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Never far away

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“Lirael. Are you okay?”

Lirael felt someone catch her arm, and tensed for the slightest moment, before she realised it was only Nick; for just a moment, she hadn’t recognised him in his Ancelstierran dinner suit. Not that it didn’t make him look extremely dashing, in an odd and unfamiliar but quite intriguing sort of way, but she pushed that thought away for later.

It was even odder, seeing him without feeling the bright warmth of Charter magic that seemed to surround him all the time these days, responding to and reflecting the magic in her own blood. She didn’t think she’d ever quite get used to being this far south, in Corvere where she could barely feel the Charter at all.

But Nick, of course, seemed to sense her disorientation too; he was looking at her in concern.

“I’m fine” she said, feeling herself relax under his touch; not for the Charter magic in it, just for the presence of him, his care for her. Impulsively, she reached out and placed her golden hand on his against her arm; the hand was harder to use here, but she could still feel a little through the fingers.

“I’m glad” said Nick. He grimaced, dropping his voice. “Sorry about this. Didn’t know my parents would be so keen for you to meet the whole extended family. Suppose I should have expected it, though, really” he gave a little laugh. “Can’t run off to the Old Kingdom, become a vessel for Charter magic itself, and marry a strange foreign lady who brings a sword to dinner without being treated like a bit of a curiosity when one comes home to one’s dear family, I suppose.”

Lirael had a moment of doubt. “…Should I not have brought the sword?”

Nick laughed, reaching out and squeezing her hand. “On the contrary…if you ask me, they could use a few more people carrying swords around here. Adds a little interest to proceedings.” He gave her an affectionate smile, eyes crinkling at the corners. “Really though. I promise, everything you’ve done has been just perfect.”

“…Would you tell me, if it wasn’t?”

“Of course.”

She couldn’t help it; she leaned forward and stole a swift kiss. In her haste, she missed slightly, mostly got the corner of his mouth, smiling as he blushed all across his face. That, at least, didn’t change this far south of the Old Kingdom, nor did his abashed smile, nor, indeed, did the way he couldn’t help but lean in to chase the kiss and steal it back.

“Well” she said, offering Nick the crook of her arm with a nod, in the manner she had seen Ancelstierrans do. “Are you ready to go back?”

Nick took her arm, still a little flushed. “If you are.”