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He’s dry.

That’s the first thing he realizes when he comes to. He’s done the fall before, the dragon always comes out and he always wakes up wet and broken on the rocks. But always alive. He can hear the rain too, but he’s very aware of how dry he is. When he opens his eyes, he realizes why. The tent is an odd thing to see. But it’s holding. Against the rain and the winds, it’s holding.

And it isn’t nearly as odd as the back that’s pressed to his.

He holds himself very still as the girl gives a sigh and presses firmly to him. He stiffens and immediately regrets it when all his muscles scream in protest. It feels like he’s been dragged across the entire island. He presses his face into the ground and bites back a scream. He’s not a dragon in the moment, he’s not going to scream like the beast that claws inside him. He wills it back, desperately and firmly. Until he can open his eyes without the heat. When he dares it, he looks back at the girl who has somehow wound up even closer. She exhales and it comes out shaky.

She must be freezing. It’s been years since he’s been anything but ready to burn his own skin off at a moment’s notice. Careful not to touch her, he eases himself up. Immediately she makes a sound of distress and rolls herself right into the spot he occupied. He scrubs at his face and pushes himself up. His ribs and ankle protest this. He finds a stick to lean on, there’s no point in pride at this island. It’s not like he’s ever had visitors around here.

He hobbles up into the cave. He hasn’t set foot here since he was a boy. It’s too human, too hospitable. The dragon would ruin it anyway. He finds the blanket before he can linger too long on anything else. Dust and sand can have it, he thinks stubbornly. He pauses only long enough to find something to put on. It’s not much, but it might give him some protection against touching her again. Not that such a thing will make a difference.

Supplies gathered, he hobbles back towards the tent. The sentry runs through his legs making all kinds of excited noises at his survival. He shoos it away. It chirps and inquiry and he sighs.

“You should have let me die,” he says.

It’s a dance he and this creature have done before. Many times. The last time he’d nearly succeeded with letting the tides have him, but the sentry had pulled him back. Pinned him there and he’d woken up to it nearly passed out from exhaustion. Things should stop trying to keep him alive. He frowns when he realizes the smell of his skin. It’s the leaves. He’s never had someone patch him up since he was a boy. Even the wild beast inside him approves of this and a new wave of disgust falls over him. He turns to the teeth, surely now he can just throw himself off. Maybe the transformation will kill him this time.

He touches the wound on his side and swears softly. He can try to kill himself, but if his new companion is smart enough to remember the leaves, rig a tent and patch him up, she’s smart enough to survive this place. For a while. He at least owes her an explanation for why her husband isn’t here. He turns from the teeth and back into the tent. She said her father was a duke. That rewards were there for her safe return. It’s hard to reconcile the fogged image he has of her, of the nobility, with the scrappy and bruised creature curled into a ball on the ground.

He lays down one of the blankets and is careful not to touch her when he shifts her into it. She doesn’t stir or uncurl. He lays the other blanket over her and moves to the ledge. How long has it been since he started a fire without becoming a dragon? He’s not even sure this will work. But he gathers the tinder and takes the flint. It takes several tries to make a spark that catches. He’s so weak by the time it’s done he’s nearly out of breath. The sentry looks at him and the flames, cocking it’s head to the side.

“I’d like to see you do better,” he remarks and receives a loud outraged sound. Immediately he presses his finger to his lips and looks over. The girl’s features smooth out. Her ball is less tight, as the fire warms the place. The sentry returns with fruit in his paws and shoves one at him. “Thank you,” he mutters, trying to remember the last time he spoke this much.

The girl makes a soft noise and straightens out, turning towards the fire. Towards him. He feels paralyzed, waiting for the beast to roar to life and show him how stupid this is. Something roars, but the beast doesn’t come. Not like usual. He counts slowly in his head, but the magic number passes. He slumps, relieved. Picking up the stick, he makes his way to where she is sleeping. He tucks the blanket around her before he lays down. He won’t risk touching her but the warmth is making him tired. He lays with his back to her, but he focuses on her breathing and the steady sound of her heart.

“Sleep well, Mira.”