Memories in Mist

Half Moon Weyr
Or: the memories and fragments of what - and where - it used to be.

The haze of fog drifts through Half Moon Weyr… or at least, its fragments. The Weyr's destroyed, after all; broken almost beyond recognition, and the disruption of the obscuring fog does as much to make it seem whole again - to imply some sensical construction to the lingering shards of former reality - as it does to make it unreal, hidden away behind the veils of mist. Perhaps, as Rukbat rises higher in the sky, the light will burn away those illusions… or perhaps the clouds in the sky will knit together into a grey blanket and keep the truth concealed. Really, who can say what the future holds? Where things might go from here is just as confusing as how they got here in the first place. As the fog leaks through the broken bowl of the weyr, a figure moves with it, as if caught in those currents and nearly as vague. The battered wherhide of his jacket might once have had a color, but now it's the same dulled grey-brown of the rough homespun trousers he wears beneath. His hair and beard have grown long, dark hue shot with silver to match the fog and attended only enough to be kept tied back out of the way. His eyes… perhaps there's yet a gleam to be seen there, but it might be simpler to assume it's only a beam of sunlight reflected off a spray of mist. So there he is, walking at a halting pace through the ruins of a Weyr that might be his, looking for … something. If he knew what he sought amid this fog, it might be easier to find… but then again, if D'lei knew what he sought, perhaps he wouldn't be here at all.

Risali is searching too, seeking out fragments of what was once familiar in the detritus of such yawning desolation, looking to those hazy, ink-blot imprints on the horizon for some semblance of home or sanctuary, for that little girl who ran wild through the wending maze of Half Moon Bay and didn't know any better, weightless and free. There is nothing left of her now, nothing but the impression of what once was. Even the air smells different, a stale, acidic stagnance that coats the back of her tongue, colludes with the bones and the dust of an abandoned weyr to become a living, breathing entity, one whose oppressive nothingness gives rise to gooseflesh and sings to the adrenaline in her veins. This isn't right. None of this is right. But it's the shifting rubble beneath booted feet that demands the brunt of her attention, half-clumsy steps taken into spots less ruled by ruin than most, setting her on a collision course with a man who was one a home — a sanctuary — of a different kind. She doesn't see him until it's too late, until the too-small make of her body collides into his, hands tucked into the pockets of her riding jacket freed and grasping at open air. She manages to stay upright, but only just, a sharp inhale the only real hint of his having startled her that's issued before she's parting with a hasty, "I'm sorry, I didn't —" The words die on her lips as grey hues jump from treacherous ground to him, to a man whose colors and lengths might have changed but his ability to steal the breath from her lungs and send her heart slamming in frantic staccato has not.

Risali tries to speak once, twice, lips moving, trembling, stumbling over words and thoughts that never quite take. Not until, hoarse and strained, she manages to part with a shaky whisper of, "Dash?" Consternation pulls her brows inward and those too-small hands rise, bridge the distance that separates him from her as if she means to cradle his jaw between them, to confirm he's no fractal specter of her past come back to haunt the ruins. She stops just shy of completing that contact, though her hands linger (and so does her confusion). "Is that really you?"

There's an indrawn breath at the collision, the slight oof of it, but then he's silent as he looks to she who's haunted his fever dreams, his nightmares, those moments when he couldn't be sure if he was awake or not because time lost its meaning and space wasn't a thing… but he'd recovered, or thought he had. He's… well, he's had those dreams, certainly, but it's been a while since he's had those intrusions to waking reality. Is the illness back again, with a random shooting pain that his psyche chose to explain with this collision? …she's still here. His brow furrows slightly, an expression of concern. He doesn't feel depths-of-fevered sick, not enough to justify this sort of hallucination on its own merits. Is this insanity? Has something in his brain finally shifted far enough askew that his eyes can no longer be trusted? …maybe. Maybe, but… his mouth shifts silently, words almost-said but… is it wise to acknowledge one's phantoms? Probably not, but then again, this one seems eminently capable of existing even without his acnowledgment. And really… would it be so terrible a thing to be a madman in the ruins? There's hunting here, and Garouth - if perhaps not D'lei - is still competent. And… "Risa." He names her, he claims her, he admits he's gone mad and he doesn't care. He reaches out, past the reaching of her hands to stroke his own along her cheek because he needs to know if he can touch her, feel her, have her… or if she'll fade away again into fever-mists.

Relief and agony and trepidation. Confusion. Emotion. Too much emotion. It slams into the backs of Risali's eyes and catches in her lungs, pulls a soft sound from her lips that crushes every defense she's ever built to cope without him and… it ruins her, shatters her, makes and unmakes her. He seeps into all those empty, hollow spaces she thought she'd filled and decimates them again, pulling confessions from the lines between her brows and bleeding the tension from her shoulders, from her face, on a shudder that runs the length of her spine and ends in the beginning hitch of a sob. Risali's eyes close, block out the pain of want, the agony of need. She is incapable of banishing either from the press of her cheek into D'lei's touch, the catch of her bottom lip dragging on the inside curve of his thumb, the whispering score of her teeth on his skin as she she rolls her chin up and grey eyes open, seeking amber. "You left," is whispered against the tip of his finger, an accusation that comes without heat, void of conviction, broken and confused and belied by the curl of her own fingers at his wrist. Stay. Then the words come again, stronger, emphatic, as if Risali suddenly remembers the well of her own anger, the strength to keep herself from falling apart here and now. "You left." But she stays, even as the hand left between them presses against his jaw, fingers curling inward, dragging, tracing the hard lines of bone in a caress that her eyes chase as her voice drops again, soft and unable to comprehend. "You left."

She doesn't cry, though it's a near thing; perhaps she would have if that hand hadn't curled into a fist during the slide of her fingers down the side of his throat, if she hadn't found the strength to slam the side of it into his chest without enough force to do anything more than be heard, be acknowledged. "You left." This time it's angry, this time the fingers at his wrist curl tighter, her shoulders set, her chin lifting in a show of defiance as her cheek tilts from his touch — but she doesn't let him go. Risali's gaze jumps between D'lei's and then, so soft she might not have spoken at all, "Why?"

She doesn't fade away. She's warm to his touch. D'lei smiles, just a little; a curve up of the corners of his mouth, a softening of his eyes… then stops, as the crinkle of amusement turns to the furrow of perplexity. He left? The puzzlement is there, earnest - though he makes no attempt to draw his hand away. There's no denial, just… the attempt to understand something that's obscured in far more layers of fog and mental disrepair than this ruined Weyr. He left - or so this fragmentary memory of his dreams informs him - but she doesn't. Her hand against him feels as solid as her cheek beneath his; as the touch of lips, as the whispers of words almost softer than the sounds of wind and ocean and yet so much closer to his ears.

The words repeat, the echo of fever-dreams that replays the same sounds, the same moments, over and again, but they bring no new knowledge to his puzzlement. He left. She doesn't. Risali is here. D'lei is here. (Where's here? A nowhere-place, a remnant of something now gone, and they are the fragments adrift in it.) Her fingers trail his jaw - rough with beard, the contour of flesh over bones still lean but having changed in a subtle way from lean toward gaunt - and down, down toward where anger lies in her stomach… or no, that's her hand that's moving, but it finds the anger all the same, lades it onto the question as she repeats again and D'lei's brow furrows deeper, perplexity mingled with a pain that's more conceptual than physical. Her cheek lifts away from his touch, but she hasn't left. (But he did?) Her own touch remains, the grip of her fingers around his wrist that won't let go, like the lingering touch of illness that kept him… still keeps him? (Maybe.) "I…" he begins, and it trails off into his puzzlement, his confusion. Did he? Didn't he? He doesn't know, can't know, can't find memories more coherent than fever-dreams to answer this voice who came out of dreams equally bright, and so he gives her all the answer he has for her. "…I don't remember."

He doesn't remember. The admittance in tandem with the perplexity in his expression (nevermind the curl of his lips that came before, the softening of his eyes that damn near put her on her knees in fervent supplication) sparks a flame of hope somewhere in the pit of Risali's stomach, a flame that's just as quick to gutter out, seized by the rising tide of realization. Nausea tightens its grip around her throat, earns D'lei a strangled whimper where there might have been words but instead there is only this: the stricken expression she makes as Risali falls apart. Risali's fingers dig hard into his wrist before they slip away, join the arm banding tight around her chest at the elbow in a physical attempt to keep all those broken, shattered fragments of herself together, to temper the panic clawing up the back of her throat into a weakness of that buckles her knees. It works, leather-clad thighs pressing tight together as her legs give out, send her to the ground in a graceless heap that doubles over beneath the weight of every implication. "You don't…" The laugh that pulls from her lips is thready and pitched, crumbling into the beginnings of a sob as the heels of one palm presses into her eyes, as she fights to remember how to breathe, how to breathe, how to breathe. She draws in one ragged breath and then another, forces herself to speak though the words come out broken and strained and too quiet. "I'm sorry. I — Faranth, you must think I'm crazy." And maybe she is crazy; maybe this is her fever dream, her walking nightmare.

Maybe in this place between sleep and waking there is no such thing as 'selfish', no reason to bite back the trembling, too quiet whimper of, "Maybe I am crazy," as she tries to reconcile his truth with hers. But she finds her strength with a hard press of her fingers into her own arms; she finds it in her to speak through the tears that run countless and unchecked from her eyes, a silent grief she brings no attention to. Instead she breathes, "What do you remember?" as she tilts her face back up, as those grey eyes seek out amber through the hazy fog of Half Moon's ruins and Risali waits.

And so it does fall apart, but not as D'lei expected; not as a fever-dream, but as an emotional reality shattered and glued together by force of will and shattered again in new ways. His mouth opens, closes again, as Risali voices the wordless pain, the words that speak to her own fears of madness… and he still isn't quite, entirely, sure in this whether she's the phantasm who speaks the words of his own subconscious, or the entirely implausible reality, and yet he still grimaces to see her pain. "I remember you," he says, and those words come quick in contrast to that halting confusion. Because he does; not everything, not a complete journal of moment to moment… but then, does anyone truly remember their life in that much detail? Yesterday's lunch is forgotten before today's is eaten, and even the most important of events re-order themselves in space and time. And perhaps - a part of his mind remains aware, even now - this is his madness, and those memories are fabrications of the fever-dreams instead of merely cast into disorder by them… but he doesn't care; even that part of his mind that's taking notes on his mental state has no inclination to stop this descent.

And descend he does, lowering himself after Risali to settle on a knee in front of her, bringing those amber eyes closer to the grey so that they don't lose each other in that fog. "I…" And here his words grow halting again, uncertain of the details. "…we were together. Lovers. A family." He knows these things, or maybe he just asserts them in the hopes that they'll become true; that he can claim that world (or at least some fraction of it) and make it real. "We had children together." His hand reaches toward her, then stops. "…I got sick." His hand lowers, and his gaze shifts away. Quieter, now, as if he's afraid the admission may break the illusion and leave him alone with the rubble… or else convince her of his weakness, his foolishness, with much the same result… "I thought you were a fever-dream."

And what can Risali do but watch as D'lei descends, watch the rise of his hand into that distance she longs to bridge with her own? In listening she breaks again, closes her eyes before his have fallen and presses her lips together in a pull of painful affirmation. Halting uncertainty or no, his fever-dreams held inalienable truths: they were together; they were lovers and parents — a family — together. They kissed bruised hands and mended wounded egos, fought and bled and worked to build a weyr up, to build their lives up, to build each other up. They danced and they raged and they laughed together. They loved together. And then he got sick. And then everything changed. "Yes," comes singular and broken into that space she does not yet dare allow herself to be. "Yes. You were D'lei and I was Risali. You were mine and I was yours. They were… they are ours." It's Risali who comes to him this time, who raises her hands to cradle D'lei's jaw and drag the pads of curved fingers against the growth underneath them. She moves until she can rise at the hips, to press her forehead against his if he doesn't move away and temper the sob that rises on the tip of her tongue. "I thought you were never coming back. You said…" Risali's lips tremble, falter and stumble over words she's spent too long refusing to speak. "You said you weren't coming back." If D'lei doesn't pull away, does not regain the space diminished by her actions, Risali will tilt her chin into it, breathe around the start of another sob, the bump of her nose against his. She'll stay one, two, three moments more than what she probably should, will breathe him in before she forces herself to draw away, to pull her hands back and press them into fists that push in tight against her stomach.

"I'm sorry. This is probably…" Hard. New. Unfamiliar. A dream. A nightmare. Grey eyes close again, Risali's head going back for one mere fraction of a heartbeat as she swallows, as she forces herself to focus and find those things that will help him now. Falling apart will benefit neither of them. "Leirith… She…" One, two, five. "She can show them to you — Selene, and Kyriel, and Darien, and Zyriden, and Reverie." She can pull memories of those tiny hands that reached for him in the quiet upset of growing, imprint the faces of those who thought him invincible and called him Dad. "Do you want to see them?" Because this much… this much she can do.

D'lei nods to those names, to the part he knows, the part he remembers even if it's tangled up as fragments in fog… and as Risali reaches up to him, presses her forehead to his, he inhales the details of her, tastes the way scent carries subtle details of evocation, the way it mingles into memories with the indescribable vividness that is like and yet unlike those fever-dreams… his forehead warm now against hers, but only with its natural heat, not that over-cooking of brain and thoughts that sent everything tumbling. That forehead furrows against hers as she continues, as she tells him other words that he - apparently - said… and yet for those, the events that came amidst the fever instead of before it… "I don't remember." The words are soft, only breathed, but it's not like she needs more than a whisper of them with her head so close to his. That's all he says to it; that's all he can say to it, any reason or justification or explanation lost to him, the actions left as much a mystery as they were to Risali. Perhaps it can be found; some spark might bring a stray thought back, some sleuthwork might let him retrace his steps and find out what happened… but for today, he has no answer. Only his presence, his touch that remains until Risali is the one to draw back, and then his eyes that open to study her.

There's a wry quirk of his lips at her apology, a sideways tug of mouth and a duck of chin, and… then Leirith, and Selene, and Kyriel, and Darien, and Zyriden, and Reverie, the names in succession and each of them another spark to memories, another thread through the tangle of unordered thoughts overgrown and untamed, another shake to the fragments of… well… him. Or at least… who he was. But of course (the thought intrudes) that doesn't mean it's real, does it? If this is a hallucination it'd still match his memories, because it'd be his own mind constructing it, and… his mouth opens, but what comes out is a laugh, one that careens toward the wilder edge before he draws it back with a ragged inhale, a further tuck of his chin and a curl of hands against his sides. Another breath, steadier, and his eyes lift to hers. His voice is soft, serious, asking: "Should I?"

"I know," comes harboring too much emotion, her answer to D'lei's inability to recall a sympathy that manifests with a sideways pull of her lips, painful and holding no joy. Because despite the pieces she lost of herself in losing him, despite the fact that she had to learn to breathe in a world where he no longer walked beside her, despite having to quell the insecurities of tiny minds ill equipped to understand why they were left behind, despite having every reason to be angry and hold tight to that anger, wear it like armor… she believes him. She believes in him. Maybe that's why she's quiet in the wake of his question, why she considers those two simple, soft, serious words as grey eyes jump between amber and relearn the patterns she thought she forgot. "I don't know." It's as honest an answer as she can provide, the pull at the corner of her lips an apology as her shoulders rise, as Risali shakes her head but doesn't look away. "When you…" Breathe, Risali. "When I was yours," her voice breaks on that last syllable but still she persists, "we jumped from cliffs and chased the dark and danced around fires." Pain strikes every line, forces her to halt or lose those fragile pieces of composure she's clinging so tightly to now. "The D'lei that I know probably would have said yes." And now that smile comes again, too painful, too muted to be a smile, crooked before it gutters out. "But he spoke for himself. You're the only one who can possibly know the answer to that question." Now, then, it doesn't matter; Risali will not push D'lei's compliance, will not impart upon him those things he's not ready to relive or keep.

She will wait in patient stillness, moved only by the sudden intrusion of a snout that presses through the fog beneath one of her elbows and keeps coming until that massive maw rests near D'lei's knee. "Don't scare him," comes too soft, answered by a snort that, despite the somber atmosphere, seems somehow amused by the notion of D'lei knowing fear. Nonsense. But for once, Leirith obeys; for once that bombastic, giddy gold remains alongside them both — and she does it quietly. "The choice is up to you, D'lei." And again grey rises to find amber, lifts from her lifemate to hold as she imparts those words that were so important then and haven't changed now: "But you don't have to do this if you don't want to."

D'lei remembers those past wildnesses, those fearless leaps into the void… and he also remembers how the void came leaping to meet him, in fever and blackness. Well, okay, he doesn't actually remember that part very well, so much as he remembers the slow, painful recovery from it; so much as he's reminded of the consequences of it - not just on him but on others - by Risali, now, and how much is left, how many broken pieces, even after all this time. He broke her - so what of their children, too young to even understand the concepts? Did they break too? Did they move on without him? (Which one would be worse?) And if he does remember, does understand everyone and everything he left behind… can he even go back? Should he go back, or is he too unstable, too much danger instead of support? If this is madness… it hardly matters, but if it isn't - if this, if Risa, if those babies she offers the memories of are real… can he even be trusted with them? Should she leave him behind, here in the Weyr as broken as he is? (Maybe.) And if she does… if he is to be alone again… does he want to remember? (That's what it all comes down to, doesn't it? Whether it should or not, the question Risa asked isn't about ought-to; just want-to.) Leirith herself, that bulk, that giant head with looming dragon behind… is unconcerning to him. His own predator-beast may be smaller in relation to her, but to a monkey, all creatures large enough to swallow it whole are, in some way, alike. D'lei hesitates, thoughts busy but words silent, and then… he acts. The un-knowing, the questions… they are what drove him here, seeking answers instead of playing castaway. If these are the answers… he can at least have them, and know. The past can be answered, and the future, well. That's tomorrow's problem. Today, D'lei turns his head and meets Leirith's gaze. "Show me."

Sometimes the most damaging thing that can be done to a relationship is to never try. Risali wouldn't blame D'lei if he'd chosen to walk away, conscious if still uncomprehending of the full breadth of what he'd chosen to walk away from. Risali would have let him go, would have found a way, against all odds, to watch him leave a second time, this time conscious that it might be the last time. But Risali has always believed in D'lei, even if the quiet, broken parts of her had sometimes chosen the wrong things to believe. … And maybe Risali knows, intimately, how painful it can be to watch a parent walk away and never understand why you weren't good enough for them to try. The smile that answers D'lei's decision is painful if only because there's a fierce longing behind the encouraging pride, her own gaze dropping to Leirith as that hand comes to rest on her nose and that golden head tips into that touch. It's Risali who closes her eyes, and this time Leirith's voice fills the silence, no less exuberant, no less effervescent, no less the manic thrum of bass and drums rattling those inner windows, but still somehow less. She's a gentle whisper of touch, a chord plucked and humming, quiet amusement at decibels one might assign as reasonable (caveat: for her) instead of booming kinetic energy. « Minion! It has been a very long time. I am not sure how long a time, but I have little doubt that you were spending it in the company of a badass. I also have no doubt it was disappointing without me. » Laughter comes at her own expense, but so do the gates open to let D'lei in, to pull him into that private world of her own making, where carnival lights and dancers rule, a clash of whimsy and grace that shifts into those important impressions he asked for on the horizon.

Selene comes first, the impressions of her vague as if Risali is losing pieces of her, too. But Kyriel comes stronger, a glimpse of the child he was into the boy he's become; Darien, wide eyed with wonder at too tender an age to now, harboring D'lei in every line; Zyriden, unsteady on his feet and now… now running after his brothers. Last is Reverie, all dark hair in loose curls, and grey eyes, as muddied as her brothers and confidently unconscious in only a way that a four turn old can be. There is a hint of more, the impression that those are not the only faces, not the only tiny hands waiting to join his and join in a chorus of so many little voices calling him, 'Dad'. But Leirith retreats, a hint of spunsugar lingering before the total absence of her. It's Risali watching D'lei anxiously now, her weight balanced on the arm still pressed against Leirith's snout, as if she is the one waiting to be left in the ruins, more broken than she was when she entered.

With this reality, is it any wonder D'lei thought it a fantasy? That carnival of music and lights is a stark contrast to where he awoke from his fevers, amid bleached white rocks crumbling to sand and the weathered huts hunched against them, and the visions mingled with it are nearly as fantastic. Ridiculous? Maybe, but it's no less real for that. D'lei's lips quirk in wry smile for Leirith's words, the unchecked volume and egotism that is, nonetheless, reined in and constrained. His own mind is blurred into a night forest, a scarred wolf amid the wilderness… but then, nobody ever considers that just as dragons can store their memories in a rider's more temporal mind, a rider might retreat to the stable, safe place of his dragon's mind when his own brain turns fever-bathed traitor. What does it do to a human, to inhabit the endless now and instinctual fantasies of a dragon? What does he become - and what will he become from here? Questions, all, and ones that are far more suited for a human's mind to grapple with. The visions blur, wolf-shape with tiny hands pulling at his ears and tail, human with a tumble of muddied puppies, dragons that might be D'lei's children or Garouth's hatchlings or both… all the visions, real and fantastic and more than real, drawn in and absorbed and played back to find the truths inside these memories and tales.

Is it that Leirith gives him the memories, or that she awakens the ones already there? Is there a difference, exactly? It's the sharing of world, the sharing of thoughts, the sharing of connections that is family, no matter what convolutions you try to put over the top of it. D'lei is silent, for a moment, in the wake of memories (amid the swirl of them), and then his gaze lifts again, his amber eyes focus on Risali. "…and you?" he asks, the obvious-feeling follow-up question to the one he saw implied and answered in Leirith's visions of reaching hands, calling voices. The verbalization of what he's already seen in her face, understood because it's that sort of instinctive, non-verbal knowledge that dragons and other wild beasts don't forget, and Leirith's touch only reasserts the validity of his impulsive interpretations of them. He reaches out a hand, toward her, palm up and with his features quiet, still…. waiting.

Her? Risali's gaze drops to D'lei's hand between them, studies the lines of his palm, the touch she knows — or knew — better than her own. She lingers too long on a precipice of inaction, caught in memory or indecision, pain pulling her brows inward and making her eyes bright. She closes them against the onslaught. Breathe, Risali. And just when it seems like she might not reach back into that space for him, she does, a touch that's no less sure of how her palm fits against his after so long holding empty air. She sinks her fingers into those open, empty spaces between his and squeezes, opens her eyes to see that this isn't the byproduct of her own dreams, a respite granting her a painful reprieve if only just until she wakes again, tearing at the sutures. But slowly Risali's gaze comes back to D'lei's, blinking away the wet of tears once, twice, until she trusts her voice enough to say, "I don't understand." What he's asking her, what he's offering her — if he's offering anything. Her gaze drops again, free hand sliding into a touch against Leirith's maw, a nervous habit that's just as quintessentially Risali as it ever was. Always in motion. But she winces as if she comprehends one thing, as if she's trying to figure out a way to explain something she doesn't quite have the words to explain. "There are… two more." And now grey is back on amber, holding as her lips press into another muted, apologetic smile. "Eirlys and Kalyri. When you left and you," didn't come back, "got sick…" Risali's hands squeezes tighter, words halting as she tries to find the right one. "Xermiltoth — R'hyn — won. He," another beat, another sideways pull of her lips that's more grimace than smile.

"He's Xanadu's Weyrleader. During one of our flights, we… there were two more." Two more little hands that came in his absence. Then, quieter still, "I didn't know if you would want to see them." If she should include those things that came in his absence, long before he had a chance to know them for his own. "But if you're not asking me about them, then I'm not sure…" and her voice breaks, lips trembling, sending Risali into another lapse as she gathers back up her strength. "I'm not sure what you're asking me." If she misunderstood. But that doesn't mean she doesn't want to understand. It's why she stays, why she holds tighter as if afraid she'll lose him if she lets him go.

He doesn't remember, she doesn't understand… but his hand still knows how to hold the weight of hers, his fingers how to curl back against hers as they settle there; how to take her squeeze of them, and then press back in that moment after the tightest of the clench is past. His mouth tugs to the side, beginning the quest for new words to explain his question but not getting much of anywhere before she speaks again, bringing forth the thing that's on the top of her mind… which, while it may or may not be the answer he thought he was asking for, is certainly an important part of what he was looking for. So, he listens, with a tilt of his head to the side - two more? Two… ah. Two more babies, and his first reaction to that realization, to those names is simple relief - a relaxation and exhale of breath held, a soft smile. Two more babies is easy for him to handle, simple to picture, unconcerning to D'lei as an adjustment. The reaction shifts a moment later, as she continues on with details that bring concern, the faint grimace of sympathy… the tiny flicker of surprise as he connects the dots and realizes that even the part of his memories where he was Weyrleader was apparently true… but that's still too distant a thought for any strong emotions, far less immediate than that uncomfortable situation of flight-morning and office-after that he can picture. That reaction's in his face, there to read, but he uses words for the part that matters now. "…I do want to see them," he begins, then gives a soft laugh, a tuck of his chin. "They're part of you, aren't they?" His eyes look to hers, even as the corner of his mouth tugs to the side. "Part of how you changed." The world, going on in his absence. Leirith's shown him how the children grew, but while Risali may not have gained any new height… well. Perhaps the alteration there is more about loss than gain, but nevertheless, his question remains.

It's familiar, too familiar, the weight of his palm against hers, that point of contact that allows her to draw on his heat, his strength, his presence and use it to bolster her own. That those hands are back in hers, those hands she's watched build worlds, cradle their children with a tenderness belying their strength, working late into the night drafting laws and edicts… Risali closes her eyes against those intrusions, forces away every memory imprinted on her senses, ignited by his touch and sending her heart thrumming in a frantic rhythm, lodged in her throat. She remembers. She remembers every touch, every moment spent in admiration of what he made with those hands, every impossible thing even if he does not. It leaves her, for just a moment, unable to focus, unable to think, unable to say those important things that need to be said (or so she believes). It leaves her with skin rising in gooseflesh; it leaves her unable to breathe. But eventually Risali says those important things and notes, with growing consternation, that relief that comes on an exhale from D'lei, the way he relaxes when her confession is merely that there are two more children to be named. She doesn't understand… but maybe it's not for her to understand. Still, Risali meets D'lei's gaze even as something painful slides into place behind her eyes and lingers there. "They are," is a whispered affirmation of the truth. They are hers, they are a part of what in her life has changed and she loves them.

But the images come with another collision of emphatic enthusiasm, Leirith's mind seeking out those shadows in his with a spark of curiosity before two toddlers are imprinted there, one boy and one girl striking in resembles but for the differences in their sex. She's gone again, and Risali's waiting, waiting, until she can swallow again before she speaks. "Is that what you were asking me, D'lei?" Are those two additional pieces made of her heart and soul the information he was after? Quieter still comes, "You looked relieved." Though she doesn't pry; he can elaborate or leave her in the dark. She's not here to push beyond breaking. (Though when did she ever demand answers he wasn't willing to give?)

And so D'lei learns another pair of faces, ones he's never seen before and yet which clearly belong in the same set as the rest of them before, and there's a smile there before his attention returns to Risali's confusion, to Risali's concerns, to the way she seems to take each moment and sink deeper into… something. D'lei exhales, slowly, trying to gather his thoughts not only to an order that makes sense to him, but into a shape that can be conveyed outside the confines of his and Garouth's thoughts. It's not a thing he's done much, lately; not for anything more important than where the fish are biting and what's available for dinner. So he's quiet, for a moment, Risali's hand caught in his, as he looks for word that will make things less confusing instead of more. "I…" got sick, left her, was… D'lei grimaces, and deliberately chooses the harshest course; the barest honesty. "…I abandoned you." His gaze is steady, even as that grimace pulls at his mouth. "I don't know if I meant to. I can't… remember wanting to… but…" A small shrug. "I did. And that must have been awful." There's guilt there, as he takes claim of a crime he can't remember and doesn't know the circumstances of, yet can imagine the consequences. "I… if you told me you hated me, I wouldn't blame you." A wry smile, with no particular humour to it, and then gone again. "I don't know where I fit, now. I… shards, I don't even know how to put myself together, let alone with anyone else. The…" A moment, a mental search, a pair of names. "…Eirlys, and Kalyri. They don't change anything." Not like if Risali had told him she hated him, that she'd found a new partner, that… whatever else she might have said (but didn't, at least not yet). "They don't make it more complicated to figure out where I fit. They're just another piece of family."

Risali flinches as if the impact of D'lei's words strike her a physical blow, her expression crumbling beneath the resurgence of wounds too close to the surface even now, wounds she'd spent turns suturing over and over and over again to no avail. She moved forward because she had to, because life didn't stop simply because she felt it should. Risali moved forward and found new ways to cope, but she never moved on. "That's the really fucked up part, Dash," comes on the heels of laughter, edged by something brittle and broken and full of self-deprecation. "I couldn't hate you. It would have made everything — everything — easier, and I couldn't hate you. I. Couldn't. Hate you." Anger hits hard behind her eyes, twists her features and pulls at her lips, an outward manifestation of all that fury aimed inwards. She's angry at herself. But then Risali's eyes are falling from D'lei's, her hand pulled from his grip and leveled in the space between them alongside the other, palms upturned, her expression stark. "And it didn't make sense." Tension bleeds from her shoulders, her voice strained and breathy, cracking on syllables that go unfinished. "It never made sense to me. You left every single one of us. You left Kyzen and Kyriel. You left Darien and Reverie. You left Selene." Risali bites down hard on the sob that rises to her lips, forces it back as she presses one hand to her chest and lifts her gaze to meet D'lei's, confused. "You left me. You left them." Risali lets those words hang in the air between them, seeks an answer in that pause she knows it's impossible to find — at least now — because he doesn't remember.

"But even if you told me two turns from now that you'd meant it, that you meant every word you wrote, that you had intended the outcome of every action — even if you told me that you didn't want any of us anymore, I still couldn't hate you." Risali's lips tremble, eyes falling back to her hands, hands that she curls into fists and bands around her middle as if she might hold herself together physically while the rest of her falls apart. She whispers, "I don't know where I fit anymore either, D'lei. I don't know what I have left to give." And then she swallows, looking out into the hazy breach of shorn buildings as they rise above the horizon. When next she speaks, her words come out stronger. "Do you want to figure out where you fit?" An out. She's offering D'lei an out. Only now do those grey eyes drag back to amber, strong because she knows she has to be. "I won't ask you for anything." Levity comes, borne on a pull at the corner of her lips, a soft attempt at humor that never quite hits her eyes. "Except maybe to dance. Or leap."

…and this, in a way, for all that he doesn't want it - for all that he grimaces at the words - is what D'lei needed to hear. Risali doesn't need to tell him, of course - she never did - but it's a prerequisite if he's going to enter an orbit with her, find a dance whose steps they can share… take their past into the future. He listens to her, to every word of it, to every tear and hoarseness and the way her thoughts jump from self to family and back again, around that gaping wound that she's never been able to run from even as she keeps moving forward. And D'lei is quiet, and he listens to Risali's words, her feelings, the things she cannot bring herself to feel, until she arrives (inexorably) to him; to that question, to what she still desires even if she won't let herself ask. He reaches out to her again, another brush of his fingertips along her cheek and a sideways tug of his lips for her attempt to smile. "Maybe you should ask…" he says, and follows it with a soft hff, an almost-laugh (not that he made a joke). His hand shifts, tracing around to brush fingertips beneath her chin, to linger there as if a support for her to hold her head up high, and a flicker of challenge passes through his smile. "Let's go home, Risali. Wherever it turns out to be… and whatever it is we have to do to get there. I think we can find a way." And that would have been a fine place to leave it, except… well. There's as much pain in this moment as optimism, and he's not hiding that - not when its echo is there in Risali's face to his - so he speaks it, with a sort of fey humour that quirks mouth and unafraid eyes. "…it's that, or we can die trying."

"That was a terrible joke, Dashiel," Risali whispers, pushing gently at one of his shoulders in a subdued form of her usual violence. It would seem that, no matter how many revolutions Pern makes around Rukbat's well of gravity, some things clearly never change. But for as much as this is a moment of pain and optimism, there's just enough room for realism too. "Maybe I will ask," comes hushed. "Maybe I'll ask once we figure out where all our pieces fit, and if they still fit together." Because Risali harbors as many expectations for him now as she did that first time he raced her down the beach: none. And maybe he's changed; maybe more than just the length of his hair and the color striking through it has changed. Maybe she's changed. Change doesn't keep her from catching the hand at her chin in both of her own, from turning her lips into the palm of his hand and pressing a kiss into that touch she once knew. "Let's go home, D'lei." Wherever that turns out to be, whatever they have to do to get there. Risali doesn't let him go even as she moves to stand, her fingers sinking back into the empty spaces between his. "Together." The smile she turns onto him is as sunbright as Leirith's mind, fierce despite the uncertainty of what their futures holds. It's Leirith that fills the role of bombastic enthusiasm, a delighted thunder of, « TOGETHER!! » crashing hard enough into minds that Risali finds herself laughing.

Pern might be too stable an orbit to consider here; perhaps the Red Star, with its erratic orbits, its rain of pain and death… even the long Interval only just completed. But perhaps that's still too dark, even after the centuries have passed since last thread fell from the sky. What is time, even? Future, past… they become a blur, and what remains is… today. So here they are, today, and while it is the culmination of days past and the first one of the future… both those concepts hold too much expectation. It's just today, and they're going home. (Or at least, toward it.) Maybe they'll know it when they get there, or maybe they'll look back and realize it. Maybe they'll just keep moving, who knows? They stand, hands joined, and D'lei returns that smile - his own warm, hopeful, wistful all at once. Garouth is a part of this as well, despite how that shadow-bulk has remained hidden, and when the journey home takes them from these ruins - because, for all the uncertainty of that destination, it seems unlikely to be found amid this physical wreckage - he will fly, between, with that same predator's grace as before… but he'll check coordinates with Leirith, get her image of the destination with a straightforward unapologetic requirement that offers no explanation… yet is itself a form of one, to explain the length of D'lei's sojourn on these Western islands. When you can't trust your own mind, how can you trust your mental images? If there are no other dragonriders - the ruined Weyr confirms - how can you re-learn their ways? The world has changed, since that Red Star flew, and now a dragon and rider can become lost physically as well as metaphorically… but these ones, at the least, have begun to be found.

… But Leirith has never been a dragon in need of explanations. Why should the length of Garouth's absence be any more or less badass than every other time he disappeared between to chase his Moon or court the stars? She never made demands of him then, never sought to make him be anything other than what he was, and Leirith makes no demands of him now. She does not want to tame him. She does not want to keep him. AND OKAY, MAYBE AFTER A WHILE, SHE FORGOT. But her forgetting the duration of his prolonged departure does not mean that she expects — wants — an explanation now that he's returned. Why should it matter to her where he's been when he's here now? That's why Garouth's brush against her mind is not met with rejection or scorn; she does not treat him with the distance of a lover executing a business transaction. She accepts his shadows into that booming, thrumming bass of her mind and wraps the whole of him up in endless, depthless, sunbright cheer. She shares those pinpoint destinations without a hint of ire, undeterred from being Leirith simply because there is a Garouth shaped gap in her timeline. Even when they pop from between into Xanadu's skies, even when they touch down on land and Risali pulls herself free of bindings and gloves and goggles and helmet, leaving Leirith alone with Garouth, the gold demands nothing of him.

Instead she waits, a giddy thrum as those blue eyes watch her rider go, and then she swings her neck to take in Garouth. « HI. » … And apparently sees fit to tilt her head and part her jaws, bobbing as if executing some draconic form of laughter. And then she just flops, right there, into some graceless heap of heathen. « DID YOU CATCH MANY STARS, MY GAROUTH? DID YOU FIND THE MOON? » Cheer. There is just cheer.

Xanadu, again. Not the place where Garouth hatched - nor the one where D'lei was born - but a place where they lived; even ruled, for whatever that may mean or matter or even be remembered. Regardless of all that, they've returned here to Xanadu, and D'lei goes with Risali to see what can be remembered - or re-learned - of human interactions and how things fit together in this place that has past and may have future. But never mind all that for now: in this moment, this present, there's a brindled shadow-beast and a sprawled heap of sunbright enthuse. Garouth turns his head to Leirith, as the golden pulses of her mind sweep across the darkness of his like comets streaking flame across the sky. There's no attempt to keep her out, though there are depths her light does not reach… but his mind is like water, like air, offering no resistance as it flows around her intrusions without disruption. « Ha. » That's all he says, more sound than word, but then his mind moves in a sudden pounce to catch the comet of her presence, take control of its course - or else shift the whole world around that point of reference - and swing it along an exuberant careen to a vast expanse of ocean, salt and surf and a glowing circle of moonlight, comet-light, the reflected shine of gold refracted by the waves that looms closer, larger, until she crashes through it to the waters beneath, warm and then cold as she dives deeper, descending from air through water to find the silvery shoal of fish, wheeling together like stars spun around the galaxy only to be consumed by the outer darkness, the black-hole maw edged with dragon-teeth that swallows fish whole.

For what it's worth, Leirith does not attempt to breach those shadows. She seems content to lend them depth rather than fill them with her light, to impart herself in ways that do little more than simply take in what he offers. She remembers the sanctuary of his mind, knows it in fleeting fragments of forgotten thought from a time when she couldn't see at all. There's a wuff of hot breath, an outward presentation of her amusement — her joy — as she partakes of his darkness. And then she's caught, lets herself be caught, pulled through the vast expanse of Garouth's mindscape, down, down, down. There is an exuberance as she falls, no fear in the weightless yielding of her mind unto his, taking this journey to where he deems she needs to be. There is a rush of laughter as she crashes beneath the waves, sending moonlight and stardust scattering as she sinks and she falls and watches in fascination as they are consumed. Her own mind echoes through that silvery shoal of starlight, delights in disrupting the chaotic pattern of his galaxy — of his feeding — even as she launches herself straight for that black hole. But she is a power unto her own making, and excitement comes in a burst of sound muffled by the deeps, a sound that turns those fish into dancers, into mermaids, into maenads wild and fervent and —

« SO YOU CAUGHT ONLY FISH. » Amused. « I HEAR THERE ARE PLENTY IN THE SEA. » Boomboomboomboom. Ribbons and pieces of her own additions crumble and sink and leave behind only those fish once more, her voice little more than ripples. « I AM LEIRITH, » comes then, sudden. « YOU KNEW ME BEFORE I HAD EYES AND I LOVED YOU BEFORE I SAW YOU. » In so much as any dragon can love. « MY DISAPPOINTMENT TELLS ME THAT PERHAPS INTRODUCTIONS ARE IN ORDER. I WILL NOT BE OFFENDED IF YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN ME. » A beat, one in which she fills the silence with more laughter. « I WOULD FORGET MYSELF IF I COULD. »

There's wildness in Garouth's thoughts, to that snag and crash and tumble, but there's no malice to it. If Leirith had been unwilling to go on that wild ride, he would not have forced her to remain… but this is Leirith, and she is unlikely to ever reject the exuberant fun of roller-coaster or log-flume. The zoom! The splash! The yay! The undersea chaos of fish-dancers and dancing-fish, of creatures with tentacles and frills, strange shells and corals as yet un-named. Reality and fantasy mingle, Garouth unconcerned by the carnival that's come to visit beneath his waves. « Fewer, now. » A mental jaw-snap, performative of his fierceness and appetite, and amusement to go with it. He is Garouth, hunter of fish! …among other things. Beloved-of-Leirith is another of his titles, it would seem, and the bronze cants his head to the side as those words join the flow of mental currents. « Did your eyes change your knowing of me, Leirith? » There's shadows in the deeps, a certain sense of seriousness to the question despite a playful aspect. « Was it different, when you saw? »

Leirith is still for a moment, a stretch of time in which it might seem as if she's withdrawn from Garouth's thoughts altogether… but she hasn't. There's a shift beneath his waters, a push back toward the surface, back toward that horizon, back to the waves she crashed through until a water wolf runs from a water dancer in her wake. He turns to pounce, and they crash back to sea. « I DO NOT REMEMBER. » There's another long pause as if she's pulling thoughts and memory from Risali. « IT MADE IT EASIER TO CHASE YOU, AND TO — » Leirith, that's not how any of this — welp. RUN, GAROUTH. Otherwise you're about to get a whole lot of WING thrown over you. « REMIND YOU THAT I AM BIGGER. OR MAYBE TO REMIND MYSELF. » Is she laughing? She is, and that wild effervescence turns to bubbles that contain pieces of herself and pop before they can breach the surface. Then she quiets, spunsugar and carnival smells permeating as she imparts, « You taught me many things. » There's another flicker of impressions rifled through too quick, a catalog of memories borrowed and discarded once more. « And we made many beautiful dragons. They were strong, and they were fierce. » Does she remember every single one? … No. BUT RISALI DOES. « I caught you. » DOES SHE SEEM SMUG? Maybe a little, but that too is fleeting. « And you caught me. » And for one, two, three heartbeats — a time surely without much significance to dragons, Leirith is silent. … Until she is not. « AND I BROKE LESS TREES. » A thump of her tail, another opening of her maw as if she is, again, laughing. « DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING FROM YOUR FISH? »

Amusement crests, as Leirith admits she's forgotten - because what difference does it make, what used to be? Waves crest as well, dancer chasing wolf chasing dancer, tide-swells rising and falling - or falling and rising. Why should one ordering of concepts, of chasers, of cycles, be privileged over another? Garouth rumbles, still amused as Leirith flings her wing over him. « Perhaps you will forget again. » He tilts his head, beneath the sprawled drape of that wing, and nips up with a delicate, playful bite against one of the spars, a pinch of teeth as crabs click their claws whilst scurrying across the sands. « Tomorrow, perhaps I will be a mountain… or else a pebble. » Continuity? Garouth's not sure he believes in it. Future and past are human concepts, and his own lost that anchoring for long enough that now predominates…. which doesn't mean that he dismisses those fragments of past, of teaching and babies and catchings; only that he accepts them as real moments, bubbles of existence in the sea of life, without trying to organize them and set them onto a timeline. « Perhaps you will catch me again… » he muses, and fat fish flee - only to turn, with a shift in perspective that reveals them to be sharks whose sharp teeth bear his grin before they shimmy into laughter-waves. « I cannot speak for the trees. » He's no Lorax! Just a Garouth. As for the fish… « The ones with red spots have good fat, that mingles well with the meat. »

Those blue eyes whirl, amusement in every line of that mustard-yellow hide, just as present physically as it is in her metaphysical connection to him. « I WOULD SAY THAT YOU MIGHT FORGET AS WELL, BUT I HAVE BEEN TOLD I AM UNFORGETTABLE. » Leirith knows as much as she knows anything that that particular 'compliment' was an insult wielded against her. It doesn't curb her amusement, her repurposing, the laughter that denotes the loose application of truth as she delivers it and then drops her head to PLONK right there against Garouth's biting one. Does she roll her wonky headknobs ALL OVER HIM? She do, she do, and then she drags her maw along the length of one of his knobs, much like a cat mid-bunting. « I WOULD LIKE TO SEE A DRAGON MOUNTAIN. OR A DRAGON PEBBLE, FOR THAT MATTER. IMAGINE THE POSSIBILITIES. » A… stationary dragon either way, Leirith? But then she's laughing, a thrum of giddy, bombastic sound that rises and eddies out slowly, Leirith pressing her head into the line of Garouth's neck, up and up and up until the top of her snout slams into the bottom of his. « AH, MY GAROUTH. BUT I ALREADY HAVE. » Caught him, she means. He's under her wing, after all. « IF YOU PRETEND TO HAVE RESISTED, I WILL PRETEND TO HAVE BEEN IMPRESSED. » Hah. But she observes those sharks in his mind, the turning of fattened prey turned to grinning predators before the waves take them. Boom. « I SHOULD LIKE TO TASTE THEM, ONE DAY. » A beat. « FOR AS LONG AS I REMEMBER, ANYWAY. OR FOR AS LONG AS YOU DO. » Ahhh, dragon memory jokes. She's got 'em.

Leirith is unforgettable? « Then first, you must forget that. » Garouth's matter-of-fact, for all the currents of amusement; perhaps it's a ridiculousness echoing Leirith's, perhaps it's some kind of koan… but he's not invested in it, for all that it's genuine. For a stationary dragon - whether mountain or pebble - he certainly does a lot of moving, flowing from one moment to the next, reactive… or maybe it's just that everything else is shifting around him. What's the frame of reference here? (Who's the pursuer, and who's being pursued?) Garouth nips again, in at Leirith's cheek as she bomfs along his head, playful applications of teeth and a rumble from his chest that might be mistaken for growls if not for the amusement and sense of play that permeates it. (Well. And might still be mistaken for it by those not familiar with how shadows and monsters play.) Another rumble, and then… a sudden shift of mood, a deeper dive to where wind and tides no longer ruffle the ocean's surface, where the chasms of undersea open and fang-toothed eels and luminescent tendrils drift through cold stillness. « I do not wish to resist this. » He's serious, now; almost somber, and he extends his forepaws into a stretch, makes a sideways lean against a mustard bulk. « You are Leirith, and I am Garouth. »

« FORGET WHAT? » comes her rejoinder, though surely she can't have forgotten that quickly. BUT THAT IS THE JOKE, GAROUTH. TAKE HER AS SHE IS, TALL AND FOREVER-WINGED AND MUSTARD-Y AND STUPID. And anyway, why not play at having done so now, much as she plays with Garouth? Certainly remembering (or forgetting) that is not so important as this: a wuffle answering those growls that, even were they not issued in play, would still only serve to amuse her. She nips back at him, bunts and nudges and tamps a paw down on his head until Garouth's mood shifts and that playful dissent is schooled into anticipatory stillness. Leirith's mood does not follow so much as accommodate, the depthless, unending cheer tempered into an attention that is rapt but no less exuberant and exaltant. She sends ripples through that underground chasm as he speaks, and it's only after he leaning sideways into her that Leirith finally responds. Carnival lights flicker on beneath the waves, too dim to brighten where those luminescent tendrils drift, but perfectly capable of changing the water different colors in spots. « You are Garouth, » she echoes, « and I am Leirith. Welcome home, badass. » And so Leirith lowers her own head to her forepaws and supports Garouth's weight against her bulk, never quite able to prevent herself from the eventual levity that breaks. « THOUGH HERE WE EAT HERDBEASTS INSTEAD OF FISH. IN CASE YOU FORGOT. » Badumbadumbadoom. She's laughing (and Garouth, he's welcome to eat whatever he wants).

« Exactly. » It's amuse-greement more than the word, exactly, but that's a part of it, of this; the acceptance of the ridiculousness without the need to match it, just as she accomodates his wildness and his stillness. Forgotten? SURE IS. Whatever it is. Whoever it is. Was. Will be. There are dragons, and they are, in some order, Leirith and Garouth, or else Garouth and Leirith, or something else along those general lines, and there is amusement and bitings and growls and play, and there are stretches and leans and deeps of thought… whose shadows are painted with color, dappled and changing the sea and the creatures in it to alternate versions of themselves, garish against bright backgrounds that are just as congruent together as when they're shadows against darkness. So here they are, themselves, and here… is home, by Leirith's statement. It's one Garouth simply accepts, acknowledging its existence and offering neither agreement nor argument. Which is much the same response he provides to his own badassery, as also claimed by Leirith, and since she is quite certain of the correctness of that particular claim, well… THERE YOU HAVE IT. « I will remember that hunt. » He's amused as well, more than willing to chase on land as well as sea (not to mention sky) now that he's left those rocky shores to a place better-stocked with hoofbeasts and other prey. « Perhaps, though, I will chase the herdbeasts into water… » There's a lurking grin, playful words that… he may or may not put into action, depending on exactly how the mood and opportunity find him. « …and see if they remember how to be fish. »

And does Leirith, for just a moment, turn dancers dressed like herdbeasts into felled fish? … She does, right there in the cavernous lake of his mind, sinking, falling, drowning, drowning, drowning — « COULD THEY REMEMBER HOW TO BE FISH IF THEY WERE NEVER BORN FISH? » Another cascade of laughter ripples out, swiping the herd-fish from the waves and back into the endless, depthless deeps of Garouth's waters. « IT IS MORE THAN LIKELY THAT THEY WILL BE, AS MY DISAPPOINTMENT SAYS, SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES. » And where is the fun in chasing game that doesn't run from you anyway? « THOUGH IT WOULD BE A SIGHT TO WATCH YOU RUN THEM TO THE WATER. » You know. Through the weyr. In all the chaos that will surely ensue. Maybe that's why Leirith's drumbeat has started a staccato march, excitement at the very prospect of watching her lifemate BESEECH DEAD, FOREIGN QUEENS FOR A REASON OR AN ANSWER OR EVEN A WAY OUT. The amusement cedes and Leirith reverts to merely vibrant instead of luminescent, tilting her head as if she means to see Garouth without lifting it. « IS THERE MORE YOU WISH ME TO KNOW, MY GAROUTH? » Of his time spent apart from here, of his adventures, of himself; she isn't picky, and she isn't demanding. It's merely an open invitation for him to speak — should he wish.

« Could those born fish learn to be herdbeasts? » Garouth non-answers Leirith's question, evoking its inverse with fishies clambering to shore on their fins, opening their mouthes to …. gasp for breath, because not only can fish not moo or bellow, they can't breathe air, either. So they flop and writhe… and turn into tinsel and streamers, carnival-fragments still bright-hued and sparkly despite having become strewn about. Things happen, okay? Sometimes things get wreckt, in ways that may or may not have anything to do with stampedes of herdbeast being driven to the sea. « I shall see what I find, when next I hunt. » Maybe he'll encounter some beast with the souls of fish, or the other way around. Probably not, but… maybe! Garouth is not one to dismiss possibilities unseen, even if he does tend to have a sense of what's actually plausible instead of merely possible. (Or impossible-but-amusing.) As for what other tales he might have to tell… the brindled bronze gives a slow, soft rumble. « Many things. » The thought-fragments he offers of his adventures might - to an outside observer - seem small, simple in scope; seashores between stony cliffs and waves, hunting fish and seabirds and the occasional wild porcine… his companionship that of firelizards, not dragons; D'lei… often absent in body but mingled to his mind and senses, sometimes weak but present. There are other humans, occasionally, but they're the sort with fixed courses and closed minds, more inclined to fear a beast than see the joy of his ways… and joy there is; for Garouth takes pleasure in every hunt, each splash of waves against his hide and morning birdcall. These have been his adventures, these past turns, and they are the stories he has to share.

« WE SHOULD CATCH SOME AND FIND OUT. » And yes, she's laughing, that whimsical, effervescent mind hums with it, vibrant and exuberant and willing to savage the shores of Xanadu Weyr with tinsel-guts and streamer-blood if it means they have fun doing it. And while Leirith has no answer — aside from a rush of warmth meant to encourage such endeavors — she is listening when Garouth impresses upon her those important pieces of his time spent lost and surviving in relative isolation. She takes in the shape of his memories, the fragmented pieces of a life lived separate from her, from them, from civilization as a weyr might know it. She lingers on that sense of D'lei, on the details that make up the memories of Garouth's pleasurable hunts and rendezvous. And in turn, whether he asks or does not, Leirith shares those impressions of her own fragmented pieces of thought: the many tiny hands on her hide, laughing and pressing cheeks and noses and kisses upon her maw; the vast, empty stretch of the meadows at midnight and Risali quiet among the tall grass; mountains, cold and jagged and unforgiving, wildcats sought in a silence she didn't always manage to keep; her own hunts — for him, at first, destinations borne of Risali's thoughts and achieved through her own wings. Their inevitable failure. Leirith shares newly hatched dragons breaking into the living caverns, running amok through the administrative hallway beneath her — and Xermiltoth's — jovial encouragement, the havoc of an explosion, the significant destruction left in ashes and rubble… but even here there is only cheer in her sharing.

These have been her adventures, the pieces of her own life (and growing) in the time before he returned. The next question comes with some measure of consideration, a hush sweeping through all the noise without altering the delight within her mind. « Do you miss it, my Garouth? » His seashores, his fish, his birds and wild porcines. « It seemed as if you found much of yourself in losing us. »

Garouth listens to Leirith's stories, of civilizations and chaos and humans tiny and even tinier, of escapes from it to seek followed by the returns to that bustle… thoughts which will surely drift back to D'lei in some form, for Garouth has never particularly maintained that strong separation of rider and dragon that some strive for, even before the tangle of more recent days. But then, the memories of a dragon aren't that of a human, and remembering something as Leirith did… is likely hinder a human trying to move in that world as often as it helps. Not that Garouth's concerned about that now, of course; his attention focuses, dragon-like, on the now… even when that 'now' is one of remembering turns past together with Leirith, re-living them as sensory fragments as vivid as the ground beneath them or the touch of minds. The questions - and answers - for those stories are shifts in attention, focus on this - or that - that draws out its details. And, sure, sometimes those details are slightly (okay, a lot) embroidered, but that's how the tapestry of history is made!

« Yes, » is Garouth's answer to the question, when it comes, but there's no accusation or even unhappiness to his tone; only straightforward honesty from a dragon too uncivilized for polite fictions. « But I would miss this, also. » Leirith's bulk against him, her mind sparkled with his, but it's more than that; the perspective draws back, the consciousness expands, and there are other minds - other dragons, and Garouth is aware of them even if he's not made contact to them, the way creatures moving hidden through the forest can still be heard, smelled, perceived. There's humans, too, both sensed directly… and through D'lei's interactions with them, for while Garouth's rider assuredly feels out of place and uncertain here, the space of Weyr-life, of dragons and dragon-havers, is assuredly more congruent to who he is than that of an isolated hold where he and his lifemate were somewhere between curiosity and burden. Even more than that general hum of community, there's individual connections… but that's a thought as yet to fragile a spider-web to draw a picture with, though striped-abomen weavers have begun to leap between the tree-trunks.

« You would forget again, » comes muted, but no less vibrant, no less amused. « You will forget again. It is what we do. » They fly, and they hunt, and they secure future generations, and they forget — over and over and over again. « But I am glad that you are here, even if it is only for now. » Which is why she tilts her head to bunt Garouth, why she presses into that contact and shows no real desire to break it long after it might have been appropriate to do so. « EVEN IF YOU ARE A VERY CONVINCING HALLUCINATION. » Listen. They both know he's not, but Leirith's laughter comes with the distant impression that he must be because he hasn't gone running yet… AND LEIRITH HAS FEW FRIENDS. THERE ARE FEWER STILL DRAGONS WHO CAN APPRECIATE SUCH… LEIRITHNESS. WUFF, a bump of her snout against his, and then Leirith is lifting her head as if she means to look up at Xanadu's sky and find the hints of twilight hidden beneath Rukbat's mantle. She stays that way for a long moment before she finally does rise, tucking those massive wings in at her sides and looking back down to Garouth once more. « I MUST GO REMIND THE HERDBEASTS OF WHAT A BADASS I AM. » BADUMBADUMBADUM. She's hungry. « YOU ARE WELCOME TO JOIN ME, MY GAROUTH, IF YOU SHOULD WISH TO TEST YOUR NO DOUBT BADASSEDNESS ON THOSE THAT CANNOT FIGHT BACK. » And she's laughing again. « THOUGH IF YOU WOULD RATHER THE FISH — » A beat, a glance towards the water and then a knowing tilt of her maw towards Garouth. There's a heartbeat more in which she waits, but the gold moves towards the pens, towards where she will surely fell a beast — and keep felling them, in the days leading up to when stars start to glow beneath her hide. What perfect timing, Garouth. RIP.

Garouth has forgotten more than some people will ever know! …and he doesn't dispute that he'd forget again, because of course it's true. He would forget, and be the solitary hunter that is as much a part of his nature as is the pack-oriented creature who senses the eddies of minds like air beneath his wings. It's hard to have regrets when you live in the present, and so Garouth rumbles, warm and deep, as Leirith bunt-leans and squishes him as she do (has done, will do again, for as long as he's here to be squished). « I am an excellent nightmare. » Not that Leirith would ever be afraid of him. For one thing, that would require her to ever be afraid, of anything. For another… well. He's Garouth, and while perhaps only a dragon and his rider can truly know the nature of that particular beast, Leirith has a better idea of it than most. Even if she, too, has surely forgotten more than some people will ever know. Dragons! It's how they be. And right now, part of how they be - or at leaast, how Leirith be - is hungry. Garouth laughs at her suggestion, a deep rumble of amusement and fondness even as he replies, « I prefer a challenge. » Which one COULD read in a variety of ways, were one so inclined, but is at its heart just another of those simple truths. He could eat penned beasts, but… that same aspect of nature that was content with a wild and primitive life is still inclined, even when he lives amid civilization, to seek prey that's got at least a chance of escaping his claws. And so, as Leirith departs to the pen, Garouth also shakes out his wings… and takes to the skies, refamiliarizing himself with the air-currents here, with the world of Xanadu as it spreads out beneath his gaze and becomes his now. Everything else? Well. It will be forgotten, sooner or later. That's what dragons do.

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