"We need to stop doing this."
"What?" Kir asked, squinting in the bright dawn light as they trudged back from the stables, leaving fed horses in their wake.
"Sleeping in stables in the middle of winter," Anur grumbled, shivering and hunching into his coat. "It's cold, and my back is killing me."
"Maybe if you didn't sleep like a contortionist you wouldn't be in so much pain," Kir replied blandly, "I feel perfectly fine, since we're not hungover this time."
Anur just gave him a dirty look, Kir chuckling at his expression and taking pity on the Herald. He pulled his hand out of his pocket and clasped a snow-dusted shoulder, carefully sending warmth into the man's coat and undershirt – it was a careful balance to detectably warm him without actually warming his body, which usually ended in serious illness, fevers and some mild cases of burning alive from the inside out.
Anur leaned into the contact with a happy sigh, "Thanks Kir. Quite possibly the best use of a Firestarting Gift ever."
"Yes, because defending your country from invasion is worth nothing compared to warm coats in wintertime."
"I have my priorities, you have yours."
"Good morning you two!" Jana called from the kitchen, cracking a window open. They both waved before heading through the slush-room and then trooping into the house itself, Jana and Anna both awake and in the kitchen. A quick glance towards the central room and hearth showed that Connor and Kay were also awake and stacking wood for easier access.
"Marcus not awake yet then?" Anur asked lowly, Jana nodding and Anna sighing, looking at Kir regretfully and saying, "I do apologize for him. I honestly forgot that it would be a problem – of course Mara's introduction wasn't the best-timed of things."
Kir shrugged uncomfortably. While Anur apparently felt no need to apologize, Kir still felt guilty about the inherent deception in his silence on the matter. He doubted all of them considered Marcus' allegations entirely false, but without explicitly admitting to his own deeds it could be implied that all of them were justified. And remaining so welcoming of a murderer would be hard to do, and easy to shy from.
"I think we managed to get him to the point of ignore-and-forget," Jana bit her lip, handing Anur a loaf of sweet-bread and a knife. "He's staying all day of course, dinner and the gifts, then he's going with Ayla and Jer back into Lisle proper, as planned."
"I can simply avoid him," Kir shrugged, "I will help with preparing the meal, then the children can get a chance to see their Uncle without the tension that was swamping everything yesterday."
"Kir, you are a marvel," Jana said gratefully, "That should work perfectly. Anur – behave."
"I can do ignore-and-forget too!" he insisted, Anna just laughing and pumping water into a kettle to heat for tea. Jana shook her head and gave him a joking warning gesture before turning back to the porridge she was working on.
Kir just watched them banter, slowly relaxing and letting himself believe that this entire issue really would be brushed aside so easily. They only had to last the rest of the day, with an entire family here to pressure them into ignoring and forgetting the entire issue. Mutual refusal to acknowledge – if only all of his problems could be resolved so easily.
Incredibly, it actually worked. The day passed with only a few tense silences, the children taking to their unassigned distraction duty with their usual gusto and dragging Marcus and Anur into enough random escapades that the two actually started joking around again. Kir was pulled away from Ayla and Jana's teasing interrogation over rising dough by Jer and Connor to smuggle gifts from the barn loft to the house while the children were out in the trees doing something that involved pine-cones and tackles.
This expedition led to a quiet question for Anna, who reassured him that it was probably a good idea to not give Marcus anything, even if he did have extra pieces of appropriate knot-work. He also might have given a somewhat sideways warning that Anur had only been able to find presents for the children, and that they were a little last minute at that. He made sure to explain that his own gifts were simply extras he'd had lying around to avoid any implication of laziness or dereliction of gifting duties.
Anna just gave him an exasperated look and informed him that Anur being here and alive was Midwinter gift enough for all of them, even the children, though they'd undoubtedly be delighted at more gifts than they expected.
With that particular good deed out of the way, he was more than content to watch as children (and no few adults) clustered around the gifts that gradually appeared over the course of the afternoon, poking at the ones with their names and shaking some enthusiastically. The more enthusiastic gift testers were scolded and they sheepishly went about doing the exact same thing once the scolder left.
He loved it with a fierce ache. It had been so very long since he'd seen a family midwinter celebration, much less been part of one. Mara's enthusiastic guesses and speculations on her gifts (growing increasingly wild each time) were overlayed with a cheerful cousin he had been playmates with. The twins' laughably obvious attempts to sneak away with a gift or two early recalled equally poorly executed efforts on his and his older brother's part, though at the time they were convinced of their brilliance.
He hadn't thought of them in… Sunlord, not since he was an acolyte, at the least! Probably not since his initiate years, it simply wasn't worth losing sleep over.
Smiling faintly, he took his seat next to Anur for dinner, chatter and laughter washing over him as if the previous evening had never happened and said a silent prayer, Sunlord, most gracious and merciful, may my own family's Midwinter be nothing but joy and companionship.
He was brought out of his musings and almost maudlin thoughts by the boys eagerly demanding the story of Anur's rescue (he smelled meddling) and he was required to keep Anur from making the entire matter far more dramatic than it really was. Besides, what was the point in missing people he'd never see again when he had a family here welcoming him to their home?
"So, successful Midwinter?" Anur asked, the two of them sitting on a couch, legs stretched out in front of the fire. Marcus had recently left with Ayla, Jer and the boys, Kir and he managing to exchange courteous nods in leiu of an actual farewell.
Kir chuckled and said honestly, "My best, I think."
"Good," Anur smiled over at him, "Because you'll be coming with next time I get a chance to visit. Mara would never forgive me if I came without you."
"And I'll probably be writing the majority of your letters since you're so horrible at it," Kir replied dryly, "I trust you'll at least manage to send them off if I hand them to you?"
"I think I can manage that," Anur laughed, brown and rusted red knotwork hackamore and reins draped over his knee. Kir had a feeling the Herald would be crossing the border soon and frequently, so anything to keep him from being instantly marked a demon-rider would be helpful. Also, it served as a gift for Aelius as well – witch-horses were surprisingly difficult to figure out gifts for.
He had a few more items for that disguise in mind, but it would take a while to assemble them all and they were most definitely needed, meaning they didn't really qualify as a gift in his mind. The hackamore could have been done without.
"So, we're leaving tomorrow. Are you going to be all right going back to Karse? Because if you can't – we'll find a place for you here. Captain Naomi would not be averse."
"Never," Kir replied immediately, only his knowledge that Anur asked out of sincere concern for him keeping him from being insulted. "I will not abandon my people."
Anur bumped shoulders with him, muttering, "Sorry, just worried. You've been in this for years Kir, and I just don't want you hurting yourself staying in an untenable situation. The offer's always open."
"It may not always be needed, but I thank you," Kir said, the obscure hint all he could bring himself to imply of Solaris' rise. He would have to tell Anur at some point, he knew that. But he would have to control the situation and being in his friend's childhood home was not a good place for that.
It also simply wasn't a good time for it. That particular conversation would require a lot of background information, explanations, and possibly some shouting. Not something to bring up at the conclusion of a surprisingly successful early Midwinter celebration.
Any further conversation was waylaid by everyone coming in from waving farewell to the departing group, Mara immediately scampering over and climbing up to sit between the two of them, leaning against Kir's side. He let an arm wrap around her, still wondering as to why exactly she had latched onto him so strongly but unwilling to deeply question it.
Anur just grinned at him as the remaining adults took seats around the fire as well, casual conversations starting up but for the most part they remained in peaceful silence. Kir was content to simply absorb as much of this welcoming warmth as he could, knowing it would likely be a long while before he'd be in such an environment again.
The next morning found the two of them packed and ready to go well before the Bellamy's were ready to let them leave. A crying Mara had to be peeled off of Kir's neck, the finely-knitted fire-toned scarf Anna had gifted him with damp with her tears, while the twins (who had arrived with Jer to bid farewell) were making a determined effort at remaining attached to Anur's legs. Anna and Jana both were scolding through their own tears, demanding frequent and lengthy updates from the both of them while Connor and Jer managed gruff farewells through suspiciously shiny eyes.
At least he had gotten better at accepting hugs. If he hadn't the entire farewell experience would have been much more awkward.
They finally managed to make their escapes after copious promises regarding everything from sending letters to staying safe to not forgetting to wash their socks. When they were out of sight and earshot, Anur sighed in exaggerated relief, "I seriously thought we would never escape."
"That was much more difficult than getting you out of Sunbeam Brook," Kir agreed, urging Riva into a trot. He was rather paranoid that one of them would come running after them with some new ridiculous promise to extract and Anur apparently agreed, Aelius immediately passing him at a lope, Anur hollering back a challenge.
Kir was loathe to agree, knowing that the witch-horse had an immense advantage, but Riva's pricked ears and hopeful picking up of his pace without breaking gait were too much. "Asch, fine, ridiculous horse," he muttered in Karsite, allowing the gelding to launch into his own lope. At least they'd get to the Waystation before dark even with a late departure.
"So, two weeks from now?" Anur asked a couple days later, raising an eyebrow at Kir. "Or should we wait for a thaw?"
"It'd probably be best to wait for midwinter's moon to be over, that's what, around three weeks? Gives me time to ensure I didn't miss some vital shift in the unit over these past two," Kir suggested, flame-toned scarf wrapped snuggly around his neck as it had been since he'd gotten it. "Then we'll probably have to work out a new schedule – not as frequent, not until the thaw. Unless you're the one riding overnight, but that is a bad plan. Furies are still lurking."
"Indeed. Well, enjoy your Midwinter, Anur. Thank you, for… this whole trip, I suppose."
"Enjoy your vigil, Kir. And thank you, for coming. I'm glad it worked out," Anur grinned, leaning over in his saddle to give Kir a one-armed embrace, the Sunpriest returning it with a laugh, the pair settling back in their saddles and giving a last nod before splitting paths. And if they both looked over their shoulders occasionally to watch the other leave, well – who was there to notice?
A/N: This chapter is... not my best. Gah. If I come up with something better, I'll fix it, but I have half the next one and just couldn't come up with anything else on it, SoR just needed to end! Anyway, hope you still enjoyed the fic :)