Puzzle Pieces (Vignette)

It was with thoughtful (and stocking'd) feet that Darsce made her way through the gathering dusk from beach to cottage home, box in hand. And as she made that trek, she hadn't thought to wear her customary mask of cool disdain. Instead she allowed a bemused half-smile to play upon her tinted lips, iceblue eyes softened in wonderment. For once so lost in thought was she, that her own appearance wasn't given any consideration at all. The demise of those high falutin' shoes hadn't been mourned, either. One less pair simply meant that now there'd be room for another in her too-full wardrobe and a shopping trip to Ierne's ritzy shops would fix that without any trouble at all. Her only regret came as the occasional wince marked tender skin meeting sharp pebbles on the way there.

If she passed anyone, if they blinked, stared or otherwise reacted to the unusual sight of their headwoman less than impeccably attired - and dreamy-eyed, no less - she didn't notice. Silence, or perhaps a shrug met greetings or questions. If she'd responded at all, it was likely with a mumble that made little sense - things she'd never remember saying on the morrow. Likewise her entrance to the cottage where a pajama'd Dariel and concerned Jethaniel greeted her. She must have said something like, "I don't know" when Dariel asked what she held, a mild "no" when he'd clamored whether it was for him and an uncharacteristically dispassionate "no" when he'd demanded to see it. Her kiss for son and husband, who wisely asked about neither box nor shoes, was given absently before she'd drifted up the stairs to their room.

Once there, she'd shut the door without bothering to press the switch, leaving the lamps extinguished and seated herself upon the bed. The key remained on the chain around her neck, rather than applied to that lock and the box, as yet, remained unopened. Instead her thoughts had replayed the unexpected encounter on the beach while the object in her hands waited to reveal its secrets.

"There's something I think I want you to have."

"You're my best gift, Papa."

Unwittingly she'd whispered the words aloud as the faint glow of those blue star lights in the ceiling overhead caught the glitter tracing the curve of one cheek. The dim light was barely enough to draw a muted shine from the finish - raised parts highlighted, carved indents cast in shadow. The designs went unseen however, for while her fingertips blindly explored the carvings she mused not upon the gift, but the giver.

Stopping by from - where? Had she even asked? No, she hadn't thought to, because she'd skipped to the important part.

"I'm stayin'."

How many times over the past turns had she encountered him - at dawn, heading out for sweeps, at dusk, headed home to his weyrbarn, in the black of night lit by the flashes and rumble of an approaching storm, on a foggy beach waves whispering to shore - and heard those words she'd longed for him to say? Only to awake in the morning and, with a keen pain understand it had not been real. How oft had she risen with the ache of sorrow in her throat that took several mugs of hot klah to ease? Tomorrow would bring the same, but for tonight, ah tonight she'd savor the visit, allow the pleasure of it to linger…

Somewhere along the way she'd grown sleepy enough to leave that box upon her pillow, shed her work clothes, wash her face and don sleepwear. Back to her bed, she'd drowsily slipped beneath the covers and closed her eyes. Tonight she'd forego parting those heavy black drapes and neglect those distant and listening stars in the sky in favor of curling her arms about that carved box instead. As she drifted off, the words crept into her subconscious, perhaps merely fantasy flirting with fact:

"My Ma and Da got it for their wedding. My Ma gave it to me 'fore mine, now I'm givin' it to you."

Before mine.

Did she remember aright? Or was her mind - this dream - playing tricks on her?

* * * * * * * * * *

Morning arrived and she'd awakened to find herself alone - save for that box, which she stared at blankly at first. Jethaniel's quiet, curious study of her in repose with that box clutched in her arms while she'd slept last night had gone unnoticed. When he'd finally slipped into their bed the murmured, "I love you," never registered nor did the fond kiss he'd brushed on her cheek along with the assurance that Dariel was tucked into bed and sleeping.

Those bits of yesterday she'd missed out on but suddenly the rest - the events on the beach flooded back, an unexpected comber akin to the ones that splash and soak the unwary wading in quiet wavelets. With a squeal, covers were thrown back. Her bath, makeup and dressing hastily completed and the bedroom was left in a complete disaster as she departed with that box - not for her office, but the storage rooms.

There was something down there as important as the key she wore 'round her neck.

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