“Ah, you’re awake!” Evgeni smiled in spite of himself as he watched Noor glide through the doorway of his hospital room. The entire space always seemed somehow more vibrant whenever she entered; but the excitement on her face, and the cheery spring-daffodil yellow of her flowing abaya made it doubly so. Since her arrival in Sanctuary, she’d come every day to sit with him. Sometimes she entertained him with a story or an enchanting song on the ney; sometimes they talked; sometimes they sat in silence while she wrote or read; and sometimes they did nothing more than rest in each other’s presence. Evgeni had never been terribly social: he preferred his solitude, and guarded it fiercely. But this…this was nice. “I am,” he replied evenly. “But what you are so chipper about?” She lifted the meticulously-folded dark grey cloak draped over her forearm, opened it up and held it out triumphantly. “I am afraid to ask how many clerics it took, or what ritual was performed for the miracle; but the launderers somehow got your cloak clean,” she teased. She peeped out through one of the four scattered gashes in the fabric. “You do have some curious damage to it, though.” Evgeni squinted at the hole. “Ah, yes. That one was from humongous winged snake in Norse plane. Fast, tough bastard. Spit lightning, too. And I think Hudwick said it was only baby. The more I see what’s in Xerxes’ world, the less I am liking it, no question.” “Well. I’m afraid I have no ward for Norsemen, but I can banish these cuts,” Noor grinned, easing into her bedside chair. She reached into the left sleeve of her abaya, and produced a needle and a spool of silvery thread out of thin air. “Most people think of magic in terms of flashy evocations and wondrous effects, but I find the simplest spells to be the most satisfying,” she mused. She rolled the end of the thread to a point between her thumb and forefinger before gently guiding it through the eye of the needle. “I can alter distance and manipulate the flow of time. But the humble pocket spell remains my favorite. It spares a traveler so much grief!” “You don’t have ‘humble spell’ you can fix cloth with?” Evgeni asked. He repositioned himself on the side of the bed to face her. “Of course I do. But even wizards shouldn’t use magic for everything. Besides, I get so few chances to do this stitch. Drow tend not to outsource their clothing repairs to wandering surface-elf scholars.” She spread the cloak over her lap and stitched in three nearly-invisible darts to hold the cut closed while she worked. “There are these faint traces of residual magic on your cloak. I cannot tell what the spell was, but the approach to the Weave is very strange. Was it something from the Norse plane as well?” A cloud passed over Evgeni’s face. “Nyet. Not from plane. You remember changeling -- very smart one from other world I tell you about?” “G. You called her…it was Zaya, yes?” Evgeni nodded. “When she came to Sanctuary, she laid enchantment on cloak. When she left, she destroyed it.” He shrugged lightly. “Oh. Well that was not very nice.” “Meh. Is why is never smart to rely on toys to do job. Work and skill first. Always.” “Certainly. But this one bothers you.” Evgeni’s brow furrowed. “Bother? Why you would say that? Is only spell: why it would bother me?” Noor stopped stitching and raised her eyes to look him in the face. “Because it is not about the enchantment, Evgeni,” she returned in a gentle voice. She smiled a little at the lost expression on his face. “There is more to you than the monster everyone meets. She was important to you.” The confusion on Evgeni’s face shifted into a testy scowl. “Why did she leave?” The drow was silent for several minutes. “I do not know why she came in first place,” he admitted at last. “Both were sudden. Was like spring: comfortable and pleasant at first; and then one day, not so much. Before she came to Sanctuary from Peak, she was softer than bunny’s ass. Easy to scare, panic lots, break down crying all time: absolute disaster. In place like North, is usually most humane to give creature like that swift, painless death to minimize suffering. I considered it; but I noticed something else. She did have ability to be strong; it just needed little…encouragement. So I decided to train her myself. Toughen her up some; give her fighting chance. Work was hard for her – of course, everything is hard when you are that soft –but she was little fighter, just as I expected. She made good progress in becoming steadier on feet and in head. Made me very proud. But then, something changed. She began acting not-herself: angrier, less controlled, much more violent; began trying to cheat at training. This was not what I was teaching her, and I did not approve. Before, when I give her correction, she’d fix things right away, always come back at least two times better. But now? No. Instead she lashed out, all teeth and growls like surly dog.” Noor frowned, noting the subtle way he deflated under the weight of the words. “Had she fallen under an enchantment of some kind?” "I did not sense any magic on her,” Evgeni replied, shaking his head. “Hudwick did not, either, so it would have had to be very sneaky spell. Hudwick wondered if I had overestimated Zaya; maybe life outside of lab or library really was too much for her. I believed no such ridiculous thing, but trying to find bottom of change did not go well. She got crazy-angry. And then she left.” “I…think I may have encountered her in Crystal Peak,” Noor said quietly. “You met Peak Team, so you probably did,” Evgeni nodded. “Between reports from night she left and other things, I know she is there. Only part that matters is she is safe.” Noor reached out and laid a sympathetic hand on top of Evgeni’s. “You miss her, don’t you.” Her small, delicate hand was soft, warm, and even comforting. He stared down at it. He didn’t draw away. “Feh. She was much trouble in lots of ways. I am to blame for getting involved in first place. Somewhere along line, I stopped thinking with head. I know better. I am very lucky this is only thing that happened.” “And yet…?” Suddenly suspicious, Evgeni tilted his head and narrowed his eyes at Noor. “What is it you are trying to get me to say?” “Nothing whatsoever, Syd Afanasyev,” she grinned. She picked her needle back up and resumed sewing. Evgeni scowled down at her. Noor kept at the intricate drow threadwork in silence. But the smirk on her face and the twinkle in her eyes betrayed the laugh she was barely holding in. The scowl on Evgeni’s face grew darker still. He sat up rod-straight, indignantly folding his arms across his chest. “Noor. Think. What manner of craftsman gets attached to materials? Who has ever heard of carpet maker too fond of spool of wool to make it into rug? Or baker who loves bag of flour too much to make bread?” Noor covered her mouth to stifle a giggle. “Everyone would say – correctly – that such person is fool, and failure. I am craftsman as well. Is no different. No one succeeds in this profession if they are going to get attached to others. Never know when you may have to kill them later.” He paused, flicking the tip of his tongue over the center of his top lip as he fixed his grey gaze on Noor. “Present company possibly excepted.” Noor rolled her eyes. She collected her work and casually plopped down on the bed beside him. “You are hopeless,” she snorted, resuming her stitching. “So I have heard. Is feature.” Noor chuckled. She hummed softly to herself, skillfully guiding the fine silver needle through the difficult yet beautiful series of interlocking loops and crossings. Evgeni looked on over her shoulder, slowly losing himself in the intoxicating sandalwood scent of her hair. A few moments after each stitch was laid down, the thread vanished into the rough grey fabric of the cloak. Evgeni leaned in, peering at the thread more closely. “Is…that is spider silk?” “Of course! This stitch does not work with anything less: I have even tried thread made of gold. It makes sense that the drow would employ something so subtle. It is amazingly strong as well. These spots may outlast the rest of the cloak.” “Strong, subtle…is good combination,” Evgeni purred, nuzzling her neck. “We are not talking about you,” Noor laughed, shoving him away. Evgeni had to fight to recover his balance and avoid falling off of the bed. Successful but spent, he rested his back against the headboard and slid down it like a sullen rag doll. “Is true. If I have to do this much longer, I will be bunny’s ass. Bed rest should count as form of torture.” Noor frowned. “It has been three weeks; in the interest of limiting more atrophy, perhaps it would be good for you to get on your feet a little if it is safe. I will ask once I am done with this.” Something that might have been hope faintly lit the drow’s eyes. “Ah, Noor. What I would do without you?” The little wizard didn’t miss a beat. “The same thing you did in the 89 years since the last time we met. And then the 106 before that. And the 47 before that.” “Heh. True. But if I have not said it already, I am glad you are here now. This is bad, but you make it less-bad. You are angel.” Beneath her veil, Noor blushed so deeply her ears burned with the sudden heat. She furtively nudged the edges of it forward in hopes that he couldn’t see. “Yes, yes. Now you get some rest. This will take some time, even without you interrupting me. I will still be here.” “Hmph. Maybe I spoke too soon.” Stacking his pillows on top of his arm, Evgeni curled back up and drifted off with the peaceful tones of Noor’s contented humming soothing his ears and his heart.