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and noisome waters pour

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The rain has a message, of a sort, hidden somewhere in the space between the air and the rooftops. Esmeralda knows the message exists, because the shape of it is all she can hear when she presses herself against the cool glass of the cottage windows, echoing through the softly flowering ivy and filling in the gaps between her fingers.

"Come away from the window," Klara says. Her reflection's feet are tucked up under her, her reflection's wrists bend in inhuman shapes as they weave her knitting needles around soft green wool.

Green like the ivy. Her reflection isn't speaking, and Esmeralda's never knew how.

"Can't," Esmeralda says, and her voice sounds distant to her own ears. She disobeys Klara so rarely now, too afraid that if she does Klara will die again and again and again and again.

But she doesn't even want to stay at the window. She just can't move away, not until she's puzzled out the insides of every droplet clinging to the window. Her breath fogs the glass, and she wonders if Klara can see the sadness in her reflection's eyes. She wants to come away.

The ivy is coming closer, twining around her fingers, binding her to --

"Esmeralda."

She flinches, at the sound -- Klara never snaps at her, never even raises her voice unless it is to scream as all skogsrå must -- and, just like that, one layer of the spell is broken. The thread of wandering ivy fractures, drifts to the ground on a twist of the wind, and Esmeralda watches as it sinks into the earth under the rain's heavy hand.

"Why is it different today?" she asks, and can't stop the plaintive note from creeping into her voice. But she can hear herself properly again. She is inside the house; the ivy is outside the glass, and the world in the window is safely in-between. "Why is --"

And then it comes to her, the day warped and woven around her thoughts so deftly she can't imagine how she missed it. Why she thought the first rain after Klara's return might be anything else.

She's danced in the rain, let it give life to the hollow homes she built in tree roots, thanked it for the way it drove others inside and left a whole world green and glittering just for her. It's given weight to her hair, made flowers spring to life under her feet, screamed in her own voice when she was loneliest. And now, she is sure, it wants something from her.

A life in return.

Esmeralda crosses the room in silence, lies on her side on the plush knitted rug at Klara's feet. Blinks raindrop-tears from her eyes and watches Klara blur away into blocks of colour. "It's because I took you back, isn't it."

Klara's smile is sad, so sad that Esmeralda is glad that in this moment she cannot see either of their reflections. "Life feeds life," she says, "And all life feels. You weren't the only one sad to lose me."

"I always get it wrong." Esmeralda bites her thumb, and the scrape of her teeth against sensitive skin does nothing to dull the pounding of the rain in her ears.

"Not necessarily wrong," Klara says, and Esmeralda feels the soft weight of her hand settle on the top of her head, fingers twining around her rough curls. Rough like the ivy wasn't, like Klara's hair isn't, and the knowledge sticks sharp in Esme's throat. "Just incomplete."

Esmeralda blinks slowly, eyes fixed on her own hands. She knows, more surely than she has ever known anything, that if she went outside the rain would take Jörgen's blood from them, even the bits of it she can't see anymore. "I thought," she murmurs, and she can taste the raindrops under her tongue, "I thought it was enough. I killed him for you."

She had never loved anyone enough to kill for them before. Not even Linus. Not even herself.

"Killed for me," Klara says. Her hand is stroking through Esmeralda's hair, from scalp to end, and Esmeralda is glad she cannot see their reflections anymore. "There's a difference yet."

The rug scratches against the bare skin of Esmeralda's arms. She can feel the energy collecting there, building like her need to scream.

She's done it all wrong again. She needs to fix it, needs to make it right so Klara will stay, and if she cannot she will --

Scream, whispers the rain, right into her ear as if she was still pressed against the window. The shadows of the early afternoon are drawing closer. There is blood in Esmeralda's mouth from where she's bitten down too hard on her fingers.

There is blood in her mouth and blood on her hands and neither she nor her reflection will ever be free of it, no matter how far into the rain they walk. Better perhaps, to stay inside.

"If we go outside," she says. "Klara, if we go down to the pools --" Rain drips down her face like tears. Klara has come back into focus, sharp and kind, and it would never occur to Esmeralda to think she had once been dead.

"You know, now." Klara says. The rain is washing the colour from her, no matter how the fire fights to give it back. "Bones and blood, like I was."

She talks too simply of death, and anger sparks deep in Esmeralda's heart. What does Klara think is left to protect her from, now she knows how death turns people inside-out?

There is dirt under the blood under her nails. She knows how it feels, to hold a corpse's hands when there's not enough skin left.

If I go down to the pools I can scream.

"We need to go," she says. "I need to. I need to make it right."

The corners of Klara's mouth pull tight and sad. "I wouldn't ask that of you."

Esmeralda sits up, just enough that she can rest her cheek against the soft mossy fall of Klara's skirt. "You didn't ask me to go after Storm, either." And I did and I flew and there was lightning under my skin and I could scream.

Klara's hand tightens in her hair nearly to the point of pain. Klara's reflection is smiling with more teeth than Esmeralda has ever seen.

"Well," Klara says. The ivy is creeping back from its muddy grave, tapping at the window not much more kindly than the rain. "It will be differen when the sky clears."

And Klara's reflection says: I have never been so lucky.

And Esmeralda feels her bones, eager and aching, and smiles at both of them.