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Before the casting out of Fear* and the sundering of the Firebird, there were many great households in the West. Dahlia's was one of the few to survive the fires and violence that washed over the world, and any household Fear* had favored was wiped out entirely.

Grace was from such a house, but she was wily and cunning and had escaped the exiles and slaughter. She was born to a woman of sharp wit and a woman of strong body, and she had studied under them well before moving on her own. Many men had assumed her quiet, considering nature made her weak. Many men were not alive.

She could be man or woman or all or neither, and she could be adult or child or eternal teen, and she could look a queen or look a beggar or look plain. When she met Dahlia, the spirit skipping on the waves, she was as glowing as the sand and let her dark rosy hair fall into the ocean.

Dahlia was fond immediately.

"What is your name?" she called, running over the white foam to stand alongside the woman. Grace inclined her head and gave a name that was most certainly not her name, and though Dahlia knew it was so she did not care, and she urged the girl to stay with her for a short time and enjoy the sun and the salt and the waves. The sun set too soon, and Grace confessed she had no place to rest for the night, and so Dahlia took her home.

When she woke the next morning, Grace was gone - as was all the silver in the house.

Dahlia could do nothing but laugh.

It was a year before she saw Grace again, and though Grace was different - honey hair and dressed in sharp suits - she knew the woman immediately. She greeted her on the street and bid her have lunch and talk, and Grace agreed readily. There was no mention of their past meeting nor of the missing silver, and again Dahlia invited her into her home, and again the next morning Grace was gone - as was all the gold.

Dahlia would not wait for a chance meeting again. She walked the streets and walked the world until she found a small home in the woods, close to a spring, surrounded by vicious, venomous flowers and thorns, and there she found Grace - different yet again, with her hair pulled back from her face and strong arms buried in the dirt as she planted.

When Grace saw her, she leaned back on her feet and met the ocean spirit's eyes evenly, without smile or frown. Dahlia could barely contain her laughter, and her smile split her face, and she danced to where the flowers tried to bite and asked again for the girl's name.

"Grace was what was given to me," she answered, her eyes still solid and plain.

Dahlia laughed. "Is Grace what you shall give to me?"

Grace did not know what to make of that, of the laughter and smiles and flirtation, but she stood and welcomed Dahlia into her home and cleaned and prepared food and hosted as she could. Dahlia did not ask about the other names or other faces or the gold and silver. She ate, and talked, and laughed, and when the sun set she waved goodbye and ran home on warm winds.

She returned again and again, and Grace hosted again and again, until finally Grace could stand it no longer and said, "I do not have your silver or gold."

"I am not here for my silver or gold," Dahlia said.

Grace did not know what to make of that.

"What do you want?" she asked.

"Your company."

Grace most certainly didn't know what to make of that. Each day Dahlia returned she wore a different face, and she prepared different food, but Dahlia only left at sunset or when Grace bid her to. She did not know what to do. Dahlia was not frightened or repulsed or surprised.

"Do you know who I am?" she asked at lunch, a year after it had began.

"You are Grace," Dahlia had answered, stuffing salad inelegantly into her mouth.

Grace could not restrain a glare. "But do you know who I have been?"

"Does it matter?" Dahlia asked, unperturbed. She saw Grace, sitting still before her, and paused. "Does it matter to you?"

Grace sat, and she saw the woman before her, and she thought.

"No, I suppose it doesn't."

"If it ever does," Dahlia said easily, "I am here to listen." She laughed. "I have already listened to so many of your words, and I would listen to them all again."

Grace decided then, laying in her bed that night and surrounded by her vicious, venomous flowers, that Dahlia was worth the risk. When Dahlia came the next day, she was greeted not by all the masks Grace wore, but by a woman with too many wings and too many eyes and too many scars, and there in the middle of the kitchen she saw Grace for what she truly was.

"I may wear any mask I wish, but it takes bravery I do not possess to be seen as I am," Grace said. "But with you, I am brave. And if you are beside me, I will go forth into the world as I am and give you grace."

Dahlia held out her hand, unwilling to say no.