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It’s February, so it’s all about love this month–romantic love, star-crossed love, a bit of unrequited love. Speaking of which …
“You won’t tell anyone this.”
I don’t remind Magnus that I can’t. Besides, his is a knee-jerk sort of question, the one he always asks at the start of a counseling session.
“You’re the only one I can talk to,” he says.
I nod, doodling on a piece of paper, its edges so charred that the smoky scent reaches me. It contains a list of names that, depending on whose fingers clutch the paper, could be almost anything—a death warrant, a hit list, a who’s who of the most recent rebellion.
But since a Sage last held it, I’ve taken to desecrating it with doodles—mostly hearts and flowers—and mostly adorning Magnus’s name. No, I shouldn’t have a crush, but then I shouldn’t be dispensing advice without a license, either.
Such are the times we live in.
“I need to fire my second,” he says.
I crook an eyebrow at this. True, I am a rebel confidant, for lack of a better term, but I normally deal with Oedipus or Electra complexes, abandonment issues, and learned helplessness. (You’d be surprised how many revolutionaries aren’t quite sure what to do after the coup.) But firing one’s second in command? Purely an operational decision.
“He’s a good friend,” Magnus says.
Ah, the crux of the problem. I give a single nod, one that means: Go ahead.
“But I fear his loyalties may lie elsewhere.” Magnus stares at me, his gaze holds both pleading and defiance. Has his second, Orlando, confessed to me? Magnus wants me to confirm. He wants me to deny. He wants something I can’t give him. I can no more tell Magnus this than voice his doubts to Orlando.
Magnus strokes his chin. “It worries me.”
Now I nod. It should and greatly.
“Do you think I should consult the Sages?”
I tilt my head to one side and give a little shrug—the maximum consideration the Sages deserve.
Magnus laughs, a big boom that fills the room and warms my heart. Still, I swallow the bitter anxiety that floods my mouth. He is strong, I tell myself. This strength will be his salvation, not his downfall.
“Yes,” he says, still laughing. “I know you’ve never set much store in their advice.”
I have my own reasons for disregarding the Sages. That they dispense worthless advice is secondary.
“Of course…” A slyness crosses his face, the look both playful and seductive. “They led me to you.”
Well, there’s that.
He taps his fingers against a pillow as if counting off options. My office is rudimentary, at best. A scavenged door for a desk, propped up on crumbling cinderblock. Crates double as chairs. A fire in the hearth makes it warm enough for year-round use. But the pillow? Velvet with silky fringe in a deep emerald green. It harkens back to long-ago days. Most of my clients can’t help but fondle it. When they do, their fears pour from them.
“It’s the betrayal,” Magnus says, his fingers entwined in the fringe, which might double as strands of hair by the way he strokes it.
I stare at his hands until the heat in my face forces me to glance away.
“We expect it. Don’t we? We always look for the betrayal.”
I turn back to him.
“But it’s never easy.”
I blink rapidly, in a way that I hope conveys understanding, not flirting.
“You would caution me against haste,” he says.
I give an emphatic nod.
Yes, those too. I can’t help but smile. Are all client relationships destined to be so intimate? Or is it only that one client, the one you end up needing more than he needs you?
Magnus closes his eyes. His lashes are childlike and startling against the scarred terrain of his cheekbones.
“Just saying it out loud.” He exhales, the force of his breath ruffling the pillow’s fringe. “You can’t imagine what a relief that is.”
No. I can’t.
He opens one eye and peers at me. I’ve always envied those who can do that. I need both eyes to see the world, and even then, I doubt I see it clearly—or at least not like I should. But it’s this gesture that decides things—his absolute trust in me. My world is a complicated tapestry with so many threads. But tug Magnus from the weave?
My whole existence would unravel.
I glance down at the list of names. The Sages may dispense worthless advice, but their sources are impeccable. I start to tear my scribbling from the rest of the page, but there’s no hope for it. I’ve entwined myself so thoroughly with Magnus, at least in doodles. I shove the charred and adorned sheet at him before I can change my mind.
Perhaps devotion can soften betrayal.
Even as his mouth turns grim, his eyes remain soft, dart toward the top of the page, then toward me.
“I know you’ll never tell,” he says.
I won’t. I can’t. Long ago, on my fifth day—as the tradition goes—the Sages sliced the tongue from my mouth.
He carries the paper to the hearth and lets it drop into the flames. Evidence of betrayal—of devotion—evaporates into smoke. I join him on the walk from my office. At the threshold, he presses a finger against my lips and kisses my forehead. I dare to yearn for more—that kiss traveling my cheek, brushing my mouth, lingering there.
But there’s no hope for it. Already the warmth of his lips is a memory.
“Ah,” he says. “My perfect confidant.”
Yes, it’s true. I am the perfect confidant.
When he leaves without a backward glance, I know this:
That’s all I’ll ever be.
This odd little tale of post-apocalyptic unrequited love first appeared in Fantasy Scroll Magazine. Sadly Fantasy Scroll is no longer publishing, but you can still read the archives online.
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