Breath of Fresh Air

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"Oh, it ain't used up. The crystals don't store power - they conduct it, like a wire a sorts," Mr. Jenkins explained. "This one here ain't even got a lot of scratches. I betcha any jewelry shop would be happy to take it. As to where Boulder found it . . . could be anywhere. Chunks like this break off all the time. Ain't never seen one this big, though."

He looked over to Jasper and his worried tone next. "Well, I reckon it's probably from the main power core in the center. The one just below Upper Floaten. Keeps all the electricity an' backup air boosters flowin'."

Noah crinkled his nose. "You mean the backup air boosters that help keep Upper Floaten - well, up? In case the supports fail?"

"Right."

"Hm. We should probably go take a look at the power core, then," Noah murmured. "Lily, can I fly with you and Infernus to check it out?"
 

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Lily was frowning a little now, trying to figure out what they could do with the pretty rock, and blinked at Mr. Jenkins in surprise as he went on. "Isn’t that . . . bad? I mean, if it’s important it shouldn't be breaking like that, right? I can get Fern -"

"No." The quick, harsh tone in Jasper's voice cut her off with a little wince, and she glanced up to see him standing with his arms crossed nearby and a stern look on his face. "We're losing light. By the time you get there, you’d be navigating through the entire underbelly of the city in the dark." He wasn’t going to let her just rush off to dangerous places without backup again. "Infernus is tired, and so are you. We should leave this to the actual surveyors."

It was their job to investigate things within the structure of the city, after all. They would be experienced enough to know what they were doing, even by lantern light.
 

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The strength behind Jasper's tone was so intense that even Noah glanced over in surprise. He blinked and smiled sheepishly. ". . . Oh. Right. I forgot we had surveyors," he admitted. "I'm not usually involved with checking on the crystals or anything, so - "

"Speakin' of losin' light," Mr. Jenkins added, setting the piece of crystal on a nearby shelf, "Why don't y'all spend the night here? Jasper's right. It's nearly dark. No point in travelin' home this late if'n ya don't have to, am I right?" He clicked his tongue. "Although if ya do want to go home, I got lanterns fer Jasper and Lily to borrow."

Noah's eyes sparkled, and he gave Mr. Jenkins another hug. "That's right. I get to stay here!"

The older man chuckled and ruffled his hair. "That's right, lad."
 

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Jasper's expression was still stern, but he could see the way Lily smiled when it was suggested they have what she would probably call a 'sleepover'. They should go home. He wanted to go home, check on the house, try to catch up on his projects, and he knew it would be harder for her to get ready for work come morning if she didn’t go home now. But the look she gave him was hopeful, and the fact that she looked at him for permission made him feel guilty. One more night wouldn’t kill him.

"I'll go let Malia know scouts are needed," he said finally, stepping back a little towards the door. "The troublemakers and I will take another walk before bed." Naga was already standing in his foot with one of her paws, quietly wanting to be picked up again, so he just had to find where Nobu and Pumpkin had run off to.

Lily only turned to give Noah a big smile. "When we go up, are you gonna bring some more of your stuff down?" They'd been worried about him being able to find somewhere to stay before, but could make himself at home, now.
 

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Noah gasped in delight. "Yes!" he burst out. "Don't worry, I won't keep you all up late. I promise. But maybe we could have a few snacks before bed? Play a game or two?"

Mr. Jenkins smiled and shook his head. "We'll see if my old bones are up for it, eh? But I'll at least have a snack with you all."

Noah nodded, and turned to wave at Jasper. "Be safe!" he called after him. "Come back soon!" Then he turned to Lily and beamed. "I sure am! But probably just some of it. Then I'll have stuff up there for when I go visit Father," he pointed out. "Besides, I was kind of hoping to go shopping for clothes with you and Jasper when we come back. I could use something that blends in a bit more."
 

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Jasper shook his head a little at Noah's enthusiasm, but herded up his dragons and went on his way. They would be fine while he was gone, and he could use the walk to think for a while.

"Oo, games!" Lily clapped her hands and gave a little bounce on her toes despite being tired from work, following everyone back into the house when Jasper was gone. "A shopping trip could be fun! I haven't bought new clothes in forever!" Her old one’s still worked, she reasoned, and until things got holes in them she usually kept them around, or even just patched them sometimes. She thought it would be fun to live vicariously through someone that had enough money to just buy an entire new wardrobe at once.
 

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"Great! Then you and I can definitely go shopping. I don't know if that's Jasper's idea of fun, but I'll invite him at least," Noah decided. "As for games - what are your favorites? Do you know any card games?" he asked hopefully. "Or maybe you'd want to play hide and seek or something? I know that's more like a kid's game, but it's so fun."

Pumpkin ambled back into the room, squeaking and heading for Lily to beg for pets with a gentle paw on her leg. He stared up at her and tilted his head to one side, whimpering.

"Awww. You wanna play too, Pumpkin?" Noah asked, chuckling. "Or maybe you just want cuddles? It's hard to tell sometimes."
 

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Lily laughed at the idea of Jasper shopping, knowing he would just get grumpy and want to go back to work. "Maybe on a smaller trip, he might come, but I don’t think he will if we’re gonna be there long. He’d just get antsy. I don’t think there’s places to hide in the house that are big enough for us," she added with a little giggle, "but I could teach you a couple card games if you want!"

She only smiled and reached down for Pumpkin when he asked so nicely, hefting him up into her arms and giving him a nuzzle. "Oh, you’re just a little sweetheart, aren’t ya? I bet you were a shoulder dragon. Having your feet on the ground is hard when you’ve gotta look so far up at everything." He was small, and she liked to baby things, so she didn’t mind holding him. She was sure he had been carried a lot before he’d been separated from his humans.
 
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FaithLeafCat

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"Hell, even in mah old age, I can manage a few card games," Mr. Jenkins agreed happily. "I'll go an' get the cards. By the time Jasper gets back, Noah will be able to play some actual rounds of games with us, eh?"

Noah beamed. "Sweet! Card games sound good. And maybe tomorrow, Jasper could work on his projects while we shop. I bet he's been missing working on those." He tilted his head and smiled when he watched Pumpkin nuzzle against Lily's shoulder. "You're so kind with all the dragons, Lily," he murmured. "And Pumpkin really loves you! I bet you remind him of mother."

Pumpkin chirped and licked Lily's cheek, swishing his tail as though to confirm that.
 

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Lily smiled as Mr. Jenkins went to find cards, giving Pumpkin a little kiss on the side of his head in return. "Everyone deserves to feel loved," she said softly, "no matter how big or small." Big dragons scared people, sometimes, so they didn’t get enough attention, and little dragons like Pumpkin were small enough to be ignored or treated like cats, left mostly on their own. The idea that she might remind Pumpkin of his former bonded human almost made her want to cry, and she hugged the small dragon just a little tighter for a moment.

"Come on, baby Pumpkin," she said finally, in a warm, affectionate voice. "I might need my hands, but you can sit on my shoulder or in my lap. We'll be partners!"

She would be happy to help Mr. Jenkins teach Noah how to play some games for when Jasper was back.
 

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Pumokin chirred and wrapped himself around Lily as best he could, folding his wings and closing his eyes with a soft sigh.

"Careful, Lily," Mr. Jenkins said with a warm chuckle. "Ya keep showerin' him with love like that, he might not wanna leave ya. Might get too attached."

"Speaking of attached - it seems like it's pretty warm out," Noah said, glancing towards the window. "Could we play cards outside so I can sit by Chaital? I miss her already."

Mr. Jenkins smiled and carried the cards back. "Ah don't see why not, as long as no one else minds playin' outside. We can bring a lantern to see by."

Noah glanced toward Lily with a shy smile. "You wouldn't mind, right? What about Jasper? Think he'd be okay playing cards outside?"
 

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Lily only pouted at Mr. Jenkin's warning, not wanting to release Pumpkin when it felt like he was trying to hug her. "I wouldn’t mind!" She insisted, then gave Noah a sheepish look. "I- I mean, I wouldn’t take him from you, but . . . I can babysit or something."

When they suggested sitting outside she only smiled sympathetically. "Of course! Fern'll like sitting with us, too. I’m sure Jasper will be fine. He’s worried about Naga eating stuff inside anyway."

When Jasper came back from reporting their concerns, Naga would have a bone in her mouth for gnawing on anyway.
 

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Noah burst out laughing. "I wouldn't mind, either," he promised. "Pumpkin's so happy when he's with you. I wouldn't want to take that away. Although Jasper might not be so keen on another dragon in the house," he added. "But babysitting would work great! Thanks."

His face filled with relief when everyone seemed to agree they could play cards outside. ". . . Thanks. I know it's kind of silly, but I already miss Chaital. It hasn't even been over an hour since I've seen her."

"It ain't silly," Mr. Jenkins said, carrying a tray with a deck of cards and some snacks towards the door. "The two a you are bonded. Of course yer gonna miss each other. Eh - could someone get the door for me?"

Noah hurried over to pull it open, smiling. "Sure thing, Grandpa."

Chaital was waiting right outside the door. She chirped when she saw Noah, picking him up by the back of his shirt at once and carrying him towards the dragon shelter. The boy laughed and gently patted her cheek. "I missed you, too!"
 

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"What d'ya think, Pumpkin?" Lily said with a smile, showering him with little kisses and making an exaggerated 'mwa' every time, if only to amuse him. "You wanna hang out with me sometimes when Noah's busy with other stuff?"

She only laughed when Chaital snatched Noah up off the ground and followed after towards where Infernus was stretching out in the grass near the shelter. "You guys are still new to each other, so of course you’ll miss her quick - like a honeymoon phase!" She laughed at the thought and freed a hand from petting at Pumpkin to touch Infernus' muzzle when he reached his head towards her. "Fern and I've been together for years and we know each other's habits, so it's a little easier to be away for a while. Plus, we work together, so we don’t spend much time apart!"

She was sure he wouldn't mind having another tiny friend to protect if Pumpkin came to visit them some time. If Noah was busy learning with Chaital, she could maybe even take Pumpkin riding with them in a little baby sling while they worked, since he was too small to keep up flying on his own. She was familiar enough with Infernus, and confident enough in her own ability to stay in the saddle, that the extra burden wouldn’t worry her.
 

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Chaital finally settled in the grass, curling up around Noah and setting him gently against her. Noah sighed happily and sank against her, resting his head on her side scales. "That makes sense. I hope me and Chaital get to work together! I can't imagine having to leave her too often. I'd miss her."

"I'm sure the two of you'll figure something out," Mr. Jenkins promised. "Dragons an' riders almost always settle into routines eventually. Ah know me an' Ol' Boulder did." He eased himself onto the ground and held up the deck of cards. "So! What game should we teach him first, Lily? Dragons and Waterfalls? Terror? Five Card Snap?"

"Those all sound fun!" Noah said, his eyes glinting as he reached for some of the snacks his grandfather had brought out.
 

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"I’m sure you’ll spend plenty of time practicing with her in the meantime, anyway," Lily said with a smile, settling in cross-legged with Pumpkin curled up in her lap. When Infernus came over to join them she gestured as discreetly as possible to Mr. Jenkins so that when Infernus came over he settled mostly behind the old man to give him something to rest against, only his tail curling around where Lily sat.

"Oh, Five Card Snap!" She said with an excited little bounce. "I can shuffle!"

It was fun, teaching Noah the basics of a couple games, and when Jasper came wandering back in the dark they were a clearly lit beacon in front of the house.

"You get tired of chairs and ceilings?" He prodded at them with an eyebrow raised, even as he took the spot left empty for him and settled with Nobu curled up on one side and Naga chewing on a bone on his other. "What are we playing?"
 

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". . . Ah. Thank ya, Infernus," Mr. Jenkins replied with a smile. "Normally Boulder would do that, but bless his heart, he's already sleepin'. Anyway, I appreciate it," he added, leaning back and patting Infernus' side gratefully.

When Jasper returned later, Noah glanced up with a wide smile. "Hey, Jasper!" he greeted. "Nah, I just . . . I wanted to be by Chaital. I missed her. So we decided we could all play cards out here!"

Mr. Jenkins laughed. "New dragon rider sorta thing, Jasper. I wouldn't be surprised if Noah wound up sleepin' out here tonight."

"Is that an option?" Noah asked in delight.

Chaital seemed delighted to hear that as well. She swished her tail and fluttered her wings, chirping. She would like very much to have Noah by her side all night.
 

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Jasper made a face at first, thinking these people he found himself stuck with were hard to needle when they took everything he said seriously. Only Lily had taken it for a joke, a big grin on her face when Noah was sincere afterwards because she knew it would bother him.

"Oh, there y' go giving him ideas." He said with a little laugh and a shake of his head. "Look, I know mine are small so that’s not fair, but I am not sleeping outside."

Lily only smiled. "Fern and I have done that before, when weather was bad and we had to stop somewhere, or when he was sick. It’s nice sometimes." She didn’t particularly want to sleep outside if she didn’t have to, given how uncomfortable it was come morning, but it was nice to be next to him sometimes. Jasper had it easy - his dragons were small enough to crowd him in his bed. Even if they did still make it hard to breathe sometimes.
 

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That was what made Noah burst out laughing. "What? No, I'm sleeping out here! Not you all. No one said everyone has to sleep outside," he burst out through breaths. He sighed and shook his head with a smile. "You all are ridiculous. I love it here."

Mr. Jenkins snorted and held out a few cards to Jasper. "We're playin' Five Card Snap. Ya gotta watch out fer Noah - Lily taught him, an' now he'd vicious at the cards."

"What? No, I'm not! I'm just - strategic," Noah said with a giggle.

"Mmhm. Anyway, Jasper, yer welcome to join in. We were just about to start another round," Mr. Jenkins asked.

Noah beamed and leaned further against Chaital, gazing up at her eyes that flowed in the lantern light. He'd never felt this comfortable, not for a long time. He had a hard time believing it was actually dangerous in Lower Floaten at all when there were peaceful nights like this. The only sounds were distant crickets chirping, not gunshots. It was near blissful.
 

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Jasper made a soft pff under his breath at the idea of sleeping outside and shook his head. "You’re insane, Noah. Deal me in."

Lily was happy to pass on the cards he needed, loudly conspiring with Pumpkin as the game went on to ask him which card they should play or if he thought someone was lying about their hand. It was nice, sitting outside with the dragons, under the stars, even though the lantern attracted bugs. Naga was only too eager to catch the ones that came too close, anyway, which was a better use of her energy than biting people.

When Mr. Jenkins called it a night, Jasper was first to feet to help the older man up, with a bit of help from Infernus leaning his weight against his back to help. Once he was safely inside, Jasper did come back to play a little while longer, and with other houses far between it was all right to stay up late and laugh and make noise. As much as they worked, even with how friendly Lily tried to be, they didn’t have a lot of close friends outside the Dragonry. It was nice, being able to have fun together with no pressure to be someone she wasn’t. With Noah so close to their dragons, she hoped they would do it again more often than not.