Xavier is moving slowly through the market. Dark circles are under their eyes. They prod listlessly at things as they go. They are light brown drab of garb.
Zephyr reclines in one of the lounges near where a singer is belting out a tune with the accompaniment of a guitar. He looks well rested and refreshed, draped in white and adorned with opals and gold. He raises a hand to Xavier as he spies them, recognizing the stranger from yesterday.
Xavier comes that way on sandled feet. They seem far less prone to bolt than previously. They give the Companion a sheepish smile, "I'm, um, not a customer for, um....I don't want to um, get in the way?" They keep their eyes lowered.
"I'm not taking customers at the moment," Zephyr says mildly. "I'm just enjoying the day." He gestures to the musician. "Taking in the sights. You're Xavier, right? A friend of my brother's?" His lips twitch with some amusement. "At least one of them, anyway."
Xavier gifts him with a brief genuine smile, and settles next to him. "I'm... not really comfortable with, um nudity. Or touching mostly. Surprise naked people coming at me sort of... freaks me out? And he's a very... strong? Personality." They look at Zephyr sideways, "Cinder's quieter and gentler. I am not good at people at all and I have trouble guessing what Drak might do. It makes me nervous. I'm going to try to be, um, calmer in future. I know he is important to cinder like Fausty's important to me, so I'm going to make an effort."
A slow breath, "Cinder's...life. Is so different than mine, I have trouble imagining it, but I like talking to him. I worry about him. You... aren't like either of them, I think. Mostly. You look like you fit? Like Maylis and Lyra fit." They peer at Zephyr rather suddenly, "Would you say you were a fish or a tree? You're not a mushroom, that's clear." Their dark eyes are clear and their pupils seem normal for the lighting. They do smell of chemicals and some vaguely artificial citrusy cleaner from the lab, but not alcohol or anything odd given their role as Biochemist.
Zephyr says, "All I've ever known is Sanctuary. I don't remember our life before. I was too small." He smiles a little, though there's a sadness to it. He is different from his brothers, and he's well aware. At Xavier's question, his brows lift. "Are those my choices? Fish or tree?" He considers the question for a moment, tapping a fingertip to his upper lip. "Maybe a tree, reaching ever upward."
Xavier nods, "But Drak and Cinder are different. Different is... just fine as long as it makes you happy. I was born into the Cage, you know and grew up....They thought I was clean until fairly late." They cock their head, "You can have other choices, if you want. I'm a mushroom, but you definitely aren't."
"Why don't you tell me what that means," Zephyr says gently. "To be a mushroom, or a fish or a tree. We can't make reasonable choices without knowing the meaning of the questions posed to us." They gesture vaguely. "Unless my comprehension isn't important here, in which case, feel free to just keep talking."
Xavier giggles and ducks their head, "I think it depends on how you think of mushrooms, fish, and trees. It's sort of.. a new I idea I've been thinking about. Only I need more data points. I'm still... trying to work out... I don't really understand people mostly, so I'm trying out a new framework for thinking about them. One that makes more sense to me?"
Zephyr nods slowly. "I see," they say. "Are you sure you can categorize all people into three? People tend to be fairly complex. There's more to them than a handful of traits, and sometimes they may be in a fish mood or a tree mood. Maybe everyone mushrooms sometimes."
Xavier shakes their head no, "I think people can pick whatever they like. The interesting data is the why they picked that plant or animal." They blink, "Mushrooms are... really different. They have a really different reproductive system for example. Like, people and fish make babies in different ways from each other, but it comes down in the end to a male fish and female fish combining things to make fry. A lot of the plants that still exist have male and female parts. Some plants are male or female, but the ones that still exist are mostly both. The pollen from one plant impregnates another. Some plants can reproduce asexually. Some plants can be grafted on a different plant to make hybrids.... Anyway, the plants in the garden tower are mostly the pollen to make babies type. Fungus though? Is really, really out there...."
Zephyr's brow draws together briefly, then smooths as they say, "It's a bit reductive, don't you think? People are more than how they breed. I'm male, if that's what you mean. I prefer the company of other men, but if the Patrons want me to breed or a customer offers me the right kind of Lux, I don't get too picky. But I'm more than a man who likes other men."
Xavier is sitting by Zephyr, listening to music while they chat. "I didn't mean.... It's not really about plant reproduction. It's more... biologically mushrooms are weird in a whole lot of ways, but they do essential tasks. They pull toxins out of soil, break down dead things, they are essential to our diet here at sanctuary. humble mushrooms feed us every dy. Some cure us when we're sick. some can kill or make people see visions. there used to be mushroom that could only live connected to a particular type of tree, but those are gone, I think. Mushrooms are... weird and specialized. Useful, but trees and fish have more in common with each other than with fungus even though all are necessary for a healthy ecosystem."
Lyra emerges from one of the curtained alcoves, carrying her harp. She glances back over her shoulder and laughs softly, apparently at something said to her by whomever is inside, then she blows them a kiss and makes her way over towards the more public performance space. Upon noticing Xavier and Zephyr, she smiles brightly and gives a little wave, adjusting to head in their direction.
Zephyr nods to Xavier, and he smiles, though there's a distant, somewhat sad tinge to it. "All right." Then they look to Lyra, and their smile broadens as she comes over. "Do you know Xavier, Lyra? I believe you've met, yes?"
Xavier gives Lyra a bright smile and a wave, but they must have caught something in Zephyr's expression, "I said the wrong thing. I'm sorry."
Lyra nods leans in to give Zehpyr a kiss on the cheek before she settles into a seat near the two. "We have, yes. I believe we have decided to try to be friends. They're a fan of my playing."
Zephyr leans up for the kiss, and he gestures for her to join them where they lounge. To Xavier, he says, "You haven't said the wrong thing. It's just not something I understand or relate to. It's interesting, but I have nothing to say to it except 'that's interesting.' I could ask all the right questions, but I'm trying not to be 'on' right now."
Xavier says, “I particularly liked the last one you played the day we talked of dreams. You really are very good at guessing what a person might like to hear." The Professor blushes, "That's fair. Um, what would you like to talk about, Zephyr?"”
Lyra laughs. "Oh, well, after my fingers have had a bit of a rest, I could play you something else by that composer. I have a whole book of his music with not too much damage, though the binding isn't holding well. It belonged to my teacher before me."
Zephyr tilts his head thoughtfully. Not very many people ask him that, to be honest. "Talking about dreams seems interesting," he says. "I often dream I'm standing in the rain. I'm not sure what it means or if it's supposed to be bad or good. The rain is dangerous because of radiation, but in my dream, it just feels like cool water. It's soothing."
Xavier cocks their head, "It ought to be copied. The book. To save for the Future. We should save everything we can." Their expression softens, "That sounds really nice. To feel all that water on your skin. I think I understand the impulse."
Lyra nods to Xavier. "I should do that at some point, yes. Though the pages are still mostly in good condition." Then she considers. "I don't really remember my dreams most of the time. Little bits and hints but the more I try to remember, the more they float away."
"It does feel nice," Zephyr admits, "to have all that water on one's skin. Sometimes I dream about being out in the sun without burning." Given his fair complexion and red hair, that's just pure fantasy. With a nod to Lyra, he says, "I dream like that, too. Impressions left as the dawn's light shines into the Cage. The noises of everyone waking up chases the images from my mind."
Xavier looks down, "My dreams tend to be... very vivid. Bright colours and patterns, odd conversations. Impossible intelocutors. Beauty. Sometimes a terrible beauty that pierces one. And nightmares sometimes. Of... of outside. Of things, um, falling or... or dying. I have nightmares about garden tower withering or our water going sick like the rain. I'd rather my dreams of glowing mushrooms and singing stones, of trees everywhere talking to each other in the wind, long conversations with fish or mythical ducks, or even the abstract ones about formulae." They nod, sighing, "I'm wary of the sun, but maybe it was better for the ancients, safe rain, sun that didn't burn..."
Lyra looks up towards the stairs to the cage and the dome above it. "Maybe. The songs I have tend to portray the sun as a blessing or at least good. Rain, too, though that's more mixed. But there are so many songs about rivers and oceans. I think... their relationship to water was very different from ours. It was needed, but it was so much more common."
"I wish we had more songs and stories about our world," Zephyr says. "I understand wanting to preserve the history of where we came from, but when I hear a song about a river or lake, I really just appreciate the tune. A river or lake means nothing to me. It's this abstract thing that evokes..." He shakes his head. "Nothing."
Xavier closes their eyes, "I keep trying to picture it. Water in that quantity and I just can't. It's too far from my experience, I guess." They nod thoughtfully, "have you ever written a new sonng, Lyra? About us now? If you have, it might be fun to listen to."
Lyra hmmms. "I've mostly written music without words. I sometimes try to adapt older songs and add new words to them. Simlar tone, but more understandable to us. I'll work on that more, I think."
"I wish I had a knack for poetry," Zephyr says. "I would write about our lives, and I would study the lives of others, like the Savvies and War Children, and write their verses, too. Unfortunately, that's not where my training lies. I don't have the knack." To Lyra, he says, "That sounds like a noble goal."
Xavier flashes Lyra a smile, "I would like to hear those, and music can be just as beautiful without words." They cock their head, "What is your specialty? Besides making men very happy I mean. I should have asked instead of babbling about mushrooms."
Lyra shrugs. "People need songs which reflect their lives. I do try to sort through and find the ones which still resonate best, but some are just so pretty or so achingly sad that they could be about anything, really, and I'd still want to play them. I'll try to write some more." She smiles, "I'm pretty sure that his specialty is making men, and some women, very, very happy."
Zephyr glances at Lyra with a small, secret smile, and he inclines his head to her as he tells Xavier, "I'm trained in the arts of pleasure. I know how to converse and be pleasant company, but what I'm mostly sought out for, and what I'm best at, is pleasure."
Xavier smiles at Lyra, "I have dedicated my life to recreating the medicines of the past, but I do it in hopes of a future we all will make together. I don't want to lose eve the smallest bit of knowledge we can save, but that future is everything and new dreams, new music are part of that future." The study Zephyr, then blush, "Pleasure isn't to be underestimated." their eyes slide away from them both and the anxiety is back, "I hope Kitten is okay. And Fausty and Timmy and Kisses. Outside is..." they shudder.
Lyra nods. "Outside is scary, but there are enough of them all together. And they wouldn't take huge risks with that many Savvy and Monitors. From the people I've heard were going, I suspect they'll be fine."
Zephyr nods to Lyra's words. "They know what they're doing," he says. "They took a whole war party out, didn't they? They're not going to take unnecessary risks with Savvy and Monitors. One of the Imperators is leading the charge. They're very good at what they do."
Xavier fidgits with their glove, "But still I worry. They are...Really, really important to me." They say softly, "I don't... really know much about the lives of companions. Not really. Even though I was a little in the cage. I know what the, uh, work is? But not... And you both probably know nearly everyone. Are you, um, worried about people too? It occurs to me tht I'm... I'm asking you to work by, um, reassuring me? But you might have people you worry about too."
Lyra nods a little and glances around the room. "We see a lot of people some through here, yes. Of course, each of us have some with whom we spend more time. And most of us have favorites and those we'd rather not see. There are a number of people on the expedition who will be deeply missed should they not return." Then she shrugs, "But we are also the last people who can or would be allowed to do anything about that."
Zephyr says, "There's a War Child out on that mission to whom I gave blood. She was very sick when I did, and she doesn't have much time left, I suppose. I think about her, and what will happen to her. I'm glad I got the chance to help her. I hope it will be enough. I don't even know her name, though. I know her face. I would miss it, I suppose."
Xavier nods, eyes wide, "Ethics. Just, wow, I hope you, um, don't lose anyone you like." They study Zephyr's face, "It is a kindness. To give them a chance to... to do what they live to do. I know cinder gave to Kitten's friend Rebar twice. He's out there too. I wish i knew how to do more for them."
Lyra sighs softly. "With war children... we... or at least I... mostly try to give them enjoyable experiences while they're with us. I try not to mourn them if they die on an expedition, though. They view that as their highest honor and the point of their lives. I mourn when they die here of sickness, instead."
"Your work helps them," Zephyr says. "You give them a better life with your mind, and we do so with our bodies. Everyone plays a part." As the musician's song comes to an end, he says, "I should get going to my next appointment. It has been very nice to talk to you, Xavier, and don't worry too much. Things have a way of working out." To Lyra, he says, "It's always a pleasure to see you, dear."
Xavier looks down, "I...I feel the same way really. The sickness... its not kind. If only I could find a drug to cure it. Still, Kitten... They seem fine? I don't... I'm not ready." Still they bob their head and give Zephyr a quick smile, "You're very symmetrical and I'm sure whoever it is will be warmed by your skills. Thank you for your patience with me."
Lyra smiles to Zephyr. "Enjoy yourself. And likewise." She blinks at Xavier's compliment and stifles a small laugh. "If you could find a drug to cure it, that would be amazing. I'm fairly certain that Kitten isn't actually sick. They were damaged in other ways, but they're physically healthy from what I can tell. Certainly not properly sick."
Zephyr smiles at Xavier. "Thank you for telling me about your mushrooms, even if I wasn't in the right frame of mind to understand it. I'm glad that there is knowledge, and that it is with you. Maybe someday we can talk about it when I'm in the right frame of mind." They give a small bow, then go to meet with their next client.
Xavier sighs, "I think, if the ancients had a cure, it was lost. we need more books, more medication samples. I don't know. I think... I've been looking in the wrong direction, maybe." They shake their head, "It was just a fever, not... People keep telling me there's something wrong with them. Even Kitten keeps saying it, but they seem just fine to me. Exactly themselves and beautiful inside and out."
Lyra hmmms, temporizing. "I think... Kitten is who they are now. They aren't... quite who they used to be. And there are some lingering issues with memory, among other things, but if you didn't know them before, then you are less likely to see the differences. Also, they have... some issues with ability to control their impulses. Sometimes they think of something and do it before thinking about whether or not it would be a good idea."
Xavier gazes at Lyra, "But i don't know the person they might have been and i very much love who they actually are. That other kitten may have been better for the collective good, but this Kitten? Isa brilliant mechanic and that's good and useful too. This Kitten is maybe a little forgetful, but they look at me and don't see broken. I look at them and see how amazing they are."
Lyra nods. "They are a brilliant mechanic. And I'm sure that it is good for them to have you see who they are and not who they could have been. Just as it's good for you to have them look at you and not see anything unusual."
Xavier says quietly, "I don't expect them to be... some one they aren't. It scares me that they are out there fighting, but I don't ask them not to... behave like Kitten. I just want them to com home to me again. I don't need... to... Kitten belongs to Kitten. I'm just very lucky to have them in my arms when I have them. Something about having them around makes it feel like things might be all right. I don't know what they see in me, though."
Lyra tilts her head a little to one side and studies Xavier. "I think they see a brilliant mind and a very sweet heart. I could be wrong, but that's what I see, even if your mind does work along different pathways than mine."
Xavier smiles softly, "You couldn't be as good as you are at what you do if you weren't really bright." They touch a finger to Lyra's wrist. "I am glad I met you.
Lyra laughs and smiles back. "I'm not stupid, but... I'm not all that bright. I am good with people, though. I'm glad I met you, too."