“Hey kid, causing trouble again?” Deke showed up with a bunch of equipment and a grin. He wasn’t nearly as cranky as I expected. Captain stood to help him set down all the supplies he brought. “What took you so long?”
I shoved his shoulder when he bent down to drop some of the bags he had slung over one shoulder but he didn’t even stumble. He swayed away with the force and then came back, grabbing my arm and putting me in a lock.
“Ow!” I twisted my arm in the opposite direction, leaning into the hold instead of following my instinct of pulling away from him… just the way he’d been training me. I broke his grip.
“Good!” Deke’s grin danced in the shadows from the fire Captain had started in the portable pit, but he didn’t move out of his crouch. I watched him warily; I’d learned how quick he was and how fast he could strike from that stance in our first session.
I opened my mouth to say something, but a hiss and slap distracted me. Sparkles was out of the water for the first time since we came, at least her top half, and one of her wings was splayed out. Had she slapped the water with it?
“Holy mother of mercy… what is that?” Deke turned and gaped.
Deke reared back, but he wasn’t fast enough to avoid the wave of water that swept up from the pool and splashed his face and soaked his chest. Not a drop touched me.
Aparoe started laughing and Captain’s booming laugh followed suit a heartbeat later. Deke stared at Sparkles who’d sunk back under the water other than her eyes which seemed to dance with mischief. Or maybe that was just something I felt from her.
“What in the hell?” Deke just said. He wiped the water still dripping off his chin.
I died. I literally laughed until I could hardly breathe, sinking down to the rocks next to the pool and gasping for air. Sparkles swam closer, and I scritched the skin on her nose, rubbing the smooth skin there and up her face to between her eyes. She thrummed, or purred, or whatever it was that she did when she was happy.
“Someone made himself a new friend, huh?”
I looked over my shoulder at Deke who’d accepted a clean shirt from Captain. He was wiping off the remnants of the water with the back of his wet shirt. They were all watching me again. “Sort of.” I told Deke about my sense of being followed, and Aparoe explained about finding Sparkles on the ship.
“And you didn’t think you should inform the head of security?” It was like Captain all over again, down to the posture and tone of voice.
“It turned out fine. Though I’m guessing she’s watched us train before because she hissed at Captain when he came, but she didn’t try to attack you when you grabbed me.”
“But she soaked me.”
“That didn’t hurt you,” Aparoe. “Just made you stop.”
Yet another sign of Sparkle’s intelligence. I stared at her. “You’re just as unique as me, huh?” She nudged my hand, then went back to the eggs, fanning water over them. “Yeah, there’s those guys too.” I sighed.
We all worked together to put up a shelter. I left the door open, but it wasn’t that cold with a heater providing warmth and Captain at my back holding me close. It wasn’t a big space around the pool so Deke and Aparoe had to sleep close, so we weren’t doing anything intimate, but just having him close pulsed through the bond we shared.
Sleep took some time to come, and I never sank into a deep cycle. A deep hum woke me in the predawn hours before the smallest of the planet’s suns rose. I crept out of the tent, not waking anyone else. “Sparkles?” I whispered.
The fire was embers only, but they glinted on her shining skin as she curled around the eggs. She’d stilled, her wings no longer moving the water. She seemed excited, fine tremors shaking her body. I took a chance and got closer so I could see the eggs.
They were hatching! I still couldn’t quite see inside the sac but the body inside the one closest to the edge was squirming and moving, pushing until the egg stretched. I was so fascinated that I nearly missed when the egg on the far right stretched so far that it actually split, releasing a milky fluid into the water as a tiny body squirmed out of the slit.
“Stars!” Its little body was pale, an early echo of Sparkle’s iridescent shade maybe. Its tail thrashed, propelling it from the tumble it took into the water, and it clung with tiny claws to the empty sack of its egg.
Sparkle’s hum switched to a croon. She extended a paw with her claws retracted. It saw her and lunged, climbing on, rubbing its head on her and making tiny squeaks. “Adorable,” I whispered when it looked like she was presenting the baby to me. She held still so I reached out with one trembling finger.
The baby squeaked and cocked its head, then stretched out its neck. It touched my skin, nostrils flaring, and then it jumped onto my arm. I barely held in a shout of surprise. Its tiny body barely weighed a thing, but it startled me, so warm, slightly wet, soft.
So soft. “Hey baby, you should stay with your momma. You’re gonna get hurt.” It was a daredevil, that was for sure. I looked at Sparkles, but she was humming again, watching the eggs. Okay, so maybe I was babysitting already?
This tiny Sparkles replica was easy enough to cradle in one arm against my stomach. But as the eggs hatched, I gained two more identical babies to snuggle.
But one egg wasn’t moving.
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