==== October 24, 2013
==== Nora, V'dean; Ekerth
==== V'dean finds Nora working late. (Now with Ekerth prologue!)

Who Nora, V'dean; Ekerth
What V'dean finds Nora working late. (Now with Ekerth prologue!)
When There are 0 turns, 10 months and 27 days until the 12th pass.
Where Stores, Southern Weyr

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It was one of those nights, crushed under the humid weight of an airborn sea blown in to drown the Weyr in wet. It battered in sheets across the ledge and set free tortured moans that howled above black and white sands. It was the kind of night where you could feel the demons crawling at the threshold — the kind of night that made you glad you could escape.

Some escape, pursued in a series of frosted glasses and washed up between the thighs of some barmaid whose name rhymed with her giggle.

Not looking back at the past. Trying to avoid the future.

There should be a freshness in the bite of the Northern rain, but it just makes the ruts more clear. When we return, the soggy blanket of storm rolling over our ledge doesn’t stop the feel of that red eye — watching us.

There’s a dull weight to his muscles, a lulled zing in his blood, but V’dean still paces into our weyr. The roll of his fingers is quick and impatient as he twists up a bit of paper into a cigarette. His footsteps are a damp trail.

“It is embarrassing.” He’s still on it as he pivots a chair out from under the table with the kick of a toe. The paper between his lips at least muffles the words. Somewhat. “And now there’re more in the barracks. And… Paint on my fucking…” A second chair clatters into a precarious rock with the shove of his boot, the jacket hung over the back swaying.

At least it doesn’t topple over. Not when V’dean aborts his sprawl and jerks back up to his feet, snatching the thing from the chair. “We’re getting rid of this,” he holds it up for me like I wouldn’t know which this it is.

I’ve already got my harness halfway off, but I don’t bother to argue.

He leaves his parka in its puddle by my couch. I can feel the rain soaking through his shirt as we step back out on the ledge.

Below, the dim heart of Southern’s life glows up through the dark fleece of cloud.

* * *

It nearly sends him back, that the stores sound aclatter with Southern’s bones.

It’s the dame. The one with the smile that lies.

She’s not smiling, tonight.

You’d think we’d know better, how to leave well enough alone…


Need requires this room be cleared, and cleared it is: hooks for glow-baskets line every neat row and aisle. Though the shelves are largely bare, some things are starting to trickle in — mostly dried meats and salted fish, in large quantities. Guess the weyr better get used to a low-carb diet.

It's pretty late — not quite so small an hour that it's only insomniacs and bakers who are awake, but most of the Weyr is tucked in their beds, happily dreaming. Nora, however, is not. She's sitting on the floor of the stores in a tan dress beneath a charcoal cardigan to ward off phantom chills, her hair is pulled back in a rather simple runner's tail and there's a pair of slippers instead of heels. Either she's been moving around a good bit or those chills never have materialized, because there's a faint flush in her cheek to suggest the sweater might be unnecessary. And she's certainly been hard at work: pages strewn around her seem covered with the plotting and planning of organization, and sections here and there appear to have been half-dismantled, shelves of things pulled out without finding their new homes. At the moment, she's dividing a bin of silverware into separate baskets, the regular rhythm of clatter making her presence audible even if she's somewhat hidden by the neighboring rack of something.

With the clatter of silverware, perhaps the tread of steps may not be so audible — even though they squelch a little. V'dean is likewise attired to suit a somewhat different climate, or at least was. Now he's left in boots and breeches and a soggy shirt, hair limply ascraggle and a leather jacket wadded poorly in one fist. A cuff flirts with dragging on stone with each loose swing of his arm. His ambling stride is quick, purposeful, unslowing even as a half gaze gets turned down Nora's aisle. Perhaps that's why he's gone passed before his footfalls scuff to a stop. Slower he retraces, leaning in to where he can set the heel of a hand upon a shelf and his skeptical gaze upon the headman's assistant. With the lingering heat, rainwater hasn't washed fresh but rather set in the vague scents of musk and liquor. "Emergency banquet for a clutch of tunnelsnakes?" is rather snide in its absurdity.

Nora looks up a beat too late to identify the squelching man who passes by, her work hardly interrupted no matter how unlikely it is that she expected company this late into the evening. The silverware rattles away and then her visitor reappears and she lifts her gaze from wet boots to soggy shirt, probably already aware that it's V'dean before she reaches his face. Cheeks flat and mouth small, there's just a blink from the headwoman before his comment registers. "Yes, my children are hungry," she drips back at him, her smile too weary to take its proper shape. Recognizing it, her shortness and how poorly she's managed to sweeten it, she bows her head into a rub from her knuckles across her brow, shoulders taut and rounded beneath her light sweater.

This prompts a raspy chuckle that likely betrays a rough length of evening. V'dean spends a moment more looking over her round shouldered tension before pushing back to his feet. They squelch a little closer down the aisle. Not so close as to be properly looming, but close enough that the gesturing turn of his wrist likely flips that errant jacket sleeve into the edge of a further flung silverware box. Perhaps it sighs some of the spread papers from their surely-planned chaos. "I want to donate this." Yes, now, in the middle of the night, this wad of fine brown leather with it's peek of embroidered lining in that bubbled twist and some far less planned stain marring this one. "Is there…" His mouth twists, brittle under the distant dark of eyes. "A box. I can put it in."

Nora peers up from beneath her hand, from V'dean's face to that wadded… jacket, is it? And down her eyes drop again, hands chasing after the blown pages. "Over there," she answers with a general jerk of her head. "There should be a bin." Maybe it's marked and obvious. Maybe it's not. Anyway, Nora is ready to start moving these baskets of silverware, dragging herself to her feet so she can stack and carry everything to its final destination. Except that attempting to gather the baskets in her arms makes her wince badly enough that the whole thing, and all of her work, might just crash to the floor.

A suck of his teeth gives answer as V'dean turns a look in the direction of her vague jerking instruction. There's probably just shelf in his line of sight. "My thanks, assistant headwoman." Likely, such thoughtlessly dropped formality only makes him sound more callous. He's already moving off as Nora stretches for her papers, her stacking. Some passing care is given to skirting around and stepping over the spread things, though he may still trod and drip on a corner here and there. The bluerider, at least, is bundling up the sleeve out of its dragging and into a wad between his palms. That is, until the rattle of her fumbled silverware twists his furrowed gaze back and gets him dropping a hand free to grab steadingly at a corner of the stack. "What the fuck is wrong with you."

"Take it, take it," comes Nora's hurried begging, gingerly trying to unload the stack of metal-laden baskets into the damp rider's arms. Careful and swift as she may try to be, there's another wince and a hiss sucked through her teeth. "Fuck." It's spat sharply under her breath and she stamps her slippered foot on the hard stone floor for good measure, as if it will help. Brows wrenched together in pain and frustration, nevermind the likely dose of discomfort to have to deal with either in V'dean's presence, her explanation is probably somewhat lacking. "I keep hitting this stupid thing."

V'dean half-drops his stained flight jacket, just the collar caught between his palm and the laden baskets as he gets both hands onto them. The flwump of it unfolding probably further musses those papers, as does the dragging twist of his feet to square to Nora. But then, likely so does her stomp that so closely misses his toes. The fold is still deep upon his brow as he watches her with wary incredulity. "Is this your wise idea, being down here at Faranth-knows what hour, trying to get yourself buried under…" The silverware baskets get hefted with a rattle and a grunt. "What are you hitting?"

Her arm, it would seem, since her hand goes to grip it with that dull, gentle pressure that instinct says will sooth this kind of thing. Nora is already shaking her head, runnertail swinging and a wispy lock falling free by her face. "It's fine. I'm fine," she claims, taking a moment of pinch-closed eyes to will it to be true. "I'm sorry," though that part is only mumbled. She's back to (mostly) her usual self, damped by weariness, when she asks, "Would you mind…" Hand still holding at the unseen wound, she gestures both arms in the direction the baskets are supposed to be going, a halted step ready to walk with him. "Wait. Don't trip." And then she reaches for that dangling jacket, attempting to take it from him entirely except that it's wedge beneath the baskets, which twists her mouth into the unhappy line worn by anyone who has ever had One of Those Days.

Disbelief is sketched plainly across the bluerider's features as he looks from Nora's held arm to her post-pinched eyes. He is slow to be refocused by the gesture of her arms, silent through her apology and the return of weary propriety. A rock of his weight begins to make answer to the request, only to be stopped up short. V'dean will wait, alcohol weighing the brush of his lashes low, for her to take the jacket from the careful finger-by-finger shift of his hold upon the basket. "You are a mess, aren't you," he'll observe before starting his way to get the silverware to its shelf. His current state of bedraggled and boozed probably doesn't help smooth the comment.

Nora eases the jacket free, her own flick of lashes lifting her eyes up to the man and down again. "Hardly," she answers. "It's mostly just a bruise. And a long day." Which is true, but her lip catches in her teeth anyway as she walks along beside him to point out where the baskets are supposed to go. "I could use a stiff drink and bed," she says with a lift of brows that might be taking real stock of this suggestion to herself. And then a more thoughtful glance skims over the bluerider. "You don't need to…" No, nevermind. "Thank you," she tells him, before turning the jacket over in her hands. "If it's just the stains, you might as well keep it. I'm sure there will be other…" But that just has her lips pressing again, silenced as she offers the bundle back.

"Mostly." V'dean isn't really asking, more just pointing it out. He heard that. He hears her bed, too, and snorts a sharp breath as he slides the silverware into place. His brows are canted as he angles a look at Nora over the lift of his shoulder, the skew only setting deeper for finding her thoughtful study. "You're welcome," is rather flat. He's slow to wind back from the stretch of placing the baskets, giving one corner an absent nudge before busying his fingers with combing a wet-tangled forelock aside from his eyes. A small press of teeth ticks at his jaw as he dodges the headwoman's gaze in favor of the out-thrust jacket. "Needed an excuse to get rid of it," he shakes away the offer. "It's cut for more layers than I need down here. I have others. A new one." Plenty of reasons for him to wander a step backward.

Nora will keep the jacket then, her hands idly straightening and folding it over her arm, that one side rather stiff and stilted as she continues to baby whatever is under the sleeve of her sweater. She's noted already how damp he is, but it's only now that her gaze seems to really take it in as she watches him slide back that step. "You should get dried off. You're making me cold." There's only a hint of humor in her voice, though it doesn't touch the quiet of her expression. Maybe the hitch of her shoulders is just for show.

“Yes, mother.” His sarcasm is dripping more than his hair. V’dean pauses a long moment, weight rocked back with a throw of shoulders over his heels. His fingertips have edged into one pocket — perhaps it’s what they find there, tucked against the seam, that presses his lips together. Perhaps it’s just what he finds, studying the headwoman. His backward step may have been a wander, but when he reverses it, it’s with deliberate swiftness. “It’s not cold.” The palm he brushes for her cheek is no soft caress, the drag of his thumb for one fine flushed cheekbone a test. “You’re not cold.” For all his purposefulness, its the sort of reach that wouldn’t be too difficult to duck — but the grab he makes afterward for the collar of her cardigan is even more resolved. “What are you hiding from?” It’s not the best place to start, likely, given the particular awkward with which she’s holding that arm, but he’ll try to peel the light sweater off her hitched shoulder anyhow.

She doesn’t duck his reach, but there is a subtle flinch, a steeling against the uncertainty of his intention. It has her drawing a breath only to turn that splotched cheek into the test of his thumb. “I’ve been working,” comes Nora’s dull explanation. But as a more purposeful hand moves to the collar of her sweater, her own comes up to rest on V’dean’s chest, tentative at first and then pressing a little more firmly when it’s clear he means to disrobe her. Conflict tugs at her expression as her thin shoulders squirm, neither helping nor hindering his attempt, at least not with any clear intention. Her fingers curl, nails scraping gently through the wet material of his shirt as she seeks a little grip of him. “V’dean…” she starts to say, but then the twist of shoulders goes still and she lifts her focus from the middle of his chest to watch his face. It would seem that, yes, fine, she’ll allow him to peel at her sweater, even if his folded jacket might be somewhat in the way.

Can it be much of a surprise, that even the press and scrape of her fingers do little to deter him? It’s something akin to vague irritation that keeps his expression from falling completely slack as V’dean edges the charcoal cardigan over the wriggle of her shoulders. He keeps tugging, both relentless and dispassionate as he takes his liberties to expose the flash of her pale skin. When his jacket is in the way, then he’ll deign to take it back; it’s lifted without fanfare out of its fold. Her outerwear and his, unnecessary in the soggy summer’s heat, clamped together into one palm while his other fingers pick at the finer work of freeing her wrist so that the sweater only remains hung by the hand pressed to his chest. The cool of his gaze remains on motion, on flesh, apparently heedless of the way Nora’s watch has fallen upon him.

Can it be certain that curling hand is meant to deter him? Nora just watches, passive in the face of his displeasure but doing nothing to aid his tuggings, letting the deft determination jostle her in front of him. But she gives up the jacket easily enough and the sweater folds back from the short sleeves of her tan dress, the pallor of her thin arms, until the source of her pain is revealed: a bandaged wrapped around her forearm, only wide enough to cover a portion of the swelled purple bruise and pink welts that form even lines, the uglier damage hidden. But the arm does nothing but hang, not displayed for him to examine once he slips her wrist free of its sleeve. It’s the other hand that moves, twisting clear of the last shroud of her sweater, leaving the bulk of it caught in his grasp, only to slide her light touch a little further up his chest. Her brows start to knit again, gaze dropping to his collar.

V’dean’s knuckles coil into the layered leather and cloth, winding them about his fist as he lets the garments hang. Even still, there’s the soft surussus as their edges brush the floor. It’s an echo of touch, his hand reaching for her wrist. Pulling it upward. Thumb and forefinger are steady upon the slim knobs of bone, pressing them to twist the display of forearm that Nora doesn’t provide on her own. “Your children were hungry,” he notices in an absent murmur. The pinch of his hold softens to let the pads of his fingers run up the sides of her arm, tracing close to the discolored edges of her bruising where the heat of inflammation may be felt. “I guess you’re lucky it wasn’t poisonous. You came across a tunnel snake nest and you are still down here alone, at night?” His brows arc upwards as cool green eyes finally shift to find hers, now that they’ve dropped. Any teased-at trace of gentleness is gone when his hand curls in blunt hold of her elbow. “Or was it a present left in your room by another of your thwarted lovers?”

There’s certainly nothing in V’dean’s impersonal handling to invite it, but for whatever reason, Nora sways in closer, her negligible weight sinking softly against him. Her averted gaze turns to the wrist in his hand, her cheek finding first the cool wet of his shirt and then the warmth that radiates from beneath, her eyes meanwhile following the careful path of his fingers along the delicate edge of her injury. The tiny intake of breath might be felt more than heard as his touch skims a little dangerously close, but it huffs as a quiet, empty laugh for his comments on her offspring. “Willfull, I think I’ve been called,” comes her own wry reply. But she’s not oblivious to the hold his hand takes of her elbow, or the memories dredged up by his question. She turns her mouth toward him, deliberate heat in the exhale she forms into damp fabric as her only answer.

A tavern’s scents are set into the weave of his shirt — smoke and ale and some whiff of too-sweet floral. And rain. The salt and ozone of the Southern storm saturates into the native musk of the rider’s warming skin. V’dean is unmoved by her slim weight or the felt gasp that’s held against the trespass of his fingers. “Sweetheart, you shouldn’t take the things to heart, what a man says when he thinks you’ll be putting out.” There’s pressure from that palm closed about her elbow, shoving locked tension up into her shoulder to provide a fulcrum with which to wedge just as deliberately away from the heated tickle of Nora’s breath. “You should pick up your things and get yourself to bed.” He mocked her for being parental, but now he orders this as he drags the fistful of sweater and jacket up between them, giving them back over to her with a careless nudge at her middle.

“Such delicate pride,” Nora muses quietly. “You must spend a lot of time in your own way.” There’s some reluctance of her weight to shift away, to settle back into her own space, like a person who would rather linger and relax than rally herself back to work. She’s not difficult to push away, though the languor of her movements might be a strange contrast to his rigid handling. Once she’s drawn back from him, she lets her hand fall to hold that bundle of clothes and she turns without another word, slippers drifting over stone to return to whatever unfinished tasks she has before her, leaving him, his wet shirt and empty arms, to go about the rest of their evening unmolested.

Her words sow a low rumple of discord upon his brow, but all V’dean replies with is the release of his fingers. The narrowed cut of his gaze lingers a moment after her turn. But then, unmolested and unimpeded, he sets off with a low squeak of boot heels.

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