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There was only one person who would knock on my door at 3am. For a moment I lay in bed, hoping he’d go away, but then he knocked again. “Lily.” His voice was little more than a whisper, but I could hear him like he was right beside me. “Come on, little sister. I need you.”

Sighing, I slipped out from under the warm covers, wishing I had a different brother. I padded through the cottage, to the front door, and opened it for him, but he didn’t move. Our eyes met. “If you want me to let you through the wards you’re going to tell me what you did this time.”

“I didn’t do anything.” He made a face. “I don’t have to do anything. Being alive is enough for them.”

Nodding, because it was true, I weakened the wards enough to let him in. “Aeron…”

“Coming here was my last option. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologise. Things are the way they are.” I made my way to the kitchen. “Would you like something to drink?”

“Please.” I glanced at him. If things had been like they were last time he’d knocked on my door he probably hadn’t eaten for a while either. He slumped into one of the chairs. “You have no idea how much I wish things were different, Lil. I want to be able to live my life without always having to look over my shoulder.”

“You should have stayed.”

“That’s not fair on you.”

“We both know I’m capable of dealing with anyone who comes looking for you.” I shrugged. “I have some bacon in the fridge than needs to be used up. I can make you a sandwich.” I stood up and looked in the egg box. “With eggs.”

The look he gave me told me I wasn’t wrong. “I shouldn’t be here.”

“Yes, you should. We’re family, Aeron, and I will be there for you when you need me.” He looked down at the floor. “Who do I have to deal with?”

For a long time he was silent. I focused on making his tea first, before turning my attention to the sandwich. Aeron never wanted to tell me who was after him. He thought he was protecting me by keeping his distance, and he wouldn’t listen when I told him I didn’t need protecting, because I was the younger of the two of us. That didn’t mean I was any less strong than he was. We were both around the same when it came to strength of magic, but he had certain abilities that some saw as dangerous. Had I been stupid enough to show off when I was first coming into my abilities I might have been running the same way he was, but I saw the mistakes he made, realised why they were mistakes, and didn’t make them. Instead I kept things to myself. That was the best way for me to protect myself. With Aeron it was more difficult. His mistakes were already made, people knew who he was, and keeping him safe… well, it would have been a lot easier if he hadn’t kept insisting on trying to protect me.

As I put the sandwich in front of him he looked up at me. “You deserve a better brother.”

“Better, how?” I shook my head. “You made your mistakes, and they’re something we’re both going to have to deal with, but there’s no reason for you to keep beating yourself up over it. You didn’t know what would happen.” Doing my best to seem like I wasn’t doing anything I syphoned off some of his emotion. That would make it easier to talk to him. When I took the seat opposite him I could tell he’d felt it, but he was never angry with me for trying to look after him. “Now, who do we have to deal with this time?”

“Anderson.”

Blinking, I stared at Aeron. “How many lives does he have?”

“No idea.” He bit into his sandwich. “What I do know is he hunted me halfway across the country. I lost him in the Woods, but he’s going to know I came here.”

“He’s not going to get past the wards. He never has before, and they’re stronger than they were last time he tried. I’m going to need to work on some charms in the morning. You can’t go anywhere until I’ve sorted this.”

“Lil…”

“If it hadn’t been for me he never would have had a chance, okay?” I pushed away the memories, not wanting to think about my own mistakes, which were, of course, different to Aeron’s. “I am going to deal with him, and this time he’s going to stay dead.”

“You know I don’t blame you for that.”

“I know. I blame me for that.”

“There was no way you could have known.”

“Why else would anyone be interested in me?”

“Lily…”

“Aeron, I’m your sister. I should have known why he was interested in me, and I didn’t, because I’m an idiot. That’s something I’m going to have to live with, at least until I finally manage to end this for good.”

“You aren’t an idiot.”

“I was when it came to Anderson.” Aeron opened his mouth to speak, and I held up my hand to stop him. “To most people I’m a way to get at you. Even though I’ve always known that I still let a little flattery get to me, because I was hoping…” I made a face. “Whatever I was hoping I was wrong. Like all the others he was just trying to get at you. I’m sorry I wasn’t more careful.”

“This isn’t fair on you. It never has been.”

“No, it’s not, but we don’t have a choice in the matter. We simply have to live our lives as best we can, while dealing with idiots who think they should kill you for having certain abilities.”

“Considering our history I can understand why.”

“So can I. That doesn’t make it any less annoying when it affects your life.”

Nodding, Aeron ate the last of the sandwich, and wiped a wet finger over the plate to catch the crumbs. “I wish it had never affected yours.”

“I wish the same, but wishes can’t come true, so what we need to do is start planning out what our next steps are going to be.” I studied him. “When this is over I don’t want you to leave. I know you feel like you have to, but you don’t. I can keep you safe here.”

“Yeah, I know, and I appreciate it, but I don’t want to be trapped. I want to be out there. I want to be helping people. If I’m here…”

“They can come to you. We can work it out.” I ran my tongue over my bottom lip, wondering… I pushed that thought away too. I needed to focus on dealing with Anderson first. After that Aeron and I could talk about other things. “I’m fed up with not knowing where you are half the time. You only ever turn up on my doorstep when you’re in a situation you can’t deal with alone. That’s not fair on me. Either you’re going to be a part of my life, or you’re going to stop knocking on my door when you need help.”

“You want me to be a part of your life?

“I always have done. You’re my brother. Our parents made their choices, but I never agreed with what they did. I still don’t. That’s why I keep opening my house to you. I don’t want to give up on you, but you don’t seem to get it. I never know if you’re alive or dead. You’re out there, in a dangerous world, alone, and I know why you’re alone. I know why you’re scared to let me in. I know why you only knock on my door when you don’t have any other choice. I get it. I do. At the same time I feel I’ve done enough to be given a chance to show you I’m not like them.”

“My choices…”

“Are stupid.”

He laughed. “You’re not helping.”

“Who ever said I was meant to help?”

“They told me to leave, to protect you from what it meant to be me. That was the right choice.”

“Back then, maybe. I wasn’t in the position I am now, but, Aeron, I’m not incapable of protecting myself. You’ve seen that. I don’t need you to protect me any more. I can be there when you need me, but I can only do that if you stop running away when you get scared. We’re always going to have differing opinions. We’re probably always going to argue. You’re going to tell me I’m wasting my time with charms, and I’m going to throw things at you when you annoy me enough. None of those things mean I’m going to throw you out.”

“Why not?”

I stared at him. “How many people have you lost?”

“Too many, and it hurts, Lil. I don’t want to lose you too. I don’t want to be the reason you end up dead. I don’t want you to get so angry with me you kick me out. I don’t want…” He shook his head. “You’re the last person I know I can trust, and I can’t lose that.”

Nodding, I stood, taking the empty plate and going over to the sink. “The only way you’re going to lose my trust is if you leave again.” I felt the beginning of tears prickle at the back of my eyes. “I can’t deal with that. Every time you go it breaks my heart all over again. If you go this time I don’t want you to come back.”
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The Many Worlds of K. A. Webb

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