Mell Eight © 2020
All Rights Reserved
Nickel fought to open his eyes. The lids felt like they were weighted down or as if someone had sewn them shut. He struggled with them for a few long minutes, then, exhausted, gave up and drifted off to sleep.
The second time Nickel woke, most of the weight had vanished. His eyes slid open easily enough, and then he had to blink away tears as the bright light from his bedside table lamp almost blinded him.
“Sorry!” Someone whose voice Nickel didn’t recognize gasped. There was a thump as something hit the floor, and the light snapped off a second later. Footsteps ran away from him, heading toward the door. More light flooded into the room as the door was flung open, but Nickel’s eyes had finally adjusted. “He’s awake!” the stranger yelled into the hallway.
A series of familiar thumps, bumps, squeals, and exclamations sounded as Nickel’s family literally dropped whatever they were doing and ran toward Nickel’s bedroom. The door was flung open wider, and a small stampede rushed to Nickel’s bedside.
Alloy reached Nickel first. He climbed onto the chair pulled up next to Nickel’s bed where the stranger had been sitting moments before. He leaned over Nickel’s head to see him better.
“Yup, he’s awake,” Alloy chirped happily. Alloy’s hair was rumpled from playing, and the bright red-and-blue strands that matched the colors of each of his wide eyes hung over his forehead. A pair of hands wrapped around Alloy’s middle and gently lifted him off the chair. Alloy was happy to settle into Mercury’s arms so Mercury could bend closer to Nickel.
“How are you feeling?” Mercury asked. His voice was soft, almost as if he was afraid of startling Nickel, which was silly after all the yelling from just a moment ago. Mercury’s bronze-colored hair was long on his neck, and his bronze-colored eyes looked concerned. Mercury was still wearing the button-up shirt he wore to work, so it must be late afternoon.
Nickel blinked slowly, trying to figure out what he had done to deserve the fanfare. Had he been sleepwalking? No, he didn’t feel strong enough to sit up, let alone get out of bed and walk around. He must have been sick, yet that answer didn’t jive either.
The rest of his family had lined up behind Mercury. Lumie was standing next to Copper, their bright red hair and eyes an exact match for the shade in Alloy’s hair. They were fire dragons, but Lumie was only ten years old while Copper was eighteen, the same age as Nickel. Next to them were ’Ron and Chrome, the two earth dragons. Chrome looked like he had been digging outside again; half of his face and his clothing were covered in dirt the same color as his and ’Ron’s hair. They were both thirteen years old, but ’Ron was considerably cleaner than Chrome. Dane had his hands on ’Ron’s shoulders, no doubt to keep her from jumping onto the bed to give Nickel a hug. That would be painful, but Nickel still couldn’t remember why his body ached so much.
Dane was the tallest person in the room. His blond hair seemed to glow, and his ears were pointed at the moment, which meant the glamor he used to hide his otherworldly appearance was down. He was unbelievably beautiful, but then he was the child of a god.
Zinc was next in line. Her long white hair, distinctive of air dragons, was loose from the braid she usually kept it in. It hung in a wave down her back. Her gray eyes were earnest as they looked at Nickel, except her face seemed thinner than Nickel remembered. She also seemed to be taller, almost Dane’s height.
Nickel blinked in surprise, and then saw the hand clasped in Zinc’s and gaped. Zinc, with her hair still in its distinctive white braid, was standing next to herself. Only, now Nickel was realizing that the first version of Zinc was actually male. They were egg twins, identical dragons except for their gender, hatched out of the same egg. He was Platinum, the dragon who Nickel and the rest of his family had been searching for ten years.
Like a spark had been lit, a fire erupted in Nickel’s head. He winced at the sudden pain, only it didn’t exactly hurt. Memories flooded back, each a little video that connected with the others to give him the whole story. There were a lot of them, the sheer volume overwhelming him and causing the pain-mimicking feeling.
Searching the woods for the person mucking with the weather. Finding out that Platinum had escaped from the enemy scientists. Watching Lumie and Platinum get kitnapped. Flying off to defeat the scientists once and for all. Losing the battle. And then nothing. He didn’t know how he had gotten home, only that he was safe now.
“How long am I grounded for?” Nickel asked. His voice was thick and scratchy and his throat dry. How long had it been since he had last spoken? Surely it couldn’t be more than a few hours. A day at most.
Mercury let out a growly snort. “For the foreseeable future. And don’t even think the word ‘candy.’”
Nickel sighed, but at the moment he honestly just wanted a glass of water. Begging for candy could wait until he could sit up properly again.
His eyes drifted almost involuntarily back to Platinum. Nickel had only seen Platinum once, and only briefly as Platinum and Lumie were yanked into the kitnapper’s car and driven away from him.
“Are you okay?” Nickel couldn’t help asking and was surprised when his stomach filled with what felt like butterflies when Platinum’s cheeks turned pink at the question.
Platinum nodded and grinned shyly. “You’re the one we’ve all been worried about,” he rumbled.
His voice was the strange one Nickel had first heard when he’d woken up. Platinum had been sitting at his bedside, waiting for him to wake up? Why? And why did that thought only increase the butterflies?
“You’ve been in a medically induced coma for a little over a week, Nickel,” Mercury explained. “Dr. Krantz was worried about brain damage.”
Nickel’s gaze was yanked away from Platinum as he turned to stare incredulously at Mercury. “A week?” Nickel gasped even as he was thinking brain damage!
“Dr. Krantz wouldn’t have let you wake if you weren’t healed,” Mercury continued, “but it’s been a long few days for us all.”
If Dr. Krantz and Mercury were no longer concerned about brain damage, then Nickel wouldn’t be either. He let that worry go and instead focused on more immediate concerns. A lot could happen in a few hours, let alone a full week. Both sides in the war had won decisive battles, but it appeared Nickel’s side had won this skirmish. Lumie, Platinum, and Nickel were all home and safe; the evil scientists hadn’t succeeded in capturing any of them for use in their cruel experiments. Had Dane and Mercury been able to press their advantage, or had the enemy vanished into their rabbit holes again? That was the main thing on Nickel’s mind.
At least, that was all that should have been on his mind.
For ten years, his entire life had been focused on finding the enemy so he could save the dragons. Nickel spent his days working at Dane’s side, learning everything he could about investigations so he could find the enemy with only the slightest clue. He had honed his magic to a knifepoint and spent almost all of his free time on whatever he had come up with that week to make him better able to accomplish his goal.
His entire life had one purpose, which was why he couldn’t figure out why his eyes kept straying away from Mercury and Dane, who could give him the answer to his question. Yet he wasn’t surprised at all. From the very first moment Nickel and Mercury had partnered with Dane to save the dragons, there had been one name fixated in his mind. They had to save Platinum, Zinc’s brother. The last ten years had been failure after failure. Even with all the dragons they had saved, poor Platinum had remained elusive.
Now Platinum was standing in front of Nickel, mixed with the rest of Nickel’s family like he belonged there. It was where he should have been all along.
That must be why Nickel’s gaze kept straying back to Platinum and why those damned butterflies weren’t going away. Nickel forced himself to refocus.
“Were you able to catch the man I was fighting?” he asked. The man, who Nickel only knew as ThatGuy from an online chat room, had been informed about the enemy’s entire operation including the plan, the people involved, and the desired final outcome. That was a first.
Most of the people they had confronted throughout the years had known their specific task, their role in whatever plan the enemy had concocted, and not much else. That was why Dane, Mercury, and Nickel had been having so much trouble tracking their movements and stopping them entirely. They would capture one person who would give them one small piece of the puzzle. It was just enough to make Nickel think they were making progress, only for them to find out after digging a little more that the puzzle piece was missing the connecting bit that matched it to another piece. Jacobson, their first lead, had only led to a trap. Jessica, the territory leader who had succumbed to the enemy, had led to yet another dead end. It was infuriating.
Dane and Platinum were the ones who shook their heads.
“I punched him,” Platinum said proudly, a wide and slightly smug grin eclipsing his blush. “But we didn’t want to use magic around the shield holding you, so he ran off, and we couldn’t stop him.”
“Damn,” Nickel swore. “Did we get anything?”
“We got you back, idiot,” Dane replied sharply. “Until Dr. Krantz gives the okay, you won’t be returning to work. Take this time to relax and heal, Nickel.”
“But, Dane!” Nickel yelped, shocked that he was being sidelined. For ten years, he had been the dragon Dane trusted at his side. Dane trusted Mercury too, but Mercury usually remained behind to protect the rest of the kits who couldn’t fight. The house had previously been attacked while Dane and Nickel were out, and Mercury had been there to save the day. It was Nickel who worked with Dane, who fought at Dane’s side. He couldn’t be tossed to the side so easily.
“No buts! Nickel, you took a risk that didn’t pan out. Now you’re on medical leave until you heal. Think of it this way,” Dane said, his voice softening as if he understood where Nickel’s panic lay. “You’ve been badly hurt. Any soldier would go on leave for a few weeks to ensure they could return to the field at full strength. Nickel, I need you at your best. The work will still be waiting for you when you’re better. I promise.”
Nickel relaxed slightly, unaware that he had tensed, but he felt the strain on weakened muscles now that he was loosening up again. Dane’s words made sense, especially now that he could feel just how weak his body was. His magic was a mere puddle where an ocean should reside. Nickel didn’t have to like it, but he did need to heal before he would once again be of any worth in the fight. He would get better, and the next time he confronted the enemy, he would destroy them.
“Okay, let’s let Nickel get some rest,” Mercury called. ’Ron groaned and Alloy pouted, but everyone obeyed. Chrome ran off, probably back to whatever he had been doing that had gotten him so dirty. The rest of the kits were more reluctant until Daisy’s voice echoed up the stairs.
“I’m making dinner,” she yelled, which immediately got everyone’s attention.
“Who is supposed to be helping her?” Dane asked, which got the kits moving. In seconds, only Mercury, Dane, and Platinum were left. Dane closed the door as the last kit scurried away, and then moved to Nickel’s bedside.
“Confronting the enemy on your own wasn’t just stupid; it was suicidal,” Dane said. He wasn’t yelling or even scolding; instead, he was speaking as if he was simply stating a fact. It hurt more to hear Nickel’s mistakes stated so baldly, yet at the same time Nickel couldn’t disagree with Dane so he didn’t argue. He deserved the dressing down. “It was the action of someone blinded by rage and ambition. Logic, teamwork? There was nothing that I’ve taught you to rely on in your attack. If Platinum and I hadn’t realized what you had done and hadn’t come after you…” He trailed off while shaking his head, as if he couldn’t speak the words.
After a moment of painful silence, Dane continued. “Dr. Krantz wants you on bed rest for the next week or so. You leave your bed to use the bathroom and only with someone there to ensure you don’t collapse on the way. I want you to spend your time recovering and thinking about how you could have acted differently and what the outcome might have been if Mercury or I had been with you when you confronted the lead scientist.”
“He got away because of me,” Nickel forced out, the realization running through him like he had stuck his finger in an electrical socket. If Nickel had had backup, they could have taken out the enemy while Nickel was distracting the scientist by fighting with the shield. The war could be over, but because of Nickel’s childish stupidity, the enemy had gotten away.
“Maybe, maybe not.” Dane shrugged. “He ran as soon as he realized he was outgunned. If you’d had backup, we may have never even seen him, let alone had the chance to fight him. Besides, we were all woefully unprepared for that shield of his. Now we will be ready for it in the next battle. I’m more concerned with the fact that you could have died or could instead be cut open on a gurney somewhere while idiots stole your magic for themselves. You are a soldier in the war, yes, but, Nickel, you’re also a commodity. Dragons are the poker chips here, and you almost handed the enemy a straight flush.”
Nickel swallowed hard and nodded. The mistakes he had made were a lot to come to terms with, but Nickel wasn’t stupid. Dane was giving Nickel a chance to grow, to become a better fighter in the war. Nickel was confined to a bed by doctor’s orders; a better time wouldn’t come for Nickel to have the opportunity Dane was offering.
“When the week or so is over and Dr. Krantz gives the go ahead, we’ll decide together where you go from here,” Dane finished.
“I am sorry,” Nickel had to say.
“Oh, kit.” Mercury sighed. He knelt at Nickel’s bedside and reached out to gently clasp Nickel’s shoulder. “We’re honestly just glad you’re okay. Get some rest. You deserve it.” He leaned forward to press his lips against Nickel’s cheek.
A crash and an exuberant yell sounded from downstairs, and Nickel caught Mercury rolling his eyes as he got back to his feet.
“At least with you awake we can return to dealing with the rest of the kits,” Dane joked. He reached out and took Mercury’s hand in his, softly pulling Mercury out into the hallway. They left the door open, but Nickel’s eyes almost inevitably wandered back to Platinum instead of staying on the door.
“I’m glad we finally found you,” Nickel said.
Platinum turned slightly pink again, and that shy smile reappeared. “I’m glad too.”