Snek is a Good Boy
Part Twenty-Three: Twilight in Brockton Bay
[A/N: This chapter commissioned by Fizzfaldt and beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]
Twilight (as Amy was already starting to think of her) chirped agreeably as the Master of the Castle stroked the top of her head. The cute little hearth-dragon had figured out how to nestle comfortably in the crook of Amy's arm, holding on with her forearms without digging her claws in, and all without Amy having to ask her to. The warmth of her presence—figurative and literal, given that dragons were warm-blooded despite their reptilian characteristics—was something that Amy was rapidly becoming used to.
"Well, then," the Master said. "There is assuredly a bond between the two of you. This is a good thing. I am pleased for you both."
"What, that's it?" asked Vicky, when he didn't say any more. "You're okay with Ames taking one of your hearth-dragons back to our world? Just like that?"
"Indeed I am, Victoria Dallon." He smiled faintly. "Hearth-dragons are quite resilient and capable in their own right. In addition, she will have two competent and determined protectors in Amelia and yourself, yes?"
"Well, yeah, I guess." Vicky glanced at Twilight, then back at the Master. Since her initial shock at the bonding had passed, she seemed to have taken to the tiny dragon. "I half-expected you to say they had to stay here or something."
The Master's tone was amused. "Hardly." His attention shifted to Amy. "Though you are welcome to abide here for as long as you wish, if that is your desire. We have spare rooms aplenty in the Castle, or you might find lodgings in the village below. I know young Riley would enjoy the company."
"It's true," Riley agreed. "I totally would."
Amy paused, suddenly very tempted to say yes. The shitstorm that she knew would come down on her head—well, their heads, but she knew that somehow it would end up being her fault, no matter how hard Vicky tried to take the blame—was not something she was looking forward to. But if she stayed and Vicky went, her sister would then have to face Hurricane Carol all by herself, and Amy wouldn't have wished that on her worst enemy, much less Vicky.
"I, uh, thanks for the invitation, and I might just take you up on it later." She took a deep breath. "But we need to get home before we're grounded until graduation instead of just for the next month or so."
"Aww." Vicky glanced wistfully out the window, at where a couple of hearth-dragons were chasing butterflies. "Maybe we could stay a little longer. See if one of them wants to come back with me, just for a bit."
The Master glanced up at where something Amy had thought was a classic crystal ball had begun to pulse a deep unsettling crimson. "I can convey you back now, or in several hours, for all my attention will shortly be required elsewhere. My apologies, but you must make your decision now. Time grows short."
While Amy was trying to visualise what sort of problem would take up all of the Master's attention, he tapped his staff against the floor just once. A shimmering doorway opened in space; on the other side, Amy saw the roof of the Fugly Bob's on Lord Street. For all its mundanity, the lit-up fast-food sign looked really weird against the backdrop of the Master's laboratory.
"Come on, Vicky. Let's go." Amy grabbed her sister's arm and gave the Master a smile and a nod. "Thanks. For everything. See you later, Riley. Say goodbye to Snek for us."
"I will," Riley promised. "Come back soon, okay?"
Vicky rolled her eyes. "Knowing Mom, no promises. But this was great." Together with Amy, she stepped through the portal.
It closed soundlessly behind them as though it had never been. The whole thing could've been a dream, except that Twilight was still right there, sitting up in Amy's arms and looking around alertly at the new surroundings. "It's alright," Amy crooned, stroking the smooth scales that ran down the back of her neck. "I'm here, and I'm not going to let anyone hurt you."
"That's 'we're not going to let anyone hurt you'." Vicky gave the top of the little dragon's head a skritch, eliciting a chirp in response, then she looked around. "Wait, did he send us here so we could actually pick up burgers before we went home?"
Amy had to chuckle. "Well, I didn't tell him that was the excuse you made. But are you surprised? Because I'm totally not surprised."
Twilight chose this moment to scramble up onto Amy's shoulder and take up a perch there. She flared her wings then furled them again, draping her tail around the back of Amy's neck for balance. Sniffing pointedly at the tantalising aromas, she let out an encouraging chirp that Amy interpreted as well, what are we waiting for?
"It sounds like she's hungry." Vicky frowned. "Is it safe for her to eat that stuff? Do we even know what they eat?"
"Everything we do, plus a little bit more," Amy assured her. "Their digestive systems are impressive. They make use of everything. Anyway, she'll let me know if she needs something we don't have, won't you, Twilight? Yes, you will, because you're smart."
As Twilight chirped in agreement and rubbed her head up alongside Amy's, Vicky raised an eyebrow. "Twilight, huh? It definitely fits her. So, how did you want to do this? You wait up here while I go down and get the burgers?"
Just then, both their phones went off repeatedly, beeping and pinging to indicate missed calls and incoming text messages. Twilight's head came up and she looked around for the source of the sound, but she seemed to take her cue from Amy, and didn't startle. "Oh, boy," muttered Amy as she pulled out her phone. "Class S shitstorm, incoming."
"But we weren't gone that long," Vicky protested, retrieving her own phone. Then she looked at the screen and her shoulders slumped. "Ah, crap."
"What?" All Amy could see on hers was a bunch of messages along the theme of where are you? interspersed with attempts to call from basically every member of her extended family. "What happened?"
Vicky grimaced. "Dad texted asking me to get him curly fries. When I didn't answer, he tried to call me."
"Me too." Amy scanned through the messages. Some of the later ones were mass-texts to the rest of the family, asking if anyone had seen them. "Shit, all of New Wave's been called in on this. I need to text them back, tell them we're okay."
"Way ahead of you." Vicky hit the call icon and held the phone to her ear. "God, I hope they haven't called the PRT yet. We'd never hear the—ah, Dad, it's me. I'm fine, me and Ames are both fine. We're all good, nobody's attacked or kidnapped us, so please calm Mom down before she calls in the Protectorate to look for us."
"The Triumvirate," Amy murmured, only half joking. Carol Dallon could really go all-out if she thought there was a threat to New Wave.
Twilight nuzzled the side of her head comfortingly and wrapped one wing around the back of her head to reassure her. Her chirp was very much, I'm here for you.
Amy couldn't help but smile. "Yeah, I know." Reaching up, she scratched her diminutive companion under the jawline.
"We're at Fugly's right now," Vicky said. "We're about to go in and order. We kind of took a bit of a detour, it was all my idea. Tell Mom that. It wasn't Amy's idea at all. But look—Dad, we're just going to get the burgers now. Dad—oh, hi, Mom. Mom, calm down, we're fine. Nobody got to us. We're all good. We're better than good. We're great."
In the quiet of the night, Amy could hear Carol Dallon's voice blasting out of the speaker as Vicky held the phone a couple of inches away from her ear. While the words weren't quite distinct enough to be made out, the tone was definitely 'you'd better be okay, because I'm going to kill you'.
Amy tensed, hoping Vicky wouldn't be told to pass the phone to her. The last thing she wanted was to deal with this sort of confrontation, especially over the phone. How she'd ended up with Twilight was definitely better explained in person.
Her phone pinged with another text message. It was a mass-mail, and it said succinctly, V&A OK. At FBs on LS. Sent from Carol's phone, she suspected Mark had written it up, considering that Vicky was still trying to get a word in edgewise with her mother on her phone.
A moment later, another mass-text popped up. OWTN. It had come from her aunt Sarah's phone; in the family semi-code, it meant 'on way there now'. Amy looked up at the night sky, knowing that if her aunt was on the way, she'd likely have Eric and Crystal with her for backup, and probably Uncle Neil as well. Part of her couldn't wait to show off her new friend to them, but another part quailed at the thought. What if they don't like her?
As though reading her mind, Twilight leaned forward on her shoulder and turned her head so that Amy could look right into her bright, intelligent eyes. She let out a crooning chirp and tilted her head as though to say, of course they'll like me. Look how cute I am.
"Well, you're definitely all that." Amy found herself smiling again. Twilight had the knack of pulling her out of her darker moods. Even with the short time they'd spent together, she understood Amy, better than Vicky did, better than anyone she'd ever known.
Riley had said that a hearth-dragon bond only happened this fast when both sides were horribly lonely. She hadn't thought of herself as being lonely—after all, she had Vicky with her most of the time—but the feeling of contentment she got from just having Twilight there was making her think twice about that. Geez, how lonely was I? Reaching up, she ran her hand over the top of Twilight's head, feeling the dragon push up into her palm. Too damn lonely, that's what.
"Yes, Mom. We're okay. Here, I'll give the phone to Ames. She can tell you too." Vicky held the cell out to her.
Oh, crap. Taking a deep breath and giving Vicky a dirty look, Amy accepted it. She felt Twilight's tail curl around the back of her neck reassuringly, and she took strength from that. "Hi, it's me. What Vicky said. We're totally okay."
"Amelia." Carol's voice changed subtly. "I just need to know that everything's fine."
This was something Amy could actually deal with. The 'everything's fine' phrase was a call-and-response code. If she confirmed that specific phrase, it would mean that everything was not fine. However, she could definitely use other words. "Everything is totally copacetic. We are actually alright here. I promise."
The hiss of an indrawn breath told Amy that she hadn't been wrong about the incoming storm. As it turned out, from the frost in Carol's voice, it was a hailstorm. "Amelia Claire Dallon. I don't know how you talked Victoria into going off-grid like that, but you will not move until I've got eyes on you; do you understand?" In the background, Amy could hear the roar of the car engine.
Despite the unfairness of the accusation, there was only one survivable response. "Yes, ma'am."
"Good. Now put your sister back on."
A wave of relief swept over Amy and she grinned broadly as she held the phone out toward Vicky. "It's for you."
Vicky blanched, then spotted the three fast-moving glowing spheres a moment before Amy did. "Whoops, you hold the phone for a bit." Ignoring Amy's indignant look, she lifted into the air, waving both arms. "Hey! We're over here!"
Amy's thumb 'accidentally' hit the speaker icon, and Carol's voice surged from the phone. "Victoria Regina Dallon! You take that phone right now!"
"Sorry, can't hear you. It's real windy up here!" Vicky floated a little higher.
Aunt Sarah came in fast, dropping the force field so Uncle Neil could get his feet under him, then flying to where Vicky was and wrapping her in a fierce embrace. "Oh, thank God you're alright!"
At the same time, Uncle Neil took two long strides and picked up Amy altogether, lifting her three feet off the ground in a massive bear-hug. In the back of her mind, she felt Twilight take off and hover above her head, apparently unworried about the display of familial concern. "It's great to see you, baby girl! We were so damn worried!"
"Well, we're fine," Vicky said, being the only one of the two of them who still had breath in their lungs. Uncle Neil's hugs had always been on the enthusiastic side. "We just … took a detour."
"Are they alright?" Carol's voice crackled out of the phone Amy was still holding. "Someone tell me they're alright." In the background, Amy thought she heard someone honking their horn.
Crystal took the phone from Amy as Uncle Neil put Amy down again and stood back with his hands on her shoulders. "Yeah, they're fine, Aunt Carol. We're on the roof of the Fugly Bobs. No blood, no bruises. Dunno where they've been, but it's not in a fight."
"I keep telling you," Vicky said as Aunt Sarah finally released her, then held her close again for a moment. "We weren't in any danger."
"So, where'd you take the detour to, that didn't have cell signal?" asked Eric, then gave Vicky a quick side-hug. "Good to see you're both okay, just saying."
Crystal stopped in the middle of saying something that was probably intended to be witty, and pointed. Amy knew without looking exactly what she was pointing at. "Uh … what's that?"
"What? What's what? What's going on there?"
Holding up her hand so Twilight could land on it, Amy cleared her throat for attention. "Twilight is not a that," she said primly. "Twilight is a she. She's from Snek's world, and she's very smart. Twilight, this is my Aunt Sarah, my Uncle Neil, and my cousins Crystal and Eric. They're nice people, even if Eric is a little slow from time to time."
Perching on Amy's hand with her tail wrapped around her wrist, Twilight gave the assembled capes a friendly chirp and spread her wings to their full extent before furling them again. The Pelhams stared at her as their brains assimilated what they'd just seen and heard.
"It's a dragon," Uncle Neil said blankly. "A tiny dragon."
"She's so cute!" exclaimed Crystal. "Did she just say hi?"
"She sure did," Amy affirmed. "She likes people. All hearth-dragons do."
"Did you just say 'half-dragon'?" That was Eric. "Isn't that a lot less than half?"
"Hearth-dragon, dear cuz," Vicky said firmly, striding over to him and grabbing him by the ear. "Th. Th. Hearth. It means fireplace."
"Dragon? What are you all talking about? What dragon? I thought I said no dragons!"
"Excuse me, Crystal. May I have that?" Aunt Sarah accepted Vicky's phone from her daughter's hand, and took it off speaker. "Hi, Carol. The girls are fine. I say again, the girls are fine. You can slow down to the speed limit now. We're not going anywhere. See you when you get here."
"Sarah! Don't you dare hang—" The call ended as Aunt Sarah tapped the icon.
"Okay," said Uncle Neil, peering at Twilight. "A tiny dragon, I get. But she's not that small, and I didn't see her at all until Crystal pointed her out. How does that work?"
Amy wrenched her thoughts away from the incoming doom that was Carol Dallon. "Uh, hearth-dragons come in different strains. She's of the Twilight strain. They can vanish into the shadows if they want to. It's their thing."
"Oh." Aunt Sarah leaned in close and holding out her hand, as though to be sniffed. Twilight let out a soft chirp, then rubbed the side of her face against Sarah's fingers. "I must say, she's quite pretty. And you say she's from Snek's world? So that's where you were?"
"Get off." Eric shoved Vicky, and she let go of his ear and took a step back. "I know what a hearth is. I was just testing you. No need to get violent."
Amy nodded, as Twilight preened at the praise. "Ah, yeah. That's where we were. Vicky was flying with the big dragons, and Twilight here just cuddled up to me, and here we are." She brought Twilight back to her chest, and the little dragon snuggled into her the same way as before. Crystal cooed again and came over to get a closer look, stepping up next to her mother.
"There's a bit more to it than that." Vicky grinned; Amy knew she enjoyed being the person with the information. "Hearth-dragons are empathetic, and they'll bond with people who, I guess, match with them. By the time I landed again, they were inseparable. I mean, look at them."
"Wait." Uncle Neil's head came up and he raised his eyebrows in concern. "Go back a bit. Flying with the 'big' dragons? How big?" Almost subconsciously, he held his hands apart as far as they would go, which was quite a bit farther than Amy was tall.
"Um …" Vicky shared a glance with Amy. "Seven-four-seven size? Bigger? I'm thinking bigger."
Amy nodded, thinking back to the massive ledge, weathering the gusts of wind kicked up as the tremendous wings propelled the dragons into the sky. "Bigger. Definitely bigger."
"Hmm." Aunt Sarah seemed to be treading a line between wanting to hear all about their adventures and wanting to tell them to never do it again. "I seem to recall you promising your mother that you wouldn't go anywhere with Snek, if you met up with him again."
"Actually, no." Vicky held up a finger, sounding sure of herself. "I said I wouldn't go if I didn't have a way to get back. But I had a way. Snek's Master had told Snek to get some sleep, so he opened a way back. After, you know, he depowered Ash Beast, and I got to fly around with dragons for a bit. We were fine."
"Hello, Twilight," Crystal said softly, reaching out toward the hearth-dragon. "Does she breathe fire or anything?"
"Not fire, no." Amy smiled as she watched Twilight regally accept scratches from Crystal, as her rightful and proper due. "Just the shadows thing. You didn't see her at all?" Now she wished she'd been watching Twilight when she vanished. The bond had allowed her to know where Twilight was, but that wasn't the same thing at all.
"Nope. It was like she wasn't there, then she was. It was very cool. You're very cool, aren't you? Yes, you are. Yes, you are." Crystal ran her hand down Twilight's back, the little dragon arching her spine into the caress. Amy could tell she was thoroughly enjoying the attention.
Uncle Neil blinked, apparently having trouble processing the size of Twilight's larger cousins. "That's big. That's really big. Weren't you worried? I mean, you've got your force field, but something that big could be dangerous if it really wanted to."
"Nope." Vicky waved the idea away airily, as only she could. "They're smart as humans, or maybe smarter. And they talk telepathically. Plus, they see us as adorably cute, like little kittens who want to play with them."
Aunt Sarah was still doing her best to be the concerned aunt, all the while watching her daughter play with an adorably tiny dragon. "You didn't tell us about any of that before. Just that they existed."
Vicky huffed and rolled her eyes. "That's because I hadn't met them before. I took Ames to meet the Master of the Castle and Riley, because she does medical stuff too, and Riley introduced us to the dragons. One's called Finesse and her mate's Cirrus, and they thought me being able to fly was the greatest thing in the world, because that meant they could both go flying with me."
"So, did you go flying with the dragons too, Amy?" asked Eric, looking at his younger cousin curiously. "I mean, on them. Whatever." He seemed to be restraining himself from the urge to pet Twilight as well, but some people (Amy decided) were just immune to cute.
"Uh-uh. Nope." Amy shook her head firmly to emphasise the negation. "I like keeping my feet on the ground. But it looked amazing. I took photos. Crystal, would you like to hold Twilight for a second?"
"Would I?" Crystal held out her arms, and Twilight stepped across into them, using her wings and tail to balance. She rubbed her head up under Crystal's chin and chirped happily.
"She's very friendly, isn't she?" asked Aunt Sarah, a smile stealing across her face as she watched the interaction. "She really seems to know what we're saying, doesn't she?"
"Oh, she totally does." Amy took her phone out and flicked through the latest photos she'd taken. The individual close-up shots of Cirrus and Finesse were magnificent, but the pictures of them together in the air were utterly gorgeous. Vicky, flying between them, was tiny in comparison. Amy had also gotten photos of the other hearth-dragons, mainly playing tag with each other, their variously coloured scales catching the sunlight.
"Aren't you just the cutest? Yes, you are." Crystal had Twilight on her back and was rubbing her tummy, the little dragon's head hanging down with an expression of bliss and her back legs kicking gently. "Your scales are so pretty."
"Okay, wow, those photos are amazing. Now I'm officially jealous." Eric nodded toward the way Crystal was doting over Twilight. "Also, I'm not sure if you're ever getting your baby dragon back."
Twilight turned her head to look at Eric and gave him a mildly indignant squawk, then went back to letting Crystal pamper her.
"What? What'd I say?" Eric evidently knew he'd said something wrong, but not what.
Amy smirked. "She's not a baby, she's fully grown. Plus, she'll come back when she wants to. We might be bonded, but she's her own person."
"So, what is this 'bonded' thing?" Aunt Sarah looked at Amy, then at Twilight. "That's twice you've mentioned it now."
"It's an emotional bond. We make each other feel better. Like the emotional support animals you see around, but this one's a lot deeper." Amy shrugged. "It's kind of a thing they do, like the bigger ones do telepathy."
"And how long do they live?" Uncle Neil sounded like he was trying to be pragmatic and soften the blow at the same time. "Because little critters like that don't live forever, you know."
"Won't be an issue." Vicky's tone was back in 'I know what I'm talking about' mode. "Riley told me that hearth-dragons normally live twenty years or so in the wild, but if they bond to someone, they live as long as that person does."
Eric raised his eyebrows. "Well, that's handy. Beats the heck out of getting a dog. How does that even work?"
Amy shrugged. She'd been told about this, but not a huge amount of detail. "Short answer? Magic. Long answer? They were bred to be pets thousands of years ago on some other world, then the Master of the Castle rescued them, along with the other dragons. Now they can choose to bond, or not, as they want."
"So, what does it take to bond with one?" Crystal looked beseechingly at Amy. "Because she's so gorgeous."
"Well, apparently, I was a special case." Amy got the idea that Twilight wanted to come back to her, so she turned slightly to offer her shoulder; Twilight leaped, glided on spread wings for a second, and landed neatly. Securing her perch on Amy's shoulder, the hearth-dragon leaned against the side of her head, holding her wing up while Amy scratched her ribs under it. "Twilight was really lonely because there weren't any others of her strain around, and it seems I was pretty lonely myself. So, we just clicked. Usually, it takes a week or more. Visiting, playing with them, getting to know them. They've all got their own personalities."
"They totally do," Vicky confirmed with a chuckle and a roll of her eyes. "Some of them can be real smartasses."
"Mom, can I?" Crystal turned puppy-dog eyes on her mother. "Can I go and meet the other hearth-dragons? Please?"
Vicky cleared her throat. "Ah, before we make a decision on that one, it's not going to happen right now. Just as we were leaving, the Master of the Castle was gearing up for something big. He said he'd be busy for a while."
"That's right." Amy reached up and ran her hand along the length of Twilight's tail as it draped around the back of her neck. "There were flashing red lights and everything."
"Ah." Uncle Neil scratched the back of his head. "Well, I was going to suggest that we all go if Crystal's going to visit. Get the lay of the land, so to speak. And I've always wanted to see a real castle." He glanced at Aunt Sarah. "That's if you think it's a good idea, hon."
Vicky grinned. "Oh, it's real, alright."
"Mom?" prompted Crystal hopefully.
"Hmm." Aunt Sarah put on a frown, but Amy could see the twinkle in her eye. "I suppose we could see what tomorrow brings. After all, Snek's done us all a huge favour and made Brockton Bay a no-go zone for violent crime. I guess we can afford to take a little time off as a team once in a while."
"Because Crystal wants a dragon all of her own?" Eric didn't quite make his tone snide, but the very lack of mockery conveyed it all the same.
"Nobody's twisting your arm to go, you know." Amy held up her hand and Twilight stepped onto it, allowing herself to be cradled once more. The hearth-dragon snuggled into Amy's arms, letting out a chirp of contentment. "You can stay right here in boring old Brockton Bay, and play Marco Polo with the only three muggers that are left in town."
"Two." Grinning, Vicky took up the repartee. "I got one last night."
Eric rolled his eyes and folded his arms. "Okay, fine. I'll go. Someone's got to keep the rest of you out of trouble."
"Talking about going …" Vicky grimaced. "Mom's not going to be far away now, so if you don't want to hear the yelling, you might want to leave soon."
"I'm staying." Aunt Sarah's tone was definitive as she put a supportive hand on Vicky's shoulder. "Now that I know a bit more about the situation, I'm thinking I'll hang around to back you up. Carol can be a little … reactionary at times."
Water's wet, sky is blue. She's gonna yell at me no matter what. Amy didn't say a word, but Twilight raised her head and rubbed it against her cheek anyway, crooning softly. She felt the worst of the knot in her gut melting away, and she held Twilight a little closer.
"And we should actually grab some burgers," Vicky decided. "Plus, extra curly fries for Dad. If Mom's that mad at us, I'm not really sure I trust her in the kitchen right now."
"So, what kind of burger did you want, Amy?" asked Crystal.
Amy smiled down at Twilight. "Something that's only medium greasy, but with extra bacon. Because I'm pretty sure I know someone who really likes bacon."
Proving she knew exactly what that word meant, Twilight chirped loudly in agreement.
Right about then, a familiar car roared into the parking lot. It took the first parking space it came to, pulling up with a squeal of brakes that was audible even from on top of the roof. The doors opened, and Carol and Mark got out. Even from this far away, Amy could see the anger and concern in every line of Carol's body.
"Oh, boy," muttered Vicky, all her bravado melting away. "I hope your will's up to date, sis, because we're gonna die."
Amy held Twilight a little tighter; the hearth-dragon chirped encouragingly, and rubbed her head across Amy's throat in a soothing motion. We got this.
Amy could only hope she was right.
End of Part Twenty-Three