Worry and Worth

Xanadu Weyr - Hot Springs
The warmth that flows from this cavern is almost overwhelming for some, the steam rising from the shimmering pools as thick as the morning fog that rolls in off the ocean. Numerous pools are scattered here and there with ribboned walls that are natural in their construction. The water has a somewhat green cast to it, but it is merely a reflection from the ethereal light which is the glow down here that was so noticeable from the tunnel leading here. People can often be found down here washing themselves or just relaxing.
Situated along the walls are various racks covered in fresh towels ready for those who step out of the warm waters. A set of shelves have been installed towards the back wall, allowing people a place to put their belongings while they rest in the pools, and despite the white color that these have been painted, they are cast with that eerie green glow. Then, it's obvious. The ceiling of this cavern is covered in the fluorescent phosphorous matter that glows are made off. The mossy substance almost glitters and appears quite lovely.
A sloped tunnel leads back to the main caverns, a single branch carved out along it to detour down into the laundry room. It allows the passage of people, but even more importantly, it allows for metal pipes wrapped with insulation that run along the ceiling to carry heated water back and forth to where it's needed.

It is an odd hour - after lunch, but not quite dinner, and the majority of the Weyr is busy, though there are a few people coming and going from the Hot Springs cavern. However, it seems that the traffic is slow enough that it makes the perfect place to hide - or at least it does in Ricki's mind. The candidate is submersed in a pool, head tilted back to allow her to hide even further, only her nose and eyes - eyes which are far redder than can be attributed slowly to the heat - sticking out from one of the more secluded pools. However a pile of clothes, and a white knot, are on the closest bench, potentially giving her presence away.

One should hope that Nikolan is not planning to continue his photographic study of 'The Candidate Experience' here in the Hot Springs - that would just be down-right rude. And, indeed, as the tall, lanky Candidate strides through the door, he's not sporting his camera - or, really, much of anything other than his usual clothes. No satchels, no bags, no boxes - just Niko, his clothes, and a fair amount of… dust? And the latter two may not last much longer, given the longing way he's eyeing the wat- "Oh. Hey, Ricki." Calm, casual. Just the usual hello between pals. He does, however, edge out of her line of sight to start stripping down.

That would most -definitely- be rude, even if there are probably a few members of the Weyr who would have zero objects. Ricki, however, is definitely not one of them - especially now. There is a burbling sound that might be some sort of greeting, but as Niko goes out of sight Ricki makes no move to turn and follow, instead, she is sinking under the surface for a long moment. A moment that stretches out before she is finally lifting her head enough to speak without water interfering. "Hey.." But even without the water, it is quiet and subdued - and though submerging herself in the warm water made her face a nice even tone of red, nothing can truly hide the puffy eyes, though the dim light may help.

Oblivious or courteous, Nikolan makes no reference to the lack of enthusiasm in the other Candidate's greeting, bundling his clothes on a shelf and choosing a towel to wrap around his waist until he reaches the edge of the pool. Leaving the sheet behind, he slips into the water, hissing slightly at the sudden shock of heat. "I'd say it's early in the day for a bath," he mentions conversationally, sliding along the edge of the pool until he rests near - not close - to Ricki. "But I'm here, so that would be a bit hypocritical. Did you end up taking a dust bath, too?"

Eye flick briefly to Niko as he settles into the pool nearby, before the flick back to the blank space across the pool in front of her. "I.. I was on the Sands." She offers finally as an explanation, slowly turning to glance at him at a moment. "What dust-bathed you?" Nice, safe topic that isn't Ricki and *definitely* isn't the Sands. "Or did Risali's sibling herd appear out of nowhere?" That's.. funny right? Her judgement may currently be a little off.

"Wait," Niko replies, distracted briefly, "there's more of her?" He seems equal parts dismayed and… awed? "No - one of the blueriders was showing off his moves and he played it a little close on landing. Ended up drenching me in dust. I'm going to be spending hours cleaning my camera." Grumbling slightly, he sinks a touch further into the water, letting it lap at his stubbled chin. Then - Sigh. "Yeah. I think this is the first place I came earlier when I got done out there," he finally admits after a long moment of silence. "Are eggs always like that? I mean, are the dragons really aware enough to touch us like that? Or are the dragons having fun at our expense?"

"You have no idea…" Ricki murmurs softly at the mention of more Risalis, ahhing softly as he explains the source of the dust. "Did you at least get a good shot, do you think?" Keeping the conversation benign, she starts to relax a little, even as she also sinks down in the water again. And then, as he turns the conversation back to the eggs, her breath catches and she remains silent, squeezing her eyes shut. Count of ten and then.. "I.. I don't know. No one ever.. No one said…" And then, she is punctuating her series of unfinished thoughts by slipping back under the water, reemerging a long moment later. "I.. Is it us? Are we not.." Pause, and then the last word is whispered softly. "Worthy."

To be fair, Nikolan probably doesn't want to have any idea about more Risalis. The one he deals with near-daily is more than enough for him to handle. "I'm pretty sure I got a few," he replies confidently, taking up a scoop of sweetsand and attacking his legs, another series of hisses suggesting that he might be a bit abraided beneath that dirt. "Whether or not the film survived is another question - but I'll figure that out once I'm not carrying half of the Weyr on me." Ricki's question provokes silence - one of those laden silences that speaks volumes without saying anything at all. Then, firmly, "We wouldn't be here if we're not worthy, Ricki." Abandoning his cleaning, Niko turns in the water, tucking one leg up on the shelf beneath him as he faces his fellow Candidate, expression resolute. "Garouth chose me. Leirith chose you. If the clutch-parents think we're worthy, then how can we question?" Is he trying to convince her, himself - or both?

Niko's curse: near-daily interactions with some of the most difficult women known to Pern. The discussion of film, however, gets no reply from Ricki, instead, despite her earlier attempt to avoid the subject, her attention is solely on what happened out there on the sands. "Did she, though? Or.. Or was Risali just being nice. I.. We.." A shake of her head and Ricki takes a moment to try and compose herself, starting again with a soft voice, hoping it doesn't carry too far as she finally turns to watch Niko. "We'd been talking.. About how.. weird it is, growing up in a Weyr and watching everyone else be Searched while you just… aren't."

"I don't know Risali very well," Niko replies slowly after a humming moment of silence, "and despite the cracks we might make behind her back, she's never been outright mean. A little crazy, yes, but I've yet to meet a rider that isn't a touch on the weird side. I could see her spouting a platitude or two if you didn't have whatever it is the dragons look for, but…" He trails off, reaching across the intervening distance to brush his fingertip across the tip of her nose. "She knows your pain. She would never get your hopes up like this if there wasn't something there to hope for. I can't believe she'd be that cruel." He gazes at her with sober grey eyes as he lowers his own hand. "Why would you even ask? You're going to be a hell of a rider."

The slightest wrinkle appears on Ricki's nose as his finger touches it, before she sighs, shrugging her shoulders ever so slightly out of the water. "I.. I don't know. The eggs just all.. They all.." And then she is dropping her gaze to stare at her shoulder. "It felt like they were.. judging me. Bringing up every failure.. every.. mistake. And just.. wallowing in them." Her lips bunch up to one side. "I mean, I know it sounds silly but. If all they saw were the bad things…" His reassuring words get a quick, surprised look, before her gaze drops again, mouth opening and closing on unsaid words.

Nikolan turns slightly to rest his elbow on the lip of the pool, tilting his head to one side as he regards her steadily. "I know what you mean," he murmurs, a hint of distaste in his voice. "One… seemed rather depressed. One was just mean. One…" He trails off, lips tightening slightly as he turns his head away from Ricki, clearing his throat. "I think… and this is just me," he warns, "since you're the only person I've discussed this with," implied: will, "but I think maybe they're just trying to get to know us. Maybe they're lonely. Maybe they figure if they see us at our worst, they'll know us at our best. Ricki," he says urgently, leaning forward and reaching out, though not quite touching her, "you DO belong here." It seems vitally important to him that she understand this.

"There was.. just.." Ricki shakes her head after a moment. "I was -scared- Niko. Scared and… trapped, and I just wanted to run away, but.." And there, that would be the sniffling that accompanied her during her hurried departure from the sands. As he leans, she sniffs again, gulping and taking a deep breath, letting her eyes meet his. "Do you really think so?" She whispers, her hand lifting from the water to brush his ever-so-briefly, perhaps convincing himself of his realness. "I.. I just needed to think, and then it just.. all comes back, and.." Shrug. "Thank you, Niko." She offers, softly.

"Was it the brown egg?" Niko asks, shrewdly guessing which of Leirith's clutch might have caused such anguish in his friend. "It made me so… angry. And," he adds, voice dropping until it is barely audible above the gentle lap of the water, "frightened. It took me a while to realize it was like any childhood bully - it may be cruel, but with no power to enforce it. Next time, try the gray and white egg, if you haven't already." His fingers gently grasp at hers as she brushes her hand against his. "I found that one to be the most… even-tempered… of the three I dared before I, ah… had a more pressing appointment." He clears his throat. Again.

"The brown one, was the worst but.. the weird silvery one.. It was the first one I touched. At first it was fine and then.. just.. darkness and.." Ricki shivers a little despite the heat of the spring-fed pool, curling in on herself slightly. Feet are pulled up onto the ledge, and her arms are wrapped hurriedly around them. "There were.. I guess there were two that were ok. The one with all the patterns wasn't.. It wasn't terrible." Chin rests on knees, and head tilts slightly to watch him. "I.. Thank Faranth it wasn't just me." She blurts all in a rush, tone slowly starting to return to normal, and at least the sniffling has stopped.

Drawing back his arm, Nikolan sits back against the wall, giving her some space while making it clear he's there if she needs him. It's a bit of a neat trick. "I don't think I tried the silvery one yet," he admits. "I touched three of them before I - had to go. I'll make sure to give it a whirl next time, though," he adds, with a hint of irony in his tone. "Sounds like a blast." Not really. "I can ask around if you want, but I doubt we're alone." Suddenly, "Maybe ask your dad if he remembers if any of the eggs talked to him when he was a Candidate." If O'ric has any memory at all, it's fairly certain he'd be able to ease his daughter's mind - at least about the intrusiveness of pre-hatchling minds. *cough*

"Oceleth is just so…" And Ricki hesitates before finding the right word. "Cute." Probably not the word that most people would use to describe the aging, stripes brown but you know - the prerogative of daughters. "I mean.. if you hear anyone else say anything." She shrugs a little, slowly beginning to relax, letting her arms drop from where she had looped them tightly around her legs. "I just.. do you think they'll make me touch them again?" Of course, the answer is surely -yes-, but.

To be fair, Oceleth's entire clutch was - for the most part - fairly chill, but really, it's the experience that matters, not the result. Nikolan bites back a grin at the descriptor - no doubt hard-pressed to imagine any dragon as 'cute'. "They may," he says honestly. "This is my first time Standing, so I have no idea on Pern what they require of you. Of course, it seems they're taking us in small groups, so if you just happen to keep busy doing something else, it may be that you never have to go back out there." Until the Hatching. The unspoken words hover before him, and the young man's face pales ever so slightly.

"Somehow, I only see that getting me so far.. and with as scary as some of them are, they probably wouldn't recognize… whatever it is that they recognize, and I'd end up on the wrong end of those talons." Way to teeter back into questionable sanity, Ricki. "Shards, what are they going to look like when they come out." Let the worry spiral begin anew.

"So, did you hear about the harper who wanted to study history?" Nikolan asks, maybe a bit desperately. "He was all set to specialize, then realized there's no future in it." Ba dum tish. "Ricki, darling, don't dwell, seriously." Shifting closer, the techcrafter reaches out to grab at her forearm, lean fingers aiming to squeeze gently. "I know, it's not easy. Those eggs are… unnerving - but maybe that's part of it. Seeing how we handle the pressure. I mean, we want to live the rest of our lives with a whole 'nother person in our heads. It can't be all rainbows and kittens, and maybe this is just part of learning how to deal with it. And we can," he adds firmly. "We can."

That at least earns a soft groan, and a shake of her head, but it does seem to do the job, and get her out of the spiral. As her arm is caught, she freezes, eyes slipping from his hand to his eyes, and then she is slowly, hesitantly nodding. "I.. You're right, Niko. I -know- you are, and I'll.. Try and remember it." She manages a crooked half smile, and then there is a sigh. "Thank you.." She says with more strength than before, starting to lean as if for a hug. However, she suddenly pulls up short, blushing darkly and hurriedly scooting backwards as she realizes their current situation. "I, uh…" Oh look, that spot over there is super interesting.

Nikolan doesn't laugh, really. His face stays perfectly polite and pleasant as she inches away from him, and when he withdraws his hand, it's without so much as an acknowledgement at her sudden discomfort. His eyes, however, tell a different story - stormy grey dominates the blue, and there's humor - a slightly bitter, self-mocking laughter as he slides back slightly himself. "Don't mention it," he says easily, easing down into the water and taking up where he left off his scrubbing. "I mean, it's a bit self-serving - if you stay sane, you stay here, and I really don't want to go through all of this without you."

Ricki steals a glance at him, hoping he doesn't notice, a slight smile slipping on to her lips. "I…" And then, she just shakes her head. "Same.." She offers, sometimes simple is more effective than anything else. Lifting a hand to rub at her nose, she frowns as she notices her wrinkly fingers, and shifts to identify the location of her towel and figure out the shortest path. "I mean, even if I know you have plenty of others, too." One final duck under the water, then, to avoid his response.

"Not like you." Niko's words are soft, timed to coincide with her submersion. He stares blank-faced down at the ripples where the other Candidate so recently sat, then steadfastly turns his attention to his scrubbing, as aware as she that he's turning into one giant, curly-haired prune. By the time she surfaces, he's already in the water himself, rinsing off the suds of his swift, industrious - and thought-consuming - scrubbing.

Upon resurfacing, a quick glance assures her that he is distracted, and Ricki is scurrying out of the pool and for her towel, wrapping it tightly around her, gathering up her things and slipping on sandals before she is sneaking towards the door. However, at least she isn't -that- terrible, pausing first to glance back at him - and smile. "I'll see you later, Niko.." And then she is gone, slipping off for a spot to change, and hopefully not get caught back up in her own fears.

"Later," Niko echoes, his back steadfastly turned towards her as she makes her escape. Maybe he's shy. Maybe he thinks she is. Who knows. Either way, he waits until he's heard the last of her receeding footsteps before hauling himself from the water, snagging his towel and drying himself vigorously. Just in time - with dinner on the horizon, the pools are becoming more popular. It might be one or two voices raise in greeting - and invitation - as he fights against the incoming crowd, but for once, he doesn't let himself get drawn in, and is gone in moments.

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