The Blame Game ((JP Asheran, Namieh))


Several days had passed since Namieh's ‘accident’ on the Sands. Initially she had been heavily dosed with fellis while they set the broken bones in her right arm and collar, and assessed whether the gold had ruined anything *vital*, but there was little to be done for her ribs other than to wait for time to do its work. She was allowed something she didn't know the name of for the pain, but only enough to dull it. For her wounded pride, for her shame, there was no salve. 

Namieh was left to stew in her own thoughts, and she certainly had much to consider. The healers left her alone for the most part now that they were sure she wasn't going to die, but she was almost ready to beg them for conversation. To be cut off from everyone was almost as bad as the injuries themselves, but a social creature isolated by her own actions could blame only herself... if she were thinking rationally. Instead, she lay in the Infirmary bed seething. 

Despite the illusion she had successfully donned, her hair was a long ultra-light brown that fell messily around the pillows she had been propped up with, unbrushed. Sharp green eyes could not have looked more bored, staring at the ceiling while her fingers fussed with the top edge of her now cast-encased arm. You were only allowed one of their frumpy ‘gowns’ during your stay in the Infirmary, Namieh was annoyed to discover. The pain required to redress forestalled any rebellious desires to look otherwise.

Asheran had been dragged away before learning the identity of the injured candidate on the sands, and he had been yelled at, and he had stewed, and stewed, and stewed. There had been the recriminating looks, the whispers in the hallways, that had pursued him even back to his quarters, where he had lain staring up at the ceiling, alone, until Felix's pitiful creeling had roused him long enough to feed her scraps leftover from breakfast. Then he had gone back to bed, feeling the cuts and aches and bruises everywhere in the quiet, sleepless dark.

Several days had passed in this unreasoning, unrelenting fugue, and then Asheran had made up his mind. Protected from the worst of the gossip by his craft, busied with his work to avoid the bitterness that twisted at his heart, he decided to go visit the boy in the infirmary who had cost him his chance to Stand. Part of him wanted to make sure the boy was okay - and part of him, keenly aware of the scuffs on his hands and face, wanted to beat the everloving shit out of the boy.

So, in a free period between work and dinner, he made his way down to the infirmary and begged in with minimal cajoling to see the other candidate. His firelizard, fat and guilty for having abandoned him to die earlier at the first whiff of a gold dragon's fury, nuzzled up against his neck and gripped his shoulder with fierce, apologetic affection, crooning into his ear. He made his way past several cots, studying the occupants for a face he might remember, and then stopped at the end of the last row, bemused. Where was the idiot? Had he really died, after all?

"Excuse me, where's the - that boy?" He asked finally of one of the bed-ridden, a girl who looked like she had had a rock dropped on her. "I need to -" beat the shit out of him. "-talk to him."

"What boy?" Namieh asked, arching a brow from where she sat. Her gaze had followed him as soon as he began walking past and didn't falter when he turned her way. "This is a big Infirmary," she said, pausing to take a slow and pained breath before continuing. "Maybe some context would help." The stone that settled in her gut was a sneaking suspicion she knew already to who the young man was referring - herself in disguise. There was something strangely familiar about the lad, but Namieh couldn't place him. Her head throbbed. Better to play it safe.

"The one who got me barred from the sharding sands," Asheran snapped, then drew in a breath. He reached up to stroke the long neck of his dumb green flit, fighting for calm, and shut his eyes, trying again: "Sorry - that's not fair of me. You're hurt. I meant - the one that got hurt trying to run out and touch one of the bloody eggs."

Namieh tensed visibly at the glimpse of his anger, her reaction involuntary and a hint at just how on-edge she was. She could lie to him, just allow him to continue believing they were different individuals, and yet… It was his voice that finally stoked the embers of her memory. She had not a chance to see his face in the middle of her mad dash across the Sand, determined to press forward no matter what, but Nami remembered his shouts in hot pursuit. "You…!" She blurted, hate filling that one word.

She went from idle to outraged in a flash, days of pent-up frustration and aggression bubbling out all at once. "You're the idiot who followed me!"

Buuwwwww? Part of Asheran short-circuited at the admission, and he floundered, completely lost. This wasn't the boy, because she wasn't a boy. She was a girl. He wanted to punch the boy in the face, which was uncharacteristic of him, but he would have never in his darkest dreams ever have even indulged in the fantasy of punching a girl in the face or - or anywhere. Not even the girl who had mocked him in the dining hall.

So he stood there in uncomprehending silence for longer than was reasonable. His eyebrows furrowed; his mouth turned down. He stared at the girl, slowly putting two and two together - the ribs, the arm. His bruised face broke into a scowl of sudden understanding.

"But you're a girl," he blurted out thoughtlessly, and felt his face flush afterwards with a sudden, hot shame.

She was a girl, and he hadn't stopped her from getting grievously injured. A girl - who needed protecting, naturally - had gotten badly hurt on his watch.

Nami felt some sliver of satisfaction to watch him flounder, but the rage behind her eyes was all-consuming. "Yes, I'm a girl," she spat the obvious at him like venom, like she hadn't worked hard to pretend to be a boy. "You ruined everything! I was so close, I got so close! If you hadn't raised your stupid voice-- feck! If you hadn't followed me out onto the Sands, I wouldn't have hesitated! That fecking dragon wouldn't have even known I was there!" It all came pouring out in a fury, an admission and a plan - albeit a hastily made one. 

Her dusky skin was bruised, but that didn't stop the emotion from playing out across her face nor the daggers she glared at him. She tried to sit upright with indignation, but the move was a poor one. Pain lanced her ribs and she hissed a sharp groan out between her teeth, stalling her tirade. 

"If I hadn't - what?" He repeated, starting to feel like he was doing that a lot recently. Was she delusional? Was she insane? "If I hadn't come after you, you'd have -"

What he wanted to say was if I hadn't come after you, you'd have gotten hurt, or you'd have died. But that's what had happened anyway, so he bit his tongue sharply and felt a wash of - anger. Of helpless, indignant anger - not directed at her, not most of it, but at himself, and outwards at… at everything, at the world, at everyone. He had tried to be the big damn hero again, and this time it hadn't worked. He worked his shoulders, feeling tense and - and just angry. He didn't have a good outlet, so he shouted.

"I can't stand for this clutch because of you! Do you know how f - how old I am? Twenty turns. This is it, this was my last Thread-scored shot at being somebody! Your stupid, selfish sharding idiot behaviour - I was trying to save your stupid life, and… me? You're angry at me? I've been here since I was sixteen. I've… sweated, and worked, and I've tried really bloody hard to be the best - to… My ma doesn't even believe I can Impress a dragon. My pa never did, and this was it. I don't Impress, I go home. I go spend the rest of my fething life as somebody who mends harness straps and makes belts on my brother's farm! All my friends - here - who have… Even my girl has a brown. Other boys, they show up and they rank bronze, and I'm - I'm stuck here waiting, and now you've gone and - what's wrong with you? Don't you understand? You've ruined me."

The last bit came out as a choked whisper, surprising even him, and he sagged down to sit with his back to her cot, on the floor, punching a hand against the floor. It hurt, but then he had wanted it to, because the alternative was choking the life out of a girl, and that was unfathomable.

"Good!" Nami shouted in return, tears burning at the edges of her vision. "Now you know what it's like to be me!" She didn't mean these words, she would come to regret them, but the hurt was something she couldn't confront. She hadn't meant to hurt him, he was an innocent bystander-- no, better. A good Samaritan punished as a result of interfering with her machinations. He didn't deserve anything that had happened. Acknowledging that meant letting in the ocean of guilt and shame she kept walled off behind only by the tentative hold of her anger. She had failed, but she had also nothing to risk by losing, save for her life - a life which seemed devoid of purpose even before Candidacy. 

"At least you have a home to go back to. I've got nothing, I've always had nothing! I've had to fight for every sharding scrap I've ever got, no one handed me shit. You think I could just sit here while another of those stupid hatchings went by without Impressing? I know what the world thinks of me," she snarled, but pain leaked into her voice turning it hoarse. Rumors had already begun trickling in, though she had no idea the depth of the resentment she had earned beyond this room. "--What it has always thought of me! What all of you sharding Holders always think of me." She affected a nasally tone, clearly imitating someone from her past, "You're so pathetic even your nomad Ma' left you behind. Like I haven't heard it all before!"

Staring at his back hunkered low where he sat on the floor, Nami spent a few moments breathing raggedly to reclaim some air. With her unhindered hand, she scrubbed away the fresh rivulets that streaked her cheeks and tore her eyes away from him. Though she was quick to yell back, she had heard his story. She empathized with his pain even if she had been the one to cause it.

"...Feck it all," Nami said quietly with a telling sniffle. 

Asheran tipped his head back and let her words wash over him. In a way, she was right - he didn't understand, not wholly. He had his Hold-born biases, and she certainly hadn't gone out of her way to subvert them, but if this was where his thoughts went while she ranted tearfully at him, then at least he was too polite to say so. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed, still staring up at the stone ceiling overhead.

"I'm sorry I didn't run faster," he said finally after listening to her sniffle, feeling gutted - as much as he might not have liked her, she sounded like she was crying, and that was mollifying. It was hard to stay angry when girls cried. Then, because he wasn't sure what else to do, he asked uselessly:

"You okay, though?"

Nami stiffened as if she'd been struck and the jostle made her suck in a breath through gritted teeth to keep from yelping. That was the last thing she expected from him, an apology that he hadn’t been able to save her. Bright eyes narrowed with suspicion, darting back to his form where they remained fixed with all the intensity of a cornered animal. 

“Do I look okay?” She demanded with more vehemence than she really meant, disarmed by his sincerity and frightened by that fact. No one ever truly cared, she had learned this lesson many times the hardest ways. His kindness was regarded with apprehension she masked with outrage. Anger was easier to give in to, made her feel less helpless and needy, but it was also exhausting to maintain. Convalescing took more out of her than she realized and already the exchange had begun to make her tired. “No! ...No. I’m not,” she added more softly after a few moments. “I’ll be stuck here for a few months. If.. I’m not banished entirely.” Nami knew what she had done. She wasn’t a complete idiot, though it was hard not to feel like one in her position and she was sure most of the Weyr leadership saw her that way by now. 

Faced with a young man whose life she had quite literally ruined, by his own words, she felt that fiery conviction of righteousness waver. She had been so sure, so confident her plan would work, but in the candlemarks of recovery since the incident, there had been much time to review what went wrong. Foreth had been so… big. So much bigger than Nami could have imagined, having seen only her daughter Razelth up close. The mother dragon had been fast and furious in her defense of the clutch. No human could have beaten that, no, it was underestimating the gold that foiled her efforts. Not this man. 

Namieh swallowed hard. “Look, I didn’t-- I didn’t mean for you to get involved.” It wasn’t quite the I’m Sorry that Asheran truly deserved, but it was as close to an apology as this girl would ever give. “It should’ve only been me.”

"Well, I got involved," Asheran retorted, his guilt washed away by a fresh bout of annoyance. No, of course she didn't look okay. He more meant - meant that, maybe, internally, emotionally, if she was okay. He raked a hand through his hair, swept it back, then sighed. Felix, feeling his frustration, shuffled closer to his ear and pressed her long, fat body up against the side of his face, wings flared out and swaying slightly, the idiotic display clearly meant to intimidate the invalid girl in the cot.

He had come, said his piece, and there was work to do. He wasn't sure if he felt better now about things, or worse, but at least he had seen for himself that the other candidate wasn't dead. So he pushed back to his feet and turned to face the cot, looking down. He wasn't going to offer to speak up on her behalf, or try and lead a heroic defense to prevent her from getting kicked out on her arse. No, she had definitely messed up, and she deserved whatever punishment the Weyrwoman had planned for her. But - she was also there because he hadn't been good enough. So he compromised.

"I need to get back to work, but my - I know somebody who works the infirmary. I can ask if she'd stop by and talk to you sometime, make sure that the apprentices aren't spitting in your food, if you want."

Nami watched the flit’s performance unfazed, far from intimidated by the creature many times smaller than herself. She wasn’t a tall girl by any means, but she wasn’t about to let some little ‘lizard sass her. Distracted momentarily from her guilt by the display, she stuck her tongue out and wrinkled her nose at Felix while Asheran’s back was still turned. When he did straighten, Nami hurriedly fixed her face so that she didn’t appear quite so goofy in front of him.

The offer he gave felt like a slap in the face after everything she had unintentionally done to him. Not because she wouldn’t need the help - she’d likely face a wide variety of clever vengeances from other Candidates long before she ever returned to class, if she returned. No, it was her pride that took the hardest hit. Accepting his assistance was akin to admitting how vulnerable she truly was laying in that Infirmary bed, and her desperate need to feel in control wouldn’t allow for it. 

“I don’t need your help,” she retorted. “You don’t even know me.” Had she not been missing the functionality of one arm, the way she folded her left across her chest might have had more impact. Though she may have craved interaction mere minutes before, now she just wanted to see the man gone. “Go find someone else who needs saving.” Namieh turned her head away in dismissal.

After everything he had done, after - 

"What's wrong with you?" He asked in pure exasperation and disbelief, but didn't give her the chance to enlighten him. No, she certainly wasn't disavowing any old stereotypes today.

With a frustrated growl, and a dismissive wave - refusing to acknowledge that he had been dismissed first, Asheran turned and left, leaving the cot behind, leaving its occupant behind.

He'd given up his future so that an ungrateful girl could yell at him.

Or - 

No. He wouldn't let his life be martyred for her disdain.

So he hatched a plan instead.