From first waking in the morning after the storm, Finn has been uneasy. His heart will begin to race inexplicably, and his palms are damp. He thinks he might be ill. Finn played with Dari, earlier, and they’d found flowers for their mother in one of the rare green places in the forest. That’d raised his spirits, a bit.
But Dari is sleeping now, and Finn’s walking along the lake outside their cottage, still very much on edge. The grey waters splash frigidly against the stone where he always stands, looking out over the cold but unfrozen lake. All of the other lakes are frozen, and he likes to think that the story he tells Dari is true: that Jennifer, Dari’s majestic mother, is guarding them against the winter. Finn would never forget when his brother was born and she had asked Finn to take care of Dari for as long as he could.
As long as he could.
And on the thought, as if she’s been waiting, annoyingly, for her cue, Leila is in his mind. What do you want?
He sends, sharp and unaccommodating. This had been a secret pleasure, once, talking from mind-to-mind with his best friend across the distances. But Leila has changed, now, and seems to enjoy making him uncomfortable. He knows this has to do with her passage from girl to woman, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating. Do you feel it?
Leila asks, making his heart skip a beat (he’s never sensed fear in her, before). I’m uneasy, a little,
he says, trying to reassure her. What is it?
And then his life begins to end. For Leila sends Oh Finn, Finn, Finn,
and with it an image of the ta’kiena on the green, when she had chosen him.
So that’s it. For a moment he quails, and cannot hide it from her, but the moment passes. He looks out on the lake, draws a deep breath, and realizes that his uneasiness is gone. He is deeply calm—he’s had a long time to accept this thing, and has been a long time waiting. It’s all right,
he sends to Leila, a little surprised to realize she is crying. We knew this was coming. I’m not ready,
Leila says in his mind. That’s a bit funny: she isn’t being asked to do anything. But she goes on; I’m not ready to say good-bye, Finn. I’m going to be all alone when you go.
You’ll have everyone back in the sanctuary.
She sends nothing back. Finn supposes he’s missed something, or not understood. But there’s someone else who will miss him more, and if he can’t find the door to Milliways, he will be more alone than he hopes Leila ever will. Leila,
he sends, confident in their friendship, take care of Darien.
She whispers mentally. I don’t know. But he’s going to be frightened when I go, and…he hears voices in the storms, Leila.
She is silent, again, but in a different way. He can’t wait for her answer, though; he feels the wind and he knows it is time to move. He doesn’t know how he knows that, or even where he is to go, but it is the day, and coming towards the hour. Good-bye,
he sends. The Weaver grant you Light
, he hears her say, a farewell with fitting implications of finality. And then she is gone.
Walking back to the cottage, Finn already has enough sense of where he is about to go to know that her last wish is unlikely to be granted. And the cottage door opens into where he feared it wouldn’t.