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solitude is no friend of mine

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Early Morning

Kithri is rarely the first to wake at Fairpoint Hold, but she wakes to a dawn chorus of birds that Torinn joins and decides to get up instead of shutting the window.

The kitchen fire is cold, not even any of Phi's brothers awake, and Kithri stokes it to life and looks in the coldbox for something to bake into breakfast.

By the time there's a blueberry pie baking in the oven, several brothers (Kithri could tell them apart if she wanted to, but she thinks they think it's funny when she doesn't, so “youngling” they all are) have come through the kitchen, but Quil is the first one to come and sit and stay, yawning and using magic to warm a kettle for tea even though Kithri has told her a dozen times if she's told her once that water heated with magic never tastes as good.

“Cordelia is coming tomorrow,” says Quil, and she still smiles whenever she says her sister's name. “Are you still going to be around?”

“Rest of the week, I think.” Sora was doing well, when Kithri left, and Sora wants her near but also tells her to hold on to her companions, because she doesn't want Kithri alone, in the end. “Is she coming with those girls?”

Quil snorts, which is quite enough answer to that. “She tells me Star wanted to go to Erelest again, but the rest of them outvoted her.”

Kithri's companions seem young enough to her. The girls who came, bringing family and soul back to Quil and family back to Valira, seem like children enough that she wants to keep them from their frequent wandering to try to heal the damage the tarrasque did to the land. Still, they're old enough that there's no need to protect them. “Those girls,” she says, for lack of the right words to describe their foolishness and bravery.

Quil hugs her around the shoulders. “I can help you make extra pies, if you want.”

It's not worth the breath to deny that she'll do any such thing. “Get out the flour,” she says. “We may as well get started now.”

Late Morning

Valira steps out of a tree coming back from her overnight trip to the sheep farm and finds Phi nearby, sitting on the ground near one of Valira's beds of herbs with a mess of paper in her lap, carefully reproducing the curves of leaves and stems.

“How are they?” Phi asks, looking up from her paper with a smile.

“They're settling in well. The mermaids are taking good care of them, and we've had some serious discussions about the fish populations in the area. One of them is having a disagreement with a shark, I'm supposed to go back soon and discuss a treaty.”

Phi's smile tilts amused. “That sounds like a story I'd like to hear.”

Valira ought to get back to the hold and make sure nobody's murdered Ewhoza, who she still feels somewhat responsible for when it was her spell that gave him a second life, but she crouches down next to Phi instead, trailing her hands in the soil to check that it's doing well, feeding the plants everything they need to keep growing. “Well, I'm in no hurry. I'm happy to tell it.”

She embroiders the story for a good quarter hour, until Phi is laughing and Valira is feeling pleased with herself. They've all had little enough laughter in their lives that every time one of them laughs it feels like a victory.

“I should have told you before,” Phi says when she finishes the story. “Quil had word from Cordelia this morning, she and Trilli and the others are coming tomorrow.”

It's impossible to believe, even months later, that Trilli will be coming through a portal like it's nothing at all, like Valira didn't spend more than ten years sure that she would never see her little cousin again. She hates the thought of Trilli cast out of their home as well, but she's more grateful than she could possibly say to Yondalla and Paladine and Trilli herself for delivering her to Fairpoint Hold. “I'm glad,” she says simply, and stands up. “I should go back to the hold. Do you want to come, or do you want to keep drawing?”

“I'll come,” says Phi, shuffling her papers into a stack and standing only a second later.

Valira starts walking, and after so long she knows that Phi will fall into step with no trouble, the two of them walking back home.

Midday

Most of the hold is having a raucous lunch down near the kitchens, Kithri presiding with a wooden spoon that she's more than willing to use to smack stinging blows to clothed arms should anyone displease her. Today, Quil's magic is full of spikes the way it sometimes is when she's too excited, and she finds a quiet balcony with her own lunch.

It's not quite a surprise when Phi joins her, though it's a little surprising that Terry isn't with her. With Kithri so often with Sora and her family and Valira so often at the farm or tracking down Trilli, Quil has spent a lot of time with Phi and Terry both. “Terry and Lanra got talked into telling some stories from their trip,” Phi explains like her thoughts were running along the same lines. “Everyone else said they were bored about hearing all our stories all the time. I thought I'd come say hello.”

“Maybe I should have gone down, if they're telling stories.”

“We've heard this one.” Phi sits down next to her. “Any fire this morning?”

Quil doesn't like the question, but coming from Phi, it's gentle curiosity. It doesn't come with memories of loss of control like Valira asking might, and Kithri's gruff kindness is too gruff for such raw edges. “No, but almost. I don't think our souls are quite settled again, so when I'm going to see Cordelia ...”

Phi nods. “Let me know if you need to go somewhere.” And then, with wonderful practicality, “One of the farmers nearby has been clearing a pasture and there's brush, too much kindling even for winter. If you need to, you could visit. They'd be glad. You could take Valira to help you keep it in check.”

“Maybe I will later. Thank you.”

“You don't need to thank me.”

Sometimes Quil thinks that if she started thanking her friends for everything that's happened since they met, she would never be able to stop. It's easier to thank them for the small kindnesses, though, and she likes doing it. “Of course I do.”

Phi doesn't answer, and the two of them eat their lunches together in easy silence. Sometimes, the laughter of their friends and family will drift up from the communal meal, and Quil smiles every time she hears it, her magic already calming.

Early Afternoon

Phi was going to sit in the garden to write a letter to Idilus, but when she arrives, Kithri is already there with a hat protecting her face from the afternoon sun, clearly settled in for an afternoon nap.

For a moment, Phi thinks about leaving her. Kithri likes her sleep, but gets little of it at night. She might not thank her for the disturbance. Still, she thinks she'd like even less knowing that she drove Phi away from the garden, so Phi finds a chair and gets to work.

It doesn't take long for Kithri to wake, and she heralds it with a grumpy “How long have you been sitting there?”

Phi puts her letter down, already knowing it will be days before she has a chance to get back to it with guests coming. “Not long. Sorry if I interrupted your sleep.”

“I wasn't sleeping,” Kithri lies through a yawn, and pushes her hat off her face, inspecting Phi and her papers. “Writing someone?”

“Idilus wrote about Arfil and how things are down in Erelest. Half his students are still abroad with the relief efforts.”

“He should let Arfil write about himself,” says Kithri, but she picks up the letter to read it over.

Phi doesn't bother saying she had a letter from Arfil just last week. Most of their friends from the journey write to her at Fairpoint Hold rather than any of her companions, who could be in any number of places on a given day. She shares the letters whenever she can catch anyone with a free moment, but she thinks she answers them the most faithfully, still in the habit of writing letters after writing to Terry and her brothers on the road. “I want to finish this since Star wants to go down there and visit after they've seen us, so she can carry the message when she goes. Do you have anything to say?”

Kithri always has a lot to say, and Phi hides her smile and starts writing it all down.

Late Afternoon

Kithri gets a solid hour's nap in after Phi leaves with her letter, and wakes refreshed. She never napped much before their journey, but there's nothing like defeating an evil dragon and the mortal form of a spider bitch for making you enjoy the quiet times, and Fairpoint Hold is peaceful.

Everything is quiet as far as she can hear, and she goes to check on the orchard, where apples are almost ready to come into season, making enough for pies and sauces and everything else she could want to cook.

Valira is out in the orchard, of course, frowning at a low branch on one of the trees. “Something wrong with it?” Kithri asks. Valira doesn't jump—not much can sneak up on that girl—but she does look up and away from the tree. “I'm counting on being able to make pies, is there something wrong with it?”

“The branch was poorly grafted, is all,” says Valira, letting it go. “I'll have to come back and fix it when the sap is running. It won't do much good to do it now. Out for a walk?”

Kithri wants to roll her eyes and say that it's obvious she's out for a walk, but she refrains. She knows it's Valira's way of asking if she wants company. “Have a drink,” she says, pulling out her flask, and knows that Valira will take it as the invitation it is.

Valira takes a swig and hands it back before she starts walking. “I never know where you get it all. I don't think I've ever seen you stop in a market and buy a bottle or a barrel of anything, but even on our way to the Boreal Valley your flask was never once empty.”

“Some secrets you don't need to know.”

That gets a laugh out of Valira, before she quiets down and goes back to looking at the trees as they pass. “The early apples are just a week or so away. We'll pack up a few bushels for you to take to Sora and the family when you go. And maybe we'll serve you a pie when you come back.”

Kithri pretends sometimes to be annoyed that her companions have held on to her so tightly, that they still rely on her so much. She knows, though, that she relies on them too, knows she can come to Fairpoint Hold, bustling with life, whenever death or memories press too heavily on her. “Have another drink,” she says, and Valira takes the flask with a solemn nod.

Evening

Valira offers herself to scrub the dishes when dinner is done, and Quil, after a groan that seems to be mostly for show, offers to join her.

Magic makes it easy, and easier with Quil, who can cast prestidigitation on the messes, even if some of the worse pots still need a good soak.

When they finish, Valira stays in the kitchen, frowning at the bucket of dirtied water one of them will need to deal with shortly, and Quil leans against the counter nearby. “I think they're arriving mid-morning tomorrow,” says Quil after a moment, and both of them smile.

At the end of the journey, they were the least sure of their next steps. Quil has the power to cause whatever destruction she pleases but still didn't have the knowledge to save her sister, and Valira didn't think she had family at all, only a connection to Phi's home and a promise made to some animals who had long since written her off as faithless.

Now, like a miracle, Quil's sister is healed and her soul restored, and Valira's cousin is one of the ones who healed her, and she sees Trilli as often as Trilli's wandering feet and Valira's determination to try to make roots will allow. (She hates the thought of Trilli cast out for defending Valira, but she's guiltily more grateful than she can say that it happened.) Now, Fairpoint Hold is home to them both, even if Quil goes back to the city of her birth to see mother and sister both often and even if Valira spends the occasional night at the sheep farm to keep things calm.

Valira lived too many years without a home, and Quil lived too many years alone, and Valira doesn't like to ask about it, knows how tender those wounds still are on her own soul, but there's some healing now, for both of them. “Did you want to get up early to clear that brush, then, or do you think it can wait a few days?” she asks, but Quil is still smiling like she heard all of Valira's musings loud and clear.

“I want to sleep in. Let's wait a few days.”

If she's willing to wait, it means her magic has settled again. It seems to do so faster every time she and Cordelia are going to see each other. Eventually, Valira suspects, Quil's magic won't leap from her control often at all. “Then we'll wait.”

There's the sound of laughter from the dining room, and both of them turn to it. “It's not the cleanest the kitchen has ever been, but it's clean enough,” says Quil, and Valira grins at her and starts walking out to see what made everyone laugh.

Night

Terry wakes alone, and he got far too used to that, but he knows it's not how he fell asleep. Phi can take care of herself, but if she's up walking the halls, it's an almost-sure sign that memories are plaguing her, and he doesn't want to leave her alone in that.

When he hears soft conversation from one of the rooms, though, he knows she's not alone. He still peeks through the door and finds Phi with the other three, all of them sitting with a fire in the hearth that's making the room a little warmer than it needs to be. Kithri is saying something, all big gestures but her voice quiet enough that it doesn't carry, even if it seems emphatic. Phi is shaking her head, but she's swallowing a smile, not looking haunted or sleepless. Valira is giggling into her hand, whispering a response to whatever it is Kithri was saying through her fingers. Quil is grinning, laying in front of the fire listening to all of it happen, and she's the one who sees him standing there at the cracked door.

She raises her eyebrows and opens her hand, an invitation that won't attract attention if he chooses to ignore, as he thinks he will tonight. He and Phi's family and the young women who visit between their adventures and even Ewhoza, who's quiet and prone to disappearing for days at a time, do their best to keep the adventurers from getting too caught up in their memories, as he knows all of them sometimes do.

If he'd come and found them staring silently into the fire, Kithri's flask passing around between them, or if he'd come and found Quil's hands shaking or Valira with her hand pressed to her head like she's trying to block something out or Phi with her shoulders held too straight and trying too hard to comfort everyone else and not herself, he would have come in and tried to keep them company. Tonight, though, it looks like they're sharing good memories.

Terry shakes his head and smiles before he backs away from the door, the sound of all of them breaking into laughter following him down the hall.