Disclaimer: This is a fanfic of Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic universe, as such the characters and the world are her property, not mine, and I'm just borrowing them for the fun of making up what happens next.

Author's Note: This story is set several years after the conclusion of The Will of the Empress. Tris has just completed her certificate at Lightsbridge and is returning to home to Emelan. Changes are afoot for the circle, many of them unexpected, but not wholly unwelcome.

Chapter 1: Tris' Return

Daja was busy at her forge, when she felt the approach of her sister Tris. She grinned and began to clean up. Tris was on her way home from Lightsbridge. She would be home today.

Briar! Daja called.

I heard her, Daj. Just give me a few minutes and I'll get her room ready for her.

We have a maid, Daja reminded him

Better me than the maid. She'll just mess up Tris's books. Briar finished pruning one of the bushes in their garden and headed for the house. He climbed the stairs two at a time, finally reaching Tris's room at the top of the house. While Tris had been gone, he had often come up here to meditate. The vines that grew up the side of the house provided enough plants so he didn't feel alone. And meditating in Tris's room meant that he didn't feel so lonesome without her. Lightsbridge had been too far away for them to be able to mind-speak well. Her letters to him during this time had been full of her frustrations and loneliness. She had gone there under an assumed name, hoping to make it easier for herself, but she had been isolated anyway. Her peculiar ambient magic had been difficult to hide and now that she had her certificate to practice potions and spells, she was nearly running home.

Chime flew around Briar, purring in her ringlike tones. "Don't worry, Chime, she's coming home for good soon. She'll be here tonight. You won't have to rely on me and Daja to look after you anymore."

He tidied up the room. The books he'd been reading up here went back in their places on the shelves and he dusted. He went through the mage supplies Tris had left behind. A few things needed replacing, so he went downstairs to his own workroom and rummaged through it until he found what he needed. He found some new books he'd bought for Tris. She'd mentioned wanting them in her last letter but not being able to afford them. He had plenty of money and decided to give her a welcome-home present. He ran back up the stairs and arranged the books on her table, so she would see them when she walked in.

Daja and the maid were trying to cook dinner when Tris arrived. Briar ran from his workroom to hug her and Daja dropped everything in her hurry to greet Tris. The three of them stood together in a tight embrace.

Sandry's voice sounded in their heads. Tris, welcome home! I'll be there sometime this evening, I promise! Uncle and I have so much paperwork to do this afternoon, otherwise I'd be there now.

They all laughed in their relief at being together again, all of them with their voices in each other's minds.

Daja told them she had to help finish up dinner and left for the kitchen. Tris called after her, "I'll take over the cooking tomorrow. I'm surprised you haven't starved while I've been gone! How often did Briar cook?"

"Not enough," he said.

Briar carried Tris's things upstairs to her room. She followed him up, mentioning a need to change her clothing, as it was dusty from the trip. Late fall this year was dry.

"Hey, Tris, can you do anything about the lack of rain?" Briar asked as they climbed.

"Plants suffering?"

He nodded. "And this doesn't feel like a drought. I've got enough of your weather in me that I can sense that."

Tris sighed. "I'll take a look at it tomorrow. How's business?"

Briar shrugged. "Not bad. I'm training a few gardeners for His Grace's gardens."

"How's Evvy and Glaki?"

"Evvy's doing well with her magic. She'll be a dedicate soon. And Glaki, she's grown so much you wouldn't recognize her. You should visit."

"I will in a day or two. I wanted to get settled in back here before I headed over to Winding Circle."

"How's Niko?"

"He dropped by a few times this year. He said he's coming through Emelan sometime this winter."

They reached the top of the stairs and Tris opened her door. Briar followed her, listening with delight to her gasp of surprise when she saw the books on the table.

"Briar, did you do this?" She turned and hugged him impulsively.

He laughed. "Yes, I did. The bookseller had them and I knew you wanted them. Just let me get a chance to read them after you're done."

She smiled up at him. "Sorry for being such a skirt, it's just nice to be myself after Lightsbridge."

Briar smiled and hugged her. Coppercurls, we've missed you. And I'm surprised you're not crankier. Lightsbridge change you at all?

Tris sighed and a cross expression formed on her face. Lightsbridge was horrible. You know that. I've tried not to talk about it too much but I hated the people there. The classes were good. And the library. But that was it.

Briar hugged her once more. "Come on downstairs and have some tea then. It'll make you feel better."

Tris nodded and followed Briar down the stairs, book in hand. Daja had tea ready and the maid was taking fresh flatbread from the oven. Tris sat down and Daja poured her some hot tea and filled a bowl with a thick lentil soup. Briar grabbed some flatbread from the cooling racks and put it on a plate for her. Daja told the maid she could go home for the evening. Their maid preferred not to live in the same house as her employers—being unnerved by magic—so Daja, rather than offering her room and board, paid her rent at a decent boarding house.

Daja looked critically at Tris. "You've gotten thinner," she said.

Tris shrugged. "Most of the food the kitchens provided was fine. Nothing like Dedicate Gorse's cooking." She ate slowly, tearing bits off her bread and carefully dunking it into the soup. "And I couldn't afford to eat out," she added after a moment.

Briar sat next to her. "So, tell us, what can you do now?"

"Healing potions, charms, everyday spells. That's what I wanted to learn, after all."

"They didn't teach you nothing about talking to people?" Briar asked.

Tris glared at him and Daja laughed. "There's the Tris we know. We wondered why you were being so nice."

She rolled her eyes at them. "It's nice to be somewhere that I don't have to hide who I am or worry about those idiots who want to do all that kissing."

"Too many boys after you?" asked Daja.

"They're after every girl there," Tris said, adding some sugar to her tea. "You were right when you said kissing's all students think about."

"At least they weren't thinking too much about drinking, hey, Coppercurls?" said Briar.

"The ones who could handle it without losing control of their magic did. All the time." Tris snorted.

"Idiots," said Briar. "They'll spend all their time brewing hangover cures and doing nothing useful."

Smoke filled the air all of a sudden. "Bother!" said Daja. "I knew I'd forgotten something."

Tris sprang up and ran to the oven. She opened it and pulled out a blackened chicken. "This is what you've lived on while I've been away?" she said.

"We had dinner at His Grace's once a week or so," said Briar helpfully.

Tris groaned. No wonder Briar looks like a rail. And Daja, you should know better.

I eat! Daja protested. Frequently. Just, not always my own cooking. And Briar usually cooks. He's better at it.

"What about the maid? Can't she cook at all?"

"She won't cook if Briar's doing the cooking," said Daja, glaring at him.

"What'd you do to her?"

"I told her I wasn't interested and she's sulked ever since. That's all!" said Briar. "Swear it! And I'm tired of Daja's cooking."

Tris looked at him with narrowed eyes. Really? I would've thought you'd be up to your old tricks. She's quite pretty.

Briar groaned. I'm reformed. For a long time, Coppercurls, and if you'd been here instead of at Lightsbridge, you'd know that.

"I went to Lightsbridge so I could practice like a normal mage, if you'll remember," snapped Tris. "I've got my certificate now and I'm not going anywhere soon. I can set up shop and sell ordinary charms and spells and I can cook for you two again. Then you won't have to eat this!" She brandished the chicken at him.

"Thank the gods," said Sandry, who had arrived while Tris and Briar argued. "Last time I ate here when Daja cooked, I was sick for days."

Tris turned to embrace her, putting the chicken down on the table. "Welcome home, Tris," said Sandry. "How was the journey?" She took off her cloak and hung it on the pegs by the kitchen door. "And do you have tea? Uncle's been making me do paperwork and my head aches."

"I thought you didn't mind doing paperwork," said Tris. "The trip was fine, a little windy, and yes, we have tea."

"He's been making me do a lot of unusual inventory and census sorts of things lately, not sure why. Were the winds a problem?"

She shook her head. "I'm getting better. I had to practice a lot when I was at Lightsbridge so I wouldn't attract too much attention to myself. Briar, get Sandry a mug," she ordered.

Briar grinned. "Good to hear you're doing better with the winds. See any interesting visions lately?"

Tris' lips curled. "Well, I did walk by the men's baths at Lightsbridge a couple weeks ago on a windy day when they had all the windows open. That was interesting." She flashed an image of it to her friends.

"Tris!" gasped Sandry.

"Were any of them handsome?" asked Daja. "To you, I mean."

Tris poured Sandry's tea. "Well, none of them were as impressive as they act with their clothes on, if that's what you mean."

Briar cackled. Most men like to think they are, but only a few really are.

Yourself included, of course, said Daja, who was getting the chicken ready to feed to the neighborhood cats.

Of course, replied Briar.

Sandry blushed. "Why are we discussing this?"

"Because we like to make you blush," said Briar. "Come on, Duchess, you know it's funny."

Sandry permitted herself a small smile. "I suppose so." They were silent for a moment and then Tris spoke again.

"I've missed this. And all of you. Lightsbridge was, well, let's just be glad that I won't be going back." A wistful look crossed her face. The others caught a glimpse from her mind of her studying, alone, in the libraries at Lightsbridge. Daja and Sandry hugged Tris, even though it was usually like hugging a thorn bush. Briar joined them.

That night, Tris climbed the stairs to her room and looked around with satisfaction. Someone, probably Briar, had cleaned it and made the bed up with fresh sheets. She was home. She curled up in bed and fell asleep.

She woke with a start from a nightmare. She was shaking. Tris sat up and looked around the room. It was late spring but the weather was still cool and it was dark outside. She always left her window open and on the breeze she could hear the night watchman shouting the hour. "Three o'clock and all's well!"

Tris grimaced and shoved the covers back. She found her robe hanging in the closet and wrapped it around herself. She needed some calming tea to help her get back to sleep.

She slipped into the kitchen, where she found Briar sitting there with a pot of tea. She frowned. What are you doing up? she asked. It's 3 o'clock.

I could ask you the same question, Coppercurls. Couldn't sleep? his inner voice sounded wry, rather than annoyed.

Nightmares, she said, then changed the subject abruptly. Is that sleepy tea? I need to calm down.

Briar poured her a cup. I was just going to go into my workroom, if you'd like to join me.

Tris hesitated and then decided that company would help her feel better. She'd been alone far too often these last years. She followed him into his workroom and sat down next to him when he took a seat at his workbench.

How are your shakkans? she asked.

They're well. He pulled his favourite, his special shakkan, forward. It's been trying to put out some buds, but it knows well enough that I'll have to trim them. Some of them don't always understand, but this one does, don't you? The tree's branches wrapped themselves around Briar's gentle fingers. What'd you dream about?

Tris shrugged.

You learned that from Daj', he said. Talk about it. It helps. I know.

She sighed. "I dreamed about something that happened while I was at Lightsbridge, only, in my dream, it happened differently."

"What happened? In the dream and how it really happened." Briar looked as though he was giving the tree his full attention, but Tris knew that he was listening to her. He could feel the panic and fear in her and was waiting for her to tell him what was wrong.

"There's a lot of—men—at Lightsbridge. Lots of them think they're the gods' gift. And some of them aren't too pleasant about it."

"Were you attacked?" Briar's eyes suddenly met hers. Deep and green and calm those eyes were, Tris thought to herself.

"Yes," she said shortly. Then she took a deep breath and continued. "I was always able to get away, but when I dream about it, which happens a lot, I can't escape. I'm frightened, and I don't know what to do about it. I thought about seeing a soul healer, but since I escaped, with just a few bruises, I didn't think it would leave such a mark."

"How many times?"

"Lots," she whispered. "Most of the girls are happy to say yes. And those who aren't, well, it's not hard to convince them to. Some men came back after I'd kicked them around. Usually they were a bit drunk, so they'd only remember to be afraid of me afterwards. But it was hard. I bolted my door tight every night and held it shut with my winds. And they chase me in my dreams, and catch me and hurt me and then I wake."

Coppercurls, I'd go back and fight them for you if you wanted, said Briar. Some of the more wakeful plants in the shop responded to his emotions, bristling, ready to fight for the person their friend loved.

I know, she said, But you'd be fighting lots of them. It'd be a long line. And I was one of the lucky ones, because I could fight them off. Please, Briar, don't tell Sandry or Daja. I—I couldn't tell anyone at Lightsbridge, and I don't want to burden them with the knowing now, when nothing can be done.

"I won't tell," Briar promised. "You understood over the war in Gyongxe." Suddenly he hugged her, tightly. All the tension slowly leached out of her as he did. "You go see a soul healer in the morning. Please? I don't mind giving you tea and talking with you, but those scars need healing. You made me go to one."

She smiled, and a tear trickled down her cheek. Thanks, Briar, she said.

Author's Note: This story's been in my head a while, born out of a possibility my mind put together out of a couple of lines from The Will of the Empress, and I wanted to explore it, see what might happen.