A/N: Wahhh! It's over! Wahhhh! Oh well, that means I can start on the next! Happy Holidays, and thanks for reading—and hopefully enjoying!—this story!

Disclaimer: Me no own, you no sue. Duh.

Lingering Ghosts
Himura Seraphina

Epilogue: Home

The air carried the taste of salt and brine, a reminder of the vast waters that could be seen only as a flat blue line on the horizon, and only form this vantage point. The rough stone under her hands that formed the terrace wall was warmed by the sun, the heat lingering even thought the day was dying at the hand of the coming night.

Her thoughts wandered far from where she stood; to the barely visible ocean and the wonders there, to the friends who were settled in the keep-fortress not far from here, to the city she had left only a few days ago. The sun's setting rays struck the ring she wore, drawing her eye and a smile; there was nothing she enjoyed more than it's weight on her finger.

Well, almost nothing, she mused as strong arms slid around her, drawing her away from the stone and against the wall of his chest. His chin rested in her hair, surrounding her with his warmth and scent even as she felt him inhale her own.

"You'll catch cold if you stand out in the night sea air," he murmured, his voice vibrating in his chest and making her grin. She gripped his arms, leaning back further.

"The sea air is good for you—besides, it's summer," she teased.

"Hmmm, true enough, but you should still be inside—in bed," he added wickedly, leaning in to nuzzle her throat. She sighed, then groaned when he nipped gently at the cords of her neck.

He pressed kisses to her neck and shoulder for several minutes before pausing, his words brushing against her skin. "What were you thinking?"

She sought words, remembering all the thoughts that had crowded her head and sent her from their bedchamber and into the fresh air. Memories and images of Snowsdale—through a child's eyes, and through a woman's. The journey back to Corus, her friend's concern over Vanel's attack; the sight of Rikar passing out from shock. Hakkon's expression when Numair threatened to remove his tongue. Battlefields in the mountains of her youth—fresh graves and old ones, both of which she had helped to dig. Dinner at Lori's, her ma's namesake resting in her lap with a thumb tucked contentedly in her mouth, Cory's glee and tears over leaving the only home he'd known. The bathhouse. Cory's determination to leave Galla and join the Riders, his stunned amazement at the sight of Cria, his speechless shock at the first sight of Corus, the way he'd thrown himself into the stable chores he was given while learning his letters and waiting until the next training season. The feel of the gods' acceptance of her oath, the expressions on her once-neighbors faces when she made it; Numair tucking her carefully against him so she could rest and sleep away exhaustion in his arms, his steady support of her while she faced her ghosts—and his building rage in the face of them.

She remembered Galla as it had been, and how it seemed to her now. She thought of Tortall; of all her friends and adventures, her discoveries and growth, all the changes that she had seen and been part of and affected by. She thought of old doubts and hurts that no longer ached and bruises that had faded; of the new scars she bore, and the ones that were now cleanly healed. She thought of him; how she had only had the courage to face her ghosts because of his presence, and how his love had let her sweep those lingering shades out of the shadows of the past and into the light, where they seemed little more than pale shadows.

She turned her head, leaning it against his, and explained all her thoughts, all her musings simply and truthfully.

"That it's good to be home."