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For the third time in four summers, the circle all converged on Summersea like disorganised migratory birds. It wasn’t really so strange, as coincidences went.

Tris had been back and forth every couple of moons. She loved the anonymity at Lightsbridge, but sometimes – just sometimes – she missed being around people who knew exactly what she was capable of. Constantly censoring herself and her magic use could be exhausting. She returned to Summersea on Earthsday, and straight to her room in Daja’s house to sleep.

Sandry hadn’t left Emelan since their ill-fated trip to Namorn three years previously. There were dangers aplenty to be found right there, entertainment enough, responsibility enough, and a moon’s worth of tasks to fit into any given sevenday. She returned on Firesday, two days after Tris, after an absence of only four nights. It was enough, more than enough.

She knew that Tris was back in the city, but also that she wasn’t in any mood to socialise. She left her to her own devices for a full sevenday, until Daja returned as well.

Daja brought a girl with her.

It changed nothing, and yet it changed everything.

Tris didn’t like her, to nobody’s surprise. Tris didn’t take well to new people; they had to earn it.

Sandry liked her immediately, but hated what she represented. They were growing up again, forming new bonds and making new memories without her.

Mostly, she just wished that Briar were there. None of them had seen him for a year and a half, and he was only supposed to be gone three moons this time. He was fine, of course. Things happened, new opportunities arose, plans changed. Perhaps, when he finally came, he’d bring a girl home with him too.

And there’d be not a single thing she could do or say about it, except to be happy for him.

The thought bothered her. A lot.

Briar returned the next day. He didn’t tell Sandry he was coming, not this time. He’d been wrong too many times before, and disappointing her hurt a little more each time, for reasons he was trying very hard not to understand.

He didn’t bring a girl with him. There had never been a question of that, although there had been girls aplenty while he was away.

He could hear and feel the general awkwardness and discord at Daja’s house, and decided to steer clear for a little while. He could feel Sandry filtering them all out, so she didn’t feel him coming. It wasn’t a full block; he could have gotten a message through if he chose to, but he didn’t.

Most of Duke Vedris’ servants knew him on sight, and let him into the Duke’s Citadel without too much fuss.

He could tell the instant that she walked into the room that none of the servants had chosen to tell her who her unexpected visitor was, either. He watched her eyes light up with unfeigned pleasure, and was grateful to them.

“Oh, you’re home!” she said, with gentle surprise. As though he had gone down to the market to get supplies, and had made better time than expected. As though he had every right and reason to be here, in her uncle’s drawing room. As though every servant between here and the entrance hall hadn’t turned up their noses at his admittedly travel-stained clothing.

Home, as though he belonged here. And even though he lived eleven moons of any given year on an entirely different continent, he could not bring himself to correct her.

“Yes, Sandry, I’m home.”

Something was wrong with Briar, Tris was sure of it. He was blocking her out; the others, too.

It would be fine if he were “walking with” girls…Well, not fine, exactly, but better. He wasn’t, though. As far as she had been able to tell, he hadn’t brought a single girl home since he returned. Hadn’t been going to them, either.

It was all very worrying. Tris needed her siblings happy and healthy and connected, especially now.

Something was wrong with Tris, Daja was sure of it. She was blocking all of them out.

Maybe it was just a symptom of getting older, bringing new people into their lives.

Daja didn’t think it was that simple, though.

Tris was running out of time. She had had every good intention of sharing her news with each of them as soon as she saw them, but of course that hadn’t happened. She had been tired, Sandry had been busy. Daja had had her own news to share, and Briar was not himself at all. Nothing felt right, and when it came right down to it, Tris wasn’t ready to tell them.

Telling them would make it real, and as excited as she was, she was also terrified.

Two days before Briar was scheduled to leave, she gathered them all together to tell them that she was pregnant, that she was keeping the baby, that she was happy about it.

Daja hugged and congratulated her warmly, and Daja’s brunette got all teary about it. Tris really didn’t like her. Sandry and Briar said and did all the right things, but they couldn’t look at her, and they couldn’t look at each other.

Sandry had a problem, a big one.

She was in love.

With Briar, of all unsuitable people.

She didn’t care about the difference in rank, of course, she never had. They were both powerful mages, they could make it work.

She had cared about the endless stream of women, but that seemed to be a thing of the past now. It was a phase he had grown out of, as she had always hoped that he would. She had hoped that meant he was ready to love her the way she wanted to be loved, but as each day of summer passed, the certainty that he truly saw her as the sister he called her grew. It made her angry, although of course, he was right. They were siblings, they had been raised together. The problem was entirely her own.

Something was very wrong with Sandry, Briar was sure of it. She had been so happy and welcoming at the start of summer, but as time passed she had been pushing him further and further away.

It made it impossible to say the things he needed to say before he left. He didn’t want to leave, but he couldn’t stay on these terms either.

She had always been out of his reach, but now she was acting like it.

It made him angry, though he had no right to be. She didn’t owe him anything, not her love, not even her smiles.

They had Daja’s house to themselves. Everyone else had said their goodbyes earlier in the day and left him to pack.

“When are you coming back?” she asked, oh-so-casually, as though she really had no idea what kind of torture the summer had been for him. She had been so close, and yet so very, very distant.

“Haven’t thought about it,” he shrugged. He could do casual too.

He was angry. She was angry, too, although there was no earthly reason why she should be. He didn’t owe her anything, either.

He liked the anger, though.

He was angry, and hurt, and he wanted to see something more from her than cool indifference.

“A while, probably. I’ve nothing much keeping me here.”

Daja should have been walking into an empty house, with all of Briar’s possessions spirited away. His bags were still there, though, woven neatly to each other, and into the floor. They were about the only thing that was neat, though.

Assuming that Briar was alive and in one piece, Daja was going to kill him, and Sandry too. She had a rule about mage battles in the house. First, though, she needed to make sure he was alright. Any kind of disagreement with Sandry left him more out of sorts than fighting with her, or with Tris, and this looked like a lot more than a disagreement. It had always been that way. They were just a bit too good at pressing each other’s buttons.

They were asleep.

Asleep, all wrapped up together and tousled by a lot more than just the sleeping.

It would be a beautiful picture, if it weren’t so very, world-alteringly wrong.

She had always seen them as siblings, them and Tris. She had assumed that they were all on the same page with that. Once she was done scrubbing her eyeballs, she was going to kill them double; once for the mage battle in her house, and once for not locking the door.

She would kill them tomorrow, after she’d made sure that Tris had the same scarring image in her mind, and once everyone involved was fully clothed again.