"What is this?" Thom asked, poking the stuff in the bowl with his spoon.
"Soup," said Numair, giving Thom a funny look. "Good soup," he added when Thom glanced at him.
Thom looked at the bowl. Gingerly, he stirred the liquid, watching as even more random unidentifiable bits rose to the surface. It didn't look like any soup he'd ever had; it looked, rather, like someone had run mad in a vegetable garden.
Numair only seemed to be able to cook three things: soup, which never looked like any normal soup; rice, which was never just rice; and these weird little meat things wrapped in flatbread. None of them ever turned out the same way twice.
Of course, that wasn't all Numair ever brought him. Frequently, he'd show up in Thom's office with a barely-cooling bundle of something from one of Legann's food stands - a turnover, maybe, or dumplings, or a cup of yet more soup held gingerly in long fingers, or whatever new food Numair'd seen that he'd wanted Thom to try, bustling in all excited like a child with a clever treasure. Sometimes, he'd crash into Thom's office at a rush, somewhat late and a bit disheveled, sheepishly setting down a plate of something clearly swiped from the palace kitchens or whatever lunch he'd been forced to attend.
At first, these midday interruptions had annoyed Thom, as much for what they implied as the interruptions themselves. He was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, he'd finally ranted one day to his sister, he didn't need the court's newest darling mage taking pity on him. Alanna had raised one pointed eyebrow, for once not yelling back, and said tartly that maybe if he didn't consistently skip lunch people wouldn't feel so inclined to feed him.
It wasn't until a day four years later, when Numair actually failed to stop by, that Thom realized he'd gotten used to the mage's noontime interruptions whenever they were both at Legann. But then Daine scrambled in, bright and cheerful and completely out of breath, and set a bundle smack in the center of Thom's desk.
"There," she'd said, absently tucking a flyaway curl behind her ear. "Numair said to give that to you, and to say he's sorry he couldn't drop by himself, but some idiot student - not me! - just blew up his classroom."
A heaviness Thom hadn't noticed until then fizzled away, and he opened the bundle.
"Those're fish pasties," Daine said, pointing. "I taught him my ma's recipe. Oh, almost forgot." She leaned forward and pressed a quick kiss to Thom's cheek, grinning. "That's also from Numair, even if he didn't say it."
She skipped out of the room, leaving an utterly flabbergasted Thom and two cooling pasties behind.
Thom caved to Numair's expectant gaze like he always did, and gingerly tasted the soup. "It's good," he pronounced finally. Better than Alanna's cooking, he didn't add. That was a low hurdle to jump.
Numair's wide smile, sudden and brilliant as the sun through rainclouds, warmed Thom more than the soup did.