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Reconciliation

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Alan is the easy one, which is not at all what Aly expects. But if her kidnapping shattered him, her absence forced him to put himself back together again, and that he has left no more room for her does not really surprise her. She has, she realized, had to do the same thing to herself; unlike her twin, she just never noticed that she did it.

When he spots her in the crowd at his knighting, he meets her eyes squarely, and there is no loneliness there, no surprise, no wistfulness, and no desire to speak to her. There is only calm recognition, a wall of acceptance Aly cannot break through, and underneath it all, rock-solid love.

Aly gives him a genuine smile - not the secret one they used to share, but the new happy one she has discovered in the Isles that swallows half her face - and Alan gives her a new quirky grin eerily reminiscent of their Da's before moving off into the crowd to go talk to his friends.

Sometimes, you don't need words.

***

Thom is the hard one, which is also not at all what Aly expects. He ignores her existence except when she leaves him no choice but to acknowledge her, and then he turns the full force of his poisonously-sweet tongue and his magic on her until she leaves him alone again. So Aly ignores him in turn, and spends her time with all the rest of her family and friends, especially the ones who couldn't come for her wedding. She's only here for a few weeks, after all, and she has a lot of people to talk to, a great many amends to make. Thom's is only one heart she broke, though his is the one that remains a quiet thorn in her side the whole time she is in Corus.

Uncle Numair's smile, when Aly quietly vents her frustration to him, is uncharacteristically bitter and broken. "Sometimes you can't make amends," he says to her, voice heavy with the understanding only experience brings. "Sometimes, things will never get better, and all you can do is accept that, accept the burden of your guilt, and leave so you don't make things worse." His eyes are very far away.

"He was always the one getting us out of scrapes, you know?" Aly says sadly. "I didn't think he had a temper; you'd think if he did, the things Alan and I did would've triggered it!"

"But none of them were a betrayal," Numair replies. "Even unintentional betrayals eat away at you."

There is nothing Aly can say to that.

***

Her Da is proud of her for her finding a place, for her spycraft. Her Ma is happy she has found her passion, her own grand cause. Numair understands what it means to find a new country that fits you better than your old one; Daine, in her own way, understands the same thing. Her grandparents are simply happy that their granddaughter is happy and well. Alan has come to terms with her absence, and he has found his way into a life without her. Most of her other friends - the princes and princesses included - are glad she is well, but are a bit distant from her now, in the way that distance brings.

Thom is the only one not reconciled to her absence, the only one whose memory, when Aly leaves for Rajmuat, still stings.

Three months later, Dove strides unceremoniously into Aly's office, interrupting her lunch with Nawat. A strange, triumphant smirk stretches across her face.

"We have a new mage," the queen says.

Aly isn't listening. She's too busy gaping at the tall redhead hovering in the doorway.

Then Dove's words register. "You're joking," Aly demands.

Thom snorts. "Jokes are your forte, remember?" he says, and the echo of the old childhood joke wrenches at something in Aly's heart.

It wasn't the fact of her leaving that broke Thom, Aly realizes. It was the fact that he couldn't help her. Her face splits into a wide grin.

"You need someone to get you out of trouble," he says, and the rage Aly saw in his eyes in Tortall has settled into a stubborn fondness.

"Don't you mean keep me out of trouble?" Aly teases.

Dove laughs, and Thom finally cracks a grin. "I mean exactly what I say," he replies. "Even I know my limits."

He steps into her office, gently closing the door behind him, and for the first time since coming to the Isles, Aly realizes that her heart no longer hurts at all.