Fort Weyr - Cavern of Streams
The actual entrance to this cavern is a tunnel, with the sides blocking off views of everything but what is in front. Light apparently was provided by glow baskets that have long since vanished from the nooks created for them. The tunnel doesn't lead far, but when the bulging sides give way, the sight is awesome. The cavern widens to all sides, the walls left natural, not at all smooth or even. The sound of dripping water creates an echo off the walls of the cavern, as small streams of water have eaten away at the rock over thousands of Turns. The streams are more common around this room than the ground proper, where dry areas begin to take on a stepping stone appearance.

The overwhelming wonder of this cavern is further created by the rock in which the walls were formed, for they sparkle and shine when illuminated due to the mineral deposits within the stone. The ceiling is also adorned with stalactites, which are numerous and large. At the east side, where there seems to be a dead end, is a vast pool with water that appears black for the unknown depth truly there within. Yet, the water is actually flowing toward the pool and seemingly underneath rock that hangs inches above the water.

Dinner, dancing, and now… dismay, at realizing that there isn't a good word for "after-midnight walk with Mirinda that starts with the letter D". Zhirayr is, however, quite proud of himself for remembering to bring his own glow basket, as the last time he'd been out to the Cavern of Streams it was to discover that every other glow basket had managed to grow legs and go on its own pleasant walk out of the caves. "Have you been this way before?" he asks, as the sound of water grows louder, and they haven't seen another soul in at least five minutes. Hopefully he isn't planning to murder her and dump the body, right?

Not that Mirinda has actually thought of that, thankfully — Zhirayr is someone the Weyrwoman seems to trust, and so she's seen no reason to behave otherwise. He was also not a terrible patient when afflicted with fever, and some of the people she'd recently had to deal with, illness-wise, had been terribly unpleasant. "I — don't think I have, no," she determines after a careful thought. One would assume she'd remember. She tries not to assume things. "You know the Weyr very well, I take it."

"I've lived here all my life," Zhirayr sort-of answers, smiling, and leads her around the corner to the big, fancy show-off part of the caverns. Pretty! "I think I was about seven, the first time my parents brought me here," he muses. "Come to think of it, I think I'd had a fever — the water's quite cold. And it was very warm, that summer." Was it actually warm, or is that just how he remembers it? How would he be able to tell?

Mirinda is doing her best not to look horrified. After all, maybe one of his parents does have medical training of some sort? Maybe? And it couldn't have done that much harm, surely, or been that cold. "So your family used an elegant semi-private cavern to treat — it's an interesting idea, at least."

"Feel free to dip a toe in," Zhirayr offers with a careless/casual sort of smile. "If you're curious about how cold it is — it's not like they left me in there to soak all <i>that</i> long, anyway. Repeated brief dunkings, more like. Anyway — since then, I've enjoyed the odd picnic down here. Not too many people come by — something about having to remember to bring your own glow basket, I've always thought."

It's unorthodox and probably silly by her standards, but Mirinda can't resist. Off goes one shoe (thankfully there were no socks) and she does, in fact, dip a toe in the water. Three, in fact. "That would work, yes," she laughs. "Though you'd have to be careful not to just end up sicker from repeated temperature changes. Interesting place to bring someone for a walk, too." Especially after a party. Especially when she is completely unable to tell what his intentions are.

"Well, it was the prettiest, most private place I could think, within easy walking distance in those shoes," Zhirayr explained, perhaps not as helpfully as he thought, gesturing around with the glow basket in his hand. (The walls sparkled at them.) "Privacy being moderately hard to come by without going to someone's private room, after all." Not that they didn't both have those, but. It was the principle of the thing…?

"Pretty is a requirement after such an elegant evening, I suppose," Mirinda demurs, avoiding any insult to her shoes, which she thought were remarkably practical for the occasion! They didn't have the ridiculous heels some others had. (Did he see Inri?) "It was kind of you to ask, anyway, and nice of you to show me the place — I might come here to work, sometime, if the infirmary gets too rowdy." With a glowbasket. "Though I can't see myself bringing my own little one here, I'd be too afraid she'd get hurt."

"How old is she, again?" Zhirayr asks, because that's the sort of thing that's supposed to be said, in a moment like this, regardless of whether or not he actually remembers the answer. "If her vision is all right, and she's a strong swimmer, I don't see why you couldn't trust her — not alone, obviously, but the paths are quite smooth and so is the stone underwater. And it's not that cold, really. It's not icy," he amends. It is that cold.

Mirinda noticed that it was that cold, actually, though that's not really what her concern is. "Four. Not the age to be running around on her own anyway, but I'd be worried about the dark and running and falling on wet stone." Even if Zhirayr is essentially telling her it's hard to slip, and there's nothing to fall on anyway.

"We-ell…" Okay, well. Fair. It's not like she's eight, and will think that running away here All On Her Own is a fantastic idea, Zhirayr reminds himself. "Maybe give it another year or two," he admits. "Although at least she isn't too likely to find her way back down here on her own, at this age. Could be worse." She could be a teenager.

"I hope she isn't finding her way anywhere on her own." It hasn't been easy for Mirinda to trust nannies as often as she's had to with the level of work she has taken on. Weyrhealer is far different from A Senior Journeyman; there are people looking to her, rather than just working with her. "But she does love it here. Apparently it's a great place to raise children." Who would have thought? Not Mirinda. Probably Zhirayr, though.

"Well, I was raised here, and I never had any complaints," he pointed out easily, smiling a little at her. "Neither did any of my siblings, or my aunts and uncles, or the other kids I was raised with, for that matter — oh, the occasionally odd squabble here and there, sure, but never anything major. Any time someone moved away, it wasn't really about moving away so much as it was about moving to some other place with some new opportunity, near as I can remember."

"That's essentially how we ended up here." Mirinda's expression is a bit grave, and she's looking out at the water more than looking at him, pulling her shawl a tiny bit tighter across her shoulders. "New opportunity."

"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" Zhirayr asked softly, pulling off his own jacket and lightly wrapping it around Mirinda's shoulders. Just in case she was chilly.

"Did you not," Mirinda hazards, voice and expression both cautious, as if she's suddenly worried she's read him wrong, "ask me here alone so you could do exactly that?"

"— I, well." An awkward smile. "I suppose there were a few of those, really, that I wanted to ask — some of them more intimate than others, but most of them personal. At this particular point," Zhirayr rallies, "I meant — may I ask about that? The opportunity? You don't sound as if you actually wanted to come here, the way you're talking right now."

Firmly holdbred, it almost occurs to Mirinda that she should tell him she's married, just in case his intents are what she thinks they might be — but of course, warring instincts: shouldn't he know that, since she has a child? and, of course, she is also technically not married any longer. Which is just as technically the answer to the question. "I didn't. I mean. I wasn't hugely against it, and it was technically a promotion, but my senior journeyman's knot itself felt like kind of the consolation prize after my marriage fell apart. Coming here was for a change of environment, as much as it was because of the position needing to be filled. I do miss the Hall, I liked teaching. But being somewhere new is good for us. Taimri's happy. That's the most important thing." (This is what happens when vigs don't get finished: no one got to see that evolve in Mir's head, even if it was half-written.) She's still not actually making eye contact, here. It's still a shame on her. Her husband left her. She failed.

"And," even more gently, as Zhirayr's hand came up to her shoulder, resting there — compassionately — "may I ask what happened to your marriage, that it fell apart?"

There's really nothing Mirinda can say besides, "I wish I knew." Even if she's frequently encouraged to not try to figure it out.

"Well — from your perspective," Zhirayr tries again. "Did one of you leave the other? Mutual animosity? His pet tunnelsnake ate your dog?"

"He left. Without much of any explanation. I didn't push." Lie. Mirinda pushed. She just eventually gave up. "My animosity has grown since then, but there wasn't any to start."

"He left you?" To say that Zhirayr is astonished and disbelieving is to understate matters somewhat — but even so, it's clear that his disbelief lies with her ex-husband, and not with her report. "Was he mad? I can't imagine why anyone would want to give you up!"

"I'm not going to speak so highly of myself to say that I can't either, though that is very kind of you," though Zhirayr also mostly knows Mirinda because of her work, and therefore knows how much she works, so where is the mystery, really? "And that I never thought he was. Mad, I mean. He seemed perfectly sane and stable. I suppose he was just unhappy. I don't dwell." She really can't.

"But he never even —" Talked to you, expressing any complaints, so you could work on fixing them dies unspoken on his lips, and Zhirayr reaches up to scrub the non-glowbasket-holding hand across his face and back through his hair for a moment, before he gestures with it to cut himself off more thoroughly. "You know what? Never mind. To hell with him. He obviously didn't deserve you." Which is to say: Zhirayr works just as much.

What a nice, if odd, turn of events. Mirinda likes this. Mirinda was not expecting this, she just agreed to go for a walk because he'd been so kind about wanting to dance with her. Now, though, she's being flattered and unable to not flush slightly, smiling down at her boots. At least he can't see her much? "Thank you," is all she actually says.

That, of course, is probably expecting him to have normal eyesight, and not eyesight that has, over the years, adapted to countless days and nights and hours spent in the caverns, poring over various account books and inventories — he can see her well enough to take heart, thinking that she maybe even likes that he's that passionate about it. About her. Ahem. "You," Zhirayr says softly, reaching out to touch her on the cheek lightly with two fingertips, "deserve someone who recognizes how brilliant you are, and how special, and knows that any time you have to share is all the more precious for its rarity."

"You've only spoken to me a few times." Weyr life. Really not for Mirinda. Really. Everything moves so much faster and people show actual interest in dating people they've only spoken to a few times! "I don't know how you already think you know me so well as all that."

Zhirayr, of course, gives her a quizzical look. "I don't think I know you," he answers, puzzlement sounding out in his voice. "Not thoroughly, or half so well as I'd like — but I think I know you well enough to know a few things about you, and one of them is what I just said, and another is that I'd like to get to know you better, very much."

Of course Mirinda is about to say 'that's very kind' again. She is so bad at this. She is so very, very bad at this. Experience does not actually speak well of her, since she has had exactly one real relationship and it ended — well. They covered that. "I — thank you." Not that she hadn't already said that, too.

"So is that a yes?" Has Zhirayr actually asked a question that Mirinda understood? Well, he certainly seems to think so.

Maybe it's Zhirayr's turn to flush, just slightly (in a slightly-darker-olive sort of way); he murmurs, "I'd like to get to know you better, Weyrhealer. Mirinda, if I may be so bold." Because, of course, he hasn't been even remotely bold in his lead-up to this point. "And, perhaps, to consider this a — our — first date." He even manages not to be too questioning, there at the end.

"A gala for the weyrlings, what a suitable first date," Mirinda laughs lightly, almost distantly — almost. Not actually. She doesn't seem to be displeased. Nor does she respond as far as what he's permitted to call her, or on his boldness. "I'm not objecting, though I'll be honest, I don't exactly know how Weyr dating works. The rules, and so on, and so forth."

"Is this not still — never mind." To Mirinda she expected one to be the extension of the other, but that is clearly wrong. And it is his territory. And his call, because he is the man in the relationship (that would be the alien part turning up), so she is going to go with it. "I honestly am not sure. I just know it's very different from what I'm used to. Just about everything, socially, is different from where I grew up, and the Hall was different, and Landing was much different."

"Then maybe," Zhirayr begins, surprisingly gentle, as he reaches to hold her hand in his, "instead of worrying about what's the same or different, between here and there or that other place, why don't we just focus in on what the two of us actually like and enjoy? I don't think anyone <i>else</i>'s expectations ought to matter to either of us." A beat, while he considered. "Except possibly for your daughter's, I suppose, but just at the moment I doubt she has much, in the way of expectations for those who try to date her mother."

"Because," Mirinda isn't really arguing, just kind of pressing a point she believes is important, "ground rules actually do matter in this sort of thing. Misinterpreting boundaries is often something that even casual friends can't bounce back from, and stepping with the wrong foot early on won't do anyone very well." She isn't trying to turn him into a conservative; she's just trying to feel out how much her own boundaries are going to be stretched and how uncomfortable it's going to be.

"Oh, I'm not arguing against that," Zhirayr answers, back to being ever-so-slightly puzzled again. "But — I don't think it's a question of comparing expectations here versus expectations there versus expectations in Landing, so much as it is covering what you expect, or want, and what I expect, or want, so that we both know where we stand, here, together, just you and me. And not, so much, what anyone else is going to expect us to do."

"That's what I asked," Mirinda points out — still calm, not even as pressing as before. "About your expectations, I mean, that's what I meant to ask." It wasn't actually what she did ask.

"Well — gold flights notwithstanding, I don't, actually, rush into sex," Zhirayr begins very calmly, which may or may not in turn be calming for Mirinda. After all, what if a gold flight comes along next week?! "I'd rather start out with more conversations — dinner, drinks occasionally. Spending time together, when our schedules both allow it. Let things develop naturally."

Oh, the answer to that is easy. Mirinda won't be there. As for what he does — it doesn't occur to her to be an issue. "One stereotype obliterated," she says with a thin smile, "though I suppose you're not a rider, so who knows how much it counts. That does sound enjoyable, though." She's used 'nice' too many times.

"I'll hardly say I have as many hang-ups about sex as the average Holdbred person might," is the reasonably-diplomatic way Zhirayr chooses to phrase this, "but my parents were married before they had children, and always held that if you fell in love with someone, the smart thing to do was to let them know that as early and often as possible, in as binding a way as you could manage. They've been a pretty good role model, I think, for a lasting relationship."

"Apparently, as I'm guessing they still are. Married. But the idea of — flights, it doesn't — bother you." As in: he stuck around for them. Mystery to Mirinda why anyone would want to do that.

"Ye-es," he answers, puzzled, again. And, then, Zhirayr pauses, and: "What bothers you about them? Specifically? Has anyone actually asked, and then listened?"

"Are you trying to date me or be my mindhealer?" Mirinda asks wryly, because: really. "I am well aware of my own emotional limitations and hang-ups. It is, actually, part of the job to stay on top of that kind of thing."

"I'm trying to date you, and I'm not a mindhealer," Zhirayr answers, amused. "Sometimes, though, when people don't happen to have mindhealers, they turn to their significant others — people they can trust — for that sort of conversation. I'm not claiming that you trust me that much yet, by any stretch, but — well."

"Maybe," Mirinda was willing to concede, with the tiniest of sighs, "someday. Right now, I do have — the Hall isn't too far away." Sorry, C'rus, she'd rather trek there than trust you just yet either.

"And, strangely enough, I don't doubt you can get a ride there just about any time you want, or at least need," Zhirayr allows, his smile tempering somewhat toward the more-professional side of things, with a slight aftershade of uncertainty. She can get a ride, can't she?A Healer, visiting the Hall…? It's not like she has to explain why she wants to go! … Right?

Another nod; no, she really doesn't. Mirinda does go back and forth a lot,a nd she's got family there as well. "Generally, Haast's riders are happy to help." Whether they're the Healer riders or the transport ones. "Though at present I'm not really in need of a mindhealer. I am adjusting."

"Just … slightly slower than your daughter is." Maybe it's a little bit teasing; maybe it's a little bit understanding — it's not like Zhirayr's ever moved, or even had a massive lifestyle adjustment to deal with, ever, but he's definitely witnessed a lot of them in his time.

"She doesn't even remember the places we used to live." Places, not place. Mirinda certainly hasn't been at the Healer Hall her entire life until Fort, and technically neither has Taimri, if Mirinda's pregnancy counts as having lived. "So no, not as quickly. She's already pretty much forgotten about the Hall." She's probably also forgotten her father; her mother doesn't seem to care.

"I don't think," the Assistant Steward begins, "that I want you to forget about the Hall, exactly — but," as he offers her his hand (the one not holding the glowbasket, obviously), "maybe — like her — you'll find that, the more time you spend here, the more this becomes home."

Mirinda takes his hand, rather than taking the glowbasket, at least. She doesn't go so far as to allow the kind of intimacy that is twining fingers, but she is at least allowing hand-holding over arm-linking. "I've been here long enough that it is starting to at least feel familiar. If I hadn't liked it I would've left long ago — I was given that choice. The Hall isn't draconian. But I like the job and I like our quarters, and Tai's very happy with the nannies. Haven't seen any reason to object to staying."

"Then hopefully," as Zhirayr folds his fingers around hers, "we'll be able to come up with some reasons for you to actively want to stay." And he grins at her, crookedly, from the side — and eventually, when the chill in the air gets to be a little bit too much, leads the way back out of the caves, to where she isn't hopelessly misplaced.