PHD #425: Of Flesh And Memory
Of Flesh And Memory
Summary: Mark and Leyla write themselves into each other's story, with the help of Matatau Amato. Khloe sits in as witness. (Warning: The squeamish may wish to pass on reading this log.)
Date: 27 Apr 2042 AE
Related Logs: Ruruku
Amato Khloe Leyla Malani Mark NPC 
Hydroponics - Ritual Tent - MV Elpis
A small ritual tent set up within the hydroponics bay aboard the MV Elpis. The deck is covered by soft padding and overlaid with bark cloth. All seating is on the floor. The traditional tools of ta moko are set out in a simple work area.
Post-Holocaust Day: #425

In the aftermath of the events of 15 April, peace is only now returning to the fleet. While work is still proceeding, and missions are still underway, downtime is no longer at a premium, and what needs be done is being done. No moreso than aboard the Elpis, where, having checked themselves out of the Cerberus, Mark and Leyla have made their way to the hydroponics area of the Elpis. But it isn't for planting or harvesting that they've come. Instead, the pair made their way to the small tent set up in one of the still unused corners of the bay. Close enough to hear the soft sound of water, the rustle of leaves, to smell the scents of life and growing things. As close to the world that was as this spacebound fleet can manage. The tent is neat and clean, the floor covered with soft padding, and bark cloth, decorated with stamped geometric patterns, handmade from the trees that are now only a memory on Tauron. And they are not alone. With them are the Kaiwhakairo Amato, his voice already lifted in the ritual chants that precede the tatatau, and his apprentice, Malani. Leyla lies on her stomach upon the mat, naked, with only the ta moko that decorates her skin as cover, still and steady as she waits for the apprentice to clean and prepare her skin. There is no pillow under her head. Instead she rests her head in Mark's lap, her arms around his hips.

Mark didn't bother with one of his tropical shirts for this. It's not the time. He's grabbed a plain black t-shirt and some jeans for this. Whatever he was expecting, this probably wasn't it. The man sits with her, one hand stroking her hair and the other drooped down to take one of hers. He's nervous. There's no hiding it, but he's trying to smile for her. "I love you, Leyla." A finger strokes around her ear, looping a strand of hair back. "About how long is this going to take for you? I know about mine. I just.." He tries to smirk, looking down to her.

Khloe is off to the side in her dress grays - a stark contrast to Leyla's nakedness. Still, this is as ceremonious as the Captain gets, and when Leyla asked her, there was no way she could say no. On more than one occasion Poppy has had the privilege of seeing some of Leyla's tatau. Knowing it to be a Taurian thing, but not really inquiring beyond that, Khloe has just accepted it as a part of their culture; nothing strange, nothing to be ashamed of - nakedness is something that you get used to in close quarters on a battlestar. She is far from the proceedings, sitting cross-legged with hands resting on her knees, glad to give both the artist and the couple their space, but she watches with careful attention.

"I love you too, Mark. For all my days." Leyla knows better than to move an inch, her breathing slow and steady. The setup is neat and tidy. The traditional tools, the homemade dye, the drawing of the ta moko that will be worked into what already covers Leyla's skin. For her, it's an addition that will rest partly along her side, partly along her back, where the rest of her genealogy has been incised. "Until it is done." How long it will take, Leyla doesn't know, but she clearly intends to see it through to the end. All in one go. There is no movement of her head, but her eyes do shift to Khloe, whom she can see from where she's laying. A smile, for this sister of her heart, but not of her blood, the Captain standing in for the member of Leyla's family that might, if this were a different time, and a different place, be here. "Tuakana, elder sister. Thank you." When she's finally ready to begin, she doesn't indicate it with words, but with the start of the karakua, her part of the ritual chant. The matatau settles, and it begins, as he finishes the opening chants and settles into the karakia, his counterpoint chant to set the rhythm of the striking. First the uhi, the flat-bladed chisel, and the paatuketuke, the mallet, to set the design. The process is simple, the chisel carves the skin, the mallet drives it deep into Leyla's flesh. A testament to the man's skill that he did not need to have the image drawn onto her flesh beforehand. The tap-tap-taping, quick and steady, of the mallet the only accompaniment to the chanting. But it is a two step process. The matatau to carve, the apprentice to clean away the flood flowing fast and free with one hand, and work the tau, the dye in with the other. It's visceral and grisly and painful. But only the sharpness of Leyla's breath, and the tight hold she has on Mark's body gives any indication of the pain exploding along her skin.

Mark takes a steady breath as the man takes out his tools to begin the work and he looks to Khloe. The man gives her a nod for some reason. Maybe it's just reassurance for himself. He can't move or do anything for Leyla. It's probably not easy for him. He wets his lips and looks back to Leyla as she begins her chanting. Here we go. The man's gaze turns hard with Leyla's tightening grip on him and he looks to the area being carved. The Chief Engineer mouths something for a few moments - probably a prayer as his breathing takes a deeper turn. That would be the resolve hardening. Leyla would recognize the look in his eyes - the same when she found him on the Areion's deck.

Khloe doesn't flinch when the work begins, the systematic but skillful, patterned maiming of Leyla's skin and the introduction of ink unmistakably a painful process. Instead, the Knights' Captain simply focuses on her breathing - something that she's only done in preparation for a Viper launch. Even though she's not one to follow the gods or to claim religion, for her flying a Viper is like attending church; it's oneness with the universe, trusting it will deliver you safely in the end. And here she is, focusing on her breathing, purposefully calming the sympathetic emotion welling in her chest for her sister. It's not clear if she even registers the nod from Mark - her attention is on Leyla, and the work of the artists.

The chanting continues, the tapping of tools, the flow of blood and ink, as the matatau dips the uhi to allow him to apply deeper colour as he continues to apply the outlines of the ta moko working it seamlessly into what Leyla already has, so that in the end it will blend as smoothly as as naturally as all of her other work. And still, Leyla remains, still and steady. Certainly no stranger to the process, she's also well aware that Mark and Khloe are, and so, she tightens her lips, holding back to sounds that try to escape between the chanting, tries to smooth her face to hide the pain. There is a point where, having reached the threshold, her body will simply not be able to process more and the endorphins will kick in, but clearly that time has not yet arrived. The master and his apprentice are relentless, working smoothly and quickly, perfectly in sync.

One hand squeezes Leyla's and the other continues stroking her hair. He doesn't dare interrupt the chanting she is doing, knowing the importance to the process. The man looks angry about being helpless. This dude is inflicting pain! The Chief Engineer looks from Leyla to the work being done and then to where its being done and takes a few steadying breaths of his own.

Khloe does look away at one point, discreetly wiping her eyes. Whether or not it's from fatigue or if she's actually so sympathetic to Leyla's pain that she's tearing up, is anyone's guess; stoic Khloe is stoic, and she remains that way, looking on and participating as witness in the only way she can.

Slowly and steadily, the outline appears on Leyla's skin, the teardrop shape that holds within it so much more. The matatau finally looks up at Mark, the tools falling silent only long enough for him to switch out the uhi for the uhi matarau, the comb-bladed chisel, as he prepares to imprint Mark into Leyla's flesh. A nod to the man, before he begins again, settling back into the work, the shark icon chosen to represent the man and his Pican heritage taking shape within the already incised pattern.

Mark watches on in silence, attempting to restrain himself from wanting to hurt this guy! But this is for them. It's part of who they are to be. With the glance from the matatau, Mark takes his cue and begins his part of the chanting. It probably took him a few sleepless nights to memorize this. Starting before the 15th, it was probably on his mind while he was in the cell on the Areion. Voice moving along with Leyla's, he's concentrating hard to make sure he gets all of this right as his eyes close.

Khloe, an OCD creature by nature, is quick to pick up on the pattern of the chant - she doesn't actually utter any sounds, but occasionally her boot might make a small movement in beat with the chanting, or her fingers might drum quietly following the rhythm.

As the shark takes shape, swimming its way into the curve of what, as more patterning is added is no longer so much a teardrop as a nautilus, the work proceeds more quickly, shapes and designs adding meaning and tone to the work. The frond of a palm, the patterns that seem to recall marching feet, or the waves of the ocean. Each one has meaning, each stroke and cross-stroke. There is no need to ask Mark to stop, the end of his chant finishing just as the matatau finishes his icon, before moving on to the small, almost playful turtle that seems to represent Leyla, because as the carving begins again, the chant Leyla recites changes as well. They're almost to the end now, with only a small section left to finish. Khloe's involvement does not go unnoticed, and the matatau looks to the woman, in her dress greys, and nods, approvingly, encouraging the woman to join in the ritual. As for Leyla, her face has turned, buried in Mark's lap, the fabric of his jeans absorbing her tears, though her voice remains determined. Till the end.

At first, Khloe shakes her head - she has an apologetic look on her face. But at his quiet urging, Khloe does contribute, quietly parroting the syllables she can make out, and hopefully doesn't botch everything she says.

Finally, the end is coming, the pattern dark and rich against Leyla's skin. And the pain, whether a result of natural endorphins or just the numbing of overwrought nerve endings is dulling enough for Leyla to turn her face back to the side, to look up, as well as she can, to Mark, and then to Khloe. All of it is finally coming together. The woman, the man, the sister, the tools and the master and the apprentice, the sound of voices rising and wood falling. Until all that is left is the icon they've chosen to represent themselves, together, a mythical creature, half fish, half bird. And the matatau nods, indicating the shift to the final chant, the final press.

Mark has opened his eyes again at some point and is looking over at the work once more as it comes to a close. When Layla looks up to him he smiles at her through the chanting. At a break between he whispers to her, "Tahu." A wink follows it before his attention comes back to the matatau. There is a nod to the final chant and he moves along with it, one hand still stroking her hair and the other clasping her hand in his own.

Khloe cracks a small smile, closed-mouth, nodding approvingly. She's lasted through the arduous process. And then her eyes drag over to Mark, and her smile fades. "Your turn?" She mouths, and then glances, concerned, back at Leyla.

"Tahu." A brief word, that means everything, before Leyla finds the counterpoint to Mark's chanting, and the matatau makes three, as the final image blossoms on Leyla's flesh, completing the addition to her achyddiaeth, her family history. Whatever the future may hold for good or ill, the engineer will always be a part of the pilot. Once the tatau is finished, he settles back, turning to clean the blades as his voice finally returns to normal, his apprentice wiping away the last of the excess blood and ink and flesh, before she bandages Leyla's body. "Help me up, love." And she'll need it. To rise up enough to kneel and settle back on her heels for Mark's turn under the chisel. But not before she bows, leaning forward, hands on the floor and forehead falling to touch her hands, "Kaiwhakairo, I thank you." The man nods, smiles, "You are welcome, Taitamaiti, child." Everything is cleared away, left fresh and ready for the second ritual.

Mark stays still with Leyla until she asks for his help. The man is slow to move, not wanting to disturb her more than she needs to be. Taking her arms in his hand he helps lift her to her knees. The man gives a slow nod to Khloe's question, exhaling bullishly through his nose. He knows this is going to hurt. While Leyla is bowing and finishing her ritual, Mark strips off his shirt. The man still wears bandages around his ribs as a precaution, the wrap going all the way around below his chest - reminders of his time aboard the Areion. He itches the top of one, the movement jerky and fidgety. The Major is nervous, no doubt. "Alright. Let's do this," he says quietly, looking to Khloe and finally to Leyla. He looks like he wants to say something to her, mouth fishing open and closed before he gives up and just lies down on the mat. Hands open and close, fists being made to get the adrenaline flowing. One last movement to clear his throat and he stares up at the ceiling above.

As Mark prepares, Leyla too, moves into position, settling, as Mark did, guiding his head into her lap, fingers combing through his hair, soothing and gentle. Whatever the pain is that she's feeling, it's no longer about her, but only about the man now lying on the floor. The matatau and his apprentice begin again, the preparation of the tools, the beginning, or introductory chant, and then, after a nod, the first strike, quickly followed by the next. Chant, counter-chant, and the rhythm of the tools. But it falls not on Mark's back, or his side, but over his right pectoral, the proper place, at least in Leyla's family's tradition for a man's genealogy. "I'm here, love." Hands are offered, if Mark has need of them.

The man settles his head into her lap and looks up at her. There's love there. Unabashed and unrestrained. Heavy breathing returns as he can sense the first strike coming. Feeling the first hit… Fists clench and his left lifts slightly and slams into the ground. He knows he can't move but DAMN!! His jaw clenches up, grunting past the pain before he remembers he needs to be chanting. Gods! Right. A few more breaths and he starts. It's a genuine battle to keep his breathing under control as the pain flashes in his eyes. Those fists are clenched so tight that his knuckles have lost all color, fingernails digging into his palms. He keeps his eyes wrenched shut through it, speaking through a clamped jaw and trying not to mutter. He looks like he's in a fair amount of pain but he isn't doing anything to stop it.

And just as Mark was not so long ago, Leyla is helpless. There is nothing she can do to stop the pain, to ease his suffering. All she can do is offer silent comfort, and the touch of her hands, smoothing along his arms, trying to sooth the clenched muscles there, to help him move past the pain, to settle into the rhythm of voice and tool and breath. Years it's been, since that first time, her first ta moko, but that has not dulled the memory of the shock of it, the overwhelming agony. And the matatau moves as inexorably as the tide, drawing as he did with Leyla, the outline first, before he moves onto the interior designs.

Khloe shows signs of losing her cool, finally, at Mark's inexperience with handling the pain of the ritual. She winces, with every application of the wood and the mallet, knowing that while Mark is no wilting flower, the shock of the pain must be overwhelming.

Even as the blood is wiped from his chest, the man still pushes on. Occasional grunts against the pain interrupt the chant, but only barely. The breathing seems to have calmed a little more as a tear finally leaves his eye with one more muffled curse, fist tapping the mat once more, the movement slowly bouncing his hand. Still, he continues on. It hurts like hell, but he keeps with it.

Gentle fingertips wipe the tears from Mark's eyes, as Leyla remains where she is, silently supporting him. She doesn't speak, doesn't interrupt, doesn't try to distract anymore than she absolutely has to. Silent, as the work continues, as the patterns lay themselves down on the smooth skin of Mark's chest. Her voice will rise only as the matatau begins her turtle, adding her voice to the chanting, as if the sound, as it was with Mark's own voice, could be imprinted into his flesh along with the ink. And then silence again, as the shark takes shape. She will not speak again until the time comes for the final stage.

The the whole thing coming towards the end his own muscles seem to relax as his own endorphins kick in to deal with the pain. His breathing returns to a semblance of normal, fists no longer clenched. He reaches up to take Leyla's hand and finally opens his eyes to look up at Leyla. 'DAMN this hurts but I love you…' they say without a spoken word. Coming into the final stretch he lifts his head a little to look at one of the strikes and flinches his eyes. Ow.

The final stage, the last image, the sound of Leyla's voice joining Mark's, joining Amato's. The answering look of love, and faith and pride in Leyla's expression. The crescendo that precedes the silence, the stillness, the last strike. And then there's nothing left but the cleaning, the bandaging, the clasp of Leyla's hands in Mark's, as she holds him, helps him to rise.

Khloe finally exhales as the ritual approaches its conclusion. She offers a reassuring smile to both Leyla and Mark, clasping her hands together; she wants to shout for them, but won't disrupt the sanctity of the moment.

Mark is a little unsteady on the rise so it certainly helps once he's been cleaned and bandaged. First one knee, then the other, then to his feet. Now that the rush of blood has left his face, it seems to have drained a little more than it should. The guy just looks pale. His eyes finally find Leyla's and he tries to summon a smile for her before turning and giving an awkward bow to the matatau. He's fried. Mark probably doesn't remember much more of the formalities as his eyes sweep back to Khloe. "Thanks for coming, Khloe. I know this meant a lot to Leyla. To me, too." His words come slow through his breathing before he hooks and arm around Leyla's shoulder. "I think I need to lie down for a bit once we get back."

Khloe unfolds her legs and moves to stand, rising somewhat stiffly - she's been sitting for quite a while. "Anything for my Sweetiepea, and by extension, you, Major," she offers in reply. Then, with a solemn nod, she moves to step out of the tent, her job done.

Leyla helps as she can, the pair standing together, "Thank you, Khloe. It really meant a great deal to me." There's a pause, as she waits for the Captain to depart, before she and he will make their way out of the tent, after final words of farewell to Amato and Malani. All honours to their service. "I think we both need to lie down for a while." And then, more gently, as they begin to make their way back towards the transport raptors, "Thank you, Mark."

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