefully, not wanting to risk having to go through this again if he didn’t mind the instructions. His chest, still tingling where he’d been touched, he left for last.

“So what exactly are those?” Alex asked eventually. He’d been watching Gregorovich arrange the bottles, how he resealed some with a tiny spoon of melted wax, pressing his thumb into the top without flinching. 

“Nothing by themselves,” Gregorovich answered. “Materials, some more rare than others. It takes power for a blessing to work, but these help it linger.”

Alex couldn’t resist. “They help it sink in?” He grinned, raising one hand out of the water. His skin did seem like it was a little more shiny, even after being cleaned.

His humor seemed lost on the man. “Exactly. It will be easier for us to find you, if you need me. A bit of protection. Fortune in battle.”

Alex hesitated. Drawing his hands through the water, watching it ripple. It was sort of pretty, down here. Even despite everything. Intimidating, from all the fire and brass and stone, but without being in the center of the room, able to speak and move, all of that felt less intimidating. 

“I’m still not sure if I want that.” 

He wasn’t about to argue with the High Priest about his religion, and couldn’t deny that there had been something vast and powerful that echoed through him earlier. But talking about things like protection and luck… it left Alex feeling off-balance. 

This time there was no reply. 

Which really, said enough. 

Alex heaved a breath, let it burn in his lungs before he released it. And then he brought the cloth up to his heart, and scrubbed the last of the handprint away. It was time for him to leave.

“Can I get a towel?” He asked, levering himself out of the water. 

Gregorovich was there within the second, holding out a deep blue towel and a light robe. It looked a little like the ones the acolytes wore, and Alex wasn’t sure that he wanted to put it on. 

He dried himself as well as he could, and then turned to his clothes, still folded on the stool near the door. Getting dressed again involved a lot of grimacing at the feeling of his shirt clinging damp skin, but he managed it quickly enough.

Gregorovich was already waiting by the door, and had been since Alex had accepted the towel. 

“Should I-” Alex started to ask, looking at the small pile of fabric he’d left behind. The oil on the floor and the film of soap in the water. Everything looked rather more used than a holy chamber was supposed to, in his mind.

“Leave it. It needs to be cleaned properly.”

The obvious implication that Alex wasn’t up to the task would have stung in any other circumstance, but he’d accepted somewhere along the way that he was a passenger in his life this afternoon. 

They made their way out together. Down the hallways, passing through areas that were ancient and modern by turn. Like before, anyone else they saw paused what they were doing, nodding their heads to Gregorovich respectfully. 

Alex understood better why that was. 

They paused in the vestibule outside the Great Chamber. While he’d been going through the blessing, the doors had been propped open, and the sight of cars outside was weirdly jarring. 

Alex opened his mouth, found that he didn’t have any actual words to give shape to what he was feeling, and then closed it again with a soft click.

It felt like the polite thing to do was to thank him for the blessing, for taking notice of him. But Alex wasn't entirely sure that he was grateful, exactly. He'd started this with the half-resentful thought that he was being thrust into the spotlight of the temple, and the way the ceremony had gone hadn't done much to settle his nerves about the whole thing. This all felt like something that would echo beyond the temple’s heavy doors, bleeding out into his regular life. 

“I’m not sure what I should say,” Alex eventually admitted. 

Gregorovich nodded, once again drawn up into a slim line, hands folded in front of his body. He held himself like a knife, waiting to flick open at any moment. 

Alex guessed that was fitting, but it was still odd to see after he'd spent time around the priest when he was more.... relaxed? Happy? Whatever the word for the playful mood that had come over him had been. 

"You don't need to thank me. It had to happen, but I'm glad to have been the one to administer the blessing." 

That this had been the will of Gregorovich's god wasn't something Alex wanted to think too much about. He felt normal again, doors to the temple open and with fresh air on his face. What had happened back there couldn't be forgotten, so the reminder felt pointed. 

A man like a knife, Alex reminded himself. 

"Well, anyways," he said. Aware that it made him sound young and petty.

"It's been a long day for you," Gregorovich said, smoothing over his bad manners.

It had been barely three hours since they stepped through the front doors. Alex wanted to sleep for a week. 

"I will see you next week," Gregorovich said. “Until then, don’t mention the details of today to anyone.”

At that, Alex started and turned to look at him, more than a little wary.

The High Priest of any god carried the weight of nations and their faithful on their backs. After what had happened in there, Alex hadn't thought for a moment that they would permanently part ways. But he hadn't expected them to reunite soon, either.

Gregorovich stood, staring straight ahead, out at the streets. He’d come to a stop just beside Alex, aligning his slim shoulders with Alex’s larger frame. It was the first time that Alex was acutely aware of the difference in size between them - not even on his knees had the man seemed small. He moved and the air moved with him, and Alex hadn’t thought to question it. 

“I’ll have to tell the world that We have found our champion,” Gregorovich said. The words fell softly from his lips and landed like stones in Alex’s gut. 

That had been mentioned in all his history books too. A god always had a High Priest on earth, but champions came and went. They weren’t once in a generation - more rare than that. Always before some large event.

Alex couldn't remember the last champion of the god of war. 

He wasn’t sure he wanted to know what was coming, that would mean one had to be chosen.

No part of him wanted it to be him. 

The sudden, vivid urge to leave his whole life behind and disappear into the woods to take up a quiet life of gardening clenched in his stomach. He could picture it. He’d write letters to his friends. Maybe finally get a pet. It might be nice.

And beneath the fragments of that idea, Alex knew it wouldn’t matter at all. 

Beside him, Gregorovich turned, staring up at Alex through his long lashes. A horribly gentle look on his face, because it was one made for austerity and temper and anything that made him look this kind had to be edged in cruelty. 

“It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Alex. My name is Yassen.” And then he held his hand out, as if they were actually being introduced for the first time, as if he hadn’t just been held by him as his world was forcibly realigned. “I look forward to working with you.”

When Alex swallowed back the lump in his throat and grabbed Yassen’s hand, the world didn’t shift again. There was no thrum of something godly in the background, only calluses from a long life spent wielding weapons. 

“Hi,” he said. He didn’t know what else he could say. “It’s been interesting to meet you too.”

His careful choice of words hit home. Beside him, Yassen tilted his head back and smiled. It was more stunning than before, and the swoop in the bottom of Alex’s stomach was decidedly human in nature, and just as dangerous as any divine blessing.

Yassen squeezed his hand once, then stepped back into the temple as silently as ever.

Alex was left blinking in the sunlight, a future sprawling out in front of him and a humming in his veins.