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And Auntie Comes Too


Laura Walker
 

Cuylar popped out of between over Attlin's hold again and then took a moment to reorient Elphith so that the landscape recalled to mind the map he had seen before. And then some twenty minutes or so later, he arrived at his second destination. He took Attlin's advice and landed far enough away to avoid spooking their beasts and then jogged in the rest of the way.


A dragon landing near their little hold was enough to attract a lot of attention, especially from the children playing outside, and they were quick to go at fetch Sherill to come and see.  She was quick to stride over to dragon and rider, curious as to what had brought the pair.


“Greetings!” Sherill called as she approached.  “Welcome.  May I help you in some way?  Offer you something to drink?”


"Hello, well met," Cuylar greeted the woman with a lifted hand. "I'm Journeyman Healer Cuylar of Elphith, the lovely lady who flew me here, and I've come at the behest of the Holder Attlin to speak to Sherill, his sister-in-law. I presume I've come to the right place?" he asked.


Attlin had sent this rider for her?!  


“I’m Sherill, Sir,” she replied, concern written on her face.  “Is something wrong?  Why has Attlin sent a dragonrider for me?”


"If I may begin at the end… Garatt is alive, well, and whole. No missing limbs, eyesight intact," said Cuylar, adding in the answers to questions he had left out when he gave his bottom line to Attlin.


"However. He has been the victim of some abuse at the hands of a rogue assistant Candidatemaster, who has been arrested. I am Garatt's primary care provider, and Attlin has insisted that you must also be notified of the situation and asked that I bring you to the Weyr to see Garatt as well."


“Oh, Faranth help him!” Sherill exclaimed, aghast.  You didn’t send riders to fetch people if there wasn’t some sort of trouble, generally.  “You’re sure he’s okay?  That he’ll be okay?  How could something like that go unnoticed?”


There was anger bubbling beneath the concern, but she wasn’t going to vent it onto the healer.  He was taking care of Garatt, was trying to help.  And at least Attlin had had the sense to send for her.


"Physically, he will be OK. The Weyr will be committing whatever resources are necessary to ensure he recovers emotionally. This assistant went to great lengths to coerce Garatt into hiding what was happening at a time when the Weyr's leadership has been occupied by several… difficult circumstances in rapid succession," Cuylar explained. "But I noticed some short time ago despite the rogue assistant's attempt to keep himself out of trouble and set in motion then the necessary steps to put a stop to it. I apologize for being unable to do anything more… expeditious."


Sherill listened with a very grim expression that grew darker by the moment.  Just about everyone knew about the attempt on the Weyrwoman’s life at the gather, and if there were other things going on after, well, Sherill might be tempted to grant them some leeway in not noticing.  Maybe.


“But, you do expect that he’ll recover?  Is it Garatt that wanted to see me?” Sherill asked.  That’d make sense as to why Attlin would send of her.  


“And this man responsible, he’s been arrested?”


"The rogue assistant has been arrested, yes," Cuylar confirmed. "Garatt didn't ask for anyone. But his father has a right to know what happened and to speak to him about it. Attlin insisted that I must also inform you. I understand you fostered the boy for some time, so I did not object and assumed you would also wish to see him."


“Damned right I do.”


Sherill turned and waved over one of the children who had been standing a respectful distance away, and sent him running off to let their father know she was going to the Weyr, and why.  Then she turned back to Culyar.


“I’m ready to go now, then, if you please.”


"Of course, ma'am," said Cuylar with a bow of his head. "You're welcome to stay as long as you see fit. Attlin is waiting for you in the Infirmary. I… tried to convince him to speak to Garatt when he arrived, but he refused to proceed without you."


It was all she could do to keep from snorting in disgust.  Of course he wouldn’t.  All these turns, and he still couldn’t see Garatt for himself, and not as a reflection of Garsha. 

“Well enough, I suppose,” Sherill sighed.  “At least he won’t have said anything that might upset Garatt further.  Let’s go, then, please.”


She was anxious to see Garatt herself, and give whatever comfort she could.


Cuylar led Sherill back to Elphith, all the while considering whether he should tell Sherill that Garatt was so easily manipulated into hiding the abuse because he was worried about what his father would think of him. But Garatt had said so much to him in that overflow of emotion through Elphith that he hardly remembered what he had learned how, and he felt like he was walking a razor edge of respecting Garatt's privacy and telling – for all intents and purposes – his parents what they deserved to know.


He helped her up to Elphith's back, buckled the straps, and then a few moments later, they were between and then landing at the Weyr.


"He'll be waiting in here. Attlin, that is," he said.


Riding the dragon was terrifying, but not going was not an option.  All the same, Sherill was glad when they were back on the ground.


“I suppose I had best speak to Attlin first,” Sherill said with a sigh.  She’d really rather not; she just wanted to go to Garatt, hug him and reassure him that everything would be okay.  “Where is Garatt?”


"He's been assigned quarters with the stablehands. That's where he'll be, unless he's gone to fetch something to eat, I expect," Cuylar answered. "If you'd like something to eat first, there are snacks available."


“No, no, that’s alright.  I’ll go speak with Attlin first, and then we’ll both go to see Garatt, if that’s alright.  Eating can wait a bit.”


Attlin had been sitting waiting. Cuylar had been kind enough to show him into a room with drinks and snacks but somehow nothing had appealed. So, he'd sat -- quietly, politely, not bothering anyone, not trying to start up conversation - and waited, at least until he heard Sherill's voice approaching.


He stood at her approach, dusting off already immaculate trouser legs before she could enter. Never  mind that she’d never shown the slightest inclination to worry about his appearance, it mattered. Somehow to someone it mattered.


It was the same well-trained and well-practiced good manners that made him move to greet her with a polite kiss on the cheek, as respectfully formal as at any dinner party rather than.. Here, now, waiting to go and see his hurt son. “Sherill. I thought you would want to be here.”


“Attlin,” Sherill greeted stiffly.  “Thank you for sending for me.  Its a relief not to be left in the dark about this whole affair.”


She might not like the man, but at least he did have the sense to make sure she was included.


“You didn’t *have* to wait for me to see Garatt, though, you know.”  Her tone was a bit scolding.


“I thought--” Attlin stepped back again, holding himself stiffly, politely awkward. “It felt as though he would prefer you to be here. Shall we go?” He had remembered to pick up the books at least, six of them bundled into a bag. If he was poor with words, at least he had brought books.


Sheril sighed and shook her head.  “Lead the way,” was all she said for the moment.  She’d see Garatt first, then give Attlin a bit of a talking to.


At this Attlin paused and looked enquiringly at Cuylar, bundling his bag under his arm. “I have really no memory as to where you said to go,” he admitted.


"No worries. Follow me, please," said Cuylar as she turned to lead them across the bowl. He might have offered to ferry them across to save time, but then Attlin would most definitely call his bluff on Elphith being unable to carry all three of them. When the reached the stablehands' quarters he held out his arm to indicate they had arrived.


"And here we are. I can tell him you're coming, if you like."


“That would probably be a good idea,” Sherill said kindly.  “Don’t want to startle him unnecessarily.”


Attlin had been watching the runners -- or watching the young lad exercising one of the runners - as they walked up to the point where he actually seemed distracted. He seemed thrown at the question, pulling his eyes away with an effort. “..Yes. Yes, very sensible,” he agreed, slightly belated.


Cuylar nodded to them and then turned to go inside. He hoped Attlin could put a lid on looking like this was such a chore when he actually spoke to Garatt. He asked around until he found the boy and then waved a greeting.


"Garatt," he said. "Your father and your aunt are here to speak with you."


No-one seemed to mind if he was actually in the room he had been given or outside it, and the runners had been right there only five minutes away, and despite Garatt’s stiffness the noise of them had coaxed him outside. Not to do anything energetic, just to pet them and talk to them, maybe sneak an orangeroot or redfruit. It was a lovely way to not think about anything too unpleasant and he had been looking positively relaxed when Cuylar hailed him.


Not that it lasted long.


“..My father’s here?” It came out as a guilty squeak as he snatched his hand hastily away from the runner as though it might burn him. “Where?”


"He's waiting outside to talk to you," Cuylar answered. "And he looked like he was about ready to fight someone for letting this happen to you when I talked to him." He smiled a sideways smile. "I was a bit worried that someone would be me, but he seems content to wait to yell at the Weyrleaders instead."


“My father did?” That came out disbelieving, and Garatt squinted at him because it was difficult to imagine Attlin fighting anyone. Being grave or stern or disappointed certainly, but those things rarely manifested in so much as a raised voice. “Are you sure?”


"I was surprised at first," said Cuylar, "that he seemed so… calm about it. But I wasn't… well, I didn't tell him the whole story at first, because I wanted to let you tell him some things. You know, to… I didn't want to betray your confidence, so I was being very careful about what I said. Buy at some point or another, I was standing up for Nayari, and, well. He could tell I was leaving something out."


"And when I told him the rest, ooh, boy. His eyes were like lightning. I offered to let him yell at me. But he wants to yell at the Weyrleaders."


Garatt continued to eye him, not entirely convinced by this version. It did not sound like any version of his father he knew. “..Did you say Auntie was here too?” he asked after a moment, and then a thought occurred. “Do they.. Do they know about the copying?”


"I didn't tell them about that," Cuylar admitted. "I told them about the Candidatemaster who was abusing you and your trust. That's the important part here. The copying is nothing. I'll tell them so myself if you need me to. But… like I said. I was trying to respect your privacy. You… you've shared a lot with me and Elphith, and I don't want to betray that. I'm your Healer, and if you'll have me, I'm your friend."


Garatt bit his lip, and then pulled himself straight, self-consciously  checking his clothes for bits of straw and runner-hair. “..Okay.” Better to get it over with and try to face it down. If his father was here, well, that was that then.


"Garatt," Cuylar said softly. "Listen. Your father? He loves you. So much. I don't know why he might have a hard time telling you so? But. He brought you books. He went… he went to your library, and he picked out the five books out of… what, a hundred? that he knew you would like so he could bring them to you. There's something… there's something he's still having a hard time with. But he loves you. And he's trying so hard. OK?"


Again that disbelieving look, Garatt squinting into Cuylar’s face as though trying to find the trick here. He couldn’t find it and he couldn’t believe it either, and the tiny flame of wild hope that desperately wanted this to be true hadn’t had a lot of fuel to feed on lately. Lately anything that seemed like it was going to be good always ended up awful.


“He probably wanted to make sure I was studying,” he muttered after a moment, dropping his gaze. “He doesn’t like it when people are idle for too long.”


"He brought you books about runners," said Cuylar. "He… he has things he thinks he needs to do, needs to say. The right things, the things people expect. But somewhere underneath, he wants to bring you the books that will make you happy. He made me go get your aunt because he thought you wouldn't want to see him. He has been here waiting until your aunt got here too, because he thought you would be sad if he came, but she didn't. I… Shells, you two. He wants you to love him, too, but he thinks he doesn't deserve it. He didn't tell me this, but. That's what it looks like to me."


“...Okay.” Garatt maybe didn’t accept that, or not entirely, but he didn’t argue either. He gave himself one last hasty brush-down (which entirely missed the bits of straw still in his hair) and then stood straight, face screwed into a determined expression of seriousness that was entirely like Attlin’s when he was trying not to react to bad news. “I’m ready.”


"Faranth, you are his little twin, aren't you?" Cuylar chuckled and reached up to pluck the straw out of Garatt's hair. "I'll go get them, OK? Elphith will listen for you if you need to talk to her while you're in with them. If you need… help with what to say, anything like that. Just call to her, and she'll hear you."


*****

As Cuylar walked away from them, Sherill turned to face Attlin, a very stern look on her face.  She hadn’t wanted to be so blunt in front of the rider, but for the moment they were alone, and now it was an entirely different face she was showing.


“Attlin, you listen to me, and you listen good.  I *know* that you’re no good with feelings and the like, but for Faranth’s sake, do make a point to try.  Garatt had been through who knows what, and you being stern and disapproving like you always do is *not* going to help him in any way!  He’ll think its directed at him, and that is the last thing he needs right now.  Do you understand me?”


All of this was said in a non-nonsense manner; Sherill was not going to take any argument on the matter.


Attlin had expected this was coming sooner or later; in truth he had expected the scolding would be for even letting Garatt near the Weyr, something he was already blaming himself heavily for. He drew himself up a little at Sherill’s lecture, far too proud to admit there might be a problem there.


“I think I can handle it,” he said icily, while his head screamed that no, actually, there was nothing in this he knew how to handle. Then, a little softer, as though in supplication. “I brought him books.”


Sherill gave him a scathing look.  Oh, she doubted very much that he’d be able to handle any of it at all; there was too much history pointing to just the opposite for her to believe any of his words.


“I’m sure,” she said, just a touch snidely.  “Are the books anything he’d actually have any interest in?”


She didn’t recall Garatt being particularly interested in books back when she’d had him, but their holding couldn’t really afford them, either.  She had always remembered him as a happy child running around playing with the rest of her brood, not a bookworm.  Was that something Attlin had pushed him into?


“Because I strongly doubt, if he’s recovering from being abused, that studying is something he really wants to focus on right now.”


Attlin had thought the books had been a good idea. Had picked out specially the ones that Garatt seemed to go for, the books he’d always been guiltily browsing when he’d been meant to be studying. And if it had been a subject he’d been confident in like field production or cothold repair he’d have been happy to double down and tell Sherill so.


But the happiness of children was altogether a trickier thing than which crops were most likely to command a high price and a little self-doubt crept in. He’d thought that perhaps recovery would require a lot of rest and books would be the thing but then here they were at the stables and maybe the boy was racing around somewhere happy as Larry.


“I wanted him to have something from home,” he said stiffly. “The Healer said he’d have nearly everything he needed.”


Sherill didn’t snort at that comment, much as she wanted to.  There was something fair in that sentiment, she guessed, but if books were the only keepsake Attlin could think to bring, it really did make her wonder just what sort of life Garatt was living back at that Hold.  Which prompted another thought to come to her mind.


“Why exactly did you let Garatt come to the Weyr, Attlin?” Sherill asked bluntly.  “He’s supposed to be your Heir.  That’s why you called him back from me after ten turns, out of the blue after never really even trying to see him or talk to him.  Why the sudden change?”


And even though it wasn’t put to actual words, the question of ‘why not just send him back to where he was happy’ hung in the air as well.


“..He wanted to go.” That was quiet, the tone an admission of guilt in himself. Attlin had had a good long time sitting waiting to ask himself exactly that question. “I thought -- there wasn’t much time to think -- but I thought either he’ll go and Impress or he’ll-- come back and be happy. I don’t know.” There had been a Searchrider waiting and it had been a bad day, a bad sevenday, and he’d regretted it after but too late then. “Shells, I don’t know. He wanted to go.”


“Lots of holder boys want to go to the Weyr when a Search rider shows up, but by and large the heir doesn’t get that chance, especially if there are no other siblings,” Sherill said, frustration at her brother in law showing.  


A part of it was frustration at what had happened to Garatt, and the thought that if he hadn’t been in the Weyr in the first place, this never would have happened.  Garatt would have been safe, and unharmed. 


“Shells, Attlin, what were you planning to do if he Impressed?  He can’t be a rider and a Holder.  You made such a fuss about not remarrying, of not having any other children, and then made a point of bringing Garatt back to make him your heir no matter what, and then you send him off to the Weyr with nary a thought?  Please, please tell me why?  Was he causing trouble?  Too active or distractive to settle down and learn?  Is it because he wasn’t as apt at taking up Hold management as you had hoped?  Or because he reminds you too much of Garsha?”


She wasn’t going to be kind, not right now.  Maybe under different circumstances she wouldn’t have pressed quite so hard, but right now, she was going to push as hard as she could.  


Cuylar had pushed and pushed and despite the pushing still never got so much as a raised voice out of Attlin. Quiet horror, a determination to fix this somehow, but everything else stayed locked inside, stubbornly quiet, refusing to bite until it was time for it.


Sherill though, Sherill knew every sore spot, every guilty prickle and bad thought he’d ever kept himself awake with. Attlin was never sure how exactly she arrowed in on them so neatly but she did, and then stuck pins in them until they bled. 


His frown before had been a passive one, less a conscious choice and more the lines his face fell into by habit. The frown he turned on her now by contrast was a deep scowl, the look of a man who just wanted her to hush up and stop saying those things because they hurt. 


I made a bad choice!” Still he didn’t raise his voice but kept his words to an angry hiss. You never did know who was listening. “I understand! You don’t have to point it out! If I had kept him home he would have been safe! I know!” He lowered his voice still further and somehow the admittance sounded like an accusation because how dare she, how dare she be so much better at this, how dare he fail so badly. “I know he would have been safe with you!”


"Ah…" said Cuylar with a bit of a wave as he came back out from the stables. "I think Garatt is ready to see you now."


Sherill had been about to respond to that, to throw another dart at Attlin, when Cuylar reappeared.  Whatever she had been about to say evaporated as she turned away and turned her attention back to the healer.


“Is he?” she asked, her voice unable to hide her eagerness to see her nephew.  


Attlin was quiet, struggling to pull himself back together, his face still set with angry lines as he pulled his bag back onto his shoulder. “Thank you.” His tone was controlled, pointedly trying not to even look at Sherill.


"Is… everything alright?" Cuylar asked as he looked back and forth from Attlin to Sherill. They certainly seemed a bit more… on edge than they had when he left.


“Fine. I’d just like to see Garatt, please.” Attlin’s voice was clipped again, back to that brisk crispness that discouraged further asking. 


“Its nothing to trouble you with, dear,” Sherill said, her voice more kindly now.  “Or Garatt, for that matter.  But both of us are very eager to see him, if he’s ready and willing.”


"He is," said Cuylar. "If you'd like to follow me, I'll show you in." He spoke more confidently this time.


Garatt was waiting, a little taller -- or a lot taller in Sherill’s case -- than they had last seen him, a little more gangly, a lot more nervous. The sight of Sherill got him moving though, his face lighting up for a moment as he trotted towards them. He walked carefully still, moving warily because some movements hurt even with numbweed.


Sherill got his first smile but it was Attlin he stopped in front of, his face returning to its solemn expression. He hesitated a moment, unsure what to do, and then offered his hand politely to shake. “Thank you for visiting, sir.” His face, his voice both rigidly formal, and Attlin couldn’t blame him for that stiff formality because who else had taught him it?


At a loss he shook his son’s hand, both as polite as two holders committing to a contract of work. “..I brought you books?” he offered, because what else did you say? What else could you say?


“Thank you.” And the thanks was as solemn as the greeting, like a thing rehearsed, Garatt’s eyes wide and dark and serious and heart-stoppingly like his mother’s.


And then he had been polite, and he could do what he wanted to do and turned on Sherill with a far more genuine and heartfelt “Auntie!” wanting a hug, demanding a hug, taking a hug, curly head buried in her shoulder.


So he never saw the flash of hurt that passed over his father’s face before Attlin managed to mask it.


The smile and then the solemn formality between father and son grated on Sherill like a raw nerve.  This was his son, for feck’s sake!  Would it kill Attlin to smile and reassure the boy, to actually offer a smile and a hug?  Did he always have to be so damned reserved?


But then Garatt was smiling at her and hugging her and it didn’t take a heartbeat for her to return the hug, wrapping him in her strong arms, though gently, with care for the fact that he had been hurt.  She ruffled a hand through his hair as she crooned to him in a happy, soothing voice.


“Oh, my dear boy!  How I’ve missed you.  And how you’ve grown!  So much taller than last I saw you.  Its been far too long.”


Garatt had missed the hurt on Attlin's face before he managed to mask it, but Cuylar had seen it. He wanted to motion to Attlin, but someone would see. But. He had a secret weapon.


((Ask him for a hug,)) Elphith said directly to Attlin in her brook-no-nonsense tone. ((Ask him, now. Go.))


Attlin froze, giving a slight shake of his head, unsure how else to communicate with the dragon. His eyes though were watching Garatt and his aunt with a desperate hunger, a wanting.


“Garatt, I--” The words felt wrong in his mouth. Somehow they flowed completely naturally from Sherill’s throat but from him they felt.. Wrong. Fake. Besides, the boy was perfectly happy there with his aunt, far better if he just crept away and left them to it. 


No. He made himself try again. “The Hold’s been too quiet without you.” It came out quietly, and Garatt was so busy being fussed over by Sherill that he wasn’t sure the boy had even heard but then Garatt went still. Not pulling away from Sherill, not sure how to react but listening.


((Hear me,)) said Elphith to Garatt. ((Your father wishes you would hug him. He is too scared to ask.))


Garatt still wasn’t all that good at forming words. It wasn’t the same terrified punch of emotions he had thrown at Elphith the first time, but it was still more feeling than words -- awkward shyness, the memory of trying a hug once at some point and his father side-stepping it, quiet suspicion because Cuylar and Elphith both seemed to believe that but didn’t adults always side with other adults? The thought mingled with the memory of telling people and telling them about M’ayen and no-one believed him and--


Bad memory. Bad. He sniffed once then again, sniffling into his aunt’s shoulder, emotions suddenly realising that yes, this adult was safe, it was safe to cry here.


“Garatt!” It took Attlin a minute to read that quiet choked noise and then he looked panicked. He stepped forward as though to do something, arms raised and then lowered again, not sure what to do. Had he done that? He hadn’t meant to do that.


((Comfort him!)) Elphith insisted to Attlin. These two were going to drive her batty if they could not simply talk to one another! Cuylar added his own meaningful glance to Elphith's words.


Sherill made quiet shushing sounds as she held Garatt close to her.  Part of her brain told her that she should let Attlin attempt to comfort Garatt as well, had heard him making some attempt - she assumed - to do so, but she didn’t want to pull away, either.  Clearly he was happy to be in her arms, and she was happy to have him there.


“It’ll be okay, Garatt, I promise.  It’ll all be okay.”


“I-- Garatt-- don’t--” The boy was fairly clinging to his aunt, burrowing into the hug. Attlin stared helplessly for a minute then abruptly turned and walked away, out of the room. The door clicked shut behind him.


Cuylar huffed and ran to chase after Attlin.


((Oy! Stop, you. No running away,)) Elphith growled to the Holder.


"I'll be back…" Cuylar said apologetically as he closed the door behind him.


Outside the door, Attlin had pressed his face into his hands for a moment, though they were quickly removed at the sound of the door opening again behind him. 


“I need to-- I need to go talk to the Weyrwoman.” He’d forgotten again that she was in meetings for the day. Had to go and do the thing he knew how to do because that room, that room he did not know how to handle.


"You do not," said Cuylar. "You need to go back into that room and comfort your son!" He folded his arms and glared at Attlin, not even realizing that he was using his Big Voice and standing up tall. "Why can't you?"


“I don’t know. He’s happier with Sherill.” Attlin pressed his lips tightly together, trying to hold back his reactions. “I shouldn’t have come.”


"He's happier because she doesn't treat him like she's unhappy to see him," said Cuylar. "How does this look to him? Probably like you're disgusted with him. That you can't stand to be in his presence. You absolutely should be here. You don't get to run away right now."


Clearly this had not occurred to Attlin. He looked aghast at the suggestion, horrified his actions might come off that way. “But I wasn’t - I just didn’t want to get in their way!”


"Well, to Garatt, it looks like you think he is in your way," said Cuylar. He was at least somewhat gratified that it seemed Attlin truly had not considered this. "You came all this way to see him, and then when he was vulnerable where you could see, you chided him and then slammed the door on him." A bit of an exaggeration, but it was likely how Garatt would see it.


"He wanted you to tell him what Sherill is telling him. He wanted you to hug him. Why can't you just give him that much?"


“Because he wanted Sherill.” There was frustrated hurt in Attlin’s voice. “He doesn’t want me here, I knew he wouldn’t. I’d.. I’d be doing more good going to talk to people.”


"Go back into that room right now and apologize to your son. You're not going anywhere else until you do, unless you think you're going to walk all the way home." Cuylar scowled. "And even then, I might throw you over my shoulder and bring you back."


“I don’t. Have. The words.” Had Attlin felt himself able to do it he likely would have turned back in. The idea that Garatt might think he was angry with him was horrifying. But it felt as though the reality was that he would get within a few feet again and freeze, unable to find the correct reaction. “Sherill… Sherill knows how to do it right. She’ll look after him.”


"You are not giving up," said Cuylar. "Here. I'll give you the words. It's easy. You say, ‘Garatt, I'm sorry.’ And then you hug him. Maybe even throw in an ‘I love you,’ for good measure. You do, don't you?"


“Of course I do!” Attlin protested then glanced back over his shoulder at the door looking hunted. “But he’s busy hugging Sherill.”  And hugging Garatt might mean pulling him away, might mean the boy didn’t want to be hugged by him instead.


"Have you ever told him so?" asked Cuylar, expecting that the answer was very likely to be no. "And is it so hard to watch them hug for a moment that you can't wait your turn?"


Attlin looked at him helplessly, mute. How did you explain that he had had his turn, his turn had been that quick awkward handshake at the start and that was done now. Forcing his way in, asking for the affection or initiating it and risking rejection.. He couldn’t.


"Do I need to throw you over my shoulder right now?" Cuylar asked. "You can do this. Go back inside and give him a hug. Tell him you love him. You can leave off the I'm sorry if it's too much to ask."


Attlin stared at him and then pulled himself straight with a curt “Fine!”, mouth setting into a line as he turned to march back in. It would be a disaster but the Healer could see it be a disaster and then perhaps leave him alone.


Inside, Garatt was struggling. The sound of the door closing had been the final straw in any kind of emotional control. Words had abandoned him and he’d cried into Sherill’s shoulder as he hadn’t since he’d been a tiny boy who’d injured himself out playing, full-on body-shaking sobs which didn’t seem to help or to calm or to stop but just went on until his throat hurt and his face hurt and he couldn’t stop.


Sherill’s eyes had met Attlin’s for just a second before the holder had abruptly turned and left the room.  She hadn’t had a chance to so much as get a word out before the door closed, and then Garatt was sobbing - actually sobbing in such a heartbroken way - that it was all she could do but hold him tight to her, running a hand through his hair and making soothing noises as she had when he was a much smaller child.  Silently, she cursed Attlin out for his idiocy, his apparent heartlessness.  Stupid, stupid man!


“Shhh,” Sherill soothed as best she could.  “It’s alright, Garatt.  It’ll all be alright.  I’ll make it so, you’ll see.”


Attlin walking out had felt like confirmation of Garatt’s utter certainty that his father would take M’ayen’s side if he knew what had happened. No amount of soothing from Cuylar about how the punishments had not been his fault could quite remove the certainty that all this had happened, had started, because of some deficiency in him. M’ayen had done far too good a job for Garatt to let go of the blame so easily.


And whatever weakness M’ayen had seen surely his father would see too.


He pressed his face into Sherill’s shoulder as footsteps came back in and stopped, shamefully hiding it, afraid to look up and see Attlin’s expression.


Attlin was looking awkward again. He cleared his throat and then stopped, meeting Sherill’s eyes helplessly, unable to quite get the words out.


Her brother-in-law’s helpless expression caused Sherill to roll her eyes in exasperation.  She *didn’t* snort at him, if only because Garatt would probably think it was directed at him, and she didn’t want to upset him any more than he already was.  But clearly it would be up to her to fix this.


“Garatt, sweetie.  I promise you, no one is angry with you, love.  Not me, not your father.  We are angry *for* you, for what happened to you, that we couldn’t protect you.  We love you dearly, Garatt.  Me and your father both.  Especially your father.  He just has trouble finding the words to say it.  But he does love you, Garatt, he does.  Please do believe that.”


Cuylar slipped back in behind Attlin, and at this point, he stared at the man, willing him to take his intense gaze as the kick in his backside he meant it to be.


Elphith was happy to help again.


((The words are easy. Here. I'll show you. ‘I love you, my son.’ See? Super easy. Barely an inconvenience. Now you try.))


With two adults and one dragon willing him into it, Attlin looked severely uncomfortable. “Well, of course I love him,” he said, the words coming out defensively. “And that man -- I’m going to have words with someone about that man.”


Cuylar fought to hold in his sigh. Yes, of course, Garatt was sure to believe him when it sounded like just saying something that could be interpreted to mean that he possibly loved Garatt, maybe, was painful to him.


But at least he could work out something close to "angry for Garatt". There was that.


Not exactly what she had been hoping for, but this was Attlin, and at least he had said he loved Garatt.  Whether or not Garatt would believe it was another matter. 


“There, you see?  Have I ever lied to you about something like this?” 


The curly head shook, and Garatt hesitantly, oh so hesitantly, lifted a pink tear-stained face.


“I’m sorry,” he blurted, because if “I love you” came hard to Attlin, apologising came easily to Garatt. “I didn’t mean-- I never meant for any of it to happen.”


Attlin’s face twisted, and he wished rather desperately that leaving the room was still an option, that he could have ten minutes somewhere to be angry and hurt and sad without getting it near Garatt. “Wasn’t you,” he said roughly. “But I’m going to speak to the Weyrwoman about that tutor.”


“You’re father’s right, Garatt.  It wasn’t you, wasn’t your fault that any of this happened.  And we’re going to make sure that nothing like this happens again,” Sherill said reassuringly.  


“Do I have to come home?” Garatt asked anxiously, still close and safe to his aunt.


Attlin hesitated, every instinct in him urging him to remove his son from anywhere this could happen. But the boy looked so worried.. “We’ll see,” he said finally. “You need to see some of those -- MindHealers, is it? -- some of those anyway. After that, we’ll see. Might be you decide you want to Stand again, but we’ll see what this Weyrwoman says. I’m not having you near those tutors.”


A very real smile crossed Sherill’s face as she looked at Attlin when he gave that answer.  Giving Garatt a chance to make the choice himself would help him feel more secure, she thought.  Let him know that he had a say in what happened to him.


“Don’t you fret now, lovie.  I’m sure no one will make you leave if you don’t want to.  We just want you to be safe and happy, after all.”


"I can assure you that the Assistant responsible for this has been dealt with," said Cuylar. "But I can still try to get you in to see Kassia… she's pregnant, if you didn't know. So. You might have to settle for talking to one of her juniors."


“...Oh.” Attlin’s face froze for a moment as he absorbed that new information. “...No. I didn’t know. A junior if needed then. And--” he almost spat the word, “this tutor, whoever he is, would I be able to see him?”


"I wouldn't expect that you would," said Cuylar. "But I don't suppose it would hurt to ask. I'm sure he'll have as many lies and excuses for his behavior for you as he did for Garatt. And he likely will say something that will get under your skin. So. Maybe it would hurt to ask."


Attlin was not a man prone to throwing fits of rage so it was notable when his jaw clenched, hands fisting at his side for a moment. “He’ll not get away with lying to me,” he said flatly. He glanced at Sherill. “Might be better if you weren’t there.” Despite knowing Sherill his brain still felt there were scenes not appropriate for a lady. Even if the Weyrwoman or junior goldriders themselves were ladies. “You too, Garatt.”


It hadn’t in fact occurred to Garatt that he might be there. He shook his head hastily in mute agreement with that.


“I have no disagreements with that,” Sherill agreed.  Not because she couldn’t stomach being in the wretched man’s presence, but because if she was there, she might do something regrettable.  She’d just as soon stay with Garatt, and give him whatever reassurance her presence could offer.


“I’d just as soon stay here with Garatt anyways.”


"Well, then. Shall we check in with Kassia now, or would you like a few moments more with your son?" asked Cuylar.


((Stay with him for a while,)) Elphith said.


Attlin hesitated, looking at Garatt, indecisive. Finally he asked directly, “Do you want me to stay?”


Garatt’s nod might have been the tiniest in history, and he looked shyly towards his feet. “..If.. if you’re not too busy to.”


“..Right,” Attlin glanced at Cuylar. “I imagine it needs an appointment or something anyway?”


"An appointment would help. Why don't I get you on the schedule, and then I'll come back later when it's time to go to dinner – how's that?" asked Cuylar, relieved.


“Thank you. If you could let me know when I need to be there.” Attlin stepped back to politely formal, where in truth he felt far more comfortable. “Can we-- are we allowed to walk around the Weyr? The guards seemed to feel I shouldn’t be there.”


"Technically, yes, once you've been cleared to be here, you can traverse public spaces without an escort," said Cuylar. "But. The guards will probably still tail you. We're pretty leery about outsiders since the attacks. I can make sure you have someone to walk with you if you need, but Garatt is more than qualified to handle that."


“They gave me a young guard anyway. She’s outside,” Attlin admitted. “I’d just-- I’d be a little more comfortable further from the stables.” Almost there was a note of apology in that.


"I can give you a space in the Infirmary, or if you'd prefer, I can take you to the Dining Cavern now," Cuylar offered with no hint of irritation.


“Not the Dining Hall.”  Garatt’s voice was quiet, but he was fidgeting with his wrist, looking a little agitated. In the main he’d been staying in the BeastCrafter quarters and well away from places filled with people. The Dining Hall, with its enormous capacity and the fact everyone, even CandidateMasters, walked through... “I don’t want to go there. Please.”


“All right,” Attlin conceded. “The Infirmary then.”


"Not a problem," said Cuylar. He smiled and said, "Follow me, if you will. Attlin, you'll remember the space well enough. And there will be klah."



--

Blackadder: I mean, what about the people that do all the work?
Baldrick: The servants.
Blackadder: No, me; *I'm* the people who do all the work.