Unseen Wounds

Xanadu Weyr - Caverns
A massive cavern in its own right, this one has been skillfully adapted for human habitation. The high ceilings have been painted a light, soft ivory, as have walls hung with numerous tapestries that provide brilliant color and insulation from the stone. The floor has been left in its natural state, pale pink granite speckled through with glittering mica and dark flecks of basalt. The stone is carefully leveled but kept sufficiently rough to avoid slips.

The cavern itself is loosely divided into areas, each one set up to be suitable for some segment of the Weyr's population. The most frequently occupied area is the one near the Kitchens, where tables of varying sizes provide a place to sit down and eat or chat and a buffet of consumables is almost always kept stocked. It's plain that on most days, this area wouldn't accommodate anywhere near the full population of the Weyr, instead feeding people in shifts as they come off duty. On occasions when a formal meal is laid out, tables are borrowed from all the other areas.

There's also a big fireplace set into the western wall, several comfortable chairs nearby providing haunts for elderly residents or riders who like a good view of all that happens. Rugs cover the floor in strategic spots, all of them abstract or geometric in design and most in the softly neutral colors of undyed wool.

Exits lead off in all directions, the largest an archway to the northeast that leads outside. Near it there's an alcove with hooks for coats and shelves for muddy boots. A tunnel to the east goes to the infirmary, and a set of stairs just a little south of that lead up to the offices and administration area. To the south, a long and sloping tunnel leads down to the hot springs. The kitchen is off to the southwest, while the residents' quarters are reached by tunnels going west, deeper into the cliff.

Today's Vignette Brought to You By Linkin' Park's **Crawling**
"Crawling in my skin, these wounds they will not heal.
Fear is how I fall, confusing what is real.
Discomfort, endlessly has pulled itself upon me - distracting, reacting.
Against my will I stand beside my own reflection
It's haunting how I can't seem to find myself again
My walls are closing in."

And the punches kept coming.

Stefyr's fingers tightened on the ceramic mug that he held in both hands, his eyes locked on the man across from him. Daro had ale. Stefyr had… tea. Damn, but a drink would do him rightly right about now. Too bad he'd screwed up and lost his privilege to drink, to drink alcohol at ant rate. He knew he was drinking in the sight of his favorite brother as a man dying of gut wound drinks water, with great want but at detriment to his chances of surviving. Would he survive any of this anyway?

"What are you doing here, Dar?" Stefyr winced in synchrony with his brother's. He hadn't meant for it to sound like that. To sound so bewildered as to banish any thought that he had wished for home even once since his arrival at the Weyr, since wanting it every spare moment had originally been the problem driving him to self-destruction.

His brother's lips turned just enough at the edges that Stefyr could see the frown behind it. What was Dar seeing when he looked at Stefyr now? His brother? A stranger? He felt like a stranger living in familiar skin. Maybe it showed. Daro's voice, achingly familiar from turns and turns of it being part of the daily music of the farm, lifted in instruction or warning about, or dropped low to the rustle of leaves on trees in whisper late at night in the bunk they shared for turns with four others, brought his thoughts back; Dar had always been the canine tending the wandering herdbeast his mind had a habit of being. "Mum sent me. Wanted to send me just as soon as your letter came in, with that scribbled postscript. Did you have to write it so as she had to worry herself for days before she convinced herself it really did say 'Stand for eggs' and that you must have meant the clutch of dragon eggs we'd heard about?"

The mild accusation in his brother's wording (for he was always mild in his rebukes of Stefyr, leaving it to the younger brother's well-developed conscience to do the real, unbearable punishing) brought immediately to mind a vision of what the scene would have been at home: the last word of his (intentionally) hasty postscript would still have been leaving Da's lips where he sat around the trestle table drawn out for the evening meal when Mum snatched the paper from his hands. It probably would have torn in her haste to see the words with her own eyes, better studied by far than Stefyr's had been upon his arrival, save that Da (as he always seemed unfathomably able to do) would have anticipated her and let go just as her fingers brushed it. Then his aunties would've been on their feet, either from their places at the table or flowing in from the kitchen like snowmelt on the last of its journey from a distant peak, coming in a great gush of skirts and aprons. The lot would have bent their heads together over the (brief, surely it's too brief for everything to be well, one would titter the worry to another) missive and begun consulting, complaining, consoling and generally clucking over it not quite in turns. When the noise died down, Mum's troubled (maybe even anguished) face would have pinned Da and then his perpetual childhood minder and compatriot, still newlywed Daro. "You must go and—"

His blue eyes snapped out of the distance back to Dar. "She sent you to fetch me home, convinced Standing was a mistake I couldn't come home from." He knew it before Daro's blond head nodded confirmation. His hands dared to leave the anchor his mug had become from the moment he braved himself up to sit down in the Caverns with his unexpected visitor. When he had been pulled from the class he was assisting, he had expected some previously unknown but not wholly unexpected summons from the quixotic Risali or even more whimsical Leirith. (Had she taken it upon herself to summon this one of her Minion's Minions independent of Risali before? Possibly. Or possibly it just wasn't out of the anticipatable realm.) Finding his brother in the Caverns, clasping his hat and with nerves written in every familiar line had been a blow. Another blow, on top of the eggs yesterday.

His hands scrubbed across his face as though to physically push away the persistent imaginings. "What does she expect me to do?"

Daro looked at his ale, "Come home," but he continued, overriding the objection just starting to leave Stefyr's lips. "I know it's unreasonable, but what else was I to do but to come, to stop her fretting?" He twisted his mug in his hands. "Unless you've just been biding your time until you had a good way home and I'm a timely rescue?" So well did they know each other, at least in body and expression, and that Daro sighed at the smallest shift in Stefyr's face. "No, I somehow thought not, but I had to hope." There followed a pause into which the younger man might've spoken, save that Dar added quietly, "And not just for Mum's sake."

That ripped the tenuous bandage that playing farmer with N'on and Evi in the feeding grounds the day before had afforded him. The one well-intentioned but ineffectually applied to that messy, awful place in his chest that the eggs had gifted him with. He couldn't speak. Speaking would lead to too much of the truth escaping and all the wrong parts. If he spoke now, the picture Dar would gather would be a man in need of rescue. Maybe he was, but it wasn't Daro, nor Da, and not even Mum who could furnish him with the rescue he needed.

Daro waited but when Stefyr didn't speak he looked back to his ale and took a breath. Stefyr wanted to stop him, wanted to put his fingers in his ears and run la-la-la-ing as he ran, but no words would come and maybe deep down he knew his brother needed to say words that would be choked on later if not choked out now. "Gaelis expected you'd be at the farm while she got settled in after our wedding. She thought— thinks of you as her best-friend, Fyr. And the cousins aren't unkind, exactly, but they're overwhelming and she'd counted on you. To be there. I counted on you, too. This.. . being married thing isn't easy. Some parts are good. Some are great. Some are just hard. You.. . You're my best-friend, too." As hard as the plea from Mum was to hear, this unspoken wish of Daro's was harder. Still, the way unseen life's blood was spurting from his equally unseen wound was helpfully distracting.

Stefyr swallowed the threat of tears, the threat of rage, the threat of implosion and external immolation. He knew (helplessly) that his voice was hurtfully bland when he said, "I'm sorry, Daro. You've come for nothing. I'm staying here." He scooted his chair back, unable to stay there and make sacrifice of himself for the needs of another (for possibly the second time in his life). "I came from my duties here. I need to get back to them."

Daro stood when he did and was staring at him like he was the stranger he thought he might be, someone he might be able to figure out in time (or not). The hurt and bewilderment in his brother's face were new wounds in what stood between them, right along with the old wound that was the luminous joy of Gaelis' face when she joined hands with Daro on their wedding day. Stefyr relented the smallest amount, loosening his grip on his roil of emotions and then wished he hadn't. His voice cracked as he said, "Please give Gaelis, Da and Mum my best. And all the rest. Tell Mum not to worry and that I'll write." He knew he'd let go of too much of that difficult control when his embrace of his brother was more like the desperate grip of a drowning man. "Travel safely, brother."

Before Daro could say anything, could do anything other than hug him back, Stefyr yanked himself back whirled and made for the tunnels. He couldn't let that control snap. Not here.

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