Friend, 10

Dragons and Humans Deal with Life Stages Differently, but There Are Many Similarities

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The entrance to the cave where Joey’s sire lived was huge, and also most of the way up a mountain. It was pretty hard to miss, but it had also taken them a while to get to. Travis guessed that it was easier for people who could fly.

Either way, they were here now, standing outside and looking at the hole. “Is he in there?” Travis asked.

“Probably,” Joey said. “And if he’s not, he won’t be away for long. He won’t want to leave the princess.”

“Right.” Travis nodded, starting to slip his pack off his back.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to get dressed,” Travis told him. “So the princess doesn’t freak out.”

Joey and Louis both looked at him for a long moment. “That’s stupid,” Joey told him. “We’re not putting fur on.”

“I know, but…” Travis gestured vaguely at himself. “I’m not a dragon. She might be annoyed.”

Louis snorted. “She’s going to see dicks no matter what. There’s not much difference between two dicks and three. Get over it.”

“There’s an entire dick’s worth of difference there!” Travis insisted.

“Yeah, but yours is tiny, she probably won’t even see it,” Louis said, patting Travis on the back.

Travis glared at him. Joey took Travis’s wrist and just pulled him forward. “Come on. We’ll just tell her I burned all your clothes or something.”

Sighing, Travis hefted the pack back onto his back and just went along. “Okay, but if I get stuff thrown at me it’s your fault.”

Joey nodded, not really listening as they approached the mouth of the cave, where he stopped, shifting his weight nervously. “You okay?” Travis asked him.

“Yeah. Just…he kicked me out, is all. So…”

“Yeah.” Travis smiled reassuringly at him. “It’ll be fine. Like you said, you’re not trying to move back in. You’re just coming to say hi.”

“Yeah,” Joey repeated, nodding. He exhaled a long breath. “Okay.”

He took a step into the cave, hand still on Travis’s wrist.

Inside, they were met with a stink, much stronger than Travis had found in other caves. “Ugh,” he said, cover his mouth with his other hand. “Gross.” His voice echoed through the silent cave.

“Yeah,” Joey agreed, looking around with his nose wrinkled. “It’s…there.” He pointed at a large form, sleeping. His sire, lit a little by the sun filtering more and more into the cave as the sun finished rising. Bright red scales shone, and Travis couldn’t quite get a grip on the size. He was bigger than Louis when he was transformed.

“Oh, wow,” said Travis, intelligently. “He’s big.”

Joey took a breath of the fetid air, looking around. “I don’t see a princess.”

“He’s not going to roast us if we wake him up, right?” Travis asked. He was very big.

“Just in case, you go poke him,” Louis suggested. Travis threw him the finger, which he could safely do because dragons didn’t know what that meant.

Together, they started to move around Joey’s sire, and slowly his hoard came into view as well, piles of gold and other shiny things. No princess. Travis was increasingly getting the sense that something was wrong, and he couldn’t figure out why.

“Something’s wrong,” Joey muttered, confirming Travis’s suspicions. “The hoard. It’s smaller. I think it’s been looted.”

All at once Travis realized it. There was no sound in the cave. None at all. No sound of Joey’s sire breathing in his sleep. He wasn’t breathing. “Joey…”

“Guys,” Louis said, having wandered over to Joey’s sire a little. He was standing there, perfectly still, looking at his head. Travis and Joey joined him.

Joey’s sire was laying there on his belly, head facing them, eyes open. And even from here they could see the slash in his neck, the pile of dried blood they were standing in. “Oh, no,” Joey said, rushing forward, putting his hand on his sire’s head, looking him over. “No, no, no…”

“Oh, God,” Travis whispered, looking up at the body. How could something that big…die? Of course he knew dragons must die, but seeing it, seeing it like this, was…it seemed impossible. There were millions of stories about people killing dragons, but how was it possible to kill something this big?

Hands on his sire’s neck, Joey bowed his head, sniffling. Travis came over, pulled him into a hug. “He’s dead,” Joey cried, burying his face in Travis’s chest. “They killed him. Why did they kill him?”

“I don’t know,” Travis said quietly, holding Joey. “I don’t know.”

“It was definitely a human who did this,” Louis said, approaching more slowly. “Not another dragon. But…he’s been dead for a while. The blood is long dry, the scales are starting to flake. Those knights you guys saw. They didn’t have the princess with them?”

“No,” Travis said, shaking his head. “It was all guys in armour with swords. Well, their leader was a lady. But she was a knight too, not the princess.”

“Someone else must have killed him,” Louis said, frowning. He rested a hand on Joey’s sire, contemplative.

“I don’t care,” Joey growled, still letting Travis hold him. “I’m going to kill whoever it was. I’m going to find them and then I’m going to kill them.”

“How? You can’t fight. You can’t even transform.”

Joey let go of Travis to turn and glare at Louis. “I’ll learn.”

“Yeah. You’re going to have to, runt.” Louis looked away from Joey’s sire, down to him now. “You have to learn. Because he’s not going to protect you anymore. The others left you alone because they were afraid of him. But once they realize he’s dead…Joey, I can’t protect you from them.” He sounded pained.

“I know.” Joey had tears on his face, but his expression was hard. He looked up at Travis, taking in a breath. “We have to leave.”

“What?” Travis asked, looking from him to Louis.

“Louis is right,” Joey told him, shaking his head. He looked determined. “The other dragons aren’t going to have any reason not to kill me. And they’ll kill you too.” His voice caught at that. “We have to go somewhere safer. At least for now. At least until I can transform to defend us both.”

Travis felt tears come to his eyes now. “They wouldn’t really…”

“They would,” Joey interrupted, nodding. “They would, Travis. We have to go.”

“This is your home, though.” And it had become Travis’s too.

“I know.” Joey put on a smile now. “We’ll come back, once it’s safer. But we can’t stay here now.”

Travis lowered his head, taking in a breath. He didn’t want to leave. He’d never thought he would want to spend his life living in a cave, but he did.

Living in a cave with a dragon, though. He didn’t want to stay here if Joey wasn’t going to be here. He didn’t want to stay anywhere where Joey wasn’t. If Joey was leaving, so was he. He looked up, nodded. “Okay,” he said, hands on Joey’s shoulders. “Let’s go.”

Joey nodded, looking at his sire again.

“Are you going to come?” Travis asked Louis, who smiled thinly at him.


Joey shook his head. “He’s going to stay here. My sire’s cave is empty, his hoard is there. It’s too good an opportunity.”

“He’s going to…take it?” That seemed wrong to Travis. It seemed like it should rightfully belong to Joey.

“Yeah. That’s how it works.” Travis couldn’t identify the emotion in Joey’s voice.

Louis nodded, and he held up a hand. “Hold on. Give me that for a second.” He pointed to Travis’s pack.

“Uh, sure.” Travis did as he was told, Trusting Louis to give it back.

Louis took it, wandered over to the hoard, and opened the pack. He scooped up a few handfuls of gold coins, and dropped them in Travis’s bag, loose. Then he shut it and returned the bag. “You’re going to need that, probably. It’s how humans feed themselves, right?”

“Yeah,” Travis said, feeling oddly light. That was…a lot of gold that Louis had just casually scooped into his bag. It was more than enough to sustain him and Joey pretty much forever if they were careful. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Joey echoed, and he reached forward and hugged Louis tight. “You didn’t need to do that.”

Louis hugged him back, eyes closed. “If I was stronger, I could protect you,” he whispered.

Joey shook his head. “It’s okay. I have to protect myself now.”

“Not totally,” Travis promised, slipping the bag back on. “I’m going to protect you too.”

Joey let go of Louis, and he took Travis’s hand. “Don’t be silly. You’re part of my hoard. If I can’t protect you, what kind of dragon am I?”

Travis squeezed Joey’s hand, laughing a little. “Did it ever occur to you that you’re part of mine, too?”

Joey blinked, and went a little red in the face. “I love you too,” he muttered.

Joey cast one last look at his sire’s body, and then at Louis, who was hugging himself now, looking around the cave nervously. “You’ll be okay.”

“So will you,” Louis promised. “I’ll see you.”

“I’ll fly in,” Joey said, nodding. He put his hand on his sire’s jaw. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, and then he moved away, pulling Travis with him.

It was fast, it was all moving too fast. Travis couldn’t imagine moving from learning a parent had died to leaving a home that quickly. But that was how they worked, that was how dragons worked. They didn’t feel the same way he did.

So he waved goodbye to Louis. “You’ll do great!” he called, as Joey pulled him out of the cave. Louis smiled, waving at the two of them as they went.

And Joey pulled Travis away, out of the cave, down the path, all dragon, hard.

For a few minutes anyway, until he stopped, stopped walking, and just stood there, eyes squeezed shut, tears falling again. “I…”

“I know,” Travis said, putting an arm around him.

“We don’t feel the way you do,” Joey whispered. “This is just how it is. But…it’s harder, than I thought.”

“Yeah.” Travis hugged Joey again, and Joey hugged him back, his tail wrapping around Travis’s waist. He’d never known his parents. He didn’t know what it was like to lose them. “I don’t think it’s that different, Joey,” he said, kissing Joey between his horns. “I don’t think being a dragon means you can’t grieve for him.”

Joey nodded, breath stuttering. “I loved him. Not like I love you. Not the same. But I did.”

“Yeah.” Travis knew. He could feel the future opening up in front of them, and had no idea what was going to happen. But that was okay. “I love you, Joey. More than anything. And I’m going to stay with you forever.”

It was okay, because he had Joey.

“I love you too, Travis,” Joey promised, holding him tight. “And I’m not ever letting you go.”

It was okay, because they were together.

“We should go,” Travis whispered.

“Yeah.” Joey nodded, pulling back from Travis, taking his hand as they started down the path to anywhere.

It was okay, because the world was big and full of things neither of them had ever seen, and neither of them knew where they were going, but they both knew what mattered.

It was okay, because no matter what happened, they would always have each other.

It was okay.

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