Who Fioreyla, Sohzen
What Fire and Zen defy their own different kinds of gravity.
When Winter 2719
Where Living Caverns, Fort Weyr

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Fort Weyr - Living Caverns
This cavern, having been created by bubbles in the volcanic flow of this extinct volcano, has a breathtaking ceiling — a vast dome that arches high above the heads of the weyrfolk that scurry around beneath it. A hollow echo can be heard from loud enough noises, and the chatterings of various firelizards are consequently multiplied into a chaotic babble. All in all, the living cavern is a loud place.
Tables are scattered around the room, apparently in no particular order. Over to one side near the kitchens, two medium sized serving tables are constantly spread with snacks, klah, and other goodies. The tables look worn, yet perfectly fitted to the atmosphere of the caverns. In the 'corners' of the cavern, smaller two and four place tables are set up for more private talks or just a less chaotic atmosphere in which to eat.


It is morning in Fort Weyr, early enough and cold enough that the world outside borders on quiet, peaceful rather than predatory as Rukbat casts a warm golden glow upon glittering snowbanks. The caverns are not quite so still, for though the day is young, the weyr is awake, abustle with chaos enough to camouflage the knotless outsider presently invading its depths. Long hair pooling inside a freshly-lowered hood, Sohzen observes the activity in the caverns with a deadened gaze, dark eyes flickering only as they mark things an ordinary person might not: exits, knot origins, body language, the come and go of messengers both firelizard and children alike, cataloguing each with no evidence of emotion for what any, all might mean to him. Instead, he takes slow, measured steps towards food presentations, head down and silence held as a plate is gathered, a quiet table with its back to a wall selected for his occupation. Though he hardly denies anyone the opportunity to join him, he nevertheless sets dark eyes upon anyone who draws near, and perhaps the simple and utter lack of emotion encapsulated in their depths is enough to dissuade most folks, who turn at seemingly the last second to pursue tables elsewhere and leave him to his peace. For now.

It works for everybody except for Fioreyla, apparently. The newly-knotted journeyman is stumbling her way into the relative warmth of the caverns from the relentless (and peaceful) cold outside, pulling the scarf wrapped for protection around her nose and mouth down to rest about her neck so that she can breathe and definitely not scope out the knotless shadow from amid the throng of bustling busybodies unhindered. Violet eyes fall on Sohzen, linger for a moment too long, and just as Fire turns a curious shade of red, she looks away. She tries to play it cool, she really, really does, but somewhere between the fourth time stumbling into a chair or a table or another human being and having to apologize profusely before trying to get away (with a thousand little half-bows and eyes fixated on the floor (and maybe a gloved hand coming up to try to hide her face)), Fire lost it completely. Still, she finds her way to the serving table, looks at Zen again, and if he's looking at her (and, let's be real, even if he's not), she's looking away super quick to pretend she didn't see him all while piling a plate with food. Food she isn't looking at when she grabs it, so looks like an absolute train wreck to behold when she finally does turn around with it in hand. There's another flickering glance towards her BFF murder baby, another quick look away as Fire mindfully places her feet one foot in front of the other to avoid any other disastrous collisions and… after passing SEVERAL TABLES WITH PLENTY OF SPACE, finds her way at Zen's. Look at her try to feign surprise. And fail miserably. "O-Oh. Z-Zen. I d-didn't… see you there." AHEM. She is just going to drop her plate there on the table, and climb into her chair without so much as an INVITATION, place those rolling-to-escape pieces of food BACK WHERE THE BELONG and then pause as she blinks at what she piled onto her plate. A beat, two, three, and there's a forced, "Mmm. I l-love… bubbly… mashed… tubers." SQUINT. Yeah, she totally grabbed a bubbly and piled it high with mashed tubers. She even watches herself WARILY scoop up a piece of that catastrophe and slooowly brings it to her mouth. YEP. THAT'S A FORCED SMILE. "It's…" choke. "r-really good." Don't mind her ducking her head down with a look that says the exact opposite. She's… probably just cold…?

Let us, for a moment, be honest with ourselves and say that Sohzen almost definitely noted Fioreyla upon entrance. Even supposing that, by some random happenstance, he did not immediately spy a familiar face in a throng he is observing with what is almost overcaution for the normally-aloof hunter, there is almost certainly no chance he missed every stumbling occurrence thereafter. Fioreyla has a wake, of a sort, not the type to part a crowd before her but certainly one to leave rippling reaction, as a stone skipped upon water leads without quite realizing just what chaos it's left bheind. If he feels anything for her presence, her 'subtle' glances, her apologizing and bowing to a chair, it does not register on his features. The only indication he has noticed at all comes and goes in a long pause as he watches with the inevitability of one watching a train wreck in progress, fork lowering to press the tips of tongs to his plate, steadying it there with long finger tips as he merely marks and tracks her with unerring attentiveness. It's only when the travesty becomes too much, when foods that do not belong are laden atop one another that he finally wheels his gaze away, eyes flicking downwards to consider the contents of his own plate even as she makes her way to his table. There is no surprise for her arrival, not that, at this point, she might have expected much, but he lacks even his typical hallmark twitches of brows or of mouth. She receives only an upward glance, the tension about his eyes and an infinitesmal press of his lips perhaps expressing how dubious he finds her false statement, but, polite as ever, he does not point it out. Instead dark eyes drop obediently to her plate when she brings attention to it, watching without comment as she makes that fateful decision to lie in the bed she's made, so to speak. It's perhaps terrible of him, but he lets her, gaze following her hand as she spoons a portion of the monstrosity, lifts it to her mouth, and yes that is a slow blink of 'I can't believe you're doing this' disbelief that comes and goes with typical swiftness as she chokes around what has to be a borderline terrible melange of flavors. It fast becomes clear just why Sohzen fixated on his plate in the intervening moments between buffet and table - ungloved hands reach out to fasten about the lip of her plate, drawing it back and away from her to be replaced with his own, healthier and significantly less gross fare in the form of fruits, eggs, and toast pressed into her proximity before pushing her plate away. Way away. "Hello, Fioreyla," comes at length, hands folding gently upon the table before him, fingers crossing betwixt one another in a gesture that would be casual on anyone else. Pale bandages are perhaps just visible beneath one billowing sleeve, but Zen's attention has returned to Fire's face, head tilting just so to look her over. "Are you well?"

Bless Sohzen for being himself. It makes it that much easier for Fire to keep pretending that she doesn't know that Zen knows she knew he was there the entire time. But there is no surprise - not for a lack of expression, not for the greeting that does come, not for the bandages, or question, or removal of her own plate to replace with his own even if Fioreyla's shoulders do sink a little. It might be relief, it might be guilt, but Fire doesn't argue as she tucks into his food instead and ensures that she has chipmunk cheeks when she looks up to meet his gaze. She pauses, her grip on the utensil between her fingers going limp so that it arcs back towards her hand and then falls, leaving her looking MUCH LIKE A CAT trying to catch a lazer pointer beneath two paws. Or, in this case, her hands. There's a sound that comes, something that might have been words were it not stifled by food, but something that sounds suspiciously like, "Mmf. Mmf fmmy." And there she goes. Picking up her utensil, swallowing hard, and spearing more food with alacrity. "D-did you know that during a… during a-r-rousal, the i-inner nose always swells?" … Really, Fire? This is how we're doing this? "And that i-intercourse can increase your p-pain tolerance?" Now she isn't even looking at Zen. Now Fire is just SPEARING MORE FOOD AND SHOVING IT IN HER MOUTH, making a noise that sounds suspiciously like, "It's true," but comes out more along the lines of, "Is foo." Now if only she could figure out a way to sink through the floor and bury herself alive.

Ah. There it is. The straw that breaks the camel's back, presented in the form of chipmunked cheeks stuffed full of surrendered sustenance. Sohzen exhales long and slow through his nose, exhalation too gentle to be a sigh, just as the upwards sweep of his eyes is too ponderous to be a true irritated roll; if anything, the paired gestures are likely as close to an expression of fond amusement as a creature such as he might manage, briefly reviewing the room beyond their small table before focusing inwards again. A beat. Two. Then, "Your fork is going to…" Too late. There it goes. Despite his felinic appearance, Zen makes no attempts to join her in the frey to rescue the wayward fork, instead choosing to politely endure the struggle and the awkwardness that ensues, waiting in the manner of one willing to spend a small eternity doing so. "I cannot understand you when you speak with your mouth full," is noted in his customary rock-salt rasp, words somehow lacking in anything that could be mistaken for a chiding nature, merely pointing out the obvious that she might address the issue before she speaks again. For. Better or for worse, really. Her question finally elicits that swift blink that constitutes to surprise, gaze narrowing by fractions as he attempts to discern from whence this particular topic has come. Dark eyes shift between each of her violet ones, waiting, waiting for her to elucidate, and, when she does not, "No." Is that it? That might be it. That might be all he gives her to work with, hands still folded, expression still blank, gaze still focused on her in predatory fascination, all but pinning her in place to observe her in the way a lepidopterist observes a particularly interesting specimen. Fortunately (or perhaps, unfortunately) for her, Sohzen is in a merciful mood, for he breaks the long, borderline uncomfortable stretch of silence with a low, "And that hardly answers my question."

WELL FIRE CAN'T UNDERSTAND YOU WHEN YOU… YOU, ZEN. HOW BOU DAH. But for all that gentle chiding that (realistically) Fire is probably used to, the Journeyman merely squeaks out what is probably an apology around more food and still can't be understood because this is Fioreyla and she wears her awkward like a second skin. It's his blink, and his answer, and that long awkward stretch of silence that has Fire looking down at the plate, contemplating the food on it, and shoveling more into her mouth until there's nothing left for her to eat. It's a strangled sound she emits when Zen chides her again, a pitchy, squeaky sound that sees her drawing out chewing the food in her mouth because they've come to the point where Fire has to do that thing that she's bad at: being direct. A beat, two, three, four, and Fire swallows hard, shifts in her chair, and looks forlorn at the plate Zen pushed so very far away because now she has nothing to pretend-occupy herself with. "I…" Breathe, Fire. "I r-remember that you… that you t-taught me how to f-fly. And…" another hard swallow as Fire shifts her utensils around in her hands and then sets them on the emptied plate, pushing it away as she finds determination and fire somewhere in her - enough to lift her chin, to lift violet eyes to dark and - "And y-you're my…" Best friend? Her words form the words, open and close and fail to follow through. "My person. You're my p-person. I t-trust you m-more than I trust myself and -" a hiccup of almost hysterical laughter that Fire bites down on by pressing her hand to her lips, by those violet eyes going wide before she squeaks out, "I was h-hoping you could t-teach me again." GIVE HER A MOMENT. "I w-would…" now her hand drops, as she makes a helpless gesture, as she fights with herself to not just run away. It's a whisper that completes her thoughts, a mere whisper of, "I would like to learn," as she sits there, watching him with the kind of stricken look that suggests she already knows his answer and is waiting for the blow. "Again. But… but in a d-different way." But this is Fire, who can't merely leave things like that and so she adds on a breathy, "P-please." LEAVE IT UP TO FIRE TO BE SO INDIRECT THAT IT'S RIDICULOUS. NOPE. SHE CAN'T DO IT. "I'm j-just kidding! Ha! You s-should have…" A beat as her gaze falls. "You should have s-seen your face." And now she's biting down on her lip, and shifting to get out of her chair and yes, she's gathering up plates, and ducking her head, and MAKING LIKE SHE'S GOING TO JUST DISAPPEAR ON HER WAY TO DROPPING THOSE OFF FOR THE KITCHEN FOLK. FLEEEEEEEEEEEEE FIRE, FLEE. I mean, she tries.

A fair point, for how might one really come to understand a man comprised of scraps of silk and shadows, define by stillness and secrets? There certainly seems to be little rhyme or reason to his give and take of affections, sometimes willing to endure and convey both touch and comfort in response to Fioreyla's visible distress; then again, there are moments like these ones, in which what few expressions he has allowed himself regress as her words tumble onwards. Features go inhumanly smooth, eyes distant, empty as the void they so resemble as realization sweeps over him, as a sharp-honed mind makes a not-at-all difficult enough leap between earlier intercourse-related discourse and this, now. Any motion that might be considered excess stills, only the rise and fall of his chest any indication that there's a living, beating heart in there somewhere, one that's achingbendingbreakingno as so much, too much tries to rip its way through his carefully-held facade at once. It comes and goes in twitch of tension around his eyes that likely triggers that stricken look, gaze dropping to the twist of long digits about one another, seeming to study every fine detail of scar-struck hands right up until the moment she says 'please.' Finally he moves, chin dipping towards his chest even as his eyes press closed, breath leaving him on an exhale he allows her to hear even as fingers tighten. "Fioreyla…," he begins, only to have her cut him short, and once more he lets her, lets her try to turn an honest, earnest, gentle request into a mere jest, lets her bite lips and gathers plates while eyes flicker beneath closed lids, indicative of some uncharacteristically fierce internalization. He even lets her go, using the seconds ensuing her departure to allow his dark gaze to fixate on her vacated chair, allow a daggering stab of emotion to slash across his features. No. He rises, and though hardly a creature of quick nor thoughtless movement, it's entirely possible, given the expression of faint surprise that characterizes his features, that planting himself in Fire's way as she turns from depositing dishes is not exactly what he expected or directed his body to do. The expression lasts no longer than it takes to blink, but its there for her to read nevertheless, as present as the warm, dry hands that lift to hover mere fractions of an inch from her face, thumbs pressing wayward strands of fiery hair behind her ears without once touching skin. He doesn't speak until the gesture is completed upon both sides of her face, doesn't speak even then, hands hovering that he might sweep pitchblack eyes over and over her face before speaking in tones that are quiet, even for him, that she might just have to lean close to have hopes of hearing. "I," he says, letting the singular word dangle for a moment, letting silence give it due emphasis, "am not a good person, Fioreyla. You see… more of me than some, but think better of me than most. But it isn't…" Hands shift to splay in the air to either side of her face, a nonverbal expression of intent to touch her before settling against the curve where jaw meets neck. "It isn't safe." One beat. Two. "But," and oh, but, "I am… thankful, for your trust, and if and when you're sure…" A pause is taken, an oh-so-necessary one to force unasked-for huskiness out of rasping tones, to preserve the clinical detachment and ultimately supportive nature of the acquiescence. The jury is out as to whether or not he succeeds as eyes that have gone distant raise to fix on hers, the better to lend full meaning to the quiet words that follow: "I would be honored to teach you how to fly."

And maybe that's why Fioreyla gives Sohzen his out; maybe that's why Fire tries to turn gentle, earnest requests into macabre humor - to save her friendship with the only person she's found more than an awkward acquaintance with; to save herself from rejection; to save him from having to tell her no. And she runs, not only because facing him feels impossible, but because maybe distance and time will give them both the gumption to strike Fire's faux pas from their conscience - at least, enough to settle back into their normal, comfortable routine. And Fire doesn't expect Sohzen to follow her even if she should have learned by now that association with Zen is the very definition of Expect The Unexpected. So there's a startled sound when she turns to collide with his chest, an apology already tumbling from her lips when she reaches up to cover a smooshed nose and violet eyes open from an instinctive press closed to find - "Zen." It's a whisper, trepidation on her face, those lips coming apart even as her hands remain, covering her nose, covering her face, covering her shame. It's the press of thumbs to hair that sees her dropping her hands, that hard-won persistence and resilience that sees her through every day with things she can't say and won't say keeping her focus on him and letting him talk because — oh. Fire's brows knit inwards as if she means to protest his assessment of self, as if she means to say something but says nothing because he's still talking, and she's still listening, violet eyes jumping between black even as his hands find her neck and she swallows hard for the contact. And those aren't tears in her eyes — or, if they are, Fire doesn't shed them. She squares her shoulders, her lips, finds that determination that might look impressive on anybody other than a tiny, unintimidating lamb trying to pretend she's a lion. "I k-know where to c-cut to make a m-man bleed out in minutes," she tells him with the kind of confidence that holds very little weight because this is Fire and her strengths do not lie in an ability to be a badass. They do lie in the ability to stare lions and death in the face and court them both. "S-so I'm not safe too. See?" KINDRED KISMET FRIENDSHIP OF DEATH AND DOOM. But Fire's hands are coming up, to close around Zen's wrists as she hesitates a fraction of a moment - perhaps to gauge how much of Sohzen's soul she's stripping away with her selfish request, to gauge how much more she's willing to take by following through. And then those eyes close, a whisper of, "But you're strong," coming from her - a reminder to herself that Sohzen has more courage in his little finger than she has in her entire body. So when those eyes blink open again, her hands slide up along his, to pull them away from her neck so that she can slip her fingers into the spaces between Zen's and - "I'm ready," she whispers, and then she's moving backwards, to pull him along with her, to watch him and see him and then to look away - not because she doesn't want to see him, but because her bravery ends somewhere there, and she can't focus on where her feet are going if she's too busy focusing on what happens when they get there.


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