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Human Courtship Rituals

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A week after they secured their hold on Wyrmroost, Bracken showed up with a broken arm, a fierce smile, and a black horn.

And flowers. You couldn't ignore the flowers.

"The Dark Unicorn won't be bothering us again," he said. "I'll take the corrupted horn to the Fairy Queen for safekeeping."

"What happened to your arm?" Kendra asked in concern.

Bracken winced. "The fight was not entirely effortless, but I heal quickly. It shouldn't matter soon."

Kendra was doubtful, but this quiet moment on the battlements couldn't last long, and she didn't want to waste it.

Bracken brightened. "Which reminds me, I found these at the dragon sanctuary I was at." He pulled a bundle of small flowers from his pocket. "I preserved them myself with a touch of magic. They're called athelas. They'll heal most injuries. Knowing you and your brother, I thought you could make good use of them." He grinned. "I'd no idea there were any left."

Kendra accepted the delicate plants. Bracken had given her flowers. Magical healing ultra-rare flowers that were entirely practical, but still.

She frowned at him. "Why didn't you use some on your arm?"

"They'll heal most mortal's injuries," Bracken corrected himself. "I'm afraid they'd do little for me." He smiled at her hopefully.

"Thank you," she said, smiling back. "I'm sure we'll need it soon. You won't believe what Seth did while you were gone . . . "

 

It was a relief to be able to spend the night at Fablehaven when their year and a day had finally passed, even if they didn't dare to stay long. Agad assured them he was looking for a replacement, but Kendra doubted it was high on his priority list. Wyrmroost wasn't currently on the brink of failing, which made it better than most of the dragon sanctuaries.

Bracken checked in on them the second night. He looked tired, but he smiled at Kendra. "There's something in France I thought you should see. Do you have a few hours?"

Kendra looked back at the porch where her parents were sitting.

"Go," her dad said. "We'll tell your grandparents."

Kendra nodded and turned back to Bracken. "How are we getting there? Is there a shrine there?"

"There is," he confirmed. "Mother just opened one to celebrate."

"Celebrate?" There didn't seem to be much to celebrate lately.

Bracken grinned at her. "You'll see."

 

The shrine in France was set deep in a grove of trees at the preserve there. It was surrounded by a swarm of fairies, but they parted to let Bracken through. He emerged from the center of the throng with something in his carefully cupped hands.

Kendra looked down. It was a tiny fairy, small enough to sleep on her fingertip. Small, fragile wings that didn't look like they could support even their miniature owner fluttered weakly.

"She's so small," Kendra whispered.

"She's the first fairy that's been born since my father was captured," Bracken said softly. "Finally, the damage may be healed." His eyes were shining. "Would you like to hold her?"

Kendra was afraid she would break her, but she held out her hands. As soon as the little fairy touched her, golden light began to glow off her and fill Kendra's palm. The little one yawned, and her eyes flickered open. A sleepy smile beamed up at Kendra.

"Oh." She tore her eyes away to look at Bracken. "Thank you."

 

She'd thought that they would just head back to Fablehaven after that, but the preserve was startlingly close to a small town that Bracken insisted had the best pastries he'd found this century. Kendra might not have as much to compare it to, but she found it hard to disagree.

Although that might have had something to do with the company.

By the time they got back, the sun was setting. The porch light flicked on just as they entered the yard.

Bracken paused just outside the front door and very slowly leaned in, giving her plenty of time to pull away.

Panicked thoughts began to chase themselves through her head. What if her breath smelled bad? What if he thought she was a terrible kisser? What if -

Then their lips touched, and Kendra stopped thinking about much at all.

The porch light flickered wildly. They broke apart. Kendra glared at the door. "Seth," she predicted darkly.

Bracken laughed. "It is traditional," he pointed out. "At least, from my understanding."

Traditional or not, Kendra still leveled her best glare at Seth when she got inside and saw him standing by the light switch.

Seth just grinned. "Am I going to have to start sending a wraith to chaperone you two?"

"You're going to have to start sleeping with your eyes open!"

 

Kendra hadn't actually expected anything for Valentine's Day. They were all busy, and she wasn't sure Bracken even knew what the holiday was.

The day originally lived down to her expectations. She spent the day holding off a reanimated dragon skeleton while Seth tried to undo the necromancy animating it.

It ended with her waking up in the Keep's infirmary. Seth was in the chair beside the bed.

"Bruised ribs," he told her before she could ask. "Also a nasty lump on the head that was a whole lot nastier before we put some of your boyfriend's flowers on it."

Judging by Seth's sickly pallor, she didn't want to know just how bad it had been.

"Everyone else?" she asked, wincing as the movement jarred her ribs.

"You got the worst of it," he assured her. He reached over to her bedside table and started fiddling with a large heart shaped box. "This came through the tub, by the way. Bracken sends his love."

Kendra flushed bright red. "Seth."

"Okay, he actually wrote that the chocolates had been made with the milk and had some kind of fairy fruit filling that should make you even more of an Energizer Bunny than usual, but I figured the rest was implied."

"You read the note?"

"Do you think he's working off some kind of dating checklist or something? Flowers, chocolate, dinner, that movie last month, the stuffed animals before that . . . Except he keeps getting it weirdly wrong. Like with the stuffed animals. I don't think anyone told him the animals weren't supposed to have been alive at any point in time. Or come to life to defend you."

"They were useful," she said defensively.

"Fair. Still. I don't think he's quite gotten the 'human dating rituals' bit down yet. Maybe I should give him some tips." When he saw the look on her face, he backpedaled quickly. "Or maybe not. You know what, forget Bracken. Let's talk about the dragon."

"I thought you undid the spell!"

"I . . . might have just wrested control of it away from the necromancer. He's a nice undead dragon now. I can get him to play fetch."

"Seth!"

 

Kendra had pretty much given up on the idea of ever attending a school dance when she'd been declared officially dead.

Which was why it was so hard to believe she was standing at the edge of one with Bracken.

The theme was fairy tales.

Kendra looked at the sparkly starred wands decorating the center of the drinks table and imagined a lone fairy struggling to fly off with one.

But if the decorations looked a bit ridiculous, Bracken certainly didn't. The tux definitely suited him.

He did, however, look a bit uncomfortable.

"We don't have to keep doing things like this, you know," she blurted out. There was no chance they'd be overheard over the music. "I know we'll never be exactly normal. You don't have to do all this if it makes you uncomfortable."

"I like doing it," he protested. "Following tradition is important."

"Don't you have any of your own you want to follow?"

He winced. "Not really. There aren't enough unicorns left to preserve what we used to do, and most courting was kept very private for a long time after we lost my father. This - this is nice."

"You still look uncomfortable."

He looked wryly at the dance floor. "Back home, I'm considered a good dancer, but I've no idea what to do with this."

"I don't either," she admitted. An idea struck. "Come on." She led him out to the parking lot. It was clean, at least, and they were far enough from any major cities to have a bright canopy of stars. "Teach me one of your dances."

It wasn't quite normal, but it was plenty good enough.