What Comes First

Xanadu Weyr - Luraoth's Menagerie
Before being cleared to make space for the training field, this expanse of land had been a farm. Fence posts still mark out small pastures or tracts of cropland that have long been left to go fallow and become little more than grassy patches of wildflowers. The path from the coastal road weaves between scattered fruit trees left over from an orchard, offering some measure of shade along the walk.
A huge barn with large doors that swing easily are moved by a mechanism with the sound of clinking chains and the chugging of a generator. Within, what must have once been storage space and the home for farm animals has been transformed into a place fit for a dragon. A huge stone makes up the center of the largest chamber, with heating or cooling with the flick of a tail. There are other stones set about in three other dragon-sized nooks, clearly set there for the comfort of guests or patients.
A set of metal stairs as well as a freight elevator around the side of the building allow easy access to a loft area that has largely been left untouched from the time this place was a farm. There's plenty of room for storage, but also room for any number of animals that may come to live here. One corner has been clearly dedicated as 'tunnelcat territory' with a bunch of little platforms, ramps, tunnels, and toys.


The evening is warm, the bottom curve of Rukbat not yet touching the horizon. A few sparse clouds veil it, but the heat of the arriving summer is evident. Luraoth, at least, likes the heat. In the sevens since her flight, the queen's body has begun to show the first outward signs of the growth that brings indolent thoughts to her mind. She had a dragonhealer appointment today. Soriana went with her, watching and listening - and asking, if not more questions than usual for a first-time clutch, at least somewhat different ones. The appointment took a while, blurred as it was with a dragonhealer lesson. Now the two of them have returned to their weyr, and Luraoth has stretched out to take advantage of the light. She's facing west, the better to watch the sunset when it comes, though her body curves slightly to catch the rays and soak up that heat. Soon she'll take to the sands, warmed by pipes and mechanisms, but for now she is content to lie among the wildflowers and be warmed by Rukbat.

Her dragon's eyes are half-closed, but Soriana's aren't… though she's also amidst the wildflowers. She gazes at a patch of them, bright orange bells and tiny white speckles growing in a dense tangle. How about… no? Okay. So she tromps on, looking about at the ground near her feet.

Ka'el's days have been on an uphill climb back towards normalcy. He is no longer a permanent resident in the local tavern. Marel has seen to that, even if he wanted to be. But with the passing sevens, Ka'el found that…he didn't want to be. The back and forth of drunken nights and hungover mornings took their toll. Trouble within his wings. Trouble with his friends. A never ending sickening cycle of blissful drunkenness and sober sickness. And so that version of him as been left in the past, and he found himself with lots of ground to make up. And then, there's Kanekith. The elusive dragon has transformed into a loyal mate who is rarely seen away from Luraoth. But he has been away today. He is a Galaxy dragon with duties of his own, besides, and Ka'el needs him for that. And so sweeps have been made and patters in the sky memorized. Combat work, and sky signals. And now the long shadows mark evening and the riders have been dismissed for showers and meals. Ka'el has retired to his weyr, for once not pit-stopping at Marel's, and is now seen heading down the coastal road with a cardboard box in arms. Kanekith follows, eager to see to Luraoth whom his swirling eyes seek the closer they get to her weyr. He calls to her, a deep throaty sound in his throat as he walks, his languid pace unchanging despite the fact that she's now within his sights. Ka'el can see her too. A gold is hard to miss no matter where she may be. His grip upon his box tightens fractionally as he and his dragon approach.

Luraoth lifts her head unhurriedly, a soft croon her answer to Kanekith. An octave higher - well, an octave and a bit. A different note, one that harmonizes. Soriana doesn't bother to look up, for the bronze has been a familiar presence even if his rider has not. On the beach. In the meadow. Here at her weyr. Lately, Soriana is more likely to see two metallic hides than one. Sometimes her gaze lingers on Kanekith, thinking about his rider - but she hasn't seen much of Ka'el. She'd have seen nothing at all, but the occasional glimpse across the clearing or caverns has happened whether she sought it out or not - which has been not. Oh, there've been a few times when she considered going to his weyr (or to Marel's), but… she hasn't. Not yet, anyhow. It's still been too… something. And besides, she's been busy. She knows that's partly an excuse, but it's still partly true. Even if she sometimes makes her own busy… as now, looking through the wildflower tangles.

Kanekith's head lowers down, down, down towards his rider, hoving near him and considering him with eyes a muddled color. Between blue and purple. Like the bruises his rider has been so trying to forget. Questioning. Checking. He rumbles again, this time a quieter, more intimate sound as he nudges his regal head lightly against a shoulder. Ka'el smiles, gently. "'ll be fine. Go," he says, nodding ahead to which Kanekith slowly warbles and raises his head again. He strides forward now, dragon steps far longer than any human's as he approaches the lounging gold to settle next to her. With the stretching days, Kanekith's affection has grown. Granted, the bronze remains vague in showing it, absently almost with the way his muzzle touches the side of her neck and grazes down a while before retracting. His complacency is felt within Ka'el, who exhales a slow and silent sigh as his eyes are drawn towards Soriana. They haven't spoken a word in a month. Not a single utterance. She hasn't looked for him. He's stayed out of her way. Til now. Now, as he blatantly invades her territory with his box and sure steps that bring him closer and closer to the flower seeking weyrwoman. A football field away. Half that. Twenty yards. Ten. "Soriana."

Luraoth arches her neck to Kanekith, welcoming him with that croon. She's yet to object to his departures - after all, he has other things to do - but she always welcomes his returns and his presence. She's been quieter, as eggs grow inside her, but her warmth is still present in abundance, simply… calmer. Lying back in the sun-browned summer grass with the scent of wildflowers. Soriana crouches next to one clump of flowers, drawing a few vines away to expose five-pointed purple stars, and she half-smiles at it, reaching until her fingers almost touch it and- a voice. Soriana stops. She breathes in - the scent of wildflowers - and lets it out again as she stands up. He's here. She… doesn't know what to think about that. Soriana turns, her gaze settling on Ka'el. She's caught glimpses of him, yes. She hasn't seen him this close. Or.. (wait for it… there) for this long. Not since… that. She swallows, a nervousness edging past Luraoth's shared calm - past the image she tries to show - but… she controls it. Or tries to, anyhow. Enough to nod slightly. "Hey."

Soriana. He slows to a stop just a handful of feet from her now, keeping distance from himself and her just as he has since … that day. He said her name, for now there's nothing else to be heard. His eyes drink her up. She looks … so normal. Like herself. Like the Soriana of weyrlinghood and Candidacy and apprenticeship and friendship. Not the bruised young thing which is the last detailed image that he has of her. The hurt body. Pensive eyes. The cold feeling of her retreating from him. He blinks after what seems like hours of just watching her. Kanekith, although near Luraoth, has his eyes on him. His rider has worried him. His rider has not been himself. His rider has been ill. Angry. Sad. Lonely. Feelings polar opposite of Kanekith's own which makes for a tornado between the two of them. Hot meeting cold, making a funnel cloud of turmoil. Can he be happy when his rider is so sad? Can Ka'el be so sad when his dragon is so happy? Ka'el's eyes lower to the box he holds, and he takes a few steps forward before setting it down. "I've been running," he says as he rises. "From you. From everybody. I'm not a coward, but I've been actin' like one. I wanted to forget what happened. What I can remember happening. What I figure did happen. I shouldn't be allowed to walk around like everybody else. I should be locked up an' forgotten about. But I'm not, and that's not fair, and I'm sorry for that."

Soriana has thought about what happened. She's talked about it. With people who understand. With people who … will. With people she hopes never will. Somehow, it's not helping right now. She's wordless, at first, simply listening to his (and reminding herself that she's calm. She shouldn't be nervous. This is Kale. (Ka'el?)) who's facing her, who she's facing. Who's saying… words. She frowns as she catches up with the sense of them, watching him as he approaches. Her gaze flicks to the box, briefly, then rises back to him. Watching him. Listening. And… she gives her head a shake. "It was a flight." The frown deepens. "And it fucking sucks," (Luraoth rumbles a quiet noise of displeasure. Think of the tender ears of her hatchlings-to-be!) "and if you ever do that when it's not a flight, to anyone, you will be so sorry," because he isn't now? "but it was a flight. You got screwed over too," (Luraoth's at least a little happier about that one) "because the lesson didn't say a sharding thing about how you're supposed to keep control. Which you will learn to do." Or. Else.

Ka'el stands stoically beneath her words, because he's practiced standing stoically, you see. He's practiced in his own mind being statuesque despite what she may say to him, and in the practiced imaginations of his mind she has said some awful, awful things, though none of which, in his opinion, has been undue. Luraoth's displeased noise elicits a gently nudging from Kanekith, but he's listening too…although he has no issue with Language. Ka'el uses Language all the time, even in his head! Kanekith knows some colorful words and phrases because of it. Everyone should be afraid due to this. And so, Ka'el stands, eyes vaguely wincing here and there at truths, but surprise mars his otherwise stone-faced expression after a while. She's .. sympathizing? Sort of. Almost. Kinda. She made a point that he made way before this about that mating flights lesson, but now's not the time for 'I told you so!' .. unless he's looking to sport another black eye. "I've been with you when it wasn't a flight. I had control. I'd never do that to you or anybody on purpose. But that doesn't change anything about what happened. All've the excuses in the world isn't gonna change what I did to you, and I'm not gonna forgive myself for it, an' I don't expect you to either." He nods to that box. "That's your stuff that was in my weyr." Her clothing in a drawer unofficially designated as hers. "I brought it back for you. Will you hear me out before you say anything?"

"No," Soriana… agrees? "It doesn't. You hurt me," and she's not sure what name to use, Kale or Ka'el or… what, and so she doesn't use any name at all, just pauses for a moment. Like it's been omitted from the record, one of those black streaks on the copied documents too secret to be shared widely. "Flight or not. It's not an excuse. It doesn't make it go away. You don't get to forget about this," never mind forgiveness? "but…" She trails off. Maybe she's finally listening to what he asked for? Soriana nods, abruptly. "I'll listen." And she shuts her mouth.

Ka'el's chest slowly expands with an inhale that's momentarily held in his chest, feeling the tightness grow tighter with each breath that isn't taken in the seconds that pass. Then, exhale. "I've been running. All my life, I've run. I ran from home. I ran from you when you were with someone else. I run when I don't know what to say. When things are hard. When things .. hurt. I run away until things blow over. It's what I do. S'what I've done. I've lost friends because've it. I've lost things an' people that I've never wanted to lose because I'm too chickenshit to face things. I'm done with being a coward, and I'm done runnin' from this. Every time I didn't face you, I was running. I thought I was doin' the right thing, leaving you alone." He pauses, another breath. "Soriana, I love you. I've loved you for turns and I'll love you for turns. I love you enough to leave so that you don't have to look at me and hate and be reminded about what happened. Say the word, and I'm in Thea's office requestin' a transfer to anywhere, and Kanekith won't be around to chase Luraoth again…. But I don't want to go," he admits with a vague shake of his head. "I want to stay and make you see that I didn't mean it, and that seein' you that day was enough to make me want to take a blade to my own chest, and I'd do anything to make things right with you. I want that chance. I'm beggin' you for that chance." A grimace and a look to the box. "But you don't have to give it to me now. I'm askin' a lot because you've every right to hate me til I die. But maybe you can think about it. Take your stuff and… think if it's worth givin' me another shot. And if it is, you can bring your things back if you want. If it isn't…don't."

Soriana keeps her mouth shut. It's not so hard, at first. Ka'el's description of himself is… perhaps not one she's thought of him, but it makes sense. Ka'el leaves the situation and finds the quiet place. Soriana can understand that; she's done it herself. So - while the mention of her being with someone else makes the corner of her mouth twitch inward - she keeps it shut. She even nods, just a little, as he talks about things blowing over. Except, sometimes they don't blow ove- oh. He's got that part, so she doesn't have to open her mouth and say something. That breath is let out through her nose instead, a slow sigh. So he's- done? There's a trace of uncertainty now, though she keeps her gaze steady on him - even if it takes an effort. Even if she frowns. She ran away too. But. Soriana shakes her head, a restless motion that stills as he begins to speak again. Love. What a word. What a feeling. What a… tangled mess. It's easy to keep quiet for that part, because she doesn't know if she wants to say it back or not. Her lips twitch (a frown) at his offer to request a transfer. The expression lingers as he continues. Now it starts to get harder to not say something, but… she manages it. Her mouth stays shut until he's done talking. It stays shut for a couple moments after he's finished.

And then it opens. "I'm not going to make Luraoth go through this alone." Her tone is sharp, the words coming crisply, and then she looks away. Out at her dragon (and his). Past them, to where Rukbat edges near the horizon. It's a long moment before she speaks again, and her voice is softer - though perhaps not by much. "I'm not making you leave, either. You're done running?" Soriana looks back to him. "Then here's how it is. You fucked up. You can't fix it, but what you can do is go talk to the other maleriders in our class. You can tell them how you fucked up. You can tell them what chasing - what winning - is like. You can work on ways to stop it from being that bad again. Ask D'ren. You can't fix what you did. But you can make things better." For other people.

Yes, he's fucked up. Badly. Ka'el can't fix it, no matter how much he wants to. Her words are taken in ways that she may not have menat for them to be taken. Or maybe she did. Words almost always have underlying meanings. Another message laced thinly between the lines. Stoic. His heart aims to continue to be so, as does his face. But his face is winning out where his heart is fighting a losing battle. He's not sure why. He imagined this. He prepped for this. Her words are about everyone else. The other riders. Helping them. Making things better for them in flights they haven't had yet. .. But what about her? He's here for her, not 'them' and 'others'. He's here to fix himself and her, not them. But that's what being a weyrwoman is all about, isn't it? The good of the weyr before self? She did warn him. She won't be able to take his side, and oh how desperately does he want her in his corner with him. Why is it Marel and not her? … Marel's not a weyrwoman. He begins to falter, eyes lowering from hers to settle upon the dry grass. Kanekith makes a noise, something caught between a rumble and whine.

"Yes ma'am." The phrase is a murmured reply. A reply befitting a weyrwoman, but not a girlfriend, and one he's never used with her except in jest in times where jesting was as easy and automatic as breathing. He can feel something rising that he doesn't want to rise in front of her, and he takes a step away from that box as his ears blush a fade shade of crimson. He's done running, and so he can only wait to be dismissed, like the days of old. Days he'd hoped to earn back. He loves her, but maybe his love was never enough.

Before self. Not instead of. Soriana sees that step back. Maybe she still doesn't trust him (not to run away), because she speaks to stop him. "Kale." Huh. So apparently that's the name she still finds when she reaches for it. That's as much a discovery to herself as anyone else, but she doesn't have time to consider on that much now. Except. It does make one thing clear. "That - talking to them - it's because you're a rider. It's because of what you did, as a rider." And she's telling him to do it as a weyrwoman? She certainly didn't argue with the ma'am, for once. "It's not a punishment." Except insofar as it is? "It's a duty." She smiles, humorless. "Weyrwoman's orders." The lack of humor drains the smile away entirely, and she sighs as her eyes drift away. "I… don't know what I want. I love you." Her eyes dart back, then just as quickly away again. "But I'm mad at you. And I'm scared. And I don't know what to do. So…" she trails off for a moment, and then takes in a breath. He's not going to run away? Okay. She won't either. "Come out to the Treetop with me. Tomorrow night?" She swallows. "You can say no." This part isn't an order.

His eyes flit up in response to his name. A quick motion that's held as she speaks, almost through the entirety of her words before finding the grass again. He can't find it in himself to muster a smile, false or otherwise. Nothing is funny, and nothing feels right. She loves him, then she shouldn't be afraid. She should know that what she wants is for things to be right with him again. She should know that as clearly as he knows that he wants things to be right with her again. She's mad at him. For all the days and sevens that have gone by, and all the turns that she's been the one oh so informed of all things dragon, she's still mad. Sigh. Ka'el can't be mad at her for that. He himself admitted, she should hate him for the rest of his days. And maybe she will. And so, the invitation to the cafe succeeds in confusing the hell out of him. An invitation…why? It reminds him of the date he owed her. They were supposed to go off together. They were supposed to go to Ista once they became full riders. He was supposed to wine and dine her and use that graduation gift to splurge on fun things and fun times and … life has a funny way of screwing plans over. Maybe this will be the punishment. Moreso than he's punished himself. More than the month of separation has been punishment. Maybe a little public humiliation is in order. Slap him with a warning label. Beware of Rider. "Sure," he answers. "I look forward to it." A beat. "I'll find the riders. Do my duty," he confirms, just to let her know that he was, in fact, listening and will do the aforementioned.

But love doesn't conquer fear, no matter how the old saying goes. When Soriana looks at Ka'el, she sees the boy she loves - and she also sees someone who hurt her. He wasn't himself, at the time. Neither was she. It doesn't matter, because that fact - the logical, rational fact - isn't the same as the thing that makes her breath want to quicken in a way that's got nothing to do with arousal. Fight or flight, despite the fact that the rest of her wants to do neither. The fear response is a strong one. It doesn't listen to logic… but it can be persuaded. Habituation. Walking up to the edge of the cliff and looking down it until the heart no longer races… and then finding a bigger cliff, and a bigger one, and so on and so on until you can ride a-dragonback without being scared. Of course, Soriana's never been afraid of heights.

So yes. She wants things to be right with him again. And she wasn't mad at him (until she saw him again). Only now she is. And she's scared. And so she's going to walk up to the cliff and look down it. She'd ask him into her cottage, but that's too scary. Terrifying. It shouldn't be, but it is - so she'll meet him in public. A date. She'll ask for the quiet table. She'll sit with him. She'll… talk. She's not sure if she can manage to touch him, but… she'll try. And maybe next time the cliff can be a little taller. So Soriana nods. "Thanks." It's probably the wrong word. It's certainly not enough words. And then she nods. Yay. Obedience and respect. They taste remarkably sour, just now. Then again, so does everything. But… "See you then."

"Okay." Too few words, but it's all he has left. He said… all that he planned to say. His script that he's written and practiced and memorized and hoped it would be what was needed to spark that flicker of hope. A dim 'maybe'. It's been read, word for word, line for line. The box of her things, delivered. The offer, made. He's done all that he could think to do. Face everything and rise. That was the plan. To rise up like the man he wants to be and face his problems and fears and rise above them. … So, why does it feel as if he's sinking? Down, down into the thick and murky depths of a substance he can't escape from. His ears burn. Embarrassed. A man is supposed to take care of his woman. Make her happy. Protect her. Not..this. This has been everything but! Time and again he's failed at doing what's engrained in him to do. But at least now he's dismissed and can save himself the disgrace of looking like a total loser in front of her for a moment longer. He turns, leaving the box there, and heads back. Kanekith does not follow, and Ka'el's not too sure where he's going. To his weyr? To Marel's? Away, away. His feet will lead him somewhere this evening, walking til he's too tired to do so anymore, and then continuing on anyway. And so he walks and walks away from the gold and bronze pair, away from Soriana and her fear of him, thankful that his shoulders have the will not to slump until he's far, far away.

And Soriana stands there, watching Ka'el go. Because that's another of the reactions of fear; paralysis. Not moving. Though in this case, it could look like confidence from the outside. Waiting for Ka'el to flee… and after he's gone, she picks up the box. She carries it inside… and she sets it there, in a closet, to be ignored until she decides if she's bringing the clothes back to Ka'el's or putting them back in her closet (or burning them?) or… what. Because right now… she just doesn't know.


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