She loved the boy that once he was;
their hearts and dreams were shared.
Apprenticed to the Healer Hall,
they learned to care for every ill:
to nurse and ease, to sew and mend,
from birth, through life, to living's end.
But parting's pain came all too fast:
no cure exists for broken hearts.
She loved the man the dragons made,
whose heart could not be shared.
A journeywoman of her Hall,
she honed her growing Healer's skill
'gainst fell disease and plague-borne dread,
while he risked all in falling thread...
until the day his dragon passed.
No cure exists for broken hearts.
She'd loved the boy that once he was,
whose heart had not been spared.
A master of the Healer Hall
whose learning now could never fill,
nor heal, nor ease, nor ever mend
the empty husk that was her friend.
With mercy, parting came at last;
no cure exists for broken hearts.
High Reaches Weyr
The ground was difficult going. The frozen tips of close-cropped grasses crumbled noisily beneath his feet, interspersed with squelching cracks as he broke through surface ice to the wet mud beneath. It was snowing; only lightly now, but just enough to be an annoyance. His breath misted around him, and he didn't think it a good sign that he couldn't feel the ground beneath his feet, or even anything more than the most vague sense of cold. He wasn't wearing his boots either, which was even more of a concern. He slowed to a walk, immediately forgetting why he'd been running in the first place. His thoughts were as foggy as the air. When had it got so foggy? He could barely see more than his own length ahead of him, and nothing at all beneath the level of his bare thighs.
Bare? That couldn't be right. F'ren looked down once again and saw that he was dressed exactly as he ought to be, as any sane man would be, in his oldest and scruffiest clothes. They were now looking even worse for wear than they had done when he'd pulled them on that morning. Fardling Delene and her so-called bargain! Iynard of Telgar must have laughed all the way back to his Hold. The Weyr might have paid Telgar barely half the price that the same beasts would fetch at a spring Gather, but that was a hefty mark-up when you factored in the cost of keeping them alive long enough to be of any use. Parrick, the Weyr's senior herdsman, had been spitting mad when he'd discovered that Delene had neglected to include the necessary fodder as part of her purchase, and that the animals had been left to fend for themselves ever since she'd bought them. Evidently, if the beasts weren't to starve, they'd have to be brought back to the Weyr right away. That would mean the whole herd going short until the dragons could eat them down to their usual numbers...but better that than leaving the new stock where they were.
F'ren looked around, searching the fog for his Wingmen. Conveying five hundred head of terrified cattle back to the Weyr wasn't anyone's idea of easy work, especially not on the last rest day before Turnover. Sure enough, that made it Snowfall's job. F'ren had warned his Wing to dress for hard, dirty work, but it was only after their arrival at this miserable patch of the north Telgar moors that he'd learned exactly how filthy they were all going to get. The field the beasts had been left in was practically bare, and the animals were losing condition fast. Parrick had taken one look and made the call to slaughter them all then and there. F'ren chuckled to himself, remembering his Wing's dismay when they'd learned the news. Not everyone had heeded his warning that morning, and Ludrenne had been wearing brand-new wherhide. There'd been several disappointed faces amongst the men when she'd decided that she valued her dignity over her clothing and that it was, in fact, far too cold to strip. More than one rider had simply turned to ogling W'rint instead, who'd made the opposite choice and stripped down to shirt and underclothes...at least until F'ren had taken pity on the bluerider's shivers and sent him back to the Weyr for clothes that he didn't mind getting spoiled.
Five hundred head of cattle to slaughter, gut, skin, carve into manageable chunks, and pack with snow into sacks for storage. They'd be less palatable for the dragons that way, but at least they wouldn't deplete the Weyr's resources further. All riders learned butchery as Weyrlings, but it had quickly become clear that even the younger riders were very out of practice, and that sleet and snow made the job even worse than they remembered. On top of that, unless they were very lucky, by the time they were done they'd have missed the evening meal completely.
F'ren squinted down at his left arm, at the tally marks sliced into it, and tried to figure out how far they'd come. He got into the forties before losing track of the grouped lines for the first time. Counting on his fingers didn't help much, either. If he watched his fingers, the tally marks moved. If he kept his eyes on the marks, he lost track of how many fingers he had extended.
It had to be the cold, that. Why else wouldn't he feel all ten of them? Eventually, he gave up on getting a precise count. They were two thirds done, more or less, but it would be full dark before the Wing was finished. Better hurry them up, if he wanted to avoid having any of his riders getting black-bite. He reached for his gloves, and briefly considered putting them on before deciding against it; he couldn't afford to buy a replacement pair right now, and they'd only get wet and bloody, from the cows, and from the blood trickling down the inside of his own forearm, where he'd taken his belt-knife to his own flesh.
What? He'd done what? F'ren froze in disbelief. What kind of madman would carve up his own arm? He blinked, and willed his arm to move. The fog pulled down at him, but slowly and surely he forced his lower arm into view, then twisted it around. There was what was left of his hand, there was the deep, puckered scar left by the threads and the healers, but the stinking dark brown blood that streaked its length as well as the rest of his body was dry, and not his own. F'ren spat into his hand and tried and failed to rub a patch clean. Why was there so much of it? What had happened?
His head hurt, fiercely. He shook it, trying to clear his thoughts, scattering the fine layer of snow that had settled on his hair in the process. The falling motes caught on his shirtsleeves. F'ren frowned. Had his shirt always been that dark reddish-brown colour? What'd you do, H'koll? Bleed on it? He was about to reach for Trath, meaning to remind the dragon of the memory, when he saw movement ahead of him in the fog.
Slowly, it resolved into the shapes of two men leading a large animal forwards. That would be the next heifer for his team then, wherever they'd got to. She twisted and pulled against the ropes of the make-shift halter, dancing sideways almost evasively and making the odd breathy groan. The men, too, were breathing heavily with the exertion of holding her in place. No surprise the animal was spooked. She wasn't as white-eyed as herdbeasts got when a dragon got close, but you could see at a glance that she knew something was wrong. The fog might have hidden the rest of the slaughter from view, but everyone knew that animals weren't as reliant on eyes alone as humans were. Sound and smell were more than enough, and even the dumbest of animals often displayed a remarkable instinct for knowing when their death was approaching. This one knew, F'ren was sure. He gave her an apologetic shrug. It was hard and more than a little unfair on the animal, but it had to be done. There was no grazing left for them here, nor enough to spare back at the Weyr, and death by human hands would be a kinder end than starvation. Kinder perhaps than being hunted down by a dragon.
The herdsmen had her better under control now. F'ren stepped forward. Behind her, in the depths of the fog, he could see M'gan. C'nir was there, too. What were they doing here? They probably had their eyes on her carcass, he decided, but this one was better meat than most, and he wanted her for Trath. Feeling strangely uneasy, he ducked between the ropes holding the animal's head steady and looked for the exact spot that the herdsmen had shown him, that he'd unerringly found several dozen times already today. He had his knife ready; before she could smell the blood already staining his hands, he plunged it into her throat.
F'ren felt it go in. Cold, and hard, and more wrong than painful at first, filling his mind with discordant, sour colours...but the pain, her pain, followed fast behind. Somewhere, far, far away from where he was, a dragon screamed in impotent, agonised fury. He felt Trath's shock, felt the dragon's momentary confusion, and then the hideous, stretched-out moment of comprehension.
F'ren blinked. The beast, the field, the men and the fog, all of it was gone. Maenida was making a hideous, gurgling cry as she gasped for breath and life. He'd missed the artery after all, just like every other time he'd relived the event. Her weight sagged against his arm, and M'gan lunged forward, grabbing for her. She slid sideways and down, her motion completing the action for him. Blood sprayed from her throat. Blood soaked the snowy ground. Blood turned the fog red and hard.
Trath was screaming. Darkness blossomed across F'ren's vision as he tried to encompass the sense of what he was feeling from his dragon and from Kiath. Thwarted lust was the smallest part of it; the rest was all furious rage and grief and the heart-deep pain of a rider's betrayal, a rider's death. Hate was there, too. Kiath's hate. Trath's. The dragons' emotions would have been enough to knock F'ren senseless if Trath had wished his rider to feel them in full, but Trath was pulling as hard on the Impression-bond as he could, mentally clawing and straining in a futile attempt to break away, from F'ren, from Kiath, and from Maenida's imminent death.
F'ren felt his heart and guts twisting into aching knots as his dragon bellowed in desperate anguish. Kiath's loss, Kiath's need, both were impossibly compelling. The core of Trath's mind was a tight knot of revulsion and soul-shattering shame. I couldn't warn you! he thought, desperately trying to make Trath hear him.
Trath pushed him away.
Trath hated him.
Trath was his dragon, Trath understood him perfectly, and Trath hated him anyway. Kiath wouldn't let him do otherwise, and Kiath's needs could not be ignored. She needed Maenida, and Maenida was dying.
Maenida was dead.
Kiath's agony crested as the Weyrwoman's life slipped away, the compulsion to find and to follow and to mend that hideous, heart-breaking breach overwhelming all else. Trath was swept up with it, filled by a need that could never be met. The frozen, pitch black void of between swallowed the dragon's keen entire, but F'ren felt himself voicing it loudly enough for them both.
F'ren screamed his pain into the emptiness, but nothing screamed back. After a time, the silence in his mind became so incongruous that he stopped, no longer entirely certain of why he'd been screaming in the first place. He pulled his belt knife out of its sheath and carved another mark into his arm. There was a reason for doing so, almost certainly. He might have asked his dragon, but Trath wasn't talking to him. Trath wasn't there.
F'ren was lying naked in a frozen muddy field, but Trath wasn't there. He was fully clothed, laughing his way through yet another of Sh'vek's interminable chores in the good company of his Wing; Trath wasn't there either.
He was dreaming. He was having a nightmare. He was living a nightmare, trapped inside his own mind. The herdsmen were leading another animal forwards. He looked for Trath, but Trath wasn't there. F'ren flung his arms up to block the sight, but saw it all anyway. No. Not again. He turned and tried to run, but they'd roped him too well, and he couldn't move an inch.
He wanted to escape, had to escape. He was weeping, in shame and grief and terror.
There was no escape.
Except...he was dreaming, thank Faranth, he was only dreaming. None of this was real.
And there was still no escape. Not from the dreams, not from the nightmare of his life. The real nightmare wouldn't start until he woke. Trath wouldn't be waiting for him. Trath wasn't there.
With that realisation, the fog began to clear.
Maenida, and Kiath, and Trath were waiting for him after all.
Waiting for death to come for them all over again.
Waking awareness came back to him in fragments. His skull was pounding, and there was a bitter taste in his mouth. He could smell old sweat and musty herbs.
F'ren forced his eyes open. He was lying on the ground, lightly dressed in unfamiliar clothes, with the weight of a heavy blanket covering him from the waist down. Someone had placed another blanket beneath him, but it had got itself rucked up into uncomfortable rolls beneath his hips and spine. There was a basket of glows lying half a length away on the lip of the dragon's couch: a green's or a blue's judging by the size, not that that narrowed things down at all. He scrabbled with his hands and pushed himself into a seated position. Beneath his fingers, the ground was filthy with wind-blown dirt; this weyr hadn't been used in many a turn. He brought up his knees and slowly slumped forward, resting his head on folded arms. Fellis, that was what he could taste, unadulterated by juice or wine and even more astringent than he was accustomed to. The haze of the drug still thickened his thoughts, tugged him back towards sleep. He shuddered involuntarily, his mind reeling away from half remembered nightmares about...about something. F'ren choked out a sob, afraid to know, clinging as thoughtlessly as he could to his current amnesiac state. Whatever it was would come back to him soon enough; he didn't deserve any better. He focused on the lumpy feel of the ground beneath him, the tight pinch of the holed sock that one of his toes had worked its way out of, the chill breeze that gusted past him; everything except the silence inside his own skull. It hurt less than he'd ever have imagined it would, as if Trath had never been ripped away from him at all, as if the deep bond of Impression had never been made, leaving nothing behind that was even capable of being broken.
Trath had gone between hating him. As if what he'd done hadn't been unforgivable enough...he'd torn his dragon's heart apart, and made Trath hate him as he died.
Off to his left, the light was brighter. Dust motes danced in the sunlight falling in from the weyr's ledge, driven into a sudden spiralling whirl as the bronze on the ledge fanned out his wings, before tucking them tightly back against his body. F'ren was on his feet before he knew what he was doing.
It wasn't Trath.
F'ren closed his eyes, swallowing back the desperate, futile hope that had risen inside his heart. Of course it wasn't Trath. Trath had gone between, with Kiath. He raised a hand to his brow, shielding his eyes from the light, and took a slow step forwards, then a second. His steps were unsteady, his feet not quite ready to obey the commands of his will...or perhaps they obeyed another's desires, as they carried him, stumbling, towards whatever inevitability awaited him.
The dragon lifted his head lethargically off his forelegs as F'ren drew closer. Telemath's eyes were whirling lavender-blue, palpable sadness radiating off him in every aspect of his bearing, his colour muted even in the bright sunlight of early afternoon. C'nir would be somewhere close, F'ren knew, easing their shared pain with the love and togetherness that only a dragonrider could know.
It was too much to bear. The heart-breaking memory of Kiath's final grief-stricken seconds of life resurfaced in full force, and F'ren dropped to his knees with a wordless howl. He'd shared the echoes of such pain before, whenever Trath had keened another dragon's death, but even the dragons themselves never normally felt the searing agony of loss that he and Trath had shared at Kiath's moment of suicide. Faranth, it was no wonder they always went between. No conscious mind would willingly bear such an assault for a single second longer than it had to. He clenched his fists against the ground, shuddering with guilt and shame and self-pity as he forced himself to endure, dragging out the remembered moment as long as he possibly could, while it was still only Kiath's hate and pain and shattered yearning and not yet Trath's as well.
The weight of a man's hand settled on his shoulder. F'ren jerked away instinctively and found himself gasping for air; he'd been concentrating so hard that he'd forgotten to keep breathing. He looked up at C'nir, blinking away his tears until the rider's features finally fell into focus.
“Bad dreams?” C'nir asked. He looked troubled.
F'ren nodded. What other kind were there? “You kept M'gan off me,” he found himself saying, wondering why even even cared enough to ask. “Why?”
C'nir shrugged one shoulder. “I'm not sure. Might have been better for everyone if I hadn't, but none of us was really thinking straight at the time. M'gan still isn't, even with Baxuth back here again. They were too close when Kiath and Trath....” He trailed off uneasily, staring away across the bowl. “If you want me to be honest about it, part of me thought he didn't deserve to be the one that did for you. Kiath hated you, and so did I, until she died. I never want to feel that from any dragon, ever again.”
“Everyone hates me. Trath does. Did.” F'ren forced the last word out, relishing how much it hurt, and wondering how many times he'd have to say it before he stopped feeling anything at all.
“Yeah. Can't imagine the rest of us matter much to you. I'd ask if you were all right, but...I reckon that'd be a pretty stupid question right now.”
“You'd be right. I'm not.”
“I know. Like I said, it was a stupid question.” C'nir dropped to a crouch beside him. “I told Tilga at the time she should've given you more fellis than she did. Partly, I still wanted you dead almost as badly as M'gan did. Mostly, I knew you'd want it even more than us.”
F'ren met the other man's eyes wordlessly. C'nir didn't need to be told that he was right. “You're a lousy executioner, you know,” he said, breaking the growing silence before it could swallow his attention again.
“Sorry. Sh'vek wants you alive,” C'nir said. “At least for now.”
“Ah, does he now?” F'ren asked bitterly. Insightful of the man, to deny him a quick and painless end. “Well, if my Weyrleader demands that I live...they do say that the dragonless need a good reason to keep living.”
His bleak humour brought a hint of a smile to C'nir's lips. “Rahnis hasn't given up on you yet. When did all that happen, you sly thing?”
C'nir was full of stupid questions today. F'ren closed his eyes. No woman could fill the place of a man's dragon. He wasn't heartless enough to burden anyone with the remnants of his life, least of all someone that he actually cared for. “A lifetime ago. Another man, another life. And don't bother trying that again. It won't work. She's not anywhere near enough.”
At length, C'nir sighed, and spoke again. “I'm sorry for what happened, F'ren. Been thinking about it, up here, listening to you scream in your sleep. The more I do, the more I agree with Rahnis. Kiath wasn't going to make it through the flight and you... well, you did what you had to do, didn't you? I'm sorry it didn't save Trath, but maybe it saved Telemath. It might have been me, where you are, now. You could have pulled Trath back and left Kiath to us, or to Baxuth and M'gan. I don't know why you didn't. We owe you for that, I think.”
F'ren opened his eyes again; he hadn't expected to hear anything like that from the man, nor to see the look of genuine compassion on his face.
“Sh'vek wants to make an example of you,” C'nir said as he rose. “I'm not going to stop him from doing that, if you're still around...but I won't stop you, either.” He closed his eyes and murmured a quiet instruction. Behind him, Telemath lifted his belly from the ground and settled back onto his haunches, leaving a clear path to the edge of the ledge. “The drop's sheer all the way down to the bowl, and more than high enough.”
C'nir held out a hand; F'ren took hold of it, and let the other man pull him to his feet. There were tears in C'nir's eyes, F'ren noticed. “Thank you, C'nir,” he whispered.
“He was a fine dragon, Trath was,” C'nir said, clasping his forearm. “You'd have done well by this Weyr, the two of you, had things worked out otherwise.”
F'ren briefly tightened his own grip, then let his arm drop to his side. C'nir gave him a slight nod, then turned away to give him the privacy to make his own choice. Slowly, he walked to the edge of the ledge and peered down over it, leaning into the wind. C'nir was right; they were, indeed, a very long way up. A strong gust temporarily forced him backwards. It would be the easiest thing in the world to simply lean forwards into the cold air, to let it hold him up until Pern itself decided that the weight of his life was too heavy to be borne...but that would be a cowardly way to end things. Instead, he took a step back and looked around.
The Weyr's spindles were in full sun, and bedecked by dragons of every colour barring gold. There were fewer dragons than usual on the wing: no weyrlings or fighting dragons drilling, no greens beckoning suitors into flight, no riders making their own inconsequential errands. The next threadfall had been a little less than two days away – was it still the same day? The Weyr would surely need to make the most of its rest before then. Should he, perhaps, leave instructions for his Wing? No, he decided. He was beyond all of that now. He was empty. Done.
The ledge he was standing on, high up on the east side of the Weyr, was almost directly opposite the Lower Caverns. It wasn't actually all that far from his own weyr: perhaps a dragonlength or two higher, and several dozen further south. Several dragons were busy in the feeding grounds but the broad expanse of ground running from there to the weyrling barracks was empty, and the weyrlings themselves were still absent from the Weyr. C'nir had chosen the spot well.
F'ren stretched one arm out in front of him, feeling the air rushing past and imagining himself a-dragonback once again. It didn't quite hold the same bite as it would when mounted on a dragon flying at full speed, but he hoped that it might come close enough before the end. The cold air was numbing, almost like between, almost like the empty silence of his mind. He reached out for Trath, and found only dark and frozen emptiness. Unsurprising, perhaps, considering where the dragon had gone. He wondered if he would find him there again, once he was dead.
Some said that that was what happened, that even death couldn't separate a dragon from his rider, but F'ren had never cared for such ghoulish speculation. Besides, no-one living could ever truly know the truth...and he wasn't even sure if he wanted it to be that way, anyway. He laughed, remembering the last taste he'd had of his dragon's mind: what a punishment that would be for the both of them, reunited for an eternity of pain and hate! No, he wouldn't do that to his Trath. It would be better by far if they could each find their oblivion alone. If death would reunite them...how long would it take, for a dragon to forget his own death, his own life? Could he make himself live long enough to give Trath that much? Was that why suicide was still only a yawning temptation, and not an urgent need? Because part of him knew that Trath still wouldn't want him, even in death?
Faranth only knew.
F'ren stared blankly down into the Bowl. A small crowd of weyrfolk had begun to exit the Lower Caverns, and his eyes were drawn to one figure amongst the many as she hitched up long skirts and broke into a run. He couldn't see who she was, not at such a distance, but nor could he tear his eyes away. Something important was about to happen. There was something she was about to do. The wind was making his eyes water again, and the distant figure of the woman blurred in his sight. She almost seemed to be in two places at once, both running and still at the same time.
F'ren blinked and rubbed at his eyes with the heel of one hand, and when he looked down again he saw that his second impression had been the correct one of the two. She'd come to a halt...but she hadn't yet raised an arm skywards, beckoning and calling as he knew she soon would, and then...and then...oh, then she did and all the light and warmth and air in the world came back to him, and there were dragons in the sky again.
“First Egg!” C'nir bellowed. “First Egg!”
F'ren raised his eyes to the sky above his head. Alaireth shone bright gold in the sunlight as she arced gracefully through the sky. The descent of the dragon flying beside her was almost embarrassingly awkward by comparison, but F'ren didn't care in the slightest. The dragon was Trath, and that was all that mattered. His hide was grey with exhaustion; he was utterly wrung out in body and spirit...but he was alive. Trath was still alive!
“F'ren? Where are you- shells, F'ren, stop!”
F'ren felt himself jerked roughly backwards by a hand grabbing at his borrowed shirt. He batted ineffectually at C'nir, but the man didn't get the hint and instead continued to haul him even further away from his dragon. “Let me go, C'nir!” he snarled. “I have to get to Trath!”
“Not like that you sharding don't!” C'nir exclaimed. “We'll take you down, get you there as fast as we can, I promise, as soon as you stop being a such an utter deadglow. Your dragon's the one with the wings, remember?”
F'ren only half comprehended the other man's words, taking in little beyond the message that help was being offered. He kept his eyes fixed on Trath, mentally calling out his dragon's name with all the force he could muster, and craning his neck to peer over Telemath's body when the dragon got in his way. Trath's mind was cold and hard, and he couldn't find a way in. He followed C'nir up onto the other bronze's neck as fast as he could manage, knowing he'd have a better view of his own dragon from there. C'nir insisted on fastening a loop of his straps through F'ren's belt; F'ren scowled impatiently at him, frustrated by the wasted time. Trath hadn't yet replied to his call, but the dragon was hurting badly, he could tell. Kiath's death was still fresh in Trath's memory, and his suffering would grow no shorter with every second of delay.
C'nir's thump against his dragon's neck was all the warning F'ren had before Telemath plunged over the ledge into a sharply angled glide. Ahead of them, Alaireth and Trath were already backwinging onto the ground. F'ren couldn't understand how any of it was possible. He'd felt Kiath go between, following Maenida into death. Overwhelmed by the queen dragon's will, Trath had been compelled to follow. And yet, there he was. Just there. So near, and still so far away.
F'ren closed his eyes and reached out once again for his dragon's mind. The walls of loss and hate and confusion were still present but he could sense layers to them now: shadings of a different dragon's mind as well as Trath's own. And, beneath the echoes of Kiath's agonising loss lay the same singular need that had driven the queen between, that had held them together ever since Impression. Trath needed him still, even after everything he'd done.
Telemath landed, and C'nir freed F'ren to dismount. In his haste, F'ren misjudged the descent from the dragon's neck and wrenched a knee as he sprawled onto the wet, stony ground, but his dragon was too close now for him to care about anything else. Three dragonlengths separated them, no more than that. F'ren got back to his feet and limped onwards towards Trath as fast as his body could manage, knowing that each painful step left one less still to make. Softly, gently, he opened his heart and offered up everything that Trath meant to him, a love so vast and absolute that the only way to hold it all lay within the single, small word that defined the dragon's name. Trath?
Two lengths left. Then one. Trath shuddered and lifted his head.
F'ren? He will speak, soon. He loves you and he needs you. Go to him, F'ren.
It was Alaireth speaking to him, not Trath. The touch of the queen's mind was a gentle caress that reached deep into his spirit, laying bare all of the hurt and broken places inside him. He could sense how tightly she was holding Trath together, how much she needed to attend to her own rider...and how close she'd come to returning to the Weyr alone. He stumbled the last few steps to his dragon's head, all the walls of pain and fear and guilt and shame slipping aside, and reached up to stroke Trath's jaw. Purple-red facets reflected his face back to him.
He could feel Trath forcing himself not to flinch away from the mental contact. The dragon's mind was a tumult of emotion, with scarcely a coherent thought to be found. Of those he could actually make sense of, few were pleasant, or welcome to either of them. F'ren closed his eyes, and leaned close against Trath's skin. I'm sorry, Trath. I'm so, so sorry! I know it was wrong, so wrong, but I couldn't let you die with them.
The dragon's response was slow to take form. I know. Kiath...she was too much. Too strong. I couldn't help but hate you, couldn't help but follow. She'd lost Maenida, and we had to find her. I tried to make her come back to the Weyr, but Maenida was already gone, and she made me obey. I went between with her.
I know. What choice had his dragon had? Better to follow Kiath into death than to come back to a man like him.
She wouldn't let me go to you! She was my queen, mine, and I was hers. I needed you, and she wouldn't let go! I loved you and I hated you, and she loved Maenida and needed her more than life. I tried to find Maenida, tried to find my way back here, but I couldn't do either. I couldn't help her. I couldn't find you. She wouldn't let me find you!
Trath dipped his head, and nuzzled F'ren's body. But then Alaireth heard me. She helped me find the way back.
Wordlessly, the dragon showed him what had occurred. As hard as Trath had fought it, Kiath had made F'ren anathema to them both. She had slipped, raging, into oblivion, and although her driving instinct to be reunited with her rider no longer held any clear direction beyond her own suicide, Trath had been forced to follow, his own mind stretching out in an echo of the dying queen's need. His touch on Alaireth's mind while the queen made her own jump between times had been the merest of brushes, but the purpose of Alaireth's own jump – back to the Weyr and the woman she needed – had been close enough to Kiath's needs and his own for the connection to resonate and grow, and for Alaireth to sense him in return and to draw on her own claim upon him as a bronze who had chased and won her in the past. It had been enough, just barely enough, to bring him back to the Weyr.
Tears flowed unchecked down F'ren's face. He could sense Trath's fear, lingering beneath the surface of his conscious thought, that Kiath's suicidal pull might still wait for him in the timeless emptiness of between. There were edges and angles and gaping, bleeding wounds in the dragon's mind, doubts and emotions and memories that time could never completely erase. The strength of the dragon's love for him was a desperate thing, drawing deeply on the connection forged at the moment of Impression, and finding it unforgivably wanting.
I'm here, Trath. He sent the thought as strongly as he could. It's been a long time since then, and all people change, even dragonriders. Don't look for Firrenor, for the me-that-was. You made me better than that. You made me F'ren, and I'm always, always here for you.
You are. You're my F'ren, and you'd do anything for me. Terrible things. Is that right? Is that what I should want? But oh, my F'ren, I do, and I'd do the same for you!
Terrible things, indeed. But, there could be no going back from that moment, only forwards. We'll figure it out, I promise, however long it takes. Who we are, and who we want to be. Together. Still clinging tightly to Trath's head, F'ren opened his eyes, and lost himself in the slow whirling of the dragon's troubled, faceted gaze.