Lost and Found

Xanadu Weyr - Deep Forest
The wooded areas closer to Xanadu Weyr represent a compromise between man and mother nature, but to the north and west, no such arrangements have been made. The deep woods between the Weyr and the mountains are less traveled, the wider paths fit for man and beast less present. The noises of mankind are barely audible here, brief ghosts on the wind, and the quiet thrum of forest life presses in on all sides. The snapping of a twig, a bird's cry, the low cadence of insects; all of these things seem louder. Closer. The deeper one moves into the trees, the more it becomes obvious that one passes through nature only at her allowance.

The cover of trees is more severe in this area of the wood and only occasional shafts of sunlight lance down through the canopy, the sky visible in brief patches. A rough path has been blazed back towards the Weyr. It does not appear to be a heavily frequented path, but the few who have chosen to pass through this area appear to use it more than other avenues available. Only the very foolish or the very experienced would ever wander far from the path.

There are surely worse dangers of the deep, dark woods, in the midst of night, than the soft swearing and bounce of dim light from a handheld flashlight across the foreboding trunks of trees and the variety of spooky shadows created by this bush or that bramble or this whatever-else-might-be-out-here. Hopefully that whatever-else is nothing too hostile if as lively as the big man with a comically small daypack slung across his shoulders, water canteen slapping at his thigh from where it dangles from the pack with every heavy step he takes. Stefyr's dirty and tired, and the steady swearing, although not very creative is probably a pretty obvious clue that this newcomer to the Weyr did not intend to be out this long, searching for some lost animal or another. It's entirely possible that this is one non-damsel in distress and in need of rescue.

THERE ARE MANY A SPOOKY-THING AFOOT. "You look ridiculous." RISALI, FOR ONE, who is definitely not clinging to that tree — no, not that one, that one — that Stefyr just passed as though SHE is the damsel in need of saving. LOOK. It's night time and Risali has had an experience in these woods and so this is probably her least favorite place to be. Especially at night. Still, she manages to insert humor and a hint of teasing into her voice, manages to stop the chattering of her teeth because she is cold and it is night and there are not enough layers on her body to PROTECT HER FROM THE INDIGNITY OF FREEZING SLOWLY TO DEATH. YES, EVEN IN SPRING. KEEP YOUR JUDGMENTS TO YOURSELF. Think about it, Stefyr. It could be worse. She could be Leirith, and she's definitely not a condiment colored monstrocity on four legs, just a dark-haired monstrocity on two. IT'S BETTER, SHUT UP. "Why are you out here anyway?" Like she's not, like she isn't still clinging to the tree as if she might become one with the forest and willing Stefyr NOT TO ABANDON HER with her eyes (which he probably can't really see, because it's dark).

Given the way the way Stefyr squawks (shrieks? Okay, maybe not quite that much a damsel, but darned close) when Risali's voice cuts through all the other creepy sounds of a forest in the dead of night and spins trying to pinpoint the direction of a voice (yes, voice, not hallucination. Good. Good.), eyes open so far as to show white all around the irises until the dim beam of his flashlight (oh, definitely a dying flashlight, by the by) lands on the goldrider not clinging to the tree that she's… clinging to, Stefyr might count this encounter as an experience all his own in these woods. "Risa!" It comes out more disbelief than question. "What are you doing to that tree?" It jumps out of his mouth before his brain catches up to the situation at hand and her questions. His gaping mouth closes in visible sign of when his brain does catch up and he offers, "Helping find a lost— well, I guess not." Since he seems to be without whatever was lost and here he is, lost himself. He squints at her, daring to draw a little closer. "Are you okay?" Possibly more important, "Do you know the way back?" At least he doesn't appear to be abandoning her, yet. (That decision might depend on the answer to that last question, though.)

WHAT IS SHE DOING TO THAT TREE? "Exactly what it deserves and anyway, the tree started it." DID IT. DID THE TREE START IT THOUGH. Questionable. But there's a huff of laughter, an ease that sinks Risali's shoulders and pulls at the corners of her lips until she's managing a quiet kind of smile in tandem with the ability to pry her fingers away from that tree. Her arms part from The Thoroughly Violated Oak (it's probably not an oak, but ROLL WITH IT) second, and with visible reluctance. "Do you need help?" she asks instead of answering whether or not she's okay, like she isn't also probably thoroughly lost, hugging the messenger bag slung over her shoulders to her chest as if it might provide some kind of barrier for her as she carefully picks her way across the forest floor on booted feet. She comes to a standstill beside Stefyr, tilting her head back to look up at him, and then up at the canopy of trees blotting out the inky-black of night to create something more definite in its lack of anything. DOES SHE KNOW THE WAY BACK? A beat, a sideways look at him, another glance up towards the trees and… "In theory." One, two, three. "But no. No I don't." And the thick coverage of trees doesn't help because one can't really use the night sky as a compass to escape. "At least somebody will probably find our bodies in the morning." Probably. And she's joking, but there is certainly a tremor of something else in her voice. "What about you? Do you know the way back?" She's pretty sure she knows the answer but IT'S WORTH A SHOT. And then, softer, "Are you okay?"

Stefyr's voice doesn't jump two octaves when he echoes, "Our bodies?" Only one. He clears his throat, giving the woods and then Risali a suspicious look. "I hope this is as serious as the threat of swans," or less, he would probably take less, too. He squints at her a little, probably taking in more of her state than he did before. He shifts his small daypack off his shoulders, moving to shrug out of his light long sleeve shirt, leaving a short sleeved one underneath. The fabric is not the warmest thing, but it's got his body heat going for it and it's better than nothing. "Cold?" He offers it to her, then with a motion down at his pack, "Water?" He doesn't offer food because, well, he probably already ate it all. Evidently, though, what's his is hers (as with the rake), if she needs it. "I figured if I didn't find some sign of the Weyr by the time my light died," it's still hanging on, "that I'd end up hunkering down somewhere to wait out daylight." He glances around the trees appraisingly. "I didn't expect to be out this long, or to get lost," because all young men expect to know the way, no matter how dark or not-actually-a-path-like the path they're on is. "We could keep wandering," he contemplates, glancing the way he was going— no, wait, a totally different direction, he probably has no idea which way he was going before he spun to see her. He doesn't ask if her dragon can be of help. Not yet. One experience with Leirith may have driven certain lessons firmly home.

To be fair: Leirith is probably laughing at Risali somewhere, and Risali probably has too much pride to summon Search and Rescue for a sweep of the forest until they find her. It's that octave jump that has Risali stifling laughter behind another smile, this one devious as she reaches out to PUNCH HIS UPPER ARM and then BUMP HIM WITH HER SHOULDER as she rudely breathes out, "Or maybe just yours. I've perfected the art of push-and-run." At least she manages to sober up for the threat level, even if the meant-to-be-reassuring smile she gives him as an answer isn't really reassuring at all. "We'll be fine." BUT HERE IT COMES, the moment that catches Risali off-guard and has her blinking after the long sleeved shirt he's extending to her, the one that she blinks at intelligently because maybe, just maybe, acts of kindness are not something she's used to even if they're not so uncommon a thing to behold at all. She curls the fingers of one hand into it, but stops just shy of actually taking it from him just yet. "But won't you be cold?" Brows furrow, her own concern for him diminishing the desire to be warm right before he's ripping her attention away and then back with the offer of water. "I have some," she answers him, and then she's dropping her hands without retrieving his shirt so that she can pull open her messenger bag and pull out a few things — FOOD, FOR ONE, that she extends to him because it's ONLY FAIR to exchange. "And actually, we can use the last of your light for here. I have things to build a fire, I just couldn't see." And anyway, she is the Weyrwoman. Somebody is bound to notice she's missing eventually… right? WHICH MEANS SOMEBODY WILL SURELY COME FOR THEM. SURELY. "Hold this?" Now she's holding out her whole bag, because she's going to start gathering sticks for the fire AND EXPECT HIM TO LIGHT THE WAY if he doesn't stop her.

Stefyr doesn't, this time, reward Risali with an 'ow' for punching (nor does he manage to duck, woe), but he does reach his free hand to absently rub the spot. "It will be mine if your push-and-run is as effective as you claim. I doubt I'm faster than you anyway. I always see riders running." He, presumably, does not do so much of that, but probably more of lifting heavy things and other work that leads to having a large and muscular (and probably thusly warm) frame. "We can take turns being cold," is offered in return and perhaps betrays the wisdom of experience with those who don't readily accept help. "I'm fine for now. Put it on," he'll urge for good measure before he's juggling the flashlight to willingly accepting the food offered (see, Risali? That's how you graciously accept help,), with a, "Thank you," quickly moved past. "I know how to start a fire, but I kept hoping I'd stumble my way back." Evidently the goldrider isn't the only one with a stubborn streak, sometimes. There's more juggling to accept the whole bag, but he doesn't actually hold onto it, but rather places it on the ground to lean as counterweight to his own and strike out a few steps to help her (while he eats), shining the light in the direction she goes and he follows. Hopefully they won't lose their bags in the process.

DISHONOR. "Your legs are longer," Risali answers, distracted but immediate, as if she has had this conversation a thousand times before (because she has). "Which is cheating, by the way." But at least the goldrider retrieves his shirt and, after a moment's hesitation, breathes out her own, "Thank you," as she pulls it on. It takes her a moment of rolling up sleeves so that she at least has her hands while the rest of her drowns in a sea of stolen Stefyr fabric, but then she really is on the prowl for some firewood. Sticks, kindling, things that MIGHT BURN QUICK ENOUGH TO CATCH, then slow enough to keep — she gets all of it, gathering in silence until her arms are at the awkward stage of full and she's pausing to glance sideways at Stefyr for a very long, very quiet moment. One, two, three and, "I have some Klah packets. I'll share them if you build the fire." Because she knows how to does not equate to being any good at it and then off she goes, stumbling blind in the sudden dark towards where she is pretty sure he set down their things so that she can drop all of them RIGHT ON TOP OF THOSE BAGS for good measure. LOOK. A COLLECTION OF THINGS.

Their collection of things is not nearly as exciting as a firelizard's treasure trove, but it's arguably full of more useful things. Useful, at least, to two people in the dark woods in the middle of the night. Stefyr manages to avoid dumping his not quite armful on top of the packs, but rather a few feet away as he follows Risali back with his dimly bouncing light still in hand. "I won't say no. A hot drink would go a long way right now. Not to mention one that would keep me awake to watch for monsters," or heroic condiment colored dragons, as the case may ultimately prove to be. Dutifully, the farmboy turned gardener squats to go about first digging a fire break on a relatively flat plot that he clears of unwanted debris. "What are you doing out here anyway?" is asked as curiosity finally is able to edge its way in to push the fear aside while his brain settles to a familiar task. "You said you have a starter?" Flint or whatever. A glance is cast toward the battered bags with the sort of concern that one might give a moody feline inviting a few strokes before it bites. Stefyr would probably be leery of any woman's bag, but being as how this is Risali's, he doesn't seem at all eager to go searching for the starter for himself and instead applies himself to stacking the wood appropriately. "Do we want smoke?" A dubious glance is cast upward to the thick canopy that's drowned in darkness. "It doesn't seem like it would help," may be more to himself than to her.

Down into the dirt Risali goes, helping Stefyr dig that break in the ground, to clear it of debris as he speaks and she listens, utilizing familiarity and repetition to shake off her own malcontent, her own unease. In the darkness. It's his question that has Risali hesitating in her movement, glancing up at Stefyr before reaching for her bag beneath a pile of STICKS to dig out flint and extend it towards him. It's only then that she answers him. "I was running away." But that's all that she gives him, because the moment her hands are free, she moves about as if she means to set up tinder and kindling and sticks, to ready them to catch sparks and burst into flames. "What we want," Risali breathes through her task, "is heat, and light, and hot drinks — all of which, at this point, are going to require fire." BECAUSE THAT POINTED LOOK AT YOUR DYING FLASHLIGHT says she doesn't believe that it's long for this world. "We can worry about all of the rest after we're warm. And fed." AND POSSIBLY RESCUED, but Risali isn't holding her breath on that just yet. A beat, two, three, four and — "Once, a few turns ago, we camped out here. Well, not here, but out in the forest. Anyway, we had finger foods and we told scary stories, and then we all retired to our tents afterward. I was terrified, absolutely terrified. But…" A huff of what's probably laughter, the hints of a smile even as it gutters out. "It was one of my favorite memories." Her point? THIS DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A BAD EXPERIENCE FOR THEM. THEY CAN MAKE IT GOOD, PROBABLY. "Do you want your shirt back?" Because she's not going to really need it after the fire's going, now is she?

Risali's answer warrants a pause and a double brow climb on Stefyr's forehead. It does give him a chance to take the flit from her. "Running away," is his murmured echo. "I tried that twice. Doesn't seem to work out the way I want in the end. How's your escape going?" A glance about as he piles more sticks for the best fire-for-heat-and-light-not-smoke style that he knows, then a look back to the goldrider indicates that he doesn't expect it to be going that well. "So…" he adds after a thoughtful moment, "A temporary running away? To go camping? Or…?" His brows swoop down to look perplexed and that look of confusion is thrown to her mercy. Still, he doesn't pin her with the look, he has to squint back at the pile as the flashlight flickers ominously and he hurries to strike the flint and attempt to coax an alternative light source not dependent on finicky technology for life. "I can wait on my shirt. I'll just get it dirtier if I put it on now. Wait til I get the fire started." To give it back, presumably. He does, in fact, manage after a few tries to kindle something with some encouragement by blowing on it. At least the wind isn't getting through the canopy enough to make this that much harder.

HOW DOES RISALI ANSWER THAT QUESTION? "I was giving myself space," she explains slowly — not as if she thinks he will not be able to comprehend her words, but as if the words are difficult for her to speak. "To think," she clarifies after a moment, another flicker of grey eyes up and then the hints of a smile that gutter out again. "I like to run, or jump, or come out here and shoot arrows with a bow at the trees. It helps me…" Let go? Start over? Breathe? She chooses to leave ambiguity as her answer, because it is the most accurate one. And then it doesn't matter, because Stefyr is telling her to keep her shirt, and Risali is suddenly leaning closecloseclose because ONE CANNOT SIMPLY ENCOURAGE FROM AFAR. "Go, go, go! You've got this. It's going to catch —" fingers twisting into his sleeve, communicating excitement from fingertips to him before she parts with a giddy rush of laughter and MAYBE GIVES HIM AN ILL ADVISED LITTLE SHAKE. "You did it!" PURE, UNADULTERATED JOY, as she gathers up more things to feed ignited kindle so that it can CATCH FIRE!!! "Faranth. I didn't actually believe you, but…" A hiccup of laughter, MOSTLY BECAUSE SHE IS JOKING, "now I'm impressed. Leirith will probably try to keep you now, to light all of her fires. You would have been better off acting like you didn't have a clue." Give her a moment, and then she's shrugging out of his shirt and DRAPING IT OVER HIS HEAD, leaning forward so that she can rest her elbows on her knees, her chin on her hands and smile at him through her fingers. "Stefyr the Firestarter. We will have to hire a harper to write a lyric about your prowess."

Stefyr lets his blue gaze linger on the fledgling fire taking greater root with each passing lick of flame over wood, some smokier than others due to some lingering damp on this section or that. He lets all the words wash over him, taking a moment to digest it all. "I could always run away again," he finally says, slightly muffled as he pulls his shirt from the top of his head (yes, it was there the whole time he watched the fire and contemplated all the implications of Risali's words) down and gets his arms into the sleeves. If she's not using it, there's no reason for him to be less than warm. He doesn't much seem to have minded the shake, but the idea of being collected by Leirith is definitely worth a thought to run away, again. "You run away to get space to think. I run away to stop thinking. It's exhausting. Have you gone far enough to be able to think?" There's a pause and then a tentative, "Anything you… want to talk about?" It's probably tentative because an offer like that can really open a (terrifying) can of worms. "My canteen would probably heat on the fire," and not poison them. He eyes the metal construction attached to his pack behind him a few paces and then straightens and stretches before going to retrieve both packs and bring them closer. He doesn't yet turn out that limping light of his flashlight because next he's moving off a little ways to lug back a log that isn't perfect for sitting on, but might be better than sitting straight on the ground. Maybe.

Let's be realistic: there's no such thing as far enough if you are trying to run away from Leirith. So Risali listens to muffled words instead, waits until he gets his shirt back on and huffs another breath of laughter. "To think wasn't the right words. I don't want to think either." Which means that naturally, when Stefyr is offering to open up WORM CANS and ENDURE HER COMPLAINTS, she forces another smile that gutters out as she breathes, "No." No, she doesn't want to talk. "But thank you, for offering." Then she's on her feet, moving with him because NEVER LET IT BE SAID that Risali sat idle while Stefyr did all the damn work. Risali might not be as big as Stefyr, but that doesn't mean she isn't strong. It's why she attempts to help him free that log and, if she's only in the way, at least hold the light for him while he does it. Then she's moving back with him, settling back near the flame to chase away the chill on her skin, and holding out her hands for her pack. THERE IS KLAH FIXINGS IN THERE, SIR. "We'll try it." His canteen, she means. And then… and then she is hesitating, a hint of tension in her shoulders, in her posture, in the press of her lips together before she closes her eyes, exhales, and opens them again. "Are you running away from something at the moment?" Because hey, he could be. LOOKING FOR LOST ANIMALS IN THE WOODS COULD BE A GUISE. And then, softer, "Do you want to talk about it?" IF HE IS.

"Good," is a little too relieved and Stefyr has a slightly chagrined smile for the goldrider who doesn't want to talk. Listening might have proven hazardous to his health. If Risali is more in the way than helpful to the fetching of the log, the young man works around it so naturally that he must have a lot of practice with smaller beings than himself being equally so helpful. But the light is truly helpful and between them the task is accomplished. It's not a very large log, but more's the better for relative proximity and what that does for shared body heat along with the fire's contributions. Risali's pack is surrendered readily to her before he sits, a process which takes some doing to get his long limbs folded so that he's not taking up too much more than his fair share of the log. He doesn't seem inclined to get up again so he reaches in an awkward stretch to pick up a sturdy stick from which to hang his canteen and thus avoid burning his fingers as he dangles the thing with its remaining precious water (is this wise?) over the fire after popping open the lid to release any steam it must inevitably produce. "Not immediately." This is finally the answer to her question. "In the broader sense," he shrugs the rest of that sentence away. "It's nothing that building a whole new life won't solve, which you've already admirably helped with by allowing me a job at the Weyr." If not her personally, her organization on the whole. "Were you from here? Before." Leirith. Evidently he'd rather redirect the conversation to her rather than talk about whatever he had to run from.

RUDE. But Risali laughs, shoving Stefyr's elbow as he offers up that relieved, 'Good', and she makes her way to be HELPFULLY UNHELPFUL, alas and alack. Bless the man for his patience, truly, because there is probably a lot of it required to remain in close proximity with Xanadu's senior queenrider. BUT THEY MANAGE, and Risali doesn't seem to have an ounce of shame, or self-conscious thought, or anything that might be considered proper etiquette when she leans her much smaller body against Stefyr's and ABSORBS (hopefully) ALL OF HIS BODY HEAT. Nope, she rests her head on his shoulder, digs in her pack lazily for satchels holding klah-making goodness, and then tilts her head up so that she can watch him while he speaks. SHE HAS NO SUCH QUALMS ABOUT SPACE, BY THE WAY. She stretches out her legs, stretches her arms over her head, and then THUMPS right back into him after she's done all while he speaks. "So you're running away from something, or somebody?" comes the soft question, though her brows knit when he asks her questions about herself and she bites down on her bottom lip as if considering her answer before she actually speaks. "Yes. And no. I was born in Half Moon Bay Weyr, but I went to the Harper Hall for apprenticeship. Calisi — she was Xanadu's junior at the time — asked me if I would stay to help her with work in her office here at Xanadu. She was able to pull strings and get my apprenticeship moved here. And then Kyzen — he's one of my weyrmates — asked me to stand. I didn't expect that I would become a dragonrider, much less a weyrwoman. I didn't really want either, but life has a funny way of doing what it wants. What about you? Where did you come from before you settled here, tending to our abundant plant-life?" Because that takes the focus RIGHT BACK OFF OF HER.

Stefyr's body tenses when his space is reduced by that much more that they're touching now. It might be surprise or discomfort, but either way with a steadying breath he manages to let it go. He's not starting to think of the goldrider as one of his helpful-unhelpful young cousins back at the farm, nope nope nope. "A bit of both. Somebodies and somethings. It's really not important. I'm here now, making a new life. I'm a gardener, which is a little different than being a farmer. Less animals, for one. And I'm making friends," he glances at the goldrider in a way that includes her, although it might also include a little unease (terror?), "and I just learned the other day that not all dragons are the same," thank Faranth for that if Leirith might be thought of as the mold, "so I'm learning new things and there's no going back to the family farm. It's outside the Weyr a ways." Maybe he burned bridges behind him. If so, he doesn't seem to regret that part since it's said cheerfully enough. But back to her before he says more things he probably didn't intend to share. "Being a harper sounds interesting. Although I'm not sure I'd care for work in an office. Lots of paperwork, is it?" He wrinkles his nose faintly at the idea. "I suppose it's a bit of that as a weyrwoman, too? My da always had a lot of paperwork as head of the farm, so I'd imagine head of the Weyr is worse and worse for all that." It certainly doesn't sound like heading up a farm or a Weyr is anything he would ever aspire to. Risali can have all that. "How did you reconcile it? I mean, after you were a weyrwoman even though you didn't really want to be."

POOR COUSINS, to be grouped up with the likes of one Risali. IT IS AN INSULT TO THEM, DEAR SIR. "Friends are good," Risali offers, because it's the truth. It's that look that earns him more laughter, one hand coming up lazily to push at his face but not so much interrupt his talking with her own words — even if her eyes and the scrunch of her nose definitely communicate the he should TAKE IT AND LIKE IT. "They're not," she concedes around another breath of laughter. "It would probably be safe to consider Leirith as the exception, not the rule. Most of them stay out of your head, and I have yet to find a dragon so lacking in dignity." Or temper. Or any thing that might equate to some of all the parts an educated dragon-study might set the expectations of. "Of course, I don't think that I'm what anybody expects when they think of a weyrwoman, either." And there's something there, something in that smile that gutters as she pushes her body away from Stefyr's to sit up right and give the poor man some iota of space. "There is a lot of paperwork. I don't know who gets buried beneath more of it, honestly: me, or D'lei." A beat, another scrunch of nose and a flash of smile at Stefyr. "He's the Weyrleader. Coincidentally, he's my other weyrmate." So how did she reconcile becoming who she never wanted to be when she was forced into the role by circumstance and expectation? A beat, an exhale, and then a laugh. "I didn't. I don't think you will run into very many people who have nice things to say about me, or Leirith." There's another hint of a smile, a glance for the gardener before she looks to the fire, as if willing the water in the canteen to heat faster. "So I do the best that I can, and D'lei saves me and probably Xanadu Weyr more than he will ever get credit for." Give her a moment, and then she's looking back at Stefyr again. "Do you miss the farm?"

The fact that he does take the face pushing (liking it as a wholly separate issue) and doesn't break his train of explanation probably means it's less of an insult to his cousins to group them with Risali every moment like this that they share. She probably isn't even the first to have pushed his face, only the most recent. Probably the highest ranked. It has to be said for Stefyr that he is patient and more than that, he's got pretty good listening skills. He gives Risali his attention, even if he's watching the flames, while she speaks. "You're not what I expected," he admits slowly after a moment where the dominant sounds are the pop and crackle of the flames. He shifts the cantene a little, careful not to jostle it too much. "Not being what people expect isn't always a bad thing. I thought if I even so much as saw the Weyrwoman, I'd be too insignificant to notice and if I were noticed, I'd have to try to remember everything my mum ever taught me about interacting with people with rank and I was sure I'd screw it up beyond fixing. This is better." This weird familiarity. The smile he offers the goldrider is a touch tentative but genuine. At least he's not told her any consoling lies, but carefully and considerately the truth as he sees it. "I'm not sure any of us can do more than our best, whatever that is, whether or not it's sufficient to meet any given situation. If you were to ask people back home about me, they probably wouldn't have nice things to say either. At best I'd be a son who shucked his responsibilites to go off to the Weyr for a life of excitement and probably debauchery." That gets a half apologetic, half amused look slid toward the goldrider. "But I had better reasons for going than that. Better reasons for staying." The pause that ensues is just long enough to check the canteen for heat and draw it to the ground between them, nestling it against a boot. "I do miss it. Most of the time, really. The things I thought I'd be excited to be away from are the things I miss most. My room is too quiet at night to sleep well. I shared a bunk room with at least five others from the time I was small. No one else to snore in my room but me." He has a wry smile as he shifts, prepared to assist with the mixing of the klah in a way that keeps them both from getting burnt. "Do you miss being a harper? Or is this better? With D'lei to support you? And Leirith…" There's a little dubiousness to his tone then, but can he be blamed?

Risali listens, and then flushes because accepting compliments has never been her strongest attribute. "Some people might disagree with you," about it being better, she means, "but thank you." Because sometimes people just need to be reminded that they aren't the villain in everybody's story. JUST MOST OF THEM (JK, THAT'S WAY TOO DRAMATIC). Sideways she goes, executing a gentle bump of her shoulder into him as he pulls the canteen free from the fire and prepares it for Klah mixings. Risali doesn't answer now, because she's focused on getting the right amount of the good stuff in without burning herself (or making him feel like he has to save her and burning himself). And then, around the hints of mischief in her smile, "I am probably the epitome of what they deem weyr-living. I have two weyrmates, after all. I am clearly a paragon a whorishly loose morals." And UP GO HER BROWS, as if she's challenging him to agree or disagree before she's laughing. "I always had the philosophy that the wrong kind of people would leave and the right kind of people would stay, but that didn't mean that I had to change myself to accommodate them. It's… probably not the best attitude for a Weyrwoman to keep, so I could do better." Better than her 'best', better than what she's doing now. "But I refuse to let anybody break me." There's conviction in those words, something fiercely rooted, something deep. "And if I ever run into those people," the ones who don't have nice things to say about him, she means, "I'll tell them exactly what they can do with their opinions." AND IT PROBABLY ISN'T VERY DIPLOMATIC, if her tone is anything to go by. But she listens, and it's his turn to ask a question and… Risali hesitates. "I miss…" a beat, an exhale, "I miss my work meaning that I had a piano beneath my fingers more often than not. But finding Leirith…" Now she's looking up again, having emptied the klah satchel into hot water. "She's a lot… for most people, actually. But I never realized how empty I was until she was there. It's… it's not something I can explain to you, but she made me whole in a way that I didn't realize that I could be. And beneath all of the raucous bluster and cheerful blunder, she's the kindest dragon I've ever met, the most patient dragon I've ever had the pleasure of enduring, and the constant reminder that I need to see the good in people." But now it's HER TURN. And so: "Why did you stay?" If he misses everything, she means.

After the needed focus has been given to the klah, Stefyr shifts to remove his overshirt, again, this time for the purpose of wrapping around the much hotter than its contents metal canteen so that they can hopefully sip from it in short order. He looks for a few minutes like he's holding something back, maybe floundering a little, but then it seems to burst through the attempted dam of decorum. "How does that work, even? I mean, I heard already that it happens, but … How-" There's probably a million questions from the farmbred Stefyr on this topic, but he manages to leave it at that helpless one. Obviously it does work, but his poor mind must boggle a little judging by the look on his face. It's neither agreeing nor disagreeing but investigating further - the only (arguably) safe course. "I don't think you should have to change yourself to fulfill a role. Isn't that what delegating is for? I mean, my older brother was rubbish at milking the bovines, so he made a handful of us younger ones do it. Better for everyone if those suited to a task do the task, right?" He's beginning to look a little suspicious of what was obviously told to him to convince him to take on the work in question. It's another moment later that he softly asks, with some real concern, "Is someone- or something- trying to break you?" He takes a deep breath and lets it out before offering something of a more intimate answer perhaps to allow her to feel she can share on the same level, if she wishes. "I'm staying because it's the healthiest choice. For everyone. It doesn't usually feel that way, but it is, and just because it is, doesn't make it easy. Time, they say, heals all wounds." He doesn't sound sold, but it probably hasn't been that much time what with him having only been at the Weyr for about a month or so.

Risali is MID-SIP when he asks her HOW THAT EVEN WORKS and Risali can't help it. She has to jerk backward because suddenly she's CHOKING ON THE KLAH SHE JUST INHALED and then she's laughing. "Faranth, I'm sorry. I — it's…" NOPE. GIVE HER A MOMENT. She will definitely get it together, but she's handing the canteen back to him in the mean time. FOR SAFE KEEPING. "It's… we are dragonriders, right? There is a certain amount of… autonomy that we lose when we impress to our dragons. Leirith rises, and it's like a madness. If I wake up in the morning next to one of my weyrmates, it's a good day, but I don't always get to wake up next to my weyrmates." That probably doesn't help at all, but how exactly does Risali explain this? "You learn to share yourself, I guess. You still find riders who are more possessive than most, but I… I find a lot of joy in the happiness of my weyrmates. If D'lei wants to date another woman or another man, if that makes him happy, then it makes me happy too. Kyzen and D'lei both have partners separate from me, and all of us have each other." A beat, and then a roll of her shoulders. "It's no different than any other relationship, really. You communicate, you're honest, you give and you take and you either love each other enough to make it work, or you move on. We work." A shrug of her shoulders, and then another smile — then a laugh. "Delegating is good, but there is only one Senior Weyrwoman, Stefyr. Delegating doesn't work for everything." It's that second question that has Risali dropping her gaze and looking away, down towards the canteen and then into the fire as she listens to his quiet truth. "They lied." It's a stark answer, but honest. "But time gives you the ability to learn how to cope with your wounds, and to keep from drowning when those waves of grief, or regret, or pain come back to try and pull you under." Her, speaking from her own experience. Maybe that's why she leans her weight back into Stefyr, why she rests her head on his shoulder in a quiet, companionable, 'I'm here, you're not alone' gesture. "There are a lot of people that would probably change me." A quiet smile around a self-deprecating press of her lips. "It's not any one person, and even I get tired hearing about how terrible I am as a weyrwoman." One, two, three, and she's tilting her chin back again to look up at him. "So why did you leave?" And then softer, quieter, "You don't have to answer that, you know."

Concern for the choking Weyrwoman fades to relief that she doesn't appear to be offended to the real kind of interest that a 19 turn old boy might naturally have for this topic, especially when he confesses, "I've never had a relationship." Maybe he's never even had a conversation about what makes a relationship work. "Relationships are impossible to come by when you live on a farm where you're related to everybody." Stefyr appears to let all that information digest a moment while he helps himself to some klah before passing the canteen back. "I guess it makes sense that you'd have to conduct relationships differently when there's essentially two beings to account for with any one dragonrider. Different needs." Finally, he shrugs a little as though to let go the other questions he might have come up with. "I'm glad it works." For her sake, it sounds like. He does challenge, if mildly, "How can you know that time doesn't heal all wounds if all the time of your life hasn't passed away yet? No one said it was a fast thing. Some wounds I expect to carry with me for what feels like forever," which might not sound like he expects to heal, but he hasn't apparently ruled it out. Blue eyes look dark in the shadows as he cuts a sidelong glance to meet her gaze. There's some measuring there, and even in the firelight there's enough to see the glimmer of a deep pain. It's not quite a whisper, but close, when he does decide to answer, "A girl. A brother. They're married now." Not looking away, he adds his own quiet question, albeit one he asked before, "What made you run away tonight?" He'll even echo, "You don't have to answer that."

"Well, when you find one," because Risali has no doubt that he will, "make sure that you find one that feels impossible to breathe without. You deserve somebody who is going to be good to you." Not try to change the man he might become. BUMP. Another smile, and then Risali is huffing laughter. "Well, it might not be impossible, but I certainly think it's more frowned upon than the morality of us weyrfolk." YOU KNOW. SISTER-COUSINS AND DAD-PAS. "But yes. I don't always get a choice. It's the reason why I have a son with my father's weyrmate." IS SHE GOING FOR THE SHOCK FACTOR HERE? She gives Stefyr a MEANINGFUL, SHE IS ABSOLUTELY SERIOUS look, and then she bites down on her bottom lip as if she means to mute the smile pulling at each corner. It gutters out, and fades entirely when he speaks of time and wounds. So how does she know? "Because somewhere, there is still a little girl asking why her father couldn't stay sober long enough to choose her. Because somewhere, there's still a little girl wondering why her mother made her leave." And it's there on Risali's face, something stricken, something that she buries behind another forced smile, "And I have a great relationship with my Dad now." But she's listening, and it's his pain that has her forgoing boundaries to catch one of his hands in hers and squeeze even as she leans heavier into his side, her attention focused in a way that's aware even as he asks her that question and she hesitates. She hesitates to answer him because she isn't used to talking about herself and maybe she just doesn't know how. "Insecurity." That's what made her run away. "Did you love the girl?" But just in case he needs the reminder, "You don't have to answer that, either."

The firelight doesn't do justice to the look of yuck for the possible versions of relationships Risali suggests, and Stefyr is quick to seize upon, "Finding a relationship that it feels impossible to breathe without sounds… terrifying." He isn't the sort to pity, so the arm that settles around her waist for a little sideways squeeze that isn't entirely a hug, but gives the idea of one before it withdraws isn't pity or even really comfort so much as it seems to be a simple sort of support. "Somewhere," he murmurs after a moment, "There's a little girl who's still growing and has healed some, enough to have that great relationship with her dad, and might, by simple grace of still being alive, have the chance to heal more, yet. Scars don't really ever leave the soul, I don't think, but the wounds might." His smile lacks enough energy to be termed encouraging, but it's got a genuine offer of hope. "I thought I loved her. But I could breathe without her, so maybe not. Then again, I never had the chance to have anything with her, so maybe I'd have lost the knack for breathing without her in time." He shrugs again, grimacing a little. "She's happy. I'm —" He can't say 'happy' without lying through his teeth, so he just shakes his head. "One day." He will be. Maybe. Hopefully. "If I survive the night. Should we be worried yet?" He looks down at Risali like maybe as the ranking adult here, she should have the answer.

R'hyn moves into the deep forest, from the forest.
R'hyn has arrived.

LISTEN, HERE IS THE SET: ONCE UPON A MIDNIGHT DREARY, WHEN ALL THE WOODS WERE DARK AND SCARY, RISALI AND STEFYR FOUND THEMSELVES ALONE IN THE WOODS. And then they found each other. Amid banter and insults, they somehow managed to build a fire, and make some klah, and now Risali is attempting to convince Leirith to send in the calvary, but the gold's answer is only always ever the same: static laughter. At Risali's expense. IT'S TO BE A TRIAL IN BADASSERY. ONE SIMPLY DOES NOT INTERRUPT TRIALS. OR BADASSERY. FOOLISH MINION, WHAT A RIDICULOUS NOTION. THE ONLY THING THAT CAN MURDER YOU IN THE WOODS IS EVERYTHING AND WHAT'S SO SCARY ABOUT THAT. Listen. It's been a night, and now the night finds a goldrider and a gardener sitting on a piece of wood close to that aforementioned fire sharing things that they probably wouldn't be sharing if they were not stuck. In the woods. In the middle of the night. SO SHOULD THEY BE WORRIED YET? Risali's answer to all the rest is a hushed smile, and another squeeze meant to communicate things she wouldn't make half as pretty with words, and then she's rolling her eyes and grabbing a stick to poke at their fire like it absolutely needs it. It doesn't. BUT SHE DOES. "That depends. If the weyr has decided to stage a mutiny, let's hope somebody notices you've gone missing." Because otherwise the alternative is DOOM, AND DEATH, AND DESPAIR. "… Do you have somebody who's going to notice you went missing?" Because hey. That's an IMPORTANT QUESTION.

"My boss, in the morning." Stefyr volunteers with a gusty sigh. "Won't your weyrmates miss you tonight? You have two of them," as has previously been discussed at some length. The gardener drinks from the canteen wrapped in his light long sleeved shirt, leaving him in a short sleeved one to defend against the lingering chill of the spring middle-of-the-freaking-night. But at least there's klah in that there canteen. He shifts a little, long limbs growing stiff from huddling on the relatively small log (comparative to the large man's bulk and second occupant of aforementioned log). "Maybe we should try yelling." Can it hurt? Will yelling attract predators? It may be that these questions don't cross the blond's mind before he shouts, "HELP!" and "FIRE!" Neither of which are untrue and should bring help, if any are in earshot.

And WHILST THEY PONDERED, WEAK AND WEARY, suddenly there came a crack-crick-cracking, as of twigs snapping on the forest floor. At first it might be written off as the crackle of wood in their fire, or perhaps the brisk flight of some creature alarmed by Stefyr's shouting, the carry of sound a rather fickle thing in the deep, dense woods, but the more words they share, the more apparent it becomes that steps are drawing closer, circling the permimeter of light created by their flame. Closer. Closer. CLOOOOSER. And then: "Oh for f—" Any expletives that follow initial words are perhaps drowned out as a figure cut from Stefyr's cloth abandons their careful tread and crashes the last few steps into their impromptu firesight, shoving groundshrubbery out of his way as one hand slides a silver glimmer into a sheath tucked at his back. For a moment the bronzerider looks deeply unfriendly, almost as much of a threat as the predator he isn't, all notched frowns and hands on hips that cant at an angle. "I thought you were…" Well. It doesn't matter what he thought these two were, or were doing, because judging by the way blue-grey eyes flicker, taking in gardener, weyrwoman, KLAH, this was not what R'hyn expected, and it's peeling back layers of irritation until he looks borderline flustered. "Y'all look downright cozy. Did Leirith lie? Or did Xermiltoth just get shit really wrong again?" Because this is just what this scene needed: a heaping helping of AWKWARD.

LISTEN. YA GIRL IS A COWARD. That's why she hears those sounds and he heartbeat quickens and maybe its sounding thunderous in her ears as one too many flashbacks come with sounds that suddenly rob her of words and sound right in the middle of a laugh. And she's on her feet, grabbing a HOT CANTEEN WITH HER HANDS as she prepares to — to what, FLING IT IN THE FACE OF DANGER? It's fair to say that Risali probably expected a bronzerider to come CRASHING IN and whisk her (and Stefyr, of course) away to rescue, but it's EVEN SAFER STILL to say she didn't expect, "R'HYN?" It's a half-shriek, half just-sound that manages to sound as unflattering as Risali probably looks in that second, with her hair wild and her eyes wide and MURDER!!!!!!!!!! Written in every line of her body. And then she CHUCKS THE CANTEEN AT THEIR RESCUE ANYWAY. GET IT TOGETHER, RISALI. KEEP. IT. TOGETHER. "You could have at least announced yourself. And what does cozy mean, anyway?" Something insulting is her assumption, if the way she picks up a piece of FIRELOG and CHUCKS THAT AT R'HYN TOO says anything. Don't worry. It probably misses. (Don't die, R'hyn; that's a lot of paperwork and then Stefyr really WILL have to die to eliminate any witnesses.) But then she stops, swallowing down breath, and straightening her posture, and squeaking a, "Leirith sent you?" Like she CANNOT BELIEVE IT because her dragon is RUDE and — "No. I mean. Yes. Both. Neither. I — Take us home." … RISALI. MANNERS. "Please."

Stefyr comes to his feet a beat behind Risali, eyes searching beyond the glow of their small fire quite uselessly. He brandishes no weapon, but if it is a murderer, maybe he can just use his size, only… he can't. Not in the face of R'hyn, bigger and badder(?) bronzerider that he is. He is, in the least, distinctly more fearsome than Stefyr who slides a step behind Risali, since she seems to know the newcomer and after her introduction of him, there's some dubiousness in the gardener's expression as to whether this is rescue and cause for celebration or… not. He's too slow on the uptake to stop the canteen from going anyway, although he helpfully swears, "Faranth," and makes a grab for the stick but misses when Risali throws that too. He might think about making a restraining grab at Risali after that, but as familiar as he has become with the goldrider, he doesn't seem to want to put himself into the middle of this— whatever this is. "Please, sir," Stefyr does humble well, "We're lost," he looks a little the pathetic puppy at that, but it's genuine enough, "Do you know the way home?" Risali's already asked, but maybe the young man thinks it was worth asking again, prettier this time.

"Do you often - OW, that was my KNEE - often announce yourself to random strangers in the woods at the dead of night?" Ah, irony, thy name is R'hyn. R'hyn who is suddenly much too busy tapdancing to avoid the FLAMING LOG being chucked at his person to answer any questions or requests, or to even appear any iota of that bigger and badder (?) bronzerider that Stefyr mistakes him of being. Big, bad bronzers don't often 'EEP!' when they dodge things, you see, nor do they stamp out embers with intermittent 'ack's and 'shit's and 'gonnakillthatdragon's. They do, perhaps, shoot murderous looks at goldriders, however, midnight no time at all to observe such lofty notions as reason and calm when one can instead gesture aggrievedly at the charred wood and half-shout a no less pitchy, "What was that for?!" Poor Stefyr. Of all the rescuers in all the world, he's gotten this one, one that pegs him with a glare full of misplaced vehemence as the gardener sidles behind Risali, not nearly short enough to make that work. HE SEES YOU, CATBUTT, and he's going to fix you with a long and heavy look for a second okay? OKAY. "It means it looks like you two are enjoying yourselves," is grit out as R'hyn picks and plucks at the chucked log, trying to find some safe place to grab it by to lob it back into the fire, snorting under his breath for mention of Leirith. "Not exactly. She was waxing poetic about her Disappointment, and trial by darkness, and something about being murderous or a murderess, and when I asked her which it was she just said YES and laughed so." Gesture. Here he is. TO THE RESCUE. MAYBE. OUTLOOK HAZY, given the persistence of his frown as he shifts his glance back to Stefyr. A beat, two, and then… he sighs, tension fleeing his posture because if ANYONE is a sucker for a good puppy face, it's R'hyn. Stefyr: 1, Risali: 0. "Lost makes a lot more sense though, admittedly. I do," said of knowing the way home. "Get that put out and you can tell me what in Faranth's name possessed you to let her lure you out here at this time of night." WOW RUDE.

"I am not a stranger," Risali manages, like he should have known that with his SPECIAL EYES and his STUPID, STUPID HEAD. She just glares more when he asks her what that was for, before she turns to look at Stefyr. DOES SHE LOOK UNIMPRESSED? It's because she is, reaching out with one hand to give the MUCH TOO BIG TO HIDE BEHIND HER SMOL man an push. "Don't panic. I think he can smell fear." It's all dry tones and sarcasm, punctuated by the way she suddenly strides forward towards R'hyn, to retrieve that canteen she chucked at him MOMENTS BEFORE and stomp her way back to the fire. OPEN COMES THE THING, and Risali upends it over the fire. It's… it's not nearly as impressive or effective as she might have hoped it would be, dousing only enough fire to make it hiss before she shakes the canteen, looks inside as if liquid is HIDING, and then shoves it into Stefyr's chest. Give her a moment, and she grabs her OWN water from HER pack, opens that, and then pours THAT over the fire, EFFECTIVELY PLUNGING THEM INTO DARKNESS. A beat, and then, "R'HYN YOU BETTER STILL BE THERE OR I AM GOING TO SELL YOU TO MONACO FOR A PROFIT." Listen. It's dark. The fact that Risali's hands are probably copiously running over the muscles of both men as she stumbles about blindly trying to find them both is probably just on accident. She would never ever do that on purpose. Probably. Ever. "Which one of you is this? You're both stupid. And big." UGH.

Stefyr goes with the push from Risali, because clearly he erred in his calculations to have been pinned with such a look from R'hyn. Stepping away from Risali should lessen the danger, and also make it more clear that he's not with her. Well, he is. But it was her or the deep dark woods alone. Still, he might've made better life choices up to this moment and maybe, just maybe, stepping another step away will help course-correct. Unfortunately, stepping away from Risali also stepped him away from their packs and his not quite dead yet flashlight, so the sounds of fumbling and a muttered curse might mean he's looking for it in the darkness the goldrider has provided, or maybe he's just clumsily trying to commit murder now that there are no visual witnesses. "In case it matters," he volunteers from somewhere, more loudly than strictly necessary, "We were lost separately to begin with," which is a level of stupidity he probably shouldn't be admitting to. "Hey!" might be objection to th touching or to the unkind labels. "See if I share my shirt with you next time you're lost and cold in the woods," is a mutter that would seem to indicate that the objection is at least to Risali, and not savior R'hyn, however foul his mood may be.

A beat passes. Two. It might even seem as though R'hyn has disappeared into the sudden dark, footsteps perhaps covered by Stefyr's rooting about, and then: "So you did, literally, announce yourselves to random strangers in the woods at the dead of night." SOTTO. VOCE. DEADPAN A.F. A gusty sigh marks R'hyn's position, and if anyone cares to know even though it cannot be seen, he has most definitely dropped his head into his hands. SON HE IS DISAPPOINT. Another poignant silence follows statements about SHIRTS and SHARING ONE and if R'hyn hadn't already made about ten kinds of mistaken assumptions about this whole ordeal, wellllll. "I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear that," he drawls in a particular tone of voice, one that implies he's never heard of two adults sharing a shirt, ever, platonically or otherwise. Lalallala. He'll just be here, waiting for them to collect themselves, body tensing up again as hands find him and he says possibly for the first and very definitely for the last time in his life: "I really hope that's you feeling me up right now, Risa." Because if not it's about to get weird as he makes to heft that figure up onto one shoulder, leaning down to scoop up a nearby pack-lump and sling it over his other. To whoever is left standing: "Ready?" HOPE SO because he seems to be ready to make like a tree and leaf this bullshit behind him, taking a few not-nearly-burdened-enough steps towards the treeline.

SO WHAT IF THEY DID. And listen Stefyr, it's totally affection in Risali's book if she insults you. Or hurts you. We know that it's backwards, but have you met the goldrider? HER MOTTO MIGHT AS WELL BE: BRACE FOR IMPACT. OR EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. OR GERONIMO!!!! "That's the last time that I share my Klah with you, then," she fires back, but there's no real heat in her words. JUST MORE TOUCHING. It's dark. She can't see. And anyway that's probably R'hyn now because he's close enough that Risali can smell him. "I am the weyr whore," comes droll. "Why are you surprised?" SARCASM: SHE GOT IT IN SPADES. And then she's making a sound of disgust as words REACH HER EARS that tell her R'HYN DONE HOPES IT WAS HER FEELING HIM UP, and she hisses back, "In your delusional dreams, you stupid, idiot bronzerider." And then she hears the rustling, and she's quiet for a VERY LONG MOMENT as one, two, three moments pass and then Risali is placing her hand on R'hyn's lowerback (at least she thinks that's what it is, her eyes are starting to adjust) with a patpatpat. "I'm down here," she tells him, the kind of somber that says she's trying really, really hard not to laugh at him. "Comfortable, Stefyr?" she asks, reaching out blind to probably PAT HIM ON THE FACE, ONE HOPES. "This is my step-father that I was telling you about. His name is R'hyn." Which might be awkward on account of the fact that they are OF A SIMILAR AGE, but don't question it. JUST LET IT HAPPEN. RISALI BEING WEYRMATED TO A MAN OLDER THAN HER STEP-FATHER IS DEFINITELY NOT THE CURRENT TOPIC OF DISCUSSION. Not when, SUDDENLY: LIGHT. And there, there lies a man borne of nightmares. The kind of nightmares that say maybe he's the stranger they should have been avoiding in the dark all along, with his unruly hair, and his eyepatched eye, and that absolutely ridiculous raise of brows as he takes in his weyrmate with ANOTHER MAN OVER HIS SHOULDER and he LEANNNNNNNNNNNS casually on a tree like this is the BEST SIGHT HE'S EVER SEEN. Nevermind that Risali is hooking her fingers in the belt-loops of R'hyn's pants so she can hold on while he guides them out, THERE IS SOMETHING AFOOT HERE. "Are you bringing home more strays, Heryn?" Ila'den drawls, rasp husky and amused as that light flickers upward, to get a better view of Stefyr. "Or did we come this far into the woods to bury a body?" HEEEEEEEE'S JOKING. Probably. Maybe. Risali is hissing out, "Dad," and Ila'den is rumbling husky laughter before, WITHOUT WAITING FOR AN ANSWER, he turns on his heels to start LEADING THE WAY OUT. THIS WAY, YOUNG RIDERS AND KEEPER OF PLANTS. THE BIG BAD WOLF SURELY DOESN'T HAVE AN APPETITE FOR YOUNG, LOST BLOOD TODAY.

LOOK. Okay, don't because it's dark. But LOOK. Stefyr was still wearing a shirt when the lights went out, so it's probably not that weird, but maybe it's a sketchy way to share body heat. He is a young man of 19 after all, so crazier justifications have definitely been made (if not by Stefyr) to get close with a pretty girl alone in the woods. But, see, the big blond didn't even have to share a shirt with R'hyn to get all close since that's him over the bronzerider's shoulder. There's a choking noise for a moment and then a choked out, but still somehow wry, "Well, this is nice. Luxury rescue." And it's all just so awkward that for the first time tonight, Stefyr loses it and breaks out laughing away all the tension of being lost in the woods for most of the night. The pat from Risali catches awkward parts of his face - nose, eye, a bit of forehead more than cheek, but he's really too busy laughing to much mind. If anything, it makes him laugh harder. Hysterics, poor man. How many hours was he alone with Risali? And if sparing his feet is at the cost of losing his shirt that was once wrapped around the canteen and possibly thrown with it at R'hyn and not therefore in the pack-lumps on the ground, it might be a low price for a ride back to safety (if not sanity; there seems to be a dearth of that around Xanadu). "Nice to-" hiccup, "-meet you, sir," is managed as the laughter starts to die away. Then there's light and that necessitates some blinking because maybe he laughed so hard he got dirt in his eyes and they're a little moist now, he does have a free hand to wipe them, so he does. There are more squint-blinks at Ila'den because of the light, when it was just so dark, and he manages, though not loudly, "I'm not a stray. I belong here," and just what that says about Stefyr really could fill books or be boiled down to just a couple choice words.

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