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    COTY

    Gale -- Year 215

    QOTY

    "To be a woman is to face monsters" --Brunhilde, written by Phae


    it's all up in the air | Mazikeen
    #11
    Gale
    this is going to break me clean in two --
    this is going to bring me close to you



    He notices the way she tenses against him, just for a moment, but he’s found that most others react that way when he goes in for his first hug. Then they almost always relax, just as Mazikeen does as she rests against him. With his head spinning with thoughts of shifting and magic and fairies, it is easier to focus on things like the warmth where she fits against him. When she shoves him, he stumbles to catch his balance, though his wide grin suggests he’s being purposefully dramatic. The mischievous smirk remains as he shrugs in response to her question, as though he thinks it possible. Perhaps she’s got other priorities; he’s no idea what the Champion of the Hyaline pack might be busy with. He’s distracted by the casual mention that they are friends, and it feels once more as though he cannot stop from smiling.

    That smile does fade when she tells him of her quest. He's thinking of his own visits to the mountain – he has made plenty – and how the tasks he’d been assigned had seemed more designed to make him suffer than to teach him anything. He’d never minded in the past, supposing that suffering and exercise were not much different in terms of building strength or knowledge, but it feels unfair for such powerful creatures to have taken such a large piece of Mazikeen’s identity. How would he feel if they took his eyes? The idea is uncomfortable, and his slowly building frown is shaken off with a brief toss of his head. 

    Gale remains where he’d caught his balance after she’d playfully shoved him, a half stride away, and close enough to see the patterns in her orange eyes. They remind him of monarch wings, both in color and the how he enjoys watching them, and he closes his eye in a blink and reopens them to watch instead the mossy rocks beneath her hooves. He’d felt it again, that same slow acceleration of his heart. Looking away helps only a little, and he feels his breath catch as well when she asks why it’s his favorite shape.

    It had just been a compliment, and the first thought that had come to his mind when he saw her standing here between the trees. He hadn’t thought about it at the time, and as he does now, he realizes that it is not something that he should say aloud. Telling Mazikeen that he thinks she is the most beautiful like this would defeat the purpose of keeping his distance. And he’s already gone and ruined that, standing so near that he can hear the sound of her breathing over the quiet hush of wind in the forest.

    But to not tell her would surely be to prolong her quest, and nor can he bear the thought of being responsible for that. He shifts his weight uncomfortably, and keeps his eye on the dark earth. “Because I think that you look beautiful.” Gale answers without lifting his gaze from the ground. To be extra safe, he decides to just close his eyes entirely while he waits for a response. Some things it is best not to see.

    @[Mazikeen]

    Reply
    #12

    She wasn’t sure what she had expected in response - she just knows that what Gale says with his eyes on the ground surprises her.

    In the time it takes to blink, too many thoughts rush through Mazikeen’s mind.

    Part of her resents the warm flush that prickles across her skin as though the words have settled upon her. That part is also furious at the rapid pace of her heart and annoyed at how easily this compliment affects her. It shouldn’t - it’s just a word. An opinion. It’s not even the word she’d most preferred to be described as.

    When he closes his eyes and thus avoids her gaze, she wonders if it’s a lie. Mazikeen has never doubted the words of a friend before. Coming from anyone else, she would have made a joke about it but accepted the truth at the same time.

    None of her other friends had ever affected her in this way before. She thinks of how the first time they had touched outside of battle had been when she was a horse, how this skin had been the one he had brushed up against when moving past her. The fact that she remembers each moment feels ridiculous and silly and the significance of those memories to her frightens her.

    And yet there’s a thrill mixed in with the fear. Mazikeen becomes aware of the fact that she’s smiling when she makes up her mind to act on instinct instead of thought. It feels as though she’s moving in slow motion when she reaches across the gap between them to brush her muzzle against his neck where she had shoved him lightly a few moments ago. She stops herself before she can trace the whole curve of the muscles there - now overcome with the same uneasy shyness that had stopped her from immediately greeting him with a touch.

    She becomes aware that she should say something. Thank you feels silly. And she thinks it’s been said already without words. Any jokes that might have risen to her lips have completely fallen away.

    “Well.” She breathes out the shaky word onto his skin as she begins to pull away - eyes carefully watching him with a cautious smile.

    Surely the way the word wobbles is just an aftermath of the crying. The annoying tremble that she can feel in her legs is just exhaustion.

    “Maybe this shape isn’t so bad, then.”


    @[Gale]
    Reply
    #13
    Gale
    this is going to break me clean in two --
    this is going to bring me close to you



    He hears the sound of movement, and briefly hopes that she is moving away. That will make things easier. But she’s coming closer instead, and despite the fact that he’d just hugged her, he feels a brief shudder run through him. Like static electricity on a dry night, only it doesn’t end until she pulls away, the warm fizzing fading slowly  even as his ears flick forward to catch what she’s saying.

    Gale had often imagined their next encounter, but he had anticipated his mouth feeling quite so dry, or the way he could the follow tear tracks along the snowy slope of her cheek and how he wants to dry them all away. But he concentrates and forces himself to swallow, and to open his eyes and meet her gaze. Gale had never bothered learning to hide his emotions, so he wears them freely. He frowns, the concentration visible in the winkling of the blaze between his eyes, and pins Mazikeen with his sharp blue gaze for a long moment of silence after she pulls away.

    “I am cursed,” Gale tells her again, because he is quite sure she must have forgotten. Perhaps he had not pressed the inevitability strongly enough, or maybe by not being explicit about the malevolent acts of his Cursed sire he’d made this seem a lesser danger. Remembering those, he is able to remain still, to resist the magnetic allure of Mazikeen standing so near. “And content to admire you from afar.”

    That was the line he’d practiced, because it is technically an honest one. He can say it and it even sounds true, especially paired with the fond smile that begins to settle on his navy face. There are things he would prefer if his future were not so dim, but he is happy even at the sight of her, and that is all he can have. Better to focus on what he can do, Gale thinks. Anything to distract himself. Mazikeen had said she doesn’t need anything fought, but that doesn’t mean he’d be entirely useless.

    “If I can’t get it back for you, can I help some other way?” His voice is hopeful, if strained, and he finally blinks his luminescent eyes for the first time in several minutes.

    @[Mazikeen]

    Reply
    #14

    Although it’s spoken with a fond smile, Mazikeen feels the sting of rejection in Gale’s words and her ears flatten in annoyance - all the tentative thrills and cautious smiles falling away like she had just jumped into the icy lake. Content to admire you from afar. Well that’s just bullshit. She wasn’t content to be admired from afar. She would rather not see him at all then be tortured by a buffered distance. All because of a curse that she thought she had made her stance clear on.

    With just a handful of words the butterflies in her stomach have burned up and she feels the flicker of a fiery rage in the back of her mind. It’s better than the embarrassment because the idea that the curse is just an excuse to avoid her has grown deeper roots. Does this mean Gale does resent when she invades his space and she’s reading into everything he's said and finding she cares for someone who does not feel the same way?

    What an inconvenient time to realize friends wasn’t all she wanted with him.

    She attempts, sort of, to keep the rising anger out of her voice - the words carried instead on a stubborn and passionate tone. “I told you I’m not afraid of your curse, Gale. And I meant it. Nothing about my current situation has changed that. Nor the promise I made.” Despite the fact that she had, technically, gone to the mountain because she was worried she couldn’t protect herself in the future - there isn’t a single doubt in her mind when it comes to this and her voice is strong with determination.

    Mazikeen did not accept that Gale could unilaterally make a decision that involved her without her say.

    His offer and the hopeful way he delivers it doesn’t effectively distract her, and there’s still an edge to her voice when she replies - her orange gaze fixed on his. “Everything I would have you do to help me appreciate this shape cannot be done from afar.” It’s bold - Maze can’t believe she just said that -  and perhaps a little unkind of her to say as well. But she’s feeling a little unkind right now.

    Only a little, though, and after those words hang between them for a short moment she blinks and sighs softly. An olive branch, such as it is, is offered in a kinder tone. “Except - you can give me some tips on how to fight without talons or fangs. If you want.”

    It feels like the rules of their friendship keep changing, like sand shifting beneath her hooves just when she thought she found solid ground.


    @[Gale]
    Reply
    #15
    Gale
    this is going to break me clean in two --
    this is going to bring me close to you



    His reminder had upset her, and while Gale certainly hadn’t desired the anger that blazes across her face, at least it’s not the very worst case scenario. He’s shaking his head before she’s even done speaking, because she does not understand. It doesn’t matter whether or not she is afraid. Bravery cannot defeat his curse. Nothing can.

    He can’t let her keep her promise. 

    Gale has been doing some thinking since their last time together, and he’s come to the only conclusion there can be. It doesn’t matter what he feels for Mazikeen, because anything that involves them growing closer will mean more hurt when he inevitably begins to devolve. Best to stop things where they are, and perhaps even take a few steps back. 

    “This isn’t about you, Maze” he says instead, shaking his head as he speaks. “I’m going to hurt everyone close to me eventually. That doesn’t have to be you. I don’t want it to be you.” He doesn’t want to hurt her, he means.

    She doesn’t seem to have the same hesitation, because she throws his earlier words back in his face in what he’s savvy enough to recognize as an attempt to get beneath his skin. It’s remarkably successful, and blinks, visibly disoriented for just a moment before he closes his eyes to regather his thoughts. “Mazikeen.” He says, very softly. He’d meant to say it sharply, a correction, but“You can’t…” he trails off, at an odd loss for words as his mind spins ten thousand directions, “You can’t say things like that.” That had been the very opposite of helpful in his efforts to not think about Mazikeen as anything but a distant acquaintance, and he eyes even the olive branch with wariness.

    Giving her tips, she’d said, not show her how. He nods, slowly at first and then with more enthusiasm. This will be a good distraction. There’s nothing quite like hooves for stomping on an opponent on the ground, he tells her, and a hoof to the chin can yield damage far worse than even a saber-clawed paw. He chatters on, and indeed in his tangent forgets exactly what he’d meant to forget. But when he runs out of things to talk about, he finally looks back at Mazikeen with a smile. He’s already saying what he’d been about to, the words too far out of his mouth to take back: “You’d best not be planning to use this against me in our battle.”. Meeting her eyes had been a mistake, and he realizes it as soon as it happens. 

    He's got to stop looking at her, because it is becoming harder to look away each time he does.

    @[Mazikeen]

    Reply
    #16

    Any satisfaction Mazikeen feels over getting under his skin is short-lived. She can’t puzzle out what his reaction means exactly, but she thinks she’s made him uncomfortable. He won’t even look at her afterwards and her mind buzzes as she half-listens to his explanation of the benefit of hooves and the damage they can inflict. It is interesting, what he’s telling her, but she’s still not distracted enough.

    And when he turns to her, smiling, and mentions their battle, Mazikeen hates herself for the warmth that tickles her skin as their eyes meet again.

    A groan of frustration escapes her and Mazikeen moves - not exactly away but forward and then she starts pacing nearby, her agitation propelling her into action - as if moving her legs will help her sort out the fog that’s settled on her mind. Gale, I don’t understand this at all. We can spend time together but you don’t want me close? What the hell is that?” Because it doesn’t feel fair and it certainly doesn’t feel like friendship. Not for her. More questions fill her mind, though she doesn’t speak them. What’s the threshold for ‘close’ - would she even be safe as his friend? Is his family safe or is Gale going to remove himself from the lives of everyone he knows slowly? And what if the curse never shows up?

    Mazikeen realizes with horror that she’s not done talking about it. About them. She hesitates only for a moment but - well, she’s already cried in front of him - already is pretty sure she’s ruined whatever this could have been by being weak - what’s a little more vulnerability to make it official.

    She resents that she’s being like this, that anyone could inspire this sort of reaction from her, but that resentment isn’t enough to keep her quiet.

    Pacing helps. She moves several strides in each direction, making a vague 8, and though she stays near enough that she can talk without raising her voice she takes care not to move too close to him. She just wishes she wasn’t so aware of the distance each time she passes. “I want to look forward to our rematch, to going to Islandres in the sunshine, to being able to fly with you as ospreys.” That thought still hurts but she shakes her head and continues quickly. “And I also want to be close to you and spend as much time with you as I can while I can. For me all of that sort of fits together. It’s fine that you don’t want me the same way. I get it. I do. But I don’t know if I can just… pretend that you don’t affect me the way you do.”

    Then she hears her own words echo in her mind. Embarrassment seeps in and she flinches a little, looking away from him as her body follows the path she's started. Maze groans in frustration again but this time it’s directed at herself. “Sorry. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I’m… new to… I’ve never…” Her inexperience suffocates her and she cannot even get the words out to explain the thick confusion in her mind over this whole situation and what it's doing to her heart. She doesn’t know what to do and she wonders if she should just follow his lead. If she could pretend, for the sake of having more time.

    Mazikeen inhales a deep, steadying breath before stopping and facing him directly; her eyes bright and guarded, and voice gentle. “What do you want, Gale?” She leaves the interpretation open - with her, with this visit, with life, whatever.



    @[Gale]
    Reply
    #17
    Gale
    this is going to break me clean in two --
    this is going to bring me close to you



    She turns away, but it is only to pace, and Gale swallows down the worried way his heart had leapt midway up his throat.

    Having mastered at least a small part of his shifting, Gale had been elated to show it to Mazikeen. He wanted her to see it first, before anyone else, and he’d not really stopped to consider why. That she had edged her way into his affections like a soft-edged burr – unexpected and difficult to remove – he realizes, but he’d been sure that he would be able to keep his distance when he was planning this visit back on Islandres. He hadn’t, but at least Mazikeen is doing so now, pacing back and forth ahead of him.

    She sounds agitated, and he settles his blue gaze on the ground midway between the points of her pacing rather than try to meet her moving gaze. She doesn’t understand, and he shakes his head because the words won’t come. “It’s not…” he tries, “I don’t…” and then he shrugs because he’s not really sure he understands what he thought he was doing anymore either.

    He doesn’t want to keep his distance. He can’t be friends with Mazikeen. He can’t be anything to her at all and coming here had been a mistake. His head begin to shake again, and he finally knows what to say, but then she’s speaking again, from what he suspects is as far away from him as she can be without having to shout. He is glad that he’s not meeting her gaze when she speaks, because then she’d see the hope reflected there. Because that is what he wants too, what he wants but won’t let himself have.

    Gale had assumed Mazikeen rather wise in ways of the heart, being both beautiful and powerful, and to hear her admit uncertainty causes him to stare even harder at the moss and lichen that cover the stone of the mountainside. If he looks at her, she will know. Gale recognizes his own inability to disguise his thoughts, and so rather than meet Maze’s keen gaze he watches a pair of ants carry a thin blade of grass that had been blown here from a distant meadow below. If he looks at her, he will tell her everything. And then she will be able to convince him that isolating himself is not for the best. Gale cannot risk it.

    So he closes his eyes, and takes a long breath. Mazikeen asks what he wants, and Gale is able to use his magic to look elsewhere, even while his physical eyes meet Mazikeen’s with a mild frown. “I want to get this battle out of the way.” He says, and his voice grows firmer with each word. “And then I think it is best if we go our separate ways.”

    Gale needs to get back to Islandres anyway. He has plans to make, preparations for the future. There will need to be someone ready to lead – an heir – and Gale’s not yet been fully honest with Erne about what waits for him. Gale wonders if the Curse affect the osprey, and if there is a way to save his companion. He still needs to tell Eyas, and then his other siblings.

    With his thoughts elsewhere, the rapid fire pace of his heart has slowed somewhat, and he is able to gain enough control to once more see through his eyes, and at Mazikeen in front of him. Gale is very sure that he can keep it together for the length of a battle. She’s a horse now, so he’ll be better at manipulating her vision. She knows what such an attack will feel like, he reasons, and perhaps fight it off better. There are a myriad of possibilities, thoughts and tangents that do not bother him during a true battle, and Gale shakes his head to rid himself of them.

    It's mildly effective, even if it leaves his hair standing at odd angles and a scowl on his dark face

    @[Mazikeen]

    Reply
    #18

    When Gale answers her question, Mazikeen feels a new hollow in her chest that has nothing to do with the absence of her shifting.

    There is a brief moment where she wants to launch herself at him, to tear the scowl off his face and rip him apart like she had with Firion. She’s sure she can do it, even without the aid of claws. But because she has done it before, she knows it won’t help. She knows Gale would leave afterwards and she’ll feel worse than she already does and not even the pain of any wounds she receives in the process will comfort her.

    She feels angry but the hatred she had felt after the Alliance is missing entirely and she cannot figure out why. Her hate is directed inward, at her own stupid heart for wanting something that just isn’t there.

    There is no desire in her to fight him, not like this. Once she had wanted to prove something by fighting him again, and then it had morphed into something else entirely. A promise for future meetings, when they were both strong and could delight in the battle just for the fun of it. Could learn from and teach one another.

    An excuse to get close.

    When her eyes fix on him now, they aren’t as guarded as she’d like - they burn with all the pain she’s feeling. “Well. Thanks for showing up here, showing off your ability to shift, calling me beautiful, rebuking me when I respond positively to the compliment, and wanting to fight while I’m arguably at my lowest so we can separate and never see each other again. That’s just fucking great, Gale.”

    When she feels new tears begin to threaten, she finds the strength to refuse to let them fall - blinking them away. Her voice treacherously cracks when she continues, but she pushes through it. Tells herself it’s rage and not sadness. “I think it’s already pretty clear you’ve won and I’ve lost. No need for another battle to prove that again.”

    Further goodbyes stick in her throat and she feels the difference between this moment and when she had left Islandres like a physical weight dragging at her. She doesn’t say anything else, just turns away from him and moves down the foothills and further into Hyaline. And she’s not sure whether it’s strength or weakness that keeps her stubbornly focused ahead and not on what, who, is behind.



    @[Gale]
    Reply
    #19
    Gale
    this is going to break me clean in two --
    this is going to bring me close to you



    Later, when he is alone, Gale will wonder how he was able to remain so still in that moment, how he was able to keep his usually expressive face as blank as a northern granite cliff. It is not a skill he usually possesses, but in this moment he does not question the ability or even wonder where it came from.

    He is too busy watching Mazikeen, and the way the tears in her eyes shimmer with more shades of orange than he has names for. He wants to name them far more than hear his failings ticked off, though still he remains impassive. At her final accusation, that he wants to fight when she’s at her lowest though, he does flinch a little. That hadn’t been intentional. Not wanting to see her again isn’t the same as wanting to take advantage of her weakness. But defending that would mean saying something, and Gale is still not sure he trusts his mouth to not run away with him.

    Maybe it’s better that Mazikeen thinks him capable of kicking her while she's down. Maybe it’ll make her miss him less, Gale thinks, though he knows better than to expect her to miss him at all after this.

    Maybe it’s better this way.

    He repeats that to himself as she turns away, and he watches until she disappears even from his observant eyes, remaining as still as a rock on the mountainside.

    “It’s better this way,” he says aloud, and releases a long sigh. If only that meant he felt better too, but the emotions remain despite Mazikeen’s absence. Regret and sadness and even the embers that he now recognizes might have grown to love. No need to stoke them anymore, Gale thinks, and takes to the sky as an osprey to return to Islandres.

    @[Mazikeen]

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