The staircase felt longer than it should have, but Lore took each step one at a time. Running might bring her closer more quickly, but it would not change the outcome.
“You realize anyone we send is liable to die, right?”
The discussion rang in her ears and her memory.
“He’s not exactly in the most charitable of moods.”
Click. Click. Click. One stair at a time. One heartbeat at a time. The seconds ticked away. She ran her fingertips over the railing and let it soothe her.
Alexander, no, Alexi. To her senses, his grief overlaid everything with a shroud of darkest gray. Yet that was only a flicker against the anger he exuded. If one man could suffer a thousand lifetimes in a breath, it was him.
The door to the roof moved easily under her hand and she stepped out into the growing wind. He would be there. Alexi could be anywhere, but he would be here. Once upon a time, this place meant something to them.
Did it still? Soon she would know.
Against the darkening sky, he stood statue-esque. His tall, lean form straight with his hands in his pockets. To all the world, he looked calm. Simply a man staring into the coming night without a care in the world.
His stance lied.
She stopped and said nothing as she stared at his back. Strong shoulders. Lean waist. Arms that could hide her from the world. His silver hair had grown shaggy at the edges, unlike his militarily regimented style. Of course, the man with the short clipped haircut and killer smile had fallen by the wayside since Elenor’s death.
He gave up. He walked away. Now he was back with blood on his hands and bodies in his wake. They expected Lore to bring him in. Her choice.
“Is there anything I can say?” she asked.
“They want you alive.”
“And I suppose that’s why they sent you. Hoping I will come like a tamed bird to your hand.” The weariness in his eyes hurt her. Once she had known how to smooth that away. Now what could she do? With a sigh, she placed her hand on his shoulder blade. He didn’t flinch or pull away. Beneath her hand, the muscles moved as she remembered.
“Please, call me Bastard as you always have.” Was he amused? Something tinted the pain. “Let us not stand on ceremony.”
“They’re afraid of you.”
“You are not.” When he turned, he offered her his hand. She slipped in close. The difference in their heights made it easy for her to lay her head against his chest and feel the soft surety of his heartbeat.
“Good.” He pressed a kiss to her hair. The vague stubble on his chin caught. Even knowing how many he had sent into death, his touch eased her mind. The emotional weight did not completely lift, but she felt it less. “I will return for you. You know that.”
Her Bastard asked no questions.
“Also good.” His hug engulfed her with his scent and his grief until her head threatened to spin. “They cannot stop me.”
A moment later, she stood alone on the rooftop with the night air thick with the perfume of his skin and the memory of his warmth. She rubbed her arms and imagined him kissing her goodbye. Above, early stars witnessed her walk away from the edge.