Ancient dunes have been flattened by the endless parade of people and dragons that tramp northwest across the bowl, leaving a mere skiff of sand here along lake's beaten edge. Footprints litter the curve of beach, some left turns ago and caught frozen in the heavy clay earth near the water's edge. As the sun sets, shadows invade, creeping like fingers across the gently sloping ground and darkening the distant ledges on the far side of the lake.
To the north, dust rises from the redolent pens while the flattened disc of the main bowl is just a step to the northwest.
It is a summer afternoon.
Darting here and there are ten firelizards.
Brown Zenzorath, blue Wiranth, and Brown Dsalth are here.
You see Atticus, Red Fruit tree, and Gigi here.
Cerdith saunters with unselfconscious grace in from the Central Bowl.
Reiko is led in by Cerdith.
Xeth clatters down from above.
E'ren slithers down Xeth's narrow shoulder, borne by the flash and fall of her hide's silvered sparks.
Reiko is sitting in the shallow water, her compromise to Cerdith's incessant requests to swim with him, leaning back on her hands and watching the blue. A wet whuffling croon rings across the water, but she only shakes her head. "In a bit," she calls aloud. "I'm waterlogged."
Xeth lands lightly on the lake's shore, her rider alighting beside her shortly after by way of sliding down her shoulder. The green's straps slide to the ground shortly after, and Xeth wastes no time in sidling into the water, sliding into the depths and submerging herself until just her nostrils and her headknobs show. E'ren watches her a moment and chuckles, before turning to Reiko. "G'afternoon. Could you stand a bit of company?" he calls.
Reiko of course recognizes Xeth as the green slips into the water, and is therefore not really surprised to hear E'ren's greeting, turning her head to look up at him with an almost pleased expression. Almost. "If you don't mind a little water," she returns genially, a careless gesture indicating the lapping waves surrounding her. Emerald gaze returns to the water, watching dragon and dragonet intently. "Xeth is looking well."
E'ren pauses right at the edge of the water, as yet unwilling to venture in just for the sake of a conversation. "Thanks. Xeth enjoys the summer here... as long as it lasts, anyway." He watches the green a moment as she ducks under the water and blows bubbles in the blue's direction. "Cerdith seems as energetic as always. Always pulling you out into the water, is he? Still, the lake must be more pleasant than the barracks, especially on hot days." There is, of course, the smell. "Oh, before I forget. I brought this for you." He holds out an insulated leather bottle, dangling it from its strap as he offers it to Reiko, though he's a bit too far away to reach her.
Reiko nods absently. "Swim. Sleep. Eat. Grow. Tough life," she muses, having been more or less forced to give up her own lazy ways. She shrugs a little. "I'm getting used to it." Cerdith sends a returning whuffle to Xeth, arching out of the water with a fine display of shimmering wings. Whee! Reiko shakes her head, smiling slightly, then returns her gaze to E'ren, tilting her head and arching a brow. "What is it?" Not yet making a move to get up.
E'ren gives the weyrling an odd smile, continuing to hold out the bottle to her by its thong. "Taste it and find out," he suggests, the tone of a faint tease in his voice. "I don't think you'll be disappointed." He doesn't seem to be paying attention to the dragons; Xeth's focus is now entirely on Cerdith, nosing gentle waves of water in his direction, letting his splashed water fall on her hide without dodging.
Curiosity gets the better of Reiko after a moment's hesitation, not to mention a touch of defiance at the subtle taunt, and she gets to her feet with a splash. A few steps bring her to the shoreline, and she reaches to wrap long fingers around the neck of the bottle, waiting for E'ren to drop the thong. "I've been unpleasantly surprised before," she informs him wryly, emerald gaze leveled at him evenly. Which only means she'll be a bit more wary. Cerdith, to all outward appearances, is enjoying his new playmate, wings spread for ballast as he bobs on Xeth's gentle waves.
E'ren lets Reiko take the bottle, releasing the strap when she gets a hold of the neck. "Want me to taste it first? I haven't ever given you reason not to trust me, have I?" And even as he asks the question, he thinks about it for a moment, trying to recall any time when he might've done something she'd consider inappropriate. Well, there was the incident with P'rru's straps, but it wasn't like that actually hurt anyone, was it? Xeth continues to amuse herself with Cerdith, nuzzling up under him to tickle his belly with a jet of bubbles.
Reiko opens the bottle quickly, sniffing experimentally. "Not where liquid is concerned," she admits. In fact, the wine had been quite nice. But she's distracted from any further explanation she might have been inclined to offer - and from the bottle itself - by a delighted warble from her lifemate, turning involuntarily to watch as the starlit tail flips out of the water to send a spray in Xeth's direction.
E'ren certainly wouldn't bring a weyrling wine, as much as he'd like to get Reiko drunk at any other point in time. In fact, the aroma rising from the bottle's contents is familiar, spicy-cinnamon-sweet: iced klah, probably obviously. "Sorry, I didn't know a liquid gift would be treated with such suspicion. I just thought you could use a little pick-me-up on such a warm afternoon." He turns at the sound of Cerdith's warble, smiling a bit as Xeth echoes it, returning the spray towards the blue with a flip of her wings.
Reiko has the grace to be abashed, dropping her gaze briefly before turning back to regard E'ren with a good deal less suspicion than before. "Sorry," she murmurs, her fingers flexing absently on the neck of the bottle. "My last 'liquid gift' was less kindly meant." She lowers herself to sit on the sand with her legs in the water and takes a sip from the bottle, her eyes closing with pleasure as the cool, spicy-sweet liquid hits the back of her throat. When she opens them again, she fixes them firmly on her dragon, not ready to meet E'ren's gaze again just yet. "Thanks."
E'ren finds a dry spot and sits nearby, his gaze too on the dragons sporting in the water, making waves and little showers with each other. "Oh, that's a shame. I didn't know you had received anything like that in the past. I guess I should've thought that not everyone likes surprises, even ones I think are pleasant." Out of the corner of his eye, he watches the weyrling quietly.
Reiko cradles the bottle on her lap, long fingers fidgeting with the strap. Her eyes still on her dragon, she shrugs a little. "I don't like to make the same mistake twice," she says quietly. It's a little limiting, perhaps, but safer. Nevertheless, she somehow feels compelled to add, "Of course you wouldn't have known." One hand lifts to push a chunk of damp hair behind her ear.
E'ren's lips quirk into a smile, still giving Reiko that side-long glance. "I don't want to do anything that would make you nervous, though. I'll just have to do my best to think up things you haven't done yet, I suppose." Now that's an interesting thought. He runs his thumb across his chin thoughtfully, and one can almost see the gears turning in his mind. "Is there anything you've always wanted to do but never have?"
Reiko takes another long sip, then rolls one shoulder in an indolent shrug, emerald gaze sliding over to meet E'ren's at last, a wry smile curling her lips. "I've done more in the last two Turns than I ever imagined. Why think ahead?" Especially since she's more than got her hands full with the present. Cerdith arcs his neck gracefully out of the water, swiveling to regard the pair on the beach with interest. Reiko's expression alters briefly at the unspoken communication before she turns her attention back to the suddenly very interesting klah bottle in her lap.
E'ren just hums, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees, his chin in his palms as he gazes out towards Cerdith and Xeth. "That's fair enough, I suppose," he agrees, though the gears in his head are still turning. "There's a lot more in life to discover, though. Your adventure with Cerdith is just beginning." He gives a nod out towards the blue.
Reiko can't suppress a small, fond smile as she lifts her eyes to rest on her lifemate... but when she speaks her tone is almost diffident. "Judging from the number of blank spaces on that progress board, I'll have to agree." She knows that's not what he's talking about. Even though she won't admit it. But it's certainly true that her responsibilities are handily preventing her from thinking too much about what she might be missing.
E'ren laughs then, his tone remaining easy and conversational. "Oh, I'm sure there's a lot you'll learn and experience outside lessons. How's Cerdith doing? You two getting along well? I know it took a while before I got used to Xeth's near-constant arguing with me in my head." He smiles fondly in the direction of the green, though, and Xeth seems to pause in her splashing long enough to wink in their direction.
Reiko alters her gaze slightly to regard Xeth curiously. "I don't know that I'd say we argue," she says thoughtfully, looking back at Cerdith. "But he is always there." She lays the bottle on the sand beside her, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them loosely. "He's wonderful." The single adjective, softly uttered, doesn't begin to express what Cerdith's presence means to her, but she either can't or won't elaborate.
E'ren smiles a bit, just watching Reiko's wistful look. He knows what she must be feeling... he just likes seeing the way she's transfigured when she thinks about Cerdith. Suddenly, though, all serious thoughts evaporate as Reiko sets down the bottle. He looks at it... then looks at her... then back at it. There's a few heartbeats when he doesn't say anything--but then he lunges toward it, flattening himself on his stomach on the sand, reaching out to grab the bottle. "Ah ha! Er... you don't mind if I have a drink, do you?" he asks, looking up at her and grinning goofily.
Absorbed in her thoughts, Reiko is taken completely by surprise at E'ren's sudden lunge, actually shifting several feet as she jerks away from him. With a blink and a quick shake of her head, she recovers her composure, brushing sand off herself and sitting forward to eye the greenrider incredulously. "You couldn't just ask?" Wait, he just did. A twisted smile curls her lips. "Of course I don't mind."
E'ren's eyes sparkle with some unspoken joke as he uncaps the bottle and takes a long drink, the klah still kept cold with the insulation. He keeps his gaze directly on her as he takes a couple swallows, finally lowering the bottle and making a satisfied noise. "Thank you," he says, then breaks into helpless giggles, still sprawled out on his stomach on the sand. Okay, someone slipped E'ren a goofy pill this morning.
Reiko just stares for a long moment. Then, despite her best efforts to the contrary, she finds herself beginning to smile a little. "Okay. What's in the klah?" She tries to sound stern, really... it's just difficult.
E'ren just laughs and laughs, and it's a long moment before he can answer. "Nooooothing. That isn't it, *I swear*." And certainly, no strangeness would be detectable in the drink, unless someone's suspicion just invented some problem. Still giggling, he finally manages to sit up, offering the bottle back to her. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't've laughed like that... I just couldn't help it. Here, there's plenty left. Have another drink if you want." If the greenrider hasn't ruined it by his weirdness.
Reiko takes the bottle, her expression doubtful. "Then what's so funny?" She sniffs at the liquid again, a bit more carefully this time, but really can't find anything unusual about it. Other than E'ren's reaction to it. Or, wait. That insane bellyflop into the sand was /before/ he drank it. She takes a sip, then caps the bottle and cradles it on her lap, sparkling eyes regarding him intently.
E'ren really does try to keep a straight face as Reiko takes the bottle and sips--he doesn't set out to make her suspicious, really! But he can only manage it for so long, and after she drinks again, he begins to laugh again, the sound choked and half-muffled by his hand clamped over his mouth. "I'm sorry--" he tries to say, before he remembers he has to remove his hand in order to be understood. "It's nothing, really. Nothing's 'so funny'." Well, that's a lie, apparently, but it'd be tough to wrangle the truth from him at this point.
Emerald gaze narrows as Reiko considers E'ren's words, then she tosses the skin back to him. "Maybe you'd better keep this," she says quietly, getting to her feet and brushing the sand off herself. She glances out over the water, finding Cerdith with her eyes and sending a polite unspoken request... which is met with much resistance, the blue having far too much fun playing with Xeth. She scowls lightly, folding her arms across her chest, but it appears they are at an impasse. Cerdith won't leave the water, and Reiko won't leave without him.
E'ren is instantly regretful, realizing his teasing has gone too far. "Oh Reiko... I'm-sorry-I'm-sorry-I'm-sorry-I'm-sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. Please, don't be upset, I was just being silly, you can punish me if you want...." He clamors to his feet and darts over to her, putting his arm around her--or trying to, without letting the gesture become too intimate. "Anything you want... just forgive me?"
Reiko laughs at that. Really laughs, beginning to relax at last. "You're crazy." Shaking her head, she ducks out of his embrace, turning to face him. How could /anyone/ stay upset? Catching his eyes with hers, she nods. Slowly. "Okay." Cerdith abruptly begins paddling toward shore with a rather satisfied air, fanning his wings to dry them a bit as he wades ashore and curls into the warm sand.
Xeth rumbles ashore too, seeming to draw half the lake with her in the folds of her wings. Dripping, she settles on the sand near Cerdith... maybe a little protectively? Who knows, maybe even greens can have mothering instincts sometimes. E'ren's focus is still mostly on Reiko though, and he smiles in obvious relief as she says she'll forgive him. "You know, you're a really nice, sweet, kind, generous person. Why is it you never try to take advantage of me?" He did promise her 'anything' in exchange for forgiving him, and she didn't even say she wanted anything.
Reiko colors a bit at the extent of E'ren's compliment; then she surprises herself, her smile turning a little wicked. "How do you know I won't?" But her eyes are drawn abruptly to her dozing lifemate, and she bites her lip. Not now. And not anytime soon. She turns back to E'ren with a rueful smile. "I guess you do know." And she guesses he also knows why.
E'ren laughs again, but this time more good-naturedly. "I've given you all kinds of openings and you don't seem interested in teasing or joking around. I mean, I'm not talking about anything inappropriate, just... I thought we were friends, you know? Friends kid around with each other and don't act like a little joke is going to kill them. Geez, I'm probably saying this all wrong." He sighs. "Just... forget I said anything, okay?" He sighs, turning away and covering his eyes with his hand.
Reiko wraps her arms around herself, dropping her gaze to the ground. "I'm sorry." Suddenly finding herself without much to hide behind, she's unsure what to do next. She reaches uncertainly for Cerdith's mental touch but finds only a vaguely comforting haze - he's quite asleep. "I never had many friends." Her voice is very quiet, almost inaudible.
E'ren hears enough of Reiko's whisper at least to get the jist. "No, I'm the one who's sorry. You must think I'm being a real pain." He looks back over his shoulder then and sees her standing there, looking so shattered. After a moment's hesitation, he goes to her and puts an arm around her, a friend's warm and comforting gesture. "There are a lot of people who care about you here. Maybe you don't believe me, but I know how hard that is to get used to." He gives a self-conscious laugh before he continues, his voice little more than a rough whisper. "I keep wishing you'd fight with me, you know? Just so I could know something I said mattered to you. But you just go deeper inside yourself... it's tough to watch."
Reiko hugs herself more tightly, but doesn't try to escape E'ren's arm this time, even if she can't quite make herself believe everything he's telling her. She smiles a little at his wish, even lifting her eyes to look at him, but the smile fades as he finishes speaking. "I can't help it," she says quietly, her eyes flat and lifeless. How can she explain that's the only place she feels safe?
"I know," E'ren answers quietly, then he's silent for a long time, just standing there with an arm around Reiko. "The only thing I can say is... listen to Cerdith. You can trust him, even if you don't feel you can trust anyone else. If you try to explain to him how you feel, maybe things will make more sense to you too." He doesn't even suggest that she talk to him, because obviously she's nervous about that. He looks over at the sleeping blue, wondering for a moment what kind of burden he's putting on him, and if he's strong enough to hold up. Xeth will have to keep an eye on him, maybe.
Reiko nods slowly, taking a deep breath and letting it out again, allowing herself to begin to relax again. Fingers loosen their grip, her arms falling to her sides. "Thanks," she whispers, letting her eyes close and leaning into him a bit. For at least trying to understand. Cerdith stirs a bit, unlidding one eye to regard them curiously. Aware suddenly of the change in mental touch, Reiko's eyes blink open and she straightens her shoulders. "We should get back to the barracks," she says quickly, her tone more normal as she addresses both her dragon and E'ren.
E'ren notices as Reiko relaxes, but he can't feel very comforted; he knows it's just a matter of her getting her 'walls' back in place. "Sure thing. You can have the rest of the klah if you want." He reaches down and picks up the bottle, offering it to her if she'll take it. There's plenty more he'd like to say to her, but it's stuff that will keep. "Have Cerdith bespeak Xeth if you guys need anything, okay? And you--" he addresses the blue-- "take good care of her, all right? She needs someone to look out for her." He grins and winks at the young dragon, trying to be reassuringly friendly.
Cerdith amazes Reiko by looking directly at E'ren and warbling something very much like reassurance. She stares at her dragon for a long moment, then turns back to E'ren. "Thanks," she says distractedly, taking the bottle with a little smile. "I... um... sure." She actually sounds as if she's considering it this time. But she's said too much. She hurries to Cerdith's side as he gets to his feet, staying close by him as the pair make their way back to the barracks.
E'ren scampers up Xeth's forelimb in a shower of silvered sparks and is assisted into place between two neckridges.
Xeth leaps into flight, kicking up sand.