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Come Slowly

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After the feast, long past dusk, the lanterns were put out and the dragon guests cast illusions. They used the night sky as if it were a puppeteer's screen, spreading the shapes of stories across it. Heroes and sages dodged between the stars or blotted them out, sometimes seeming in another world, sometimes looking as if they stood only an arm's length away.

Thorn sat on a silk cushion and let his head roll back against Shimmer's chest, looking up and up along the line of her arched neck to watch. Sometimes, her great head blocked part of the story, but he liked that. Seeing her made him soft and mild with joy, fuzzy with it as he could no longer be fuzzy with wine. She was so warm, and he could feel her, sliding sharp scales an almost threat against the bare skin at the nape of his neck. He knew they wouldn't cut if he was careful, but he could feel them, could move and hear the scrape.

A flash of moonlight on her claws caught the edge of his vision and he looked down, saw them moving in the small gestures of a spell. It stopped his breath for a long moment; he looked up to watch.

Later, when Indigo had left them to chase and be chased over the Inland Sea, her distinctive colors lost in silver, Shimmer shifted. Thorn let himself slide so he lay half along her forearm, his cheek pressed to her skin. He felt himself give, yielding to her tough muscle, and marveled again at the Old Boy's wisdom, felt that quiet swell of awe and gratitude that it had been used for him. Shimmer lowered her head, twisting her neck to meet his eyes.

He smiled at her. “The last story was mine,” she said.

“It was beautiful,” he said.

“It was my mother's favorite,” she told him, in a low murmur that hummed in his bones and his lungs. “I wanted you to see it. I did it for you,” she added in a harsh rush.

“Thank you,” Thorn said, and rolled to his feet, off the cushion so that he was barefoot in miraculous flowers, reaching up to Shimmer. She dipped her head further and let him touch her jaw. Shimmer was working so hard to learn to work her own magic without her mother's pearl. She hated anyone to see her at it. She wanted to be perfect. While she learned she made mistakes. But she had shown this to everyone, because she wanted to show everyone that she valued him. He pressed his forehead to her cheek briefly, in something almost like a kiss.

Someone lit a lantern. The light glowed on Shimmer's skin. Thorn dropped back to his heels and let his hand slide down, towards his chest, away from Shimmer. She followed for an instant, then stilled.

They stood together, not quite touching, as Lady Francolin called for more wine.