Gavin and Callum did not follow a particular schedule of days. They worked when the weather allowed, tinkered with their projects when it did not and, every now and then, simply took a day off.
"House needs to sit today," Callum declared over breakfast.
"You need to sit today," Theresa answered, stooping to kiss her husband's temple in passing.
Iain chuckled and Gavin's face crinkled in amusement.
"I need to sit," his grandfather said. "Let's get a roaring fire going, mull some cider, tell some stories, sing some songs and hope for snow."
Iain stretched languidly and let out a deep sigh. "That," he agreed cheerfully, "sounds like a plan."
Snow could mean more sitting, but Callum and Gavin would not stay idle for long. Both men worked hard and would be trudging through the snow after a day or two, looking for repairs to be made or something to build. Sometimes they turned their attentions inward, sanding and re-staining furniture or the sturdy beams that supported the ceilings of their own house. Needless to say, despite new finishes on her beloved furniture, Theresa tended to prefer they turn their attentions outward.
The fire was built up and soon a cozy warmth filled the large central room of the house. Gavin pulled out his knife and a basket of off cuts and set to whittling. He'd probably carve something after he 'tuned' his knife. Callum sketched house plans, Theresa bustled about, her routine thrown off by a houseful of men, and Iain grabbed his sketchbook and took it to the couch. Then he fell asleep. He didn't often nap, but the atmosphere of the room and house enticed. He felt safe, warm and comfortable and he slept deeply and dreamlessly.
When he awoke for the second time that morning, his belly rumbled. Theresa had made soup for lunch, something equally as warm and comforting as the room itself.
"I might never set foot outside again!" Iain said as he sat at the table to eat.
Ruffling his curls, Theresa said, "Oh, yes you will. You'll be bouncing off the walls this time tomorrow."
"Or this afternoon, he's just slept again, Tessa."
"I think we can keep him busy for a little while." His mother set a basket of apples in front of him, then a small knife. "Will you peel these while I make the pastry?"
Mm, pie... "Sure," Iain answered without hesitation. He finished his soup and set to work. For a while he simply peeled the apples, then he began to play with the shape of peelings, carving them into patterns, fluted, then rippled, thin, fat. Every now and then he snacked on the peelings. He picked up the last apple and instead of peeling it, tried to carve a picture into the skin. He managed to hold it quite firmly in his left hand – he'd been inside all day and the joints did not feel stiff with cold – and started with some curved lines, what he thought looked like the sea, then began with the ship.
"Mm?" He looked up, a piece of apple peel poking from between his lips – he'd forgotten it as he became absorbed in his project.
His mother chuckled at his apple carving and nodded to his row of peeled apples. "I need them sliced, not carved into pictures."
With a grin he put his piece of art aside and began slicing. By the time he'd finished, Theresa had cleared a section of table and had begun rolling out the pastry. They had enough apples for two pies so Iain stood and picked up the second ball of dough and began rolling it out beside her. His mother looked over in surprise.
"Watch that bit..."
"I know mum, trust me. I've actually made a few pies." He folded over a long corner and rolled it out fresh, then pinched a piece of dough from one end to thicken another. He looked up when he felt the weight of three stares. "What?"
Callum laughed. "I supposed when you said you could cook that you meant throw something in a pot."
"Well I can do that too!" Iain chuckled. "And I know how long to leave it there for." He winked at his father and then reached for some flour to sprinkle over his pastry before reapplying the rolling pin, the warmth of the room had made it slightly tacky.
Iain did not think he'd ever seen his mother smile quite so widely as she did when he began assembling the pies – properly. Then he reached for some spices she did not usually use. "Try this," he said, shaving a touch of ginger across the apples in the second pie before laying another sheet of pastry over the top. Then he began carving decorative shapes from the scraps of pastry and sticking them to the pies.
"I bet Finola would be tickled to know you can cook. She's quite the baker herself, you know."
Iain glanced at his mother and kept his humour. "I'll just bet she is," he said, raising his brows suggestively.
He heard a chuckle from the other side of the room and glanced over to see his grandfather shaking his head.
Theresa smiled and touched his hand. She looked down at the pie. "It looks lovely, Iain. It will be a shame to cut it."
Giving his mother a look, he replied, "Mum, it's pie. I, for one, will have no trouble cutting it."
A knock on the front door interrupted their exchange and Iain went to answer it while his mother moved the pies to the oven. A stranger stood there and Iain looked at him blankly for a moment before greeting him.
"Can I help you, ser?"
"Just got a letter for you, mate. MacKinnon, right?"
The man handed over a thick square of parchment and Iain looked down at the lettering. A cold shiver passed over his shoulders and down his spine. He recognised Rafi's writing.
"You right there?"
Looking up, Iain gave the man a vague nod and moved to close the door. Then he remembered his manners. "Oh, you want to come in and warm up?"
"No, got more letters. Say hello to Callum for me, eh?"
"Right, right..." Iain closed the door somewhat distractedly and turned to look at the empty space behind him. He could hear his parents and grandfather conversing in the kitchen and the memory of the warm and inviting atmosphere of the large room evaporated as he considered the letter in his hand.
The letter was addressed to his parents, he could not open it, but he already knew part of what would be inside. Or what would not be... any mention of him being alive. He'd never mailed his letter. Rafi still did not know he had returned to Ferelden. His gut tightened as Iain swallowed his guilt and he closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall. He let out a sigh. The young boy inside urged him to hide the letter and his secret, the man who missed his sister wanted to open it and read her words. Why had he not written, what did he fear?
"Iain?" his father called. "You there?"
"Yeah..." Taking a deep breath, Iain walked into the cheery room and tried not to flinch as all three faces looked up expectantly. He held out the letter. "It's from Rafi."
Giving him a curious look, Callum rose from his seat and took the folded paper. He studied the front, then turned it over to open it. A smaller sheet fell into his hand and he looked at it, pocketed it, then scanned the larger letter. As he read, a smile spread across, then it faltered and died. Iain stood still and waited for the inevitable. At the end, his father looked up and Iain could not read the expression on the man's face. Hurt, anger, confusion? Callum passed the letter to Theresa, who had approached to stand by his side and had been looking back and forth between father and son.
She took the letter and Callum waited until she'd read it before asking his question. "Why?"
"I don't know," Iain answered truthfully.
Theresa looked up, dismay written across her features. "Iain... why did you tell me you had written?"
"I did, mum, I wrote a letter, I... just didn't send it." Iain sighed and fiddled with the scar on the side of his face, tracing the line absently. "I've written her so many letters and I sent none of them, it's like this weird habit I can't break. I don't know how to describe how it feels when I think of sending one." His words came out in a rush; they always did when he had to 'explain' himself. "I didn't really mean to lie, I'm sorry."
"She's your sister. I don't understand..."
"That makes two of us."
"Iain!" his father said sharply.
Instead of apologising for speaking rudely, Iain left the room. How could he make them understand something he failed to comprehend himself? He went to his bedroom and sat heavily on the bed. Behind him he heard a familiar sound, the voices of his parents raised in argument – over him. He couldn't hear the words, only the tone.
He tried again to figure out why he had never sent the letter. One word surfaced in his mind: fear. This did not clarify his thoughts, the fear felt formless; he couldn't attach it to anything in particular. He'd not realised the voices had dropped away in the other room until he felt a presence in the doorway. Iain looked up, expecting to see his grandfather or perhaps his father. His brows rose in surprise when he saw his mother standing there.
She didn't speak; she looked at him for a minute then came to sit next to him on the bed.
"Sh." She slipped an arm around his shoulders and hugged him to her side. She smelled like apples and pastry, she smelt like home. The tightness in his gut rose to his chest.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled. For being rude, for lying, for being a coward.
"I think I understand, Iain," she said quietly. Iain glanced over at her and wondered why she'd chosen not to yell, but rather comfort him. It made as little sense as his inability to write a letter to his sister. "I lost a brother, remember?" she continued.
Iain nodded. The uncle he'd never met. They had named him for Theresa's brother – Iain Aaron MacKinnon.
"It's not a natural thing..."
"No, it's not." Iain shook his head. "At first I didn't know, there was too much..." helooked at his mother and almost winced at the softer echo of his own features. He did not want to see that face while he thought of the dungeon. He'd been going to say he'd been in too much pain, that he always thought he'd missed the moment Rafi had died and that that had been almost as unbearable as thinking her dead. "...I always thought I'd know when she died, that I'd feel..." he trailed off. "Did you... know?"
"No. We were close, but not like you and Sera. I still miss him, though, you are somewhat like him."
"Aaron liked to draw too, but he could sit still for longer."
A smile flickered across his face and Iain dropped his gaze to his lap.
His mother squeezed his shoulder again before speaking softly. "I know you are afraid. I'm your mother, remember, I've seen every expression you have." She paused to draw in a quiet breath. "It's alright to be scared, you know."
His brows drew together in the sort of frown that tries to hold back irrational tears. "I wish I understood why," he murmured. If he had a direction for that formless fear, he could follow it, defeat it.
"Because you might lose her again?"
Yes. The revelation squeezed his heart.
Beneath the worry that Rafi might not need him as much as he needed her, or that she might need more than he could give, lingered the pain he didn't like to touch, the wound that hurt more than anything he'd endured beneath Vigil's Keep. The loss of someone he loved deeply and the echo of his loneliness. The absence of his twin. He'd been alone for two years and he did not know if he could not be alone anymore.
"She's waiting for you, Iain. She needs you."
The full import of his mother's words hit him then. His sister lived on thinking him... gone. She still suffered the pain he had harbored for so long. He was hurting her every day he stayed away. He tried to choke back a sob and failed.
Theresa's arms circled him and he leaned into his mother and cried as he had not done aboard the ship. He'd hugged his grief to himself for over a year and a half, he'd never properly mourned his sister. It did not seem odd that he did so now, when he knew she was alive. He still needed to let it out. His mother stroked his hair for him, just as she'd done when he was eight years old. The action calmed him immeasurably and, as his wiped his nose, he caught first whiff of their baking pies.