It had been a long and tiring week, so I ordered a Chinese takeaway.
The dragon brought it to my door. He didn’t look like a dragon, not today. But then, I found myself thinking, he often doesn’t. Not these days.
He wore jeans and a hoody, dark hair streaked silver at the temples, more creases in his skin than before. The amber eyes behind his round, wire-rimmed glasses were still clear, though. They’ve never changed.
He held up a white plastic bag that smelled deliciously of oil, salt and sweet tartness. ‘Hello, Sir William. May I come in?’ he asked, pointedly not looking at the suit of armour in the hallway.
‘Don’t you have other deliveries to make?’ I replied, archly.
‘I don’t. This isn’t a career change. Funny thing. I was passing and I found a delivery woman looking rather lost. She asked if I knew this place, because she simply couldn’t find it. And I said, why yes, let me take that for you. And here I am.’
‘I see. She just agreed to that, did she?’
The dragon grinned. ‘Well, you know, I’ve always been very persuasive.’
That grin has never changed either. Damn him. ‘Oh very well,’ I said eventually, stepping aside.
In the kitchen, I got out two plates. There was more than enough food for two.
The dragon speared a satay mushroom. ‘I helped a farmer burn a couple of fields the other day. It made me think of you.’
‘I’m so glad flame and smoke and destruction puts me in your thoughts,’ I said, picking up a dumpling.
He chewed thoughtfully. ‘It had to be done. Clearing away old, broken stubble and weeds to make space for new growth. You know.’
My eyes drifted to the door. From where we sat at the table, I could just see the slightly dusty suit of armour. And the sword. ‘Did everyone get out alive?’
‘I made sure it was safe.’
I looked at him then, to make sure myself. There was nothing in his face but gentleness. ‘I’m pleased to hear it.’
I scooped chicken fried rice onto my plate, and added sticky, red sweet and sour sauce. As inauthentic as it was possible to be, and as delicious. Sometimes you have to enjoy things for what they are.
The dragon ate a few bites himself and pretended not to watch me over the edge of his glasses. The smile at the corner of his mouth gave him away.
‘I appreciate…’ I started, and stumbled. Gave up. Started again. ‘I realise you knew I’d probably see the smoke. That…” I sighed. ‘Do you really care what I think?’
‘I do. Very much.’
‘Well, thank you.’ It was my turn for the corner of my mouth to twitch. And it did.
He looked away then. ‘I never, ever meant to hurt you,’ he said, quietly.
I swallowed, and in that moment, more than just food. I reached across and touched his hand, which was large, but very, very human.
His thumb stroked the back of my hand, pressing skin which was looser than it had been, once, but which still had all the same nerve endings.
Those eyes will be the death of me.
If I’m lucky.
‘I know.’ I said after a little while. ‘I know you didn’t. I mistook youthful over-enthusiasm and foolishness for malice. Because… I wanted to see enemies everywhere. It seemed easier that way, then. I’m sorry.’
‘I was foolish. I did do a lot of damage. You had every right to be angry.’
For a moment, the house felt very quiet, and the world seemed a great deal simpler.
‘Would you like to stay?’ I asked.
‘I think I have some old treasure knocking about. You could probably scrape together a hoard to sleep on.’
The smile was back. ‘You know… as I get older, I’m starting to appreciate something a little softer.’
‘I might be able to manage that, if you’d prefer.’
‘If you’re sure, I think I would,’ he said, pushing the shiny fortune cookie packet towards me. There was only one. I pulled it apart.
We ended up leaving the takeaway things on the table because, after all, they could wait until tomorrow. In amongst the mess was a tiny slip of white paper, printed with purplish-blue words.
Someone you’ve been missing will knock at your door.
Happy Valentine’s Day x