Langtree was so small that it was easy to miss from the air. It nestled in amongst the trees and green hills so neatly that the eye just passed over it, looking for something else.
Miriam landed her broom at Kiwi's little house, knocked on the door and waited. She knocked again, and listened closely. No sounds other than the birds nearby. So, Kiwi wasn't home. She picked up her broom again and headed into town (if you could call it that).
When she'd first come to Langtree, Miriam had been disgusted with it. Now it seemed familiar, its modest size and collection of people quirky rather than annoying.
The mayor spotted her as she flew through the streets of town (both of them), listening for any signs of rogue bards. "Miriam!" yelled the mayor, opening her front door and waving in Miriam's direction. "Come here!"
Miriam contemplated pretending not to have heard, but she'd been flying for hours through the lingering chill of a recently departed winter. And it was always possible the mayor was going to tell her where Kiwi was.
It turned out the mayor just wanted to feed her.
"You look hungry," said the mayor, filling a huge bowl of soup from the cauldron in her fireplace and pressing it into Miriam's hands.
Well, Kiwi could look after themselves, wherever they were, for a bit longer. The soup was good, hearty and filling after a long flight.
"How is your grandmother?" asked the mayor. Miriam answered this piece of blatant nosiness, the price of food in a small town, and then listened as the mayor caught her up on the gossip from Langtree. She was slightly shocked to realise she could follow most of it.
Miriam had the sneaking suspicion that she was being brought into the fold of the Langtree family, and the worrying thought that she liked it.
"I should go," said Miriam, somehow managing to fend off an offer to refill her bowl.
"You're welcome back anytime," said the mayor, sweeping Miriam's empty bowl away and seeing her out the door with a wide smile.
Outside felt colder now. She could stop by Marley and Francine's house, who would give her tea, and then she'd get drawn into another conversation and still be none the wiser about the location of her errant bard. There were still a couple of hours until sunset, but those could easily disappear in Langtree.
Miriam flew higher and circled the town in an ever-widening spiral, passing trees and meadows and disturbing at least three flocks of disgruntled birds. Finally, finally she found Kiwi.
"Miriam!" said Kiwi, wrapping her in a big hug and almost knocking her off her broom. "How did you know I was here?"
"How do you think?" said Miriam. "I flew around and listened for singing."
Kiwi beamed at her, not at all embarrassed. "It's spring," they explained. "I was singing to the flowers. They haven't sprouted yet, but they will."
"Of course they will," said Miriam. "They're flowers. That's what they do."
"They're prettier if you sing at them," said Kiwi.
"But why all the way out here?" asked Miriam doubtfully. "You're a long way from town."
"Am I?" Kiwi laughed. "I guess my wandering feet got to me again."
Miriam was unconvinced, but she let it slide for now. "It'll be dark soon," she pointed out. "We should start heading back. I'm too tired to carry you. I've been looking for you for hours!"
"Sorry," said Kiwi. "But I'm glad you found me."
Kiwi walked while Miriam hovered along beside them for a while. Kiwi was uncharacteristically quiet, which for them meant they were only humming softly to themselves as they walked.
"I got a letter from my mom this morning," said Kiwi suddenly. They looked happy about it, but that wasn't any measure of anything. Miriam could just about tell Kiwi's "actually happy" smile from their "making other people happy" smile, but beyond that she didn't have any insight into what Kiwi was thinking.
"Oh? What did she have to say for herself?" asked Miriam.
"She wants me to come to dinner with her and my dad," said Kiwi. "She mentioned it before, after we saved the world, but now she wants to set a date for it."
"In Chismest?" When Kiwi nodded, she continued, "I can fly you there, just let me know when. Well, the land parts. We'll need to hire a boat to cover the ocean parts."
Kiwi's expression said that they hadn't got as far as thinking about how they would make it to Chismest. "We can travel with the pirates again?" they suggested excitedly.
"Sure," said Miriam. It couldn't be worse than the previous times. "Why not. I've been missing our days of endless song on the high seas."
Kiwi looked at her suspiciously, but Miriam looked straight ahead and kept her expression neutral.
"Anyway, I have to write back first," Kiwi said. "It might be a while. The mail is slow out here."
They travelled a little further. Now Kiwi wasn't even humming. Even the birds were making more noise.
Miriam took a deep breath and dove in. "Is something... bothering you?"
"It's nothing," said Kiwi quickly.
It was so, so hard not to just accept the out and move on. Ugh. Feelings. "I'd be... happier... if you told me what's wrong," she said, which was mostly true. Happier in the long term, anyway.
She could tell Kiwi was pondering that. "It's just," they said, then they stopped again. "Mom said something..." Another pause. "You know I don't remember my dad," they said at last.
"She said if he'd been around, maybe I..." Now she could see the furrow of worry in Kiwi's brow. "I hope he likes me. The way I am, I mean."
"Everyone likes you," said Miriam.
"Everyone thinks I'm strange," Kiwi corrected her cheerfully. "Even my mom."
Miriam had to tamp down an unexpected surge of protectiveness. "But they like you anyway."
Kiwi shrugged, but they started humming faintly again.
Miriam sighed to herself. "Did you want me to come to dinner with you?"
Kiwi's smile brightened momentarily, then dimmed again. "Mom said she wants it to be like we're a family again," they said. "So I think she means just the three of us."
"If my parents came back right now and told me they wanted to be a family again I'd tell them where to shove it," said Miriam. Except that that would never happen, because she was pretty sure her parents were dead. She hadn't built up the courage to tell Kiwi yet.
"I love my mom," said Kiwi, sounding very sure about it. "And I'm sure I'll love my dad too, once I get to know him. He only wanted to make people happy. That's a good thing!"
Miriam hummed noncommittally. "Sure. Good intentions and all that. Not sure it makes up for what happened to that town, but... whatever. Maybe you're right."
Kiwi's smile was definitely failing now. Maybe she should apologise.
"Oh!" said Kiwi, suddenly. "I have a surprise for you."
"Uh, what?" said Miriam.
"Back at the house," said Kiwi. "Come on, we're almost there." They ran the rest of the way, Miriam struggling to keep up on her broom, leaving a trail of song in their wake. "Close your eyes," said Kiwi, opening the front door. "No peeking."
"Why?" demanded Miriam.
"It's a surprise!" repeated Kiwi patiently.
Miriam obeyed begrudgingly. Kiwi led her inside the house and turned her around with a few light touches on her arm.
"Ta-da! You can open your eyes now," said Kiwi, gesturing into the corner of the room.
Miriam blinked. "It's... a bed." It was small, with a wooden frame and thin mattress, but it was undeniably a bed. The bedding was very colourful.
"Bronson and I made it for you," said Kiwi. "So neither of us have to sleep on the floor anymore."
"Oh," said Miriam. She blinked a few more times. "Thank you," she said, once she felt like she could talk again. "I'll... have to thank Bronson too. Next time I see him."
There was a picture pinned to the wall above her bed. It was of someone riding a broom. The face had a flat mouth, giving it a disgruntled expression, and a long nose.
"And, um, thank Bronson's kid too," she said.
She sat down on the bed heavily and took a deep breath. "I think I'm about to be icky feelings Miriam again," she warned Kiwi.
"That's okay," said Kiwi. "You're welcome."
It was another two months before all the arrangements were made. Miriam spent the night in her bed in Langtree so that she could be fully rested to fly them to Delphi and meet the Lady Arabica the next day.
Kiwi made breakfast and hovered nearby while Miriam insisted on cleaning up afterwards. "Thank you for flying me," they said. "Um. Where are you going after you drop me off?"
"I'm going to stay in Chismest," said Miriam. "At the pub, they have rooms there."
Kiwi blinked. "You don't have to—"
"I have friends there too!" Miriam snapped. "I can stay if I like."
"Oh, that's right! We can have an Astronomers reunion!" said Kiwi. "I can probably sneak out after my mom - my parents - go to bed."
"Sure," said Miriam, wondering how much sneaking out Kiwi had done as a kid. Surely not a lot? They hated breaking the rules. But maybe they thought it sounded cool, like being a pirate?
"What?" said Kiwi.
"Nothing," said Miriam, shaking her head. "There's still so much I don't know about you, that's all."
"Well," said Kiwi. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Except for your mom's house," said Miriam. She dried her hands off. "Come on. Let's get going."
Outside, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and she could already feel the heat of the day in the air. She squinted into the sunshine and concentrated on her broom.
Once she was safely hovering, Kiwi jumped on the back of the broom, a familiar weight it took Miriam only a little effort to re-balance for, and Miriam took off.
Miriam let Kiwi chatter about whatever they wanted as she flew. Music, mostly. Chords and modes and metres and what they thought they meant, or could mean, and how it made them feel. "I don't hear you talk about music like this with other people," said Miriam, during a rare break. With Marley, occasionally, but no one else.
There was a moment's pause. "You don't mind, do you?"
"No," said Miriam. "Maybe I didn't understand at first, but I like it now."
"Most people think it's boring to talk about music, even if they like my singing," said Kiwi. "But music is super important to me. So I only do talk about it with people who'll listen."
Miriam flushed and tightened her hands around her broom. "I'm glad. That you trust me, I mean."
"I'm glad too," said Kiwi. "That I can trust you." They started singing again, and the song took them all the way to Delphi.
Miriam still refused to sing her part in the pirates' song, but she played the melody on her piccolo, which they all seemed happy with.
They landed in Chismest around five, the sun lighting up the town and making it look almost beautiful. "I'll be at the diner until midnight," said Miriam. "If you need me, just come."
"OK," said Kiwi. They hesitated for a second, then skipped forward and wrapped Miriam in a tight hug. Then they disappeared inside the house.
At six o'clock, Miriam had finished a plate of what Beth called the daily special. Miriam hadn't asked what sort of food it was, and eating it didn't provide any answers on the subject. Still, it was food, it was edible.
By seven o'clock, Miriam knew she'd made a mistake in saying she'd be at the diner all night. People kept saying hello to her. And starting conversations. And thanking her for (helping with) shutting down the factory. Some of them remembered she'd also saved the world (in part).
By seven forty-five, she was only just managing not to bite the head off everyone who spoke to her. She gritted her teeth and tried to be polite, which mostly resulted in people leaving after five minutes.
At eight o'clock, Elara walked in, spotted Miriam, and made a bee-line for her table. "Miriam," she said. She pushed her glasses up. "Welcome back."
Miriam narrowed her eyes. "Thank you?"
"I want to talk to you about magic," said Elara. "You can do magic."
"Yes..." said Miriam slowly. "I'm a witch. That's what we do."
"Explain it to me. Those university witches in Chaandesh won't tell me anything. They say it's pointless for someone who can't do magic to try and understand it. But I think if I can understand magic, I can use it in my inventions."
"I can't just explain magic," said Miriam. "That's not how it works."
"All right then, I'll teach you," said Elara.
"You'll teach me... what?"
"I'll teach you how to explain it," said Elara patiently. "I'll give you some questions and you can answer them for me."
"OK..." said Miriam. She wanted to say no, but while Elara was talking to her nobody else seemed to be bothering them. Surely she could deal with a few questions about magic.
At nine o'clock, sixty excruciating minutes later, Kiwi walked in. The room erupted in an explosion of noise and it was several minutes before they could make it through the crowd of other patrons to sit next to Miriam.
"You're popular tonight," said Miriam.
Kiwi looked around the diner for a moment with a slightly furrowed brow, then suggested they go outside.
The two of them walked in silence down the stairs and outside the city limits until they were standing at the nexus point.
"I told my parents I was taking a walk," said Kiwi. "The stars are so beautiful here now that the factory has closed down. I can see why Elara wanted to study them."
Miriam looked at the stars for a moment in solidarity. They were pretty, but she didn't really agree about studying them. "What was dinner like?"
"It was great! Mom made all my favourite dishes, and I told her all about the new outfit Marley and I are working on. You know, the one with the flowers and the—"
"And your dad?" Miriam interrupted, displaying more patience than she was feeling.
"He was quiet," said Kiwi. "He didn't really say much. Although he... apologised for not recognising me in the factory. He said he hadn't realised it had been so long."
"And what did you say?" Miriam prompted.
"I said it was okay, nobody else in Chismest recognised me either." Miriam frowned. "It's okay," Kiwi added. "It's my fault for moving so far away. I never had a witch friend before so I hadn't been back in a long time."
Miriam growled in frustration. "It's not okay! He's your father, he's not some nobody from town! And you can't tell me he wasn't thinking of you when he created Happy Kid!"
Kiwi's expression froze. "You think I look like that?"
Miriam shuddered. "No. But just because he's bad at designing toys doesn't make it not true."
Kiwi hugged her again. Under her ear, she heard them mutter, "You make it so hard to be happy sometimes."
Stung, Miriam bit her tongue before she said something she regretted and really thought about what Kiwi was saying. "I never want you to pretend to be happy when you're not," she said through gritted teeth.
Kiwi just hugged her tighter.
"I want to go home," said Kiwi, so quietly Miriam wasn't sure she'd heard correctly.
"To your mom's?" she asked.
"To Langtree." They shrugged. "But I should go back to my mom's."
"You don't have to," said Miriam. "We could just go."
Kiwi pulled back. "But then my mom would be sad!" they protested, eyes wide with shock. "She wants me to stay until the end of the week."
Miriam didn't think she'd survive in Chismest for a whole week. Maybe she'd see if Siobhan had any packages she needed delivered out of town. The postal service in Delphi was always looking for help. "OK," she said. "Just let me know when you're ready."
Her tiny room at the Clocktower Pub felt very cold and very empty as she tried to sleep that night.
Miriam still didn't like sea travel. Flying was so much better.
But she was so, so glad to be out of Chismest.
"I know you want to go home," said Miriam, when they were tucked up in their bunks on the Lady Arabica overnight. "But can we stop to have dinner with Grandma Saphy first?"
"Of course!" said Kiwi cheerfully.
Miriam grimaced. "I'm going to ask that again, and you're going to pause and think about it before answering."
Kiwi was quiet for a moment, like they really were making an effort to think before they spoke again. "Yes, I'd like to see your grandmother again," they said. "And Delphi."
"OK," said Miriam. "Um. Thanks."
They disembarked in Delphi, and Miriam waited on the dock while Kiwi said their goodbyes.
After some time, Francisco joined her. "Your bard is still extremely silly," he said.
"Yup," said Miriam.
"Yet somehow I think I'm still going to miss them," he continued thoughtfully.
"Yeah," said Miriam. "They're pretty great."
At long last, Kiwi joined them on the dock. "Bye again, Francisco!"
Miriam got on her broom and coughed impatiently. "Come on, get on. We may as well both fly to Grandma Saphy's."
"Oh," said Kiwi. "I wanted to say hi to the trolls."
Oh, for crying out loud. "You can talk to them tomorrow," promised Miriam. "I just want to get home now." She bit her lip. There was that word again.
"OK," said Kiwi.
The familiar landscape was spread out below her: her grandmother's house, the cave where the trolls lived, the town nestled off to the side, and then the ocean, spreading far into the distant horizon. She circled it slowly, taking longer to make the descent than was strictly necessary.
Miriam cleared her throat. "How did you know Langtree was home?"
"Um," said Kiwi. "The mayor told me, back when the world was ending."
"No, I mean... before that. Why did you leave Chismest? Was it... not home anymore?"
Kiwi was quiet for a long time. "Do you... really want to know?"
Miriam groaned. "Yes!"
"You remember what it was like in Chismest," said Kiwi. "It wasn't that bad back then, but it was still unhappy. And, even though I love my mom a lot, I just needed to... not be there."
Well, that wasn't helpful at all, because Miriam wasn't unhappy. She huffed in frustration. "How did you know you'd found your new home?"
"I don't think you find new homes," said Kiwi. "I think places become homes, when you love them and the people in them enough."
"So before that it was just a place where you were living?"
"I guess. I didn't really think about it. Maybe it didn't feel like home until I left it."
Not for the first time, Miriam wished her best friend was more prone to introspection. Feelings were hard, and she didn't know how Kiwi could have them and not think about them.
Then again, sometimes she thought it would be better to think about things too little than to think about things too much.
"I think anywhere you feel safe can be a home," added Kiwi.
"Ugh," said Miriam. "Thanks. Well, here goes nothing." She angled her broom back towards the ground.
Grandma Saphy was delighted to have them again, even if she did make a snide remark about how Miriam could have written to let her know they were coming.
The two of them ended up spending two nights at her grandmother's house, Kiwi sleeping curled up on a nest of blankets near the fireplace.
On the second day the two of them went into Delphi, and Miriam spent the entire day trailing behind Kiwi as they greeted every single person in town by name and caught up on their lives. It was ridiculous, and yet she couldn't stop herself from doing it. Even the trolls were happy to see them.
Eventually, Miriam kissed her grandmother goodbye and they set off back into the skies.
They reached Langtree by mid-afternoon. It looked much the same as when they'd left it, except that Kiwi yelped at her to stop as she pulled up by Kiwi's house and made to dismount.
"Ants!" said Kiwi, pointing at the ground where an infinitesimal line of black dots were marching their way across the front doorstep. "Be careful, Miriam."
"... OK," said Miriam. She watched as Kiwi gingerly dismounted and hopped over to open the door.
"Are you going back home now?" asked Kiwi, turning back to face her.
It was several long, confused seconds while Miriam thought "I thought we were home" before she realised Kiwi meant Delphi. Grandma Saphy's place was still home. So why...
"I thought I'd stay here for a while," said Miriam.
Maybe a person could have two homes.
"OK," said Kiwi. "Thanks for flying me all that way, Miriam." They were smiling, as always, but it seemed softer somehow.
Miriam scuffed her foot on the doorstep. "It wasn't so bad. I wouldn't mind doing it again sometime."
She followed Kiwi inside and closed the door behind them.