Letting Go


Max.jpg Ahnika.jpg

Date: 24.03.2011 (Pbem)
Location: Meadow outside of the Weyr
Synopsis: Max tries to mend the rift between Ahnika and himself and screws it up, again.
Rating: PG13 - Language
Logger: Max

You’re getting really good at this, Ahnika praised Jhath as she unstrapped and slid off, landing with a muted thud of her booted feet on soft, grassy earth. « I will rout them, my Ahnika! » Jhath responded with eagerness born of a warrior with the scent of battle in her nose. « And we shall feast on the glory of it… . and the herdbeasts themselves, of course. » Smiling, Ahni responded, Of course. Don’t let me keep you, Nobleheart. I’ll be right here watching. As Jhath launched herself skyward again, this time without her rider, Ahnika moved through the few meters of thin woods that had grown up atop the hill that looked down over a meadow that encircled a small pond. It appeared to be a favorite watering hole of some wild herdbeasts and wherries, allowing Jhath more experience hunting, and allowing Ahnika a good view of her green dragon doing it. Much more preferable to going to the feeding pens today and potentially running into Max again. The errant thought drew a frown from Ahnika and a warble of dissent from her green above, which only drew the attention of the herdbeasts below. So much for a surprise attack, Ahnika thought apologetically, but watched as Jhath adjusted her strategy with ease, using her camouflaged hide to help as she dipped down below the treeline in a neighboring field before rising once more, and circling, already forgotten by the herdbeasts once again. Ahni touched the space on her riding leathers above the necklace Max had given her. She still wore it under her leathers even if she was sure things were over between them. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to take it off, perhaps subconsciously hoping he would wake up and realize that dividing Max from his support was nothing short of a calculating move on Kelarad’s part. Kelarad, Ahni thought, her eyes narrowing, this was all his fault. If she ever saw that man again she’d have Jhath grab him and drop him Between. He intentionally lied to Max, and got Max to turn against her, suspect her of disloyalty. Ahni didn’t care if he was Relly’s cousin, and she didn’t care if it didn’t get Max back. Kelarad had crossed the wrong woman. He was a marked man. Ahnika silently vowed his ruin, his end, and was momentarily so consumed with it that she missed Jhath’s success. The whisper of the taste of blood coming through the bond with her dragon is what stirred her from her plot for revenge, and for a change, Ahnika closed her eyes and allowed herself to surrender to it, as if to make a symbolic blood pact with Jhath to end Kelarad for his offense. It’s not just for her, but for what he and his kind do to society. Sure, she promised Max she’d never get in his crimelord way again, but made no promise not to go take out the other crimelords and their organizations. Kelarad would just be the first. Ahni leaned her head back against the tree where she sat and smiled with the promise of satisfaction.

Down in the meadow, a hunter had chosen his target, a fat herdbeast cow with a calf at her side. Waiting until both had their heads dipped to water, he broke from the cover of bush nearby, the stallion’s hoofbeats that bore him, pounding the earth below as the lasso swung above his head. But just as he was within close range of his prize, the wherries, startled at a cry from above and suddenly rose to the air sending the calf and cow scattering. A loud curse of frustration roared out onto the air and hauling his mount up short, his hatted head whipped about just in time to see a dragon claim its kill. “FUCK!” another expletive roared out and not having initially recognised the green, his irate gaze swept the area, searching for her rider. Starflight, startled both by the wherries breaking to the air as well as the sudden appearance of the dragon not a half dragonlength away, reared up on his hindlegs, pawing at the air and screaming his defiance as his rider fought to gain control.

On the hilltop, Ahnika is slow to hear the screaming runner, or she hears it but doesn’t quite get to parsing it from the rest of the screams of anxious prey as Jhath captures one of them. Not immediately anyway. Eventually, something different about the sound or perhaps Jhath’s recognition for it, comes to her attention and Ahni reopens her eyes, looking out and down into the meadow from her position up against a tree. When she spots the runner and his rider, and recognition dawns, Ahnika can’t help but frowns. Great. Just great. Now he’s going to come and yell at her, again, for doing nothing wrong. Again. Well, Ahni decides, he can do just that if he wants to. She’s rarely let him cow her before, and she’s not going to start now. She crosses her arms over her chest and stares at him from her position, but doesn’t budge.

Turning Starflight in tight circles until he calms down enough, it’s a moment or two before Max sets to trying to find the rider of said hunting green. When he does, rather than open annoyance as another dragonrider might have had directed at them, it’s disbelief that colours his expression when he finds its none other than Ahnika, arms folded and staring down at him from under a tree up on the hilltop. For a moment or two he stares right back at her and then with a slow and deliberate tip of hat her way spurs his mount forward and disappears out of view around the side of the hill, perhaps lending thought that rather than stay and wrangle with the redhead again, he’s decided the better part of valour is simply to remove himself from the equation. That notion, (had it been one entertained by Ahnika) is short-lived for its not too long afterwards that the sound of a largish creature moving through the thin spread of trees behind the greenrider, can be heard. Depending on how thick they are, she might even spot the big black stallion and his rider on a direct course of interception with her chosen point of rest.

As Max tips his hat to her from afar, Ahnika lifts a hand to salute him back, but doesn’t visibly relax until he disappears. She’s almost disappointed he didn’t want to come yell at her. Almost. But brief that thought is as she first hears and then sees the large runner and his handler coming up essentially on her flank. Once she realizes, it’s Max that’s coming up on her, she turns back around, draws her knees up to her chest and rests her arms across their top, staring out and down to the meadow where Jhath is enjoying the rest of her meal.

A tentative smile had started to form when Ahnika looks up at him and then slips off, lips pursing lightly together when she turns her attention back to the scenery down below. Ducking to avoid any low hanging branches, Max steers Starflight in under the outskirts of the tree and brings him to a halt, inserting the stallion between the redhead and the view. And he’ll sit there for a moment or two, staring down at her in silence before the saddle creaks when his weight shifts and then he dismounts. Reins gathered in his hand, the beast manager, rather than keeping the advantage of height by remaining standing, hunkers down in front of her, dark eyes seeking out grey, his expression bearing traces of wariness, “Hey, Baby.”

Even when he blocks her view, Ahnika keeps staring straight ahead, which puts her gaze likely at Starflight’s leg, or maybe Max’s boot, initially, until he dismounts. And then with a soft sigh, she makes herself look up at him, following him down with her eyes as he hunkers down in front of her. “Don’t call me that,” she says, looking down with cheeks coloring. There’s not as much fire and harshness to her tone as she would have liked. She just can’t bring herself to, no matter how much she wants to, at least not when he’s come to her like this. “What do you want? If you’re here to yell at me again, just save your breath. We’re sorry, but Jhath and I couldn’t possibly have known you were hunting here too. And we’ll leave just as soon as she’s done eating, so you can go find the herd again.”

Ahnika may as well have slapped him in the face for the effect her initial words have on the beast manager, causing him to recoil slightly. Jaw setting to a determined line, he holds his ground, a sigh exhaling as he removes his hat from his head and holds it dangling between his knees. "Reckon I deserved that," his tone flat. And then he drops to silence, a light frown forming for what she says next and he casts a brief glance behind him, to the landscape below framed by Starflight's belly and legs. "This ain't about the herdbeast," despite his frustrated bellow of earlier. Attention swings back to the redhead and he levels an intent look on her, "I'm tired of fighting with you, Ahni," the weariness in his tone lending credence to his words, "Came to say I'm sorry for going off on you like that." There he silences, eyes dropping to where fingers fret along the edge of his hat.

His first response doesn’t have her dropping her guard, yet, but it’s clear Ahnika wasn’t expecting it by the fact that she tilts her head at him and gives him, and the expression on his face, a closer look. Then she looks at Starflight, as if answers could be found in the runner’s big eyes, and then back to Max. She opens her mouth to respond to his comment about being tired of fighting with her, but whatever she was about to say is forestalled by his last. Most, though not all, of the guardedness and tension in her frame is loosened with that comment, but there is a long, sobering pause before the redhead actually speaks, taking in his presence, his finger-fidgeting of his hat, his dropped gaze. Her own gray eyes soften, and she softly says, “Thank you.” There’s a pause as she says, “I’m sorry if my sticking up for you brought you trouble you weren’t expecting, but I won’t say I’m sorry for sticking up for you. However, I promise you won’t have to worry about me doing it again.” It’s not said bitterly. It’s said earnestly, calmly, and even perhaps with a little bit of contrition. It’s said by a person who sounds truly ready to call the matter done and put the whole business behind her, which as much as Ahni doesn’t like to dwell on the past, shouldn’t be surprising.

Nothing but a simple dip of head and faint twitch to one corner of his mouth greets her thanks, dark eyes that lift to her, unreadable for the time being. Brows then flicker and settle again as if they were about to pull toward each other in a frown lending his expression one that almost resembles discomfort for Ahnika’s words that follow before he gives a bare shake of head. The faint trace of a wry smile appears next, “You stuck up for me?” providing the redhead with prompt to finally tell him her side of the story before he says anything further. Starflight unusually calm given the naturally flighty nature of the runnerbeast, drops his head and begins cropping at the grass underfoot, his handler allowing some give to the reins he holds in his still gloved hand.

Ahnika looks briefly confused a moment because she thought she had gotten that much out before the first argument outside the tavern had spiraled out of control, but then she shrugs and nods, not hesitating further, “Yes, he was talking bad about you and your methods, more than likely testing my loyalty to you, really, and that’s when I told him that obviously the old way of doing things had their pitfalls, like with what happened with Relly, and if anyone could bring about change for the better for everyone, it’d be you, and those who allied with you would be stronger for it, while those who went against you, like Vaput, would regret it.” She looks skyward as if trying to recall the whole conversation, which was so long ago now she’s more going by what she felt she said or at least the spirit of what she meant, than remembering it all verbatim. She drops her gaze back to him and then to Starflight, and then turns her attention to reaching into her backpack leaned up against the tree. From it, she retrieves a waterskin and a redfruit. “If you take out his bit, he can have my redfruit. I wasn’t all that hungry anyway.” She hands the redfruit to Max, and pops the chained cork off the waterskin with the thumb of her other hand before taking a drink of the cool water. When she’s done drinking, she offers that to Max, too. “I never told him that you were out for his territory. That was an outright lie. Obviously, he blew things out of proportion in the hopes of trying to undermine your support and resources here, make you start suspecting your own of disloyalty, making you weaker for domination, or just use the situation to manipulate more favors out of you. It’s a very calculated strategy. Sneaky and deceptive and he should be called out for it, but I can’t fault him his strategy.” She frowns then at Max, sounding a little hurt again, “Especially since it obviously worked. You believed his lie and thought I was setting you up to get stabbed in the back.” The tension creeps up in her shoulders and she shakes her head a little in both indignation and disbelief, but doesn’t say anything further for the time being.

Yes, he remembered her having said so that night but perhaps his strategy lies in having her starting again, from the beginning with the both of them being in a calmer frame of mind than they had been then. In silence Max listens, eyes narrow slightly and then his mouth patterns around a wry line, “A wise man questions the methods of the new face laying claim to lands with a reputation that already speaks ill of him, Ahni. You forget,” and here it’s a rueful expression that falls into place, “my first associations with the man were in the rings where I fought, lied, cheated and stole from under his nose to further my own cause,” however noble that cause might be viewed by some. “He has every right to view me with suspicion, as do the others. Word gets around.” There he stops and glances over to the stallion and then back to Ahnika again with a small smile in place for the offer she makes of giving her redfruit to the runnerbeast, “Much appreciated.” Setting his hat to one side, and removing gloves, he tugs lightly on the reins and the great beast turns its head toward him and takes a step or two closer. With his bit slipped and teeth crunching through the treat, Starflight blows a soft huff of air from his nostrils in Ahnika’s direction as if to say thank you. He has his own waterskin with him but he’s not about to give offence considering the currently delicate balance of things and so Max takes the ‘skin when offered and drinks just enough to take the edge off his thirst before handing it back with a smile of thanks.

Not quite at ease enough so as to take to seating himself, the beast manager remains in that hunkered down position, an intent look fastening to the greenrider as she offers her opinion on the whole affair. Once again, its wryness that touches his otherwise unreadable expression, “Kelarad don’t work like that. Considering our history,” the one he’d just briefly touched on earlier, “I reckon I can’t blame the man for maybe taking your well intentioned words in the wrong light, aye? All’s he did was to leave a message with Keane inviting me to explanation on what sounded to him like I might be looking to get too big for my britches and setting my sights on taking over the brotherhood.” Pausing, as Starflight tugs at the reins to be able to move further off, he continues, “Which I did. Went up there a few days after and reassured that I had no such intentions.” Leaving off the other business he’d had up in Tillek for the time being. A long inhale of breath is followed by a spell of silence and then quiet admission is made, “I never thought you were looking to stab me in the back, Ahni. I just…when I realized that Rad had obviously come away from meeting with you with such a misunderstanding attached, it…scared the shit out of me. Rad’s a decent sort, a good alley to have, as are a good few of ‘em by Keane’s reckoning. But…some of the others they’d not think twice before…they…if it had been one of them…” There he looks away as words trail his jaw tightening as does his hand about the reins held in it and his voice comes barely audible as he forces himself to say it, “My choices…have endangered you and those close to me. There are those that will take any excuse to get at me, through you, Ma, Little Bit, shards even Waine or Jaya.” Dark troubled eyes swing back onto the redhead pleading with her to try and understand where he’s coming from.

“Not wise to question a man’s methods in front of the man’s lover,” Ahnika calmly counters his first assertion, “The only thing that gets is a reaction from her, one way or another. Either I’d stand up for you, or I’d stumble. He was testing me, Max. Kelarad couldn’t have gotten to where he was today without being able to anticipate the players in the playing field around him and carefully think about every move he made. He does that the same way a new Headwoman figures out the strength of her existing resources: by testing them. He was being shrewd, not wise.” Then she exhales, giving a little shrug of her shoulders, “But that’s neither here nor there now.” And lapses quiet as Max continues, and she watches Starflight eat the redfruit in silence, though her expression grows in skepticism as he talks, and then confusion, before shaking her head again, “I’m not in any more danger than I was before. If anything, now that Jhath is nearly fully matured, I’m in less danger. But I can see where you might worry for Little Bit. Your mother … I think she can probably take care of herself better than you give her credit, Max, but that’s between you and her.” Taking the waterskin back, she puts it away in her backpack and buckles it back up.

With a nod that may or may not be in agreement with what she says, “What better source than a man’s lover, aye?” Max then leaves a pause before asking quietly, “Is it so bad that he was testing you? Shrewd or wise, it’s all the same game, Ahni. And no different from what I plan on doing. I’m leaving for Ista in a few days to meet with Harvis, the man running things there, and Nabol after that. I need to get a measure of the others for myself, see what I’m dealing with.” When Ahnika seems to so easily dismiss his concerns for her safety, he grows quiet lips pursing lightly and now that Starflight has moved to one side, he looks away out over the meadow, “There are men out there that despise dragonriders and what they stand for, to the point that they’d not hesitate to do them harm, dragon or not.” Silence prevails for a short time and then his gaze, guarded, moves back onto the redhead again, “Have we changed too much?” weighty the question that he now puts to her.

“Of course not,” Ahnika answers his first breezily. “I obviously didn’t think much about it afterward, especially since Relly didn’t. Kelarad didn’t hurt me, Max. You did.” It’s not said in a bitter tone, just a simply matter-of-fact one. And then she thinks about it some more and adds, “Well, he did hurt me by lying to you about what was said and getting you to think I was being disloyal,” apparently actions do speak louder than words, since she’s not yet convinced by his previous statements, “but not by testing me. That part didn’t make no nevermind, obviously, or I would have come to you about it myself.” Then she nods, “There are men who might try to hurt me, but Jhath won’t let them get too far at it.” A trumpet of agreement comes from the meadow below, muffled slightly by a mouth full of meat. Ahni refrains from adding that she had to stop Jhath from taking action on her behalf against Max, himself, for the hurt she felt over his accusations. His last question gives her pause and she blinks a lot before looking away from him, “I’ve been thinking about that, too. Jhath’s impacted my life a lot, changed my priorities and needs, and your priorities changed when you decided to take on this new mantle, too.” A tear descends from the corner of one eye quietly and she wipes it away. “I don’t want to say ‘yes’, but in my heart I’m beginning to think so. I still love you. I think I always will, even when you hurt me. So, I’ll not ask you to turn it all over to someone else to run when you get Little Bit back. I know being in control down here is important to you.” More important than her, is unstated aloud. Then she looks back at him, her grey eyes shiny with unshed moisture. Lifting her hands to her riding leather buckles, she starts unbuckling her top (which might create the wrong impression initially), but once she gets down a few buckles, she reaches in and pulls out the delicate pendant, showing him that she is still wearing the necklace he gave her, that she still had been hoping against the odds that things were reparable. But now she starts to search for the clasp to unfasten it, and tears streak down her cheeks unbidden and she swallows hard, sniffling, and saying with a raspy tremble in her voice, "I love you …" They say, if you love something, set it free … and if it comes back …

Where he might have pointed out that Relly was more hold-bred than renegade-bred or that the young woman was hardly in a sensible state of mind given her current circumstances, Max is forestalled by what is said next. Again, a frown threatens but is held at bay as he gives quiet admission, "You hurt me too, Ahni." And one more time he tries to clear things up on the matter of the Tillekian, "He wasn't trying to get me to see you as being disloyal simply to give warning of how things could be viewed." And there he leaves it, tired of beating the same old runnerbeast to death. Again, where he could have pointed out that should she ever, Faranth forbid, be accosted in a cave or tunnel such as was the case with the attack from Phineus, her green would be unable to get to her and render assistance, but he doesn't, merely giving a curt nod of head in response. It's the next topic that he finds it hard to keep his expression held in that carefully constructed mask of neutrality that he'd taken to. "Jhath…will always be the most important thing in your life, I get that," the faintest whisper of bitterness betraying his feelings on the matter and then he gives a shake of head and a frown finally breaks through the stoic mask. "But my priorities ain't changed, Ahni. They're still the same, trying to do right by those I love and those of the lands who look to me and Ma for their safety. The difference is that now I'm rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kelarad and Vaput and getting my hands dirty to get it done." Just how dirty, she'd likely be horrified to know. "And I know that puts you in a hard place, you the honourable dragonrider and me the dirty crimelord," no mockery this time, simply a statement of fact. Dark eyes touch to that tear that gets wiped away and the young man swallows and looks away lest she see the pain it causes him, "It ain't about the control…" And then her words that allude to her looking to say yes to the question asked of her catch up with him and his expression steels. Wariness then follows the movement of her hands to unfasten her riding leathers and is overridden by hope making a brief appearance, his expression softening a touch when she reveals that she still wears the necklace he'd given her, "I love you too, Ahni…" He never gets the rest of her name out for next she's fumbling for the clasp and hope dies a swift death, his expression closing in its wake. Pain and fear combine into a crushing sense of impending loss that constricts his throat, causing the low spoken warning to grate out when he realizes what she's about to do, "Ahnika…don't." For the risk of setting the avian free on wounded wings and it losing its way home again, is great.

And Ahni would have pointed out that Relly, holdbred or not, knows her cousin a lot better than either Ahni or Max does, so it’s just as well that Max didn’t try that line of argument. To his comment that she hurt him, she does look genuinely apologetic to that and nods once, “Then, for that I’m sorry, Max.” But she shakes her head on his next, “Where you see him giving a warning, I see him trying, and succeeding, to manipulate you. On that score, I don’t think you and I will ever see eye to eye, Max. You are in the thick of it, and I am on the outside.” Ahnika could further argue that her perspective, therefore, is more objective than Max’s own, but that would be inflammatory and not get them anywhere. He states his priorities haven’t changed, and Ahnika looks skeptical to that, seeing this recent fight and the root of it as proof that his priorities have changed, but rather than opposing the statement, she just looks weary and shrugs, at least up until he insinuates she is above him in some way just because she is a dragonrider and he a crimelord. Her trembling hands fumble with the clasp of her necklace a moment and then let go of it all together, leaving it to dangle against her leather collar. “That’s unfair, Max, and you know it.” The hard edge returning to her tone, all the while her tears continue unbidden and unhindered, “I have supported you in this from the beginning, even helped you. I’ve never considered myself above you. I know you are a good man and you feel this is necessary for someone to do to keep the likes of Vaput out. I don’t, and will not ever, hold myself above you. The fact that you’re suggesting it now only tells me that either you’re trying to make it look like I’m the bad guy here alone, or you just don’t know me as well as I thought you did, and perhaps then I don’t know you as well as I thought I did. It is about the control if you know good and well that someone else could be doing what you’re doing, someone you trust and know is just as good and noble a person as you are, but you would rather keep the reins yourself than turn them over to someone else. That, Max, makes it about control. And that’s fine, if that is what you value now, but don’t deny it when it’s right there in front of you with your name stitched across it. Own it for what it is.” She wipes at her eyes, her voice a hoarse whisper, “I was willing to share you with your other mistress, this criminal organization, as long as it wasn’t going to drive a wedge between us, as long as you weren’t going to let it consume you, but this whole mess with Kelarad tells me you have. It’s clear being the crimelord in this region is more important to you than us, your family and friends, and our future. That’s where your priorities have changed, Max.” Tearfully, she tries in vain again to work the clasp on her necklace with trembling fingers, choking out a soft sob, "When that changes," she sniffles, "let me know. Until then … perhaps it would be better for you and your empire if I wasn't involved anymore."

Silent a moment in the face of her apology and then Max gives a nod and the pale idea of a smile. On the matter of Kelarad, he doesn’t dispute that they’ll likely never agree on the topic and so simply says quietly, “And where you’re on the outside and I’m in the thick of it, I have more of the facts than you do.” Despite the hard edge that enters her tone, he reaches out toward her, his intent to use a thumb to brush the tears from an eye if she doesn’t pull back, his tone without heat, “No Ahni, we both carry blame here. You for believing that I choose my position over you and me for not handling things properly and having it seem so, hmm?” There are things said by her however that puncture the thin veneer he’s pulled into place and score across his heart causing him to flinch and his frown to draw heavier as he blinks hard. And so once again, silence prevails as he works hard to bury it deep and remain calm knowing that if at least one of them didn’t, things were going to spiral out of control. That is if they hadn’t already. Depending on whether or not she pulled away from his touch, his hand either returns back to the safety of dangling over his knee or it lays palm flat against her cheek, thumb continuing to brush at the tears that spill and dark eyes search hers out. “I’ve been sharing you with Jhath since the moment you impressed, that in itself almost drove a wedge between us, but I stuck around,” when most men would have walked away, “because I love you and we fought for each other, not with each other. We’ve made it this far. Don’t give up now, Baby.” The term of endearment slipping out unbidden as naked pain shows in his eyes. If his hand has been allowed to remain in contact with her, it will now slip to close over her fingers that fumble with the clasp of her necklace, perhaps gripping a little too hard in his effort to try and stay her movements, his gaze fastening intently onto her, seeking those tear filled eyes out, his reflecting a deeply wounded man back at her. “You said you’d never let go.” Voice low, roughened by withheld emotion as he reminds her of those words spoken to him on more than one occasion in a last desperate bid to hold onto what they have.

“And I have the clearer perspective,” Ahni finally says to Max’s first, shaking her head, “We could go round and round on that, Max. Just forget it. You’re going to choose to believe what you want to believe and obviously there’s nothing I can say or do to dissuade you. I’m going to believe what I believe, too, but my life’s not on the line in that quarter as yours is. If you don’t want to believe me that he’s using this to get more favor from you and divide us, then just … be careful, in general. Don’t trust him as much as you seem to want to.” She doesn’t flinch from his thumb. If anything, she craves his touch right now, against her better judgment. Closing her eyes, she nods a little to his saying it’s both their faults. Finally something she can agree on, though forgive her for thinking he shares the greater burden of it. At least she doesn’t say as much. “Don’t you dare compare Jhath to a criminal organization,” Ahni says, indignant all over again, her eyes opening, “It’s not the same and you know it. I am not better than you, but she is a million times better than that. She may have taken my time away from you in weyrlinghood, but she never turned me against you, or pitted me against you, as Kelarad has. We’ve fought more and harder since you decided you were going to go into this new line than we ever have, Max. Come on. Look at us, Max. We can’t continue like this. Something has to give.” The last line causes more tears to spill with the assertion, but she meets his gaze and her hands still, except for the trembling in her fingers as he grasps them, and she chokes out hoarsely, “Don’t push me away,” in response to his last, sliding one hand’s set of fingers out to wrap around his over her other, and then unable to keep herself together any longer, she closes her eyes and presses their joined hands to her lips and begins to weep in earnest. Jhath croons woefully from the meadow below and begins to make the trek up the hill, on foot, to the pair and Starflight, apparently her belly sated enough for the time being.

That Kelarad wishes to gain favour with him, of that Max has no doubt, for it is to be expected between allies. That the man does it to divide beast manager from weyrling, highly unlikely for the man could probably care less who his Southern counterpart is romantically involved with. Of course he says nothing of this having been a very important though painful lesson learned on keeping business and pleasure separate and so he simply gives a nod and a low spoken, “Aye,” in response to being careful. When it seems that Ahnika is finally about to start calming down, Max starts to relax only to tense right back up again when she then goes off about his apparently having compared her green to the underbelly of Pern. An exasperated sound spills out, mingled with a heavy sigh, “Jays, Ahni…that’s not what I meant. Fuck, is there anything I can say right without your taking it up the wrong way and jumping down my sharding throat?” Suddenly the idea of becoming a mute is starting to sound very appealing to the man. Something has to give…of course he interprets that to mean she’s expecting him to give up his position rather than her becoming more flexible and simply supporting him rather than fighting him at every turn. Nothing gets said. Again. There is however a faint tightening of jaw as he tries to douse the fire of indignation and ensuing anger that rises up in response. Instead, as she draws their joined hands to her lips and begins to cry harder, he wraps Starflight’s reins about one wrist, rocks forward to his knees and carefully disengaging his hand from hers wraps strong arms about her, drawing her in against his chest. Not a word spoken in response to anything she’d said, simply letting her cry it out. He’ll deal with his anger, hurt and yes, even a rising sense of isolation, on his time, in his own way. With Jhath starting to make her way up to them, Starflight starts to baulk trying to put distance between himself and the approaching dragon which has the effect of jerking Max sideways by the wrist.

There’s plenty he can say right, Ahnika would possibly say, and might even give examples of things he’s done and said to show her that he’s committed to her and their future together … back before he decided he wanted to run the criminal underground of an entire continent. Isolation indeed, for now Ahni feels very much like ‘the other woman’ in his life, and she doesn’t like it, especially if it means he will question her loyalty to him at every bump like this – in her mind. But such things are not communicated right now, tearful and torn as she is, feeling like she has to save herself, protect herself, from the one man in all of Pern she wants holding her. Very conflicted. The jerking of his arm to the side, brings her head up and away from his chest and she starts to unfold herself from her seated position on the ground against the tree and try to pull out of his arms. Sniffling and working to catch her breath, and scrubbing at her moist eyes, Ahnika says nothing, but neither does she return her attention to the necklace and try to give it back. Finally, she murmurs in a concessional tone, “We’ll go, and leave you and Starflight in peace. He’s unsettled enough as it is.”

A soft curse follows nearly having his shoulder yanked from its socket by the fretting stallion and Max briefly tightens his grip about Ahnika. That is until she starts to unfold herself and pulls out of his arms. For a moment he stays where he is on his knees, looking up at her with despair shadowing his eyes and then slowly he stands grip tightening about the reins as Starflight throws his head about. “You should stay, you were here first,” spoken quietly as he moves to the stallion’s side preparing to mount, his hat left lying on the ground. Pausing in the action, boot to stirrup, his gaze searching hers, “I told you I was no good.” Harking back to words spoken at the very beginning of their relationship and then without further word heels are put to the big runnerbeast and the pair canter back through the trees away from the approaching dragon and away from living proof that he’s a fuck up. At least to the troubled mind of the young crimelord of the south.

Ahnika is about to protest his leaving, intending to point out that Jhath is done feeding anyway, but before she can he’s gone and his words are but an echo in her ears amidst the hoof-beats of Starflight and his rider’s departure. She watches them go in silence at first, her tears dried up now, but her cheeks still damp, and then murmurs somberly aloud, even though she knows they are too far away to actually hear her, “Yes, you told me, and I let you go,” said remembering that day outside of the Infirmary, “but you insisted on a second chance … and I gave it to you. The onus is mine.” When Jhath arrives, instead of leaving as they intended, Ahnika slips down to the ground again, this time curled up against Jhath’s shoulder while Jhath settles down curls her neck protectively around Ahnika’s body and croons woefully again. « I’ll never abandon you, my Ahnika. » Jhath vows unnecessarily, « You’ll always have me. You are my everything. Nothing shall ever come between us. » I know, Ahnika speaks internally, her body shuddering on an exhale, and she closes her eyes, We’ll always have each other, Nobleheart. You are my everything, too. Forgive my sadness. I am a silly, greedy girl for wanting both of you. « Tavaith’s was right. A bond between rider and non-rider will never work. » No, Ahnika disagrees gently, it could have worked. It did work for awhile, before … « Before he wanted to be Lord Holder of Miscreants. » Jhath finishes for her. To that, Ahnika just sighs and squeezes her arm around Jhath’s foreleg a little more. For a long while the green pair stay there like that before the sun moves far enough over to noticeably shift the shadows of the trees, and Ahnika realizes they should be getting back to the Weyr, and they leave, both longing for the days when they can give up the weyrling knot and fight Thread, though for entirely different reasons now.

Closing Credits Theme Music: Within Temptation - What Have You Done?

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