Title: Devoted

Fandom: The Novels of the Twelve Houses

Completed: March 2009

Note: This takes place after the end of The Thirteenth House

They had been flying in silence for several hours when Kirra decided that she needed a substantial break. She glided down toward the earth with ease and began her transformation as soon as her feet touched the ground.

In human form again, her heart felt heavier. As a spring hawk she was certainly still Kirra, but her mind was much…simpler.

"We should be home by tomorrow evening," a quiet voice said from behind. "Being home will help."

She turned to look at Donnal, actually feeling a touch of surprise that he had taken his real form. She instantly recalled the last time she had seen him, had spoken to him. Her heart involuntarily clenched at the memory of his farewell kiss, and she remembered the absolute misery of thinking she might never see him again.

"Why did you come back?" she asked. Part of her knew the answer.

"I protect you."

She shook her head. "We both know I don't need it." It was true. Unless she were bound by moonstones, she could escape any imaginable scenario. And Donnal was just as weak to the Pale Lady's gem as she was. "Why did you show yourself to me?"

He contemplated her question, his face even more thoughtful than usual. "You had no one," he said simply. "And you've never been alone."

It wasn't the answer she had expected. She knew Donnal's heart had been hers – hadn't he as good as said it the day he made his goodbye in the meadow? But perhaps her forbidden love with Romar Brendyn was enough to destroy what part of Donnal she held.

He was right, though. In all of her life of independence, he had been at her side. They were rarely apart for more than a few days, and she usually spent that time with her father or Casserah, or Senneth.

Or Uncle Berric.

She sighed and sat down on the ground, gathering her skirts close to her legs. "I've never been alone," she sighed. "Even after you left, I had everyone else. I had…" she trailed off, thinking of the regent's quick smile and broad shoulders, and remembering what it felt like to erase his memory.

"You did the right thing," Donnal said, as if reading her mind.

Kirra looked at him inquisitively.

"You let me go. And you made him go. And you made his wife happy."

Kirra sniffled. She didn't want to cry again. And she didn't want Donnal to see. "You know everything, don't you?" she asked. "Even when you were guarding the princess, you kept one eye on me."

Donnal sat on the ground next to her. "How could I not?"

They sat in silence, both wrapped in their own thoughts. She leaned her head on his shoulder without wondering if he might not want it there. She loved Donnal's quiet company. But maybe it was time for her to be alone.

"You shouldn't come with me," she said in a low voice. "I have to talk to my father about everything Uncle Berric has done." She didn't know how closely Donnal had been following their lives, but from his darkened expression she guessed that he knew about Berric's betrayal. Or at least his accidental attempt on her life. "Maybe you should have stayed in Ghosenhall to protect the princess."

Donnal shook his head. "Amalie is in the palace now. She couldn't be safer. But you're the Wild Mother's daughter. A pack animal. I can't let you suffer alone."

Her throat constricted, and for a moment she thought she wouldn't be able to speak. "I won't suffer," she whispered. "I'm going to take my red horse fever cure to the island off the coast of Danalustrous and heal people."

"I can help," he offered. "I meant what I said."

She knew what he was referring to: his parting gesture before he left, with his hands cupping her cheeks, t hen balled into fists resting against his chest. They were gestures known to anyone from Danalustrous - I love you; I will always love you.

"Even now?" she asked, unable to prevent herself from crying.

"Especially now."

And he shifted swiftly, becoming a wolf who curled up next to her, clearly enjoying the autumn sun.