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Story Notes:
Disclaimer: Characters belong to Tamora Pierce
Acknowledgments: Written for meepette for Yuletide 2007
Spoilers: The Will of the Empress
I.

Daja was in mourning.

She tucked herself into her work, in the warmth and light of her forge. Her tools sang to her, welcomed her home as soon as she walked inside, and she felt, for the first time since leaving Namorn, both peace and happiness.

The emotions came and went, and when they left, she turned to her job again. The metal dripped from her fingertips, molten, warm, but her hands were cold, and her heart sore. Sweat dripped down her cheeks and down the side of her neck. Her shirt was damp and chafed at her skin.

"You missed dinner." Briar set a plate on her work table and sat down on a stool.

The food smelled good, fresh bread, chicken, and cheese pastries. She knew it would taste like ash and sit heavy in her stomach like stone. Most of the time, she wasn't even hungry; when she was, she never wanted what was available, and it passed quickly.

Still, it was nice of him to notice.

"Thank you."

He nodded and leaned his elbows against the table. He had his own workshop, and a bedroom. Why wouldn't he go away? She knew, though, it hovered in her mind like a thought she didn't want to pursue.

She finished with the metal and went to clean her hands.

He wouldn't go away until she ate. The food would choke her, but she would force it down. His company was pleasant. He didn't fawn over her, or sit and look at her with worry in his eyes, or want to hug her all the time. He was just there, as steady as iron.

II.

Daja no longer carried the miniature portrait of Rizu in her belt purse. It was too easy to take it out and look at it when it was right there. Even if she tried to ignore it, to forget about it, it was never far from her thoughts. Her fingertips would start to tingle and then burn until she slipped her hand into the purse, cupped it against her palm, and pulled it out. Sometimes, she couldn't bear to look at it, she just cradled it to her chest.

Instead she kept under her pillow. Some night she dreamed of Rizu. When she did, she woke sad. When she didn't, she also woke sad, and would reach under her pillow to touch the portrait. The dreams, though they hurt, were better than having nothing left at all.

Briar was in the kitchen every morning when she made her way downstairs. Some mornings he looked exhausted, but would give her a grin and tip his mug of water in her direction. Somewhere, there was a maid, or a shopkeeper, or maybe even some mage, who was likely pleased and giddy over his attention.

The food didn't taste as good with Tris gone away to Lightsbridge. There was a new cook, but it wasn't the same. There had been a handful of new cooks, Daja hired one after another, but it took someone special to work in a mage house. The first one had tried to take the wrong plants from Briar's garden. The second was terrified when she saw Daja put her bare hand into the fire and fled from the house without finishing the meal. Two pots had been nearly ruined. The third - Daja didn't want to think about the third.

Briar's company was good, though, and the vegetables were always fresh and flavorful. He grew useful herbs and hanged some of them to dry in the kitchen so the scent wafted through the house.

She hadn't dreamt of Rizu for over a week, and it felt almost like she'd lost her again. Sitting in the kitchen, hot food and tea at the ready, and Briar's quiet presence, was a balm. By the time she watched the sun rise, she was almost herself again.

III.

Daja took a cup of pomegranate juice to Briar in his workshop. He was bent over one of his miniature trees, but there was an empty stool and the plants were fragrant and soothing. She sipped her tea and closed her eyes, content in his presence.

There was a fire waiting for her in her forge and metal ready to be worked. She could take some time away from it; she was caught up on her work, and the fire was contained. Instead, she watched as Briar twisted metal wire (her wire, touched with just enough of her magic to make it easier for him to use) around a few of the branches to hold the shape until the tree understood what he wanted.

When he was done, he wiped his hands free of dirt and bits of plant matter, picked up his drink, and turned to face her. She tensed, and waited for him to comment on her presence, to tease her for coming to find him, to say something, anything about the way she didn't want to be alone.

He drank his juice in silence for awhile, and then, "There are pretty serving girls at the Horn & Wood. We should go, exchange notes on who's the prettiest."

"Briar!" Daja knocked her mug against the edge of the table when she set it down too sharp. "I can't - you shouldn't joke like that. It's - not right."

"Jokes are always right," Briar said, and grinned. Anger flared for a second and then went out, not even leaving smoldering coals. She was tired, and didn't have the energy, nor the desire, to be upset with him. Not when she had been happy in his presence, her brother-saati.

IV.

Briar was a pain. A determined pain.

"Trader log it, this is a bad idea!"

He ignored her warning, just like he'd ignored her when she said she didn't want to leave the house or when she'd suggested they have dinner with Sandry if he was so determined to eat somewhere else.

Instead he got them a table against a wall in the Horn & Wood, big mugs of juice, and enough food for twice as many people.

She would never tell him, but it was entertaining to watch Briar at work with the women. He knew how to flirt so well, knew how to make their noses crinkle with amusement and dimples appear in their cheeks because they were grinning so much. He never pushed too far, not even with the shyer ones (and there were shy ones, even amongst the serving girls - all of them, shy or not, found excuses to swing by Briar's table, to say hello and to flutter and to make sure he had everything he wanted), and was gentle even while he teased.

Daja didn't know how to do that. She hadn't even known she needed to know how to do that. So she ate her dinner, and drank her juice, and watched. He made it look easy, but she couldn't quite put her finger on what he did, exactly.

At one point, when the rest of the room was full of people, and the serving girls were busy elsewhere, leaving them alone, he leaned closer and smiled at her, a mischievous quirk of his mouth.

"Pretty girls, aren't they?"

She gave a little sigh, just because she didn't want him to know just how right he'd been. It might go to his head.

"Yes," she said after a sip of her drink. "They are pretty."

"So how would you choose?"

"Briar." She rolled her eyes.

"No, I want to know. Which do you like?"

Daja shook her head at him, and didn't say anything. She wished she could tell him none of them, but there was one, a pretty, dark-haired girl with a beautiful smile who had tipped Daja a saucy wink when Briar had been laying on his charm just a little too thick.

"Daja?" Briar prompted.

"It doesn't matter," she said. "I doubt there are many nisamohis here."

"How can you be sure?" he asked. "For a long time, you didn't know you were."

She hated it when he was right. Daja rubbed the living metal which covered part of her hand, and glanced across the room to where her favorite was pouring wine for a patron. Somehow, despite the dim light in the room, the woman looked up and caught her watching. She tilted her head in her direction and flashed a bright smile.

Daja, flustered, smiled back and then quickly took a drink of juice to cover her pleasure.

She didn't get the woman's name that night, they left before business slowed down enough to free her from her work, but when Briar suggested they go back the next week, she didn't argue, just went to put on a clean shirt, one of the nicer ones Sandry made her.

Briar didn't say anything, he just smiled and made sure they had the same table again.

He was a good brother, even if she again failed to get the woman's name.

After the third time, Daja sighed, and took another cup of pomegranate juice to Briar's workroom, and steeled herself to ask for his advice. He'd be smug, but in the end he would help her.

That's what they did.

End


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