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Water and Ashes

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They continue on for a few more hours, and Kiwi can feel himself growing tired. He finds another small cave off the main tunnel, and brings them both inside. The dragon enters behind them and lays in a distant corner, glad to finally rest its feet.

Setting Miriam down next to him, Kiwi leans against the wall. Finally glad to give his legs a time to relax, he stretches them out.

Miriam falls into Kiwi's lap, unconsciously snuggling into him.

He smiles to himself, and rests one hand on her side, and the other caresses her head. Humming softly as he closes his eyes to drift off into sleep, he hears Miriam murmur.

"Mmmmm. Eya's sweet chordsss I love youuu..." She mumbled.

Kiwi opens his eyes and looks at Miriam. Blushing profusely, he wonders if he’s imagining things.

"Miriam?" He asks softly, seeing if she'll respond.

"Mmmmmhhh... Kiwi..." She snuggles further into him.

His face grows hot. "Y-yes?" He didn't know if she could hear him in his sleep, but he responded anyways.

"Mmmmmmmlloveyou..." She dreamily states again.

"O-oh. Thank... uh.. thank you?" He didn't know what else to say, so he awkwardly mumbled as he continued to blush. A goofy smile crawls onto his face. "I love you too, Miriam."

Kiwi's back slides down the wall, bringing his level closer to Miriam's. Lifting her higher up on his body, she now lays on his chest.

Miriam shifts slightly as she wakes up from the movement. At first she didn't remember what she was dreaming about, but when it hit her, her cheeks flushed.

She looked up at Kiwi, giving him a questioning look.

He gazes back at her, smiling goofily in the faint light of the glowworms.

"What?" Miriam asked.

"I... um... I love you too," he says softly. His gaze softens and he lays his forehead against hers.

She blushes profusely. "Ohhh Eya's sweet chords what did I say-" She mumbles to herself.

"You uh... said you loved me?" He giggles awkwardly. "Its alright if you didn't mean it though I-"

"Nonononono it’s-" She paused. "I... may or may not have meant it." She blushed more.

"What?" He tilts his head and looks curiously into her eyes, his lips slightly parted.

"MmmMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM"

Kiwi chuckles nervously. "Heh, it's alright if you didn't mean to say that... Uhm..." His words drift off to silence. The two laid there a moment in complete quiet.

"Uh, I said I MIGHT have-" She managed to blush even more.

Hope fills his chest, and speaking before he loses the courage, he asks, "May I?" and leans in closer.

"Uh. Uhhhhhhhhhh???? YyyyyyyyyyyYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees????" She was kind of turning into a mess now. Either way, she said yes.

His heart was pounding in his chest. He took a deep breath before softly pressing his lips to Miriam's forehead.

After bringing them away, he looks to the side to avoid making eye contact and gives a wobbly smile.

Miriam stared for a moment.

"I was expecting a bit more. Guess I'll have to fix that." Without hesitation, she grabs Kiwi's head and presses her lips against his for a kiss.

Finding that his soft lips against hers felt overwhelming pleasant, she allowed herself to continue the sudden surge of affection. Kiwi’s tense body slowly melted under her and embraced her back. They eventually parted because Miriam had forgotten breathing was a necessity.

She pulled away and was now a raggedly breathing mess. She felt as if she were burning. Her mind was racing a thousand miles a minute, mostly with oheya'ssweetchordsdidijustdothatoheya-

Miriam emits a high pitched squeaking noise for a moment, her expression a very wobbly smile.

Wonderstruck, Kiwi processed what they just did. He brings his hand up to lightly touch his parted lips, going over what they had done in his head. "Did that... did that really just happen?" he wonders aloud in sheepish amazement. Kiwi felt as if he were taking on the hue of a tomato.

"Uh." Miriam stared for a moment. "Sorry..." She mumbled, averting eye contact.

Kiwi squints his eyes shut with pure elation and lets out a happily musical squeal. "Don't be sorry! It was... It was really nice!" He wraps his arms around her for a tight hug.

Miriam smiled and hugged back. She was being a total dork, but... she honestly didn't care. She liked Kiwi. A lot. And... she's glad to just be with him. To know that he... loves her back.

They hug for a while without saying a word. Even though their current situation was not what they had planned, far from it in fact, they were glad it brought them closer together. It was an experience they'd remember, that's for certain.

Breaking the silence, Kiwi tells her, "Thanks for everything, it really means a lot.. just... having you here!"

"It... means a lot to me, too." Miriam agrees.

Kiwi looks up at the ceiling of the cave and admires the luminous scene above. "Hey Miriam," He sighed. "the glowworms almost look kinda like stars."

Miriam looked up as well. "...Yeah, they kinda do." She agreed.

"Yeah," he mimics breathily. He enjoys her presence in silence for a moment, before asking, "Oh, how's your foot?" He tilts his head to the side in concern as he tries to look at her burn wound.

She glances at it. "I think it's still pretty bad. Probably won't be able to walk on it for a few more days."

"Well that's alright then, I don't mind carrying you! I just hope you get better soon." He nods lightly.

"Mmm... me too." She agrees.

Fully at ease now, Kiwi hums softly. He wishes he could sing, but wouldn't want to stress his lungs any more, so humming was a good musical alternative.

Miriam pauses for a moment. "Wait, where's the dragon? The small one, I mean."

“Oh! I think it’s over in the corner somewhere! It followed me the whole way here, it didn't get too close though.”

“Pspspspspspsp!" Kiwi tried to call the dragon over. It woke up and looked at him curiously before resting its head again.

Miriam sighed. "I guess we're all in pretty rough shape, huh?" She huffed. "Hey, giant fire lizard, if you're out there, screw you!" She called out to the darkness. The small dragon in the corner seemed to agree with her.
"Y-yeah! Uh... Heck! Heck you!?" He called out as well, mildly confused. "Yeah, I guess we did get pretty roughed up!" He chuckles.

They continue to talk and joke for a while, raising their spirits. Eventually they grow tired, and drift off to sleep. The small dragon stands up and stretches once it notices that they've fallen quiet. It walks up to them, and curls up in the crook of Kiwi's arm.

Miriam groggily opened her eyes, yawning slightly. The glowworms illuminated the cave in a soft glow. She could feel Kiwi's chest rising and falling softly, since she was laying on top of him.

Kiwi's breath has a slight wheeze to it. Inhaling water can have repercussions for days. He shifts slightly, loosening his arm from around the baby dragon.

The small creature perks its head up, and smacks its finned tail against the cave floor in agitation of having been woken.

Miriam lets out a startled yelp, not having expected the dragon to move.

Kiwi raises his head. "Is everything alright?" He asks in bleary eyed confusion.

She cleared her throat. "Dragon just startled me, that's all."

"Ohh, alright!" Kiwi looked to the little dragon that was looking at them both with curiosity. "Should we name them something other than dragon?" Kiwi pet the dragon and cooed "Do you want a name, little fella?"

The small dragon wagged its tail, squeaking in excitement.

"How about we name you Scale," Kiwi gushes, lightly tapping the dragon's nose.

The dragon huffs. "Kiwi, please, it's obviously more of a..." Miriam paused to think for a moment. "Betta."

The dragon perked up at her suggestion.

"Kiwi chuckles, I guess that does seem like a 'Betta' name!" He chuckles to himself, proud to have made a functional pun. "Betta, I like that!"

Miriam gave him a deadpan look.

"Aww c'mon, you know you liked it," Kiwi teases lightly, "Everyone likes jokes!"

She gives an amused huff. "Fiiiiiiiiiiiine."

"I guess it's time for us to get back on track then?" He hoists himself up into a sitting position, causing Miriam to slide onto his lap. "I just know we'll be getting out of the cave today! And good thing too, I'm super hungry!" He stretches his arms out above him and yawns.

He looks down at Miriam and smiles, glad that they'd spent so much time together, though still wishing it was under slightly different circumstances. He hoped that once they finally left the cave that she'd still accept his awkward affections, because he really enjoyed being with her.

"Are you ready to get going soon?" Questioned Kiwi.

"Yeah." Miriam answered absentmindedly.

Patiently waiting for her to remove herself from his lap, Kiwi nods his head and goes over what their plans for the day are. "So I guess we just keep following the draft until we reach sunlight! Also please don't fall asleep again, it’s harder to maneuver using just the light of the glowworms."

Kiwi pauses. "You alright, Miriam? You seem a little quieter than normal?" He goes to not so subtly hold her hand.

"Uh-" Miriam blushed slightly. "S-sorry..."

"It's alright! I guess we're both a little uh... frazzled? Lately?"

He clears his throat. "What now?"

"Well," She started. "We should probably find a way out of here."

"Definitely! I know today's the day we'll get out I think," He sings with a slight vibrato. "I have a good feeling about today." Kiwi looks at Miriam and meets her eyes. His smile widens when he looks at her.

Being unable to stand up until Miriam gets off him, but also not wanting to directly ask her, he gives a content sigh and closes his eyes again.

Finally Miriam remembers. "Oh! Right-" She slides off his lap.

Sensing her shift in movement, he opens his eyes and giggles. " I was wondering when you'd remember!" He stands up and stretches his legs.

After he regains circulation in his legs again, he kneels down and offers to help Miriam onto his back.

Miriam accepts his offer, climbing onto his back.

"Now go, my noble steed. Off into the sunset." She jokingly said.

Kiwi blushes and gives a lighthearted laugh. "Would my princess care to light the way?"

"Yessir." She raised a hand, the magic in her palm illuminating the area around them.

His heart fills with joy and he has to stop himself from skipping as they traverse the cave.

They walk for a few more hours, and Kiwi takes a few breaks for shortness of breath and leg aches, but eventually they see a shining light.

"Miriam, wait, I think I see another light! Turn yours off real quick!"

She complies with his request, lowering her hand.

The light is still shining, a soft golden color.

Quickening his pace, Kiwi heads towards the light and when they finally break away from the depths of the cave, they have to shield their eyes from the scintillating sunlight.

Finally realizing that they were out in the day, they rejoice. "Miriam! We're finally finally out! We did it!" Kiwi sets Miriam down on a large stone protruding from the ground, and then proceeds to hug a burnt bush and sob.

Miriam just watches, not able to do much else.

She silently thanked Eya, looking up to the sky. She let the sun warm her body.

He removed himself from the burnt bush after a while. Covered in ashes, Kiwi lightly dusts himself off, then goes to hug Miriam, arms extended wide.

Miriam notices him, and accepts his offer.

He buried his face in Miriam's shoulder and sniffled. Kiwi was so glad to have finally gotten out of the cave, and to see the sun again.

After getting a hold of himself, he sits down besides her and speaks. "I'm just so glad to finally be out of there."

"Yeah... me too." Miriam agreed.

They rejoice for a while more before going to search for a way out of the forest. Miriam on his back, and Kiwi allowing her to lead the way, they eventually stumble upon the very same lake that they were by days before.

"Oh, Miriam, It's the lake again! Should we get the broom pieces from the cave?" Kiwi walks towards the lake, standing on the shore and searching the horizon for anything familiar among the burnt forest.

Miriam narrows her eyes for a moment, then points to the distinct shape of the cave they were in days before. "I think I see it over there."

Walking towards the cave, Kiwi muses, "Huh, why do you think the cave's so close when it took so long to get out of it?"

"Well," Miriam starts. "The cave did have a lot of twists and turns. It's likely that we were lucky to even get an exit near the original entrance point."

"Ohhhh! Okay then!" He chuckles and looks back at Miriam. He sees her boredly playing with the feather on his hat. "You can wear my hat if you'd like!"

"Wh-" Miriam pulls her hand away. "N-no it’s-"

"You sure? I don’t mind at all!" He would have reached up to hand it to her, but his arms were occupied holding her legs. He settles with leaning his head back, motioning for her to take it.

Miriam shyly takes hold of the hat, choosing to just hold it close to her. "Sorry, I'm just... not really used to, well. Feelings?" She admitted.

"Feelings in general or uh..." Kiwi paused and a goofy grin wormed its way onto his lips. "Feelings feelings?"

"Uh." She blushed slightly. "Feelings feelings, I guess."

Kiwi giggles shyly. "I guess I'm not either. It’s... it’s really nice though"

"Mmm... yeah." She agreed quietly.

The walked the rest of the way in near silence, broken only by Kiwi humming as he walked. Thoughts swam through his head about the past few days with Miriam. He mentally admitted that seeing the dragon corpse was terrifying, but he was glad that he and Miriam were closer than ever before.

An hour has passed, and Kiwi has been listening to Miriam try to fix her broom. She was cursing, both magically and non magically. As she continued to growl with frustration, Kiwi decided to approach her. "Uhh... Miriam, how's the broom going?"

"Terribly." She growled out. "I can't freaking fix it."

Kiwi sat next to her and looked outside. "There's still a lot of daylight! We can go out and search through the forest!" Their small friend, Betta, slunk into the cave with them; they had just finished sunbathing on a stone outside. Kiwi absentmindedly strokes them as they suggest possibilities of what else they could do.

Miriam grumbles under her breath. "I guess searching the forest is all we really can do right now."

"We'll get out of this, and far off in the future this'll just be a distant memory. I know we'll get out, I know it!" Kiwi was comforting himself just as much as he was comforting her. Truth be told, he was afraid, but he didn't want Miriam to worry any more than she was.

He gives her a weak smile, and holds out his hand for her to take.

She takes it.

"So should we get going then?" He offers to help Miriam onto his back again.

Miriam silently nodded, climbing onto his back.

"Pspspspspspspspsp!" Kiwi calls the little dragon over as he begins to walk. "Which way?" He turns his head to face Miriam as he begins.

"Hm." Miriam thinks for a moment. "North, probably."

Betta squeaks, wrapping around Kiwi's legs.

"North? Which way is th-" Kiwi pauses and looks down. "Hey Betta, whatcha doin? I've gotta walk you know."

Betta lets out another squeak, almost fearful, giving Kiwi a pleading look.

"Hey, you alright there?" He kneels down carefully, placing a hand on the frightened dragon's back.

A large silhouette glides above them. Betta freezes.

Kiwi looks up, and a worried yell rises in his throat.

"aaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!"

The silhouette turns, landing in front of them.

"Oh Eya's sweet chords is that-" Miriam comments with worry, already charging magic in her hand to fire at the dragon.

Kiwi's alarmed tone turns into a single oscillating note.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA"

The dragon huffed in confusion, slowly sitting down. Miriam lowered her hand, the magic dissipating.

"AaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaa" Kiwi tries to keep the tone as long as he can once he notices the dragon sat down. "Heheh... you uh... liked that????" He sweats nervously, ready to sprint with Miriam on his back should he need to.

The dragon let out a low growl, signifying a yes.

"Eheh.. Okay then!" He cleared his throat and warmed up a little. "Ehem. Mi mi mi mi miiiiiii" Then he went to sing for real.

He sings with a strong vibrato, and almost surprises himself with his lack of coughing. He keeps eyeing up the dragon, constantly hoping that it wouldn't turn and kill them.

The dragon growls lightly, in sync with the music, it's head swaying slightly back and forth.

Kiwi sings for as long as his breath would allow. Once he sang many of the songs he knew, he improvised for a while afterwards. He allows the song to slowly stop and continues gazing at the dragon, waiting for its response with nervous anticipation.

The dragon raises itself into a tall stance, then bows before Kiwi.

Kiwi looks at his surroundings, and inherently knowing he'd find nothing but blackened forest, he turns back. "Hey uh... Mrs.. uh.. Mr? Dragon? Would you mind if we could get a ride back to the nearest town?" He didn't know if the dragon could understand him fully, but since Betta seemed to get the general grasp, he decided to give it a go. Kiwi knew this dragon was probably the one that had killed the water dragon in the cave, so he was mildly apprehensive in asking for help. It was either ask or wander for days with Miriam's burned foot.

A low growl emmenantes from its throat, before it lowers itself into a position where they can easily mount it.

"Oh Eya's sweet chords that actually worked..." Kiwi whispers, partially in disbelief. He picked up a trembling Betta, and helped Miriam onto the dragon's back.
He adjusts himself on the dragon's massive back and holds onto Miriam's hand with one arm and onto Betta with the other. Kiwi makes sure everyone is on safely before speaking again. "Alright then, I think we're ready to take off."

The dragon spreads it large, somewhat torn, leathery wings, flapping them as it ascends into the dark sky.

The air grows colder as they ascend into the sky. The wind from the dragon's wings buffeted through their hair, and they held on tight to each other. Betta was curled up tightly, and had shifted to fit in between him and Miriam.

In the silence of their flight, the dragon gives a low huff and turns to face Kiwi.
Slightly nervous, Kiwi asks, "Hm? Is everything alright?"

The dragon lets out a low noise that almost sounded like... music?

"Hugh... sick?" Kiwi ponders on this for a moment before it comes to him. "OH! Music?"

The dragon gives a growl that sounds like a yes.

Surprised by the dragons near human articulation, Kiwi clears his throat and sings. The majority of the songs he sings are those he'd heard along his and Miriam's journey.

Kiwi's voice stops suddenly when they spot a village below them. He hadn't noticed the green and unscarred foliage while he was looking at the clouds. Miriam had squeezed his hand in hers and pointed for him to look below them. "Oh! That's where we started off!"

"Could you land right around here?" Kiwi requests of the dragon. "That’s the town we were in a few days ago!"

The dragon gives a compliant growl, lowering itself to the ground.

"Well that was certainly an interesting ordeal?" Kiwi says as he turns to Miriam. "I can hardly believe these past few days!""Heh, yeah, me neither." Miriam agreed.

Kiwi helps Miriam and Betta to the ground. He props Miriam up by her shoulders. "Thank you for the Ride! I hope to see you again sometime I think? Thanks for not killing us!" He waves to the dragon, thankful that he and Miriam had survived, along with their new dragon friend.

The dragon huffs, lifting its wings and raising itself back into the sky, leaving them.

“To think the dragon truly did like my singing!” Kiwi smiles complacently, as he thinks of what they'd been though. "Hm... I do remember going to sing when we'd first seen them. If I had sung then do you think none of that would have happened?"

"Well," Miriam shifted slightly. "I'm kind of glad all this did happen." She said, averting eye contact.

Kiwi looks at her for a moment before he wraps both his arms around her in an embrace. "I guess these past few days really were an adventure, huh? We made a new friend..." Kiwi motions to Betta who is currently exploring the area around. "And the two of us got a little closer."

Miriam's breath caught in her throat for a moment, before she returned the hug and leaned into the embrace. "Yeah. We did." She agreed, resting her head on Kiwi's chest. She hummed quietly, finding the sound of his heartbeat pleasant.

Miriam's head over his heart was something he could get used to. Kiwi places a small kiss on the top of her head before resting his cheek there.

"So are we going to stay like this? I mean once we get back to the town and all?" Kiwi murmurs as he gently strokes Miriam's hair with one of his hands.

"Mmmhm." She muttered, not wanting to let go of the embrace.

"That's nice to hear." Kiwi smiles and joins in with her humming.

Betta stops investigating the greenery around them and paws at Kiwi's feet. "Hm?" Kiwi asks, before saying, "Ahh, I guess we should probably get back to the town now."

"Probably." Miriam agreed, despite not really wanting to let go of the embrace yet.

Kiwi momentarily tightens his hug before taking a step back to look at Miriam from a distance. "Once we get to town we can do something for your foot. Does that sound good?"

She nodded weakly. The strain of everything was finally catching up to her. She felt exhausted, and yet, couldn't be happier as she smiled up at Kiwi.

Kiwi kneels down to allow her onto his back to carry her. "Hop on," he encouraged.

Complying to his request, Miriam climbs onto his back, wrapping her arms around him in both an effort to stay on and to give him a sort of hug.

They walk to the nearby town, and when someone sees them walk out of the foliage they approach.

"Are you two okay? You look like you've been though he-OH EYA ALMIGHTY!" They jump in fright as Betta waddles out of a bush behind them.

Miriam stares at Betta. "You can thank Kiwi for that, since he literally turns everything he sees into one of his friends." At this, she pokes Kiwi playfully.

"Hehe, yeah," Kiwi chuckles, "we found this little guy after we had a run in with the bigger dragon... they're still out there though so uh... you might want to call in backup."

“You… didn't get rid of the dragon?” The townsfolk asked in shock.

Miriam shot back, “As you can clearly see,” we had some difficulties. She motions to her red and blistered foot and their numerous scratches. “Why didn't anyone tell us what we were up against? You only said a monster was tormenting the town.”

The townsfolk shifted anxiously. “We didn't want you to not take the job if you knew it was a dragon...”

Miriam glared at the person and huffed. “I’d have a few choice words to say to you if Kiwi here wasn't listening in, but those can be saved for later.”

“Aww gee, don't be too mad Miriam! They could have thought this out better, sure, but we’re safe and that's what matters!”

“Yeah, yeah, that's true.” She nodded. “Now where is this town’s medical center? You can probably tell that we need some care.”

The townsperson leads them through the town, waiting for them with their slowed pace, and brings them towards the building. They run off after Kiwi carries Miriam inside.

Kiwi sets Miriam down in a waiting room chair as he goes to the front to get them both a doctor.

A few hours later, their doctor visit was done. Kiwi had gotten a type of pneumonia from inhaling water when he nearly drowned, and Miriam’s foot had some first and second degree burns. They would thankfully heal within the next few weeks to a month, but for now they were exhausted and glad their adventure was over.

Not wanting to, or having the means to travel, they stayed in the town and had a letter sent to Miriam’s Grandma Saphy so she wouldn't worry about them too much. The town allowed them to stay in a house that was unoccupied at the time as an apology for sending them out unprepared. Kiwi and Miriam decided to keep Betta since they knew they couldn't return him to the wild.

They decided to stay in the town until they’d fully healed. Then they’d decide on whether to go back out and see what they could do about the dragon or leave if the town had gotten someone else to help out.