A Guilty Conscience

Xanadu Weyr - Wildflower Boutique
Whitewashed walls form the canvas for the colourful array of flower, garden and decorative goods that are to be found lining the shop's polished shelves and smooth granite countertops. Around the edge of the room, a slim metal frame supports deep glass buckets in which a variety of freshly-cut flowers sit to be selected for bouquets and arrangements from as few as half a dozen stems to much grander affairs. Above them, shelves contain a selection of clay, glass and stone vases, handheld gardening equipment and decorative stock, such as ribbons, small cans of waterproof paint and fancy paper wrapping. Fertiliser, pots and troughs are kept on display outside and beneath an adjustable awning in-case of rain, a wider range available upon request.

Three islands in the centre of the shop floor provide space for gift items and the like, including metal flower pins, single ornamental stems for vases, and taller metal blooms to be stood in gardens. A price list notes them as crafted by Ka'el and also available in precious metals such as gold and silver. Other items on the counters include a range of small bouquets deliberately designed with firelizard delivery in mind, meadow-themed silver jewellery, and small gift-baskets containing the seeds and markers needed to start small herb gardens and plant window boxes.

The main service counter is situated along the back wall, where a list of bouquet prices and other fresh flower products, including circlets, arrangements for special occasions, and petals by the bag can be seen on a large chalk board hung on the wall.

Near to closing time, the shop lacks for customers, as many establishments do, but it affords Marel some quiet time and the chance to go over the day’s takings and balance the books. Outside, Isyriath waits patiently for his girl, while, inside, the plethora of firelizards that look to the brownrider are in high spirits, flitting from perch to perch, the still-growing queen, Rescue, attempting to herd and convince the others to behave, something that green Kathy isn’t taking too kindly too. Used to the relative chaos, Marel blocks much of it out from her perch at the counter, where she adds numbers in the right columns and calculates total after total.

Every time his life manages to be a bit tormented or stressful, E'tan’s feet seem to always bring his path to the boutique. And so, without even noticing it, the bronzerider finds himself wandering around the shelves. The firelizards antics make him smile until he lowers his gaze enough to peers at Marel. Luckily for him, a busy Marel. His smile reappears though as he heads for the counter. He’s been avoiding this for way too long. “Marel?” His voice is kind of unsure.

Since her father’s return to the Weyr, attempting to be a social creature has not been high on Marel’s list of priorities, and so, though she notices E’tan’s presence, she doesn’t reach out with kind words or affection, and continues to complete those columns and rows until he’s the one to speak and make them acknowledge each other. Slowly, she lifts her icy-green gaze from the heavy volume before her and sits up straight, drawing pen away from paper. “E’tan.” It’s more of a statement than a question, no upward inflection to mirror his uncertainty back at him. “What can I do for you.” Likewise, not a question, but a tacit acknowledgement of what she perceives to be the pattern they’ve fallen into.

That was expected and E’tan kinda knew it but as an eternal optimist Marel’s relative coldness somewhat makes him frown slightly. He does approach anyway, placing a hand on the counter as if to brace himself more. Blue meets green as he settles his gaze on her. “I…I…” The first sound is more like a mumble. It takes a different kind of courage to express feelings, especially when one feels guilty. “I came here to ask for your forgiveness, Marel. I shouldn’t have avoided you that way…” Which can be seen as an exploit considering they’re in the same wing.

"It's okay," Marel assures, in such a tone as suggests that not much of anything is okay right now, though there's only the crisp, cool edge to her voice to convey it. "I suppose there are two sides of you. The Weyrleader has hardly been avoiding me." Seeing as they are, indeed, in the same wing. "If you need my forgiveness for anything other than that, I guess we'll have to see if I can see my way to it, but since I've not exactly been delightful company lately, I think you can be forgiven for not throwing yourself towards my presence at every opportunity."

E'tan manages to do his duty the best he can but as hard as he tries, some things keep escaping him. And some people too. "And here I thought I wasn't a good company myself…" There's a chance here to focus on her rather than his poor ego. "Trust me, I feel miserable the way I kept avoiding you…and not as Weyrleader…" The chance he didn't take. He came here for a reason and doesn't want to flee again. "But…you know…my conscience can wait if your life is…complicated lately?"

"Maybe you deserve to feel miserable." It's not a vindictive comment, but rather a more analytical one, as Marel gives the bronzerider even study across the counter between them. "Only you can determine that." For whatever reason, likely tied to the brownrider, the firelizards begin to cease their dance across the shop, and start to migrate back to one of the complicated perches that the aforementioned counter houses. "I am really tired of men with guilty consciences," she declares with more feeling than she's spoken thus far. "So, if you have something to say, just say it and leave me to it, like the rest of them."

Ouch! Touch. But then what did he expect? "I guess I deserve to be, yes." E'tan's face shows no sign of anger or despair. He's simply facing the consequences of his choices. Can a man's life be resumed as a successive choices? Certainly and by entering the shop, he made another one. One he truly feels to be a good one. "I didn't mean to make you lose your faith in men." He feels guilty, yes, but he doesn't want to inspire pity. "Believe it or not, what I felt for you was genuine…"

"Don't be so arrogant as to believe that you can take credit for the lot of it," Marel warns, her voice low and too cold to be kind. But it's the last of it, or the tense of it, that makes her crack, a bark of harsh laughter delivered before any words. "Felt. Past tense. Thank you so much; I feel so much better now." And maybe she actually does, despite her words being edged with a sad kind of hysteria. "What are you here to tell me, E'tan? Anything beyond that? Or have you said all that there is to ease your conscience?" She hesitates for long enough that she must consider biting back what follows, yet, "I get it. I'm good at being useful," escapes all the same.

Round two. Fight! Arrogance wasn't part of his plan. He did not have any plans to be honest but Marel's words and body language make him instinctively react. Not with anger. No. He has no right to be angry except against himself. "I used the past tense, yes, And on purpose. You're right. I have no right to have feelings for you again. The last thing I want is to hurt you…" A sigh escapes his lips here as he's more than aware he's actually been hurtful. "I mean more than I already did. You deserve far better. You know…" This time his voice isn't trembling as he follows. "It was very awkward and rude to ask for your forgiveness. And fuck my conscience." He shrugs, almost throwing both hands in the air. "I just want you to know that I am truly deeply sorry."

"Yes, I understand, thank you very—" Marel starts to say, as he goes in on the matter of the past tense too, only then the tense changes again and the rest tumbles out, and by the time he gets around to cursing, she's just staring at E'tan, brow furrowed, as if she's not quite sure whether he's lost his mind or she has. Eventually, she hazards, "You're sorry that you slept with me and said all those things, then behaved like we were strangers, I take it." Not a question. "Everyone says they don't want to hurt me and they didn't mean it," she says more than a little bitterly. It can't be everyone, but it must feel like it right now. "…What are you here to tell me? Sorry, I get. The rest… I don't."

"The rest…" E'tan pauses here to take a deep breath. "I acted like we were strangers yes and even slept with another woman." There he admitted it but with enough luck she won't cut himself so he quickly follows. "My life is a mess right now and I'm kind of lost." It may not be his /whole/ life but a part of it. A part that keeps darkening his thoughts. "The only thing I know is that…I care for you. There. And that should be the rest I was trying to tell you."

Marel's only response to that other piece of news is a sharp, bitter little smile and the tiniest shake of her head as she directs her gaze down at the paperwork in-front of her. "Your life is a mess…" she mutters with ample sarcasm. "You've had it so easy…" the brownrider accuses, yet she doesn't - won't permit herself to - twist that knife any further. She's said next to nothing of her own thoughts and feelings so far, pushing at him rather than offering anything of herself, and she continues to do so as she asks, "What do you want?" a little too sharply.

E'tan keeps looking at her, having carefully doing it the moment he reached her counter. "My late brother was the Harper type not me, but I guess he taught me enough to hide my feelings. So, yes, in that regard my life is a mess. You don't have to believe me and I'm not trying to convince you. It's just how it is for me now. As for what I want. Nothing." Without really wanting, it slipped out as sharply. "You deserved to know why I was acting like that. Now things are clearer. Slightly at least. Now I will leave you be…?"

"So, you don't want me." Again, it's not a question, and again, she puts words in his mouth, yet, from the way Marel holds herself, nothing but an undeniably intensity readable in her gaze, her whole form tensed, it's a matter of self-preservation.

E'tan notices that tension through her eyes first, the way he's been staring at her. At that exact moment his whole self wants to reassure her, take her in his arms and silence her with a kiss but his recent actions make him cautious of his own desire. What does he really want after all? What's bothering him so much? All of that he just can't answer for now. "It's not that simple, Marel…"

"It is," Marel states, calm as anything, despite the tension that screams of defences flung up. "Either you want me or you don't. It's that simple." She shrugs and tries to force her body into complying with more than turning to stone, and awkwardly flips the book before her shut despite the incomplete work. "If you don't mind, Weyrleader, I need to close up," she starts to say, deliberately keeping her back to him as she slips down from her seat, so that the glassy sheen to her eyes doesn't reinforce what her now less steady voice suggests.

E'tan notices again. Her moves, her voice, her choice of words. Everything. And even though she faces him away, he feels the threatening overflow that makes her almost quiver. "What about you? Do you want me? I mean…still want me?"

There's a long silence as Marel stares at the back wall of the shop, her back still turned to E'tan, and that silence is only punctuated by a questioning chirp from Rescue, who finds herself scolded by Kathy. Only when she can be sure of her voice does Marel speak again, though she doesn't manage to turn to face him. "…I thought I made myself quite clear - too clear - the first time," she answers slowly. "I can't say it all again, if this is what… wanting gets me."

"I need time Marel. Time to sort things out in my head…heart. And to be honest I'm slightly afraid of what I may come up with." E'tan opens himself here. Vulnerable to anything if not everything.

"I'm sure it must be terrible, finding other women to sleep with. How terrifying for you." There's no sarcasm there now, like Marel can't even summon that much, statement offered for what it is and nothing more, even if it is a low shot. She turns, finally, and moves at speed past E'tan, keeping her head ducked, until she reaches the door and holds it open. "As I said, Weyrleader. I'm very busy."

E'tan nods but what he is acknowledging with that nod remains untold as he hurries towards the door, stopping only to look at her a last time. There is a moment here, and with his eyes planted in hers, his whole self literally screams to tell her how different he really is. But it'd pointless now. So. "Brownrider Marel…" Formal. Short. And with that he's out…

The second he's out the door, the bolts go across, but it's not until Marel can be at least halfway sure that he's far away enough not to hear her that she turns and sinks down to the floor - bad leg giving way before the other - folds her arms over her head and cries. Maybe it's not even all about him, but, once she starts, she can't stop. She shuts Isyriath out, she shuts the firelizards out, and she shuts the whole world out until there comes a time when she can stand and face anyone with her usual cool composure.

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