When Shirtless is a Bad Thing

Half Moon Bay Weyr - Training Field

It can’t have been more than days since both Kiltara’s children and brother went missing - can it? Kit isn’t sure anymore; seconds have turned to minutes, minutes that stretched for hours and turned into days, days that left her bereft of any sense of time and only seemed to make her mounting hysterics harder and harder to internalize. Ila’den’s disappearance in and of itself would ordinarily be nothing to raise Kit’s suspicions, but this time was different. This time, this time, she heard Teimyrth’s screams over her own, and her weyrmate’s dragon had been unable to make contact since, unable to find Kio, Kat, or Kiric and the only other link she had to them. It seems like a ridiculously farfetched straw to grasp, but sitting alone in a hut, allowing herself to fall apart when her children needed her the most seemed more reckless than applying hope to her pursuit of R’hyn. She seeks the weyrling in the hopes that the man might know something - anything - that can give her a starting point, refusing to acknowledge the effort as futile even when the reality threatens to steal the very breath from her lungs. Desperation gives her strength, and wayward feet carry her to the acute wrongness of so much life in the training field, grey eyes seeking out face after face after face with rising disappointment until - there. There he is, lost in the sea of people who seem too lively when everything in her world is wrong and — she swallows down the bitterness of irrational thought, choking on the effort it takes to maintain her sanity when plunging headfirst into the abyss of despair, and hopelessness, and grief. But she does it. That tiny woman conjures up so much inner strength, building up that fire until she can raise her chin and set her shoulders and wait. Those grey eyes stay on R’hyn, studying the bronzeling in the time that she remains unnoticed, one hand reaching up to smooth down ebony curls that she knows — knows — are in disarray and speak to her actual well-being: it’s not good. She’s pale, she looks fragile, her eyes are puffy, and swollen, and red from crying until the screaming starts again, but she’s here, silent, patient, waiting to be noticed so as not to interrupt the man’s focus or startle him into action. She’s spent enough time around renegades and men to know better.

Has it only been days? It could well have been weeks, for all that R'hyn has been able to keep a grasp on time, his waking hours spent flying from one task to another, desperately seeking any activity to keep him from having too much time to think. The offer of weyrling hand-to-hand training is an only-too-welcome distraction, and puts him inside the training grounds when Kiltara arrives, squared off against A'xar, the known hothead and serious thorn in the bronzeling's side. Judging by the sweat clinging to both bodies, they've been at it for some time, though movements are more calculated and circling than brutish fist-flailing, irritation with each other giving way to an aggressive brand of learning, hissed suggestions for improvement exchanged along with insults. "Your left, idiot," R'hyn growls, knuckles coming around to attempt to jab at the brownling's ribs, forcing Cax to guard the opening. The blonde shoots an expletive-ridden insinuation about his mother back, but R'hyn has stopped listening - blue-grey eyes have finally flicked up to spy Kiltara, and honestly, do either of them even have to ask if there's been news? R'hyn's eyes widen, then wince for her appearance, shoulders dropping for assumptions drawn from puffy eyes and visible grief, a crestfallen, borderline hopeless look likely expressing all she needs to know as he reads the same from her. Still, he pushes past A'xar with a suggested, "Ref for Talee and Fyffe" before he's leaving the class behind, approaching the tiny woman with just as much careful caution as she demonstrated by keeping her distance. It's only when he's within arm's reach that he extends an elbow if she'd like to take it, head tilting towards a quiet corner of the training grounds, far and away from the prying ears of weyrlings only too interested in the mother whose children are gone. He moves whether she takes it or not, stops only to grab his shirt to mop at sweat, continuing until they're settled in the shade, and only then does he really look at her. "Anything?" He has already guessed, but it's better than trying to greet her as if everything is okay, better than asking after her well-being when he already damn well knows the answer.

Hours, days, weeks - does it matter? They’re gone. They’re gone, and the descent of R’hyn’s shoulders in near hopeless understanding is as impacting to Kiltara as if she were Cax facing off with R’hyn in the middle of that sparring pit, left side unprotected. Tears accumulate at the corners of her eyes, threatening to spill over, but she lifts her chin just the barest amount, as if defying the pull of too-strong emotions and resisting the coaxing draw of another hair-pulling, heart wrenching, scream-filled meltdown. Grey eyes remain fixed on R’hyn as he approaches, Kit applying the heel of one palm to her eyes, to rid them of devastated evidence, and then despite everything, when he finally reaches her, she smiles - feebly. She tries for humor, even when the bleakness of discouraging doubt anchors itself somewhere in the pit of her belly and reiterates despair. “Faranth, but Ila’den and Kio would be —” Kiltara’s lip trembles, unable to complete the sentence as it ends on an unbidden sob, cutting off what may have unintentionally been a more punishing reminder for R’hyn than a jovial attempt at camaraderie. Those grey eyes wrench away from bronzer for just a moment, trembling as she uses the heels of her palms and forearms to wipe away any offending tears, and then breathes an achingly hollow whisper of, “I’m sorry,” to R’hyn. Without looking at him, without trying to correct her misstep, she catches at the crease in his elbow with one tiny, shaking hand, and allows him to escort her to a reasonably more private area amid the chaos of the field. It’s his question that is damn near her undoing, as she shakes her head almost frantically, grey eyes seeking out blue-grey as she whispers a strangled, “No. I thought maybe you - and Ila’den…?” It’s a momentary pause, as one hand goes to Kit’s throat, a gesture that seems as if she’s trying to physically restrain rising hysteria. It bubbles over anyway, punctuated by another sob. “E’ros can’t… He can’t find Teimyrth and - Faranth. What if they…? Are they…?” The last is a mere whisper, as if saying it too loud will somehow make it so. “Are they dead?” The final word is forced through trembling lips, lips that Kiltara clamps down, applying teeth to her cheek in order to stifle the panicked keen that seems to rise in her throat despite her best efforts. She holds her breath, face screwing up in the clutches of mounting despair, flushed with emotion, riddled with a sudden onslaught of unrestrained tears before finally, finally, she exhales - another sob. “E’ros won’t tell me. Why won’t he tell me?” But her last is another strangled whisper of, “Please tell me they’re going to be okay.” Desperation, and despite the knowledge that she is asking R’hyn to promise her something beyond his capabilities, she asks anyway. Grief has no room for logic, and so she pleads.

R'hyn tries - lips flick up, twitchy, fleeting, trying to take the half-issued jest for what it is - but somewhere between her sob and a hollow ache like he's been punched in the gut, it just doesn't last. "Don't be. They'll definitely be jealous," he says in a quiet voice, not quite able to reach the drawl he wants to, but unwilling to just say nothing, pressing a large hand over her tiny one at his elbow. He lapses into silence through the walk, resumes it after his initial question, expression finally crumpling, lines of worry emphasizing tired eyes and lips that thin to a flat line under pressure. His head shakes, once, twice at first, then increasingly rapidly, a quiet huff through his nose betraying emotion before hands fly through his hair, sending it all askance, an anxiety-ridden gesture that's become increasingly common. "Fuck." Because he'd wanted to seek the same from her. "No. I-" He inhales deeply, gathers thoughts, meets her eyes, and gives her what he can. "He was at our mating flight lecture just before Teimyrth-" He can't finish the sentence, restarts. "He seemed alright. Irreverent. Distracted, towards the end. Somehow managed to get himself to talk about Iris, but… He left on good enough terms, and then—" Another throat-catch, another change. "He did send a note. To D'nyl, who gave it to Sundari. I didn't read it, but…" He hadn't needed to, information flying fierce and fast by the time he emerged from the infirmary. R'hyn's mouth pulls down at the corners for Kiltara's rising hysteria, gaze softening in a mix of sadness and empathy, head set to shaking again. "Xermiltoth can't either," he replies, gaze twitching away to the dark bronze perched protectively on the bowl rim, the dragon's sheer silence as telling of the weyrling pair's state as the bags under R'hyn's eyes or the sunken curve of his shoulders. He doesn't reply to her questions at first, but he does look her way, troubled expression reading a distressed mantra of 'I don't know, I don't know, I don't know' as well as if he'd shouted it. He doesn't know, not if they are alive, or why E'ros won't tell her, or if they're okay, but what he does know is that this is not the time to express as much, despite how desperate things look, and so he opens his arms to wordlessly offer an embrace if she wants it, heaving a breath that might've been called 'steadying,' if only it hadn't struggled so much. "I don't think they're dead." Whatever comfort that might be - he cannot promise 'okay,' that is so far beyond him that he doesn't even try as he continues, "I think we would know. The dragons, if nobody else." He tries to sound confident of it, but he knows he's grasping at straws, too, anything - anything - to keep from having to face the potential of a terrible truth.

“He talked about Iris?” There’s cutting disbelief that somehow makes its way through the hazy fog of grief in Kiltara’s eyes, but it’s quick to be snuffed out in the tide of quick-rising panic. That is a conversation they can have perhaps another time, when they’re not both contending with metaphorical gaping holes in their persons where Ila’den and Kit’s three children used to be - for Kit, anyway. “Faranth, I haven’t told her.” And Kiltara’s hand is coming to her neck again, as if this isn’t a conversation she wants to have - not with the goldrider, not with any of Ila’den’s children, not even with herself. The tiny woman seems momentarily distracted, brows furrowing, lips moving wordlessly before her entire body seems to tremble in response - perhaps because R’hyn is telling her that Xermiltoth cannot do the impossible either, perhaps because she already knew that anyway. It’s when R’hyn offers up a hug in wordless comfort and companionship, complemented with hopeful words, that Kit’s shaking her head again - violently, almost as if the gesture frightens her. It isn’t that the offered sanctuary is unwanted, but going into R’hyn’s arms means every fraying strand of strength that she’s been clinging to so desperately will snap - and then she will just be one more broken thing for R’hyn to worry about. She can clearly see the tired eyes and the defeat in his posture, and it’s indication that he’s already worrying enough. It doesn’t help that she’s had an aversion to physical contact since… Instead, she tries to excuse the erratic behavior with a half sobbed, “I’m sorry,” as if this is explanation enough. And then she’s reaching out one hand, offering what comfort she can in the gentle press of her palm to R’hyn’s sternum, followed by several gentle pats like one might apply to their sleeping child in the midst of restless wakefulness before she drops it back into the distance between them. She clings to his hope then, forcing a smile that is more of a grimace when forced to contend with wet tears and uncooperative, trembling lips, going so far as to even gasp in what might be laughter except that it sounds so much more like broken fragments of heartache. “You’re right. Ila’den’s probably annoying them with his,” her voice goes hoarse, forced, dropping to a whisper as she chokes out the word, “stupid,” and then continues after a brief pause with, “sense of humor. And he wouldn’t… he wouldn’t let them do anything to my…” She can’t finish the word, her lips clamping closed around another wretched sob as her breath seems to come in tiny, too-quick gasps. She’s hyperventilating. For a moment those grey eyes are wide, and perhaps she’s seeing her two little girls as manipulated and violated and helpless as she had once been. She reaches out to grab R’hyn’s forearm as her knees threaten to give, but she uses him as much for leverage to stand as she uses him for strength. She is a mother; she has kissed scraped knees, mended broken bones, and dealt with the heartache of childhood rejection, and damn it, but this isn’t the first time she’s had children ripped away from her. She found the strength for her children then and she will find it for them now. She doesn’t stop shaking, but her breathing slows, and there’s another whispered apology before she pulls her hand back to her chest. This time, her voice is more steady, “I’m sorry that they took him - them - from you too.”

R'hyn marks the woman's disbelief with only a twitch of his brows and a slight widening of his eyes, as though to nonverbally communicate his own amazement. There's little more forthcoming on the topic, though, following her shift in subject with a downward pull of his mouth. "I'm sure they already know," he says after a moment, perhaps save her the responsibility of having making the meeting in the first place, or considering the undesirable depths of that potential conversation. It is food for entirely too much thought, momentary distraction revealing much of the reason R'hyn has thrown himself headlong from task to task - even the brief pause in conversation allows his own mind to wander, a slow knit forming between his brows, held there until the tiny woman moves again. Unperturbed by her fervent denial, the weyrling simply lowers his arms, an understanding nod immediately preceding a hushed, "It's okay." Because it is; it's the reason the gesture was offered, instead of forcibly given or taken, there if she needed it, and withdrawn because she doesn't. A blink of honest surprise is given to the hand patting his chest, but the man doesn't respond except to bite his lip, doesn't trust himself to, letting her withdraw into her own space, leaving him to his. Her attempt at humor bridges the gap, however, drawing R'hyn's gaze up to Kit’s face, expression somewhere between wretched and wanting so badly to laugh - really laugh, not the whisping huffs of breath that's all he can manage. "I give it another sevenday before they're bringing 'em back and turning themselves over," he replies, words brittle in their attempt to contain humor. "Anything to escape his damn jokes and incessant laughing." But the children. The children. He doesn't answer that, doesn't have to, expression a mangled mess of emotions from anger to anxiety to despair to fear, because of course Ila'den will do everything he can, even to the point of purposefully endangering himself it it means sparing them, and R'hyn can't let himself start down the path of dark what-ifs. Can't. Won't. This way lies madness. This way lies pain with no salve, wounds he can't treat, not with humans, not with liquor, not with running, no escape, no escape, no— Stop it. Shoulders square with a sharp inhale, spine attempting to straighten just in time for Kiltara to brace herself using his forearm. The weyrling holds, surveying her with a dispassion that still manages to read anguish despite the effort to raise walls, walls that crack, shatter, rend all over again when finally she speaks. R'hyn looks like he's been struck. Blue-grey eyes flick from Kiltara’s hand to her face, breathing rapid and unsteady, his own fingers curling to keep hands from shaking; it's the first time anyone has acknowledged Ila'den as being in any way his, enough that this matters, that it physically hurts to put words to a nebulous idea because it makes it real, makes this real, standing in the corner of the goddamned training field, children gone, Ila'den gone, innocence robbed as to just who they are with, unable to retreat into blissful ignorance. He knows too much, and he feels too much, and it's all too much, and there’s nothing to keep him from falling apart, composure lost, going down, elbows on knees, face in hands, shoulders shaking, as Xermiltoth growls overhead, eyes whirling with fierce agitation.

And Kiltara tries to find humor in R’hyn’s humor but, much like the younger man, falls markedly short of actually being able to laugh. It might be laughter, maybe, but generally laughter doesn’t sound so wretched and hollow, like the caricature of amusement that dies abruptly on her lips. She’s just managed to get herself together when she is saying the wrong thing - right thing? - to R’hyn, and Faranth, but there is something about watching a man that you know is strong inside and out crumble. When the weyrling goes down to his knees, face in hands, shoulders trembling, Kiltara feels those tenuous strands of strength within her snap. There’s a strangled whimper that rends its way free of her throat, and for a long moment, she simply stares at him, stricken. She doesn’t watch him out of some kind of morbid fascination with cataloging R’hyn’s pain, but because the onslaught of guilt and horror, and knowing that he cares so much about her brother, about her children is overwhelming. Finally, finally she wills her body into motion and lowers herself just enough to bring her arms around R’hyn’s shoulders and pull his head, hands and all, into her chest. Fingers rake his hair, she rocks her tiny body back and forth, and despite the fact that she’s in pieces herself, she’s managing shaky words of comfort. It’s a mantra of the same two things: “I’m so sorry,” and, “I’m right here,” because maybe, maybe R’hyn knowing he’s not wading through that sense-robbing, breath stealing, heart rending darkness alone will be enough to bring his head back above water. Fingers dip to his shoulders, rubbing between his shoulderblades, and she pulls back just enough to sink down lower, arm retreating down his shoulder to his bicep as she moves, shifting to grab at his wrists and gently pull. If she gets her way and he exposes his face, she’ll rub his cheeks with tiny thumbs or chase away his tears despite the fact that her own are falling without restraint. And then she speaks, again. “You are the best thing that has happened to him, R’hyn. The best. I see it in his smile, and hear it in his voice, and feel it in his laugh when he talks about you. He loves you. He’s going to come back for you, because he is stubborn. He is stubborn, and he loves you, and he’s going to bring,” another strangled whimper, as she stumbles, then continues with a breathy, “my babies back. Because that’s who he is. Stubborn, and strong, and unbreakable.” That’s what she has to believe, and she needs R’hyn to believe it too if either of them are expected to hold on to their sanity. She swallows another sob, muffles it by clamping teeth on her bottom lip, and then she pulls her hands away from him to wipe at her own eyes and right herself. “And he would be appalled at us both. So, we have to be strong, because that’s what he would expect. You have to get up, R’hyn. Get up, and get back out there, and go kick somebody’s ass.” And the last is said with tenuous strength, with more of that tenuous humor - another attempt to break away from all-consuming despair, and another failure. At least she’s trying. Caps Dragon is but acknowledged with a flicker of a glance, but she’s used to being in the company of bronze dragons prone to bouts of agitation.

R'hyn is of no mind to protest, not when he's pulled against Kiltara, not when he's rocked, not when he's offered quiet words and comforting touches, whatever fragile hold the weyrling had on his emotions fled in the face of too much thought, not enough ability to act. And so he falls apart, lets fear and anger and helplessness and despair purge themselves, marked by shoulders that shake and spasm, uneven breaths drawn between waves of tears. It's a hard to tell if repetitive, whispered words help at first, but by the time his hands are drawn away from his face R'hyn has settled into relative silence, quiet sobs faded into slow sniffs and rough exhales. Gentle cheek-sweeping elicits a second round of tears to be shed, impassioned words concerning just how much he's loved causing eyes to screw shut, lower lip disappearing between his teeth to keep any modicum of control over the fresh wave of emotion that threatens to tear through him. It's a near thing, entire form shuddering, swaying into the hands on his face when even Kiltara has to stop, gather, try again with a low noise that's not quite a keen but he manages, if only just, to keep from dissolving all over again. Fingernails dig into his own elbows, head shaking, with no explanation over whether it is a denial of her words or merely a reaction to them, instead struggling to regain whatever fractured composure he's managed to scrape together. It might well be her decree that's Ila'den would be ashamed of them that pushes him back into himself in the end - it inspires another strangled, hysterical laugh, lonely in its singularity, but positive nevertheless. It's progress, even as his eyes roll skywards, too-bright and too-red, but by the time they close, a steadying breath is taken, and a nod is dispensed, they're able to meet Kiltara’s with something much more akin to the bronzeling’s usual attitude glittering in their depths. “You're right,” R'hyn says at last, voice thick and crackling, head ducking and thumb-heels dashing remaining wet from his face, another hard exhale needed to compose himself before he tries again. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have— you have so much else—” But he did, and her situation won't change by his dredging it up again, and so he changes tack, uttering a low but no less earnest, “Thank you” instead. A beat passes, then two, indulging in the moment while he has it, letting it have its way while it might, and then shoulders tense up out of their slump, chin lifting, eyes going hard but not unfriendly - merely resolved, pain and anguish woven in, not gone, simply repurposed. “Kicking ass might not be as easy as it sounds,” he says after another long silence, phrasing the words carefully, slowly, before sliding her a look that indicates he hopes she understands some deeper meaning. “They aren't letting weyrlings fly, and Xerm isn't exactly the least conspicuous dragon in the weyr.” He doesn't have to look up to know that the bronze has relaxed back to the stone, seeming to ignore them again in favor of tracking the progress of a returning sweep. “But he isn't shy about bespeaking people, so if you need anything, you can always talk to him.” And then R'hyn blinks, severing his intense gaze by drawing to his feet in one fluid motion, offering a hand to Kiltara if she'd like to use it, waiting politely for her to rise whether she does or not before twitching a fragile little smile over at her along with a quiet, determined, “We'll get them back.” Then his attention finally flicks outwards, sweeping over the training grounds, waiting for her to make the next move as he continues to piece shattered pieces of himself back together.

It breaks her; it breaks something in her even though breaking more seems so impossible when there’s nothing of her left. But R’hyn breaks, and Kit breaks even as she clings tight to that part of herself that demands she comfort, that demands she nurture, that persists in the knowledge that she is a mother and she has spent turns of her life quieting nightmares and hushing fears. “Veski would have helped us.” Or perhaps she’s beyond repair, so far gone into the bleak darkness of despair that even a man who’d stripped her of a childhood and wrought destruction on everything she ever knew seems more akin to a beacon of hope now. “Maybe…” But she clamps down on the thought with teeth, refuses to speak it, shakes her head in denial until the tears that threaten subside and she’s watching R’hyn gain his footing. It’s only a moments hesitation between his proffered hand and Kiltara’s acceptance of his help, wrapping small hands around one of the weyrling’s and using his much bigger body as leverage to find her feet. Another smile comes, as broken as the first, shaky and stretching into a grimace before she gives up and looks away. She listens, she hears, and she reassures on hushed tones that are almost inaudible over the practice of weyrlings in the yard. “It’s fine.” But then grey eyes are on him again, focusing for that moment of admittance, lingering as she grapples with feelings and words and finding her own voice long enough to say, “If…” It starts again, a sob that she swallows down, a quiver of chin and lips as tumultuous emotions vie for dominance and almost win. “If Ila’den is alive, he would want you here.” It’s so quiet, so hushed, so hard to hear and strained because her strength is fading, because she’s starting to look confused — as if she doesn’t know why she’s here, as if words, and sights, and sounds are starting to cease being logical. “I have to go.” Because maybe they will get them back – she has to believe it, has to, because the alternative is giving up and despair and the loss of life and she can’t fathom the thought. That way lies dragons — and not the engineered thread-fighters native to Pern. “I…” A beat. “I have to go.” More stricken, more effused with hysteria, and all the more that R’hyn will get from her as she turns away and moves like one might expect a wraith to – lost, as if she lost all purpose long ago.

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