I'm not good at these sorts of things," Ross murmured, watching raindrops cascade down the window before him. "I think it would be best if you go, instead."
Annahlise frowned. "You're his friend," she said. With a single flap of her golden wings, the young woman pushed herself up from the ground and settled onto a bedpost. She perched there, maintaining perfect balance.
"Being his friend doesn't mean I can handle a situation like this," Ross replied, turning to face the siren, "I'll botch it. If I go in there right now, I'll just tell him to toughen up and get over it. That isn't what he needs to hear right now, is it?"
"No," sighed Annahlise, "it isn't. Maybe after a few heartbreaks, but this is his first one."
Ross raised an eyebrow, "That can't be right. There have been others. He doesn't remember them very well, but there have been others."
"Exactly," said Annahlise, gliding down from the bedpost and landing softly beside Ross. She pulled her wings against her back. "He doesn't remember the others, so they're irrelevant. This pain he's feeling now is... new. I suppose I'll speak with him."
"Good luck," Ross whispered, turning back toward the window.
Annahlise left the servali man and approached the door on the other side of the bedroom. She stepped through it, into the disheveled hallway, and crossed to another door on the opposite side of the hall. She knocked as she pushed that door open, announcing her presence to the room's inhabitant.
Aaron Rhake was sitting on a bed, facing away from her. Like Ross, he was staring through a window. The moon was shining on this side of the castle, so a few bright beams illuminated the room, making up for the absence of candlelight. The beams passed through droplets of water on the window, casting mesmerizing shadows across the floors, furniture, and walls.
"Aaron?" said Annahlise, closing the door behind her as she approached. "It's Annahlise."
Aaron didn't move.
Annahlise stepped toward the man and cautiously sat beside him. She noticed something in his hands--a rose carved from purple skon crystal. Moonlight proved to be a remarkable way to display the object's expert craftsmanship; the rose caught the moonlight differently each time Aaron turned it over in his hands.
"That's... beautiful. Did you make that?" Annahlise whispered.
Aaron nodded, offering the rose to Annahlise, who took it gingerly in her hands and held it up to her face. "I did. I made it a few days ago. Was... going to give it to..." he choked. "It was meant to be a gift for Adalynn."
"I'm sorry," Annahlise sighed, handing the rose back to Aaron.
Aaron shrugged. "I've been a fool. I'm still being a fool. I mean... I've no reason to love her, have I? What logical reason do I have for loving someone like her?"
"Love is not logical," Annahlise stated, "or it rarely is, anyway. The human heart works... poorly, sometimes. Who can say why you truly love her?"
Gaze still on the rose he'd made, Aaron gave a quiet, solemn reply: "It should be logical."
"The world is not as it should be, Aaron," said Annahlise, "Adalynn Rose is not as she should be, nor am I; nor are you, for that matter. Everything about this world is somehow wrong and we have to learn to live in it despite that."
They were silent for a while. During the silence, Annahlise extended one of her wings around Aaron. She used the wing to gently pull Aaron toward her. He didn't fight the affection, but instead collapsed on her lap, rose in hand. Annahlise felt wet tears on her thighs and she began to brush Aaron's hair back with her fingers. "Oh, little human," she said softly.
"I'd never have done this to her," Aaron said, turning the rose over in his hands. "I would never have put her through this."
"I know," Annahlise replied.
The silence returned. Then...
Then the rose began to change in Aaron's hand. The young man was starting to shake. He and Annahlise watched, transfixed, as the rose morphed and shifted, its crystal petals rotating and cutting themselves into different shapes. When its transformation was complete, the crystalline rose had become a dead, sagging tree. Its branches scraped Aaron's palm, next to the base of its twisted trunk.
Aaron wrapped his fingers around the tree and squeezed. The crystal sculpture disintegrated in his hand. Bits of shining dust trickled between fingers and settled on the wooden floorboards at Aaron's feet. He didn't say anything else. Neither did Annahlise. They just sat there in silence until they'd both fallen asleep.