It was late by the time they returned to Gail's home, nearing dawn, and they had Her Majesty's coach drop them off at the end of the road so none of the neighbors would wake up and make a fuss about the noise. It was a good night to take a walk with a few close friends, warm enough, and the crickets chattering, and the bright-eyed stars. Probably a good night to lay around and look at the sky, but Gail's property was a biohazard and everyone was still a little traumatized about the roof.
Hue was probably the happiest out of all of them tonight (maybe the happiest they'd ever seen her), cradling several bouquets to her chest careful and sweet like you would a sleeping toddler, and the energy of her satisfaction hummed pleasantly around her friends—an effect of her Bardship, or maybe just an effect of her being Hue.
Not to say, of course, that the rest of gang didn't possess their own happiness. Sure, there had been a few close calls, health-wise, and some real mean ghosts (and one nice one, and one kind of in the middle one who had told Hue to find her under the username Ohfeelyawinkemoji at PhantomsOnly.com), but all in all no one they liked had died, and everyone did a good job, and Her Royal Highness Princess Itotia was as safe as possible in her guest quarters in the Queen's castle. Everyone was in high spirits as Gail picked the lock of her front door (she claimed it would take too long to find the spare keys on Bug's "Team Mom janitor lanyard") and filed in, Bug rushing immediately upstairs to check on The Baby, and the other three making their way to the kitchen.
"I know it's a little early in the day to drink," said Gail who was pretending that had ever stopped her before, "but we deserve to celebrate and I have the perfect vintage for it somewhere in my wine cellar. That's what I call every cupboard in this room."
"Noted," said Yolanda. She had settled at the round kitchen table across from Hue (who was carefully laying out her flowers), feet propped in an empty chair, and had taken out a book of matches. "Hey, you know what, guys? I hope Totia ("Are we calling her Totia now?") doesn't get murdered in her sleep tonight while we're not there to protect her."
"She's too hot and intimidating to die."
"Yeah, it might be genuinely impossible for her to die." Gail was now on her hands and knees, ribs-deep in the cupboard under the wash basin.
"I guess that tracks," Yola acknowledged. "I also hope we all don't go to jail for treason. It's been a really plot-heavy day." There was a quiet, muffled thud in the cupboard, followed by a much louder but equally muffled swear.
"You need a light in there?" Yolanda tossed her match book at Gail's legs, now the only part of her left in the kitchen. On the second floor, Bug's distinctive footsteps moved away from the bathroom and started down the stairs.
Gail twisted around and looked out at them through her arms. Some sludgy, rust-colored matter was smeared on her blouse. "I'll be fine. I can recognize the brand from the subtle contours of the bottle."
"That's so worrying, Gail," Hue said. "I am so worried. I'm pulling this off, right?" She had untied one of the long, golden ribbons from a bouquet of Ring of Fire sunflowers and wound it in a crossing pattern around one of her horns. Gail and Yola both appraised it for a beat from their respective seats, tilting their heads in unison.
"Good," said Gail decisively.
Yolanda nodded. "You're like the Itotia of this kitchen."
Bug entered the kitchen, then, with his armor off and sleeves rolled up over his elbows, wringing a damp tea towel nervously in his hands.
"Hey, bud!" Yola grinned. "Glad you finally joined us, Gail's giving us the middle-aged woman wine hookup."
He shot her a rushed, panicked smile. "That's real nice, uh—hm. You know what. You guys know the uh, you guys know the egg?"
Yolanda's grin dropped. Gail raised her eyebrows. Hue slowly lowered the flowers she had just untied another ribbon from and looked up at him.
"Yeah! The dragon turtle—?"
"We're very familiar with the egg, Bug," Gail said. "Please tell me it's not gone.
"No! Oh, god no." He looked relieved for a second, laughing. "It's there, it's just—I think it might be. Hatching?"
Gail and Hue exchanged a look, and then Hue and Yolanda, and then Yolanda and Gail, and they all stood abruptly and rushed past Bug, fighting to get up the stairs first.
"Oh my god," Gail said the second they reached the hallway, stopping dead. A screwdriver laid on the ground, as well as the door to the hallway entrance, which Bug had apparently elected to work around without a key or lockpick. "How much more of you people can my house take."
"Oh my god," said Yola a second later, looking down into the tub of water the egg was cradled in. "Hey guys? Bug is definitely right."
Hue and Gail moved into the room, followed by Bug, still clutching the tea towel. The bathtub was the kind of elegant, claw-footed beast you expected Gail to own until you walked into her living room. It was filled nearly to the brim, and spilling over onto a small mountain of more tea towels as the giant egg quivered.
"I guess this answers the question of if we're wishing on the egg or not," Hue remarked after a beat.
"Maybe we can wish on the shell pieces...?" Yolanda's eyes were glued to the tub.
"Where did you find all these towels?" asked Gail.
Bug was gazing at the egg with big, watery eyes, and a proud smile. "I washed them last night," he sniffed.
"Sorry, you did laundry before or after I was almost murdered by a goat and everyone was too 'sleeping' to tend to my every dying wish?" Hue demanded, turning to face him.
"Uh." Bug glanced over at her and smiled nervously, and then turned back to the egg and moved closer to kneel beside it. "I don't want to answer that question!"
Hue rolled her eyes, but moved behind him and Yola to watch, and Gail followed suit. Tiny hairline cracks were gradually forming on the shell's dark surface in spiralling patterns, and the water looked less like bathwater and more like oddly clear, frothing, miniature ocean waves. The team stood in heavy silence as the egg worked its way open, and the sun worked its way into the sky. They were all aware that there was more danger to their situation now that the egg the Queen wanted no longer existed, now that they had a whole dragon to smuggle around instead of an inanimate object, but the moment they lived in felt more important than any punishment Her Majesty might have for them should they be discovered.
At long last (though in truth it couldn't have been more than half an hour), the spirals seemed to cover the whole of the shell, and with a bathtub tsunami of a shake, a small hole broke in the center of a large spiral on the egg's side. They saw a tiny turquoise point for a moment, and then nothing, and then more of the point, more, until it was a long, beakish snout, and a head, and clawed flippers, and then the whole egg was falling to pieces around a vibrant little thing, no bigger than Bug's boot, with a dark green shell marked with swirling pale green spirals, and (what Bug would later in the day dub) freckles, the color of healthy orange coral.
"God," Hue breathed, and the silence was broken like a spell on a good wisdom save. Bug snapped out of something (and he was crying, of course, but he didn't need to be zoned in for that), and immediately, gently reached his left hand forward into the water, towards the baby dragon turtle who looked curiously up at him—and then slapped his right hand over his mouth to muffle a shocked sob.
"Bug?" Yolanda dropped to her knees next to him. "Do I need to heal something? Are you okay?"
At her last question he nodded forcefully, though he didn't remove his hand from his mouth. Gail looked at him, and then into the tub, and then to the left, somewhere in her memory. "Is it safe to touch the water, Bug? Is it showing something again?" she asked, cutting off Yola's worried rambling. He nodded again, even more forcefully this time, and Gail immediately squatted beside the tub and dropped a hand in, followed after a beat by Yolanda and Hue, and this is what they felt:
It's me, the moving, the instinct, and I am the ocean, and I love you, little one. You can hear me even if you haven't been near me since you were very young, and you can smell me even if you never have before, because you smell like salt and time like me, dear heart, you are mine and I am the ocean, come home, come home, I am home and I am in you and I love you. Little one, did you know that I am beautiful? You look just like me.
The thoughts in the dragon turtle's head echoed into theirs, the overwhelming newborn feeling, in an endless stream. Gail withdrew her hand first and shakily lowered herself fully to the ground, back to the wall, hands to her forehead. A little later Hue slowly pushed herself to a standing position, then touched Yola's shoulder for her attention, gestured towards Bug. Yola nodded and, seemingly reluctantly, pulled her hands from the water and gently pulled Bug's arm to rest on the edge of the tub.
They sat quietly for several more minutes as Bug's sobs petered off. Gail hadn't moved a muscle, and Hue had moved to sit on the counter by the window. Yolanda gave Bug's back a soothing pat, and then finally said, "So what was that goo?"
Hue snorted. Gail looked up through her fingers. "Egg whites?"
"Gross," Yolanda decided, but Hue seemed to consider Gail's words. She laid two fingers against her jaw, tilted her head as she appraised the tub.
"...soufflé," she suggested.
"Gross!" Yolanda emphasized. "However! It would probably be great for your hair."
"Deep conditioning, " Bug agreed in a daze. He hadn't moved from his spot on the floor, or moved his eye from the baby dragon turtle (now swimming in happy circles) at all, and his eyes might have actually changed in shape to hearts.
"So, names," Hue said. She had apparently brought the second ribbon upstairs eith her, and was wrapping it around her second horn now. "I'm thinking she's a Hue Junior. Hunior, maybe."
"No way, look at him! That's a Dopelanda: the SEAquel if I ever saw one."
They both looked at Gail, who scoffed. "Gail is my name, I'm not giving it to the thing. You have to earn Gail."
"What about naming them Norbert?" Bug suggested quietly.
"Might be too hamfisted of a literary reference on the author's part," said Hue, "considering your beard and stature."
"Hue what does that mean!"
"Don't worry about it, Yo. What if we named her after Itotia?"
"Is that racist?" Gail asked. "Is that dragon racist, maybe?"
"Eh, she'd probably be like, distantly flattered," Yola said dismissively. "Or at least distant. Hey, what if to avoid being executed or whatever, we sent the dragon turtle home with the princess?"
Bug swung around to look at her fully. "Worms!" His eyes were desperate.
"Don't they make potions for that, for pets?" Gail asked.
"Listen," Hue cut off whatever that was going to be. "We don't have to figure this out immediately, just soon. It's been a really long two days, and I don't know about you guys, but I gave the performance of a lifetime last night and I'm pooped. Let's sleep on it, okay? " She hopped down from the counter. "We can figure out what she eats and what to name her and do with her tomorrow. She'll be safe in here with us sleeping on either side of the room."
"Yeah." Gail pushed up from the wall. "I'll go to bed too. You guys try not to damage my roof again."
"That was a goat!" Yolanda called after her. "But yeah, okay. You coming, Bug?"
He had turned back to the tub and his eyes were welling up again. "I want to stay with them a little longer."
"And then you'll go to sleep?" she pressed. He nodded. "In a bed, not on the floor?" A pause, and then he nodded again. "Good." She smiled and ruffled his hair. "Love ya buddy, goodnight. Don't stay up too late."
She left through the same door as Hue, and Bug listened to the distant sounds of his friends getting ready for bed, their familiar nighttime rituals and conversation, Gail grumping about needing a heavy duty sleep mask to counter the sun.
He smiled to himself, or to himself and the baby, and dipped his hand back into the water to let them bump against his fingers. His dream journal still sat in the corner from yesterday morning, but for now, he was happy without it, happy to sit with the love in his heart and the ocean whispering from far away, Welcome to the world, welcome home, welcome home.