Asheran had made it onto the Sands. He had pushed his way to the center of the group as best he could, keeping his head down, throwing conspiratorially glances toward Lerian, Ronhim and Luicion, who he picked out of the crowd of other candidates as he pushed into the press. The girls, he presumed, were upstairs with Kashara and the gold eggs. He was relieved he hadn't had to sneak into the circle of gold hopefuls - shaving his beard and hunching his shoulders may have gotten him past the guards posted at the entrance, but he was certain the gold dragon would have sniffed him out immediately, and then -
And then he'd look a lot like Sorho did now, he thought - and wondered afterwards if he might be in shock. He hadn't moved to try and help the boy, or even Ysolde - who he had spent time around, and respected and liked. He hadn't been able to make himself move at all; he had stood there, breathing hard through his nose, staring rigidly ahead while his shoulders and back bunched up into tense knots and his blood sang in his ears. He knew, logically, that if he tried to help - he would die, too. And this time there was no immediate, instinctive kick forward. His body balked, and that saved his life.
The pride he'd felt when Lerian had gone off with the one-eyed bronze, already battle-scarred out of the egg, had been squashed. He watched the others Impress, watched in some satisfaction as Ronhim left with the brown he had confided earlier in the Stands that he might not have been worthy of, and then suddenly, creeping in unbidden again, was the thought:
What if I'm left behind again?
No. He couldn't be. He had to succeed - there was nothing else left for him if he failed.
And then the blue and the bronze had hatched.
Something clenched painfully in his chest at the sight of that bronze ordering the little blue about, clearly instructing and assisting his lesser clutchmate. He was so effortlessly obeyed, so certain, and the blue clearly appreciated the bronze's patient assistance. You're me, Asheran thought, you have to be mine - but he had been wrong before, and he tried to kill the thought before it grew and grew and he was left gutted and aching.
It grew anyway, and he found himself sidling forward, stepping around another candidate, trying to angle toward the head of the pack without being super, super obvious about it - and no doubt being incredibly obvious about it as a result. It didn't matter. This was - had to be - his moment.
((Asheran, let me tell you what I know!))
Even wanting it so desperately that his hands shook, that his chest ached, that his heart thundered in his head and his vision blurred, that voice in his mind shattered him completely. He dropped to his knees and watched as the bronze approached, stopping just short of butting against his chest. Patient, he realised. Waiting. In that heartbeat silence between moments, Asheran gave himself over to his dragon: without reservation, holding nothing back.
"Tell me what you know," he whispered, unaware that he was crying, and for every piece of him that had broken, the bronze bound it up again. He was remade, bit by bit, that Other inside his head serving as the glue that held him whole, until he was almost himself again - himself, but different.
((I am Cheironth. Truenoth Big-Talker is my sire. I have taught Fogryth, but we will teach others, too. You are my lifemate. You must tell me what my other goals in life are.))
Asheran let himself slump forwards until he could touch the bronze, and put his arms around the dragonet's neck, and bury his tear-streaked face against the egg-wet hide of his lifemate.
"Everything," he rasped.
((...Then we have much to learn, indeed.))
Cheironth paused, then with careful dignity added: ((But I have made a new discovery that I need to share. I have discovered that I am very hungry, so you must now feed me.))
Tears. Tears and laughter in equal measure.