You Care, I Care

Who: Arlet, J’kson, Akanyth
When: Month 1, 205 AT
Where: Tavern(s), Bitra Territory
What: J’kson and Arlet have a new assignment.

The first gambling warren M’tan sends J’kson to is up in the cold North. Bitra has always been host towards the games of chance – though the Hold’s more formal gambling is meant for higher-quality people than the ones J’kson settles himself down with. The tavern they are in at least hosts a large fireplace that keeps the damp and cold out. It does nothing for the smell of stale ale and rank bodies that have gone too long without a bath. J’kson’s been at his current game of poker for over an hour. He’s managed to keep his drinking to a minimum (for him) and he’s done well – having swept the pot three times. He sets down his last winning hand and one of his gambling associates snarls, “Fuck you. You shardin’ cheat.” He rises to punch J’kson but is held off when the bluerider produces a large knife to pick at a thumbnail with. “Not smart. I’ll move on from you sore losers. But the marks are mine.” He shoves them into his bag as he keeps his knife within reach.

Wherever Arlet has been since she dropped off J’kson, it’s not been in the vicinity of the tavern, and it she can’t have lingered long in the cold, for she’s got her shirt half-unbuttoned and the collar of her jacket askew as she returns to claim him, oblivious to or willfully ignoring much of her surroundings when she strides in. “Come on,” she urges, the words murmured when she reaches his side. “Let’s go. This place is revolting.” She shies not from leveling a flat, bored stare at the man across from the bluerider, nor from allowing him to hear the last of her comments, but then, she’s got a sword at her side to answer to, should the knife not prove deterrent enough. “Better challenges elsewhere.”

“I would assume so,” J’kson drawls as he settles his bag against his side. He salutes the losing men with a wink. “I hope to see you all soon. Practice, won’t you? Before I return? I’d prefer a challenge.” He loops his arm around Arlet’s shoulder and angles them towards the door. It’s a matter of strides and cocky-glances before the two of them are back outside in the cold. He doesn’t shudder at it, having enough of an ‘ale blanket’ to be numb to the temperature change. He won’t question her absence, the agreement was for transport after all, but he does turn to fuss at her buttons. “If you don’t want this duty, you should tell M’tan” he tells her, unbuttoning and rebuttoning her shirt. “I realize these establishments are below your sensibilities. I wouldn’t want you in there.” He lifts one of his arms to take a sniff and mock-winces. “I smell rank myself.” He gazes back at the door. “We should go… I don’t know Bitra well. I imagine closer to the Hold we can find nice accommodations to…,” he eyes her and tilts his head with a faint smile, “freshen up?”

Whether Arlet tenses because of J’kson’s nearness or the cold may never be known, but she most definitely freezes when he starts fussing at the buttons of her shirt, clasping her hands firmly behind her back while she watches him through a distracted gaze, her focus there and not quite there at the same time. She clamps one hand around her opposing wrist tightly enough that she’ll leave marks, unwilling to let herself touch him before she’s admitted, “There was a flight,” the words blurted out all in a rush. “And he won.” Which is why Akanyth seems smug and settled and not half as agitated as she looks. “And I didn’t… I thought it’d upset you… I didn’t go to the flight weyr and I didn’t stay and I… I feel like I’m going to go mad.” She tugs at the collar of her jacket, yanking at it like she’d crawl out of her own skin. “…There’s a place near the Hold… Dice games and liquors… Pricey, but it’s clean.”

It takes J’kson a moment to register what she’s said to him. His brows remain puckered and create heavier creases across his forehead as he frowns at her. “Why would you ever do that to yourself? Upset me? I am not your keeper.” He reaches his hands to grasp her wrists and gently remove them from her jacket’s collar. “Have Akanyth take us somewhere where we can have a room. We cannot — here, it wouldn’t be safe or seemly. It’s too cold outside.” He wraps his arm around her shoulder once more and guides her to her brown’s side. “You should have told her to go in the flight weyr, Akanyth,” he accuses the brown as he helps Arlet up his arm. “You could’ve asked Malynth to ask me, Arlet,” he reminds her, waiting until she’s settled before he settles behind her. “You come first.”

“Because you said—“ Arlet starts to say, only she hasn’t the wherewithal to muddle her way through the logic (or lack of) of her thought process, leaving her to fumble with Akanyth’s straps while the brown snorts at J’kson in a fashion that somehow manages to be edged with disbelief. “He chases and he likes it and I like it and maybe that’s why people only ever think I’m worth trying out or experimenting with or stringing along and I thought maybe you wouldn’t like me either if you knew that’s all I’m good for,” floods out before she can stop it, the chill of Between just enough to prevent anything else from following or letting upset follow. When Akanyth lands, it’s in the grounds of a building that has the Hold in its view, everything neat and orderly, right down to its signage and landscaping. Inside, it’s bright and the décor plain, the sounds of a gaming room beyond the entry hall filtering through. Arlet has the presence of mind to request a room and pay for it, a key handed to her that she promptly hands to J’kson, her hands shaking a little too much for her to manage the intricacies of a lock, but at least she leads him up the stairs and along the corridor to the right room.

J’kson has the cold of Between to sober his thoughts further, leaving him unusually quiet as he lets Arlet take the lead. He follows after her, past the obvious sounds of gaming, and towards the door where he assumes their room is set to be. He reaches a hand around her own, steadying her shake to help her guide the key in the lock and turn it. He gently moves her to the side as he opens the door for her, waiting until she’s inside before he follows. He closes the door behind him and flips the nearest lock. Still, without a word he guides her towards the nearest surface she could sit upon, within the space, there is only a bed for her to perch on. He settles her there and then reaches into his pocket to pull out the flask he always keeps. “Don’t argue,” he tells her as he hands it to her. “Take it until the shaking stops. Then we’ll talk.” He watches her closely until he’s certain some of his alcohol has numbed the edges of her tension. “I am not experimenting with you. I’ve slept with women before. You and me, we’re supposed to look out for each other, aren’t we? You looked out for me with Malynth when I was a fool. You care, I care. Don’t compare me to that bitch,” he doesn’t hesitate to say it, “or any others who have hurt you. I do not intend to use you, Arlet.”

Arlet accepts the flask with one hand and rips off her jacket with the other, haphazardly undoing and tugging at the buttons J’kson so recently sorted out to leave her shirt open with only a care that it might help to cool her, unworried that he will see only what he’s seen before. She drinks, taking sips rather than gulping down its contents, waiting until enough is almost exactly enough instead of downing more than she might need – or enough to get her truly inebriated. “I’m not comparing you,” she says eventually, staring down at the floor. “I’m saying that that’s what I know and I’m the common factor there, so there has to be some… merit to thinking it, if it’s happened more than once. Even if my own stupidity is the reason. I just thought… What would it look like if I’d left you there and ended up in bed with someone by the time I got back.” She twitches a shoulder. “That’s all.” Proffering the flask, she gestures to the door that must lead to a bathing room. “It’s through there. If you want to shower.”

“It’d look like Akanyth got himself tangled in a flight – something you and he enjoy – and you’d have enjoyed the flight-lust if you’d allowed yourself to,” J’kson answers. He reaches for that flask from her, sipping from it a few times before he passes it back to her. He sheds off his own flight gear and sets the money he’d earned on the nearest table. “Do I smell that bad?” he asks with a laugh, looking to her with a grin. “You could join me,” he offers, looking towards her chest, “and take a warm bath with me instead of the cold shower I’m sure you’re contemplating.” He waits for her answer, holding her gaze. “If I hurt you it’ll be something I’ve done drunk. I’ll never intentionally hurt you, Arlet. I like who you are. I wouldn’t change it.”

Arlet cradles the flask between both palms before checking the cap is screwed on properly and setting it down beside her on the bed. Though she holds J’kson’s gaze when he seeks hers, she ultimately looks down at her knees and gives a single nod by way of response, idly knotting her fingers back together in an awkward bundle that looks more uncomfortable than anything. The silence lingers, until she takes a deep breath and murmurs, “A bath sounds nice.” A moment later, she lifts her attention from her knees and back to J’kson. “I… don’t know that I can be that near you right now and not…” is a somewhat wobbly confession, but it doesn’t stop her shedding her shirt and getting to her feet, intent on at least getting through to the bathing room without embarrassing herself further.

“I assumed we would… ,” J’kson says soflty, his eyes kind, “only because that’s what we //do// together. Wait,” he reaches to grab her elbow before she can get too far towards the bathroom. He wraps his arm about her middle and pulls her against his side. “I know I smell and for that I apologize. Don’t go without me,” he kisses the top of her head and then leads them towards the bathing chamber. If she allows him to, J’kson will carefully undress her while the bath is filling up. He doesn’t press himself upon her, making it more of a gentle display of care rather than a overtly sexual act. Once he has her fully undressed, he waits until she’s settled in the warmth the waters offer before he more briskly gets himself naked. He settles in the bath facing her, his legs drawn up and akimbo in the tub to fit himself with her. “They don’t know how to make these spaces romantic, I see,” he drawls in a commentary of the size of the bathing tub.

Almost the very instant that she steps into the water, Arlet sinks down to fully submerge herself while J’kson undresses, resurfacing with her hair now falling heavily around her shoulders as she settles at one end of the bath and gently sweeps the water from her eyes. “Maybe the shower would have been better,” she murmurs rather dryly, one corner of her mouth easing into a tiny smile. As it is, she turns herself around and moves to lie back against him, reaching for his arms to secure them at her middle. Sighing, she closes her eyes and drops her head back against his shoulder. “If you want to be romantic, I could finally get some proper quarters at home,” she says quietly. “Somewhere more comfortable and with more privacy.”

“I don’t think I’m especially welcome at the Court,” J’kson admits as she settles back against him. His arms are strong and firm as they move around her middle, grounding her against him as he presses a kiss to her cheek. “I have to make as much as I can of this assignment from M’tan. Which means we’ll be traveling a lot,” he notes, the smile he has moving against her cheek. “So we can content ourselves with good rooms at decent places. Even if I’ve got to go to the dives to suss out the level of crime… we can come back to establishments like this to sleep. M’tan never said I had to return by any set time.” He reaches for her hand to twine her fingers with his. “You should have proper quarters there, Arlet. You should have large, lavish, rooms full of anything and everything you desire.”

“I don’t think Malynth would be very pleased if you never came back,” Arlet murmurs, unable to keep a thread of wry amusement from her tone. “And if you’re working for the Court, they ought to listen to what they teach and make sure you’re welcome. They can’t pick and choose who that applies to. If you work for them, you’re one of them, and you deserve as much as anyone else claims from being part of the Court.” She glances down into the water to watch their fingers thread together, then drops her head back against J’kson’s shoulder and turns her head just enough to touch a kiss to the line of his jaw. “…I didn’t know that I was going to stay,” she admits. “I don’t have anywhere to go, but I wasn’t sure it was right to stay either. I guess… whether or not any of this is anything like I thought it would be, they’re still my family. They’ve offered me a home. I should take it.”

“Malynth is missing Eosyth and Fort. He’s bored. It turns out that Kyramith, Akanyth and Sirhyth do not like to play,” J’kson answers with a chuckle. “The only upside for me is he still gets to talk to Eosyth. All. The. Time.” He squeezes her fingers as she kisses along his jaw. “You should be proud of your family, Arlet. M’tan and Jet aren’t… normal?” he has to question his descriptor of choice, “and yet they care. Deeply. About their people and their family.” He grows quiet and thoughtful. “I imagine they don’t approve of me,” he says aloud as it dawns on him that //could// be part of his punishment. “And you. You could do better,” he reminds her, meaning it, “than some drunken spy-gambler. Whatever title they want to give me.” He sighs and shakes his head and then lets his hand wander upwards, cupping her chest briefly as he whispers in her ear, “I approve of us.”

“If Eosyth turns up at the Court, my mother will likely make sure that you’re incapable of spending any time in bed with me – or anyone – ever again.” Serious or not, Arlet manages to make it sound like she’s teasing more than anything. “I’m not sure they’ll ever approve of anyone, regardless of who they are or what they do. …Maybe there wasn’t all that much to approve of about anyone I’ve been with before, no matter whose the mistakes were. I managed to find two goldriders who only thought I was entertaining. Station clearly isn’t a good indication of anyone’s morals or suitability as a partner.” She makes a soft sound as J’kson’s hand wanders, one of hers clamping around his other wrist. “I can’t do half the things I want to in this tub,” she murmurs. “So take me to bed or against the wall, because if you tease me I might just lose my mind.”

J’kson laughs as his hand is clasped. “First– we get clean,” he tells her, nipping at her earlobe. “And then I’ll find a bed and a wall to please you.” He lets the other aspects of the conversation go – he’s not worried about Eosyth, no matter the threat it may pose to the Court. He takes the time to wash her hair first, adding a massage against her neck and shoulders before he quickly cleans himself. Towels are for barely drying before he tosses them aside and swoops Arlet into his arms. He’s halfway to the bed when he finds a wall and the demands of Arlet are met. //Eventually// he’ll find the bed for them. //Eventually// they’ll sleep. For now, J’kson eases the pain of a flight won with no release. “Don’t do that again,” he murmurs against her lips, “it’s not worth it.” He kisses away any answer she may give. Later – they can always talk more later.

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