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Well, sad, small, sure and porcelain

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    In the first years of Ephrim’s time at the Last University, they hadn’t had much reason or ability to waste wood building new structures. The repairs on the storehouse had been the only real construction until the winter storms fully subsided, and Throndir and Red Jack had taken on the majority of that project, Ephrim standing off to the side in his winter coat, gloved hands stuffed deep in his pockets. 

    Later, when they started to add new homes to the campus, Ephrim had tried to help. In the first few years, he could brace a log with his elbow and strip bark with a knife in his left hand, and he’d made himself as useful as possible between long meetings and hours spent bent over papers and books. 

    He would still, if pressed, admit he didn’t know the first thing about building a house. He’d done what Throndir instructed and watched him work plenty of times, but the actual steps involved got muddled together in his memory. And, with his arm in the state it has been in since the second spring, he’s sure he wouldn’t even be able to do what he’d done all those years ago, at least not without considerable pain. 

    Ephrim sighs, thumbing at the corner of his book. Throndir across the room waits patiently, his question looming in the air. 

    “If I say yes, and you build me a house, what do I owe you?” Ephrim asks, staring past Throndir into his fireplace. The flames curl teasingly around the wood. Throndir shakes his head, his shaggy hair has fallen loose from its bun. 

    “Really Ephrim, you wouldn’t owe me anything. I’m offering because I see how miserable you are up here.” Throndir gestures vaguely to Ephrim’s room. 

    “I’m not miserable,” Ephrim says a bit too quickly, biting his tongue and clenching his fist in his lap. Throndir gives him a steady look. 

    “You haven’t left the tower in weeks,” Throndir says carefully. Ephrim glares towards the door. “I know you asked Highwater to lie and say you’d gone on walks, but she’s worried about you. I’m worried about you.” Throndir is leaning forward and gently puts a hand near Ephrim’s on the arm of the couch. Ephrim pulls his gloved fingers away and tucks the hand close to his chest, rubbing absently at the spot just above his elbow where the skin goes mostly numb. Throndir pulls his hand back, brow creased. 

    “If I say yes, you have to at least let me pay you.” Ephrim grumbles. Throndir smiles despite his tone. 

    “If it makes you feel better. I don’t need money, really, though.” Throndir replies. Ephrim shrugs. 

    “I can’t exactly help out at all, so...” He trails off, glaring at the fire again. Throndir leans into his view. 

    “I’ve already asked Red Jack and Hadrian, they’ll help me. And we’ll need you for design and moral support.” Throndir’s voice is soft and genuine, and Ephrim curls further in on himself, chest tight. 

    “You’ve already made up your mind it seems, then,” Ephrim says. 

    “We want to help you, give you someplace that’s yours, that’s away from all this.” Throndir waves a hand vaguely. 

    “Oh,” Ephrim pauses, biting his tongue. Throndir pulls a face. 

    “I didn’t mean it like that, no one’s trying to force you to leave or anything. We just think you’ll be happier somewhere... not steeped in so many memories.” Throndir says gently. Ephrim nods slowly. He can’t argue with that. 

    “What does Benjamin have to say about me getting my own house?” He asks a little bitterly. Throndir leans back and sighs. 

    “He and Blue J have their own place, there’s two families in the Outhouse right now who are waiting for their own places to be built, but we have the resources, Ephrim. No one’s out in the cold anymore.” 

    Ephrim looks out his window, the second sunset of the night turning the sky a deep purple, and nods slowly. 

    “It’s hard to adjust to...not being in control,” Ephrim says carefully. Throndir inclines his head, shifting forward again. Ephrim finds himself slumping on the couch. 

    “You don’t have to worry about all that stuff anymore. You get to just... be.” Throndir smiles at him again, eyes soft. “I want you to be happy.” He adds. Ephrim wrinkles his nose. 

    “I’ll try.” He mutters. Throndir reaches to the small table and picks up his discarded glass, swirling the small bit of drink left for a moment before he downs it, and then getting up. Ephrim goes to stand too, but Throndir just crosses the small distance and plops down on the couch next to him, swinging his legs up over Ephrim’s lap and knocking his book to the floor. Ephrim yelps, half laughing and shoves at him halfheartedly. Throndir settles back with his hands behind his head and grins at him. 

    “You can repay me by not making me walk all the way down those damn stairs back to my room.” He says, wiggling into the couch cushions. Ephrim gives up on shoving Throndir’s legs off him and leans into it, not daring to lay down on Throndir properly but sinking back into the couch, left hand resting on his knee. 

    “I don’t think making you sleep on my couch is a proper thank you.” He says, not quite daring to look at Throndir to judge a reaction. Throndir shifts a little, sitting up on his elbows. “I just mean- you can take the bed. I’ll be okay.” Ephrim shrugs, keeping his eyes on the fire. Throndir chuckles and sits up all the way. 

    “You’ll complain about your back all day tomorrow if I do that. C’mon.” Ephrim gets only a moment to snap his eyes over to Throndir before he swings his legs off him, strong arms looping around under Ephrim and hoisting him up easily. Ephrim does yelp this time, clinging to Throndir as he gets to his feet and crosses the room in two strides, depositing Ephrim in a heap on the bed. He’s blushing a dusty purple, smiling warmly. Ephrim huffs and crosses his arms. 

    “You know it will be really hard to move this bed into another house,” Ephrim says, scooting back and pulling the blankets with him. Throndir frowns, halfway through pulling off his outer layer. 

    “Yeah, I didn’t think about that.” He looks a little sad, dropping his shirt over a bedpost and touching the carved wood. Nearly twelve years now of half-hearted excuses about conserving firewood, sharing body heat, being too tired to retire to his own room. He rolls onto the mattress and stretches out, hair splaying out on the pillows. Ephrim lays down carefully, wincing as he puts pressure on his bad hand. Throndir rolls on his side and chews his lip, looking at Ephrim as he carefully settles, pulling the blanket up over both of them. Throndir’s hand reaches up and brushes Ephrim’s cheek. 

    “Maybe whatever you build can be big enough for Kodiak,” Ephrim closes his eyes, hearing the slight jingle as the dog lifts his head from his spot by the fire at his name. Throndir’s fingers rest along his jaw. 

    “Yeah, he hogs the blankets, though.” Throndir laughs a little. Ephrim smiles, leaning a little closer. 

    “So do I, we’ll compete,” Ephrim says. Throndir laughs lightly. 

    “You’re lucky I don’t get cold.” Throndir tucks an arm around Ephrim, a lose but comforting weight. Ephrim lets himself wiggle a little closer, head knocking into Throndir’s chest. Throndir ducks his head, pressing his face for a moment into Ephrim’s hair. 

    “Mm. Lucky.” Ephrim murmurs. He feels Throndir smiling. 

    “Sleep well, Ephrim.” Throndir says softly, brushing his hand lightly over Ephrim’s cheek again. Ephrim nods, squeezing his eyes shut a little tighter for a moment before forcing himself to relax. 

    “Goodnight. Love you.” He says barely above a whisper. Throndir exhales against him, arm tightening a little. 

    “I love you too,” He says. Ephrim isn’t sure if he just moves his head or if he presses a kiss into his hair. He doesn’t really care, the sentiment is there enough.