A Friendship Without Expectation

Xanadu Weyr - Secluded Alcove
A twisting, darkly mulched pathway, leads through a densely wooded area off to a set of wooden beams grown into the landscape to form a set of rustic stairs. Each one covered in a bit of leafy moss here and there. Just beyond the path opens up into a romantic secluded garden cut into the wilds themselves. The aromatic scent of the woods is enhanced by the restful sound of a small waterfall splashing over a natural rock formation down into a mountain spring that feeds other water required points of interest elsewhere. Huge mossy covered boulders surround the scene, sparse flowering trees and bushes darting the background with their pale pink blossoms.

A few benches are set off in private areas here and there for the murmured discussion of lovers. Visitors are encouraged to take a swim in the pond, or lounge on the velvety carpeted mossy rock encasing the body itself. Several large flat stones stand alone just inside, allowing one to sit and refresh themselves by sinking perhaps just their legs into the fresh cool water.

Not quite a sevenday has passed since Xanadu was rocked by their unexpected leadership change and all the bloody fallout from that fateful night. Even if the office isn't peaceable, life goes on, which means everybody shows up for work (sometimes) and it means that, at some point, everyone gets to go home from work. This evening, later than some other evenings, found Stefyr and Risali walking to their respective homes so far as the path went and for one reason or another, they detoured into the garden and then down to that pretty secluded spot with the waterfall. It must be edging on dinner time because the spot is strangely vacant. Stefyr, his arm linked with Risali's in a companionable way, draws the Weyrwoman over to the edge of the waterfall rather than to a bench, his blue gaze on the rushing waters. Then, he's shifting to wiggle out of his boots and slipping his arm free from Risali's to go over and sit down where he can put his legs into the water. If she needs an invitation, he'll pat the stone beside himself. He's been oddly quiet on the walk. He's been oddly quiet all day, but dutiful and since that first morning Risali and R'hyn were in the office together, he's been an extra dose of solicitous in making sure whatever needs he can satisfy are taken care of.

She might be better now — now that she knows D'lei is still breathing, now that she knows he's in the care of healers who are working around the clock to make sure he's okay even if she can't see him. But she's still not quite right. So Risali is… still a ghost. She is a ghost, lost in her paperwork, risen only on those (many) occasions when R'hyn's actions or words earn her ire and rouse her temper through everything else. Maybe sometimes he did it on purpose, maybe sometimes he did it to try and rekindle that familiar spark of agitated intolerance that always, always ended in Risali being more animated, more alive than she'd been since that morning following their flight. Even now on their walk, even with her arm hooked through Stefyr and her insubstantial weight leaned against him (because she is still recovering somewhat, and maybe she's pulling comfort from the contact), she's silent. She's silent as they detour, silent when Stefyr sits, silent when he pats the stone beside himself in an invitation for her to join. She's still, as if there is no more concept of joy in her, as if every playful, vivacious, vibrant thing about her left the moment Garouth and D'lei went silent. But she does come, eventually. It's one, two, three fractions of a heartbeat, but she sheds her own boots and her own socks, leans down to roll up her pants towards her knees, and then steps from that rock into the water, stands there in that stream with her shirt held just slightly up (as if trying to see around it or keep it from getting wet in a gesture wholly unnecessary (and not at all indecent, FOR THE RECORD)), and then she's blinking grey eyes from the wash of water to Stefyr. One, two, three, and those lips pull — soft, muted, a caricature of a smile holding no humor, harboring a deepset sadness that can't be chased from her eyes. "Are you okay?" she asks, her gaze intent, her body going still, her lungs halting as if a single, solitary breath might break the moment, might rip away her ability to hear whatever it is that Stefyr might speak. See, Risali might be a ghost, but she's never too far gone to take notice of the people around her, never too absorbed in her own quiet pains to exhibit a genuine interest in the wellbeing of the people she cares just as much about. "You've been quiet."

Stefyr had the best of intentions with this detour. He really did. As a former gardener, he is probably more familiar than some with the rhythm of the gardens and when traffic is likely to be minimal or in today's case, non-existent in this secluded place. He possibly meant just to sit with her, to commune in silence (not easy silence, exactly, but not a silence that needed to be filled, just supported). His blue gaze follows the ghost as she moves (who would dare look away from a ghost, especially the ghost of someone you cared for?). Then, with that one observation, all the good intentions crumble. He rides, feet in the water and moves to stand with her, as he as silently been figuratively doing to the best of his meager abilities already. He reaches for her hands, thumbs brushing the backs in little soothing sweeps. It's not something with intentions appropriate to the location, just consoling contact. Why would she need consoling, you wonder? Even she might wonder, until, with a deep bracing breath, he makes a reply only just loud enough to be heard over the waterfall's natural cadence. "I'm not okay. I'm worried about you. I know we haven't known each other very long and I know you have other People," her People; the ones who love her and support her, who are there for her, "and I know you're a Weyrwomen and I'm just a farmer, but I'm also Stefyr and you're also Risali," (in case anyone had lost track) "and you were my first friend here and by now you're one of my best friends here and you're hurting." That much is so achingly obviously even the blond figured it out. "You don't have to talk to me or need me for anything, but I need to be here for you, okay?" Now he'll stop, but he doesn't look embarrassed by this very blunt declaration of friendship as he perhaps should. He looks down at her with a perturbing level of seriousness. "If there's anything, anything-" but his voice cracks on the repeat and he swallows hard and closes his mouth. Waiting.

WELL YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY, STEFYR. Neither does Risali, so. That's fair. JUST KIDDING. THEY SAY THAT THE ROAD TO HELL IS PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS, and Risali watches as Stefyr reaches for her without moving away from him, catches his hands in hers even if she's careful not to disturb raw knuckles along the backs of her hands which makes it just a little awkward. But she is confused, even as she squeezes, and then she's listening. She's listening, and her eyes are getting suspiciously wet, but she doesn't acknowledge it, doesn't draw attention to it, waits out every word and every admittance and every declaration until the silence left in the wake of Stefyr's cracking voice hedges towards the border of uncomfortable. "You're my person too," she whispers, and she doesn't know how, but it's true. "Which is why," uh oh, "I will kick your ass if you ever refer to yourself as 'just a farmer' again — as if that somehow makes you less." But the words, despite the way she squeezes Stefyr's hands even harder, are gentle. "I'm sorry I worried you. I —" But she doesn't finish. She wills an aching body onto the tips of toes, persists through the pain of calves that scream in protest and send pain white-hot lancing through spots still sore even after how many days so that she can bring her arms around his shoulders and, with his blessing, force him to curve to meet her, force him to shoulder some of the burden of meeting her halfway as she holds on tight and breathes, "Don't do that, Stefyr. I'm okay. I'm here. We're okay." One. Two. Three. Four. Ten. Finally she lets go, though her head tilts to the side as she draws away and hands catch at his jaw, thumbs brushing up against his cheeks as she catches his face between her hands and then forces a smile for him. There's too much emotion in it. There's an amalgamation of so many incorrect feelings, but she's trying. "Do you want to dance?" Because what is she good for, if not providing a distraction?

"What else could I possibly want to do?" Stefyr can shift from serious to rhetorically wry as he straightens from the returned embrace, although the undercurrent is still rife with all that stuff that they are officially done talking about. Oh, except for: "Don't. Be sorry. I'm not sorry we're friends or that I care about you. Those are my choices. I can be sorry that you are going through some fucking awful shit." Because she is and he does. "But you don't get to be sorry for my feelings about what you're going through." And here he'll shift to the position previously taught him because obviously they're going to dance here in the water. His hand gently finds her waist and the other holds her hand carefully. It's only once they're positioned and he takes the lead for the few steps she's taught him, to practice as they have surely practiced before at random intervals and called it work that he says, "And I never say farmer like it's less. Without farmers, your food wouldn't be nearly as good. I say farmer like it's different, because it is. The number of things I can relate to in my life experience compared to yours is somewhat limited." This is delivered as casual observation, lacking judgment of any kind. "I mean, I just found out less than a sevenday ago that marriage and weyrmating aren't just two different names for the same arrangement with just more people." A pause. "And if we're comparing what your life has taught you to what mine has taught me, I might observe that you are probably woefully ill informed on the subject of porcine upkeep and breeding." UNLESS ANYONE IS COUNTING R'HYN, but since he's Stefyr's hero and creator of The Sandwich, it seems unlikely that he would be.

What else could he possibly want to do? Risali looks around as if aiming for conspicuously inconspicuous, as if she's looking for unwelcome eyes or ears before those grey eyes find blue and hold for a whisper of, "I don't know. This place is quiet and deserted. Murder?" IS THIS WHERE THEY HIDE THE BODY? And there's a hint of her old mischief in the smile that starts to form, in those canines that are bared for mere seconds before her expression gutters out, before those brows knit once more and then her lips press as if she's holding in words that are more tumultuously cruel than kind. And she adjusts with him, takes form and poise, moves with him in the water without taking her eyes from his as she listens and that expression changes again, a breath of what might have been laughter making the smile that comes in its wake linger this time. "Well," Risali answers, "make sure you block out three o'clock every day next week so that I can be thoroughly educated on porcines and their upkeep." A beat, and then dry, "Though I suspect I already know how it's done. We keep one in the office." BECAUSE SHE IS DEFINITELY COUNTING R'HYN. HE IS NOT HER HERO, JUST THE CREATOR OF SOME OF HER BABIES, AND A HORRIBLE, TERRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD STRING OF DAYS. SHE SEES YOU, VILLAIN. SHE SEES YOU AND YOUR VILLAIN MOUSTACHE. But then… but then she's looking down again, out past Stefyr, around his shoulder, fixating on a point so that she can think before she speaks again, her voice softer. "Sometimes weyrmatings are only between two people." But she doesn't elaborate, because he DIDN'T REALLY ASK, NOW DID HE?

"I would do a lot of things with you, for the asking," Stefyr's reply holds that dryness in his voice. "But I can see I'm going to have to be the one to hold the moral high ground in this friendship and put my foot down at murder." His expression has gone from bland to faux grave. He probably doesn't know he's making lofty claims of his ability to do those things if push comes to shove because, really, he has given in to almost all of her terrible ideas without the slightest hesitation. His movements are careful in the water because even though this pool would be a convenient place to just leave a body, he'd probably prefer it not be his body that ruins one of the Weyr's best make out spots. He might think about not rewarding her jibe at R'hyn at all, but instead, he lifts his brows, "If that's so, then you're doing it wrong. Most people like to fatten up their porcines before they slaughter them." IS THAT WHY STEFYR BROUGHT 6 DOZEN CAT COOKIES TO THE OFFICE AND SHARED THEM OUT? DOES HE HAVE NEFARIOUS PLANS NO ONE CAN KNOW? One could hope that guileless face that suppresses a smile because he can't encourage this (ON PURPOSE) might hold darker secrets and villainry; but it's unlikely at best. Maybe spending time as partly R'hyn's assistant will help teach him! In the meantime, all Stefyr's got is painful innocence to fall back on for all his wound inflicting needs. His words are slow, careful. "I know some weyrmatings are just two, like marriages. But Rhody made it sound like there are other differences, too. Besides that the dragons come first for every rider." His eyes stay on her face, possibly looking for micro expressions of discomfort that he wouldn't recognize anyway. "I wanted to ask you… About yours… But it's bad timing." His lower lip is captured by his teeth to worry on, maybe thinking better of his words once they're out, but if so, IT'S TOO LATE, STEFYR.

"No murder?" Risali breathes out, feigning shock, feigning outrage. "You think you know a guy." And then he goes and RIPS THE PROVERBIAL KNIFE RIGHT OUT OF YOUR PROVERBIAL HANDS. "This is a betrayal." Except she's smiling again — kind of, barely. "I don't know if I am going to recover from this one; the trust is definitely gone." There's a little scrunch of her nose and then a huff of breath probably meant to substitute laughter as she watches Stefyr and listens and moves. AS FOR PORCINES, WELL, "Ah, well. Lucky for me, I know somebody who I can make do just that." IT'S YOU, STEFYR. YOU'RE GOING TO FEED THE PORCINE HIS DEATH FOOD AND SHE IS GOING TO REAP THE BENEFITS OF THE SLAUGHTER. Alas, the (not so) subtle digs about R'hyn can only last for so long, because all good things must come to an end, and now they're back to this, back to weyrmatings, back to marriage, Risali back to an expression that's painful at best despite the fact that she tries her hardest force a smile through that quasi-question. "No, it's…" a beat, and then softer, "It's fine." But she thinks on Stefyr's words for just a moment, grey eyes rolling up towards the ceiling, her focus momentarily with her thoughts as she sorts through them and tries to find enough words that make sense. "They are different. People are different. But our dragons, our duty to our weyrs, they do always come first." There's a quirk of her lips, something that might have been wry caricaturing as a smile before her focus is back on Stefyr. "But at the end of the day, it really boils down to mindset. Some people think even flights are cheating, despite the fact that we don't remember them after. We have no control. And it's… well, you go slightly mad, don't you? There is a very real risk to the ones who secret themselves away in a closet somewhere, because our dragons drive us to… to the brink. And they usually end up hurting themselves — the riders, I mean, trying to get out of where they've confined themselves." But what. WHY IS THAT RELEVANT. "Some people are exclusive, understanding that flights are inevitable and don't count. And some of us…" a beat, a breath, another huff of what could be laughter, but… falls painfully short. "Some of us are more simple, I guess, and that makes it complicated. But even that varies. I don't want to cage, or possess, or own anybody. I just want them to be happy, even if I'm not always the one making them that way." A beat, and then, "So what did you want to know?" About her weyrmating, she means. Or, well. Any of it.

All joking aside, though the young man's lips did twitch more than once as the banter kept things from getting to the seriousness they now cannot avoid, Stefyr shifts his hold on Risa so it's a little less dance, and a little more hug. WHY IS THAT RELEVANT, YOU WONDER? Too bad for Risali that Stefyr sees right through her. Isn't it awesome how someone so sometimes oblivious can occasionally have insights other people might RATHER they missed? "You're worried about D'lei," he observes in a way that isn't a question. And that's why the hug. "Have you had word from him? From Garouth?" A pause, "… about him?" Failing all those more direct contacts. It's not that he hasn't heard some of the rumors or that he doesn't know some things first hand from working in the office where a lot of that information is most available (not that it is necessarily much), but he hasn't asked before, he hasn't forced the topic. He's not even really forcing it now. Stefyr is Stefyr, so he absolutely would take a silence as a bid not to talk about it and he would (for now), leave it alone. The rest might wait, because this is most important, to support his friend when this crazy shit that no amount of words or even silences can actually help with. But after a moment, and a little distance if she's ready for distance, he'll make a thoughtful rumble in his chest before saying. "Well, sort of that. I guess. I mean, Rhody said that weyrmating is kind of whatever the people involved agree that it is. So I was sort of curious, since you're one of the only weyrmated people that I might-" BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO- "-talk to about something Rhody said might be rude to ask about. How… does it work for you? I mean, it sounds like you're… not… traditionally faithful." He stresses that word because he is not dumb enough to imply that there's a lack of faith in unconventional arrangements, even if he's not sure he grasps the details of the arrangements in question.

Risali welcomes the more hug, less dance, even if for just a moment it makes her breath come a little too quick and her throat a little too tight — and not even for the fun reasons. No, Stefyr's proximity is not causing heart palpitations today (MAYBE ONE DAY, BUT NOT THIS DAY). It's more his conjuring of D'lei, of the bronzerider's state, of that absolute panic that resides in the unknown. It's a manifestation of that helpless, hopeless, agonizing emptiness that tells you you can't do this and it's too much, when words cease to make sense and your entire universe narrows down to one sound, one — "He's —" Risali forces herself to breathe, tightens her grip, wills the rush of sound in her head to stopstopstop so that she can focus on here, on know, instead of getting caught up in every single damning, 'What if.' "In and out of consciousness. But that's…" All she knows. Will he be okay in the long run? Will the plague claim him? Will he come back the same person if he survives? She. Doesn't. Know. And then she swallows down emotion, forces herself to simple breathe, makes herself get through every motion, every seemingly insignificant step to keep going forward. See? Stefyr's topic about weyrmatings is not at all unwelcome; in fact, Risali clings to it like a lifeline. The alternative is digging into weeping, jagged wounds that show now signs of healing, and this… this is significantly less painful. "Uhm," she begins, intelligently — half because her brain is trying to catch back up, to filter through words, compartmentalize thoughts. "It's… the same as any good relationship. You… you talk about things. You're honest with your feelings. I'm…" FOCUS, RISA. She closes her eyes, and she BONKS HER HEAD AGAINST STEFYR'S STERNUM, and she exhales. And then maybe she's okay. Her voice is stronger, anyway. She sounds less lost. "I was only K'vir's in the beginning, but I don't think he was ever only mine. Not emotionally. He wanted Bethari — long before I was ever in the picture, you understand? But her weyrmating didn't have room for other people in it. There was an incident once, with… with firelizards." Risali laughs, and then bites down on her lip. "I shouldn't be telling you all of this, probably. But he slept with her. He said it was because of the firelizards, but they don't have that kind of pull." Translation: Risali isn't stupid. "I had to learn a lot about myself in that moment. At first, I ran away. I guess thinking you're the consolation prize is better than knowing you're the consolation prize." A beat, and Risali tilts her head back to see Stefyr a little better. "So I realized that I loved K'vir enough to stay, and I didn't have to be the only man or woman in his life to love him." And Bethari, she belonged to L'or, anyway. "I met D'lei during my weyrlinghood. He was demoted because Garouth had been in a fight with the dragon of Monaco's weyrleader. His… person, it was her green, that they were fighting over. Anyway, we weren't supposed to happen." There's a wry pull of her lips, and then Risali stops dancing all together, curls her hands into small fists that she gentle thumps against Stefyr's chest and the utilizes to push herself away, to put a little space between them. "I was okay being second to Quinn, because I loved D'lei too. And it made me happy. K'vir and D'lei, they… reconciled their differences and came to enjoy each other too. So I guess it's… about your mindset, really. I don't think it means you love a person any less if you can't share them with other people. I don't really think it means you love them more, either. I am probably not the best example because — well, excluding flights —" THAT comes bitter, "K'vir and D'lei are the only two people I've been romantically involved with. But they had others. They have others. Not so much Kyzen now, but especially when he was younger, he didn't see any harm in mutual… pleasure?" A hint of a smile, a scrunch of her nose and then, "And I feel like it's just another form of language for D'lei. How he conveys affection. I can't say either of them loved everybody that have or are sleeping with, but I can say that the people were important enough for them to consider it." Now Risali's arms are crossing over her chest, her eyes dropping, shifting to the side, looking up. "I suppose I have Casper, too. He kisses me sometimes. I like when he kisses me, but I need a very strong connection to somebody to want to pursue…" WEYRMATING? SEX? "Is that what you're asking?"

The words, "It's going to be okay," no matter how sincerely wished for, would be uncertain at best, and harmful at worst, committing Stefyr to responsibility for an outcome he couldn't possibly control, so he doesn't say them. In fact, the blond doesn't offer any words of solace at all, just his embrace. Just the brush of lips to the top of her head to give comfort in the way his mother likely did him dealing with lesser wounds of the heart or spirit. He listens through Risali's explanations, his brow furrowing just a little at the start and then drawing a little deeper. He doesn't resist the distance she put between them, but he doesn't seem inclined to keep dancing just this moment, instead deciding to start testing the depth of the pool with his toes, probably trying not to slip off some unseen ledge into deeper water. "I'm…" He stops to think, "I'm not entirely sure what I'm asking. I mean, I've never tried a relationship. A romantic one. A sexual one. Anything like that. So saying that it's like any good relationship doesn't help me as much as I might wish." He's quiet a moment and then seems to decide to sum up what he does understand, paraphrasing it back to her. "So in your arrangement, which isn't necessarily the same as anyone else's arrangement, is that you and your partners love each other and give each other freedom to act as though you were not weyrmated, except that you would take each other into account… some? If something came up?" He sounds uncertain by the end and looks to the goldrider for correction or adjustment or whatever. Then, really the most important question, and asked a little more quietly, "Are you getting enough support from the people around you? Is there anything I can do for you?"

"You communicate, you're honest, and you cheer them on. It's the same with any friendship, really, only there's something more intimate to your connection — and more permanent. You give a little more of yourself." But then Risali's lips pull at the corner, go crooked in what might have been a real smile any other day as she drops her gaze to the water, to her feet, to the way it splashes when she lifts her foot just so. "In a sense, yes. I wouldn't stop them, and they wouldn't stop me." Risali's eyes lift back to Stefyr, and those arms across her chest press a little tighter, as if she's suddenly cold and warding off a chill that not there. But is she getting enough support? Risali hesitates, and maybe has the good grace to look ashamed when she looks away again. "I would be," she whispers, so soft she might not have spoken at all, "if I let them." And is there anything he can do for her? That gaze settles on Stefyr once more, Risali taking too long to answer, as if she is actually considering an answer beyond a threadbare, 'No.' "Stay." It's the most honest answer she has to give him. "I think the most important thing you can do for another person is just… stay." Ask for nothing, expect even less. She doesn't need words, she doesn't need reassurance, she doesn't want platitudes or empty promises. Now she's moving back, now she's VERY RUDELY standing on Stefyr's feet with her own and catching his hands — to place one back at her hips, to hold the other aloft beside them. "And dance," comes with a little more conviction, a hint of humor that fades as she breathes out her final admission: "And talk."

Stefyr could make a joke. Maybe it would even help Risali if he did, since it's plain that things are shifting to distraction over discussion, but the young man simply looks down at her as he resumes the appropriate position and replies, "I'm here." Staying. Dancing. And talking. He clears his throat as the dance resumes. "I'm not sure I understand what you mean about giving more of yourself. Most of the friendships I've had… I've given myself. All of myself that I know how to give." And maybe his apparently hellacious understanding of appropriate boundaries explains a great deal about Stefyr and his apparent indifference to physical proximity, to casual affection to anything that other people might interpret in ways that were less than platonic. To Stefyr, it's almost as though he's not sure what other option exists. Fairly, his only experience in feeling things beyond friendship was tentative and immature, even if it's of great significance to him. "What more is there to give when you love someone?" This might be rhetorical, but when blue eyes drop down to grey and he asks, simply, "What do you give? When you love someone." It's definitely a question he seems to hope she'll answer. For all that, he doesn't, not once, challenge her admission that she's not letting people support her. For that admission, he's here, too, not asking her to do differently than she is. Just here.

"I know," she answers, because it is exactly what she needs to keep herself rooted to this, chained in this moment, abolishing wayward thoughts and chilling repetition of whatifwhatifwhatif for now, until tonight, until Stefyr can't be here and Risali can't evade the persistence of vacant thought even by way of filling it with Leirith. You can't fix broken people. You can only love them until they learn how to fix themselves. So Risali listens, grey eyes riveted, her breath catching in her lungs because she needs to hear every single word he speaks, because this is important, because he is important, and suddenly she's stepping down from Stefyr's feet. Suddenly Risali is halting their dance by winding her fingers into Fyr's tunic and twisting that fabric into her fists. Grey eyes jump between blue as she steps forward, until that tiny body is pressed against his without any hint or reprieve, until every ache and pain R'hyn inflicted is roused by sheer proximity and the weyrwoman goes up in the tips of her toes. She tilts her chin up, her head back. "Kiss me," comes a little too breathless. "Here," she clarifies, pressing on finger to her lips, dragging it down bruised flesh that catches and pulls with the agonizing slow path it takes downward, the same path grey eyes take as they down Stefyr's nose, drag across his lips, evoke a sweep of her tongue in something damningly hedonistic and interrupted by the obstacle that single digit presents. "Hard. So that you can't breathe without tasting me."

Confusion is probably not the reaction Risali was expecting or going for, if she was expecting or going for anything. Stefyr blinks too-innocent eyes at Risali. She did just finish telling him about how hers is not a weyrmating arrangement that precludes partners outside of weyrmates, and probably that is still processing, but the confusion isn't about that. His eyes flick to her lips, then travel around her poor abused face, and follows her finger. He doesn't create distance. He doesn't stammer and dissemble. He does look perplexed, but what he says when he speaks is. "I don't know how." Then, "I mean literally. I've only intentionally kissed one person and it wasn't like that." Not how she's describing. BUT ALSO, "Is our friendship like that?" So maybe he does grasp boundaries as a concept, but he doesn't seem to know whether or not it's a normal kind of thing to include in a friendship. (OKAY, LISTEN. HE WAS RELATED TO EVERYONE HE GREW UP AROUND, FELL IN LOVE WITH THE FIRST GIRL HIS AGE WHO LIVED NEAR ENOUGH TO VISIT AND THEREFORE KNOW AT ALL, HE IS NOT ONLY A MISERABLE IGNORANT MESS ABOUT ROMANTIC AND SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS, HE'S NOT 100% CLEAR ON NON-FAMILY FRIENDSHIPS EITHER.) "If that's what you want…?" He'll do it for her. He'll try. OF COURSE HE WILL TRY. He cares about her and if that is what she needs… Does it even matter if he wants it or not? "What do I do?" He can probably manage to figure the kissing part out. He even obligingly brings his head closer to her level, even if he's not looking like he's about to pounce on her without more clarification. IT'S SUPER ROMANTIC, GUYS.

Is their friendship like that? Is Risali blushing? Is this real life? IS THE SKY EVEN BLUE? "First," Risali whispers, "you close your eyes." And she waits, waits for Stefyr to obey, waits until grey can no longer jump between blue because there's nothing else to see when obedience meets command. "Then you lean down, just a little more." The hands in his tunic are lifting, are sliding along his jaw, dragging thumbs along his cheeks, curving nails into his skin as she tries to achieve impossible heights on the tips of her toes and, barring the ability to sprout inches, applies the most gentle of pressure where she's cradling his face between her hands. Now Stefyr is too damn close, now she's close enough to intimate each breath, to impart the way her own hitches in collusion before — she kisses him. She leans into the press of her lips, the application of them to his forehead where she kisses him. It's a contact innocent at best, chaste at worse, a lingering skin-to-skin where her lips curve up, where she paints him with laughter and soft huffs of air in the moments it takes her to sink back onto her heels, to pat his cheeks with too small hands and then SMUSH THEM BETWEEN FINGERS, PULLING OUTWARD. "You were supposed to tell me no, Stefyr," she informs him, somber despite the (gentle) abuse of his face. But there's honest mirth in her eyes, something warm and adoring, something that, even now, manifests even more tears — though these never find fruition, never fall. "If you go around kissing every girl who asks, your life is going to get very complicated very fast." And there's a crooked smile, as she finally relents the assault on his cheeks. "You should kiss somebody because you want to, because it feels right in that moment. Only then. Otherwise, you might regret it." But that isn't the point, is it? The point is, "There's boundaries. There's certain…" a beat, an exhale as Risali shifts again, tucks herself under one of Stefyr's shoulders and sinks into his side, bringing one of his arms around her shoulders and holding at his wrist, sinking the other low around his hips as she tilts her head towards dry land. "If I said, 'Stefyr, I want you to press me up against those rocks over there until I forget my name,' — that's sex, by the way — then you should only say yes if it's something you want to do. That's more intimate than friends — even if you are friends." It's… it's complicated. That's why Risali is clearing her throat and tackling a different question instead. "You asked what I give to somebody when I love them. The answer is me. All of me. Not just my time, not just my ear, not just my adoration, but all of me." ARE YOU CATCHING HER DRIFT HERE, STEFYR? DOES SHE NEED TO SPELL IT OUT YMCA STYLE FOR YOU? BECAUSE SHE WILL. JUST A GIANT S-E-X DISASTER IN THE FORM OF ONE AWKWARDLY POISED WEYRWOMAN. "But what kind of friendship do you think we have?" Because hey. HE SAID IT.

Close his eyes he did, but the anticipatory nerves were minimal - maybe that means he doesn't want her like that. Maybe it just means he trusts her to a truly terrifying degree. Maybe this seven has just been beyond strange or he's too used to the Weyr subverting his expectations, but he doesn't hesitate to do as he's told. Nor does he seem visibly disappointed when Risali kisses his forehead. What he does say, when his eyes snap open is a only slightly bewildered, "But why would I say no to something that you wanted if it doesn't hurt m-oh." Stefyr's sometimes meager supply of wits report for duty. "I can see how that would get complicated if I went around with every girl." And that notion does coax a blush onto his cheeks. Abused cheeks. Abuse that barely seems to register in the moment. One hand lifts to rub his cheeks when she's done with them, but not more than that. Really, the flush seems to bother him more than the pinches did. He clears his throat, ducking his head and now he'll try for humor, "Even if you did say that, I hear that it's never like that the first time." And where does he get all his immense wisdom from? He grimaces. "My brother," THE ONE THAT MARRIED THE GIRL HE LOVED, "said men just don't last long, the first time, and it's a lot of awkward body parts all feeling like they're in the wrong place." A pause, "But I think one of my other brothers had a friend that he had sex with. Or, near enough." So perhaps she can see where some of his many confusions lie. He can almost certainly get instruction from the healers on the how, but the relationship parts isn't necessarily something he can learn from a book, so he will blunder on, just like this: "I'm sure your weyrmate," THE ONE NOT IN AND OUT OF CONSCIOUSNESS SOMEWHERE, "could do it better for you." The forgetting of the name thing, not that she got hung up on that, but that he did is possibly a sign that somewhere there is a place in Stefyr's brain more interested in sex and intimacy in general than completely confused kisses during goldflights might inspire. AND DID HE ACCIDENTALLY ADMIT TO HER THAT HE ISN'T SLEEPING WITH KERUTHIEN? WELL, MAYBE KERUTHIEN WILL MAINTAIN THE CONVINCING FACADE OF THEIR IMPASSIONED RENDEZ-VOUS. NO ONE CAN GET KNOCKED UP HERE. It's okay though, because that was never Stefyr's lie. "I don't really know if there are standard types of friendship. Or if friendship can be categorized that way. I haven't had enough of them to label and file them." And let's face it, with Rhodelia's excellent training, would he even be able to keep the categories straight or be able to find his points of reference again after he established them? NOPE. "I didn't… really expect our friendship," he admits, almost like that's embarrassing to him now. Now that it's here and really, so important to him. His hands move to tuck away into his pockets. IT'S A TELL. "But it's important to me. And… I don't know, maybe this sounds dumb, but since it was unexpected… I want to let it be that way. Unexpected. Whatever that brings. Good. Bad." He shrugs. HE SAYS IT NOW WITH EASE, because it's not a bad time, for him. This time. "Do you need it to be something else? Something with a label or rules?" He doesn't address, just now, what she gives her partners, but the answer certainly isn't missed, but it might just be deeper than the kind of thing he can understand in the span of a few shared moments. He might need to think on that a while.

SEE STEFYR? It makes perfectly reasonable sense, and Risali's eyebrows even come up to confirm (and reiterate) all those complicated implications. But then Risali is laughing, throwing her head back to do it — not because the situation particularly warrants this level of amusement, but because something in Risali is broken, something in her can't quite regulate emotion, and so she tips the scale too far in any one direction. And she laughs. "I wouldn't know," Risali finally breathes, smudging even more tears from her eyes. "I've only slept with Kyzen and Dash, and neither one of them can claim me as a 'first'." Or a second. Or a third. Listen. It's complicated. And FLIGHTS DON'T COUNT. But she draws in a breath as her gaze jumps to that rock and she bumps her shoulder against Stefyr's side, not answering because maybe he could, but Risali has absolutely no desire for desire. Or to really think about it, so she listens instead, because listening is easier, listening is safe. Because in those moments, she can focus on the cadence of Stefyr's voice, the delivery of words, the formation of every syllable comforting with familiar repetition, that allows her focus away from inner tumult and here, in the present. "It's important to me too, and I'm…" a beat, a hard swallow as she forces herself to continue with, "I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression. Especially while Leirith was glowing. I… didn't — don't — have complete control of my faculties in those moments." But does she need them to be something else? Does she need labels, does she need rules? It takes a long moment, but Risali whispers, "No," as her gaze drops to her feet. "But Stefyr," and now those grey eyes are jumping back to blue, holding as she rubs at one of her arms and hesitates a moment, two, three, four, "I —" You what, Risali? "Nevermind." And she's stepping away from him again, towards the shore, towards where she abandoned her boots and Stefyr abandoned his. "Did you have more questions?" Because it's not a dismissal, but certainly a redirection of previous intent.

"Neither would I," Stefyr contributes wryly, of not knowing, though there's nothing in his manner to indicate that he's jonesing to join the initiated few. He doesn't offer to let her know if he does find out though, so maybe he has some deep buried boundaries, or maybe it just doesn't occur to him to offer that theoretical one-day insight. The big blond reaches for her, following her toward the shore, but really just for a light touch to her shoulder. "Don't worry about it, Risa. I'm as fine as I was before the flight. Or would be if I can get Evangeline to stop sending me glittery apology cards." He gives her a long, pointed look. She knows the ones. The ones he's been bringing to her and slipping her with those not-at-all-subtle looks in R'hyn's direction. Since they say things to the effect of, "Sorry I bit you," it's really fair that the big blond thinks these are greusable creations, even if Risali didn't take the time to make them with her own hands. "I will have other questions. Another time. Some other time. I need to… think." It sounds really hard. But at least Stefyr seems to mean that very sincerely. "Thank you for answering. It helps me." Does it? It might just make him more confused, but he's grateful to have more puzzle pieces donated in hopes that, one day, the picture will start to come clear. He's ready then to step out of the pool, do a little dance on the rock to shake off the worst of the water from his legs before picking up his boots, prepared to walk barefoot for a little while - at least as long as it takes his legs to mostly dry before donning the second set of boots he's owned since arriving here, the one's he's determined not to ruin. (TALONS OFF, LEIRITH.) Risa can have his arm again, if she likes, though he's not opposed to a sprint if that's the spirit that moves his companion. Where she leads, he'll trustingly follow.

Listen. R'HYN BIT HER TOO, STEFYR. THIS WHOLE THING REEKS OF MASCULINE BIAS. Just kidding (about the bias; R'hyn REALLY DID BITE HER. A LOT). Risali meets that gaze with a muted smile, a press of her lips, a scrunch of her nose, and then she dips her head. "You're welcome." BECAUSE HE IS. And then absolutely Risali is hooking her arm back through Stefyr's, and this time she leads him back to the candidate barracks — mostly so that she can feed him a lie about going to take a bath or going straight home when really she's just going to head back to the office, crawl under her desk, and probably spend another night getting not nearly enough sleep, and working herself to the bone. THIS IS PERFECTLY HEALTHY. DON'T EVEN WORRY ABOUT IT. SHE'S GOT THIS.

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