Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dragon's First Date

He kissed me! Or, I guess, I kissed him. It doesn’t really matter, does it?
A whole bunch of other stuff happened first. I guess I should start at the beginning.
Jack picked me up. He brought me flowers, purple and white striped lilies and red roses mixed together in a square glass vase. He nailed my favorite colors and scents, and he even brought chocolate-covered strawberries for Ma. She grinned and hugged him, and told him that she knew her little girl would pick a smart man. I couldn't help but roll my eyes. I'm passed 60, I can lift her car, and I'm dating now, and she still calls me her "little girl."
I’ve seen Jack face supervillains, gang fights, and 6 car pileups without missing a beat, but he took one look at me in my new purple dress and forgot how to close his mouth. I guess I look pretty good for sixty-three. I'm definitely not a little girl anymore.
Jack promised Ma he’d have me home by 1 as if I were a high school girl going to prom. Kinda felt like it. Or, at least how I imagined it. I never got to go to prom, or high school.
We were supposed to have dinner at Outback Steakhouse. Unfortunately, the wait was like 2 hours, and that was with us getting there at 6. We’d have missed the movie. So, we went to Big Bite instead. The wait was only 15 mins. Not exactly a romantic atmosphere with the shiny steel tables and all, but they have great fried cheese, steak and chicken wings.
It felt a little weird, sitting there with Jack on a date. Jack and I talk together all the time normally, and it’s easy and comfortable, but last night, I felt really awkward. Same guy, same place that we grab lunch at 3 AM all the time, but I suddenly felt incredibly shy, tripped over my tongue and dropped food on my lap. I worried constantly that my dress would shift and some of my scales would show, or that I had bits of chicken in my teeth. He kept asking me about where I went to school, where I grew up, and stuff that I carefully never talk about. I guess that’s a normal date thing, to ask about your date’s past.
So, I got him talking about his childhood instead. That helped. Apparently, his branch of the Nguyen family used to be Vietnamese royalty. His mom and dad were refugees from the Vietnam war. His parents had to leave when things heated up for fear of reprisals.
Without thinking, I told him I protested the war. Talk about foot in mouth. I covered it by saying that I meant that I would have protested the war if I’d been around then, but it didn’t sound too convincing.
It was a huge relief when dinner was finally over, and we went to the movie. Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It had been out for a while, but I hadn’t gotten to see it yet. I loved the books when they first came out when I was a little girl. Dad used to read them to me. Jack and I had the theatre completely to ourselves so we got the prime seats with the railing in front, just behind the front section. Seeing Reepicheep on the screen was super cool. But I hate the thing with Eustace turning into a dragon because he was greedy and petty. It’s such an ugly stereotype. I mean, I like jewelry as much as the next girl, maybe a bit more than some, but seriously, I know a lot of humans that are a lot greedier. Greed isn't only a dragon specific trait.
I tried to explain to Jack why it pissed me off that dragons were always portrayed as greedy and vicious, and he agreed with me. Apparently, in Vietnam, legends of dragons are all noble and beneficial. He said he just didn’t understand why western dragons seemed to be prone to eating virgins and burning villages.
I knew I liked him.
Then he put his arm around me and I flinched away and pushed him off. He could have felt my scales under the thin fabric of the dress. He looked really rejected, and I just didn’t know what to tell him. I stumbled all over myself apologizing, but there wasn’t anything I could say that would make shoving my date away okay.
He asked me again why I asked him out, and I had to wonder myself what in the world I was thinking. How did I expect to have a date like a normal person, when I couldn’t even let a guy put his arm around me? All I could think was what a huge mistake this was.
And then the roof just fell in. I don’t mean figuratively, I mean literally. A chunk of the roof collapsed and crashed into the rows of seats. A good sized beam headed straight for me and Jack. I threw up my left arm, the one with the solid scales and threw my body over Jack. I caught the beam hard on my forearm and deflected it behind us. I mentally wrote off the pretty new dress and unfolded my left wing. It ripped through the delicate fabric and I draped it over me and Jack like the roof of a tent.
My wing bones are slender but strong as steel and covered in tiny metal scales that almost nothing can penetrate, and the wing skin is a lot tougher than normal skin, more like really tough boot leather, only thin and stretchy like a trampoline. Big chunks of plaster and concrete fell on my wing, but under it, Jack was safe. Our eyes met for just a second under that shelter, and I knew there were no more secrets between us. I was horrified. Now that Jack knew what a freak I was, I’d have to find a new job, move to a new city, and Ma was getting too old to pick up and move again.
“It’s okay, Dee,” Jack said. “It’s just me.”
Then a huge red and black dragon fell through the roof and landed, panting in pain in the space in front of us between the rows. He had a long bleeding slice through the membrane on one wing and a few minor cuts in his scales. I’d never seen anything that could cut through dragon scales.
A dragon.  An actual member of my own species. He was the first dragon I’d seen in the nearly 50 years since Dad died. I was dumbfounded. I said something really brilliant like, “You’re a dragon!”
The dragon said, “What gave you your first clue, Sherlock,” in a heavy accent, and scrambled to his feet. Then he actually spared a glance to look at me, saw my wing still partially extended over Jack, and did a double-take. A double-take looks really funny on a massive dragon. “You’re a dragon!” he said, and I didn’t feel nearly so stupid.
I folded my wing up, since no more chunks were falling and jumped over the railing. “You’re actually a dragon!” Okay, so it was even more stupid to say it twice, but cut me some slack. It had been a long time since I saw another dragon.
“I think we’re passed that, milady. I’m Fafnir Drage." He folded his wings, and bowed. "And you are?”
“Damson Dragon. Most people just call me Dee.”
I shook his huge clawed and fully scaled hand, or at least one finger of it. He managed to look surprised, even with a face covered in scales and his mouth extended to a snout to hold all the teeth. “I didn’t know there were any women of our kind on this continent. The Georgians have been quite, um, efficient, here.”
“Yeah, they got my dad.”
“Speak of the devil,” Fafnir said, and down dropped an all too familiar figure in a white tabard and silver scale armor carrying a shield with a knight skewering a dragon. White Knight. I so should have known that guy was a Georgian. He slid down a rope belayed around his waist and landed in the aisle, cast the rope aside, and drew the big sword that I’d always seen him wear on TV, but never seen him actually use. Guess I know what can cut through dragon scales, and what put that big slash in Fafnir's wing.
He said, “And now you die, foul beast,” or something really clichéd like that and charged down one of the aisles straight at the big red and black dragon, right past Jack.
Fafnir bared his fangs and pushed me behind him, so I missed seeing what happened next. But I heard it. There was a loud crackling sound, and I jumped out from behind the red scaly wall of Fafnir's back just in time to see the White Knight on the ground unconscious and twitching.  Jack stood behind him holding a taser and grinning. That scale armor does conduct electricity pretty well.
Fafnir boomed a laugh, thanked Jack for the assistance very formally, and asked him who he was.
“Nguyen Phuc Jack” he said, the way he told me his parents said it.
“Ah, one of the dragon lords. Thank you for the assistance, although I think I could have handled one lone Georgian. It’s when they come in numbers that they’re really dangerous.” Dragon lords? What the heck?

I was going to ask, but Fafnir groaned a bit as he shifted and I realized blood was still dripping down his arm from his folded wing. I went straight into EMT mode. "Let me see," I said with authority.

The gigantic dragon grinned slightly, and odd sight, unfurled his wing as ordered, and held it out to me. I knew exactly what to do from the time something similar happened to me as a kid. I held the leathery skin together with Jack's help, and bit carefully just below the joint between wrist and first wing bone. The venom had a far more immediate effect on Fafnir than on a human. The bleeding stopped and the flesh knitted together while Jack and I watched.

"You have my gratitude, Damson Dragon," Fafnir said when the wound was fully closed. It wasn't all the way healed, but it clearly would be in a few hours. "Healing is a rare gift. You must be a green."

"Purple, really, but my dad was green."

"Purple?" Fafnir seemed suprised. "I don't know as I have ever encountered a purple dragon."
Fafnir shifted then. He did the switch to fully human thing that my dad used to do. One minute, dragon the size of a Winnebago, the next, a man, although not much smaller, actually. He had to be nearly 7 feet tall, strawberry blonde, blue-eyed and built like Arnold Schwarzenegger before he went into politics. I really have to learn that trick.
Fafnir picked up the fallen sword and hefted it over the unconscious White Knight like he was going to chop his head off. I stopped him with a hand on his telephone pole of an arm. “You can’t just kill him.”

“What do you think he intended to do to me, fledgling?” Yeah, he called me fledgling, like a baby bird who can’t quite fly. I almost felt insulted, but I guess it sort of fits.
“I know.” I get it. White Knight's a Georgian, the guys who killed Dad, the ones I’ve hated and lived in constant fear of my whole life. But, it just didn’t seem right. I pulled the silver scale coif and half mask off and looked at the face of my enemy. The supple metallic scales in my hand felt all too familiar. Dragon skin. He was wearing the skin of a murdered dragon. But he was just a man, about 30 maybe, with a scar on his lip and another across his eyebrow. I’ve seen this guy pull kids out of a burning bus on the news. He just fought that fire-throwing bad guy a few days ago in front of me, the one who burned the cops and nearly got Jack. He’s one of the Protectors, a nationally recognized hero.

And in his spare time, he murdered dragons.
I’ve never felt so confused in all my life, but I spend my nights saving people. I couldn’t just stand by while someone stabbed this guy to death while he lay there unconscious and helpless. I told the big guy, Fafnir, that I wouldn’t let him kill the Knight.  Jack stepped up beside me, supporting me without words.
Fafnir looked as confused as I felt, but he let it go. He just shrugged and said he would no doubt have another opportunity to kill Georgians. Good thing, too, because if he'd insisted, there was really no way Jack and I could have stopped him.
I asked Fafnir how I could find him, or if there were any others of our kind in Texas. He was the first dragon I'd seen in fifty years, no way I was just going to let him leave.
He said he knew of one other dragon, another male named Vlad, who lived in Houston.  Fafnir gave me his own cell phone number, and the number of the guy in Houston, and I gave him mine. He said to be sure and destroy my cell if it looked like a Georgian was going to get me, so it couldn’t be used to track them down. Cheery thought.
I have other dragons I can talk to now!
Then, Fafnir shifted back to dragon form, leapt to the roof through the hole, flexed his wings a few times to test the injured part, and flew away.
Leaving me with Jack, and an unconscious Knight who was starting to groan and stir.
I grabbed Jack’s hand and we ran for the emergency exit before the White Knight woke up.
Jack drove me home. We didn’t say much on the way back. My mind was going a mile a minute with everything I’d learned about others of my own kind, and the White Knight being a Georgian.
When we got back to my apartment, Jack walked me up the stairs to my door, and stopped to say good night, and I remembered something else I learned. “What did he mean, dragon lord?”
Jack said it was what Nguyen Phuc meant, that he was one of the dragon lord clan who had been the last emperors of Vietnam before it became a republic.
He stood a little way from me while he talked, and carefully didn’t touch me, like he wasn’t sure if he could. I told him I was sorry about pushing him away earlier. I just didn’t want him to feel my scales and know I was a freak. Of course, now, with my dress ripped, my left arm, the one covered in a complete sheet of scales, was totally exposed.
Jack reached out kind of hesitantly to touch the scales, and I let him. No one else had ever touched them. He stroked down my left arm and it felt amazing. Fire doesn’t hurt me through those scales and I can stop a roof support beam with them without so much as a bruise, but I could still feel his light touch.
He said something in Vietnamese then, and I asked him what it meant.
“Sons of dragons, grandsons of gods. It’s what they say about my family line, that we were descended from a dragon.”
“So, you’re not freaked out?”
He gave me this exasperated look. Then he told me he’d worked with me for a year, seen me lift a gurney with a 300 pound patient on it with one hand, seen me jump over the gurney long ways just the other day, and he had known for months that if he left me alone for a few seconds with the most critically ill patients, they would recover completely, miraculously fast. We had a 70% higher survival rate than any other EMT team in town. That was the real reason why the boss hadn't fired me, no matter how often I was late.  And besides, Jack said he looked down my shirt a time or two and saw scales.
He’d known for months that I was different. He just wished that I would have trusted him sooner.
“You looked down my shirt?”
He shrugged and looked at his shoes. “I am a guy.”
And that’s when I kissed him. Or, he kissed me. Or both, maybe. But it was sweet, if a little clumsy. We kinda bumped teeth a little.
I just hope our second date isn’t quite this … exciting. Maybe we could stay in and rent a movie.

D Dragon

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