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Old May 23 2007, 12:37 AM   #4
HarperBrandy
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Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: California
Gender: F
Default Chapter 3: Saturated Loneliness

Author’s Note: Sorry for the wait! After this, the plot is going to move along a little more quickly. Originally, the last chapter and this one were all supposed to be the same, but that would have ended up way too long!

Thank you for your reviews. I really, really enjoyed them. And as always, if you have any criticism to offer then don’t feel shy. And a HUGE thank you to both Laurie and Eminempern who helped me out with the grammar and spelling and things that simply didn’t make sense. Thank you!!1!!!one!1!!!



Chapter 3:
Saturated Loneliness


*******








The Weyrlingmaster wishes to see you.


Palomath’s soft warning made Angeli frown and push back from her desk. “What, now? I’m drowning under this hidework, dear…” Actually, she had been staring at the same sheet of hide - another dire report from the Headwoman - for the last ten minutes. Phasha was convinced that unless the Weyr had a better supply of garlic on hand the entire population would sicken and die by month’s end.

Add that request to the dozens of others this Weyr needed, but couldn’t have. Traditionally, during a Pass the generosity of Pern’s Hold’s streamed into the Weyr, but it was apparent that Holder greed knew no bounds. Oh, they had a dozen convenient excuses. Harvests were not large enough to have much spare. Trade was choked off by the quarantine. It took longer to make items that had multiple parts, such as flame throwers.

So many sharding excuses. Fingers were pointed everywhere but where they really belonged. If any of them had any honor at all, like her father, they would be doing their part for Weyr. Benden never lacked in their tithes…

But nothing ever got done. Nothing. And the hides kept on piling up…

Maybe she could use a break, after all.

“Tell him he’s free to come in.”

Even though the Weyrlingmaster had asked permission though his dragon, he still knocked on the door to announce his presence before opening it. Angeli nodded to him and offered him a seat, not looking him straight in the face, as always. The sight of his one gray blind eye never failed to make her feel a little queasy.

“Trying to get some work done, before the Fall, eh?” If the Weyrlingmaster ever noticed her reluctance to look at him, he never mentioned it. “Good for the old nerves?”

His tone was cordial, but the words made Angeli scowl. “We won’t be flying Fall with the Weyr this time. The Healers,” and her scowl deepened, “feel that the stitches on her neck are still too new to risk pulling them out while dodging Thread.”

“She is one out of only two golds we have. I don’t blame them for being careful. Not one bit.” The Weyrlingmaster paused, “Actually, it was about Threadfall that I came here. I tried to go to Gh’stin, but Lelioth tells me he’s not in the Weyr?”

There was a question in his tone, but Angeli didn’t feel compelled to answer it. D’en knew very well that Gh’stin had privileges to leave the Weyr to conduct business with the holders, as did she. As Weyrleaders, they were the only ones who did although she usually only left to visit her family in Benden. After all, someone had to conduct the business of receiving tithes from the Holders and hear their petty grievances. She didn’t know or care what Gh’stin was doing on this trip, but it wasn’t any of D’en’s business to be asking either.

“Until he gets back, I’m in charge. What do you need?”

D’en straightened his shoulders, “Well then Weyrwoman I regret to inform you that my Weyrlings will not be able to attend this Fall either. I have drilled them as ordered, but they are not ready.”

Angeli stared at him for a long moment then flicked her fingers, dismissing the Weyrlingmaster’s words, “Nonsense. You’re just nervous before the fall. I know you lost T’bayek’s dragon under your command, but you can’t blame yourself for that. Rest assured D’en. Palomath and I have full faith in your abilities.”

“This has nothing to do with Zhemyth. What happened was… was just an accident.” D’en shook his head and his one eye went a little unfocused as he relived that moment. Then again, the man had been strapped to T’bayek when it happened. “It was no one’s fault. These Weyrlings are too green, Angeli. If you and Palomath trust me to train them, then trust me on this. It will be a bloodbath up there if I let them fly fall today.”

“We need their wings, D’en.”

“What we need are well-trained adults. Not kids on half-grown dragonets making a mess of things up there!” he snapped, in what was coming very close to an insolent tone.

Angeli narrowed her eyes, glaring at him until he started to squirm around in his seat. She didn’t like the position he was putting her in. Gh’stin should be the one to handle the gruff Weyrlingmaster. He would know the right things to say, because right now D’en’s argument seemed too rational and sane. He would know how the Weyrlings would handle Threadfall, wouldn’t he? Or was he just making excuses for his own shortcomings? “Fine,” she said shortly, reaching over to shuffle the hides in front of her, “You have one more sevenday to train them up. Do it well, D’en or by the first egg there will be another Weyrlingmaster for Clea’s clutch.” The fighting wings would have to make up the lack, somehow.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She waved her hand in an impatient dismissal, and turned away to look at some of the hides, not in the mood to have him in her sight anymore. Only when she heard the creak of her office door closing did she let out a long disgusted sigh.

Gh’stin, where are you? she thought. The tithes can wait. I need you here.

Ozycath does not answer me. Palomath replied, concern tingeing her mental tone. He is sad about something, but will not tell me what.

“Those sharding Holders, I expect.” Angeli wanted to throw something - preferably something breakable - but held back the urge. If those Holders were lobbying to cut back on tithes again… Well, if anyone could handle it, Gh’stin could.

It was a shame she would have such bad news waiting for her hard working Weyrmate when he got back.


*******





Tobay woke up, startled to find himself in a completely unfamiliar room. He called out mentally to Zhemyth… only to find nothing where his dragon should have been. Hearing no answer, receiving no thought from his dragon for the first time sent a shock that reverberated down his spine, making him gasp and sit up.

Immediately, he tried to deny what his mind and the aching emptiness was telling him… No, no, no… Zhemyth cant’t be gone. He can’t be gone! … Oh please, come back… Come back…

The silent plea went on and on without any answer. There wouldn’t be an answer, not now, not ever. The knowledge that Zhemyth was lost from him forever set him teetering dangerously on the thin line between grief and insane denial.

No.. no! Come back… Please, Zhemyth…Come back…


Even as he silently called out, some small still undamaged part of Tobay struggled to not slip back into his own mind and back to the half-alive, half-dead state where he had existed for the past few days. It was the fighter in him, the part that kept him hopeful that things would change when he was a holder’s lad, the part that couldn’t let him shut up when there was an opinion aching to be spit out… it was the part that told him that while he was lost in his own mind in the infirmary, he hadn’t felt any better than he did now. In fact, with nothing to distract his mind with, it had been worse… so much worse…

Turning around, he hugged one of the pillows to his chest, gripping the thing with white-knuckle strength as if he was holding onto his own sanity. In many ways, he was.

He was alone… all alone.

A friendly chirp sounded in his ear, and a pinprick of claws gently digging into his back let him know that at least he wasn’t alone in this room, even if he was in his mind. It was a minor comfort, but he would take whatever he could. Tobay exhaled a breath he wasn’t aware he had been holding and forced himself to relax, muscle by muscle. He wasn’t alone in the room. The fire lizard was there, with him… he wasn’t alone…

Petrey crooned in encouragement, crawling around him to stick his muzzle right in front of Tobay’s face. Hesitantly, the dragonless man reached out to scratch the brown’s eye ridges. It seemed to be what the creature wanted.

The simple action of voluntary movement sparked the memories of the night before, and suddenly Tobay remembered that it was Caelin who had brought him into this room in the first place. Did this room belong to him? It did seem rather homely, but still to large to be able to belong to someone of his minor rank.

“Where’s Caelin?” he asked the fire lizard, his voice coming out as more of a croak than anything else. Despite last night’s meal, his throat was parched with lack of water.

But the brown was not bonded to him, and simply crooned again, much more interested in enjoying his scratch than answering.

He need not have worried. A moment later there was a single knock on the door and Caelin elbowed it open while holding a tray stacked with food and drink. He paused at the entrance, a smile lighting up his features when he saw that Tobay was awake. “Petrey told me you were waking up. Good morning… or rather, good afternoon.”

Tobay swallowed, and sat himself up in the bed, suddenly feeling uncertain and guilty at the same time. There was no one in his mind now to back him up, and without that sure knowledge and constant support he had come to rely on he felt lost. “I’m sorry.” he murmured, looking down at the blanket.

“T’bay—Tobay, its fine. You needed to rest.” Walking over, Caelin sat the tray on the bed beside him. He was quiet for a moment, studying his friend. “I know this probably not the right thing to ask, but how are you feeling?”

How was he feeling? Tobay stared at him for a moment, not knowing how to put the aching emptiness inside in mere words. It almost hurt too much to talk, so he shrugged one shoulder in response and picked up the cup that was on the tray, swallowing carefully. As much as he wanted water, he had the feeling that if he drank too much too fast he wouldn’t be able to hold it down.

Caelin seemed to accept his silence as an answer, “Fair enough.” He nodded and pushed the tray closer.

Taking the hint, Tobay grabbed up one of the meatrolls and chewed on its end. It had been stuffed with chunks of fish that were delicious against taste buds that had been without for so long. The savory taste reminded him of the night when the Harpers had came… when he had been whole again. Suddenly, the meatroll didn’t taste all that good any longer and he put it back on the tray.

Caelin was watching him. He could feel those blue eyes on him, silently questioning. “We got a surprise tithe in of fish early last sevenday from one of the sea holds, and that’s all the whole Weyr has been rationed out. I could see if we’ve some winter fruit in the storerooms, if you would prefer that.”

Tobay shook his head in answer. It had been not the taste that had put him off, but the memories that eating had brought up. Part of him wanted to ask Caelin why he had made him eat in the first place last night, why he wanted him to live so badly… but he was afraid he wasn’t ready for the answer right now. So he asked something else instead, “How long?”

The other man hesitated, brows furrowing as he tried to figure out what he meant. “How long have you been—“ he cut that sentence off short, realizing that where it was going wasn’t exactly tactful. “You’ve been… out,” yes, ‘out’ was a safe word, as if Tobay had been asleep all of this time, “for about a sevenday.”

“So what do I do now?” The question came unbidden and Tobay looked up at Caelin, lost and confused. Ever since he had Impressed had known where his place in the world was. Now, he didn’t know. What was there for him now?

“Well, first you’re going to finish the food, because I promised the Healers that if you stayed with me I would make you eat.” Caelin smiled gently, “You’ve lost a lot of weight, and you didn’t have that much to begin with.”

He couldn’t have cared less about the food, or for that matter how emaciated he had become. “No, I mean, what do I do after that? With my life?”

Caelin didn’t have an answer for that. “I don’t know.” He paused, feeling obliged to tell him of the offer he had been told to pass on even though if the very idea made his stomach clench. “The Weyrleaders have given you the option to break the quarantine and return to your family’s hold, if you want.”

Tobay glanced sharply at him, “Is that what most …dragonless do?”

“I don’t know. “ Caelin answered, after a moment. “Not many people choose, well what I mean to say is—“

“Not many people live after their dragons die, and I know why that is.” He swung his head back and forth against a new wave of loneliness that wanted to push into his mind, unleashed by breaching the subject. “Shards, Caelin! It’s so quiet!”

Again Caelin was silent for a moment. Looking at the bed, he gave a deep sigh. “I wouldn’t ever presume to know what you’re going though. I don’t think anybody really can, but I think going back would be a mistake. The people need you out here in the Weyr. You were a bronzerider.” He saw Tobay flinch at those words, but continued. The last thing his friend needed right now was to have someone mince words with him. “And that means something special.”

“I can’t do this… it’s too hard.” Still shaking his head, tears running down his face, he nevertheless picked up the meatroll again and bit into it. His stomach hurt too much to be ignored again like it had been in the last few days.

“Well, it’s just a thought.” Caelin watched him for a moment, hiding the relief that at least he was eating again. “But you aren’t going to be alone in this, you know.” Then, perhaps realizing what he had just said, he backtracked, “Petrey hasn’t left your side.”

Tobay snorted something that was almost a laugh. “Petrey?” he repeated doubtfully, wiping his eyes on his sleeve to look at the fire lizard. “Are you saying I have to live for Petrey?”

“He would be devastated if you go.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” he cleared his throat, and pointed again to the tray, feeling as if he was too close to a long-standing, forbidden topic between the two of them. “Eat. Please.”

Tobay regarded him for a long second, the same question playing on the back of his mind. He felt too emotionally exhausted to pursue it, though so he did what he was told, finishing the small meal in front of him with no great difficulty. “There,” he said, swallowing the last bite, “Is Petrey happy, now?”

“Extremely.” The brown was actually curled up asleep at the foot of the bed, not very interested in the talk between the two humans. Clearing the tray off of his bed, Caelin pushed a glass of wine at him. “And please drink this. It’ll help you sleep.”

He pushed it back, “I’ve slept enough.” What he didn’t say was that he was afraid of what dreams would come if he did lay down again. Last night, he had been too tired to dream, but he couldn’t be sure of that again.

“Healer’s orders. They want you to sleep out the rest of the day, if possible.”

Tobay caught a tone in Caelin’s voice. “Why?”

The drudge looked down for a moment as if slightly embarrassed to have to remind him. He didn’t want to lie, though. “Thread falls today, and they think it would be…you know…easier.”

Thread. Shards, how could have he forgotten? The Falls had been such a steady pattern even this early in the Pass that he had easily come to remember and anticipate when they were due. It was obvious why Caelin and the Healers wanted him to sleep. With Thread, there was the chance of dragon deaths and the thought of having to hear those keens again brought a shudder he couldn’t quite suppress. Tobay grabbed for the fellis laced wine, downing it quickly. “Thanks,” he said softly, placing the glass back down on the tray.

“You’re doing great, you know.” Caelin offered, tentatively.

“That’s… good to know.” There must have been a strong dose of fellis in the wine, for he was already starting to feel the effects of it. A comfortable, warm feeling was seeping into his mind, driving out the nagging anxiety over the silence around him. Exhaling in relief, he lay back down on the pillows. “You’ll stay here with me?”

“Me and a couple hundred fire lizards, yes.”

“Oh…” His mind most definitely felt fuzzy and out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a pile of blankets on the floor. At first he couldn’t figure out the significance of it, until it hit him suddenly. “You don’t have to sleep on the floor, anymore. It’s your own bed.”

Caelin smiled “You’re drunk.”

“I’m not-” But he didn’t finish that sentence. The fellis had taken over.


*****



Voenath! Get your tail after that clump!
Gh’stin heard Ozycath bark before the bronze fell into a dive, chasing after a clump that they had missed. When they were a half wing-span away the lanky bronze opened his mouth and breathed out a long gout of fire, sizzling the strands expertly. Then, with a lurch he powered his way back up to the forefront of Diamond Wing.

There was a squeal somewhere from below, the unique scream of a dragon being hit by surprise. Gh’stin tried not to pay it any more attention than he had too, lest it break his own concentration, but it was hard.

They had lost three already in this Fall.

Alieth was just clipped. Ozycath reported moments later, Just a normal, happy Fall, eh Gh’stin?

The bronze’s usual sarcasm did nothing to lift his spirits. The thread had fallen hard and thick like a sudden spring downpour in this fall. It was three quarters over, but the Weyr losses seemed too hard to bear. They were short winged, and had been struggling not to let too much through from the very start.

Lifting his hand to wipe some of the ash and char off his goggles, Gh’stin took a moment to look down at the ground the dragonriders of Pern were literally dying to protect. Rocks. Yellowed weeds. No trees nor signs of human habitations for as far as he could see.

With a sigh of defeat, he laid his hand on the bronze’s warm neck. “Call in the wings.”

There was a distinct pause. I’m sorry. I’m too busy fighting Thread to hear you.

“I’m serious. Call in the wings. We’re done here.” He would not risk the rest of the healthy riders, or his own dragon’s hide on uninhabited land.

Another pause and this time Ozycath obeyed. The roar he called out to the wings under him was returned moments later by confused warbles and mental queries. Filling his lungs, Ozycath roared again and this time it was an unmistakable command with the type of force behind it only the Weyrleader’s dragon could have. No dragon dared to disobey him. No dragon could disobey him, but perhaps for Palomath.

They are not happy, but they return with us.
Ozycath reported, and a moment later gave the signal to go /between/.

Gh’stin found himself surrounded the moment Ozycath touched ground.

“What is the meaning of this?” bronzerider B’yau demanded, having dismounted his own bronze and stripped his fighting helmet off. “Thread is still falling! Opal wing still had plenty of steam left. We could have kept going!” The other Wingleaders were approaching, and behind them in loose groups of twos and threes came the green and blueriders. The lesser colors hung back behind their bronzes and browns with expressions ranging from alarm to annoyed impatience. Gh’stin ignored them.

“I will not sacrifice valuable dragon lives over uninhabited land, Wingleader.” he barked, not bothering to dismount. He wanted his voice to carry over to the very back of the crowd and silence the doubters.

“Sir,” R’jule objected, “An established burrow could travel-“

“Where? How? Thread does not dine on rocks.” Scouring that ugly land of the yellowed weeds could improve its features, in his private opinion.

Brownrider F’ron limped forward. The man had a obvious hole in the thigh of his left pant leg. Either he had been lightly scored or had been burned by another dragon’s falling char. “Sir, our duty is to fight Thread wherever it falls.” A few riders behind him raised their voices in support of his words.

Gh’stin favored the man with a withering look. He would tolerate opinions strong enough to be backtalk from his bronzes, but the brownrider was going too far. He had been a fool to promote the man to Wingleader. “You think me a fool enough to jeopardize the lives of our holders? There is nothing to the west but uninhabited land, and the mountain range we passed will do well enough to stop any burrows if they get established.” Now he turned from the fool brownrider to the Weyr in general. The gathering now included the Weyrfolk, so Gh’stin raised his voice to be heard over their babble. “We have three to grieve today. Services will be held tomorrow at mid-day. Dragonriders, you are dismissed to your weyrs.”

There was a general subdued murmur as the large group dispersed. The Weyr had just lost two greens and a brown. No one was going to forget this Fall for a while.

Gh’stin stayed perched on Ozycath’s neck until the last had gone away to their duties. Then, sighing, he dismounted and pulled off his riding gloves, shoving them inside his belt. “Have D’en meet me in my office.” he told his dragon.

He wanted to hear the Weyrlingmaster’s excuses for not including his class in person.




************

As the days dragged by, and Tobay’s strength improved, he found himself more and more restless. Noticing this, Caelin often accompanied him on quiet walks around the lower caverns, and when he was stronger, around the Weyr itself.

He did enjoy those walks, as much as he could enjoy anything anymore, but the outings were always more emotionally draining than physically. He had not wanted to ask about the previous Threadfall, but he could feel the tension in the Weyr. No one approached him for friendly chats like they would have when he rode Zhemyth. Those he did speak to treated him differently, although Caelin insisted that they didn’t. Tobay knew the truth, though. People kept their conversations with him brief, as if fearing to say the wrong thing. Worse, they never looked at him in the eyes. Not even Yenessa. It was almost as if they were afraid of what they would see there.

He finally became fed up with it one evening a few nights later when Yenessa came to join them for supper.

“Why aren’t you wearing your rank knots?” Caelin asked, politely nodding to the Wingthird as she sat down.

To both Caelin and Tobay’s surprise, she looked down at the table top and blushed. “I’ve been out of action the last few days. I got – I’m pregnant.”

Tobay jerked in surprise, set down his fork, and tried to think back to when the last time her Redrath rose for a flight. Oh shards… it couldn’t be... “It’s not mine, is it?”

“No!” Her sharp tone was too sincere to be faked, although he noticed that once again she was carefully avoiding looking at his face. Instantly that washed away any sense of relief and instead raised his ire.

“Thank Faranth” he said, not bothering to hide the acid on his tongue.

She jerked back in surprise at his rudeness, finally (much to his relief) really looking at him for the first time since the accident, “For your information, Tobay, it’s F’rad’s. Not that he cares any about it.” Yenessa broke her gaze and looked down at the table, teeth nibbling at her bottom lip.

But Tobay wasn’t really in the mood for a pity-party. “So?” Having her just look at him for wasn’t good enough. He dug the dagger point in, irrationally wanting her to hurt as much as he did, if only for a moment. “He probably doesn’t want to deal with you while you’re pregnant, not that I can blame him.”

Caelin tried to diffuse the situation, peacemaker that he naturally was. “Tobay… Yenessa, calm down-”

“Stay out of this, Caelin” Seeing Yenessa looking at him again, he matched her glare for glare. Nor did he try to hide the disgust of what he was feeling, now that the full implication of what was going on had hit him. “What are you thinking? You worked yourself and Redrath to the bone to get your rank and now you’re throwing it away for what? F’rad? You don’t deserve to be Wingthird.”

“That’s not how it is!” Embarrassed and angry, the greenrider stood up, accidentally knocking her chair out behind her. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, so just—just shut up!”

His words had hit a nerve, that much was clear. But Tobay was on a roll now, more animated than he had been since Zhemyth’s death. “Oh I get it. You think that having F’rad’s child will make him suddenly love you, don’t you?”

“Maybe,” Yenessa’s eyes narrowed, “but after the baby is born at least I’ll still have Redrath. Who will you have, Tobay?” She said his name like in insult, and her point made, she threw down her napkin and stalked off.

Tobay watched her go, and suddenly realized that the exchange between them had not gone unnoticed. Now, quite a lot of people were now staring at him, looking away only when he matched their stares. Probably, they thought he was unstable.

Wasn’t he?

As much as he wished that people would look at him again, now that they were again he felt an uneasy chill go down his spine. Abandoning his meal, he too stalked out of the lower caverns.

The air was cool and damp enough to warrant a sweater, but Tobay didn’t care. He kept walking across the bowl, heading for the edge where the great lake dumped back into the sea by way of a large waterfall. It would be the furthest away from the lower caverns he could get without actually leaving the Weyr.

The waterfall was massive, and the Ancients had long ago built a pathway with a real steel railing so that people could walk along the edge without tipping over. Well, unless they actually climbed over the barrier.

Finally stopping, Tobay stood against the railing, looking down into the plunging water far below. He didn’t allow himself to entertain the thought of simply plunging in, even though the sharp rocks at the bottom would insure a quick death. Sometime, unconsciously when he had first started eating again he had made the decision to keep living… and he wasn’t about to throw that away over a stupid spat.

He wasn’t surprised when Caelin joined him a few minutes later, for he had seen Petrey following discreetly behind him the whole time. The only thing he hadn’t expected was the wry, tired tone in Caelin’s voice. “Well, are you happy now?”

“No.” he answered truthfully, still gazing at the waterfall.

“Why did you have to be so cruel to her? She’s going though a tough time, you know.”

“And I’m not?!” He turned on Caelin with such ferocity in his eyes that the other man took a step back. “She can’t risk her rank like this, and don’t tell me losing a baby isn’t an option. It’s nothing, nothing compared to what I’m going though! And she wants my sympathy? She won’t even look me in the eyes, Caelin!”

Caelin pursed his lips, “That doesn’t give you the right to hurt her feelings.”

“Oh, so you’re my moral compass as well as my nurse?”

“Someone has to be, obviously.”

Tobay found he didn’t have an immediate comeback for that. It was a lot easier to insult Yenessa than Caelin. So he settled for a simple murmured, “Shut up,” and turned back to looking at the waterfall.

He heard Caelin sigh and felt the other man’s shoulder brush against his own as he joined him in overlooking the waterfall. For a few minutes, there was nothing but thick silence between the two of them. Then Caelin gave a deep sigh and spoke up, letting him in on his inner thoughts. “The man I used to know wouldn’t ever act that way to Yenessa, or to me… even if he was hurting inside.”

Somehow those words hurt far more than what Yenessa had thrown at him. Tobay found that he had no reply and so said nothing, letting Caelin’s words ring inside of his head. The silence dragged on and on as the sunset deepened the sky into a ruddy orange color. With it, the anger faded ever so slightly, leaving behind exhaustion and embarrassment. He could feel the other man’s disappointment and worry for him like a dragon-weight, making him feel guilty. Caelin was trying to do all he could for him… it wasn’t his fault that nothing he could do would ever take away the loneliness and the pain.

With a sigh, he turned to look at Caelin for a long moment. He didn’t deserve him. “Don’t follow me,” Tobay said, roughly, turning around and walking away.



********




Tobay walked until his thighs and calves started to burn. Part of him relished in the exercise, embracing the burning pain in his legs so that he could forget the crushing silence in his mind, the loneliness… the guilt.

Zhemyth… I should have been able to protect you, He thought to the empty void in his mind. I should have died along with you, like any decent man would. It should have been me who was hit first… not you. Oh, my beautiful dragon…

The thought of living the rest of his life without Zhemyth’s warm enthusiasm and lust for life was… unbearable. Tobay felt like a dried up husk without him. As if all the good things in his life, all the happiness he had been sucked out of him, gone /between/ just as surely as his bronze had.

Legs now burning fiercely, Tobay slowed to a stop and leaned against the large flat rock that stretched upward for dragonlenths, helping to shape the Weyr. He had stayed within the parameters of the Weyr, knowing just like all Weyr folk did that if he were to leave he may never be allowed to come back with the quarantine. No, only dragonriders were allowed the privilege of leaving these hallowed walls. And he certainly wasn’t one anymore.

He knew that rationally he had gone way overboard with Yenessa, although he couldn’t really bring himself to feel very sorry for it. Shards, what kind of man was he turning into? Would it be only a matter of time before he turned his pain and guilt on Caelin as well?

Caelin….


The only time Tobay ever felt like things would ever be remotely okay again was when he was around the other man… and that was wrong, wasn’t it? Why should he feel anything akin to comfort ever again? Certainly Zhemyth would never get that chance. It was wrong to want someone so soon after a dragon’s death. Caelin would think he was crazy… or worse, think that Tobay was just grateful for waking him out of that haze. As horrible as he felt now, it was better than being so lost in his mind with grief he couldn’t move or think.

Even though he knew it would hurt, he couldn’t stop his eyes from shifting upward as he thought, focusing on the weyr that he and Zhemyth used to share. And sure enough looking at the empty ledge was like a stab right to his heart.

As was the detection of movement.

Tobay blinked, eyebrows furrowing as he tried to peer though the failing light of dusk. Yes! There it was again, a movement of a body on the ledge… large… large enough to only be a bronze.

No… it couldn’t be…

The figure moved again and fanned its wings…

All of a sudden there was new life in his legs, and Tobay ran across the bowl, not pausing to slow down for even the steps that led to his old weyr. Those he took, two at a time, mind drumming out only one thought in time with each foot fall … Zhemyth

“Zhemyth!” he cried, the word leaving his lips unbidden as he reached the top step.

Umm… no?


The bronze, large and lean with a hide that shown like copper turned around to regard him in wry amusement.

It was not Zhemyth. It was Ozycath.

Tobay skittered to a stop, clutching at the side of the Weyr wall with one hand, nearly losing his footing. For a moment he allowed himself to think that maybe somehow, someway his Zhemyth had returned back to him. He should have known better than to allow himself to hope, to believe that maybe all of this loneliness was just a nightmare.

The Weyrleader’s bronze was staring at him, whirling eyes mixing a strange color of blue and yellow in the advancing darkness. Under his spinning gaze, he felt compelled to explain his actions. “I… I just thought…” he paused and took a shuttering breath, unable to finish. Seeing the bronze up close was painful in a completely new and disturbing way that he hadn’t felt before.

He looked away, towards the maw of his old weyr. There wasn’t any light emanating from the room within. Ozycath was alone on the ledge. “What are you doing here, anyway?”

He actually didn’t expect an answer. No dragon other than Zhemyth had spoken to him before other than a simple yes or no. To his surprise, though, Ozycath answered him in a brash, sarcastic voice that echoed harshly in his mind. Well, it wasn’t like you were using it. With those words came the distinct impression that the dragon didn’t feel like being bothered, and that Tobay had better find somewhere else to go.

Again Tobay looked away, unable to stand the sight of another dragon – a bronze no less – occupying the spot where another had been, “I guess so. I… I better be going.” He turned around, heading for the mouth of the stairway, but was cut off by a sudden jerk from Ozycath’s tail blocking his path.

Wait.

Tobay didn’t turn around to address him. “Why?”

Ozycath huffed out loud in annoyance and extended his neck, gently tapping the man’s back with the point of his muzzle. You were with Zhemyth? At Tobay’s nod, he continued. My rider didn’t know you were out of the infirmary. Maybe you shouldn’t be.

Dragons hardly ever gave unsolicited opinions, even to their own riders. At least, Zhemyth hadn’t. This, combined with the bronze’s dire warning caused him to finally turn around. “I don’t belong there. I belong-- I don’t know where I belong anymore.” The admission caused his throat to tighten up, “Maybe nowhere.”

How melodramatic.
Positioning himself with his front legs crossed, Ozycath made a point of opening up his wide jaw to yawn.

This bronze was talking to him unlike any dragon he had experience with. For a crazy moment, Tobay even wondered if he had simply gone insane. Perhaps there wasn’t a bronze on this forgotten ledge, and he was talking to air. Maybe he had lost it completely--

I’m not air. Ozycath quite literally interrupted his thoughts. And you’re not crazy, but I’m bored up here. Why don’t you sit by me a bit, and tell me about Zhemyth. I don’t think I knew him very well. At least, I don’t remember. He pulled back one of his wings, allowing Tobay a warm sheltered spot to sit.

The ex-rider hesitated for a moment, still unsure if his shattered mind was making all of this up or not, but when he sat down the hide next to his back was warm. He could hear Ozycath’s deep, regular breathing and faint double heart beats from his deep chest. “I don’t know where to begin.”

What did he look like?


“Well,” Tobay said, “he didn’t have your length, but he made up for it in muscle. I… I used to worry about him when he was a hatchling, because the other colors seemed to be all sleek and long. He was just a big round ball with a tail and a head sticking out on either side. I remember he told me one time that he came from an egg, that’s why he got his shape.” A slight smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, and he looked down at the ground, vivid memories surging up from his mind of events and conversations that he hadn’t thought of, literally, in turns. “But Weyrlingmaster D’en wasn’t worried, and Zhemyth grew into himself within a few months, just like he said he would. Zhemyth was usually right about things like that…”

He continued talking, then, telling Ozycath everything there was to know about Zhemyth. Most of the memories he had of his dragon were happy ones, for Zhemyth had been an upbeat dragon. He loved life, he loved sunning himself in the morning and swimming in the evening, he loved scheming of ways to get Palomath’s attention, and he loved him. His T’bayek.

Ozycath was a good listener, interjecting with questions at the right moments, and little rumbles of approval when liked a particular memory.

And by the time the sun had long past set and his throat had gone raw from speaking, Tobay found himself crying again. But they weren’t the gut-wrenching sobs of when he had cried before. This was something healthier, a more natural type of grief.

Eventually those, too quieted and Tobay looked up from under the great wing to the cloudy Ista sky. Though the haze of mist, he could see the glow of the two moons high in the sky. It had to be somewhere around midnight. “You should go.”

I was needed here. Nevertheless, Ozycath rose from his position, shaking his hide free of dust much like a canine would rid himself of water. Once he was done he turned and snaked his head back to Tobay. You are strong. You will be fine. It sounded more like an order than a simple statement, and without waiting for a response he leapt from the ledge, beating his wings in the cool air before disappearing into the incoming mist.

Tobay watched the bronze until he could no longer distinguished his shape any longer. Then slowly, he turned back to the weyr that used to be his. The double moons cast oddly shaped shadows across the ledge, and if he used his imagination enough… they formed a shape that almost looked like a sleeping bronze dragon.

“Goodbye, Zhemyth.” he told it, before turning and walking down the short staircase.

*******



Caelin had been laying in bed for hours, but sleep hadn’t come. He wasn’t kept up by the regular deep throbbing ache of overused muscles from a hard day’s drudging. If it were only that, he could swipe some numbweed from one of the store cupboards and be done with it.

No, his mind was too active to sleep. Busy twisting and turning over the thought of what he should do about Tobay… and there wasn’t any numbweed that could cure that sort of pain.

He had respected his wishes, and not followed him. Maybe a stronger man would have, but Caelin had the feeling that Tobay had to figure things out for himself. Today he had been confronted with the fact that he could stand beside Tobay, give encouragement, and make him eat when he didn’t feel like it… but he could do nothing for his pain. In fact, he was probably the least qualified person in the Weyr to understand what he was going though. When it came down to it no one could really help Tobay cope with a loss that big. No one.

Part of Caelin – most of him - wanted to get up, throw back the covers, find Tobay and just shake sense back into him. There were people who needed him. The Weyr needed his ideas, his leadership and passion for justice… shards, he needed him. He knew was wrong to want someone to live just for himself. Wrong and horribly selfish…but true.

Caelin closed his eyes, finally admitting it to himself. He needed Tobay to live. For him.

He must have dozed off for the next thing he knew, Petrey was giving an annoyed squawk for being disturbed, and someone was climbing under the covers with him.

“Tobay?” He asked hazily, although in retrospect there should have been no one else creeping into his bed in the middle of the night.

“Yes.” The voice was soft and abruptly Caelin felt the other man’s hand’s cupping his jaw, thumb softly stroking the side of his cheek. “I’m sorry.”

Caelin shook his head, following the arm down to the body and pulling him closer. “It’s okay.” He was just glad that he was here, safe.

In the past few nights, Tobay had sought out comfort in the middle of the night, wanting to feel Caelin’s arms around him. Wanting to know that someone was there, and that he wasn’t alone. Although they were physically close, there hadn’t been anything sexual in those touches, and Caelin thought that Tobay was after the same thing tonight… until he felt soft breath on his face, and lips pressed against lightly against his own. It was a soft, questioning kiss. One that Caelin couldn’t help but answer with one of his own, deeper, more sensual.

The kiss was how he remembered it a little more than a Turn ago…no… it was better. This time there was no alcohol to blame it on, no people around to question and judge what exactly a bronzerider and a drudge were doing together. They had all the privacy and time in the world to learn each other’s taste and feel how the other moved… but this time around, Caelin was the one who pulled back. “Shardit,” he cursed, lips an inch away, “I can’t. You can’t.” Not when his friend was like this, half out of his mind with grief. He knew he would be taking advantage of the situation, although his traitor body yearned for more.

“Yes I can.” Tobay told him firmly, sliding his hands up the other man’s back and pulling him closer until Caelin was pressed against his small, liethe frame. Though the semi-darkness Caelin could see a slight smile tug at the corner of his lips. It was a far cry from the confident grin T’bayek used to sport, but he would take it. “You may not have noticed, but I’m not a bronzerider anymore.”

Caelin groaned and took Tobay’s mouth for another kiss. And another. And finally, for awhile there was no talking at all.


*************



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