Jacques glanced over at the seat beside him, smiling a bit to himself when he saw that Amber was still sound asleep, her head resting against the protective forcefield that lined the inner side of the window. She looked much younger than she normally did, more like the barely-20-year-old girl that she was rather than the 50-year-old that she usually acted like.
Her dark hair was coming loose from its tight braids, flying around them in the lower gravity of the space bus. There were still some dark circles under her eyes, but they weren't nearly as noticeable as they had been just a few days earlier. She didn't look well-rested, not yet, but it was definitely a step in the right direction.
Vacation suited her. Jacques had known that it would. That's why he had pushed so hard to convince her to let him plan a trip just for the two of them.
Both of them needed a break from reality, if only for a little while.
Jacques shifted a bit so that he could look past Amber's sleeping form, his gaze drifting out over the starfield that surrounded them. It was hard to tell time when you were off-planet, but he suspected they were getting close to the station they'd be staying at for the next two weeks. It was supposed to be an eight-hour trip after all, and it had to be getting close to that since he could feel the slight twinge in his chest that meant it was almost time to take off his binder.
A chime suddenly filled the cabin, followed a moment later by the slightly robotic voice of the ship's support AI. "We will arrive at the station within ten standard minutes. All guests should begin preparations for deboarding."
Amber stirred for the first time in hours, her dark eyes blinking open. "Did you say something?" she asked sleepily.
Jacques smiled. "Nope," he said. He waited for several seconds, letting her eyes drift closed again before adding: "but the bus 'bot did. They said we're ten minutes out."
Her eyes shot back open, and she reached over to swat his shoulder as she straightened up. "You're a brat," she said. "I don't know why I put up with you."
"Because you love me," Jacques said with a grin. "I'm your favorite brother."
Amber rolled her eyes. "You do realize that we're not related, right?" she pointed out dryly. "Growing up together in the Home doesn't actually make us siblings."
Jacques shrugged. "Fine," he said, "I'm your favorite almost-brother."
She opened her mouth. Then she sighed and closed it, clearly giving up the argument as a lost cause. It wasn't the first or the last time they'd had that particular one, and she was getting better at cutting her losses. "I hate you."
He just grinned. "You mispronounced 'love' there, Amber."
The corners of her mouth twitched upwards a bit, and he counted that as a win. She didn't smile nearly enough nowadays, not since the two of them had aged out of the Home and been thrown headfirst into the galaxy at large to find their way. Anything to make her come close to lightening up was better than nothing.
"What do you want to do first once we get to the station?" Amber asked, blatantly changing the subject. She wasn't even being subtle about it. "Rooms, food, and crashing early?"
Jacques's grin grew a bit wider, but he simply nodded. "That sounds like a plan to me," he agreed. He made a bit show of snapping his fingers, like he had just realized something important. "But maybe we should check the schedule to see if anything interesting will be passing by tonight before heading straight to bed? Just in case?"
Amber's eyebrows rose, and a suspicious look instantly appeared on her face. She knew him too well.
"What?" he asked a bit defensively. "I'm not saying we should stay up all night or anything. But what if something really cool will be passing by that we'll regret missing?"
"We've been sitting on a bus the entire day," Amber said dryly. "Nothing could be that cool."
Jacques shrugged. "Maybe," he agreed. "Maybe not. It wouldn't hurt to check, would it?"
She narrowed her eyes. "You're up to something."
"Me?" he asked innocently. "What would possibly give you that idea?"
"Knowing you my entire life," she shot back.
Jacques laughed. "Just trust me for once," he said. "It will be worth it. I promise."
Jacques smiled as he bumped his shoulder against Amber's, drawing her attention away from the view for a moment and back towards him. "I told you that you'd like it," he said lightly.
Amber narrowed her eyes. "How long have you been planning this?" she asked suspiciously. "And lose the innocent look. I'm not buying it."
He laughed, shaking his head in amusement.
She punched him in the arm. Hard.
"Hey, that almost hurt!" Jacques said teasingly. "Good job, sis."
Amber glared at him. "Don't call me that. And answer the question."
He waggled his eyebrows at her. Her glare turned icy.
This time, her punch really did hurt. Not that he'd admit it out loud.
"Fine, fine," Jacques admitted. "I may have looked into a few things before making our reservations. Just a couple."
Amber opened her mouth to say something – probably an insult of some kind, knowing her – but he cut her off by suddenly shoving his arm past her face and pointed upwards.
"Hey, look at that!"
She kept her gaze focused on him, or at least she did the best she could considering he was practically waving his arm in her face. "One of these days, all of your little secrets are going to come back to bite you in the ass," she said. "You know that, right?"
Jacques rolled his eyes before reaching over to physically turn her head back towards the viewing area with his hand. "Maybe," he agreed, "but seriously look at that."
The annoyed sigh that Amber was in the process of making turned into an awed gasp as she let him gently manhandle her gaze back towards the comet they'd been watching. In the distance, it was just skimming past the red giant looming over everything else.
Jacques felt his breath catch in his throat at the sight. Even though the more scientific side of him knew that it was just a comet, nothing but a mixture of ice and dust coming together eons ago, the more fanciful part of his brain couldn't deny the fact that its shape was reminiscent of one of the dragons from ancient Earth stories just like the advertisements had said
It almost looked like it was shooting flames from its mouth thanks to the dim light coming off the dying sun. Its tails shone like beacons behind it, giving the impression of wings.
All in all, it was a fairly stunning sight.
Amber's hand slipped into his. She didn't look at him, but he could practically see some of her tension fading away as she leaned against his arm.
"I told you that you'd like it," Jacques said softly.
She still didn't turn towards him, but he could hear the smile in her reply. "Yeah, yeah. You were right." There was a short pause. "I guess it has to happen once every year or five."
Jacques let out a quiet chuckle but didn't rise to the bait. He just tightened his grip on her hand and focused on the warmth of her leaning against him.
Ahead of them, the comet – the dragon – flew onward on its journey.