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Old Aug 21 2007, 11:19 AM   #5
HarperBrandy
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Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: California
Gender: F
Default Chapter 4: Casting Shade

Chapter 4: Casting Shade

Author’s note: Sorry about the wait! Because of the long delay, I decided not to bug my betas and expect them to get back into a story that’s been on hold for a few months. So I tried to catch what I could, but there may be errors.

OOOOOOOOOO

The next morning, Tobay woke up with ears full of the sound of a firelizard snoring in his ear. Wincing, he turned away, and instead encountered the soft weight of another and larger form next to his own.

Caelin.

The other man sleeping soundly next to him, body slightly arched so that he leaned towards Tobay, as if wanting to touch him even as he slumbered.

For moment Tobay lay there, watching him. Last night had been a new experience for him exciting, wonderful and good. For a few moments in the peak of it all he had forgotten about the emptiness inside. Those brief seconds gave him hope that the constant emptiness inside would fade... someday.

He could never stop loving his beloved Zhemyth, but maybe one day he could allow himself to heal some scar tissue over the void that was left under his passing.

Beside him, Caelin stirred a bit upon waking and the hand over Tobay’s waist tightened for a moment in reflex. “Are you okay?” He asked, clearly uncertain about the other man’s feelings in waking up with him, like this.

Tobay turned over to face him and contentedly spent the next few minutes convincing him that he felt perfectly fine about the entire situation.

“Thank you,” he said, afterwards.

Caelin bent his head down, nuzzling the hollow of Tobay’s throat. “For?”

“For not treating me like an invalid, last night…. I acted badly.” He arched up slightly, body tingling.

“Hmm…” Caelin raised his head to look in the other man’s eyes, “You may want to tell Yenessa that as well.”

Oh yeah. He had almost forgotten about that. In hindsight, now that the fog of anger had cleared from his mind, he supposed he had been a tad to harsh on her. He did need to apologize… and maybe bring a shield along with him to duck under all the things she was going to throw. “Care to come along, see the show?”

He grinned, “I don’t want to have to break up a fight between you two.”

“I-“ Tobay stopped, tensing up underneath Caelin.

“What’s wrong?” But before he could get an answer out of the other man, Petrey awoke from his sleep and rose up on his hind legs, uttering out a tribute. Then Caelin heard the sound too, filtering though the walls. The sound of dragons keening. Gripping the former bronzerider’s shoulders, he felt a moment of panic. Tobay’s dark eyes were vacant, as if he was struggling to listen to something very far away…something which he would never hear again. His look was that which he had in the infirmary, physically present but not there. “Tobay, talk to me!”

The dragonless man blinked, coming back to himself. “I’m fine,” he murmured, distracted, but his hand gripped Caelin’s with white knuckled strength. “I’m fine… who was it?”

“You don’t know?”

Receiving a quick shake of his head, Caelin queried the keening firelizard. What he got in response was disturbing. “Three dragons—no,” he closed his eyes, hating to have to say it out loud, “Weyrlings. They were lost practicing /between/.” He had promised himself long ago that he wouldn’t mince words with Tobay, but he still couldn’t bring himself to mention that one of the dead was the bronze Weyrling. Luckily, the other man didn’t ask for any further details. “Will you be okay?”

He swallowed, and nodded. “Yes. Just… just give me a moment?”

Sensing this was not the time to continue what they had started, Caelin got up, leaving Tobay to find his equilibrium himself, as he requested.


OOOOOOOOOO



Later that day, Tobay ventured out into the lower caverns, hoping to keep his promise and apologize to Yenessa. The mood of the place was grim, he noticed, which fitted him perfectly right now, for despite his almost optimistic thoughts this morning it had shaken him to the core to hear the sounds of keening dragons again. It had taken him back to the moment when Zhemyth left, and the first time he had reached out with his mind to encounter nothing at all. Every keen had brought back that memory, forcing him to face it again and again.

It made him wonder how he was going to survive living in the Weyr.

Yenessa was nowhere to be found, which probably meant she was still sulking, so instead Tobay’s sharp eyes focused on the barrel chested form of D’en sitting at one of the back tables. He paused, watching him for a moment. The man had at least four empty mugs of ale before him and was currently nursing a fifth. He knew that it was hard for Weyrlingmasters when they lost their Weyrlings in practices, but he had never noticed D’en taking it this badly. Had F’ron, his Wingleader, been that desolate when Zhemyth had died? Had it mattered to anyone, other than Caelin?

Quickly shaking his head as if to push that thought away, he approached the table. “Do you mind if I have a seat?” He hadn’t spoken to D’en after the incident, and had never gotten the chance to thank him for catching him out of the air -- and as much as he still wasn’t sure it was a good thing -- saving his life.

“Eh?” D’en looked up from his ale and waved towards the empty seat. Then he took a double take. “Why… it’s you! Didn’t imagine I’d be seeing you around here, ‘round the riders.”

After a moment of hesitation, he slid into the seat. “Well, the drunk Weyrlingmaster’s aren’t so bad.”

D’en barked out a loud drunken laugh which unfortunately gave Tobay a whiff of his rank ale soaked breath. “I knew I always liked you!” He slapped Tobay heartily on his thin shoulder, hard enough to make him wince. “Although I ain’t the Weyrlingmaster anymore, lad.”

He stared in surprise. “What do you mean? They sacked you?” He couldn’t believe that. Not for a Weyrling accident…

“Sacked… involuntary resigned… whatever.” He gave a shrug, “Weyrleader didn’t like me losing three Weryrlings, and the Weyrwoman didn’t like the sounding out I gave him over putting them in the air too early. So,” he gave another shrug and drank deeply from his mug.

Tobay’s eyes rapidly darted back and forth as he tried to remember whom out of the brownriders were not currently holding rank. The bronzers, of course were out of the question. Sak’ney was the only one who had none, and that was only because he was a Weyrling. “But… who will take your place, then?”

“Don’t know.” He pulled the ale away from his lips, looking deep within it for a moment, “don’t care.”

Tobay was too deep in thought to respond right away. It had been awhile since he had let himself think or care about the state of the Weyr, and he struggled for a moment with thoughts and figures that seemed suddenly rusty. “Maybe C’onsan… his Macusth is large enough to handle a bronze or a gold if it got in trouble in the air during a first flight.”

The Exweyrlingmaster snorted into his ale. “You seriously think that Trenith will throw a gold when she rises next? That fat slug!?”

Tobay shot him an annoyed look, “I was thinking more about Sak’ney. You said it yourself that he needed some confidence—what?” He had just noticed D’en staring at him, a look of pity on his guff face.

“You mean… they didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“Sak’ney’s dead, son.” D’en cleared his throat against the tightening in his throat. “Him, S’podo and F’kry.”

Tobay leaned back against his chair, feeling like he had the air knocked out of him. Another bronze, and a brown and a blue? How much more could the Weyr loose in such a short time? Almost instinctively he reached out for the place in his mind where Zhemyth had been, for comfort, only to find himself grasping empty air.

“Son?” D’en’s thick hand shook his shoulder roughly, a touch much less comforting than Caelin’s, but it did the trick and snapped him out of his haze.

“I—I didn’t know.” He looked up at the man, meeting his red rimmed eyes. Not all of the puffyness there was from drinking, he was sure. “Shards and Shells… That leaves only five bronzes left in the Weyr, and how many browns? Eleven?”

“Twelve.” D’en corrected, a wry smile. “Yes, our Weyrleaders will have a tough time finding a replacement for me. Drink?”

He declined the offer with a wave of his hand, too concerned over D’en’s apathy .“And you don’t care, do you?”

“Not my job to care.” D’en leaned back, considering. “Not anymore. It ain’t yours, either.”

Because he wasn’t a dragonrider anymore. Came the thought, too bitter on his tongue to speak out loud. “Maybe not,” he answered, deciding that maybe a drink wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Tobay filled himself a glass and took a sip, mulling what he had just found out in his mind.

How stupid and selfish he had been these last few sevendays! The world hadn’t stopped turning just because Zhemyth was gone. The Weyr was in the same exact state it had been before. No, it was in an even worse position now that D’en was off duty. The Weyr had just lost one of the best teachers, one of the most able leaders of any dragon color that was alive. If the man hadn’t lost the use of his eye all those turns back, he would have been a successful Wingleader.

And now, just like D’en, he wasn’t in the position to make a difference.

“I’ve seen that look in your eye before, lad.” D’en said, pointing to his own good one. “But you’d better think twice before charging up to the Weyrleader’s and give them a piece of your mind.”

Tobay gave a hollow laugh. “Why? What could they do to me, now?”

“You’re right. People would be up in arms for them picking on a dragonless man,” D’en’s good eye glinted, “But they don’t need to you’re your friend Caelin around, if his services aren’t needed. Trouble making drudges can be stripped of Hold and Weyr protection.”

He immediately tried to reject that idea. “They couldn’t!” But Tobay knew that it was well within their rights. “They wouldn’t!” But the look on D’en’s grizzled face told him otherwise.

It then occurred to him how D’en knew about him and Caelin so quickly, or for that matter… how many other people had found out.

“If you wanna take my advice from a former teacher.” D’en said, “Let ‘em stew in their own juices for awhile. Take care of yourself, and Caelin.”

He didn’t like that line of thinking at all, but had nothing to say against it. “And what will you be doing?”

“Me?” D’en pretended a luxurious stretch. “I plan on taking a vacation.” But the look on his face said he would be doing anything but relaxing. The brownrider, too, had his own plans. “I heard that the Harper’s been looking for an assistant.”

That picked his interest. “Oh?”

“It’d keep you busy.”

But Tobay didn’t have time to mull that over. His dark eyes caught sight of Yenessa striding into the hall. “Excuse me,” he said, standing and nodding to the ex Weyrlingmaster, before heading over to her.

OOOOOOOOOO


Two months later…


OOOOOOOOOO


The leafs on the trees were starting to bud, Tobay realized late one morning as he made his way from the lower caverns to the teaching rooms across the bowl. It was strange how time seemed to drag along so slowly before he had finally approved the Weyr Harper, Bennar and become his assistant. He was far too old to reapprentice in any official capacity, and was woefully rusty, but D’en had been right… the old man had needed an extra body to teach the youngest brats their ballads. Now, between those lessons, private sessions with Bennar to catch up with what he should know, and nights with Caelin… well, time was now flying along.

And now the kids weren’t even scared of him… well, mostly. His first lessons had been met with the wide eyes of the youngest, as if they were afraid the ‘strange dragonless man’ they had heard about was going to snap and yell at them for speaking out of turn or mentioning anything about dragonkind. He was trying to win them over… although he knew he didn’t have Bennar’s patience with the slowest of the lot.

The lone warble of a dragon caught his attention, drawing his eyes upward towards the sky. A few greens and blues had taken to the air, doing the type of aerial acrobatics that only their narrow wings and light frames could allow. They seemed to be excited by something, but out of touch with dragonkind as he now was, he didn’t know what it could be.

Enchanted by their dipping and weaving, he stopped in his tracks to watch.

The playing dragons had also caught the attention of the Weyrwoman second’s dragon, Trenith. The pudgy gold barked something sharp at them from her position on her ledge, obviously just having been woken by a nap. Standing up, she shook herself off and spread her large golden wings air, the sunlight dancing off her hide and giving the appearance of a bright and healthy dragon under all that fat.

With one smooth movement, Trenith flexed her muscles, stretching luxuriously. Her gentle call to a knot of weyr bronzes below was coy, seductive.

Wait a minute…

Tobay blinked, realizing he was staring at the queen almost as if in a trace, just like many in the Weyr bowl. Around him, the daily comings and goings of people had taken a pause. All was silent in the Weyr. All eyes were on Trenith.

And she was glowing.

Shrieks of dying animals cut into the air. While the Weyrfolk watched the gold, the bronzes had descended on the heard beasts and were starting their blood, prepping their bodies for the rigors ahead.

Zhemyth would have been with them if…

Out of nowhere a strong hand grabbed onto his shoulder, forcing him around. “Come with me, harper. She’s about the rise.”

Surprised, he looked up to meet Angeli’s snapping green eyes, now full of pity… and something else. “What?” he asked, slightly dazed. Despite the fact that he was dragonless, he was still open to the emotions of the flight and felt… detached. Out of sync with his own body.

In answer, she grabbed his arm in a vice like grip, pulling him along with her to the staircase that led to her weyr. “I must take Palomath away, and you should leave as well. Stop dawdling!”

Before he could comprehend what was going on, Trenith rose on her thick hind legs, calling out a challenge to the Weyr that anyone with even a slightly sensitive mind would hear.

I RISE! Who among you will dare fly against me?!


The sound of a dragon in his head after so long without anything at all immediately sobered Tobay out of his flight-haze like a dunk in cold water. Finding his feet again, he hurried with Angeli, rushing up to the ledge where Palomath impatiently waited. It didn’t matter to him where they were going… he couldn’t handle the dragon induced emotions of the flight. Not this soon after he had lost Zhemyth.

He jumped, grabbing onto the handholds with the ease that only muscle memory could provide and pulled himself up. Angeli took her seat right behind him, and no sooner had her rear touched the harness did Palomath surge up into the sky.

Trenith turned to watch them, and if she had been a canine her hackles would have been raised. Get away from my bronzes! They are mine! MINE! She shrieked, her voice prodding against Tobay’s mind like a stick poking a half healed wound.

“/Between/, Palomath!” Angeli commanded, and a moment later they were enveloped in icy blackness.

Three heartbeats later, they erupted into salty warm air, high above the sea. Tobay craned his head, looking over the side of the queen’s neck to find his bearings. Hundreds of dragon lengths down, he spotted a large strip of land extending out to the horizon. Although he had not been allowed out of the Weyr other than Threadfall due to the quarantine, he didn’t remember this land’s features from his weyrling studies.

Angeli tells me to tell you we are near the western islands. Came a surprisingly warm, feminine voice in his head. Unlike Trenith’s voice, Palomath’s was very soft so as not to hurt him.

I thought all of Pern was under the quarantine. Even the islands. He thought back, frowning.

Palomath angled downward, slowly spiraling her decent. They are deserted. And I must have a place to go, when Trenith rises.

He nodded, mutely sending his understanding to the queen. Speaking words to her felt like… like a betrayal, somehow. Even moreso then when Ozycath had spoken to him. So he said nothing more, and she asked nothing more of him.

Palomath’s wide wings took them on a quick decent, and soon it was obvious that they were not the only two there. On the beach, bronze Ozycath lay out in the sun, his rider right along with him.

Tobay was honestly relived at the sight of them. Angeli was… easily offended, and he had worried for a spare moment that she had planned her own private flight celebration with him at the island. He was loyal to Caelin now, and would probably end being deserted along on the island for a month for rejecting her advances.

The gold landed gracefully, and waited for her passengers to dismount before walking over to rub her muzzle upon her mate’s. For dragons, the two of them showed a lot of affection outside of mating flights.

“You’re late. We were worried.” Gh’stin said, walking up to the two of them, wearing a heavy frown. To Tobay’s surprise, the man’s face was lined with signs of on going stress that he had not remembered seeing when he was a rider. The poor threadfalls must be weighing on him more than what he had let on in public, then. Gh’stin gave a single nod towards Tobay, “Why’s he here?”

“Palomath thought it would be a good idea to get him away from the Weyr while the flight was going on.” Angeli answered, laying a protective almost maternal hand on Tobay’s shoulder. “We had enough time. The males were still blooding.”

Oh how he hated being talked about as if he were not there, or as if he were a child. But the recent months had given him patience in the hard way to keep his mouth shut, at least some of the time. And she had done him a favor. “Thank you, Weyrwoman.” He forced himself to say, turning out from under her hand and bowing to her. This was his ride back to the Weyr, after all.

Angeli flicked her fingers towards him, obviously pleased by his formal style. “Think of it as nothing.”

When Tobay rose up, he caught sight of Ozycath watching him with whirling eyes. A chill he couldn’t quite explain ran up and down his spine… For a moment, one long moment, he felt like the bronze could see right though him. And somehow he got the sure feeling that it hadn’t been Palomath’s idea to bring him here at all, but rather Ozycath’s.

But Gh’stin drew away his attention a moment later. “That was kind of you, Angeli. T’b—ugh, I mean, Harper.” It was obvious he didn’t know Tobay’s new name. “You may want to check out the eastern side of the island. It is… quite lovely this time of the year.”

Even if the excuse wasn’t so bad, he would have gotten the hint anyway by the way Gh’stin moved so close to his Weyrwoman, catching her slim waist in one massive hand. They wanted some time alone.

“That sounds like an excellent idea, Weyrleader.” He said, keeping to the formal tones. With one last nod to them both, he turned around and set off in the opposite direction. The last thing he wanted to hear was the two of them exercising any lingering flight emotions they had managed to pick up.

He probably didn’t need to worry too much about that possibility. It was quite windy on this island, exposed to the raging ocean as it was. Soon Tobay could only hear the sounds of crashing waves and his own breath as he puffed his way across the desert shoreline. There wasn’t even a tree in sight to give him the benefit of shade. Just a few scraggily rocks.

Picking one at random, he sat down on it, wondering how Caelin was doing. If his friend could read, and Tobay owned a fire lizard he would have sent him a quick message letting him know what had happened and that he was okay. Not that Caelin was affected by dragon flights, as deaf as he was to the beasts, but he hated to have him worry for any reason.

An angry chittering broke the peace of the island, and he looked up, thinking that Petrey had somehow followed him to the island. But the little fire lizard squeaking high up in the air had a hide that flashed of blue and not brown.

As Tobay watched, the little creature chattered one more time to itself before diving into the shallow surf, pulling up a piece of seaweed. For a moment the wet green plant seemed to be too heavy and would drag him back down, but the blue beat his wings fiercely and managed to gain altitude again. He didn’t seem to notice or care about Tobay’s presence. Possibly on this deserted island chain it didn’t know about what a threat a human could be, and didn’t care about him at all.

Curious, Tobay followed the blue as it struck out west, dipping and bobbing under the weight of its seaweed load. He kept back a few dragon lengths, sticking to the craggily shore, trying not making it obvious that he was following it. Having lived up in a higher latitude in the north, he he had never had the chance to really see wild born fire lizards, and knew that Caelin would be disappointed in him if he didn’t at least see what this one was up too. But where was the rest of the fair?

Occasionally the little blue would alight for a moment on an up thrust rock, his little chest heaving with exertion before launching back into the air again. It was on one of these pauses that Tobay got a good look at him. The blue was an old one, hide pot marked here and there with white lines and scars looking much like scratches.

The life of a wild fire lizard was much different than those mostly pampered pets, he had remembered Caelin telling him one time. Especially for the lower colors. If they weren’t eaten by their bigger brothers and sisters at hatching they lived constantly on the fringe, always pushed around by the queen and her bronzes.

Suddenly the blue turned to the right and dived, pulling up in time to glide into a rocky alcove that faced the sea. At once, screams of a frightened fire lizard drifted upward.

Tobay increased his pace, jogging to the spot, but was stopped short by the sight that greeted him.

The blue was the one squealing. Flapping awkwardly with the seaweed still clutched in its claws, it was being pursued by an angry golden female that was beating it about with her wings. Finally the blue gave up his meal, dropping it in favor of gaining the speed he needed to get away. The little queen gave one shriek at him, but didn’t follow, settling instead on the seaweed.

Watching from a safe position by a bolder some distance away, Tobay watched silently, feeling sorry for the blue, but knowing it was not right to intervene. He was the visitor on this island, and it was possible that type of bullying had been playing itself out for a long time before he had come along, and would probably continue long afterwards. He did wonder what the point of it was, though… why the blue had headed in the queen’s direction with the food if it was only going to end up taken from him? Why did he not go /between/ where he could not be followed?

The gold had only half finished her meal of the seaweed before she looked up, screaming out another warning. On the horizon, a speck of brown was weaving and bobbing its way closer… another fire lizard with its claws full of food. This time, though, it was fish.

As soon as the laden brown came close enough, the little queen gave a commanding shriek and jumped for the fish. It seemed the brown had more good sense than the old blue, because he dropped the fish immediately and used that distraction in which to escape unscathed.

Then Tobay saw it… or rather, them.

It was a surprise he had seen the eggs at all, so nicely camouflaged with the color of sand as their shells were. It was the glint of the largest egg on top that had caught his attention, making him turn his head away from the feeding queen. Although it wasn’t as blazingly obvious as a gold egg from their dragon counterparts were, he had no doubt of the color contained within.

He only hesitated for a moment, double checking to see that the queen was still interested in her meal. Fire lizards weren’t rare in Ista, but the beaches had dark sand that captured too much heat and boiled the eggs in their shells. Finding a viable wild clutch like this was too good to be true.

Moving slowly, one eye always on the feeding gold, Tobay crept towards the clutch. He was half amazed that queen had not spotted him, but as he got closer he noticed that ribs sticking out of her painfully thin body. She was ravenous, still tearing at the fish flesh and quite possibly didn’t care enough to be on the lookout.

Well, he would lighten her responsibilities then.

He took off his tunic, scooping up warm sand into it to make a nest and loaded the eggs in, starting with the precious golden one first. It was a large clutch, by any standards and certainly it put the dragon clutches of Ista to shame. Tobay didn’t pause to count, but figured there had to be somewhere around thirty eggs. He worked quickly, with the skin on his back itching with a combination of nervous sweat and the fear. He didn’t dare pause long enough to look up, certain at any moment he would feel angry fire lizard claws sink into his back. As it was, he stole only about half of the clutch before his nerve gave out and he tied up the edges of his shirt around the bundle of eggs and sand.

When he left the queen, her head was dipped into the carcass of the fish, eating at its warm innards.

Setting across the beach again, bundled up tunic clutched against his chest, Tobay allowed himself a rare smile at his accomplishment. Maybe being small and slightly built wasn’t all that bad if he could get away with doing things like this. It felt good to have something go right.

The direction he was headed brought him roughly back to the same side of the island where he had landed and reluctantly, he slowed down. The last thing that he wanted to come across was Gh’stin or Angeli if they were dragon linked to the flight.

He need not have worried. As he came closer to the beach he saw them both walking in his direction, waving at him to hurry up.

Even from a distance he could see that something was very wrong.

Angeli’s face was puckered, and a button was dislodged from her shirt as if she had only managed to get it half open. “Where were you?” She asked, sharply and then eyed the bundle in his arms. “And what do you have in your tunic?”

“I found a clutch of fire lizard eggs, and managed to get some.” Tobay spoke quickly, knowing that the choice of where any fire lizard eggs went to was up to the Weyrwoman, who traditionally used any found eggs for political reasons. “I was hoping… well, may I have one?” It galled him to have to ask to keep something of his own discovery, but was careful to keep his face neutral.

Angeli opened her mouth looking as if she was going to say no, but Gh’stin spoke for her. “Yes, of course.” He waved a distracted hand towards the two dragons who were sitting on their hunches, eyes whirling red. “Mount up. We need to get back to the Weyr.”

“But… why? The flight—“

“The flight is over.” There was a tone in Angeli’s voice that chilled Tobay right to the marrow. The last time he had heard that chill was the night before he lost Zhemyth. Someone had angered Angeli badly, and he quickly guessed to what it was.

“Clea let Trenith eat, and not blood… didn’t she?” He looked up towards one Weyrleader to another, hoping that they would deny it.

Angeli clenched her hands and nodded once, turning to Gh’stin. “When I get my hands on that pitiful excuse for a goldrider, I’ll…. I’ll rip out her tail feathers!”

The Weyrleader arched his eyebrow at his mate, looking amused at her choice of words. He started to reply when a strange expression came over his face. Then, without warning, he sneezed.

Instinctively, both Tobay and Angeli jumped back from the man, fearful as every surviving Pernese was of any sign of sickness.

But Gh’stin waved his hand, “Sorry, the air in these parts makes my nose tickle. I’m fine. Mount up!” And this time there was no denying such a command.

OOOOOOOOOO

Angeli had Palomath drop Tobay off by the lower caverns with instructions to take one egg and leave the remaining with the Headwoman. He could tell her thoughts weren’t really on him any longer, which he was partially glad of. With a woman like Angeli, it was best not to be in her sights as much as possible.

He almost felt sorry for Clea. Almost.

The main hall was deserted of people, so he had no interruption transferring the fire lizard eggs into a basket which he then set by the hearth with a note of explanation to the Headwoman. The precious golden egg, he found a simple clay pot for.

Caelin had a hearth of his own, and although Tobay had never had anything stolen from him while in the Weyr, it didn’t mean that light fingered people didn’t exist. He just had nothing worth stealing before now.

He expected for Caelin to be in the room, but to his surprise he was not there. Positioning the egg pot by their own private hearth, he began to worry for the first time. Maybe he shouldn’t have let Angeli take him away like from the Weyr in that fashion… surely people would have seen it and passed on the news to Caelin. A gold dragon was hard to miss, especially loaded down with an extra passenger. What would people think?

Almost on cue, the door swung open and Caelin staggered in. Tobay opened his mouth to greet him, but Caelin cut him off. “Where were you?” He demanded, closing the door behind him, his voice rough.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-“ But he got no further than that. Caelin had crossed the room while he was talking, grabbed him by the shoulders and kissed him soundly.

Surprised, Tobay could only kiss back, feeling the other man’s hands glide their way up and down his body, touching him in all the right spots.

It was lucky for the both of them that the bed was only a few short steps away.

OOOOOOOOOO

“I thought that you were dragon deaf.” Tobay said sometime later, trailing a finger from Caelin’s navel slowly up his chest.

The other man chuckled, his light blue eyes shining in the afterglow. “Those dratted fire lizards!” He said, rolling his eyes in mock exasperation. “They pick everything up and then pass it onto me. Horney little beasts.” Then his expression grew more serious, “I looked everywhere for you, Tobay. What happened? Even Petrey couldn’t find you in the Weyr.”

“Because I wasn’t. Angeli thought it would be a good idea to take me out of the Weyr during the flight.” Briefly, he relayed what had happened on the island. Predictably, Caelin was most interested in the wild fire lizards.

“You say the queen was thin?” He frowned at Tobay’s nod, “Generally the queen’s mate supplies her with food while she’s guarding the nest, although I could see the rest of the fair step in if he sickened or even died. They might have even be preparing for a hatching soon, and she was eating the food they were stocking up.” He sighed, “I wish I could have seen it. It would be nice to see the wild ones.”

Again Tobay nodded, although he privately thought that Caelin would be distressed over the thinness of the queen, and all of the scars that the old blue had sported.

Then he remembered the egg pot.

“I like it when you smile like that.” Caelin remarked.

Tobay let himself stretch before answering, quite pleased with his work today. “It’s because I didn’t return empty handed.”

“Oh?”

“Look over there.”

Caelin followed the direction of his gaze and visibly jerked when his eyes alighted on the egg pot warming by the hearth. Then a slow smile spread across his face as he turned back to him. “That’s a great idea. A fire lizard will be really good for you.”

Tobay barked out a surprised laugh before he could stop himself, “It’s not for me. Caelin, I got her for you!”

“For me?” Clearly stunned, Caelin shook his head. “No… no… I couldn’t. I have Petrey and you don’t have-“ he stopped caught himself quickly, “you deserve one. It would help... with things.” Again, he shook his head, looking down at the blankets, as if he had spoken out of turn.

Tobay caught the other man’s hand in his own, giving it a gentle squeeze to get his attention again. “I don’t “deserve” a fire lizard. My mind is… I’m too shattered, still.” The smile was gone, replaced with a flash of pain he couldn’t quite hide. “Besides, she’ll need someone strong to take care of her. Someone who knows how to handle a fire lizard.”

For a moment, Caelin looked like he was about to argue the point, then he realized exactly what Tobay was implying. “She?” he repeated, “how do you know… unless it’s a… gold?”

“If I know my eggs, it is.” He quirked the side of his mouth up, some of the amusement returning at the stunned look on the Caelin’s face.

“But… I can’t have a gold! I’m just a drudge! How did you ever get Angeli to agree to that?”

Tobay shrugged, “Maybe I implied that I would be the one to get it. But who will be surprised if you accidentally impress her? It’s what I want, Caelin. Please.”

“Shards.” He leaned back for a moment, clearly stunned. He was silent for a few moments, mulling it over. “Imagine that. Me with a gold.” And with those words Tabay knew that he had finally accepted the gift.

“I think it fits.”

Caelin blinked out of his thoughts, and turned towards him again, a genuine grin on his face. “Thank you.”

“No,” Tobay corrected, pulling him in for a kiss. “Thank you.”

And they ‘thanked’ each other the rest of the day.
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