Home. He’d thought he’d lost his home forever; that he didn’t fit in the old one, and hadn’t found a new one. Shar had never had one. What was it that Thomas had said—something about not being able to go back to your childhood home because you outgrew it? And that part of being an adult was building your own home?
And building it meant finding someone to share it. Home wasn’t really more than a place to live if it meant being alone.
So why did this room feel so much like a home?
“Ah—are Chinthliss and your mother—getting along?” he asked carefully.
She smiled, and it was clear that she approved of what was going on. “As a matter of fact, I think they’re doing just fine. Mother confessed that she was stalling him to let me get you out of the mess on my own, but by then, Chinthliss was so grateful for the way she’d spent herself for you that if she’d confessed to murdering his parents and sleeping with Madoc Skean, he’d have forgiven her.” Her green eyes softened, and her smile softened with them. “He really cares a great deal for you, you know,” she said quietly. “He could be your father; he loves you that much.”
Another revelation that left him a little stunned. “I think maybe you’re exaggerating a little.”
But she shook her head. “No. No, I don’t think so. I watched him with you here; I listened to him browbeating the Healers, swearing he’d search through every domain Underhill if he had to, in order to find the best for you. He nearly did that, too—he’s going to owe a lot of people a lot of favors for a long, long time.”
“Oh, hell,” Tannim muttered numbly. “He’s never going to forgive me for that—he hates owing people—”
But she leaned over and placed both her hands on his. “He doesn’t care. Didn’t you hear what FX said? You nearly died, not just Underhill, but three more times after we brought you here.”
“I did?” Some of those confused memories began to make appalling sense. . . .
“You have no idea how much damage Charcoal did to you,” she said soberly, the color draining from her face. “Mother thought that the talon missed your heart—it didn’t. Thank the Ancestors there were Healers here when—” She shook her head. “I can’t talk about it. I thought Chinthliss was going to go mad, or I would. Fox was the only one who stayed calm. He was always here, the least powerful and the most hopeful, when we were feeling like hope was lost.”
He took a slow, careful breath. “So what’s the real damage?” he asked. He didn’t want to know—and he did. Hell, he had to know; he was going to have to live with it for the rest of his life.
“The permanent damage is in your left lung and your heart,” she said bluntly. “You’ve lost the bottom lobe of that lung. The rest—broken ribs, torn muscles, internal damage—is either healed or is going to heal.” She blinked, and her eyes glistened suspiciously. “You’re going to have to be careful. It’s always going to hurt when you really exert yourself, like a stitch in the side, only worse. That’s the best they could do, and Chinthliss would have sold himself into slavery to make you well.”
Then she added in a very quiet voice, “So would I.”
There it was, out in the open.
“You were here the whole time?” he asked softly.
She nodded. “I never left. I couldn’t. When I thought you were—when Charcoal—” Her voice faltered and died. “Fox kept me company. I never saw much of the lesser kitsune before this. He’s a lot deeper than he lets on. He couldn’t do anything physical on this side of the Hill, but he watched you for me when I just couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.”
So the “memories” were real. . . .
He thought very carefully about his next words, picking them with utter precision before he spoke them. “You’re probably the most unique lady I’ve ever known, Shar. It’s kind of funny—Charcoal tried to make you into my opposite, and failed. But you wound up becoming my—complement. Or else I became yours.”
She licked her lips nervously and nodded, clearly listening very carefully to what he was saying.
“What I’m trying to say is that we went through a pretty wretched experience together and I think we make a good team.” He grinned, just a little. “And, dreams aside, even though we haven’t known each other very long, I think we know each other pretty well.” His grin faded as he turned his hands over and caught both of hers. “What I’m trying to say is that I would really, really like it, Shar, if you would decide to stay here. With me. Maybe we can make this place into a home together. If you’d do that—every bit of this will have been worth it to me.”
She stared at him, and her hands trembled in his. He bit his lip. “The three best words on this earth are ‘I love you.’ Would you believe me if I used them now?”
She blinked rapidly, and nodded.
“I love you, Shar,” he said softly. “I really do. I gotta be crazy, lady, but I do.”
“I—I guess we both are.” She smiled tremulously. “What a pair we are! A half‑kitsune, half‑dragon, and a human racer-mage! If Thomas hadn’t changed his mind, he’d be having a litter of kittens. I—” Her voice broke. “Tannim, I love you.”
He looked into her eyes for a long time, then gently lifted one hand and kissed the back of it. “I’m afraid that’s the best I can manage at the moment—” he said with a rueful chuckle. “You’re not getting much of a lover right now.”
“You’ll just have to make it up to me later,” she replied, regaining some of the mischievous sparkle he remembered from dreams. “And you’ll have to remember, I am a kitsune—half, anyway. I won’t be tied down. I won’t be Suzie Homemaker.”
“I never thought you would,” he replied, with growing content. “There’s a lot more to life than picking out drapes.”
She looked at him for a long time, a penetrating stare that weighed and measured the truth of everything he had said and done. He just smiled, knowing that she would find he meant exactly what he had said.
Finally, she returned his smile and moved forward, arranging herself very carefully against—not on—his shoulder. He managed to get an arm around her without hurting himself.
He closed his eyes, savoring the moment, and realized that it was this that he had been looking for, without knowing what it was he had been in search of. Somehow, through pain and fear and long loneliness, they had found their way home.
Tannim held her, lovingly, as they drifted off to sleep. They had a lot of new dreams to catch up on.