What’s Best

Who: Zinovia, Akemi, Yukijiath, Maozheth
When: Month 6, 202 AT
Where: Silverfield Hold, Honshu Territory
What: After Daeserath flies Yukijiath, Zinovia returns home.

Thankfully, it’s not too long a flight to get from Honshu back to Silverfield Hold. When the appointed hour arrives when they should depart, Zinovia insists on flying straight and not going Between, trying to state without actually saying the words that she doesn’t want the whole experience and aftermath of Yukijiath’s unfortunate flight to have been for nothing. It also gives her the excuse of wearing riding gear that manages to effectively cover her pretty much from head to toe, though it’s not something that she can let drag on forever. Having avoided it for as long as she possibly can, once they’re back home and dragons are settled, she moves through the hold and to the wing that holds the rooms that are exclusively for her and Akemi, headed for the ridiculously large bathroom with its ridiculously large bath. Getting the water running, she starts to pull off her clothes, saying, “Let’s get this over with,” even as shedding her jacket reveals bruises. She keeps talking, assuming she’s been followed. “You can get mad at me and stare and repress your feelings and I can say that I signed a contract, then you can say it was a stupid thing to do, and I can say, yes, maybe it was, but it keeps every eligible Lord and minor Lordling from turning up on our doorstep.”

Maozheth and Akemi had returned to Silverfield Hold as soon as the blue realized Yukijiath and Zinovia wanted space. He’s given it – not as reactionary as Akemi would have, but offered distance between he and the green so that she can seek him out when she is ready for him. His mind has grown dark, his usual spark-fizz and fireworks absent. His mind is a black void, mirroring the vastness of a moonless night sky. Akemi has kept herself occupied by checking on her horses, who have been flourishing with the retirement of the pastures at Silverfield. Currying and brushing them has often been a source of comfort and today she spent extra time to add polish to their hooves and braid their manes and tails to match the braids she’s grown fond of herself. She returns to the Hold once Maozheth alerts her to Yukijiath’s return – noticing that the direct flight indicates things she still has not found comfortable to discuss with Zinovia. Like the shadow that Zinovia anticipated, Akemi makes a quiet study of the greenrider as she follows after her into the bathing chamber. Her face is a stony-mask of concealed feelings as she takes in the sight of the bruises on Zinovia. “I should have stayed known as a man,” she uses as an answer, sliding against the wall to seat herself there and watch Zinovia enter the bath numbly. “Then they’d assume I //was// the Lord.”

As Zinovia strips down, more and more of the map of where C’aol’s hands and teeth have been is revealed, one that she doesn’t pause to examine, but one that, especially after a time in the air, has evidently begun to cause her more and more pain as bruises settle in and make themselves known, her movements beyond the removal of her jacket tentative and wary. Afraid of what she’ll find, she doesn’t manage to actually look Akemi in the eye, despite her matter of fact approach, and tells her, “You could still be known as the Lady if we went through with a proper wedding of our own.” She turns from her then, reaching to throw liberal handfuls of mineral salts into the water in some vague hope that they’ll help her aching muscles. “But I can see why you wouldn’t wish to, faced with the prospect of another’s efforts to sire children on me. It was… foolish of me to ask you to tolerate it, now it’s here. Especially when I’m going to have to find ways and reasons to want him or resent my own children for what’s necessary.” Clothes on the floor, she steps into the bath and settles there, letting the still flowing water rise up around her. Yukijiath maintains much the same silence as she has since the darker, more primal side of her nature released its hold on her, now lurking quite literally in the dark, still for more reasons than ease her own torn and aching form. And yet, eventually, she offers Maozheth, << It should have been you, >> and only that, cutting herself off again a moment later.

“Children,” Akemi repeats, letting that realization settle over her like a cold bucket of water dumped over her head. She exhales slowly, trying to calm the panic rising in her chest. Her hand moves to grasp at the fabric over her heart, twisting between her fingers as her eyes are unable to tear themselves away from the damage evident all over Zinovia’s body. She keeps the space between them, finding it difficult to breathe as she works through the thoughts spinning around her brain. It takes effort for her to push to her feet, finally closing the distance between them once Zinovia has eased into the tub. She strips her clothes quickly, following the greenrider into the bath. Her arms carefully encircle Zinovia as she tucks herself behind her. She presses her face between Zinovia’s shoulder blades and simply holds her. Maozheth’s despair is a sputtering flame as Yukijiath reminds him of his failings, of her, of his rider. He tightens himself into a ball and drapes his tail over his face, hiding from her and the light still lingering in the world around him.

What practicality Zinovia has tried to adopt about the whole situation starts to dissolve the instant that Akemi steps into the bath, though she tries to hold herself together and upright and not immediately press herself close as desperately as she wants to. It’s a battle soon lost, for she folds her arms over Akemi’s and hangs her head in shame, silently blinking away the tears that have refused to be vanquished. “…You could be free, you know. Both of you. You don’t have to stay here and go through this. If you want to go… I won’t think badly of you or try to stop you. I won’t hate you.” She turns her head to nuzzle at the bluerider’s shoulder. “…I think Yuki just said something awful, but she didn’t mean it like that,” she says softly. “She’s upset that she wasn’t strong enough. That… the bronze,” she won’t name him, “got the better of her. That she… liked it.” Swallowing hard, she murmurs, “We both are,” intent on owning their failings. Determined to continue, she insists, “But I mean it. If you want to go, we won’t stop you. We love you enough to understand… that this may not be what’s best for you.”

Akemi lifts a hand to press a finger against Zinovia’s lips. “Stop,” she commands, anger flashing in her gaze as her brows twitch with an effort to keep from scowling. “//Stop//. You will not constantly offer me an out, or tell me I should go, and that I don’t need to be here. That’s unfair to me. You act as if I //want// to leave you. I don’t.” She takes a breath and brushes her finger against the bottom of Zinovia’s lips. “The next time he has you, I do not want you to come home and begin telling me I should go. I’m not going. You’re my family. My life. //Our// life.” She brushes her fingers along Zinovia’s cheek. “I love you. Please stop pushing me away.” Her hand drifts to touch upon those painful bruises and marks, taking stock of all the damage she can see. “He’s a bastard and his dragon is pure evil,” she declares, reaching both arms around Zinovia to tuck her in close against her. “He should be punished.” As to the issue between their dragons, “Maozheth is young. He doesn’t know what he did wrong, but he’s going to figure out how to win next time.”

With one foot, Zinovia shuts off the water, the move a somewhat inelegant one that nevertheless allows her to turn herself just enough to wedge her other foot against the side of the bathtub and twist at the waist to keep Akemi in her line of sight. “I would want to leave me,” she quietly confesses. “Everyone else has.” If not of their own volition or with intent, but the sting of being the only one left still nags at her. She does her best not to flinch as Akemi’s fingers drift over her myriad injuries, yet that too is a front that she soon lets herself drop, allowing the shocks that run through abused muscles and across damaged skin to play out as they will. “I love you and I… I… I just don’t want to make you miserable,” is no louder than a whisper, tears falling freely as she turns herself back around and lets Akemi tuck her close. “I’ll make sure we’re at home next time she rises. I had no idea she would… There was something in all that pain and suffering that she… liked.” Her arms fold over hers again, her hold tightening. “Marry me. Tomorrow. I can get a Harper here, witnesses… Just for us. Not anyone else.”

Akemi holds on to Zinovia, listening to her whispers, allowing her to cry without calling attention to it. She’s not going to continue to push back at Zinovia’s beliefs, she’s stated her truth and will allow time to make the greenrider recognize it. She bites at the inside of her lip, hard enough to let the warmth of blood fill trickle over her tongue. “I’ll marry you,” she tells her, “now that O’rlen and Aerishani have shown the world dragonriders can marry.” She kisses Zinovia’s temple. “But let’s do it for us and then plan to do it for everyone else. You deserve to show your people who you love, so they can understand your heart.” She lets out a breath and then tries to steer the conversation to silence as she begins to carefully massage soap into Zinovia’s hair and massage it along her shoulders and hands. She tries to spend the remaining time in the tub doing such things, until the water begins to turn cold enough its clear it’s time to get out. She rises then, moving to tuck a towel around her body before she encourages Zinovia out of the tub, towel ready. She tucks it about the greenrider’s body and then shoos her out of the bathing room and towards the comfort of familiar clothes and her own bed.

Zinovia doesn’t fight or argue, submissive in the face of Akemi’s guidance, doing as she’s encouraged while trying not to put too much distance between them, insistent only in getting to return the favour of washing her hair before she allows herself to be herded from the bath and through to the bedroom, where she draws from the wardrobe old and comfortable pyjamas that one wouldn’t think a lady of her station still kept around. Sitting down on the bed, she waits for Akemi and moves to gently towel dry the bluerider’s hair, curling herself around her as she goes about restoring braids, threading in slender ribbons in the shades of Maozheth and Yukijiath’s hides. She leaves her own hair as it is, despite knowing it will be a wild, untameable halo in the morning, choosing to do nothing more than slide beneath blankets and tuck herself in against Akemi, lying for a while with her forehead pressed over her heart, until she fits herself against her more completely and rests her head on her shoulder, letting sleep steal her away from snares of guilt and fear and hurting.

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