His World to Ashes

DISCLAIMER: MANY FEELZ. GET YO' TISSUES. Triggers for death in the family.


Xanadu Weyr - Training Grounds
A wide, grassy expanse, nestled into the gentle bowl shape where something's taken a bite out of the mountain. It's high above the level of the beach, and there's a good eastern view of the lake and a long path leading down to that sandy shore. Granite cliffs surround it on the other sides.

While much of the grounds are left in their natural state, one area has been trampled and trodden by enough feet that the grass struggles to grow. A running track circles a set of equipment - straw dummies with wooden frames, obstacles of various sizes and shapes, and targets for flaming, archery, and whatever else.

There's a dragon-sized opening to the south that leads to the cavernous weyrling barracks, and a smaller tunnel to the northeast - large enough for dragons newly emerged from the sands, but quickly outgrown by hatchlings who are then forced to take the long way around - at least, until they learn to spread their wings and fly. Between them in both position and size, a jagged crack in the stone leads to a dim cave with the sound of water.

Every new month as a weyrling brings new lessons and new items to incorporate into a routine that has been collecting more and more regularity and tasks that are finally gaining proficiency after so many months of completing them. Every weyrling pair is different and some take things more seriously than others. For the past six months, F'yr and, unexpectedly, Glorioth have been some of the most studious, some of the most dedicated and tireless in their pursuit of physical excellence (both) and mental competence (let's face it, just F'yr). One of Glorioth's talons-down favorite things about month ten has been the reintegration of self-defense classes. As one who had already been training for a time during candidacy, F'yr gets to be among the few who end up in the advance course, rather than the basics. Ila is one of his favorite instructors (generally, but for this in particular). Though he's been subdued in demeanor, so pale as to be largely colorless in personality, F'yr comes to the training sessions ready to work, to get his head to stay firmly in the moment. Today is different. F'yr's blue eyes aren't seeing what's in front of him, even as he goes through the familiar motions of wrapping his hands and donning safety gear (that he really only wears because even though Glori routinely cheers for Ila to dish out more pain and heartier encouragements, even if the bronze could do with less of the fancy footwork that helps F'yr avoid just such punishing blows as the bronze most enjoys seeing, the bronze might become genuinely upset were F'yr to become substantially injured and accidents do happen). Doing his warm-ups are hardly better, the man stumbling through several of the motions and having to stop to try to keep himself together just by breathing more than once. Glorioth is watching, of course, and while the always too loud dragon is rarely anything close to subdued, there is a sense of gravity to the way his theme music rolls through more somber (but still uplifting) tones and the clash of weapons is kept as simple background noise.

It's better than what Ila'den's theme music would be if Teimyrth were of the inclination to deign that kind of chaos. Fortunately for all ears, eyes, and metaphysical brainspaces alike (Ila's included), the euphonicless bronze is musically disinclined. So he sits in the far field, a vision of burnt hide blackened by too much time spent in the egg, donning massive wings tucked in against disproportionate bulk and a disposition all at once silent, disinterested, and disappointingly incongruous. Ila'den, for his part, is not unaware of F'yr's shift in demeanor; if anything, he's attentive to it, hyper-focused on those changing strides, a patient spectre to every withdrawal of social inclusivity where once there might have been willing participation (or at worst, begrudging acquiescence). He is unerringly aware of it now, lone eye riveted to fumbled attempts at follow through, of every need to breathe in the midsts of motions that should already be calming, of the cheerful gravity inherent to Glorioth's somber-yet-uplifting theme as it filters through Teimyrth to him or directly into his mind (or both!) — an occurrence not at all foreign to Ila now, not after so much time spent in shared company (and long before, if we're being honest, when one takes into account the first time Xermiltoth sunk diamond-dazzle brilliance into his brain… and every single time after that). The assistant weyrlingmaster, for all that he is present in the rows of learning weyrlings (steps even, measured, silent), is looking decidedly unkempt (which is a feat in and of itself, because when is Ila'den not some iota of disheveled, untamed, wild with a dangerous edge), a quality that makes him look all the more ill-suited to be amid rows of soon-to-be dragonriders until he stills before F'yr, until that grey eye drops from the bronzeling's face to his hands, to his feet, to the posture that holds him together without holding him together at all. "Clumsy," comes on a low, husky rumble — but soft in a way that Ila'den's voice cannot truly ever be, something more in the observation that is almost a question, almost an acknowledgement, almost as close to an, 'Are you okay?' as a man lacking the propensity to pry might come. "Try it again."

Is the world too slow? Is it F'yr? Why does every minute seem to stretch an hour or every blink seem like it spanned the room of three? Something is not right. Well, no, more than one thing is not right. The big man slows yet more, stills, haltingly too late as Ila'den stops. It's a near thing to keep one of those clumsy motions from actually making contact with the assistant weyrlingmaster, but F'yr manages, if only just. One arm comes up to swipe sweat from his brow. For all that it is summer now, it's still much too early in the lesson for F'yr to be sweating. Was that salty moisture sweat? The young bronzerider doesn't seem to be aware that he has tear tracks starting on his cheeks. What he does seem to realize is that no, he is not okay. He also seems increasingly able to hear the… not offer, but observation that's beneath the gestures. Or maybe it just happens to all line up that this is the moment F'yr shakes his blond head like it might clear the sudden volume of the rush of blood in his ears, as if the movement of his body might keep the tremor from overtaking taut muscle and sinew (it doesn't). No, he's not okay. Still, he is obedient. He's used to shutting off most parts of his brain to do these lessons, to tune into the body and give over his focus to the sense not aided by higher thoughts and a great abundance of worries. Again, he moves through the motions again. It should get cleaner with repetition, but the body doesn't obey even though the man is willing. The body trembles through the motion as if it were the ground just before it gives way to whatever chasm will overtake him next. Maybe it's the same instinct that animals have in the prelude to natural disasters that will leave nothing unchanged in their wake that has F'yr turning away from Ila, turning away from the group to start walking - a little early - toward the place that is farther away from the rest of the group where they normally do the more advanced exercises. That Glorioth gets up and moves to block the line of sight between one and the other in a very unsubtle shift (because subtle is just not how that dragon rolls, not even now) is the most telling part of the whole thing, really.

Fuck. Ila'den's hand is already coming up, fingers splayed as if he means to catch a fist or catch F'yr — whichever needs catching in the wake of halting near-misses. But fate is both cruel and kind in equal measure. F'yr doesn't need catching, at least not physically. Ila's hand stays displaced between them, jaw ticking in tandem with a gaze that drops to mark tear streaks, further to track those repetitive movements F'yr abandons early in favor of… of what? For a long moment, the former renegade lingers in his sudden absence, feral intensity focused on F'yr's retreat for too long before that lone eye jumps to his own dragon. Teimyrth rises, a slow stretch of rippling muscle, an awkwardly uneven gait carrying him with deceptive ease and feigned indifference toward where Glorioth acts as a physical barrier between his lifemate and the rest of the world. "Fuck," comes emphatic, a hushed growl uttered without an audience to bear the brunt of its implication. And then Ila'den moves, hesitation marked only in the time it takes him to follow and nothing more, not even in the way movement ceases upon arrival, not even in the distance carefully maintained between himself and a weyrling scrambling for balance on chasm's ledge. If Ila'den were a better man, there would be no hesitation in his reach. Comfort would come with the ease of an embrace, bolstered by kind words and gentle gestures, affirmed in banal platitudes and well-meant sincerity. But Ila'den is not a better man. So he waits, weathering the tumult of whatever comes next, watching F'yr with arms crossed over his chest until finally, finally, he speaks. "What do you need?" It's not cruel, it's not a demand. Ila'den's voice, rough and serrated as it will always be, delivers four words with unexpected kindness, a gentle query limned with the burden of depthless patience. It's not a demand to know, a plea to fix; no, it's an offer to oblige, to be whatever it is that F'yr needs in order to get through this moment now. "What can I do?"

Shoulders shake and breath loses rhythm. The air escapes the lungs raggedly, as though each wisp of life-driving wind caught its invisible trail on the jagged pieces of F'yr's heart and couldn't come out whole. The sobs come, as they must, but it might have been better if the big man howled, or swore, or claimed the feelings that rack him in any way that would seem to give him some power over them. Instead, they are terrible. They are hollow; they're an exercise in surrender to the helplessness, to the pain, to the agony of loss and the unfairness of the universe. F'yr can do nothing. He can't even let the tears come. He can't even let himself feel the full brunt of that storm that wants to rage at the sky: what would be the point? Glorioth is strangely quiet, his eyes whirling fast but not leaving the calm shade beyond the occasional touch of… well, something. Anger? Frustration? Something. What F'yr can do is keep his feet. The tears roll down the planes of his cheeks, curling at his jaw and traveling down still as he stares at nothing, as he breathes because he must go on breathing. Truly, F'yr's world may have narrowed to the point that, beyond the continued awareness of the bronze who is as much a part of himself as that breath that he continues to draw, he has registered nothing. There is no shame in the wet blues eyes that find Ila'den, but within them, the grief is manifest. It's not the grief of one hit by unexpected news, but rather the deep grief of one who has lived with the anticipation of it as silent companion for days and weeks and months and has now ceased the vigil and plunged into mourning. "I don't know," he manages, his voice nearly as rough as Ila'den's, if not with the sharp edges. So at least he heard the man, which is something. He stares at Ila's eye, the tears slowed to just one, just another, every few wide-eyed blinks. It might seem like he's not going to answer, but dry lips move: "Nothing." There is nothing Ila can do. It's not the connection that was meant to be made, but it is the one that is made nevertheless when F'yr goes on, "There was never anything anyone could do." And somehow, saying those words aloud (for the first time), breaks the dam. F'yr sinks toward his knees, the sobs this time more whole, still quiet, and there's a horrible bewildered quality to it all, as if… for all the warning in the world, it's still unfathomable how events became what they are. Glorioth's words are astounding because they're not breaking anyone's brain with volume, because they're so startlingly sober from a dragon who doesn't have any idea just how truly ridiculous he is, and they come as much to Ila as Teimyrth. « The one who raised him is dead. »

If only Ila'den were a better man. But he's not; he's not a better man. He's not brimming with the gentle, selfless kindness of R'hyn, the upbeat (and sometimes violent) humor of Citayla, the wildfire conviction of Risali. He is not prone to physical acts of affection, to gentle affirmations, to providing the kind of comfort that F'yr clearly needs in this moment — but that doesn't mean he's heartless. Ila'den's much more complicated than that. So he listens, keeps his attention focused on F'yr with hyper vigilance, doesn't look away from the sight of tears where normally he might in order to spare F'yr the indignity of being witnessed in this moment of fragile vulnerability. He waits, he weathers the tumult of wayward connections and reaches out the moment F'yr's knees go, perhaps to soften the physical blow. He moves alarmingly quick, strong hand catching at F'yr's upper arm to slow his descent, but not stop it, the former renegade sinking into a crouch with a rasp of, "Easy," as Teimyrth and Ila'den both pick up on the young bronze's words. Ila'den says nothing. Ila'den knows only too well there is nothing he can say. It will be okay? It won't. It will get better? It doesn't. He's not in pain? Nobody — nobody — wants to hear the ineptitude of trite platitudes when the entire sum of their being has been pulled apart and left in ruin, pieces of a former self, a former life, a former identity crushed and shattered beneath the insurmountable agony of grief. Ila'den knows only too well that words like, 'I'm sorry,' do nothing except to acknowledge the helplessness in witnessing another's pain. So instead, Ila'den says, "I'm here," on a hard rasp, entire body tensing as calloused fingers, so usually averse to touch, alight upon the back of F'yr's neck with gentle pressure, pulling him forward to rest his head on one of Ila'den's shoulders if he doesn't fight that forward momentum. "I'm right here." You're not alone. You don't have to do this alone. And Ila'den is here. There may no be no soothing sweeps of hands, no gentle rocking, no tears shed in empathy or compassion, but Ila remains steady in that not-quite-an-embrace. It's Teimyrth that offers a gentle snow, mind no less cold but… quiet. « Mine is here. We are here. It changes nothing, except that you — and he — are not alone. »

Ila'den is not a better man, but as the funny twist of fate has it, he's the right man, for this moment. No matter how well intentioned the variety of comforts that others might offer F'yr, every one of them might inadvertently interrupt the tumbling tumult of thoughts that ''need'' to cascade, that ''need'' to be allowed to find their way from words to read to meaning internalized. The first step in any grief is to really hear the words that need to be said. These words aren't things Ila says, maybe it's what Glorioth says, or maybe it's the repeated flash of three words on paper strung together in a sentence that doesn't make sense even when the words all follow in neat, orderly fashion. Ila would be able to understand them far better than F'yr, maybe even now has a better grasp than the younger bronzerider, being at that incalculable distance that is so close and yet entirely separate. The hand coming under his arm is met with perhaps inexplicable trust. Perhaps it's unwise, perhaps F'yr should know better or would know better in another moment, or perhaps (more likely) in the time they've spent as instructor and instructed, F'yr has built trust in Ila'den. It's probably one-sided. It's probably as simple as trusting Ila'den to be Ila'den, harboring no strange notions that he is or should be other than as he is. Whatever the case, F'yr's weight is trusted to the man who's seeking to slow that helpless collapse. He's heavy, but Ila'den is strong. For as many things that are broken in the bronzerider just this moment, his knees don't have to be one of them thanks to the older man's intervention. F'yr's eyes close at Ila's rasped word. The tears still escape despite the barriers of shuttered lids. He's not waiting for Ila'den to say more, to do more. Truthfully, F'yr might not even be terribly aware of the man who has faced much worse; F'yr is drowning, in a way that no one can save him from. Getting his head above water is a task he has to do alone. But… As Ila'den proves, he doesn't have to be alone while he does it. His head comes to rest on Ila'den's shoulders, his body a strange combination of boneless and yet stiff, as if the muscles can't remember how to move and the bones are just holding things in the last remembered position. It means there isn't resistance, but that the thump of forehead to shoulder is harder than it might have been if the younger man were really propelling himself into what's offered. He doesn't reach for hugs, for those things that others might have offered him by way of comfort - he doesn't want them now, doesn't need them now. He needs this moment to figure out how to surface in the sea of grief. And the thing is… Even if Ila'den and Teimyrth had not come to give their support, F'yr still would not have been alone. Glorioth may still be weirdly not heroically loud, but he's still Glorioth, which is why Teimyrth's reassurance gets a reeeeal long pause. Does he follow? So often he doesn't. There's the sense of a mental squint at the older bronze. Perhaps he's becoming senile in old age. « Of course… » Teimyrth is here. Like, right there. So is Ila'den. So is Glorioth. There's a whole class of weyrlings over yonder. Obviously, this is a one-being struggle; not-as-baby-as-he-once-was-but-still-just-as-much-Glori is perfectly fine. « My F'yrsomely emotional companion is simply experiencing the "consequences of his choices." » The air quotes are there, as tiny swords around the invisible words 'consequences of choices.' It's a learned phrase without any real meaning for Glorioth who has never recognized a consequence much like he has never known a doubt.

The misinterpretation from one as literal as Glorioth is not surprising — at least not to Teimyrth, whose mind is a gentle flurry of snow — no less cold, no less, but certainly a mind quieted by the impending storm within rather than awash with its howling fury. « There is more than one way to be alone, » the older bronze offers, « and our humans, who live in the past and the future instead of as we do, in the present, they feel it even when they are surrounded by those who love them beyond any other. They feel that nobody can understand their pain, and they are not always wrong, and so they think they are alone. » Meaning even with you, Glorioth. Or those Weyrlings. Or anybody else who cannot scratch the surface of understanding the many complicated nuances of loss — their loss — and the destructive wave of grief that crushes and suffocates and changes until there is nothing but mere fragments of the familiar left. « It is less about physical presence, and more about understanding. » But they are survivors. Teimyrth knows they are, as much as he knows that surviving the agony of total devastation means the survivor who comes out is not the fighter who went in. Sometimes you come out stronger, sometimes you break, sometimes anger and hate fuel your breath, sometimes sadness rules your every moment, but always you change. It's why Ila'den still does not offer trite words, because he knows that it doesn't get better. It never heals. No amount of time makes it easier. But you do, eventually, learn how to cope, how to brace yourself when you see a storm on the horizon. It's not important except that Ila'den understands. That is why, "I'm here," is what he offers. Because he knows, in an intimate way, that there are some things that nobody can help with. So he offers what he can: a stable calm, a quiet patience, a willingness to endure the tumult of trying to piece back together a shattered identity, of trying to find enough strength or will to hold on, to take one more breath, to learn when to surface and swallow down air before the next tidal wave plummets the detritus of a wreckage back beneath its waves. "Breathe," comes husky, but the rest remains constant: he stays, he allows F'yr to come or go, to rage, or cry, or fall apart… and he stays.

… The way this silence from Glorioth stretches might start to feel familiar just before Glorioth's slightly louder, slightly more heroic voice returns. « You've lost me. » Listen, Teimyrth, Glorioth is trying, but that's some complex, feely wisdom you're laying down for a bronze who struggles to have more emotional range than what it takes to be bloodthirsty and valorous at once. It's fine though because Glorioth ain't worried, not about whatever Teimyrth is babbling about trying to explain, not about his rider not just falling apart, not even coming apart, but disintegrating there against Ila's shoulder. F'yr is no longer an island weathering an isolating season of storms, but has been rent apart, sundered and in all ways undone. One island is now a smattering of individual bits and bobs that must somehow, eventually, meld from mutating mess into cohesive F'yr once more. Loss is volcanic. It shifts the entire landscape, sweeping through cracks of the soul one didn't even know were vulnerable. It burns down to the core with merciless, molten fury, erasing the familiar in favor of forging a new frame on which life may one day rebuild itself, from the ground up. It sears the soul, the self, scours it, not clean but raw. The crust is fragile and will be until the pain of the change settles, cools. It may be days, it may be weeks, in some places, it may always be brittle, always one wrong word from sending a shot of that remembered pain straight to the core. But the healing cannot begin until the tumult has passed. In the minutes (and there are many) while F'yr is ripped apart in the storm of his grief, he remains unconsciously pressed against Ila'den's shoulder. The only change in his posture is the tangle of his hands into the older man's shirt, gripping just the fabric as though if he squeezed it tight enough, he could separate it down to just one thread, a thread he could entrust to Ila'den's keeping and be able to follow one day back, or forward, or up, whenever his world rights itself enough to make the attempt. For all that Ila'den lacks in emotional comfort, one thing he has always been to F'yr is consistently Ila'den, and that makes him ideal for the task of holding the other end of the lifeline in these moments. F'yr has to want to hold the other end for surely Ila'den will not make him, will not even encourage him as some others might, but Ila'den will not let go, and it is safe to trust him to be himself in this. F'yr probably doesn't feel the passing of time in the same way Ila'den does now, nor even in the way Glorioth does in his watchful vigil, his eyes only occasionally shifting to something other than calm and then only in snatches. But finally, finally, the younger bronzerider can manage a hoarse voice long enough to make a request. "I need them. Please." Surely by now watchful Ila'den knows that they are F'yr's North star and southern pole, the people whose magnetism keeps him grounded in the man he is becoming for all that its a job neither signed up for. If Ila'den can lead him, F'yr can struggle to his feet, can get to the place where he'll see them— one of them, if not both immediately, where he can get the help while he's at his worst, from the people he trusts to see him through.

Teimyrth does not attempt to explain again — not because the inability (willful unwillingness?) to grasp the concept of humans and their complicated emotions puts him off, but because Glorioth clearly does not understand. Not in this sense, anyway, not with what he is giving to the elder bronze, and Teimyrth is a dragon ill-equipped to bestow those complexities upon him. Here lies a dragon whom, when Glorioth has grown into his wings and flown the proverbial nest, will likely never deign to speak to Glorioth — or any of his siblings — again. He is not a kind dragon. Despite the abundance of patience and understanding for newly-hatched dragonettes and the follies of their youth, one would be foolish to consider Teimyrth kind. « It is not important. One day, perhaps, you will understand. » At least… it's not important in the world of minds that will forget even this conversation happened before the month is even out. It's irrelevant to the important happenings of this scene. F'yr disintegrates and Ila'den endures the fingers gripping in his shirt, the face in his shoulder, the destruction of one world, and the reshaping of one wholly new. It's the request that brings Ila'den's eye to F'yr, a moment of silence in which it seems that he might refuse or — "Their office," — is having Teimyrth track down one or both. But F'yr will not have to struggle too hard. Ila'den will help, will use every ounce of muscle he's worked hard to gain so that he might help F'yr to his feet, to ask a simple, "Can you walk?" and assist with an arm around the hips, F'yr's arm over his shoulders if the answer is, 'No'. Either way (together, or apart), Ila'den makes the journey with him, takes him from the sparse crowd littering the weyrling's training field to the Administrative Wing, where R'hyn and Risali or both will have surely been alerted and await the arrival of F'yr and all his broken pieces.

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