Title: Dragon and Liaison
Word Count: 3600
Fandom/Characters/Pairings: Dragonback Series by Timothy Zahn
Content/Kinks/Warnings: Grief, discussion of funeral practices, losing loved ones
Summary: A series of vignettes about how Jack and Draycos might have gone on after Dragon and Liberator.
Immediately after Dragon and Liberator:
Jack walked down the corridor, bag slung over his shoulder. He forced a smirk at Alison.
“Never thought I’d be willingly getting on board Neverlin’s ship.”
“Well, it’s really grandfather’s. Neverlin will probably never see it again. Four boring jail walls for a good long time, I think.” She bumped shoulders with Jack. “If you want to engage in a little graffiti, though, I’m down.”
“What is graffiti? Can I help?” Taneem stuck her head out of Allison’s sleeve.
Jack laughed, feeling a little better, and Draycos’ disapproving thoughts changed tone.
“We’ll expect you in twelve hours, Poet-Warrior Draycos.”
Draycos nodded his head in confirmation. “I look forward to it.”
The screen flickered out, and Draycos sat quietly, composing his thoughts.
“So what’s the plan, symby?” Jack asked, lying on the bed, arms crossed behind his head.
Draycos turned and padded back to the bed. “We’ll be meeting the refugee leaders in twelve hours to debrief.”
Jack took a deep breath, “Okay, they want the whole story?”
“Correct.” Draycos reached out and placed a paw on the sliver of skin exposed by Jack’s shirt riding up. Melting onto his symbiont’s skin brought the usual comfort, the brief burst of energy that spoke of a bit too long apart. He shifted until his head was on Jack’s chest and “spoke”.
I know it is not much time to recover from the last week.
Jack shifted, putting his hands on his stomach. It’s alright. They’ve been out of contact for two years, I’ll bet they really want all the information they can get.
Yes. I am eager to see them, as well.
And we have time now. No more deadline. Jack felt a surge of wonder. Draycos…we’re safe, we’re alive. We made it.
Draycos’ tone turned pleased. So we did.
Jack fidgeted in front of the Advocatus Diaboli’s airlock, tugging at his shirt and running a hand through his curly red hair, which had grown out over the past few months on the run. He was still somewhat disbelieving about everything. They’d won. They’d saved everyone (his newfound conscience still twinged at the 100 Brummga taken out by the Valahgua), but the refugees were safe. And now they were going to meet Draycos’ people.
They are very interested in meeting you, Jack. Do not be nervous.
Jack grimaced, trying to bring up the right emotions. He was supposed to be excited, right? Excited to meet Draycos’ bosses and fellow warriors, his family, his former hosts, assuming any were still alive. The best he could bring up was a slight nausea, and he smoothed the fabric of his suit coat again. Cornelius Braxton had offered Jack and Draycos a new wardrobe to go along with the job of liaison between the K’da and Shontine peoples and the rest of the world.
I’m sure they’ll love hearing how a conman and thief managed to save them.
You are more than your past. Draycos’ thought-voice was firm. You’ve changed in the last few months, as have I. My people recognize growth, especially in the young.
Jack nodded jerkily. Right. I’ll just let you do the talking-
The airlock hissed, and cycled open slowly, the air currents shifting. Jack took a breath and let his hands fall, shoulders squaring. He might be dying inside, but there was no need to let anyone know about it.
The beings standing on the other side of the airlock were remarkably human-like, barring the varied red hue of their skin and bright yellow eyes. They wore their hair short, and seemed almost emaciated to Jack, with thin limbs that ended in six-fingered hands. They wore brief garments, some showing the distinctive dragon “tattoo” that Jack had become used to looking at on himself. Several K’Da in different colors stood with them. Jack took this in quickly, forming a professional smile.
“President-elect Drastri, dancer-warrior Ganeel?”
Getting onboard the ship: the halls were familiar from the time spent aboard the Havenseeker. Jack found himself looking for the entrances to the inner walls, but it’s good to be able to stride in the open, not in danger for once. A bit uncertain, yes. But they’re safe here. Draycos trusted these people, and so Jack would as well.
They sat at a table in a small but well-appointed cabin aboard the Homefound, the Shontin and K’da who had led them here speaking quietly in a combination of English and K’Shontinen, and Draycos occasionally answering back. Jack watched and waited, trying to understand how this was going to work.
“Poet-Warrior Draycos,” A voice came from the entryway, the English clear, if accented, “It is our joy to see you have survived, and our sorrow to hear of your losses.”
Draycos raised his head, only to bow it again, “General Felzeen, I mourn the dead, but rejoice in the living.”
Felzeen’s mouth quirked in a smile. “Please, introduce me to your new host.” Her eyes found Jack’s. Jack did his best to look calm and a little bit older.
“Certainly. Jack, General Felzeen. General Felzeen, my human host, Jack Morgan.” Draycos did the honors, looking between them.
Jack stepped forward and offered a hand. “Pleased to meet you, General. Very pleased.” And he was. They’d survived six months of being hunted for this. Six months of running, pain, hard learning, and, finally, success.
They moved towards the table and sat, the wide stools with scatterings of holes well-suited for both Shontine and K’da bodies.
“Jack has been a steadfast ally as we were fighting to stop the Valahgua and those they enlisted to destroy you.”
The General’s head dipped briefly. “Our readings showed The Death being used several times before it was stopped by you and others. Including one time directly at you…but you survived, and have saved us from treachery.” Here, Felzeen flicked her fingers between them, “Perhaps you can tell us what these last few months have been like?”
Jack looked to Draycos. Their eyes met, and together, they told the story.
The revelations of exactly what human and K’da symbionts could do, as well as the possibility that they were the original hosts of the K’da sent the fleet into a flurry. Draycos and Jack were invited to each ship (although visiting all 900 was hardly feasible…) as they orbited Iota Klestis, or, as it was now being called, New Haven.
The leaders, after meeting with Cornelius Braxton and Draycos and Jack, had decided to take the permanent lease while they sorted through the paperwork that came with being refugees. They also began what would have been the already-started process of colonizing the planet, had the scout ships survived.
They also decided to welcome the Human/Phooka symbionts, and those humans approved by Braxton Universis.
Jack and Draycos turned in the busy hall to see a green K’da running straight at them, pushing through the crowd. Jack tensed, but Draycos’ mouth opened in a grin. “Trit, it is good to see you well!”
The K’da, Trit, managed to stop before bowling all of them over, and then leaned forward to press her neck against Draycos’. Jack’s eyes widened. Draycos hadn’t done this with any of the others they’d met.
“Trit- for skies’ sakes, we have to be at our posts in five.” A female Shontine, short with golden eyes, her hair in something akin to dreadlocks, slipped through the crowd in a much less destructive fashion.
“But my brother and his very interesting new symbiont is here! How can you resist?” Trit backed up and did a quick circle of Jack, who let her. Trit was obviously a born performer. Jack knew better than to get in the way.
“Draycos, it’s wonderful to see you alive.” The Shontine offered a hand, and Draycos nuzzled into it.
“You as well, Kalchei. And if you must go soon…let me introduce you quickly.”
“Jack, right?” Trit broke in, a smile in her voice. “Your ticket to invincibility! He’s handsome, if a bit young.”
“Trit, please.” Draycos has an exasperation in his voice very similar to how he sounded when Uncle Virge (Jack refused to avoid thoughts of him) was being…uncharitable.
“Fine, fine. Do the proper thing, then. And hurry!”
Draycos sighed. “Jack, meet my sister, Tristra, and her symbiont, Kalchei. Trit and Kalchei, my symbiont, Jack Morgan.”
“Two names? Why have two if you just use the one?”
“Um…” Jack was used to explaining things to Draycos, but he wasn’t sure of the tone to take here.
Kalchei said something in K’Shontin, tone reproving, too fast for Jack to understand. “It was nice to meet you, Jack.” Kalchei offered as she extended her arm and Trit leaped aboard, looking for all the world as if she were attacking until she melted onto her symbiont’s skin. Kalchei didn’t flinch; perhaps this was normal for them. “Draycos, please come and visit when you get the chance.”
Draycos nodded, “Certainly.”
“It was nice meeting you!” Trit’s head and waving claws appeared above Kalchei’s shoulder as she walked off.
“Um, you too?” Jack was pretty sure his voice got lost in the crowd. “Your sister, huh?”
“The only one younger than me. She is...enthusiastic, although Kalchei does much to help with that.”
“Really? What does she- they do?”
“I am not sure of their current posting, but they were pilots and hoping to get a position in the Fleet as such before I left.”
“Well, I look forward to meeting the rest of your family now, are they all this different from you?”
Draycos’ tail twitched. “Not all of them, but we are all unique individuals, much like you and Alison.”
Jack turned back around and began walking in their original direction. “Hey, don’t get sassy with me. I have no idea how siblings work, remember?”
Draycos huffed, pacing him, “If my experience is anything to go by, you and Alison are quite sibling-like in your interactions... But I apologize. It is easy to forget others do not share your experiences.”
“Right. Maybe you should tell me about the rest of your family before we meet them…”
The lights flickered on the ground and in the sky. Many of the neat rows of graves supplemented by flags above them. Low crooning voices swelled, the voices of Shontin, K’da, and Human harmonizing in a very old song.
Jack held the last liquid syllables out with the rest, and ran out of breath as the rest stopped singing. The resulting hush felt like a weight across the clearing.
Draycos closed his eyes, picturing his crewmates, his symbiont, his lost. He opened them again to witness the starscape of mourning lights. A witness to the dead, a sign to give them peace and let them go where they may in freedom, knowing they were remembered.
Taneem slithered up her symbiont’s leg, seeking the comfort of togetherness against the stark reality of death. It was beautiful, but so very sad. She’d never considered death as a thing that might happen to her before she’d woken up. To know that one day her own consciousness would drift off, it was scary. But…life moved on, it seemed. These ceremonies were proof of that.
Alison surreptitiously stroked Taneem scales as they fit around her, taking it all in. A breath in, and out. These were not her dead. Harper she had mourned already. But attending would build good will, and was already giving her a surprising amount of information. How the Shontine and K’Da peoples arranged themselves into groups, their religious beliefs, how they prized freedom, even in death. She liked that, and was glad she and Taneem had decided to stay for a while.
The moment of silent remembrance was broken by a priest ringing a bell. The dark tolling, one for every being lost, took a very long time. Quiet shifting and conversation began. Memories of loved ones and friends shared between the attendees. Jack sat down by Draycos on the grass, shifting his ceremonial skirt to the side. He leaned against the warm/cool scales of his friend. Draycos leaned back.
“There’s a party after this, they said.”
Draycos nodded, “Similar to your ‘wakes’, I believe. It is a time of dancing and feasting, sharing more entertaining memories, and celebrating being alive and free.”
“Feasting, eh? Going to show me more of your favorite foods?” Jack couldn’t help the hopeful tone that wandered into his voice. Despite Draycos’ predilection for motor oil when they were finding him something to eat, Jack had discovered the food of the K’Da and Shontine was excellent.
Chuckling, Draycso nodded, “Yes, most definitely.”
Jack laughed softly, “Good.” He paused, “So…any stories you’d like to share?”
“Well,” Jack shifted uncomfortably, “You’ve told me a little bit about how you and Polphir met, but what was it like after you got over resenting him?”
Draycos shifted to look at Jack. “We were a good team, much like you and I. He was part of the defense force before the Valahgua attacked and necessitated we all contribute to the effort. He encouraged me to continue honing my skills as a poet and warrior. I had doubts after my first host’s death. But he…challenged me to be better.”
“Like you did for me, huh?”
“Somewhat. I was older than you are now. More stuck in my ways and opinions.”
Jack pulled an unimpressed face, “Are you saying I was malleable in my youth?”
Draycos’ spinal ridge twitched slightly, “I would never say that, Jack.”
Jack snorted, “Of course not.” He turned back to watch once again.
Finally, the priest stilled, the last toll of the bell shimmering away. People slowly began to move away towards the dwellings the builders had set up.
“C’mon, symby, let’s go find some food.”
“Of course, Jack. While we travel, would you like to hear the newest lines of my Saga?”
Jack groaned teasingly, “More? If I didn’t know better I’d swear you’re making this up just to annoy me.”
Draycos’ laughter splashed lightly, “Well, just see if I give you a good part, then.”
Draycos’ family was indeed just as diverse as he’d said. His older sister, E’tany, paired with Chauth, her host, was so quiet and awkward that Jack wasn’t sure how they’d all come from the same background.
“And I will be very happy when the next breeding cycle is complete. The children coming will be wonderful.” E’tany looked away, hunching down, as if that would make her unusual size melt away.
Chauth, on the other hand, smiled cheerfully, a calming hand on his symbiont’s back. “And I will definitely enjoy finding out their favorite treats. More mouths to feed shouldn’t be a problem then, don’t you think?”
“No, the harvest will have come in, and we’ll have ore to sell if it disappoints.” Jack replied. “Everyone’s hard work is paying off.”
“Good, good! Now you should try some of this traton, since Draycos has mostly been showing you his favorites.”
Draycos was off, talking with other people at the party, and wasn’t here to hear this acknowledgement of his particular food choices. Jack smiled, and took one of the bright blue triangles. The sweet/savory taste was surprising, reminiscent of popcorn with butter and sugar, but quite good.
“Do you have any family, Jack? Siblings? Nephews or nieces?” E’tany looked up at him hopefully.
The question hurt in unexpected ways, and Jack tried to calm himself as he finished chewing. “Ah, no. My parent died when I was young, and my uncle, well, adopted uncle…he mostly died a year before I met Draycos.” Jack scratched his head, feeling awkward.
E’tany nodded jerkily, “Very small family, hmm.”
“Yeah…I hadn’t realized how small until I met you guys.” Jack shrugged. “I still miss them, though.”
Chauth broke in, “Yes. We still miss Runeel and Brind, and that was very long ago. Family hurts as much as it holds you together, sometimes.”
“Yeah…” Jack repeated. The three fell into an awkward silence, thinking about the dead, and Jack was glad to have his memories interrupted by Draycos’ return.
Jack ran his hand across the ship controls and panels.
Are you alright?
I’ll be fine.
Draycos had suggested this. A private little ceremony to mourn the passing of Jack’s own loved ones. His parents had died more than a decade ago, Uncle Virgil almost two years, and an AI resetting itself could hardly be counted among the casualties of the Shontine/K’da/Valaghua war.
Jack took a deep breath, tapping his fingers against the smooth plastic. Then he turned decisively towards the hatch.
Lighting a candle (Uncle Virge and Virgil would’ve had chickens over him doing that inside the ship), he exited the hatch. The hike was long, and gave him a while to think. To remember.
I think my remote - my electromechanical assistant? - was named Darby. Jack smiled. My parents…I think I remember my mother reading me a bedtime story, and my father carrying me on his back.
Draycos reply was not in words, but a comforting shift of himself across Jack’s shoulders, and a low, pleased hum of thought.
Even if they aren’t real memories, it’s nice to think about. …Uncle Virgil, on the other hand. He was never very tactile. He’d read me stories, but they were all real. The best cons out there, the most mysterious unsolved cases of thievery. He loved speculating how they did it. Or, a few times, he told me how he’d managed it, himself.
Jack blinked hard.
I never did tell you how he died.
You don’t have to.
Jack smiled, a bit grimly. That’s a grifter’s trick, did you know? The best way to get people to open up is to let them have space. Seem like a good person. I mean, you are a good person, I know that. But it doesn’t stop me from remembering.
Draycos hummed agreement. Memories are not a bad thing.
No. They can be dangerous, though.
They walked in silence for a bit. The grass shushed underneath Jack’s feet, and the candle flickered in the wind, mostly protected by the cone around it, meant to catch the falling wax.
It was an accident. We were hiding out until people stopped looking for us after our last job. He got drunk one night, hit his head, and never woke up. I tried to help. I tried, but the med scanner couldn’t tell me much, and by the time I got him to a hospital… It was too late. I’d used fake ID for both of us, but I knew they’d take me if I stayed. Put me with social services. So I said goodbye, and let them take the body. Found out the AI was programmed to kick in with his personality the next day… Jack’s steps slowed, and he swallowed hard.
I was so angry. He’d planned for his death? Did that mean it wasn’t an accident? I’d known he wasn’t happy unless he was working for a long time, but I’d never thought he’d-
Jack dashed tears away with his arm.
So I went straight. To show him I wasn’t like that. I didn’t need to be a thief to live, not like him. And…you know the rest.
Draycos stirred against Jack’s skin. I’m sure he didn’t mean to die, Jack. If his personality imprint is anything to go by, he wasn’t of the highest morals, but he also seemed to care for you. Look at what he was doing here.
Jack grimaced, a sad attempt at a smile. Yeah, you’re probably right. Just a stupid accident.
He walked in silence the rest of the way, finally arriving at the bare earth that marked what used to be the Lesser Assembly Hall. He’d managed to make peace with the Golvins with generous gifts and a bit of smooth talking. They’d granted permission, and agreed to leave him alone for this.
Can you get off for a bit?
Draycos jumped lightly from Jack’s bare arm, landing silently on the ground.
Jack bent forward, putting the candle on the ground, and pulled out two others. Lighting those, he straightened. “For my mother and father, Stuart and Ariel Palmer, and the memory of my adopted uncle, Virgil Morgan. I mourn you all. Mom and Dad: your murderers were taken care of. Please go in peace and freedom.” He paused awkwardly. “I-I love you.” He stopped, holding his arm.
Draycos stepped forward. “We honor the dead by recognizing the good in them, and by living the best lives we are able. Thank you for protecting Jack, and teaching him.”
Jack knelt, draping an arm around his symbiont. “Thank you for the song you taught me.”
“Thank you for standing up for the truth.” Draycos’ voice vibrated through Jack’s arm, and he smiled, just a little.
“Thank you for being my parents, and thank you for teaching me to recognize a lie.”
The candles flickered slightly.
Jack sighed. “I thought I’d feel something more. We’re just talking to the air.”
Draycos scooted slightly closer, “You feel what you feel. Do you regret coming here?”
“No. I just…want what Uncle Virgil always laughed at: that perfect feeling at the perfect time. ‘We don’t get fooled by the illusion, lad, we create it.’”
Jack’s eyes crinkled, “Is that disapproval I hear?”
“A warrior recognizes when it’s best to remain silent.”
“Heh, right.” Jack pushed himself up. “C’mon, let’s go. We’ve got a planet to liaise.”Draycos flowed up Jack’s arm, and the two walked away, leaving the flickering candles behind.