Warnings/: Brooding and mentions of lots of 'mythical' creatures?

Disclaimer/: Don't own Zhane, Karone, D.E.C.A., or the Power Rangers, but I did come up with the Obsidian Market and Carlos' MiniDragon. Please ask before using.

Author's Notes/: Tragedy: I have many pictures of women, I have pictures of unicorns, but somehow, unfathomably, I do not have any pictures of women *with* unicorns. Well, technically I have two. But they're not particularly *good* pictures of women with unicorns. This situation must be rectified as soon as possible.

Ironically, I do have fantastic pictures of a *boy* with a unicorn. (Thank you, Chronicles of Narnia. )

All people of any artistic skill whatsoever are both welcome and encouraged to draw any scene in this story. In exchange, I will sing your praises and tell tales of your awesomeness.

A Dragon for Carlos

He was halfway to the Glider Bay before he finally realized that he was missing something.

Money, clothes, plan, transportation ... Zhane frowned to himself. What am I forgetting? Then he paused as the answer finally came to him.

I am such an idiot.

"D.E.C.A.," he asked, glancing up at the camera above him. "Where's Karone?"

"Karone is currently on the Observation Deck," D.E.C.A. informed him promptly.

He sighed. "Thanks."

Karone, he was discovering, was a great deal like her brother in many ways. They shared the same temper, a few facial expressions - namely The Glare (an expression that required capital letters), an overdeveloped sense of guilt, and most annoyingly, a tendency to brood. He found it rather ironic that the things he hated most in Andros were the ones he often dealt with in Karone.

There were other things they had in common, even if neither one had noticed yet. They were both fiercely protective, but showed it in different ways. They were incredibly intelligent as well, though Andros tended to use his for mechanics and battle strategy while Karone had the better understanding of people and their motives, as well as magic in general. Also ironically, they were both amazing fighters - namely from routinely fighting against each other, but everyone tried not to think about that so much.

Both had a tendency to cuddle in their sleep, but while Andros knew Karone cuddled and she knew he did, neither knew they did it themselves. (Coincidentally, they both thought it was adorable.) They had a vulnerability they tried to hide that was painful to watch at times, and were suspicious of being hurt by the people around them. They adored Ashley.

Well, everyone adored Ashley, really. She was just adorable in general.

Karone also had Andros' tendency to isolate himself when he was upset, a habit that drove Zhane crazy. Having two people who forced him to track them down whenever they were brooding was definitely something he could have lived without. But that's life, as Mother would say.

He smiled sadly to himself as he watched the lights of the megalift, waiting for his floor. Mother would have loved and hated Andros and Karone as much as he did. And Andros would have tried to throw her out an airlock inside a week.

Zhane considered it a personal accomplishment that he'd forced the other teen to put up with him for a nearly a month before they'd had that particular battle.

He wondered what Karone would have thought of his family as the lift doors finally opened.

He knocked once on the door to the observation deck to give her a warning before keying it open. One of the first lessons he'd learned about Karone was that she did *not* like to be surprised. Surprising her - even by accident - usually ended painfully. For him.

Which was another thing she and Andros had in common, actually.

Paranoid freaks, he thought absently, even as he finally caught sight of her sitting beside one of the main windows, staring out at the stars with a distant look on her face. He knew she already knew he was there; in addition to the knock, Karone had an uncanny ability to know when there were other people in the room that was even better than Andros', much to her brother's annoyance. Personally, Zhane thought it was sad.

There were some parts of her life as Astronema that would never fade, no matter how much he wished they could. But then, he wasn't sure Karone was really ready to let go of Astronema just yet. He wasn't sure if she ever would.

"Hey!" he called brightly, ignoring her silence. "You're not busy right?"

After another long moment, she slowly turned to look at him, raising an eyebrow in silent question. Another Andros expression, and he had to fight the grin that threatened.

"I'm going shopping. You should come with me." It was technically a request, but it didn't come out as one. He should probably have worried more about sounding demanding, but he was perfectly willing to drag her off the ship with him - literally, if necessary. She'd been by herself for too long again; he could see it in her eyes.

" ... Why?" she asked finally.

He blinked. "Because it's a chance to get off the Megaship. And a chance to get away from Andros. Plus spending extra time with me, which is always awesome."

The corner of her mouth twitched, so faintly he barely caught it.

"Oh, and a chance to gossip about all the things no one - and by no one, I mean Andros - wants to tell you," he added, flashing her a grin.

She looked faintly amused as she pushed herself to stand. "Do you make it your life's mission to annoy Andros?"

He nodded seriously. "Yes. Absolutely." He paused. "Was it that obvious?"

"Only to anyone with eyes," she said dryly, brushing her hair behind an ear as she joined him, watching him push the button for the megalift.

"Good to know you have eyes then," he returned cheerfully.

She shook her head, but he caught the slight smile she tried to hide and felt pleased.

The silence lingered for a few minutes as the megalift went back down to the Glider Bay. "Why do you always 'rescue' me from being alone?" Karone asked abruptly.

He blinked, glancing at her again. "I don't. I only come to find you when you've been by yourself for too long."

"What makes you think I've spent too much time by myself?"

There was an odd quality to her voice that made him hold in the threatening sigh. Instead he paused, searching for the best way to explain himself without offending her. It was frustrating: he knew his way around Andros and his emotional issues easily, but conversations with Karone were uncharted territory he was still learning to navigate. "I know you need time to yourself to think, and try to work through things," he said eventually. "But after awhile, you get to the point where you're not thinking anymore. You're just ... brooding."

She tilted her head, raising a skeptical eyebrow. "How can you tell?"

"Your eyes. When you're thinking, they're distracted. When you're brooding, they're ... sad. Longing."

The last word was one too far; he could tell the moment he said it. She stiffened slightly, striding out of the opening megalift doors without bothering to wait for him. He closed his eyes, letting out a silent sigh and mentally swearing at himself before he went after her.

"Where are we going?" she asked abruptly.

She still wasn't looking at him, and he took it for what it was: not forgiveness, but she wasn't ignoring him, either. "Shopping."

She shot him an irritated look. "You said that. *Where* are we going shopping?"

He hesitated, because he'd sort of wanted it to be a surprise. "Obsidian Market," he said finally.

This time she actually stopped, turning to look at him with an expression of faint surprise. "I never would have expected a Ranger to shop there," she said after a moment.

Obsidian was the sister planet to Onyx, but while Onyx was 'officially' UAE, Obsidian was neutral territory. Even so, being so close to UAE space meant shopping on Obsidian lead to dealing with a lot of shady characters, and no security. Being neutral also meant that it had one of the biggest intergalactic markets to be found, with vendors from both sides of the war. Shopping Obsidian Market was generally frowned upon by the Alliance, but it was still the best place to search for unusual items, which is why Zhane enjoyed going there.

He shrugged lightly. "What can I say? I'm not your average Ranger."

That got him a soft snort of amusement as she eyed him carefully. "That much I figured out a *long* time ago," she informed him in a tone that reminded him of Astronema.

He couldn't help a slight smile. "Then you're one of the first. Come on, we're taking the MegaWinger."

She paused, frowning a little. "Will there be enough room for both of us?"

"I'll make room," he assured her with a wink.

She rolled her eyes and sighed. "I should change first."

He opened his mouth to tell her he had an extra cloak if she wanted it, but she was already gone. He shrugged, glancing down at his own outfit. Nothing fancy: just brown trousers tucked into tall boots and a loose silver shirt with an unlaced neck. Neutral territory meant he could have worn his Megaship uniform if he was feeling lazy, but it wasn't necessarily a good idea. He wondered idly what Karone would choose to wear as he leaned against the door to the hanger.


He looked up, startled. Karone had chosen an off-the-shoulder purple shirt that hugged her curves and tight black leather pants. She'd clipped her bangs to the side, and she tossed her hair with an expectant look. "Well?"

He couldn't help himself. He whistled. "Very nice."

She smirked.

He hesitated, even as he gave her a second look. "Nice pants."

She'd barely been gone two minutes, at most. With that outfit ... how ... ?

She shrugged, unconcerned. "I like leather."

"*I* like you in leather."

She huffed something that may or may not have been a laugh, swatting him as she headed into the hanger. "Get on the ship."

"Why are you looking for weapons?" Karone asked curiously as they wandered between booths.

"I'm not. We can't teleport directly into the area we're going to, and the weapons district has the nearest teleportation zone to it." He stopped obediently as she paused to examine an archery booth. "You like archery?" he added, surprised. He'd never seen Astronema with any sort of weapon but her wrath staff.

She shrugged a little, drawing one of the bows easily and sighting along her arm with a practiced eye. "It's fun."

He made a mental note to come back as she set the bow down, moving on. "So what's your favorite weapon, then? And how many do you know?"

"I'm best with a staff, but I prefer swords. And I know all weapons."

He eyed her, raising an eyebrow. "*Every* single one?"

She tossed her head. "I know the basics of every type. Bladed, staves, whips, throwing, two-handed, archery ... If I haven't used it, I know enough to teach myself. Ecliptor was very thorough." She paused, and something in her eyes dimmed.

He mentally winced. "I'll believe it when I see it," he said airily, even though he already did.

She glared at him. "And what about you?" she demanded. "How many weapons do you know?"

He shrugged. "All the Astro Ranger weapons. I used to pester my parents and all my uncles and aunt to teach me. I can use any of the others' weapons, and I'm a crackshot with a blaster. I prefer my Silverizer though, 'cause it's a blaster *and* a sword, which is the best of both worlds. I like versatile weapons," he added in afterthought.

She hmmed. "I'll believe it when I see it," she mimicked, and he grinned.

"Ah, here we are!" He brightened as he caught sight of the tunnel entrance to where they were going. A pair of dancing girls had set up a performing area to one side of the tunnel, spinning in circles while another girl played a reed flute and small birds fluttered around the dancers, tweeting happily.

"The creature district?" Karone sounded skeptical.

"Yup." He tossed a small handful of coins into the pot in front of the girls, and they smiled brilliantly at him, twirling around and bowing. He waved absently back, flashing a grin, and shaded his eyes for a moment as they entered the tunnel, squinting into the bright light ahead. "We're finding Carlos a get-well present."

She gave him an odd look. "You're getting him a pet?"

"Sort of. Not exactly."

A loud splash caught his attention. To his right, there was a large tank with a green-skinned man with a fish tail instead of legs swimming around with a bunch of smaller fish. The man paused to wink at them flirtatiously, gesturing to a sign in front of the tank offering fresh fish with a price next to it. Zhane smiled and shook his head politely as they moved on.

"I'm getting him a creature, but it's not meant to be a pet. Carlos will think that's what it is, and I'm going to let him think that because I don't want him to be offended," he explained, pausing to toss a few more coins to the troop of faeri dancing along one of the walls. One of them flew up to kiss his cheek, and he grinned at the tiny winged girl. She blew him a kiss before returning to her company. "He's sensitive about things like that for some reason, especially lately," he finished.

He stopped walking when he realized Karone was staring at him with an odd look on her face. "What?" he asked blankly.

She shook her head slowly, turning to walk on. "Nothing."

He sighed as he followed, shaking his head himself and trying not to picture Andros or make the face Andros would have gotten for staring at him like that without explanation.

"So why did you bring me with you? Why not one of the others?"

"Well, I didn't bring Carlos for obvious reasons," he pointed out, ducking under a long roll of fabric as it went by. "I thought about Cassie, but she's had a lot on her mind lately and I wasn't sure if this would help any. If I'd brought Ashley she would have been picked up by slave traders before we even made it to the creature district."

Karone tilted her head in acknowledgement, nodding once. Ashley may be a Ranger and a good fighter, but she was also beautiful and bubbly. Exactly the type that sold quickly in the dark market.

"T.J.," he went on, stopping in front of a vendor to buy them each a stick of spun sugar, one of his favorite treats, "Is too uptight for shopping in neutral territory. He's almost as bad as Andros about the whole 'good vrs. evil' thing." He rolled his eyes, handing her a stick. "And as for Andros, besides being uptight - " He took a bite, closing his eyes in bliss and savoring the flavor for a moment before swallowing. "He is the worst spy I have ever met. He'd never blend in."

Karone choked on her spun sugar stick, swallowing after a moment and covering her mouth as she giggled.

"He is!" Zhane argued. "Have you ever seen his idea of a disguise? All he does is wear that red cloak Uncle gave him as a present for becoming a Ranger. And even worse, he always *morphs* under it!"

"I know," Karone told him, trying not to smile and failing. "That's how we caught him at the UAE meeting when Dark Spectre announced he'd captured Zordon. He wouldn't take a drink when everyone else did."

Zhane shook his head, exasperated. "I still can't believe he lasted two years on his own," he muttered. He fully believed D.E.C.A. had been constantly watching over him. That, or Andros had some sort of good luck charm he'd never shared with anyone.

He wasn't sure which explanation would have satisfied him better.

He shook his head again to clear his thoughts. "As for why I invited you, two reasons," he continued, pausing for another bite. "First of all, you've been cooped up on the Megaship a lot lately, which is boring and unhealthy, so I figured we could escape together and possibly annoy Andros in the process." Hopefully teaching him a lesson about not locking his sister up to keep her safe at the same time, but that went without saying. "Two, you - " He spun around to avoid someone with a long tail. "Are the sort of person who only trusts people you know. And we don't really know each other yet. So, I was hoping to fix that. And possibly give you someone to talk in the process."

Her expression was oddly blank, her eyes cold. "Why?"

For a moment, he debated the answers he could have given her. At last he sighed, stopping in the middle of the street and turning to face her fully. "Because you hardly ever ask questions. Because you're not comfortable with any of us. Because you never tell anyone what's really on your mind. Because you're never completely honest with us." He shrugged a little. "Because it bothers me. Because I like to help people. Because I like you and I want to know you better."

She stared at him for several moments. Eventually her face seemed to soften just a little. "And how do you know you like me?" she asked finally, but the hostility seemed to have faded from her tone.

He shrugged again. "Because I liked Astronema and you're Astronema," he reminded her bluntly.

Her eyes widened slightly. "You - " There was a pause, and she shook her head. "I don't understand. Why would you ... ?"

He watched her carefully. Sometimes complete honesty worked for him and sometimes it didn't, and Karone was one of the trickiest people to figure out which worked best with her that he'd ever dealt with. "I was interested in you because you were beautiful. I liked you because I realized most of the way you acted was just an act. That there was more under the spoiled evil princess attitude than you let on." He paused, tilting his head as her eyes narrowed. "A lot like me."

She leveled him with an irritated stare. "You do not have a 'spoiled princess attitude'."

He laughed. "I don't know about that. Andros might disagree with you," he said candidly. He grinned even as she glared at him. "I *meant*, that I let people see what they want to when they look at me. But most don't know the real me. I act cheerful and laidback and obnoxious, so that's what everyone thinks I am."

She frowned a little. "But you're not."

He smiled genuinely, pleased she'd noticed. "No. I'm not. And you're one of the handful of people who have actually realized that. Family doesn't count," he added in afterthought.

She paused, finally starting to walk on again. No one had bothered them for standing in the middle of the street so long, but they'd been getting a few irritated looks. "That's the second time I've heard you mention your family. You don't talk about them very often."

He shrugged, following. "Not much to say. They were the first Rangers of KO-35. They passed on their morphers to the Neo-Kerova Rangers. They vanished in the invasion, and I'm pretty sure none of them made it."

She glanced back at him, her expression oddly sympathetic. "I'm sorry."

He managed a half-hearted attempt at a smile. "Don't worry about it. I do need to talk about them. It's just ... going to take me awhile to be able to deal with it, you know?"

She nodded slowly, looking down. "Yes," she said softly. "I know."

He reached out to squeeze her shoulder before he could stop himself. He hesitated briefly. "I know we still don't know each other well enough, but if you need someone to listen, I'm here," he offered.

She glanced at him, but remained silent.

He realized what the problem was almost immediately, and wasn't sure if he was more exasperated or insulted. "I won't tell anyone," he added gently. "Not even Andros."

Karone bit her lip.

Gently he took the empty spun sugar stick from her, tossing both in the garbage. Then he took her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze and walking on in silence as he let her gather her thoughts. Pushing wasn't going to help anything, and as much as he wanted to help her somehow, Karone's issues wasn't the only reason he was here.

He was pleasantly surprised when she allowed him to keep holding her hand while they walked.

A pen of unicorns split off slightly to the right, and he let Karone draw him along with her when she drifted toward them. Unicorns were by nature finicky creatures, and extremely picky about who they liked. Kinwon for instance, who was one of the nicest people he knew, would send a unicorn running in the opposite direction the moment he was within sight of one. But Andros could find himself surrounded by them in an instant.

Well, all animals adored Andros, so that probably wasn't the best example.

So it was a bit of a surprise to find the entire herd coming to greet them, nickering curiously.

Karone was approached almost immediately by a dainty-looking one in white with black points on its legs, nose, ears, and in places of the longer parts of its hair. The unicorn nuzzled her hand when she offered it cautiously, and a soft smile broke out on her face. For a moment Zhane just stood there, watching as Karone stroked the unicorn's long neck with a soft smile, letting it rub its nose against her cheek.

There was something strangely symbolic about it, but he wasn't sure why.

"My earliest memory is of Ecliptor teaching me how to correctly throw a punch," she said abruptly, her voice so quiet he almost had to strain to hear her. "He told me I was doing it wrong, and I couldn't figure out why but I was so determined to get it right." She paused, glancing over at him. "I was ten years old."

Zhane's eyes widened. Karone had been four when she was kidnapped, according to Andros. Why would she ... ?

"He would tell me stories about my mother, about how she was the kindest woman he'd ever known. About how much I looked like her. That she was strong and brave, and there was no one else like her in the universe." She stopped again, visibly swallowing, and for a moment he thought he saw tears in her eyes. "He told me that she was caught in a fight between Dark Spectre's forces and a team of Power Rangers. She was trying to help the injured, and - " She cut herself off, looking down as the unicorn whickered anxiously, nuzzling against her again.

"The Great War," Zhane breathed, staring at her in horror. "When Dark Spectre was attacking everyone - " He paused as something else occurred to him, and his eyes widened. "Your mother was neutral, wasn't she?"

Karone nodded stiffly. "A healer."

Andros had never known his mother. He'd only said once that she'd died when he was barely a year old, and he didn't remember her at all. Which was odd, because most Kerovian children could remember things from when they were small; Zhane himself remembered learning to walk and D.E.C.A. shutting doors to keep him out of places he wasn't supposed to be in.

Knowing Andros as well as he did - he was his best and oldest friend after all - he knew that Andros wouldn't take the idea of his mother being neutral very well.

Which was putting it mildly. Andros had always had a very clear definition of right and wrong, and which side of that line he stood on. Knowing his own mother was neutral would be ... well, it was probably a good idea not to mention it any time soon.

A thought occurred to him, and he gave her a concerned glance. "How do you know - "

"He showed me her picture once," Karone cut in before he could finish. She turned away slightly, staring off into the distance. The unicorn she'd been petting moved in closer, leaning its head over her shoulder. She reached up a hand to rub its nose again absently. "It was from a security vid. I was ... fourteen, I think. He'd spent weeks searching for it. It was my birthday present." She was silent for a moment before shaking her head. "You can see we're related."

Zhane swallowed awkwardly.

"All I've ever had is Ecliptor. Even my mother - " She turned to lean into the unicorn, wrapping her arms around its neck now as it nuzzled her in concern. "Everyone else thought I was weak or wanted to destroy me in one way or another. Ecliptor was the only one who ever believed in me. And now ... " Her voice was muffled, but he could still hear the tears in it.

He winced, struggling for something to say. "Karone - "

She pulled away after several moments, wiping at her eyes and straightening as she sniffed once. "Andros wants me to be Karone for him," she said at last. "But I've never had a family to know how to be one. I don't know who Karone is anymore." She paused, finally turning to look at him again. The expression on her face was lost and oddly young.

It made him want to hold her.

"All I know is Astronema," she finished quietly.

But she wasn't Astronema anymore either, he acknowledged silently. Whatever evil had been in her before Zordon's Wave was gone now. Now she wasn't anything. And that was the problem.

A thought occurred to him suddenly, and he glanced at her with a frown. "Do you even want to be called Karone?" he asked curiously. "Andros just started calling you that, and we all just ... followed along because you never said not to. Would you rather we called you Astronema instead?"

She stared at him for several moments. "No," she said eventually, her voice soft. "I'm not exactly Astronema, either."

He didn't like the sadness in her voice when she said it.

"Ron," he declared abruptly.

She blinked. "What?"

"Ron," he repeated. "You're not Astronema and you're not Karone, so I'll call you Ron instead. That way you can be both."

"Ron?" she demanded incredulously. "Why would you *ever* think I'd want to be called something like *Ron*?"

He shrugged lightly, rubbing the neck of the unicorn beside him with large brown and white spots. "I can call you Rone if you prefer, but I thought Ron sounded better." He glanced at her again, and tried not to smile as she glared at him. "Astronema and Karone both have the letters a, r, o, n, and e in them," he explained finally. "And you're not one or the other, so you're both. Which makes you Ron."

She hit him. Hard.

He winced, rubbing his shoulder. That was going to bruise. "What?" he asked innocently. "Don't you like it?"

She gave him one last glare before turning to walk away.

Totally worth it, he decided.

He paused long enough to pat each of the unicorns gathered around him briefly before ducking out of the pen and hurrying after Karone. "Not that way," he called, jerking his head down another path that led closer to the harbor. "We need to go this way."

She stopped, turning to look before giving him another odd glance. "You want to get him a dragon?"

"MiniDragon," he corrected, catching her hand and pulling her gently along with him again before she could stop him. She didn't fight it, and he silently cheered another victory. "Carlos needs something small but dangerous that he can take with him wherever he goes. Something to reassure him that this won't ever happen again. Dragons are loyal, protective, and smart. And if we get one small enough to hide in his clothing, no one even has to know it's there." He paused to toss another handful of coins to another dancing troupe, smiling as they waved to him in thanks.

" ... Why do you do that?"

"Do what?" he asked absently, scanning the booths. The larger dragons were kept down near the harbor, and he already knew none of those would even fit on the megaship so there was no point in going down that far. They passed some of the more unusual types, ones with fur or feathered wings that didn't have the reptilian look he was going for. They were interesting, but they didn't suit Carlos.

"You keep throwing money to people," Karone said, sounding impatient. "Why do you keep doing that? You won't have enough for the MiniDragon."

He glanced back to see her frowning at him. "I always bring extra money with me when I come here," he told her, a little surprised she'd even noticed. "So I can give some to the dancers. It's one of the reasons I spend so much time here."

Her frown deepened. "Why?"

He looked over another booth, deciding against it immediately. These dragons were the right size, but the thin, fragile-looking rainbow colored wings were too pretty for Carlos. They were more of Ashley's style. "So I can find all the dancers that are here for the day."

Karone huffed in annoyance. "No, I meant why do you pay them at all?"

He blinked back at her again. "Because they need the money. Why else would they be here?"

For a moment they stood there as she stared at him with an oddly searching expression. At last she humphed, dragging him along with her as she marched on. "What exactly do you have in mind for this MiniDragon?"

He eyed a reptilian-looking woman with large wings that looked to be half dragon herself as they passed her. She had a large black dragon easily twice her size on a long chain attached to a metal collar around its neck. The dragon growled softly at him, and the woman yanked its chain sharply, continuing on. "Black. Small. It needs wings, but legs are optional. It has to have gold on it somewhere."

She glanced at him again with a puzzled frown. "Why the gold?"

"Carlos was tied up with gold rope and covered in glitter," he reminded her.

She raised an eyebrow. "You think he'll be upset by the color?"

He shrugged. "Probably. We can't exactly be sure, but I'd rather get one with gold just in case. If he has to deal with it on a constant basis, he'll learn to get past it faster."

"Ranger Therapist?" She sounded vaguely amused.

He looked away, his good mood fading. "I was gone for two years. Then I suddenly came back to life. I learned a lot in therapy."

There was a long silence.

"Lap sized?" Karone asked abruptly, pointing to a booth where a woman stood with a red dragon wrapped firmly around her entire upper torso. A large box of several more of them curled up in sleeping piles waited by her feet.

Zhane shook his head, grateful for her understanding. "Too big. It needs to be able to hide when he carries it around. That's why it needs to be black, too. Harder to see."

She nodded as they moved on.

They passed several more booths, but none of them had quite what he was looking for. He might have been frustrated with the lack of success if it wasn't for the fact that Karone was still walking beside him and holding his hand. Even if he didn't find the MiniDragon he wanted for Carlos today, at least two of his goals had still been met.

" ... Did Andros ever have a pet?" she asked suddenly, her voice barely audible.

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "Birds," he said after a moment. "Large raptors. He used to hunt them all the time. Sending them out for food, you know? Sometimes they even brought back dinner for us." He paused. "He never told me what happened to them after the invasion, but I haven't seen him with another bird since."

Karone frowned slightly, looking down. "Does he miss them?"

"Not if you ask him, but he's lying."

She hmmed softly, glancing at another dragon that had wrapped around a tall pole, stretching its wings for everyone to see. "Maybe ... maybe we should get him something. While we're here."

Zhane smiled slowly, turning to look at her again. "I don't think he's ready for another bird just yet," he said gently. "But I think he'd love it if you got him something."

Karone didn't answer.

He let out a slow breath. Little steps, he reminded himself. It's going to take time, but they'll learn. They'll get there.

... Someday.

"What about those?" Karone spoke up, breaking into his thoughts as she pointed.

Zhane looked in the direction of her finger and blinked.

The booth was small, hidden somewhat out of the way, which was usually a sign of someone whose products were either rare or stolen. The table looked a little shabby and the cages were small, but all of the dragons displayed seemed to be well-cared for. There was a woman in long robes sitting cross-legged on one end of the table, her eyes closed in either meditation or sleep. A staff lay in front of her, and a dainty MiniDragon with sparkling purple scales had wrapped around her right forearm.

He smiled slowly. It was perfect.

"You just like it because her dragon is purple," he teased, even as they headed towards the booth.

Karone rolled her eyes and slapped a hand against his arm again.

I'm going to be *so* bruised tomorrow, he sighed to himself.

The purple dragon opened an eye to regard them for a moment as they approached. It stared for several moments before closing its eye again with a soft grumble, leaving them to browse in peace. The woman did not move.

Zhane disregarded all of the red dragons immediately, watching one that reminded him of Andros for some reason warily when it hissed at him. There was a cute little serpent type in green and brown barely the length of his hand that perked up to stare at him with large, dark eyes, but its wings were still to small for it to fly any time soon. Karone was busy cooing at one with purple and green alternating scales, scratching under its chin as it purred back at her, and he ducked his head to hide his smile.

Eventually he narrowed it down to two choices. One was entirely gold except for the berry juice stains all over it, and green eyes. It was currently laying on its back as it munched happily on the berry clenched between its front paws. The other was smaller and cleaner, softer looking, just big enough to fit in both of his hands if he held them together. It was black, with a green stomach, and gold eyes that looked up at him solemnly.

"If you're looking for a friend, you should choose the gold," a voice cut into his thoughts. "If you're looking for a guardian, you should chose the black."

He blinked, glancing over at the woman. Her eyes were open now, watching him calmly. "A gold dragon will make you smile," she informed him. "A black dragon will make you feel safe."

He returned her stare. "And what if I need both?"

The woman's eyes flickered behind him briefly at Karone before returning to him. "Then choose the one that makes you think of your friend. It is not yours, after all."

"This one."

He looked at Karone, who had reached out slowly to offer a hand to the tiny black dragon. "That one?" he repeated.

She nodded, then smiled softly as the dragon nuzzled against her fingers. "This one," she confirmed.

He looked at the woman. "How much?"

He hated haggling. Always had. It was a pain, namely because it was hard to look serious about it when he really wasn't. In the end he paid more then he should have but less than the woman wanted, and they walked away with Karone cuddling the MiniDragon to her cheek.

"You paid too much," she said absently.

"I know," he agreed.

She glanced at him, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. "You meant to pay more, didn't you."

He looked back at her and smiled blandly. "So. Shopping?"

She shook her head at him and smirked, hooking an arm through his as she continued to pet the MiniDragon. "Shopping."