Note: Got a random burst of inspiration from the prompt and discovered Dungeons and Dragons rat shifters. This was the result.
“We can’t keep doing this. If you don’t stop being so irresponsible you’re going to get us both arrested.”
The wizard smiled at them with wide, innocent eyes, “You don’t mean that.”
“I’ve been helping you on your little fools quests for the past month, Wynfir. I need to do my own thing, and unlike you, I don’t want to drag anyone into something they couldn’t be less interested in.” Rye tied their bag shut and slung it over their shoulder. A look of panic crossed Wynfir’s face, but he didn’t move.
“You don’t- Rye, friend, buddy, pal, we’re- I-”
For the first time since they had accidentally joined forces, Wynfir sounded completely unsure of himself.
“I’m sorry. It’ll be better for both of us,” Rye said, not sounding sorry in the slightest. They winced at their own flat voice, and the way Wynfir looked like he had just been stabbed in the back. His mouth kept opening and closing, like a fish out of water, only instead of gasping for oxygen that wouldn’t come, he was searching for the silver tongue Rye had effectively cut out.
They couldn’t watch any more. With a hand raised in a silent farewell, they slipped out the door and left the inn like they had never been there.
It had been weeks since Rye had seen Wynfir. At first, they had put him out of their mind entirely. For the first time in months, they were finally free to go where they pleased. No more shoplifting magic ingredients, or selling broken glass stolen from people’s windows as healing crystals on street corners. Rye could travel and see the world for themself, and it was wonderful.
Around the second week, Rye started to get lonely. By the third, they caught themself wondering where Wynfir was, and how he was doing. Was he still up to his usual tricks? How many times had he almost been caught by a shopkeeper as he pocketed various herbs and bottles in those stupid pink robes with the sewn on pockets since Rye had left him?
Did he miss them? Was he thinking about them too?
Obviously they didn’t want to be thinking about Wynfir. They were the one to leave him behind. It was hard enough to scrounge up enough money without having to babysit a wizard who got kicked out of not only the wizard community but his own kingdom for various crimes. People didn’t trust a rat, and they definitely didn’t trust a rat at the side of an excitable wizard with a penchant for breaking the law. So it was much better that Rye was on their own. They could hide their rat features easily. They couldn’t, however, hide a six foot man in a pink robe who insisted on always wearing the strangest hats-
Oh dear, Rye was thinking about him way too much. They had to focus on the task at hand or they’d never get paid. They were lucky to pick up the job, considering the town they were in wasn’t too kind to anyone with anything other than pure human blood. The old lady who hired them, however, couldn’t carry the barrels she needed to stock her shop and since her children were out of town, she was desperate. She was also partially blind, if the way she had to squint at everything was any indication.
So Rye stayed as long as she needed them, making some money until her children came back and threatened to chase them away for taking advantage of a poor old lady. It was much too difficult to wonder how Wynfir was doing when Rye was searching for a safe place to stay.
That was how things went. Rye would find some work, settle down briefly, think about Wynfir way too much, and then either leave or be run out of town. They could settle in more tolerant villages, but there was something about taking money from people who hated them that Rye enjoyed. It made the food taste better at the end of the day. Wynfir always used to make fun of them for that.
“Food is food!” he’d say, “Whether you buy it with the money of bigots or humanitarians, it all tastes the same!”
Rye absolutely did not miss him. Not in the slightest. They knew they were better off without him in every possible way.
Then, nearly a year after they parted ways, Rye went running back to Wynfir’s side.
It all started because Rye couldn’t find their mask. They were tearing through their bag with a vengeance looking for the stupid thing, because without it they couldn’t go anywhere without getting at least odd stares, and at most rocks thrown their way. While they couldn’t find the mask, they did find a glowing crystal.
For a moment, they wondered when and where they picked it up. A little voice in their head then proceeded to go, oh, that’s just Wynfir’s emergency beacon and they put it down with the rest of their stuff.
“Wait,” they said out loud, “Why is it glowing?”
The emergency beacons had been perhaps the only useful bit of magic Wynfir had done while they were traveling together. When one of them was in a sticky situation, the beacon could be lit up with a simple code word and the other would glow in kind, getting brighter the closer it was to its partner. The crystal was glowing a bright blue. Wynfir was in trouble.
Why had he even used the emergency beacon in the first place? Rye wasn’t traveling with him anymore. They couldn’t help him.
Maybe he doesn’t have anyone to turn to, a traitorous little voice whispered in Rye’s head.
Maybe it’s serious and he needs any help he can get.
The saddest thing was, Rye had left because Wynfir leaped before looking. He was a six foot child who got distracted by pretty colors and had no impulse control, and Rye couldn’t keep taking care of him when he got himself into trouble. So why should they have to continue taking care of him?
But he also took care of them sometimes. He stood up for them when people were looking for an enemy, and he looked for places to stay the night so Rye could have a nice warm bed for a while instead of sleeping in the woods.
And despite being the literal definition of a beanpole and a glass cannon, he gave some of the best hugs Rye had ever experienced. They were warm and safe, so long as he didn’t have any pointy things in his pockets.
So after about an hour of deliberating, pacing, and arguing out loud with themself, Rye shoved their things back into their bag and snatched up the crystal, wandering around until they found the direction the light was glowing brighter in. They squared their shoulders and started to walk.
“You owe me big time, Wynfir,” they grumbled under their breath, “You’re giving me that wizard hat that you love so much.”
The woods did not respond, and Rye kept walking. Hours turned into a day, and then two days, and they began to wonder if it was even worth it. Wynfir was probably dead at that point.
But if he was dead, the crystal would’ve gone out.
Gods above, Rye hated the voice of reason in their head. So they kept traveling, and it paid off. The next day, they found a kingdom in the forest. Wynfir’s kingdom, to be exact. He used to tell them he was once a prince, but he never understood how his people could be so detached from everything around them. Other kingdoms begged them for help, but if it didn’t benefit his parents, they’d refuse. He claimed becoming an enemy of the state was on purpose. Rye thought it was more his rampant kleptomania got out of hand and the people wanted him out.
Either way, the fact that Wynfir was back home, a place he had sworn never to return to, was concerning. So Rye pushed on. They walked in undisguised, ignoring the looks and the whispers that came with it. The kingdom was beautiful, made of spiraling towers and blindingly bright stone, but there was an undercurrent of unease. Rye stopped by a fountain to get their bearings.
“What are you doing here?” Someone asked, approaching Rye cautiously.
“Just passing through. Is that not allowed?”
The citizen looked around nervously, “You should leave. They’re clearing out the prisons today.”
“Clearing out the prisons?” Rye asked innocently. It was one of the first things they had learned from Wynfir; how to make yourself seem like less of a threat.
“Executions,” the citizen said, “They’re executing some very important prisoners. The guards might add you to the list if they think you’re disturbing the peace.”
Oh, if that meant what Rye thought it meant, Wynfir was in a lot of trouble.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Rye nodded at the citizen, who hurried off, mumbling under their breath about not wanting to get caught.
The prisons weren’t that hard to find. They stuck out like a sore thumb, in fact. The dark building material a stark difference from the ethereal beauty of the rest of the kingdom. Rye peeked through the barred windows of each cell, crawling along the ground until they found a familiar pink robe. They tossed their crystal through the bars, and it hit the ground with a thud. Wynfir startled at the noise, turning to stare at the crystal in disbelief before looking up at Rye. His lips twitched, like he was trying not to smile.
“I do hope that means what I think it means,” he said, voice low as he picked up the crystal and walked over to the window. He could barely reach it to pass the crystal back.
“Depends on what you think it means.” Rye took the crystal back, “How did this even happen?”
“Oh, you know, I was just doing my thing, adding a bit of magic to people’s lives, when I heard that my dear old dad passed away. So of course I went to pay my respects to the old man, maybe do a spell or two to invert the colors of the buildings for fun, when whoops, Dad died in a coup and because I’m the only heir, instead of letting me go do my own thing, they want me dead.” Wynfir spread his hands in a what can you do sort of motion, and Rye sighed.
“So I’ve been told.” There was a spark of hurt in Wynfir’s eyes, “You know, I didn’t think you’d come.”
“I didn’t think I’d come either.” Rye reached through the bars, and Wynfir tentatively placed his hand in theirs, “But you’d be there for me if I had called.”
Wynfir nodded, “Always. No matter how stupid and mean you are.”
“Well now I’m going to leave you here.” Rye made a move to pull their hand away, and Wynfir held on tighter.
“Relax, Wyn, I wouldn’t come here just to abandon you. How much longer do you have?”
“About an hour. I don’t suppose you can chew through the bars, can you?”
Rye shook their head, “They’re metal. I can’t do anything there.
“Okay, what if I turn them into something else?” Wynfir suggested, “Transfiguration magic is easy.”
“I wouldn’t be opposed to chewing through wood, if you can manage it.”
Wynfir cracked his knuckles with a silly grin, “One wood bar, coming right up.”
He stood on his tiptoes, hand around one of the bars as he muttered the spell. The metal softened into wood under his hand, and Rye went to work whittling it down. There were few benefits to being a rat, but by the gods this was one of them. Wynfir’s concentration only slipped once, resulting in Rye biting down on metal and then immediately pulling back with a yelp, but he got it back under control and soon there was a decent sized gap in the bars. Rye reached through and grabbed both of Wynfir’s arms, pulling him up and through as he attempted to climb the wall.
“We need to- oof!” Rye’s words were cut off as Wynfir practically pinned them to the ground with a hug.
“You, Rye Bread, are the most amazing person I know.”
“That’s still not my last name.” Rye rolled their eyes, patting Wynfir on the shoulder, “Come on, they’re going to catch us.”
“Right.” Wynfir uttered another spell, and the two of them slipped out of the city, invisible to the guards running around looking for the criminal prince.
“So… what now?” Wynfir asked, watching as Rye piled up logs for a fire. They had stopped a good distance from the kingdom, taking shelter under a rock shelf by a stream.
Rye shrugged, “Did you have any plans?”
“Oh, a bit of this, a bit of that.” Wynfir waved his hand dismissively, “You?”
“Continue to build up my small fortune.” At Wynfir’s look, they pointed a menacing finger at him, “Honestly build up my small fortune. Without risk of being jailed for crimes that I have control over.”
The clearing went quiet, and then Wynfir spoke up, “I… wouldn’t mind trying the honest life for a bit.”
“You’d hate it.”
“For you, I’d love it.”
And there was a meaning underneath those words that Rye didn’t want to acknowledge just yet, and maybe they never would.
“No matter how hard I try to get rid of you, you’re never going to leave, will you?” they asked.
“Emphasis on try,” Wynfir said with a smug grin, “No, you saved my life, I owe you way too much now.”
“Ah. And if I say I don’t want you in debt to me?”
“Well, you’re a very rude little guy.” Wynfir drummed his fingers on his knee in thought, “And you say things that make me sad sometimes, but for some reason I like being around you, so I’d stay anyway. Can we try this partnership again?”
Rye stared at Wynfir’s outstretched hand for a moment before giving it a cautious shake.
If they couldn’t get him out of their head, they might as well indulge themself and stick with him. With any luck, the prison experience would teach him to control himself a little better.
But if a Wynfir who caused problems drove Rye crazy, a Wynfir who didn’t would make them just as miserable.
“Have you ever wanted to cross the ocean?” Rye asked, the question surprising even them. Wynfir raised an eyebrow.
“It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. We could find some towns where they don’t know us. Do some work there without having to run from the law because of all your schemes.”
Of course, crossing the ocean would mean getting a boat and surviving the trip, but sitting there and daydreaming about the future with Wynfir, Rye could pretend that they had never walked away, and that everything was okay between them.
It wasn’t quite okay, but maybe one day it would be.
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