A Complex Problem of Optimization

Follows I Scare Myself

Xanadu Weyr - Journeyman Jethaniel's Quarters

The stone of this cavern dwelling has been made comfortable, with rugs to cover the floor and hangings on the walls. Comfortable, but hardly stylish; the hangings seem to be a combination of faded remnants from the storerooms and apprenticework that wasn't up to standards. They still keep out the chill well enough, and apparently, that's what matters.
The room is lit from overhead with a soft glow - many small lights laid out in a pattern of the night sky. They're adjustable in brightness; from mere faint sparks for sleeping with, to a mid-morning shine suitable for many tasks.
Many tasks; but not all of them. There's also a pair of swivel lamps, mounted to a wooden workbench that juts out into the middle of the room. The lamps are adjustable to bring the light precisely where it's needed and cut down on annoying shadows.
There's not space on the bench - or in this room - for any major projects, but there's a never-ending series of minor ones, whether it's fixing the stars above when they burn out or else optimizing the small space heater tucked beneath his desk to keep his feet warm. One way or another, there always seems to be something there, its parts spread out across the scratched white plastic sheet of non-conductive surface. Not to mention the tools - a set of jeweler's magnifying lenses and tools for fine-work, scaling up through the wrenches and screwdrivers for medium work, tucked in a toolchest beside the workbench - or else in the worn canvas bag used for bringing the right tools for the job, to the job.
Sharing a chair with that workbench is a small desk. The desk is up against the wall, making an L shape with the workbench. Atop it is a computer terminal and a few books, along with a stack of notebooks that look well-thumbed… and a pile of paperwork that looks barely touched.
Tucked in the back corner, there's a bed. It's got plain white sheets (smudged with grease), and a navy blue blanket. It, too, is comfortable, and it never seems to be made.


The stars are bright overhead, enough to dazzle the eyes when regarded directly. They have remained so, for Jethaniel has not turned them down. He remained in his bed, his side nearly to the wall - so as to not take excessive space - as conscious thought gave way to dream and - in fits and starts that had him twitching but not fully rousing - moments of deeper rest. In here, the stars are still bright, but that does not mean time does not advance, and the moments of deep sleep have become more intermittent, leaving Jethaniel in a light doze - one in which he is becoming aware of the photons against his eyelids, the moired haze of capillaries being illuminated. He begins to awaken, to stretch limbs whose injured spots he has become accustomed to but with a stiffness from the tension they held as he fell asleep. He… does not yet open his eyes.

Darsce has slept in that heavy, unmoving way of hers, so she's still in the same spot and position in which Jethaniel has lain her down in. It was an unusual time for her to fall asleep, just after lunch when she'd finally calmed down enough to do so. How long has it been? She could very well have slept a long time, emotional exhaustion is that draining. Hers has been dreamless, deep sort that leaves her groggy and disoriented. Her wakening is gradual, accomplished in hazy, fogged stages. The first of which is to turn towards where Jethaniel has been - a habit she's developed of late and snuggle if his arms aren't about her. It's done without thought, borne of her need for him. This time there's further to go - and a flicker of unease ripples across her face. It requires a roll to find him but he's there, and she slips an arm around him, snuggles her head on his shoulder with a sigh. She hasn't opened her eyes either, so the brightness of those stars hasn't yet registered.

Under the unchanging stars, it could have been hours or days that they slept, but it is unlikely that their circadian rhythms have been sufficiently disrupted as to tend toward the latter of those possibilities. Hours, then; afternoon, evening, an indeterminant portion of the night have passed. Jethaniel might have spent more time in assessing the state beneath his eyelids and the positioning of his body, but Darsce finds him. His first reaction is the unthinking one; his head tilts toward hers, his shoulder settles into place as her pillow while his other hand reaches up to brush fingertips along her arm… but then those fingers stop, his brow furrowing as thought-fragments reassert themselves and bring with them an echo of that same tension that kept his sleep restless. His eyes open, and he looks to Darsce instead of those stars, the drawn tug of his lips a shape of worry and the shape of his eyes a hint of… fear.

There are flickers of unease in the periphery of Darsce's consciousness as wakefulness reasserts itself. And signs without that all is not well. The first of these is the tension dimly felt in that shoulder under her head and under her arm. The second is the realization that she's… still in her clothes. She never sleeps in her clothes - even for a nap. Another, she finds as she tries to open her eyes, finds the lashes stuck together from dried tears. Her arm is retracted to swipe at them, they open squinting nearly shut at the bright blue light and she mutters, returns her arm to around Jethaniel and instinctively burrows her face into that shoulder, curling more fully into the man to escape those lights. But awake is here to stay and after another few moments the unusual occurance of waking to lights being on so bright percolates and she shifts her head fractionally to peer at Jethaniel in disoriented fashion. "Why're we sleeping with the lights on?" Not why are their clothes - and her shoes! - on, which were she more awake, would've been her first question.

Jethaniel's hand slips away as Darsce moves her arm, returning to his side. Not that he doesn't want to hold her - he does, and the retreat is slowed by that - but his motives are suspect. He… watches, as she wipes her eyes, and as she presses in against him, he swallows. That tension remains a part of him, and though he does not resist as she cuddles close, his arm stays away, fingers reaching out to touch the wall instead of her. He does not look away from Darsce, observing the complex and randomized pattern of the fall of her hair. He wishes to trail his fingers through it, disrupt the patterns and see what new ones his touch might create… and yet those fingers remain away. When she looks up to him, his eyes are there to meet hers. Perhaps he should have looked away while he had the chance, but he did not and does not now. "I made them." His words are quiet, voice low and rough around the edges. When he has spoken, his lips close once again, the shape of them a flatness that could express a lack of emotion were it not for the sadness in his eyes - which, this time, remain visible.

That's not- Is that answer to the question she asked? Darsce is confused - by both the answer and his expression - it shows on her face until… the words recall what transpired to memory and she's fully awake. Her eyes do not leave his, "You did…yes." She does not look at those stars. Normally she would turn her eyes ceiling-wards and smile softly. Now she does not. He's… she can feel the withdrawal, her gaze drifts down to his mouth, notes the flat line, lifts to see the unhappiness in his eyes. She…remembers the closed eyes and bowed head. Remembers he told her no and weeks ago she told him he might but she pushed him to submit to her, something she promised she would never do. "Jethaniel… what else can I do?" They've totally reversed their words. Well, she's not yelling for a healer, but.

It is not entirely the answer, but it is the answer Jethaniel gives. He sees Darsce's confusion, but does not elaborate. He does not look to the stars either, but he sees the pattern of light and shadow they make against her face, even though his eyes do not leave hers. He made them. That was her point, was it not? Insofar as he came to understand it, and so he nods slightly to her confirmation. He makes things. Instruments of intentionality. His eyes do not close again, but there's a softness to their focus, a distance in his gaze. Darsce pushed, and Jethaniel… he's already told her what he would do. There's a flicker of increased focus for his name, but her question… he has no answer. His gaze lowers, tracing the curve of her cheek like those tears did, brushing the edge of her lips before lifting to her eyes once more. "Are you afraid of me?"

It was indeed her point. Jethaniel makes things, exactly that. Her expression clouds into sorrow, reflecting his, but she makes no move to withdraw from him. Her head remains upon his shoulder, her arm about his waist. That he's not touching her, she's very much aware and her mouth curves softly sad. She breathes slowly, keeps her eyes on his face but understands where his eyes trace and why. When his return, hers are there to meet his. To the question she is silent, giving it honest consideration. But she is here. With him. Would she be here if she were afraid of him? No. And yet… "I am afraid of what you are going to do," she says after a long silence. That emotion has slowly replaced the confused sleepy to mingle with the sorrow.

Jethaniel's breathing is kept even, a semblance of calm, but he does not reach for Darsce. How can he, when he does not even know… her answer. He is silent as he waits for it. It is a long silence, but Jethaniel waits, grey eyes still on hers. Perhaps she will come to a conclusion that will send her away, take her from his room and his bed and his side. He does not know; he keeps his hand against the wall and does not touch her. She answers at last, and he gives a slight nod. "Will you tell me not to do it?" The tone is that of a question. Jethaniel is conducting an assessment of projected future actions for purposes of prediction, not making accusations or requests. His lips part again, but the "I-" is only half-voiced before they close once more and he falls silent, eyes on Darsce as he awaits her answer.

"I won't," Darsce breathes the answer, faintly, reluctantly. "Because Marel will simply find someone else." And that scares her even more! He still isn't holding her or touching her and she's quite aware. Yet, he hasn't pushed her away or slipped out of reach, so she remains. "Jethaniel. Please. I- I need to know how you can make something so beautiful and also make something so…" She doesn't put a label on it. But the faint horror of it lurks amongst the grief in her eyes. "I don't understand." And that bothers her, but doesn't frighten her.

Given Darsce's requirement for the testing procedures, Jethaniel would have a reason to be grateful if she did deny him entirely, but his question was a request only for information, and so he nods to her answer, as well as the clarification regarding her motivation. His eyes begin to drift away - though his body remains entirely within her reach - but draw back to hers quickly at the sound of his name. A plea. A demand. Darsce is asking something of him once again. "Cruel?" he suggests for the conclusion of her sentence. It is the descriptor she used in the infirmary; she may yet find it suitable. Perhaps she only avoids it now to spare Jethaniel's feelings, but he has no intention of doing that to himself. "Because the alternatives are worse." Darsce said it herself: Marel will find someone else. Something else. "I do not want to hurt her." This is where Jethaniel's eyes press closed. "Or her dragon. But. A room is insufficient; she would be trapped in her house. A restraint system would leave her vulnerable to others." He recites the potential solutions and their flaws, and Darsce will hear something of that tonelessness from the infirmary, the attempt to keep emotion absent - except this time, Jethaniel is less successful in the attempt, and there's a roughness to the edges of his voice, a slight rising pitch of frustration. "I can help. All I need to do is…" He swallows, eyes still closed, and almost doesn't finish the sentence - but he does, half-voiced and low. "…hurt them."

Not a demand this time. A plea. Darsce's breath is held after the question is asked, a slow, reluctant nod of agreement for his supplier of 'cruel' and a release of it after his answer. He doesn't want to hurt Marel, of course he doesn't! Yet he will. But he won't do it dispassionately, she can see that here in this room, as she picks up the faint roughness in his monotone and something in her relaxes - just a little. He's heard her objections already; she doesn't list them. Nor does she offer to relinquish her role in the testing procedure. Of being vulnerable to others…she recalls the question he'd asked of her door that day he helped free her from the tape and so nods of restraints. Her voice is carefully neutral, "Can't you make a lock set on a timer? One she cannot unlock until the flight is over?" But that isn't the issue; Marel doesn't even want Isyriath chasing Seryth. "What if it malfunctions? I was in your class, Jethaniel. You said the human body is a conductor. And there was something about cooking internal organs and disrupting the electrical impulses of the body. What if… what if she falls into water or… touches something metal?" What if he kills her?

"A lock on what?" Jethaniel asks, and his tone is… less neutral than hers. "Her bedroom, so she will not leave it when Seryth might rise? A closet? Shall I lock Isyriath's wings?" He could. He could do any of those, but… if warning and avoidance were sufficient, Marel would simply be sure to leave Xanadu when her mother's gold is about to rise. Draconic fertility cycles are, at best, approximate. Jethaniel lets out his breath, a long sigh, and pushes his eyes shut more firmly for a moment before slowly opening them, looking to Darsce at her question regarding the potential for malfunction. As she articulates the rest of her concern, his eyes open further, widening with a certain degree of comprehension. His hand finally leaves the wall, reaching for her - halfway to her - before it stops. He still does not touch her, but he answers. "It is possible," he acknowledges, and his eyes are on hers, earnest and serious, as he continues, "but unlikely. The current involved…" He pauses, considers his words. "It is analogous to water. A flood is dangerous; a raindrop is not. A bucket of water… could cause harm." It is possible to drown in a bucket. It is possible for a device generating a relatively low current to arc unexpectedly. "It is not likely to do so."

Darsce blinks and angles her head back to see Jethaniel's face better for that almost sounded sharp and sarcastic to her. She almost withdraws, the arm she has about him twitches and her body flinches against his side. Hurt, undisguised in her reply, she clarifies, "No. I meant her front door. All exits. All windows. On a timer. That." Please give her some credit! "So if she falls into the salt water when activated?" She has to know. "Can it malfunction in overload - or whatever the term is - and deliver too great a charge to her?"

Jethaniel feels that response from Darsce, and his wince is immediate. He hurt her, by what was unquestionably his own action instead of as a consequence of her demand. His frustration is with the situation, with what has been asked of him… with the fact that he does not see a viable alternative. "I can," he says to the one Darsce proposes. His voice is low, quiet. The words are measured out carefully, guarded so he does not speak without thinking and once more cause harm. "Will Marel be satisfied?" Will she ever leave the house? Will she - in the mental storm of the flight - believe she is safe? Jethaniel does not think she will, but he does not know that. If Darsce does… he will listen. He is, at least, on a more certain grounding - metaphorical and otherwise - when it comes to the device. "I can construct it to shut off in water. It… may fluctuate, but not in excess of certain bounds. Its store of electricity will not be unlimited; there is a maximal effect."

It has nothing to do with Jethaniel taking his own actions and not acquiescing to her demands. It has everything to do with his withdrawal, Darsce‚Äôs fear for her sister and her guilt in the whole…mess. Which gets worse with each passing day, she's finding. She doesn't move, either away or toward him, simply watches, listens. He can make the locks. Good. Will Marel be satisfied? She sighs, slumping against him. "No," she mutters. No, her sister is incredibly strong-willed and extremely fearful. No, she won't be satisfied and no, she won't leave her home. Marel won't feel safe unless she has complete control, but that's really… not part and parcel of being a dragon rider. This is all so off! Darsce listens carefully to what Jethaniel says. "You have to make it for her." Not a question. Still. "I'm scared."

Jethaniel knows what Darsce did. He does not know the extent of consequence, either perceived nor actual… and it is not what comes to his mind when he considers this situation. He has presented his question to Darsce, and it was not sarcastic; he listens for her answer, then nods as he receives it, his head remaining lowered at the conclusion of the gesture. Her analysis corresponds with his. He would prefer it did not, because so long as he cannot change his premises, he finds they lead to the same conclusion, but… it does. And thus, the conclusion. His head, already tilted down, dips a little further as Darsce states it; a nod, as extended from that pre-existing lowered posture. It does not lift again, but his hand finally moves once again, crossing his body to brush, hesitant, against her upper arm. "Darsce. I do not want to frighten you. Or… hurt you."

Darsce is overwrought still from earlier and having a hard time sorting through all the…mess. Conflicted, confused, so scared - she's misreading Jethaniel. She hates the conclusion. But she helped to draw it. And really, when it comes right down to it, she can't stand in Marel's way. As her sister, she voiced her objections. Isyriath is Marel's lifemate. This will be up to the two of them to work out. "If anyone can make it work safely, you can," she says tipping her head to try and see his eyes. Fingers brush her arm and the one she'd thrown around him curls a little more tightly. "You don't frighten me." She wants to assure him of that! But oh. Hurt her. This time it is her eyes that shut and she turns her face into his shoulder, hiding from him. Her body tenses, she wrestles with her demand. "I can't lose you," she says muffled into his shoulder.

What Jethaniel will construct is a tool. He will place it in Marel's hands. He does not consider this fact to absolve him of guilt, but he has come to the conclusion that she believes she requires a tool of this sort, and as such… the best solution he can find is to construct one that will minimize the potential for long-term harm as she and Isyriath… work things out. Jethaniel's eyes are shadowed with the weight of it, but they do not avoid Darsce's, focusing on hers as he nods. Safety will be one of his priorities, but… he swallows as Darsce closes her eyes and turns her head - but though she avoids his gaze, she turns toward him, not away, and she has said he does not frighten her, so his body shifts toward her as his arm slips across her shoulder and around her, holding Darsce gently against him. "You will not," he says, a quiet assurance. It's less dangerous than walking across an icy clearing? But he doesn't say that, or present any other arguments. Just… holds her.

Darsce curls into Jethaniel, nodding. She will believe. She will trust. Yes, she'll bear the guilt too because she's going to be helping. She hates it that Marel's doing this, that her darkness is seeping into both of them. But… she's family and Darsce loves her. She loves Jethaniel too. And thus, at his reassurance, she lifts her head to meet his grey eyes with hers. "I'm sorry for freaking out. And… I'm sorry for making you allow me to test the device. I… give that right back to you." Her eyes fill saying that. She still doesn't want him to do this to himself. But there's no other way. "Will you let me be with you when you test it? Because if you need help you won't be alone?" A request. Not a demand.

The best possible solution is sometimes only desirable when viewed in comparison to all the alternatives. Jethaniel is aware of that, and so… he does not hurry Darsce, simply holds her until she is ready to look up. His eyes are ready to meet hers, and her apologies are met by slight nods. The removal of her demand, though… his exhalation of relief is accompanied by a relaxation of muscles from the tension they have been holding, and those grey eyes warm with gratitude. Jethaniel is glad both that Darsce will not experience it (at least not directly), and that he will be able to know, with a personal certainty, what sort of tool he is giving Marel. The momentary limpness of his body is followed by an intentional tightening of his arms around Darsce. "Thank you," he says softly, then nods to her request. "Yes." She may see his pain. That much, he can give her with relative ease, though he knows it will trouble Darsce to see him so. He will nevertheless permit her, because he knows she will worry more if she is not there to see his leg twitch as he makes an involuntary noise or to help apply numbweed when he demonstrates that the theoretical maximal current has no effects worse than mild electrical burns… and also because, after he has done so and his body is tensed from the experience, he will want the comfort of holding and being held by her. "I am sorry I worried you." His fingers move slowly, caressing along her back with an ease of motion that was absent before. "I will be careful." He always is, but he means something more by it. This is not the first time Darsce has been worried about something happening to him. "I will be here for you."

Darsce gets it - what that release of him from her will does. Headstrong, bold, impulsive, she is not the careful one in this relationship. But Jethaniel is and he needs the freedom to make his choices - choices wherein he takes the brunt of things he feels he can withstand to do the things he feels are… if not right, at least optimal. The warming of his eyes, the return from remote, these things are, for Darsce, optimal even while the endeavor of what Jethaniel - with her assistance - will undertake does not feel optimal. It is, in fact, the best option for Marel. Her arm curls more fully around Jethaniel. "And I will be there for you." She leans into him, wanting to be so much closer after being so distanced. A distance of her own making. "I won't make you leave me again. I-" Because, yes. She did this. But she's learning to… "-love you."

And, while explaining the elements of construction to Darsce in order to demonstrate to her the caution he is applying is not the most efficient use of time, Jethaniel will nevertheless consider it optimal to do whatever he can to reassure her… subject to other requirements he has established. It is a complex problem of optimization, but Darsce has priority. Given that freedom, Jethaniel's choices often nevertheless follow Darsce's desires. The fact that she wants something is a strong incentive for him, but there are other factors, and while he will give up that freedom for her, it means giving up more than simply the decision itself. If he cannot act according to what he believes is best… he cannot trust that assessment of what is best. He must lack initiative, if he does not have freedom. There must be distance, because he cannot reach out. Now, given that freedom, Jethaniel can curl his arms close around Darsce, encouraging that lean with his embrace. "I am glad," he says for her presence - both now and in the future - and tilts his head toward her, only to pause, his eyes studying hers. She is the one who left the infirmary, and yet… "I love you," he repeats after her. His voice is earnest, seeking to assure her of that fact, though he has no further words to provide supporting arguments. Instead, he continues the tilt of his head until he may close the distance and press his lips gently to hers.


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