A small picture frame was lying face down on the floor amidst the debris, its wooden frame splintered and the stand snapped off. Inkyrius reached down and picked it up, then turned it over.
It was a child’s drawing, four figures portrayed in enthusiastic crayon lines, two tall, two small. The elf traced a finger over the red and purple one, careful not to get cut on the broken glass, and then slipped the drawing out of the frame, folded it, and put in a trouser pocket.
Aarindarius chose that moment to appear through the doorway to an adjacent room, a couple of cardboard boxes floating along behind him. Inkyrius placed the empty frame back on the remains of the mantelpiece. The green haired elf then closed the box full of books from the now half empty bookshelf, many of which had charred covers.
“That’s everything.” Inkyrius said, trying and failing to lift the heavy box.
“Here.” Aarindarius said, levitating it along with the others. “You’re leaving those?” He indicated the remaining books.
“They’re just spell books and such. You can have them if you want.”
Aarindarius took one and flicked through it disinterestedly, finding only a few low-level spells and research notes. But he pulled up a new box and started packing them anyway; if they were left here they’d only end up getting soaked when it rained. Kyrie turned away and walked out into the garden.
Aarindarius followed after a minute or two, stepping over a black scaled tail to reach the centre of the lawn where he dropped the boxes in a neat stack. He looked back at the gleaming scales thoughtfully. “Do you know the tanner?”
“Enarius? Yeah, why?”
“Any idea if he uses dragon hide?”
“I see where you’re going with this.” Inkyrius said. “Probably, I’ll check next time I go that way. I’ve see weirder stuff in his shop window.”
“Oh? Like what?” the wizard asked.
“Troll hide. Beholder skin.”
“…yes, that’s pretty weird.” Aarindarius admitted, then teleported both them and the boxes back to the tower.
A rattling sound coming from the kitchen attracted Aarindarius’ attention, and he headed towards it to investigate. Upon reaching the door he saw one of the children perched on a stool and wearing an apron that came down to its feet, happily rolling out what appeared to be cookie dough.
The little elf saw him and looked up, grinning. “Hullo Aary-dary!”
“What are you doing?” he said, eyeing the flour that dusted the elf’s orange hair and the surrounding floor.
“Oh? And where’s your parent?” He asked.
“My sibling ran off and parent went to get him.” The elf said happily, absentmindedly poking the biscuit dough with the rolling pin. As if on cue, Inkyrius appeared at the doorway carrying the other child, who was similarly grubby and wearing an identical apron.
“I see baking is a family business.” Aarindarius commented.
“It’s not just baking they like. They absolutely relish anything that gives them maximum potential to make a mess with the minimum effort.” The elf said wearily, but with a smile. Aarindarius realized it was the first time he’d seen Inkyrius smile since arriving. “Sorry about the state of the kitchen.”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll clear up.” Aarindarius offered as Inkyrius put the tray of misshapen biscuits in the oven then began untying the children’s aprons.
“You would? I don’t want to be a bother.”
“It’s no problem, nothing a bit of magic can’t fix.”
“Thanks. I need to get these two cleaned up and off to bed.” The elf said, picking each of them up in one arm and carrying them out past the wizard. The red-headed child twisted around and waved. Aarindarius waved bemusedly back, then started tidying up.
It was several Prestidigitations later - and a bit manual scrubbing for the larger bits of dough - that Aarindarius deemed the kitchen back to its usual state. The tray of biscuits was cooling on the bench, only slightly overdone. He took one and went to find Inkyrius to see if he could lend a hand with anything else.
Upon reaching the spare bedroom, he found the elf children already tucked in to bed and presumably trancing. What he didn’t find was Inkyrius, and he stood there for a moment wondering where the baker could have gone. He continued down the corridor, and then paused again outside the study. A quiet sobbing sound was coming from behind the closed door, and he pushed it open to see the desk lamp lit. Inkyrius however, was curled up against the wall, clutching something, and tears were rolling down the baker’s face.
Aarindarius crossed the room silently to sit down on the floor next to the other elf. From here he could see that what the elf was holding was a slightly crumpled piece of paper, but whatever was on it was hidden from view. Noticing the wizard, Inkyrius re-folded the paper and placed it on the carpet, before wiping the tears away vigorously. “I’m so silly, crying like this.”
“You’re not. Not silly.”
“I don’t know how to feel anymore. I look back and I wonder if things were ever really okay, or if it just took me too long to realise I wasn’t happy.”
“You don’t have to make any decisions, not right away. Give it some time.” He said, putting an arm around Inkyrius, who leant onto his shoulder.
“Thank you for being here for me.”
Aarindarius hesitated, and then slowly, uncertainly, he lowered his head and kissed Inkyrius.
Inkyrius’ eyes widened, and the wizard realised he’d made a mistake. There was confusion in those green eyes, confusion and fear, and the baker quickly pulled away from the embrace. “Please, don’t.” Inkyrius whispered.
Aarindarius stayed where he was, frozen with indecision as Inkyrius scrambled up and ran out of the room, tears reappearing. He didn’t follow. He wanted to help, but he didn’t want to risk scaring the elf further. Stupid. Stupid! He berated himself, grabbing a handful of his hair and tugging until it hurt. It didn’t help.
The piece of paper was lying on the floor a few feet away, and he reached over for it. He unfolded it. The cheerful colours glaring out of the dim light seemed to mock him.
He rose to his feet and walked over to the desk, laying the drawing down carefully and smoothing out the creases. He was about to turn the lamp off, when something in the waste paper bin caught his eye, and he fished it out. It was a legal form, half filled in then abandoned. He returned in to the bin with a sigh. Stupid. Inkyrius had enough to deal with at the moment, without adding his clumsy advances to the list.
He turned off the light and walked out of the room.