Xanadu Weyr - Training Grounds
A wide, grassy expanse, nestled into the gentle bowl shape where something's taken a bite out of the mountain. It's high above the level of the beach, and there's a good eastern view of the lake and a long path leading down to that sandy shore. Granite cliffs surround it on the other sides.

While much of the grounds are left in their natural state, one area has been trampled and trodden by enough feet that the grass struggles to grow. A running track circles a set of equipment - straw dummies with wooden frames, obstacles of various sizes and shapes, and targets for flaming, archery, and whatever else.

There's a dragon-sized opening to the south that leads to the cavernous weyrling barracks, and a smaller tunnel to the northeast - large enough for dragons newly emerged from the sands, but quickly outgrown by hatchlings who are then forced to take the long way around - at least, until they learn to spread their wings and fly. Between them in both position and size, a jagged crack in the stone leads to a dim cave with the sound of water.

Afternoon frequently sees candidates in lessons, either from weyrling staff or Harpers or … well, anyone the Weyr feels the candidates need to learn from. Sometimes, this time frame can even be used for one-on-one instruction, which is just what Stefyr has requested of Ila'den. The daily sparring sessions with Jaynas at dawn are progressing, those muscle memories learning with repetition, but it's time to advance the training again, and although small groups work, today Stefyr wants to be Ila'den's entire focus in so much as any candidate ever is. (WHY, STEFYR, WHY. WHY WOULD YOU WANT THAT.) He waits for the assistant weyrlingmaster in the part of the training ground that is more dirt than grass, dressed in light-weight shorts, tank top and boots, none of which impede his movement. He stretches while he waits, movements subdued but dutifully precise as an aid to avoid injury in a time when any kind of debilitating injury would be devastating for a man who wants to be on those sands when the eggs crack.

WHY, STEFYR, WOULD YOU WANT THAT INDEED. But here Ila'den comes, the soft protest of leathers fighting to restrain muscle as he moves, the hushed sound of booted feet crossing dirt with a hint of heaviness every second step. And here he is, long hair pulled out of his face and tied behind his head in a half-ponytail, eye patch intact, sporting clothes that will probably do nothing but hinder his ability to move because he looks like he's about to make a jump between. Yes, even now. Even in the throes of Xanadu's summer, even while Rukbat persists in her reign high above, Ila'den is dressed head-to-toe in his leathers. He's also in possession of his second steaming mug of Klah for the day, all of which paints the picture of a man who is significantly less prepared to be here than what he probably should be. "You should jump," comes husky on his rasp. "Just…" And now Ila'den is leveling his hand flat extended just slightly before him, bringing Klah to his lips so he can watch Stefyr from around the rim of it while he makes KANGAROO UP AND DOWNS with his hand. "Like this," comes around a swallow. "It will help." It won't.

LISTEN, ILA. STEFYR HAS BROTHERS, OKAY? Now maybe none of them are as raspy-growly as you, and maybe they all have both their eyes, and maybe, just maybe, none of them would be caught short of dead in that much leather in the middle of Xanadu summer, but one thing they have going for them is the repetition of getting Stefyr to do stupid looking things just because he was youngest and would. BUT YOU KNOW WHAT, ILA? Stefyr doesn't mind looking like a fool. So there he goes, "Like this?" Hop hop hoppity hop. HAPPY NOW, ILA? The big blond looks utterly ridiculous and is not the least self-conscious about it. No, he throws himself into it with the whole-hearted way he does so many things. He stops to roll his neck and then shoulders and then looks at Ila as if maybe he has no clue what he just indulged (ONLY HE DOES, ILA. HE DOES, this time). "Thank you for taking the time." He doesn't care if it's actually Ila'den's job to sometime entertain requests from the kiddies who plague his work life, he'll still verbalize the gratitude he feels, though he's polite enough to keep that feely shit short here, now. He doesn't look like he's in any kind of hurry to get started, even with his obvious preparation. "I-" it's not a hesitation, but it is a shift in the young man's expression that turns lips just slightly down at the edges and draws brows closer together a fraction of an inch, "-have some questions, while we work." So at least he's not darkening Ila's door or desk chairs on a separate occasion; all the little birds can get the same stone.

"Mmm," is Ila'den's answer as he watches Stefyr indulge his whim — and doesn't even have the grace to look repentant about it. "Now try it one-legged." Ila's lips pull at the corners, a slow, momentary baring of teeth that precedes a soft rasp of husky laughter. It's short lived, lingering in that grey eye where it stays fixed, never even deigning to drop low enough to partake of quasi-humiliation. It's that offer of gratitude that earns Stefyr a soft rumble of sound from Ila's throat, an affirmation of receipt that's as much an acknowledgment as it is dismissive and not so important because important is what the bronzerider is bearing witness to now: that slight shift in expression, that admittance of having questions he intends to answer if only because Stefyr has worked up the gumption to ask. But not until he first takes another long sip of that Klah, and then moves with measured steps, at ease when he sets that mug down on the ground and shrugs out of his jacket. Folded, discarded. Ila's rolling up long-sleeves to his elbows, baring the least startling, but no-less ugly mapwork of scars on skin there: friction burns on his wrists, markings that crawl with varying severity toward biceps. They're all old wounds, of course, and still not nearly as important as, "Ask first." It's another raspy growl as Ila'den comes to a standstill before Stefyr, as he looks up from rolling sleeves and raises his brow, grey eye fixing on Stefyr's face. Well? He's waiting.

It's not that Stefyr didn't see Ila's scars the last time that the man helped Jaynas and himself through some of their sparring exercises, it's just that the last time Ila'den's scars weren't relevant. They were only part of what made up the man who was the relevant part then. Now, the scars draw the eyes of the young (so young seeming, suddenly) man, and they linger. It's rude, probably, but right now that's also not relevant (to Stefyr, anyway). His Adam's apple bobs and though he probably would have kept on following the older bronzerider's instructions, it may be that the humor it might have afforded the situation is lost in the wake of the expression that occupies the young man's face. He's serious, he's calm, he's looking away from the scars and up to Ila's face and with the greatest sobriety of demeanor he's ever displayed since arriving at the Weyr, he asks the big question: "What physical threats or dangers do I need to be prepared to deal with as a dragonrider?" Because, if you want to ask about violence and defense, you ask the damned expert. "And what else do I need to be learning to be as prepared as I can be?" The words string together so simply, but mean so much, and the way that the young man is standing, weight settled in a grounded stance, shoulders down and back, he's as ready as one can be to listen to whatever answers Ila'den will offer.

Of course Ila'den notices the way that Stefyr's eyes track scars, the somber, serious calm with which the younger man brings his gaze up to meet Ila'den's. And it's there, in Ila'den's attention, for a fraction of a heartbeat of a second — 'Don't.' But don't what? Tension coils tight in a body too big, too strong, that grey eye keeps steady and… tensity eases away, sends Ila'den's eyes down to the littering of damning evidence he will never be able to scrub away from his skin. What physical threats or dangers does Stefyr need to be prepared to deal with as a dragonrider? "That depends," Ila'den rasps, "on what you decide to do as a dragonrider." And now there's a roll of Ila'den's shoulders, a release of yet-more dissonance as he turns palms up, flat, and raises them level between himself and Stefyr. "If you work transport, maybe you'll damage a haul and get your marks halved until the Weyr regains lost profit. Maybe you work search and rescue, where the sea and the land are equally formidable." And here, here Ila'den's eyes drop to the damage marring his own skin, to the ugly touch of violence etched forever upon it. "Do not look to me as an example of what it is that a dragonrider might become." How many has he walked among, after all, and found as afflicted as Ila'den? "You are probably more safe after you've become a dragonrider than you are before. What is a renegade, after all, in the jaws of one furious bronze, or gold, or brown, or green except for dead?" Now Ila'den brings one hand over the other, drags his thumb across his wrist, pulls his attention away from brutal reminder. "Most of your danger will be in jumping between. Too many people lose focus and do not come out from the other side. But this — this was an aberration." And now that thumb is dragging up his arm, tracing a spattering of other scars, "And most of these," a heartbeat, and then his arms are dropping, one hand gathering in the fabric tucked away in leather pants, pulling it free and then pressing flat, palm and fingers, against his own stomach, hooking his thumb in material so that it drags up just slightly to reveal more marks, "and these were precedent to my impression." Not the result of. But he lets what little of his shirt came up drop again, the true extent of horrors still obscured. "So listen. Pay attention. Hear. See. And learn how to defend yourself, in case aberrations find you too."

Stefyr listens fiercely. His expression is a kind of hard that no one at Xanadu has yet witnessed. There's the hint of a much more serious young man than is the one usually grinning and doing the average sort of attentive listening just barely out of sight within. Who can say if such solemnity will become a trend in later turns, for now, it's here. Each breath is careful but not the focus of the man. His eyes follow where Ila'den shows him things and ugly though they are, Stefyr never falters. In point of fact, this young man didn't ask about the scars; the scars are only one part of why the blond is asking this teacher out of any other he could have chosen. "Teach me." It's a demand. It's a quiet demand, but even his, "Please," added a beat too late doesn't make it less insistent. He wants to learn. Will Ila'den consent to teach?

Low, rumbling laughter pulls from the assistant weyrlingmaster, is born on a breath and cut off just as abruptly. "Teach you what, Stefyr?" the former renegade asks — not in a bid to be dismissive, not because he finds humor in the asking, but because Ila'den isn't a man made of torrid greys (in so much as he is), but blacks and whites. There are no half-measures, no ambiguous truths, no vague allusions to understanding. "Teach you to be a dragonrider? Teach you to fight?" There is no change in his expression, no inflection of tone, nothing to denote mood or gauge thoughts as that eye rakes from booted feet up, up, up, assessing with cool calculation until grey is on blue. "What is it that you are asking me to do." Not a question, a statement: be clear, be concise, but sure. He'll wait.

Ila'den is not made to wait long, not really. Stefyr might sometimes have trouble articulating just what he wants to say, but here, now, there's a decisive man and his words flow, calm and certain: "Teach me how to pay attention to the important things. To hear the parts that might warn me, to see what can be seen in the nick of time, or well before." Beat. "Teach me to sift the sound from the noise, the scenery from the focus." It's not about fighting, not really. Maybe that's the smallest piece in the same way that sex is the smallest piece of what any caring relationship is really about. "I know a lot of that are things I have to practice to know, but teach me… to open my eyes." He looks a little frustrated now, but only because the words are suddenly a struggle, and that frustration is there in his face when he looks at Ila'den now. "I'm asking you because you will tell me the truth about things even if it's ugly or hateful. I'm asking you because you might not know how to teach what you know, what you earned through blood and pain, but if I can learn anything that will help me be a better man, I want to do that." His jaw closes and is tense with unsaid words, words that he doesn't need to say because they don't help; he's already explained the very best way he has. The need is the fierce thing now, and it burns in those blue eyes.

Ila'den watches, listens. That grey eye tracks blue throughout every spoken word, with every admittance endured in patient silence. Ila is attentive to a fault, too intense with the absolution of his regard — a predator sighting prey. There's something wry in the way Ila'den's lips pull to one side, something self-deprecating in the exhale of what might have been laughter except that it doesn't carry, doesn't grow, doesn't soften the edge bared in expression. "Do you know why I weyrmated R'hyn, Stefyr?" Because that's not a secret, surely. The silver band on his left ring-finger can't have been missed in every encounter, every meeting, every introduction to self-defense, not when he's using one thumb to twist it 'round aforementioned appendage now. "It's not because I'm a good man. It's not because I'm a better man. Monsters aren't men, Stefyr. They are not good, or decent, or better. They're only ever monsters." Hands flex, for just a moment, as if the bronzerider is shedding tension through the tips of his fingers. "R'hyn can teach you how to be a better man." Ila'den has absolute faith in that. "I can't."

Prey. Stefyr is prey. He's young, he's often naive. He's frequently unguarded and occasionally downright vulnerable. He's not a hardened man by time or experience. Not yet. And yet. Did Ila expect his prey to make the real attempt to meet him on his own terms? Well, here it is: "Then teach me to be a better monster because that will make me a better man. Some monsters protect good men. Like R'hyn." At least they can completely agree on that score. "Maybe I can walk a line half way." He won't know until he tries. There's no possibility that Stefyr will cease learning from R'hyn, whose name conjured added layers and depth to the fierce emotions still in his eyes. "The good people in the world need monsters to do the things the good people can't. Why not me?" Why can't he be one of the ones who protects? NEver mistake his motive for anything less than what a good person would have because it would take some pretty drastic fall for Stefyr to end up ranked among the monsters. "Monster. Man. It doesn't make what I want you to teach me any less important. Right now, I'm in your weyrmate's office. I'm in your daughter's office. I would put myself between either one of them and whatever came through that door to hurt them without a second thought, but, shardit, I want to be more than just a useless body someone goes through to get to them." Now, what nightmares have been growing in Stefyr's imagination to make him think that's anything like a realistic possibility and who has been seeding those scary things is anyone's guess, but here we are and this is what we get to deal with. "Help me be useful to them."

Stefyr is… many complicated things, many 'what ifs' poised on the precipice of 'what is' and Ila'den, who is a man hardened by both time and experience alike, knows monsters with painstaking intimacy. Stefyr is not a monster — not yet. Ila'den knows it because like calls to like, angry ugly souls twist and conspire and collude and make even more ugliness in a world that's already ugly enough. Ila'den knows because Ila'den is a monster. And while he knows that the eager candidate before him can't possibly understand what it means to bear that mark, he listens. Ila'den hears that thirst, understands that fierce need to be stronger, to be something or someone that can protect the people most important to him and that — "If you think that either Risali or R'hyn needs protection," comes that rasping growl, a hint of burr curling words where once it was void, hitting hard on 'R's' that roll, "Then you must not know Risali or R'hyn very well." And there is so much and too little in the silence that follows, in the way that Ila'den watches Stefyr, in the things he doesn't say. He doesn't remind Stefyr that monsters can't be good men, he doesn't tell Stefyr that being a monster doesn't make you stronger, it only makes you a monster. He doesn't delve further into self-deprecation, or what those black-marks look like forever embedded in a human soul. He merely states the obvious: "If you knew what being a monster meant, you wouldn't ask me." And then softer: "Choose better. Expect better. Be better. The world already has enough monsters." But hey, Ila'den hasn't walked away yet, and he hasn't said no.

And yet… he persists. There's frustration in those features, but it isn't frustration with Ila'den, it's with being only part way along this journey to find the words that will express what's deep and deeper in himself. And yet, he is undaunted by the answers he's receiving. He's listening, his eyes are locked on Ila'den's, and though his jaw works in more stress release valve, he is not running. He is not shying. He is standing right here, grounded, hearing Ila, internalizing on the spot, which is hard for him, Ila, it's hard. BUT HE'S DOING IT. "It's not about whether or not they need my protection," even if that is the avenue Stefyr thought might get through to this man the most. "I. need." The words are punctuated singly, so important they each get their own moment. "To be able." Able to protect. Able to help. It's sad that it's really the same struggle he's been having all along: he's not enough; he doesn't feel like enough. But it drives him. "They're important." TO HIM. Sure, yeah, they're important generally, but Stefyr's dedication goes beyond an assistant to his bosses. There's a flicker of something in the young man's expression, something that passes without being spoken to this man. He's silent one beat, two, then explaining, but thankfully briefly: "I wouldn't know the danger is there until it guts me. Not if it wears a person's face." It's another confession. Even if no one else has figured out Stefyr's role in the movie that would be XANADU WEYR, this man has and it's one with a curiously well-intentioned but entirely expendable Red Shirt. "Teach me so I have a fighting chance. Aberrations happen." He does not need to tell Ila'den this, but maybe in this moment, just this one, hearing it stated with weight, makes some kind of difference, to Stefyr if not Ila'den. "I need to be able to see, and understand what I'm seeing. I need to not freeze if an aberration comes my way. I can't fail the people I care about. I can't fail myself." Even if he really can, would, given the Stefyr that is. "Can you help me?" It's one question, the intended question. Then, "Will you?" and though there's pause enough between one question and the next, it's not enough to actually answer in. PUT UP OR SHUT UP, ILA.

Low-pitched, husky laughter rumbles from Ila'den's chest, cut off by an abrupt, "Aye," in agreement to the stated importance of R'hyn and Risali. But agreement is not an interjection; the bronzerider's opinion is not delivered, felled by Stefyr's continuity — or perhaps felled by Ila'den's unwillingness to really talk. But he does listen, that grey eye jumping between blue as if Ila might find hidden subtext within. Maybe he does. Maybe he doesn't. If he found anything in that minutiae of expression unexpressed, he doesn't comment on it. "Maybe you got the wrong impression," Ila'den rasps, tone never changing, inflection even, measured, calm, "from spending time in better company." R'hyn's. Risali's. "And I get it. R'hyn would take on the world if he could, sacrifice every piece of himself to save everybody else." But Ila'den doesn't elaborate; he dismisses the wisp of incomplete thought with the rise and wave of one of his hands — because those thoughts, those memories, those insights to R'hyn belong to him. "It's good that R'hyn has time for you at his heels, feelings to spare." One more half-step brings Ila'den just a little closer, diminishes minute space, leaves a surfeit of it between too-big bodies but somehow not enough. "I don't. I don't want to save you. I don't want to make you better." And for all that his words are caustically acerbic, Ila'den sounds bored. So will he help Stefyr? Debatable. But Ila'den's words of, "I will humor you. Hit me," aren't a dismissal. One more half-step, one more bridge in this gap that is no less substantial because of it, even as it dwindles. "Consider it your first lesson." And from the sounds of it, it might be his last — though Ila'den hasn't walked away yet.

Hit him? Maybe with words. Stefyr's in Ila's face in the breath after the man finishes speaking, anger finally sparking to flame in his expression: "If you don't want to help make us better, then why the fuck are you an assistant weyrlingmaster?" His hands are clenched, but they're at his sides. Does he want to hit Ila? Only maybe. The rage is a righteous rage, but an impotent one.

So it's Stefyr whose step eats up separation, and Ila'den doesn't yield; there's no reaction at all, if we're being honest. Those muscles do not tense, his posture remains at ease — it's an insult in and of itself, a clear indication that he finds no real threat in Stefyr's sudden spark of temper. A press of lips travels outward, pushes up one corner in not quite a smirk, but the very beginnings of one, a tick of amusement that precedes the arch of one brow. "Ahh," he says, "so suddenly this is about my being an assistant weyrlingmaster and not — how did you put it — me being the one who will tell you the truth about things, even if they're ugly or hateful. This is now about your white knot and how it somehow entitles you to what I have earned through my blood, and my pain." There — there it is, a ripple of something going icy in Ila'den's gaze, a glimmer, perhaps, of what it is that drew a dragon's mind so barren with winter to him. "My job is to keep you alive if — if — you find a dragon. I do not get paid to be your friend; it is not my job to help you navigate your personal life or your delicate fucking feelings. So," grey holds to blue, doesn't waver as Ila'den's voice gets quieter. "Go cry to R'hyn about how terrible I am at my job and maybe you'll get lucky. Maybe he'll fire me." AND EVERYBODY CAN HAVE A PARTY BECAUSE THEY VANQUISHED THE BIG BAD WOLF. "Now if your intention was to step into my fucking space as an intimidation tactic, follow through and hit me. Or walk away. I don't care what you do at this point, as long as you stop wasting my fucking time."

It's not currently an option to throw up his hands or to moosh Ila'den's face (no matter how much the player wishes it was that moment). So, Stefyr bursts into laughter, helpless laughter that is really too emotionally complex to examine without scrolling the screen repeatedly, and the blond rocks back on his heels. "Intention?!" More half hysterical laughter (and no, Stefyr doesn't care that you don't care, Ila), "It is fucking hilarious that you think I have anything more than dumbass instinct and impulse fuelling anything I do. Anything." And then the blond is laughing so hard that it brings him to his knees, and finally to his rump. If Ila'den is even still there when he's done, Stefyr will turn his face up to the older man, any feeling bled out through that noise and his voice quiet. "It's never one or the other. It's always about the whole of the man, Ila'den. You are who you are and who you are wears that knot and that knot means you're available to stupid shits like me who can't find their way out of room made of glass doors. So we ask. You don't want to get asked to use what makes you who you are, shitty experience and all, to help us help ourselves to something better, or at least something less abhorrent to you, then you talk to R'hyn and hand him back the knot. Candidates are in your barracks. You want me to wait until I have a lifemate before I ask for help learning how to keep myself alive?" Because isn't that what all this boils down to? Himself and anyone he cares about? "Fine. You want me to never get the shot? Take my knot. You want me not to ask you? Fine." Go. He doesn't say that but there's a clear dismissal in the hand that waves in the air to say WHATEVER YOU WANT, ILA. You want him to stop wasting your time? Stop wasting his, then.

And Ila'den endures. There is no change in his expression, no inclination towards the sympathetic, no wince or pull of lips, no tick of jaw to give away any real thought. Ila'den watches Stefyr laugh and laugh and laugh, the bronzerider remaining idle to spectate as the younger man falls to his knees, as whatever emotion feeding laughter persists. Ila'den keeps that grey eye trained on blue, adopts an attentive kind of stillness, a patience in that too-big form as he waits. And he waits. And he endures. But more than that: he listens. He hears the tumult that maybe can't be defined outside of Stefyr's self-knowledge, that maybe Ila gave occasion to rise, and he remains. Ila'den is a fixed point, a steady calm in the wake of a storm. It's not until well after that dismissive wave of hand that Ila'den speaks. "Well," comes husky, pitched low. "It sounds like you've got everything figured out." And into that space Ila'den moves, bending his knees to sink into a crouch, forearms coming to rest over his thighs, hands dipping into that vacancy between parted legs, wrists limp. "What I want," comes gentle — which is an odd word to define a voice whose very quality is so lacking in that one redeeming thing, "is for you to realize that you are important too." And there is an extended pause, a long, heavy silence that stretches, putting a different kind of distance between candidate and assistant weyrlingmaster. "Before you do something irrevocably stupid."

There's a particularly loud bark of laughter among the renewed helpless, hysterical laughter to meet Ila'den's first words. STEFYR SNOW KNOWS NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHING. There are things that break men and things that break men. The things that break them are never the gentle things, the kind things, the real thing, because that peculiar tone with those particular words make laughter turn to hiccuping sobs. Don't try that coat trick, Ila. Stefyr needs to be in the world for this one. Ila can witness, if he stays, the young man's face turning toward the overcast sky as tears roll down the strong lines of his face, his eyes turning that strange variety of bright, his blue eyes bluer still. His arms come around his knees, loosely holding semi-splayed long limbs, creating a hollow that his head tips toward as his shoulders slowly still. He's whispering. It's for himself, to himself, but the witness who has seen so much can surely see this, too. "I trust them. Shut up. Shut up." Words so fierce, heart so feeble. It takes him some moments to quiet, to go perfectly still. Then, gathered, he gets to his feet, hands rubbing away salty evidence of this breaking point. When he looks at Ila'den, his expression is less, and it's so much more. "Thank you." Whatever that was, maybe he needed it. "Please. Will you teach me to fight?"

Don't worry, Stefyr. Ila'den's jacket is all the way over there anyway — but that doesn't mean that he's going to bear witness to Stefyr's moment of… humanity. Blue eyes turn toward overcast skies and grey follows suit, affording the candidate what little privacy he can to spare him the indignity of an outsider's observance. It's the one time he fails to be attentive, the one instance in which Ila'den grants a respite from relentless focus. And if — if — Ila'den hears meaning in words that aren't meant for him, he does not comment on it. He doesn't look to Stefyr, he doesn't acknowledge that vocalization of self-doubt — or the defiance of it. It's not until Stefyr is addressing him, is inviting him back into the moment with words of gratitude that Ila'den's hyper-vigilance returns. "Isn't that what I've been doing all along?" Teaching him to fight, he means. And slowly Ila rises, an unraveling of that too big body as it comes into its full height, no space afforded Stefyr in what he — they — diminished with previous action. And for a very long moment, too long of a moment, Ila'den considers Stefyr, assesses whatever it is that he's seeing in this moment with an observation nigh on keen. "I will teach you," Ila'den rasps, "how to defend yourself." Caveat. "With the understanding that the moment I hear you've gone looking for trouble, I will feed you to the fucking wilds myself." There is no, 'do you understand?' Because deference or defiance changes nothing of the outcome.

Ila'den might as well have broken into a song and dance routine. The stunned look on the young man's face as he suddenly sees what should have been obvious to anyone with sense. After that too-wide moment of staring at the bronzerider, that revealing moment that tells Ila'den everything he needs to know about what a poor piece of clay trying to become something in front of him, as if the rest of this hadn't furnished him with that evidence already. The dip of Stefyr's head is less confirmation than it is a kind of acknowledgement. It might be for the lesson taught in these moments, maybe for the the way Ila's even uncaring willingness provides him enough to start dropping markers in the mire of his soul to find a way— not back but to somewhere new, somewhere. "I'm ready," is truth insofar as it goes. He thinks he's ready. Physically, he probably is. Mentally, his mind must be reeling, but just perhaps exertion of the physical, focus on this thing that is so much easier to address and to learn than any of the other things weighing on him is just what he needs to exhaust him sufficiently to get sleep tonight, when nightmares and noises haunt the barracks.

A better man wouldn't have drawn attention to the state of expression on Stefyr's face. Ila'den is not a better man — and so he laughs, a low, husky rumble of sound that starts in his chest and pulls at his lips and builds until it's cut off abruptly, left to linger only in the sideways pull of his lips and the curve baring hints of teeth. "Now he gets it." And there's a press of thumb to that silver band around his ring finger again, a twist of visual branding as Ila'den's eyes go faraway like he's suddenly not in this moment. Because he's not. Because he's setting Teimyrth to work imprinting that 'ah-ha' moment into Xermiltoth's mind so that Xermi can pass it on to R'hyn. But that doesn't mean he's not listening; suddenly his attention snaps back like a rubber band, and 'I'm ready,' is greeted with another slow, damn-near predatory smile. "Good," comes hard on a rasp, his answer to Stefyr as Ila'den takes one step back, rolls his shoulders, his neck. "Then fucking hit me."

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