Aunbrel left Ember coiled up in her blanket on the couch, thinking I should get a bed for her in the spare room. Or something. What do viper-dragons normally sleep on? When he'd originally let the apartment, he had intended to use the spare room as a study, but all it had were more bookcases at the moment. He just hadn't gotten around to furnishing it yet.
He'd changed and settled beneath the thick furs of his blankets and was starting to doze off when a click at the bedroom door and a slithering sound snapped him to full wakefulness. "Ember?"
A little red dragon head peered at him over the side of the bed. "Um."
"Is something wrong?"
"No." Ember shifted uncomfortably. Her blanket was curled in her tail. Aunbrel waited. "It's just I know elves normally sleep alone and that's fine I'm sure I can get used to it eventually I managed to sleep last night and in the cage at jail for that matter but viper-dragons usually sleep in piles and -- "
Aunbrel threw back the covers, and bent to scoop her up. He settled her at his back, and pulled the furs back over them. "Better?"
She snuggled in against him, a warm solid weight at his back, tucking her own blanket against her other side. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Sleep well, Ember."
"You too, Aunbrel."
Four days later, Aunbrel returned home to discover Ember at the kitchen table, with dozens of small white cards spread before her, and more in boxes beside her. A dozen books were neatly stacked at her other side. Ember was carefully printing on one of the cards, using a pen held in her tail. Dinner was simmering on the stove.
"What are you doing?" Aunbrel asked curiously.
"I'm indexing your book collection."
Aunbrel blinked. "What?"
"I thought it might be useful. You've got so many! And at least a third aren't even fiction. I thought I'd make an index first, and cross-reference them by author, title, and subject matter. Then maybe regroup them by subject matter. I mean, all the cookbooks should at least be together, for example. I'm putting the entries on cards so they'll be easy to reorganize. And add to." Orange eyes turned to him. "Oh! You got a new book!"
Aunbrel set his latest purchase on the table, feeling somehow guilty. "You're indexing. My books."
"It was that or strip the kitchen table and re-varnish it, and the novelty of housework without being interrupted is wearing off." Ember looked a little anxious. "Do you think I shouldn't?"
Aunbrel leaned against the table, giving the little dragon a considering look. "I think there is a growing mound of rather more urgent paperwork at the peacehouse that would benefit from your attention."
Ember wiggled her tail, amused. "It's a pity I can't do that."
"Why can't you?"
The viper-dragon's tail stilled as she saw he was serious. "I guess if you brought it home and showed me what to do ... ?"
"No, I mean, why can't you come to the peacehouse and do it? The filing cabinets are all there. Clearly you are capable of such organization."
Ember looked agitated. "But that'd be outside work!"
"No, it's indoors."
"I mean outside the nest! I can't work outside the nest! I'm samassas!"
Aunbrel took the simmering pot from the stove, inhaling the fragrance of chicken stew and dumplings, and set it on a trivet. "Is this a problem because someone else told you it should be, or because you feel it is one?"
"I don't know. Yes?" Ember coiled up on herself, her scales rumpled.
The tall elf sat in the chair beside her. "It's all right, Ember," he said, gently. "I'm not going to make you do it if you'd rather not."
"I'd do it if you told me to," she said in a small voice.
"... is this another viper-dragon thing?"
"I am disinclined to ask you to do things you don't want to, Ember, much less order you," Aunbrel said. Ember didn't reply. She gathered the loose cards with her tail and tucked them into boxes. " ... do you mean that you want me to tell you to?"
Aunbrel attempted to digest this concept. "I don't think I've quite got the trick of this nest-partner business."
Ember's tail gave a weak wiggle. "Me either, and I was born to it."
"So. Why might you want me to order you to do something you don't want to do otherwise?"
"Because then I'd know I was supposed to."
"And if I suggest it but don't order it?"
"Ifisith don't make suggestions to samassas."
"May we opt out of this rule of nesting behavior?"
Ember wiggled her tail again. "I think we already did. But it's still there, in my hindbrain."
"I didn't order you to index my book collection. I didn't even ask you to."
"But that's different. It's just another part of nest-care. I'm supposed to do that. I'm not supposed to work outside the nest. I'm not even supposed to go outside the nest without an escort."
"But you have been," Aunbrel pointed out. "To the grocer's. I didn't buy fresh chicken or rosemary. And I didn't tell you to."
Ember rested her chin on the table. "I know. That feels sort of wrong too, still, and sort of wonderful. I did sneak out from the Coalstone nest a lot. It's still strange not to be sneaking."
Aunbrel took a deep breath. "Why don't I talk to the captain about you doing the work, and you can think some more about whether you want to do it? Or need me to order you to, I suppose."
She nodded, clearing the rest of the book-index project from the table so they could eat.