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You and Me, Alone Together

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Sometimes, Fern has nightmares where only one of them survived. A Tath smiles as its fangs close around her throat, and she dies to the sound of her other brothers’ screams. Or Sorrow throws her out of the nest, but this time Moon isn’t there to try to catch her, he isn’t there to cling to her and desperately flap his wings hard enough that they land on the forest floor mostly unharmed. She just falls, and it’s a long, long way down.

When Sorrow had thrown her winged fledgling out of the nest, she must have known it his chances of surviving were impossibly low, but it still made sense. Moon could fly. If he was smart, the way she’d taught him to be, she’d known he might have a chance. Sometimes, though, Fern wonders what Sorrow had been thinking, in that same panicked moment when she’d grabbed Fern and hurled her out of the nest, as well—if she’d just been acting on instinct, or if she’d hoped that Moon would catch Fern, or if she’d simply thought that it was better to die from a fall than to be torn apart by a predators’ claws. Fern isn’t ever going to know.

Those dreams, the one where she dies with her mother and her other brothers, are bad. The other ones are worse, though. In those dreams, it’s just Moon who survived. Moon, her ferocious, fragile brother, all alone. If she has learned one thing since coming to Indigo Cloud, it is that Raksura are not supposed to be alone. Especially not consorts.

This night, she’s standing in the ruins of Saraseil, watching Moon walk into a den of predators. Part of her knows that she’s dreaming, that in reality Fern had been there to grab his arm and soothe his fears and talk some sense into him. But Fern, they look just like me! There’d been desperation in his eyes; they did not know, back then, what a Raksura was, and they’d never seen any species so similar to them as the Fell. Fern placed her hands on his cheeks, forcing him to look at her, and forcing herself to radiate the kind of calm Moon needed from her in order to stop panicking. Well, they don’t look like me, so obviously you can’t be one of them.

But this is a nightmare. No matter how many times she reminds herself that she’d taken Moon’s hand and led him out of that dying city, here, right now, she can’t reach him. She stretches out her arms and he is just out of reach. She begs him to stop, run, get away, but her voice won’t make any sound. Moon gets further and further away, until the Fell surround him and all she can hear is his scream.

She wakes, panting with terror. Hearts’s arm is wrapped around her waist. The bower sways back and forth as Fern moves, a soothing motion. She can smell Raksura—good food, warm bodies, the earthy smell of the Colony Tree. Safe, she reminds herself. She’s safe, and so is Moon.

She hears the echoes of his scream again and shudders.

Heart stirs when Fern slips out of the bower, making an inquisitive noise. “I’m just going to go check on Moon,” Fern whispers. Heart nods—it makes perfect sense to her that a consort would need to be checked on in the middle of the night by an Arbora. The way the Court coddles Moon is both amusing and frustrating to Fern. Moon deserves to have people taking care of him, but Sorrow taught him to be deadly. His claws haven’t gotten any less sharp just because Indigo Cloud wants to wrap him in silks. Fern will always see him as her big brother, snarling at predators, covered in their blood, dragging her away from danger.

Shaking the thoughts away, Fern pulls a blanket over Heart and stretches. Jade is away on a diplomatic visit to another court. Moon will either be with Chime or with his clutches. Smiling, Fern takes the corridor down to the nurseries.

As it turns out, Moon is both with Chime and with the clutches at the same time. The two of them are curled up on a pile of blankets, surrounded by fledglings and tiny Arbora. It’s not the most common of sights—Chime can be anxious around the babies, sometimes. Then again, Chime can be anxious about a lot of things. It’s good to see him like this, completely relaxed, the fingers of one hand threaded through Moon’s hair while his other hand cradles one of the tiny queens. It’s still difficult to tell them apart at this point, but Fern thinks—yes, that’s her. Her namesake. Little Fern.

Never let it be said that her brother isn’t a giant, sentimental softie.

Moon.

She steps carefully around the room, keeping each footstep quiet, making sure to never step on tiny fingers or frills, until she can sit down by his side. Moon’s head is pillowed on Chime’s chest; meanwhile, Moon himself is serving as a pillow for at least half a dozen little ones, only some of them his. Yes, a giant softie indeed. He’d always been good with children—starting with Fern herself. He’s a few turns older than her; when Sorrow died with their brothers, he’d been the only one there to raise her. Maybe it hadn’t been fair for him to have to take on that burden when he was still a fledgling himself, but she actually thinks it was good for him. It meant that he wasn’t just her fierce protector; he had to learn how to be gentle, too. She thinks a Moon without her might have had a harder time adjusting to life at Indigo Cloud. They were used to being chased out of homes, the two of them, but at least he knew what it was like for someone to love him. How terrifying it might have been for him, if he’d been alone for so long that he no longer knew how to trust a single soul.

More things to have nightmares about. She stares hard at Moon, trying to fix the image of him surrounded by people who adore him into her mind. Not alone. Never alone.

But not entirely domesticated, perhaps. He must be able to tell, somehow, that someone is staring at him. Instinct has him awake and alert almost immediately. His hands cover the nearest of the children protectively. He blinks his eyes at her, then relaxes.

“Oh. Hey,” he says.

“Hey yourself. You look comfortable.”

He knows her too well. “Is everything all right?”

“I’m fine. Just a nightmare.”

“Oh.” He’s familiar with them. “Anything I can do?”

“Yeah,” she says with a smile, “go back to sleep. And pass me one of the babies.”

He grabs her hand and squeezes it, then helps her gently shift one of the consorts into her lap. Cloud, she thinks. This one is Cloud. Named after their new home.

Moon falls right back to sleep. He feels safe, here. It’s something that neither of them are used to, but it’s getting easier to believe every day.

She runs her fingers through the Cloud’s downy hair, watches Moon sleep, and decides that there’s no harm in keeping watch, just for this one night.