Disclaimer: I own Rachel and Erica. All 'Dragonheart' characters belong to Universal Studios and the script/books author Charles Edward Pogue.
"Rache, if I strangle her, will you help me hide the body?"
"Yes, 'Rica. Yes, I will."
The cause of their ire was ahead of them, jogging to keep pace with Bowen's horse as the Knight led the way across yet another field. It had been three days since the group had left the forest cliff, and the searching bounty hunters, behind. Three long days, in which Kara had renewed her efforts to goad a reaction out of Bowen, still set on building her rebellion against Einon. She seemed to be blind to the reactions she was causing in those around her as she tried to plead and shame them into helping her.
And the more Kara nattered on, and the more Bowen tried to silence her with harsh retorts and a nasty temper, the more sullen and withdrawn Draco had become. The dragon rarely spoke to any of them anymore, answering whatever questions aimed in his direction with short, one word replies, his voice so lifeless and depressed that both Rachel and Erica were seriously worried about him.
Unable to convince Kara to hold her tongue for one day, the two teens had closed ranks and placed themselves between her and Draco, carefully drawing the woman's attention away from the dragon in an attempt to help ease his dark mood. But even their intervention didn't seem to be helping. Instead, it only seemed to fuel Kara's tirade to the point where even Erica, usually the one to advocate against attacking someone, had been starting to have dreams of shoving the woman off a cliff.
Adding to the tension was Rachel's temper. She had a short enough fuse on a good day. With the pain in her left arm from the healing gash, her worry for Draco, and her irritation towards Kara, she was one wrong comment away from going nuclear. Erica only hoped that there'd be some sort of warning sign before her friend exploded - she really didn't like how the other's teen's right eye had started to twitch.
Sighing tiredly, Erica glanced back at the dragon that was walking behind them, frowning at how the inner lids of his eyes had shuttered down, dulling the usual brilliance of his gaze. Even the way he carried his wings had changed; every now and again, the tips would drag across the ground, making him startle and tuck them to his sides. He'd manage to keep them there for a few paces, then become lost in his thoughts again, and the cycle would begin anew. She didn't even think he was aware of the fact that he'd been dragging his tail for most of the morning.
Well, if this isn't a recipe for disaster, I don't know what is, she mused with a weary shake of her head as she glanced at Rache, who was once again picking at the bandages on her left arm, a shimmer of power glimmering around her as she ground her teeth. Oh, this is going to be a baaaad night.
Mica coloured eyes glanced at her. "Yeah?"
"You might wanna rein in some of that aura before you freak the horses out."
The other teen blinked, then glanced down at her hands. "Oh. Crap."
Erica watched as Rache heaved a sigh and frowned down at her hands in concentration, the aura that was shimmering around her pulsing once before vanishing into her skin. "Thanks. Neither of us needs another smack to the head."
Rachel snorted. "You sure? I'd take a sledgehammer to the forehead if it meant I didn't have to listen to Kara lecture on for another day."
"I never thought I'd say this of someone I barely know, but I'm actually beginning to hate that woman. You'd think she'd realize that no one wants to listen to her play-by-play of the crappiness of the Realm."
Both of them winced at the pained keen that slid out of Draco, hazel and blue eyes exchanging troubled glances before Erica set her jaw and decided she'd been polite for long enough. "Bowen? It's nearly sunset. Can you see a safe place we can stop for the night?"
The Knight scowled back at her, though he knew his anger was misplaced. "Fine. There's a forest ahead. We can camp there." Needing a target for his ire, he turned it upon the one who had caused it in the first place. "Unless the lass objects to more of my company?"
Kara sneered. "As long as you don't open your mouth, your company is almost bearable."
Rachel gave a groan of exasperation and dropped her face into her hands. "It'll never end!"
"Oh, yes, it bloody will!" Erica growled, waiting until Bowen had urged his stallion into a gallop and put some distance between them before she slid off her mare's saddle and stalked over to Kara, who had turned to send a pleading look towards the withdrawn dragon.
Erica slapped a hand over Kara's mouth, meeting her startled look with a glare. "Shut. Up! Everyone is tired of letting you berate and lecture them! Yes, the kingdom sucks. Yes, Einon needs to be stopped. Fine! We get it! We got it three days ago! But all you're doing now is ripping open old wounds and making them bleed anew! I am not going to let you do that anymore! You need to stop! And by the Gods, you're going to stop right now!"
She turned to look at a frowning Draco over her shoulder. "No, Draco. Rache and I have had to watch her words hurt you and Bowen for far too long. I should have said something earlier, but I thought," and now she sent a glare at Kara again, "that Kara would notice what she's been doing to the two of you. I thought she'd have enough empathy and compassion to realize that she's been hurting you with every, scathing, poisonous, tirade. I was wrong. And, for that, Draco, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry I didn't say anything sooner. But, this ends now!"
Startled by the vehement outburst, Kara looked from Erica, to Rachel, then Draco, and back again, her eyes widening when Rachel growled and rose her right hand, a sphere of fire crackling to life in her palm. "But, I-"
"Shut up." Rachel's voice was soft, almost a whisper, but filled with a cold, hard, anger. "Just, shut up. You're no better than the bullies that make my life a living hell every day back home. All you're doing is causing pain in everyone around you, and you're taking pleasure in beating everyone down, in a sick and twisted hope that by doing so, we'll let you bully us into doing what you want us to do." Her eyes narrowed, glittering in the sunlight as she clenched her right hand into a trembling fist, smothering the flames there. "You helped me when I was hurt, and I appreciate it, which is why I'm giving you one warning: stop. Stop, or by all the Gods in the Heavens, I'll make you stop."
Kara stared at the teen, fighting against the urge to back away. The girl was furious, the usually warm hazel of her gaze now a hardened mica. Only Kara's own rising anger allowed her to push past her shock and speak up. "Are you threatening me?"
"Nope," Erica drawled, giving the woman a cold smile as she walked back to her waiting mare and climbed up onto the saddle. "Threatening people is so old-fashioned. Gives them the idea that the threat is merely an attempt to frighten them. No. We're not threatening you. We're merely stating a fact. If you don't stop hurting Bowen and Draco, then Rache and I are going to have to force you to stop. And, you really, really, don't want that to happen."
"Especially considering that I killed three people a few days ago," Rachel added flippantly as she gently urged her horse forward, riding past Kara and raising her voice so the woman could easily hear her. "It didn't really bother me as much as I thought it would. I suppose that makes me some sort of monster now. That doesn't bother me as much as I expected either."
Erica stared after her friend, then looked down at a pale Kara. "You really need to stop this, Kara," she murmured softly, troubled by what the other teen had admitted. "You really do. Rache doesn't trust a lot of people, because of her past. But, she trusts Draco, and to a lesser extent, Bowen. She'll defend them both, because once someone earns her trust and friendship, there's little she won't do to protect them. She killed three men to defend me, Kara. She killed them without hesitation, and I have no doubt that she'd do it again. She'd let people think she's a killer and a murderer, she'll think of herself as a killer and murderer and believe herself a monster, but she'd accept it, because all that matters to her is that I'm alright."
When the woman stayed silent, Erica glanced over at a distressed Draco, who was staring at the retreating Rachel. "She'd do the same for you, Draco. In a heartbeat. Even though we've only known you for a short time. She was even willing to let Einon and his group see her weave magicks to protect Bowen, which is close enough to a death sentence in its own right. If it's a choice between her soul, or her life, versus my life, or even yours Draco, she'll choose us. No matter what. I don't know anyone else who's as loyal as she is." A sigh left Erica as she returned her gaze to Kara, who looked torn between sympathy and wariness. "So, yes, Kara. Right now, you're in danger from her. You don't realize it, but you've churned up some pretty horrible memories and reopened some soul-shattering wounds. You need to back off, and stop trying to shame us into building a rebellion with you. Because all you're doing is turning everyone against you."
"But, Einon must be stopped! And no one is doing anything!" Kara cried. "He's hurt and killed so many people, without consequence! And I..." Her voice cracked, tears gathering in her eyes. "I don't want anyone else to have their father die in their arms! I don't want Einon to do to another woman what he did to me!"
Erica sighed as Draco loosed a pained noise and leapt into the air, the dragon's wing beats sending whirls of wind over them as he soared towards the forest Bowen had vanished into. She couldn't begin to imagine what having to listen to Kara's pleas was doing to him. He'd saved Einon's life out of hope and a friendship to Aislinn, and held himself responsible for every evil Einon had committed because of his sacrifice.
Frowning, Erica looked down at a softly crying Kara, and held a hand out to her. "Then don't let Einon get away with it. But go about this plan of yours in another way. There are better ways to try to get people to follow a cause than guilt. I'll..." She couldn't believe she was actually saying what she was saying, "I'll help you, I promise. But, give everyone a few days to calm down, alright? Change isn't easy, Kara. Especially when that change will force people to confront their inner demons. Now, c'mon. Climb up. We'd better find Bowen before it gets too dark to see."
A long, drawn out, sigh left Rachel as she tapped into the land around her, letting her senses sink into the earth and trees. Even with her emotions in a knot, it didn't take her long to figure out where Bowen was; fires weren't a normal occurrence in the middle of a forest.
Feeling emotionally drained, and exhausted to the point where her eyes burned, she gently guided her horse between the trees, inwardly hoping that Kara had taken her and Erica's confrontation to heart and was planning on not starting another tirade once she got to the campsite. Listening to the woman's lectures as she tried to shame and bully Bowen and Draco into rebelling had brought back unwelcome memories, memories that Rachel had hoped she had locked away. Their resurgence had only added to her rising tension, upsetting her stomach, causing the muscles in her shoulders to clench painfully, and making a headache pound away in her forehead.
Rachel honestly didn't know how she managed to keep from throttling the woman.
Seeing Draco sink into depression had bothered her more than she had expected. The more withdrawn and sullen he had become, the more often an emotionally turmoiled keen had slipped out of him, the more the urge to tie Kara to a tree and leave her behind had strengthened. Even Erica, usually the calmer and more pleasant of the two of them, had started to get upset at the woman, and Rachel knew full well that what Erica admitted to wasn't even a fraction of the real annoyance she was feeling.
She couldn't imagine how Bowen was feeling. He had been Kara's main target. Her belief that the Knight could be brought back to glory through impassioned lectures and pleas had been painful to listen to. The demons her speeches had churned up had been visibly tormenting the man for days.
Rubbing at her eyes, Rachel numbly slid from the saddle and walked her mare the rest of the way to camp, sighing again when she spotted Bowen carefully tending to a small fire, expertly coaxing it into a strong flame. "Bowen? Are you alright?"
"Fine," he grated out, voice harsh. "Who's side are you on?"
"Yours, actually," she told him, mustering up a tired smile when he gave her a startled look. "If it's any consolation, 'Rica and I just had a little 'talk' with Kara."
"A talk," the Knight repeated, eyeing her with obvious surprise.
"Yeah. Pretty much told her to shut the hell up or we'd do something unsightly to her." Rachel turned her back to him as she hooked her horses' reins onto a branch and went about removing the saddle from the mare's back. As she did every night, she ran her hands over the mare's sides and back, sending little pulses of Healing energy into tired muscles before she knelt to inspect the hooves, murmuring reassurance as she lightly brushed her fingers along the strong, but delicate, legs.
Silence fell over the camp as Rachel went about her nightly ritual, and it was only when Bowen cleared his throat that she glanced over at him. "Thank you," he murmured, holding her gaze for a moment before the sound of dragon wings drew his attention to the skies, spotting Draco as the dragon soared over and past them. "Does Draco know?"
"Yeah. He was still listening to Erica and Kara's 'discussion' when I left." At his curious look, she shrugged. "I said what I needed to say. I didn't want to wait around and listen to her talk anymore. Besides, I was getting to the point where my anger would cause my magicks to be unstable. Didn't want to accidentally fry Kara with a fireball."
Bowen snorted. "Better to give the wench a head start, at least."
Rachel smirked. "It's only fair," she agreed, the tense knot in her stomach loosening a little when a ghost of a smile tugged at his lips.
"How's the arm?"
"Hm. Worse than yesterday?"
"The itching is. The pain is the same."
Bowen frowned and beckoned her closer. "Probably time to change the dressings. C'mere, so I can take a look."
Not wanting to jinx the rare opportunity to interact with a non-grouchy Bowen, Rachel obeyed and moved to kneel beside him, extending her arm. He was good, she had to give him that. He kept his touch light, carefully unwrapping her arm. The gash, once bared, looked horrible, at least to her eyes. All red and bruised, with dark stitches and tender scabs along its length.
The Knight, however, made a pleased noise. "It's healing well." He gently prodded at the edges, then nodded. "It's bleeding a little, but that's just because the scabs caught on the dressings. Other than that, I don't see any sign of infection. No pus, no discoloration, so the herbs you soak the bandages in are working. Another week, and we may be able to take the stitches out. For now, it might be good to let the wound breathe and dry out. Take some clean dressings with you, though. Just in case."
She arched a brow at him. "And where, exactly am I going?"
Bowen smirked at her. "Draco headed west. He wouldn't have gone too far. You should be able to find him before it gets dark."
Rachel stared at him for a long moment, then smiled and impulsively reached over to hug him. "Thank you, Bowen."
"Bah." He shook her off, though he wasn't able to dislodge the smile on his face as easily. "Get going, girl. Go see if that beast of yours is alright. Where ever he landed, it'll be where he can see the stars."
"He's not 'mine', Bowen."
An amused chuckle left him. "Might as well be, considering how he's been drawn to you from the start."
She shrugged as she rose and went to rifle through her saddlebag for some clean bandages. "He's just lonely."
"That's a load of horsecrap and you know it. He sees you as a friend, girl. He's a completely different drag- er, person, when you're around."
"...you're his friend too, Bowen. Despite how you try to fight against it."
He visibly jerked at that, startled. "Maybe. But, not in the same way. He looks at me and whatever he sees troubles him. You lift that burden, lessen it somehow."
At that moment, Rachel wanted to tell him what Draco had confided in her. Wanted to make Bowen understand. But she held her tongue, knowing that she had no right to tell a secret that wasn't hers to tell. Instead, she tucked some bandages into a pouch on her belt and wrapped her cloak around herself. "We... understand each other, is all. We've both had to survive in a world that doesn't understand, or want, us."
"Your aunt's boyfriend." When she jerked her gaze to his, fixing him with a wide-eyed look, Bowen made a calming gesture towards her, trying to ease the suspicion and fear in her eyes. "Erica mentioned it in a rant after I accused you of bewitching Draco. She said it was proof that you don't abuse your magicks, despite having a good reason to."
Rachel fidgeted a little. "...was she convincing?"
"Before or after she knocked me out?"
"Well, waking up to find that you healed my wounds helped," Bowen admitted. "I've never met a Healer with evil in their heart. Especially one who absorbs the pain of the wounds they heal."
"...only happens when I'm tired..."
"Semantics. You could have left me to suffer."
"Well, to be fair, Erica made me do it."
"Pfft. Even she can't force you to do something you're against."
"Oh, you don't know her as well as I do," Rache smirked. "It can take a lot to make her lose her temper, but when she does, the smart people run and hide. Girl could chew up a sword, spit out tacks, then go back for seconds."
The mental image made Bowen chuckle. "So, Kara..."
"Should be a lot calmer and kinder. You might have to put up with some rather tense small-talk, but other than that, I doubt she'll start another series of tirades. But, if she does, let 'Rica handle it. You getting into another screaming match with Kara isn't going to help."
"I'm far too tired to get involved in another fight with her," Bowen admitted, prodding at the small fire before carefully setting a couple of branches over the brightly burning kindling. "At this point, I just want to have my meal and go to sleep."
"Good." With a smile and a wave, Rache tucked her cloak around herself and started to head for the edge of camp. She paused though, and frowned before glancing back towards Bowen. "Um, if I can't convince Draco to come back to camp tonight, just get Erica to lead you to us in the morning. She knows how to find me."
"More magicks, I suppose?" he drawled, turning his head to look at her. When she smirked and nodded, he smiled and made a 'shoo-ing' motion at her. "Fine. Now, get going, before it's too dark for you to find your way."
"Better be careful," Rachel teased in response to his friendly attitude, sending another wave his way before sprinting deeper into the forest. "I might start to think that you actually care about what happens to me!"
Draco sighed as he stretched out across the ground, the dry grasses tickling his belly a little as he settled himself. The sun had set only moments before, and the horizon was still painted in reds and oranges. The sky right above him, however, was already a dark, deep blue, the stars just beginning to become visible. Long practice made it easy to spot the constellation Bowen had named him after, a soft, pained, sound leaving him as he locked his eyes onto those stars.
The sensation of calmness and warmth that Rachel had described seeped into him, helping to steady his turmoiled thoughts, soothing his distress and easing some of the tension in his wings. Though even the Stars themselves couldn't help his troubled soul.
He knew that Kara was right. Knew that Einon had to be stopped. But the ultimate price of freeing the Realm from Einon's evil was one that he knew he must pay, but now, didn't wish to. A rebellion, if he could convince Bowen to lead one, could be enough to at least delay the inevitable. Though he knew that Einon's evil would always return, no matter how many victorious rebellions there were, and that, in the end, it would still require the same sacrifice from him.
Things weren't simple anymore. Before, he had been more than willing to lay down and end Einon's tyranny, and his own misery, with one blow from whichever dragonslayer he felt could do the job properly. Draco had never thought to be reunited with the same Knight that had once been Einon's teacher. The same Knight who had been witness to the dragon's sacrifice in order to save that child's life. The same Knight that had sworn to kill him.
And Kara. Dear Kara, who had lost just as much to Einon as Draco and Bowen had. He, Bowen, and Kara were all linked to Einon, twined together in an odd turn of fate that even Draco couldn't discern. And mixed into the mess were two teenage girls from another time. He knew, knew, that it wasn't coincidence that had led them to him. He felt it in his very bones that they too, had a part to play. Which part, he didn't know. But for a halfblooded Elven that could commune with the Dragon's Heaven, and a blue-eyed sorceress that was able to sense the curiousity of the souls that dwelled high above to suddenly be thrown into his path seemed too orchestrated to be explained by mere chance.
Draco had long given up hope of ever seeing Man and Dragon reunite. Had resigned himself to living out the rest of his haunted days alone and in darkness. His 'alternative' with Bowen was only meant to prolong the inevitable. He'd wanted a few days of being out in the sunlight, and even the company of a dragonslayer was better than being alone - nevermind that the man was a ghost from the dragon's past.
But, oh, meeting Rachel and Erica had turned out to be a balm to his tormented soul. To meet to people that fully accepted not only dragons, but the ancient arts as well was amazing on its own. Even the Celts hadn't been as open-minded as the two teens seemed to be. He was still stunned by the past three day's events, where the two girls had so vehemently kept Kara from turning her attention onto him, his new friends trying to ease a burden that even they didn't fully understand.
His new friends. The thought made him smile, though a little sadly. I've made what could be the closest friends I could ever have... on the eve of what will be the last days of the dragons. He'd certainly never imagined that any human would be comfortable enough in his presence to sleep next to him! Even Bowen eyed him warily whenever he got too close to the man. But the two teens didn't even hesitate. Rachel had even gone as far as to hug him. And he'd let her ride on his back! He'd taken her flying! Draco doubted that even she knew the full meaning behind that gesture of trust.
They both treated him like a person. Not a dragon, not some intelligent beast. But a living, breathing, thinking, being. Even Aislinn still held onto her Celtic heritage. Called him 'Lord' and 'Great One'. Never by name - well, not his true name, but no human had ever offered to give him a name they could pronounce. Not until, Bowen. No, Aislinn and the Celts had always treated him with careful respect. They bowed to him, never spoke to him with too much familiarity. Never with companionable friendship. Aislinn had certainly never joked with him, or offered him comfort other than by voice and words alone. He hadn't realized how much the difference mattered. Not until a certain teen had effortlessly tossed 'propriety' off a cliff and had offered him a friendship that he hadn't been aware he was missing.
And now he'd discovered, through Erica, how deeply Rachel's loyalty lay. They were bound, somehow. Draco had thought that he and Bowen were kindred spirits, but the more the learned about the young halfblooded Elven, the more he saw pieces of himself in her. True, he and Bowen were linked, and he did consider the Knight to be a friend, or at least in the beginning stages of one. But, then again, who was to say that there couldn't be more than one soul out there kindred to his own? He certainly saw glimpses in Erica, and even Kara.
He frowned, thoughts racing as he hummed a sad song under his breath, his attention returning to the stars, keen eyes spotting the streak of light as a shooting star cut across the dragon constellation.
"Where I come from, if you see a shooting star, you're supposed to make a wish."
Startled, Draco whipped his head to the side, staring at the teenager that stumbled out into the clearing, a soft curse leaving her as she tugged the edge of her cloak free of a brambled bush. "Rachel?"
A tired smirk tugged at her lips. "You were expecting someone else?"
"What? No!" Draco huffed and shook his head as she walked over to him. "What are you doing here? You shouldn't have followed me."
She hesitated, freezing in place. "Sorry," Rachel offered, thinking that she had overstepped her welcome. "I can go, if you want."
"No! No..." A sigh left him as he met her gaze. "I didn't mean it to sound like that," he murmured, beckoning her closer and gently brushing his snout against her shoulder when she came within reach. "You're still recovering. The last thing you should be doing is wandering through the forests at night."
"Well, Bowen was worried, and-"
"Bowen was worried?" he blurted, cutting her off with his shock.
"Yeah. It surprised me, too. He might actually be mellowing."
Draco chuckled softly. "However miraculous that is, it's not an excuse to put yourself at risk. You should be resting."
"You seriously think anyone's going to get any decent rest back at the camp?" Rachel countered with a quirked eyebrow as she reached out to touch one of the horns on his crest, smiling a little when he closed his eyes and gently nudged his brow under her hand. A low thrum of sound left him when she gave in and rubbed her knuckles over his right eyeridge. "Even with 'Rica there to keep Kara from starting another tirade, the tension's going to be thick enough to cut with a knife. I'll take my chances in the woods, thank you very much."
"Stubborn," he murmured teasingly, cracking his right eye open to look at her.
She merely smiled. "Yup."
He rumbled a laugh. "Well, I suppose you can just stay here with me."
"Oh, you suppose, hm?" Rache smirked and flicked her fingers against the horn just above his right eye. "Considering that I don't know if I can find my way back to camp, I'd say you're stuck with me."
That made him pull away just enough to be able to look at her fully. "You offered to leave and you don't know how to get back to camp?"
One shoulder rose and fell in a shrug. "You're entitled to your privacy. Didn't want to bother you if you wanted to be alone."
Draco searched her gaze for a moment, then smiled at her warmly when he found truth mixed with compassion and understanding in her eyes. "No, my dear. I think I've been alone for far too long," he murmured, carefully snagging the edge of her cloak in his right foreclaw and tugging her closer. She let him corral her so she was sitting in the curve of his body, leaning against his right shoulder while his tail arched around so the spade tip was lightly resting against her legs.
Another song rose in his thoughts, and he hummed the calm melody as he lowered his head to rest his chin on his right foreleg, closing his eyes with a smile when she reached out to lightly scratch her nails across his right eyeridge again. They stayed like that for a while, him humming a song to her while she indulged him and rubbed her knuckles over his brow.
Rachel couldn't help but smile when his breath left him in a contented sigh, the stress she had sensed in him finally dissipating. "You need a vacation," she said softly, almost afraid to ruin the calmness that was bubbled around them.
He cracked an eye open to look at her curiously. "A what?"
"A vacation. An extended period of time where people leave you the hell alone so you can go somewhere nice and sunny and actually relax for a few days. Or weeks."
"I'm afraid times like that are few and far between."
"Yeah, well, I'm bettin' that if you set someone on fire they'd leave you alone for a bit."
"You can't be serious!"
"Well, you don't have to kill them. Just... y'know... singe them a little."
"That's hardly appropriate."
"It'd work though! And, it's deeply satisfying on a petty level."
He chuckled a little at her adamant tone and nudged his cheek against her hand. "Thank you."
"I did nothing."
"Yes, you did. More than you know."
She frowned when he closed his eyes again and gently tapped a nail against one of the thick blunt horns on his carapace. "You going to explain that?"
"Would you mind if I didn't?" Draco murmured, peering at her. "At least not at this moment?" He felt her lean against him and shifted a little so that she'd be comfortable, rumbling softly when she stroked his cheek. "I don't want to think about tomorrow, or the day after that. There's so much hardship coming, and I just want to ignore it all, just for one night."
A grateful thrum left him as he gave her a gentle nudge with his wing-claw, smiling when Rachel laughed softly and returned to scratching his brow ridges. He hummed to her in return, a gentle melody meant to calm and sooth, the closest thing to a lullaby that he knew of. Though he didn't really know if the song was more for her benefit or his own. But, either way, crooning and purring the low notes was helping to chase away the little knots of tension that had been plaguing the wing muscles in his back and chest, and the oddly comforting sensation of the teen rubbing her knuckles over his cheek and eyeridges was doing a fine job of easing the rest of his stresses.
"You should get some sleep," Rachel whispered, adding a tiny bit of Healing energy to her touches as she brushed her fingers across his brow, smiling when the slight frown he had been wearing finally melted away. "It'll do you good."
"Mm. What about you?"
His half-asleep mumble made her fight to keep from laughing. "I'll be fine, Draco. Sleep."
"In a moment." He carefully rearranged himself, curling his body around her in a loose semi-circle, his right wing half-spreading to shield her while he draped his tail over her legs. Satisfied that she'd be warm and safe throughout the night - no wolf or bear would dare come close to a full-grown dragon - Draco lowered his head to nuzzle her before resting his chin on his foreclaws again. "There. Now I'll rest."
"And you call me stubborn?"
A wry, sleepy, chuckle left him. "It's a trait we have in common," he admitted, smiling when she rolled her eyes at him and lay down, leaning against his right foreleg. He loosed a questioning trill when she sat up seconds later, frowning as he watched her pull a length of bandages out of a pouch tied to her belt.
"Sorry," Rachel muttered. "Have to rewrap my arm before I forget. Bowen said to let the wound breathe for a while, but I don't want to risk getting it dirty."
Concern overrode the lure of sleep, making him raise his head to get a better look at her. "Show me your arm."
She grimaced and tucked her left arm back under the edge of her cloak. "It's ugly looking."
A reassuring croon left him. "It's alright, my dear. Let me see," he coaxed, seeing her hesitate before the teen heaved a sigh and held her arm out.
The dragon had to agree, it was ugly. A long, angry-looking wound, interspersed with almost twenty, large, knotted, brown stitches, a dark contrast to the bruises and redness that framed the healing gash. He could smell the herbs she cleaned the wound with - rosemary and something else - along with a small amount of blood. No infection though, which assured him that she was healing well.
Still, he could do something to help that along, at least until she was strong enough to weave a Healing spell upon herself.
Purring to calm her, Draco dipped his head and carefully licked at the wound, frowning when she jerked away. "I'm trying to help you, Rachel," he told her as he met her confused gaze. "Whatever books have you been reading that you don't know that dragon saliva can help speed the healing of wounds?"
Rachel blushed. "...to be fair, all of those books are written by humans," she protested softly, frowning down at her arm when a slight tingling settled over the gash. "I don't want to make you sick, Draco."
"Oh, for Heaven's sake." Laughing, he reached across and gently held her arm in his left claw. "I used to know a dragon that had a taste for two week old rotted horse. If he could stomach that putrid mess, then I can certainly tend to your arm. I've had to deal with much worse injuries in my time than this cut. Now hold still, this won't take but a moment."
"T-Thank you," she murmured, her mind bringing up something from a nature show on Bengal Tigers. That the tiger's saliva had an antiseptic and antibacterial quality to it, which explained how the great cats were so hardy despite their surroundings and occasional fights with rivals. How they could heal from wounds that could have been fatal, and how they kept infection away, even when they swam in muck and filthy water. Which, Rachel supposed, made sense. Another much needed tool in the arsenal required to survive.
So, she let Draco lathe her arm, trying to hide her winces when each pass of his tongue tugged at sensitive stitches.
Naturally, the dragon noticed her flinching, despite her efforts otherwise. "Sorry. I've never dealt with 'stitches' before. They look horribly uncomfortable."
"They are," Rache muttered as he gave her arm a final lick, then lightly bumped his snout against her shoulder. "But it's the only way to avoid a huge scar. Also, it cuts normal healing time in half."
"We'll see if we can't shorten that time even more," he told her as he watched her wrap her arm in bandages. "Though I'm not surprised that you didn't know that dragon saliva has healing properties. Ever since the land became infested with dragonslayers, we dragons have had to work hard to erase any knowledge that tells of our abilities. For our safety, you understand. There were some rather disturbing stories of slayers selling body parts in a market. After learning of that, it was decided that such delicate information be hidden away."
Draco smiled at her gently. "You're not to blame for the evils of another."
"I know. But-"
"No, Rachel." He interrupted her with a soft rumble and a shake of his head. "Their actions were their own. It would be foolish to lay blame upon an entire people for the actions of a few misguided individuals."
She was about to mention how Bowen had done just that, but held her tongue. He'd said that he wanted to ignore every hardship that lay ahead of them, and their group, for the night. She wasn't about to ruin whatever calm and relaxation they'd built up by dredging up painful memories. When someone went digging into their past, all they got was dirty, and Rache didn't want Draco to lose the calm peace that seemed to have settled over him.
Instead, Rachel finished wrapping up her arm, then playfully smacked him in the shoulder, where she knew the hit wouldn't bother him in the least. "You just had to bring logic into this, didn't you?"
A deep chuckle made the ground vibrate a little. "I'm sorry. I'll try to make it easier for you to keep up next time," he retorted, laughing when she let out a mock-insulted cry and threw a handful of ripped-up grass at him. Still chuckling, Draco leaned down and bunted her in the shoulder with his snout, gently nudging her back against his side. "Get comfortable, little dreamer. Morning will come sooner than either of us would like, and we both need the rest, hm?"
She nodded and carefully lay down, pressing her back against him in a bid for warmth. A smile tugged at her lips when Draco let his right wing droop so her lower body was nestled between it and his side, his tail curling around and sliding under the edge of his wing to rest against her legs. "Draco?"
He lightly touched his muzzle to her shoulder in reply, then rested his chin on his right foreleg and hummed a soft song to her, watching her as she pillowed her cheek on her arm and settled herself for the night. His voice rose and fell in soothing notes, keen hearing allowing him to listen as her breathing slowed and deepened. Only when he was certain that Rachel had fallen asleep did he let silence encompass them.
With a final glance up at the constellation of his namesake, Draco closed his eyes, drank in the sensation of the teenager snuggled up to him and the rare peace her presence seemed to bring, then let slumber take him.
A/N - So, yeah. Slow but steady gets a chapter done, apparently. *sigh* Also, this summer seems to be the hottest and most humid in a long, long time. 40 C with humidex just sucks the life out of me. Sucks the will to sit with a laptop on my lap too. Blergh.
And, yes, the bit about dragon saliva being antiseptic and whatnot is the result of watching too many nature shows while trying to belt out a chapter. Some tigers actually DO have antiseptic and antibacterial qualities in their saliva. (I kid you not, it's in Wikipedia.) So, my heat drunk brain thought that, considering that dragons have been dealing with dragonslayers, and probably occasional spats amongst themselves, they'd have to have a way to properly treating wounds. No tetanus shots in medieval times, after all. So, blame my brain before the heat makes it leak out my ears. ;)