“You shouldn’t be so reckless,” Nasch says, after the assassin has been dragged away by the guards and Durbe’s wound has been bandaged. It’s hardly even a scratch, really, and Durbe would have refused to waste a healer’s time, but Nasch looked at him in the moment after Durbe’s sword slid between him and almost death, eyes wide and frightened, and so Durbe allows it.
He knows that what Nasch is really saying is Durbe shouldn’t be so reckless for Nasch’s sake.
“I could hardly let him kill you.” There is no one else there, for the moment, and Durbe dares to lay his hand over Nasch’s, like they were still knights in training, sneaking out to practice late at night so they could outshine all the others. “
"It’s not your job to protect me.”
“I want to,” Durbe says. I love you, he doesn’t dare say out loud. He lets their fingers intertwine on the bed, until the sound of frantic footsteps in the hallway outside make them break apart.
So this is the end.
There’s no way for all of them to win. They can sacrifice Nasch, or Merag, or himself, and perhaps defeat Vector and Don Thousand, but all three of them being able to live…no. Impossible.
Durbe has been here once before. Merag falling, Nasch breaking, Durbe left to bury the bodies and go home to die. But that was then, and this is now, and Durbe is almost relieved, when he solves the problem and devises the solution. This time, it will be different.
This time he can save them.
“Durbe!” Merag is screaming, but Durbe knows her grief for him is only a fraction of her grief for Nasch, and he doesn’t mind. He loves Nasch best too. And that is what shields are for, aren’t they? Standing in between damage and the wielder, until they shatter, and Merag might think she cannot go on without Durbe, but he believes in her. In the icy edge of her blade, in the arctic wrath she’s capable of unleashing.
(And even if she couldn’t defeat Vector, Durbe remembers the way Nasch looked when he stood over his sister’s body the first time. He remembers the way the light went out of Nasch’s eyes long before he was dead. Never again, not if Durbe can prevent it.)
Vector stares at him, his eyes insane, and Durbe is fiercely glad; if that gaze is fixed on him, it can’t be turned on Merag or Nasch.
Goodbye, he thinks as he’s pierced through. The pain is not so terrible, not compared to the pain of closing Nasch’s eyes with shaking fingers after he fell. Don’t mourn me too much. Dying for you…it’s a glorious way to die.
The beautiful girl Durbe saw earlier puts down her needlepoint and looks up at him. She and her brother have the same kind of stare – piercing.
(Her brother the prince. Durbe still can’t believe it. Nasch looks like a prince, too, and it’s intimidating.)
“This is Durbe.” Nasch puts his hand on Durbe’s shoulder and pushes him forward. Durbe’s family are small-time merchants, and he’s never learned the proper way to greet a princess, but bowing seems like a safe bet, so he does that. “He’s going to be a knight.”
“Oh?” Merag inclines her head at him. “It’s nice to meet you, Durbe. I’m sure we’ll be great friends.”
“Hmph,” Nasch says, but Durbe has already figured out in the two days he’s known Nasch that Nasch means ‘yes’ when he does that. His heart beats fast; he likes them. He’d like to be their friends.