Zippo pressed the side of his head against the wall so that he could better hear Karl and David's conversation on the other side. He almost regretted the eavesdrop as he heard Karl snap loudly.
"You really don't want to leave. I can't believe it!"
David's voice was a gentler reply. "Think about it, Karl, can't you see that something absolutely amazing has happened to us?"
"No, I kind of think watching Dad die has ruined it for me!"
There was a short pause and then David said quietly, "You know I didn't mean that."
Zippo straightened; he had heard enough. The Stenosaurus sighed. This was the first time he had volunteered his house as Off-World accommodations for an indefinite period of time. He knew the boys were unhappy, or at least Karl was. David seemed willing to give Dinotopia another chance, despite their awful welcoming.
All at once, Zippo felt strange, sort of sad and hopeless. And then he remembered. It was because of dinner that night, when the boys had brought up the portrait of Sylvia in the dining room. Zippo squeezed his eyes shut to halt the sudden flow of tears.
It had been almost seven years since Sylvia's death. He was there with her to the last; he had known how sick she was, and he had stayed with her as she had drawn her last breath. Zippo hiccuped with the effort of stifling a sob.
He stepped alongside a maidservant as she led him down the rich-smelling hallways of Earth Farm. Zippo tried to smile, tried to tell himself that everything was going to be fine. Sylvia was tough, and stubborn; no sickness could hold her for long.
The maidservant stopped in front of a small room. She stepped aside to let Zippo in. He stopped short. Sylvia looked so weak! Her red hair framed her pointed, fairy-like face that, even now when she was well into her forties, still made her appear more childlike. She was propped up by several pillows on the bed; the crisp white sheets didn't appear to be disturbed. The window overhead was thrust open and the bright, vibrant light of day filtered through, unheeded.
Zippo, not wishing to seem over-protective, glided in smoothly, and seated himself by Sylvia's bedside. She was asleep, but her icy blue eyes fluttered open as he laid his bony claw on top of her pale, fragile hand. She focused on him, her dry lips parted in a weak smile. "Hello, Zippo," she said in a slow, breathy voice. Zippo choked.
"H-hello, Sylvia. I-I came as soon as I could." He fumbled for the right words. His tail tapped the floor behind him nervously and he was blinking rapidly to fight back tears. "H-how are you feeling?"
Sylvia was silent for a few moments, during which she breathed slowly, evenly, and stared up at the ceiling. "I've been fine." She said finally.
Zippo exhaled sharply, in what was almost a laugh. "You're lying," he said quietly.
Sylvia looked up at him and nodded. "I'm afraid I'm not long for this world, my dear friend." She rasped. Zippo started. What did she mean by that?
"S-Sylvia," he said hastily. "Y-you don't mean that, do you?" He squeezed her hand. "D-do you?"
Sylvia breathed slowly, carefully, but she ended up coughing. Zippo's eyes welled up with tears. Sylvia looked back up at him. "Remember when we first met?"
Zippo knew this was a dodge, but he nodded. "Yes, I do."
Sylvia smiled then, and a flicker of her old, healthier self, peeked through. "I was twenty, I think. We met here at the Hatchery." She shivered with a sudden chill; Zippo arranged the sheets more snugly around her thin body.
"Yes," he said softly. Both of Zippo's parents had gone on an expedition with ambassadors through the Rainy Basin and never returned. Young Zippo had been left in the care of his aunt, who eventually brought him to the hatchery to be cared for.
"That made two of us: two orphans." Sylvia closed her eyes, as if recounting the lost memory of when her parents died in a wildfire in the wheat fields, and then opened them again. "You were so small," she added, almost teasingly. "And you had such big eyes."
Zippo blushed. He always did that whenever Sylvia brought up this story. "You were also quite small too, and skinny." He managed a meek chuckle. "Your guardians still called you Sticks."
Sylvia laughed, nodding her head. "Yes, they did, and I loathed that nickname." She paused. "But I walked right up to you."
"'This one, Matriarch', you said." Zippo smiled gently.
Sylvia nodded. "But the matriarch wasn't too supportive." Sylvia rolled her eyes. "I showed her, didn't I?"
Zippo chuckled. "'Oh, he wants me too', and it was true, I did." He stroked her hand. "I did."
"We made a great team, Zippo, you and I. You were the strong, silent type and I was the loud, pushover type." Sylvia's eyes sparkled.
Zippo finally allowed himself to laugh.
"But now I have to go," Sylvia's voice dropped just above a whisper. Zippo didn't argue. He realized now just how sick she truly was. Placing both claws over her pale, trembling hands, he leaned forwards and planted a kiss on her forehead. Sylvia smiled slightly. "Don't forget me, Zippo." She pleaded.
"I-I could never forget you." Zippo felt a tear slowly course its way down his face.
"Good. I'll hold you to your word." Sylvia lay back on the pillows, looked up at the ceiling, and slowly, closed her eyes. A moment later, it was over. Her breathing had stopped, and her hand lay motionless under Zippo's claws. She was free.
Unashamedly, Zippo let the tears fall. He was alone now, caring for two teenage boys who weren't even sure if they would stay here for long. He wiped his eyes, gazing out at the moonlight filtering through his curtains... Not completely alone. You're not that far away, are you, Sylvia? The thought cheered him. You'll always be here for me, and I for you.