For most, the sight of Takita sneaking around the ship wearing her goggles and wielding a butterfly net would be a cause for concern, since the last such incident involved Gibbs getting bitten by an angry dragon.
For Mika, though, it was a tantalizing possibility that another tiny dragon was on board the ship, and he remembered just how delectable the last one had been once Yoshi had gotten his hands on it.
He was practically drooling already at the thought—
Mika wiped his mouth. Yeah, he was drooling. Just a little.
Gibbs was yelling for him to get to the deck, though, and he could smell the strong taste of a big dragon on the wind, so Mika gave up his brief notion to chase after Takita and whatever delicious thing she might be hunting and went to help with the certain notion that he could eat something soon.
Sometimes, Mika dreamed he was flying.
The freedom, the rush, of leaping from the deck and soaring through the air to land on the back of a dragon, the clip and the rope all that stood between him and an endless plummet to the ground fathoms below.
When he dreamed, though, there was no rope, no clip. Just Mika, the wind, and the steady beat of a heart that wasn’t his.
Sometimes after those dreams he woke up with a lightness to his chest that he couldn’t explain.
Today he awoke with a weight on his chest instead.
For a moment he couldn’t breathe, like the time the dragon in Quon had knocked him to the ground and forced the air from his lungs, and Mika rolled onto his side, coughing out all the air before breathing back in, and the weight was gone.
However, the weight was now sitting on the floor beside his bunk, staring back at him with huge inhuman eyes.
It squeaked, and screeched, flailing gangly limbs to get back to its paws and race out the cracked door to the room when he leapt out of bed in a flurry of blankets to lunge for it.
“Come back!” he called, stumbling out into the hall and seeing its long, sinewy tail vanish around the corner. “I just want to eat you!”
“Mika, what the hell are you doing?” said Giraud, passing him in the hall. “You slept right through breakfast, it’s late.”
Mika’s stomach growled, and he heaved a sigh.
He really wanted to eat that tiny dragon.
The Quin Zaza groaned, listing to the side away from the dragon’s attack, and Takita’s entire body slammed into Mika’s, sending them both tumbling off of the bridge.
Takita screamed, the sound whipped away from his ears by the wind, and her scream cut off when they were jerked to an abrupt halt by the line at Mika’s waist. At least she didn’t start screaming again when they inevitably began sliding with increased speed down the line toward the dragon, since Mika had clipped his rope with the intention of landing on it, not with the intention of taking Takita down with him.
“Shit,” he hissed, his knee hitting the dragon’s spine and knocking him onto his side on the massive plate armor of its back, and Takita yelped when he tightened his already iron grip on her so she wouldn’t fall. “Clip your line, Takita!”
Takita’s reply was lost in the piercing shriek of the dragon, but she twisted in his arms, stretching over Mika’s shoulder, and he felt the tension of another clip on the line. Good girl.
Just in time, too, as the dragon rolled, flinging itself away from the ship, and suddenly there was nothing solid under their feet and Takita was ripped from his grasp.
Mika was flying again, for just a moment, before his belt jerked as his line lost all its slack, and he had a brief moment to take in the sight of the dragon’s long pinnas spreading across his vision before he slammed into them.
Mika blinked blood from his eyes, briefly relieved he wasn’t blinded, and with some confusion noted that he wasn’t moving. The rope at his belt was slack, and there were rocks digging into his back, grass under his fingers when he flexed them.
The world stank of dragon, and he couldn’t tell if it was the dragon blood that had splattered on him, or if there was one nearby.
He was so hungry.
Mika blinked again, and the sky overhead had changed from pale blue to greying clouds. He hadn’t moved, so the clouds had.
Mika pushed himself up to sit, hands braced in the dirt to keep himself from oozing right back down to the ground, and let out a groan. Movement had just made every part of him ache worse.
Also, he was alone.
There was no dragon.
Just the stretch of fields and hills and the craggy rocks of the ravines he vaguely remembered the Quin Zaza drifting over before Giraud had spotted their quarry.
No Quin Zaza in sight, though.
Mika sniffed deeply. Still smelled like dragon.
Mika turned his head, blinking fast to get blood out of his eyes. “Dragon,” he said, because there was a dragon standing in the grass a scant few feet away from him.
Not a very big dragon, only a little bigger than a street cat, with a long, sweeping tail and soft pinna radiating from its skull like cat ears.
“You look tasty,” said Mika, but when he went to stand, the world spun, and he sat down again with a thump. The dragon was still watching him when he opened his eyes again, closer this time, its little face a few scant inches from his own. “I’m gonna eat you.”
“Mrrp,” said the dragon, and licked his face, the long, thin tongue sweeping across his skin lightning fast.
“No, I’m gonna eat you,” said Mika, pushing the dragon away with one hand. “Not the other way around.”
“Mrrrrr-puh.” The dragon’s tongue flicked out, quick as a snake’s, and vanished back into its pointed snout.
“You’re not Takita, right?” he muttered, and the dragon sneezed, darting backwards on spindly legs as he pushed himself up again. Maybe if he had a snack, he’d feel better, but he had no snacks, just his useless line and—
His lance. It was sticking at an angle out of the dirt, a few yards away, and Mika supposed he should be grateful it hadn’t stabbed him or something in the fall.
It hadn’t stabbed the dragon, either, which was a shame, because while Mika had the energy to shamble to his feet and fetch the lance, flipping it so he could use it for a walking stick to lean on, he did not have the energy to chase down the little dragon who was zooming in circles around him like it was a sheepdog and he was the sheep.
“You’re the sheep,” he grumbled. “Would make a nice lamb stew.” The dragon went mrrrrp and flicked its tail. “Maybe half a stew.”
Wasn’t a very big dragon, after all.
“Meep!” squeaked the dragon as Mika took a step away, and when he took another, and it skittered after him, whipping between his boots and darting ahead.
“Don’t trip me, damn you,” he said, and only got a — rather amused-sounding — mreeep! in response. “Whatever,” he grumbled, leaning on his lance as he took another step. “I’ll eat you when we get back to the ship.”
Mika did not get back to the ship.
Instead, he stepped through long saw grass for about ten minutes before the ground sank from under his feet, and he slid down a sandy dune right onto the soft white sand of a beach.
Mika glowered up at the sky — so blue, so out of reach — and groaned when the little dragon jumped up onto his chest, sitting there with sandy little paws and more sand on its snout.
“Really?” he said, and the dragon tipped its head, almost questioningly. “You’re kinda heavy.”
Sorta familiar kind of heavy.
“Hey,” said Mika, and the dragon lifted its head from nosing at his jacket. “You were sleeping on me, weren’t you? On the ship?”
“Mrrrrrp!” The dragon’s long neck uncoiled, and the snout bumped gently against his nose, scales silky soft for the brief instant it touched him. “Mrrp meep.”
And it leapt off his chest, spraying sand onto him as it scrambled along, skinny limbs flailing, giving him a chance to get up and brush some of the sand and mud from himself.
His fingers came back sticky, dark and red, when he lifted them from his side.
“Mreep! Mreep!” called the dragon, and Mika snagged his lance from the long grass, limping after the dragon. The little creature was darting along the water’s edge, leaving tiny tracks in the soft mud that were swiftly buffed away by the light waves. “Mrrrrrp?”
Mika swiped the back of his hand across his face. He couldn’t tell if there was fresh blood on the cloth when he lowered it, or if it was what he’d previously rubbed there.
He squinted up at the sky.
Still no sign of the Quin Zaza. And not enough clouds for her to be hidden behind, so where was the ship?
He hoped Takita was okay.
She’d clipped her line, so she should be, but—
His line had been clipped, and here he was, stuck on the ground.
With a dragon that wouldn’t let him eat it.
He really hoped Takita was okay.
Mika stayed on the beach. The water was salty, useless for drinking, and it stung when he splashed some to his face, but the sting faded and he could see clearly again, so it didn’t seem too bad. His stomach growled on occasion, which seemed to amuse the tiny dragon more than alarm it, and the thing even had the audacity to curl up in the sand next to Mika’s outstretched leg and start to snore, wheezing, wispish little sounds.
“You’re still gonna be dinner,” he said, but he didn’t bother trying to grab it, and the dragon just snorted in its sleep and rolled over onto its back, tiny paws sticking up in the air and tongue lolling out of its mouth.
The sun was setting, and he was hungry, and—
The dragon’s head snapped up, its body twisting with serpentine grace to put the dragon back on its feet.
“Hey, Mika! Mika, can you heeeeeeear meeeeeeeeeee?”
Mika turned, his side twinging painfully at the movement, and the dragon went mreep! mreep! mreep! excitedly.
Hanging over the rail of the Quin Zaza, nearly enough to topple right over the side of the ship, her braids whipping in the wind.
She was okay.
“Miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiikaaaaaa!” she called, cupping her hands around her mouth to shout louder, and his name on the wind was still thin and distant. “Mika, hey!”
Mika lifted a hand to wave, and grinned when he saw Vannie yank on Takita’s coat, pulling her back from the rail, the blond’s mouth moving in what was likely a reprimand for Takita being reckless.
He didn’t realize he was grinning until his lip stung, the skin pulling where it was split, and he pressed at it gingerly, watching the Quin Zaza drift closer as more of the crew joined Takita and Vanabelle on the deck.
“Hey,” he called back, half in jest, knowing there was no way his voice would carry that distance as it was. Takita was still shouting his name, though, echoed by what sounded like Niko, and perhaps Gibbs, and Mika dug his lance into the sand and pulled himself up.
Mika swayed, the beach swimming like drifting clouds under his feet, and he leaned heavily on the lance for a long moment before he could lift his head.
Takita’s voice again, cutting through the wind, high and sweet.
Someone should really get her a bullhorn.
Maybe he could find one for her at the next city they docked at.
The Quin Zaza was close, then, the air currents from her underbelly shifting the sands at his feet and tossing his dirty hair into his eyes, and something was dragging across the sand, long and thin.
“Grab the line, dumbass!” shouted Gibbs, and summarily got yanked back from falling over the railing by Vannie. “Mika, grab the damned line!”
Mika reached out, his fingertips brushing the smooth rope as it crossed in front of him, and had to reach again to snag it before it was dragged beyond his immediate reach. It sprang taut under his hand in a matter of moments, and he stumbled, nearly toppling into the sand.
“Mika!” called Takita. She sounded so close, now that she was, and Mika tugged the loose end of the line up and wrapped it around his waist, cinching it to his clip, and raised a thumb’s-up toward the ship. “He’s good, let’s get him up here! Hurry!”
The world shifted again, or maybe it was him — it was probably him — and Mika’s feet lifted from the sand. The sudden moment of weightless caught him breathless, gripping the line above him and leaning back in an attempt to remain balanced.
Mika looked down, wobbling at the end of the line, and saw the little dragon running across the sand beneath him, spindly limbs outstretched as it raced to keep up, moving in long leaps that were not nearly enough to launch its body close enough to reach him, especially with someone yanking him up toward the ship foot by foot.
Mika tilted his head back, looking up at the ship.
“Wait,” he called, and it was Takita’s face he saw over the rail, her violet eyes wide. “Wait, stop.”
The rope stopped, and Mika dropped the lance, the wooden rod slipping from his fingers as he leaned down and reached instead.
“C’mere,” he said, and the tiny dragon shrieked, springing from the ground to sink its claws into the looser fabric of his sleeve. Mika jerked his arm up, and the dragon collided snout first into his chest.
“MrreEEP,” squeaked the dragon, scrambling with tiny, scratching claws to press itself against his chest, and Mika curled his arm around its body, hugging it close, and looked up.
“All good,” he said, or tried to, but his voice wouldn’t come, his throat too raw from his shout.
Takita saw him, though. She saw him, and saw his grin, and she nodded in response as if that was enough to communicate that he was ready to be back on the fucking ship where he belonged, and the rope started jerking him upwards again as the Quin Zaza lifted up and away from the beach.
Mika didn’t bother to look down.
Why should he, when all he loved was up above him?
“Mrrp, mrrp, mrrp,” said the dragon, right next to his ear, right before Gibbs’ and Niko’s hands grabbed him by the shoulders and hauled him up onto the deck. “Meep!”
“Oof,” said Mika, because strong arms wrapped around his middle in a tight hug that his side didn’t really appreciate.
It was nice to lean into someone warm, though, the smells of dragon oil and crew and home strong in his nose.
“Hey, Vannie,” he murmured, eyes slipping closed.
She might have said his name, but after that, he didn’t remember.
The weight was on his chest again when he woke, and a soft mrrrrp? questioned his decision to try and sit up, and Mika questioned that decision when his entire body insisted on informing him how stupid of an idea it was.
“That’s not a good idea, Mika,” said a voice, and for a split second Mika thought the dragon had spoken, but then Vannie’s face moved into view, her face impassive. “Would you mind telling your new friend to move so we can finish stitching up your side?”
Oh, she was upset, then.
Mika squinted up at her, then looked cross-eyed down his nose. “Heyyy,” he slurred, and the tiny dragon lifted its head, the ear-like pinna on its skull radiating out like a fan. “Scoot, dinner.”
The dragon blinked its many tiny eyes at him. “Mrrreep?”
“Scoot,” he said again, lifting a hand to bat rather uselessly at the dragon. It took the hint, though, and oozed down his side to trap his arm to the pallet instead of resting on his chest, curling its head to rest on his shoulder with its cool breath puffing against his neck. “Fine.”
“Hold still,” said Vannie, and the warmth pressed to his side lifted away, and that was Mika’s only warning before she peeled back his shirt, and the fabric tugged on his torn skin.
“Ow,” muttered Mika, but he held still enough while Vannie cleaned away the blood, turning his head to better see what she was doing.
There was Takita, seated on the bunk across from his, face set with determination and worry as she handed Vannie whatever items she asked for from the med kit spread out on the bunk next to her. There was a long, thin scrape across her cheek, red and fresh.
“You’re okay?” he said, and her gaze met his, just as Vannie slid the needle into his skin, and he winced. “Takita?”
“Hold still, Mika,” said Vannie, an absent sort of sternness in her tone. Her hands were steady, and relentless, pinching his skin and stabbing with that damned needle, the slide of the thread an uncomfortable sensation he wasn’t particularly fond of just then.
He looked at Takita, waiting for an answer, and she stared back at him, silent.
Takita sniffed, long and deep, and her bright eyes welled up with tears. “You idiot!” she said, her voice a little too loud, a little too strained. “You need to be more careful!”
“All done,” said Vannie quietly, pressing a bandage to his side and lifting her bloodied fingers as she straightened. “Do try not to undo my hard work, Mika.” And she left the room, the door swinging shut behind her.
Mika dragged his gaze from the closing door to the sudden movement at the corner of his vision, and blinked as Takita sat down on the bunk at his side, twisting around to glare at him as she wiped her eyes on her sleeve. It was already dark with streaks that he had a feeling weren’t just her tears and snot, and his side throbbed. “You’re okay?” he said again—
—and sucked in a sharp breath, wheezing out a laugh when she punched him in the shoulder. Not hard, but enough to make her point known.
“You’re an idiot,” she said. “I’m fine, you’re the one we almost— we almost lost.”
“You didn’t lose me,” he said, and she wiped her eyes again, dragging her sleeve across her face to wipe her nose, as well, and she froze when he lifted a hand to touch her face, just under the long scratch on her cheek. “What happened here?”
“I— it was just— from when you fell,” she said quietly, and Mika lowered his hand, too tired to keep it aloft, and her hand followed his down to settle over his, fingers curling gently around his hand and gently squeezing. “You fell, and I— I couldn’t see where you went, and you were gone, and the dragon nearly got away—”
“It nearly what,” said Mika, moving to sit up, and grunted in annoyance when the dragon scampered back onto his chest, its tiny claws digging into his collarbone until he slumped back down. “We lost it?”
Takita made a face. “We got it,” she said, and he heaved a sigh of relief, “but we could’ve lost you.”
“You didn’t,” said Mika, and he turned his hand under hers so he could squeeze it back. “I knew you’d come back for me.”
“Of course.” Mika closed his eyes for a moment. He wished he wasn’t so tired, he wanted to go see Yoshi in the galley and see what had been cooked up from the fresh dragon. “I’m not going anywhere, Takita.”
Her grip on his hand tightened, just a little. “Don’t be so reckless, then.”
“Mrrrrrrp?” said the little dragon, raising its head at her rising voice, and she blinked.
“I know you!” she said. “You’re the one that’s been creeping around the ship!”
“That’s dinner,” said Mika.
“Dinner?! You’re gonna eat him?”
Mika squinted at the little dragon, who tilted its head at him, pinna spread flat and calm around its face. “We’ll see,” he said, and the dragon went mrrrrrrp in a far too pleased fashion. “It would make a nice stew.”
He grinned, letting his eyes slide shut again.
The Quin Zaza was at home in the sky, just as the dragons were. Flying was home.
And there, in the belly of the ship, with Takita’s hand in his, and Dinner’s lithe body an almost comforting weight on his chest, well—
Sure felt like home to him.