Now, before you read this fic, be sure to note that it was written as a JOKE. It started out that way, anyway. Also, if you want a long, complicated, nerdy explanation of exactly how Tezuka's and Kaidoh's firebreathing systems are different, just IM me or ask in a comment. I have it all figured out, you know.
Momo and the Dragon, by kishmet. AU, MomoKai, PG, 8,200 words. The people who are responsible for this know who they are. This fic is not at all my fault. Really. Completely unedited.
"Hey, hey, look at this!" Momo leaned down to pick up the piece of parchment he'd found on the ground.
"What is it?" asked Eiji, peering at it with interest.
"Probably says something about free food," said Echizen.
"It does not," said Momo, ruffling Echizen's hair affectionately. Echizen scowled and stepped just out of reach.
"A reward!" said Eiji, reading what the parchment said. "Princess An has been kidnapped by a dragon!" Eiji snatched the flier and bounced gleefully around the training yard with it, which wasn't quite the reaction most people would have had upon hearing that a princess had been kidnapped by a monster.
"So?" asked Echizen.
"Well, so," said Momo. "This could be great! Knights make their reputations by fighting dragons and rescuing princesses and stuff! How much is the reward?"
"Five hundred gold pieces!" Eiji announced. "I'm going to go show Oishi and Fuji!" He dashed off into the castle with the parchment in tow.
"You don't even know how to fight a dragon," Echizen told Momo.
"I do too!" Momo brandished an imaginary sword, seeing as he'd just cleaned off his own and he didn't want to mess it up again. "You just cut, like this!" He demonstrated. "And then you slice, and stab, like this!"
"That's it?" Echizen asked skeptically.
"Well, yeah," said Momo. "The dragon's dead."
"You're going to die," said Echizen.
"You're such a cynic," Momo said, grinning. "This is what all our training's been for! Going off on perilous quests! Getting locked in mortal combat with monsters! Marrying beautiful princesses!"
"I don't want to marry beautiful princesses," Echizen said, rolling his eyes. "That parchment didn't say anything about that, anyway."
"It's implied, obviously." Momo had more experience than Echizen with these confusing matters. In fact, he considered himself quite the authority on them. "But whatever. Even you wouldn't say no to five hundred gold pieces, right?"
"No," said Echizen. "But I don't want to be locked in mortal combat with a dragon, either."
"Don't worry, don't worry." Momo waved a hand at him. "We'll take care of it for you, and then maybe we can all split the reward."
"I don't think Eiji or Oishi know how to fight dragons, either." Echizen glanced over at the castle. "Maybe Fuji does."
"Maybe," Momo agreed, with a slight shudder. He'd never fought Fuji before, but he had the uneasy feeling that it wouldn't go very well. That was why he intended to go on avoiding that particular fight.
Eiji came hurtling back out of the castle and into the practice yard, dragging Oishi along with him. Fuji came out after them. "We're going!" Eiji proclaimed. "Come on, get ready, you two!"
Just like that, Momo's career as a real, serious knight of the realm began.
"This is it! We're going off to fight dragons!" Momo shouted happily at the sky and the great wide world around him. Actually, it wasn't that great or wide as of yet, since they had just gone through the city gates. Still, it felt like a big step, especially because it had taken them three whole days to get packed and ready to go.
"And make our places in history!" Eiji added. "Don't forget that one!"
"This is stupid," said Echizen.
"Oh, come on," said Momo. "You're not even coming! At least wish us luck."
"Good luck," said Echizen. "You'll need it."
"Thanks, Echizen!" Momo called, waving and ignoring the sarcasm behind the remark. He nudged his horse into a canter, and then into a gallop. They were going to find the dragon, save the princess, and be famous for the rest of their lives.
Echizen would regret staying behind, he was sure of it.
"Huh." Momo turned his map the other way around. The writing was upside-down that way, but it still seemed like the map matched the terrain better if he did that. Momo craned his neck around to look behind him for the fiftieth time. There was no sign of the others.
Momo couldn't understand it. He'd only been galloping for a few minutes, and he'd only turned his horse in random directions a couple of times. Somehow he'd still lost Eiji, Fuji, and Oishi. Now he'd slowed his horse to a nice, easy walk so that he could check the map.
A few minutes later, he stuffed the map back into his saddlebag. It was useless. There was no way to tell which way was the right way up, or which way he was going. What would be really handy, he decided, was some sort of magical map with a dot on it that said YOU ARE HERE and an arrow that pointed in whatever direction he was going. A dot marking where the dragon was would be good, too. He'd have to talk to the royal magician when he got back, if he felt up to braving Inui's research dungeons.
He pulled out a piece of bread and let his horse go whichever way she pleased for a while. That didn't work very well, because she just stopped and lowered her head to eat the grass, or lifted her head to nibble at the trees all around them. Momo tugged her head back up and had to eat his bread one-handed so he could keep a hold on the reins.
"I wonder how long we've been going," said Momo. It felt like hours. Maybe it had been days, and he hadn't noticed. The forest he was in didn't look familiar. Night was falling, or the sun was setting, at least. He squinted through the trees and thought he saw a brighter area in front of them. "Let's head for that clearing," he told his horse, who shook her head and tried to get to the grass again.
When they arrived in the clearing, Momo suddenly felt a lot more optimistic, remembering what had brought him out of the city to begin with. It looked like the right place to find a dragon. There was a gigantic dark cave, a forest right nearby to hunt in, and most importantly, a huge scorched area of rock between the cave and the forest. This burnt area was where Momo hopped off of his horse and stood to issue his challenge.
"Hey! Hey, you!" Momo shouted, and then waited for some kind of response. His horse snorted and bent her head to nibble at a patch of weeds.
Well, that didn't seem to be working. Momo decided to spice things up a little. "You! Dragon! You big, stupid, ugly lizard!" As there still seemed to be no dragon forthcoming, Momo was forced to get more creative. Luckily, he'd had a lot of practice. That was one of the things everyone learned in training, unofficially, of course. "You fly like a duck! Bet you waddle like one too!"
Still no dragon. His horse had finished her weeds and tugged against his grip on the reins, trying to get to the grass twenty feet away. "Just be patient," Momo told her firmly. "If I can wait for dinner, you can." She didn't seem convinced.
"Your mother was a newt, and your father was a...a...salamander!" Momo yelled into the cave. "You've got wings like a turkey, and a head like the ugliest horse in the stables! You're a filthy, thieving piece of vermin who couldn't light a candle!"
Momo was really getting into this tirade, so much that he almost forgot why he was shouting insults into a cave. The first clue he had that it was working was when his horse suddenly lifted her head, nostrils flaring. There was a gust of wind, and the horse reared, screamed, and jerked her reins out of his grasp. She bolted for the safety of the woods, reins trailing and saddlebags bouncing wildly.
"Hey!" said Momo indignantly, starting after her. "My food was in there!"
"Were you the one yelling?"
The voice was low, dangerous, and altogether too gruff to belong to a human, except maybe Momo's first sword instructor, who, oddly, had been female. Momo turned around, very, very slowly, hoping that it wasn't what it sounded like.
It was. The dragon had to be a hundred...no, a thousand feet tall, which was the highest number Momo had ever learned during his schooling. His instructor had said that if you couldn't count your enemy in the thousands, it was probably pretty stupid to be counting them at all. The dragon was glaring down at Momo, breathing small tongues of flame, and generally looking as dangerous as it was possible for a single thing to look.
"Uh," said Momo feebly. "I didn't mean that thing about your mother."
The dragon let out a hiss like a boiling teakettle and started looking less dangerous and more scornful. "Coward."
"I am not!" Momo protested, before his brain could tell his mouth that arguing with a dragon wasn't a good idea; was, in fact, a pretty suicidal idea. "I'm here to take Princess An back, so you'd better give her to me!" He put on his most menacing look. "Or else you'll see how brave I am."
"Princess?" The dragon narrowed his eyes. "What princess?"
"The princess!" said Momo. "How many princesses do you have in there, anyway?" He tried peering around the dragon, into the cave.
The dragon moved to block his view. "I don't have any princesses," he growled. "So leave me alone. Idiot."
"Oh yeah?" Momo felt better now that he hadn't been cooked, crunched, or killed in some equally grisly way. "Then where'd the princess go, huh? It's not like she just got up and left!"
"Are you stupid?" asked the dragon. The flames started getting bigger, and Momo realized that taking a step back might be a good plan. "I don't have any princesses."
"Yeah, yeah," said Momo. "I came to fight you and get her back, and that's what I'm going to do!" He reached for his sword, meaning to brandish it at the dragon. Unfortunately, he'd forgotten that he'd strapped his sword to his saddle, which had gone running off along with his horse. He panicked for a couple of seconds, and then decided that he had to come up with something, quick.
So he remembered what he'd done earlier, when he'd been pretending to fight a dragon that had seemed a lot smaller in his imagination. He whipped out nothing out of...well, nothing, and brandished that at the dragon. "Have at, you big-" Momo cut off. He didn't want to go hurling insults when he didn't have a sword and he was facing a huge dragon. "Come on and fight me!"
The dragon stared at him incredulously. "You are stupid."
"I'm not!" Momo mimed twirling a sword. "I guess you've never heard of my famous dragon-killing...invisible sword!" He jabbed said invisible sword in the dragon's direction. "I killed five dragons with it just the other day!"
The dragon didn't seem impressed, just annoyed. "Go away." He started to turn around and go back into the cave.
"Hey!" Momo ran after him. "We're fighting here!" He stabbed at the dragon's side with the invisible sword. Unfortunately, again, he'd forgotten that he didn't really have an invisible sword. He ended up punching the dragon's scales, which, as it turned out, were a lot harder than his hand. "Ouch!"
"Stupid human!" The dragon whipped around and shot a blast of fire right over Momo's head. Momo clapped a hand (the uninjured one) to his hair to make sure he hadn't been burnt bald. He sighed with relief when he found his hair exactly as he'd left it.
"So," said Momo. "Am I your prisoner now, or what?"
The dragon eyed him. "No. You can leave."
"No I can't!" said Momo indignantly. "I either have to kill you, or you have to kill me, or, uh..." Those were actually the only two alternatives his instructor had ever given. "Or I have to be your prisoner."
"I don't want you," said the dragon, disgusted.
"Fine, then I guess..." Momo gulped. "I guess you have to kill me, then." He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, waiting to be set on fire and eaten whole.
"I don't want to kill you, either!"
Momo opened his eyes. The dragon looked absolutely dismayed, if someone so green and spiky and scaly could be dismayed. "Oh," said Momo. "Okay then. I'm your prisoner."
The dragon was breathing little bits of flame again, which seemed to be a sign that he was agitated. "Fine," he snapped. Momo walked behind the dragon, into the cave, congratulating himself on his cleverness.
Then again, he didn't know what being a dragon's prisoner entailed yet.
"Aren't you supposed to have a treasure hoard, or something?" Momo looked around the cave. It was absolutely pristine, except for the charred spots, like the ones outside, on the floor and walls. There were a few tapestries and banners hung around the place, all of them pretty nice.
"I do," said the dragon. "I keep it in the side caves."
When Momo looked this time, he saw that, indeed, there were tunnels that led off from the main cave. "Huh," he said. "Aren't you supposed to, I dunno, bathe in the gold stuff or something?"
The dragon shot him an incredulous look. "How would that make me clean?"
"I think it's just supposed to make you feel rich," said Momo. "Like kings, when they trail gold coins through their fingers...or whatever."
"Dumbass," the dragon muttered. "Why are you still here?"
"Because I'm your prisoner, remember?" said Momo, exasperated. How was he supposed to deal with a dragon who had memory issues? "You're supposed to make me work for you, and stuff."
The dragon hissed. "Fine. Cook supper." He made his way over to the far end of the cave, picked up something in his teeth and another something in his front claws, and came back. He deposited a dead deer, some wood, and a huge cooking pot at Momo's feet.
"Can't you cook it yourself?" Momo asked. "You're the one who can breathe fire."
"It doesn't cook evenly that way," said the dragon.
"You...huh?" Momo blinked. "Dragons want their food cooked evenly?" Now that he thought about it, it made some kind of sense. Well-cooked food was the best. He just hadn't expected a gigantic reptile to be so discerning.
"Of course," said the dragon, sounding disgusted. "Shut up and cook." He made a noise like the blacksmith's bellows, and set the wood beneath the pot on fire.
"I don't know how to cook!" Momo stared at the fire and the pot and the deer. He realized suddenly that he'd always relied on handouts from the palace cook to sustain himself, and he had absolutely no idea how to make the food himself. "I'm a knight, not a princess!"
"Princesses don't attack me," the dragon growled, shooting Momo a dark look.
There was no arguing with that logic. "Okay, well, fine." Momo pulled out his dagger and sat down by the deer to start skinning it. "Don't blame me if you get food poisoning," he mumbled under his breath.
The dragon's ears flickered, and he glared at Momo again. Little tongues of fire flickered out of his nose and mouth. "What was that?"
"Nothing, nothing," said Momo, lying because he didn't want knight to replace venison as the main course of the evening. "I'll just get cooking. Yeah." He started again, and then stopped. "Hey, do you have any water anywhere?"
The dragon was still sitting there, watching Momo like he thought Momo was going to poison him. "In the back," said the dragon. "There's a stream in there."
Momo lugged the cooking pot all the way across the cave, which was more difficult than the dragon had made it look. There was a stream, and Momo filled the pot with the water from it. Then he faced the challenge of hauling the pot, with water in it, all the way back to the fire. He refused to ask the dragon for help, and the dragon didn't offer, just twitched his ears in what might have been amusement. Momo ended up splashing water all over himself, but enough was left in the pot that he could cook properly with it. He hoped.
He'd never thought that he would master such a womanly skill, but he actually found himself enjoying the process of preparing and cooking the deer. He just hoped that the dragon wouldn't want him to make anything more complicated. He didn't think he'd be able to make anything that required any sort of combination of ingredients.
"Hey," said Momo as they ate. The dragon had three-quarters of the deer, and Momo had a quarter of it to himself. Frankly, he didn't think that it was enough for either one of them, but it would have to do. "Do dragons have names, or what?"
"Of course we do, idiot," said the dragon. Then he was silent, gnawing on one of the deer's thigh bones.
"So...?" Momo prompted.
"So?" the dragon asked.
"If dragons have names, what's yours?"
The dragon hesitated and eyed him warily. Then he apparently decided that it was safe enough to answer. "Kaidoh."
"Huh. Weird name for a dragon," Momo said, thinking it over.
"What's your name, then?" Kaidoh demanded. "If you think mine is so strange."
Momo swallowed a bite of venison. It could have used some spices, but it wasn't too bad. "Takeshi Momoshiro."
"Weird name for a human," Kaidoh muttered to himself, and returned to his thigh bone, chewing on it more violently than before.
Momo was glad that he wasn't that thigh bone.
The next day, Momo went on a princess hunt while Kaidoh was out hunting for something else; probably for another deer, or a cow for a change of pace. Momo didn't really believe that Kaidoh didn't have the princess there. Where else could a princess possibly have gone? And how many dragons could there possibly be in one area?
No, Momo decided. Kaidoh had to be keeping Princess An in one of the many caves that branched off from the main one. He stood up from his semi-comfortable piece of rock and winced. Sleeping on a cave floor wasn't the best idea, not that he had a whole lot of other options.
Momo searched every single cave. He crossed the little stream in the back one and found a bunch of stalagmites, but no princess. He searched one cave that seemed to be filled entirely with precious gems. There was no princess in there, either. The third cave was full of gold things, crowns and thrones and a solid gold bedframe that still had a feather mattress in it. Momo made a note of that one, happier than he'd been all day. No more sleeping on a cave floor for him.
Another side cave had silver stuff, and another one, inexplicably, was full of random square pieces of cloth, each a little bit bigger than a handkerchief. Momo hadn't had any idea that anyone could fill up a whole room with something like that. There was no princess in that one, and Momo gave up. Unless Kaidoh was hiding another treasure room that happened to be full of princesses, then there were absolutely no princesses in the caves at all.
"So you really don't have Princess An, huh," Momo said thoughtfully, as he turned the wild boar on the spit he'd improvised.
Kaidoh hissed at him. "Of course not. Stop eating pieces before it's done."
"I'm cooking it, I'll eat what I want," said Momo, waving him away. He deliberately picked off another piece of meat and popped it into his mouth. "Mm."
"Next time I'll eat you," said Kaidoh, curling up into a ball of sulky dragon.
"Sure, sure," said Momo. "Like you'd find another knight who'd cook this good."
"Don't just leave that there!"
"What?" Momo picked up the chalice he'd just finished polishing. "Well, where should I put it, then? And the rest of this stuff?" He gestured at the heap of jeweled treasures that he'd carried out of one of the side caves.
"Back where you found it," said Kaidoh. "I have everything organized."
"Organized?" Momo gaped at him, although he supposed he shouldn't have been surprised. Kaidoh's eating habits were remarkably human, and all of the treasure was stacked neatly in the caves. "So...but I can leave it there while I finish the rest, right?"
"No," said Kaidoh. "It'll get ashes on it." He ran a claw through one of the burnt patches. The gold claw came up black. Kaidoh shook off the ashes, making sure that none of them landed on the things Momo was supposed to polish.
"I have to take every one back when I'm done with it?" Momo asked, dismayed. "What are you, some kind of neat freak?"
Kaidoh glared at him. "No."
"Then, can I put this cup on the floor?"
"No." Kaidoh had started breathing fire again. It was evidently a reflexive thing that happened when he was annoyed.
"Fine, fine." Momo picked the chalice up with exaggerated delicacy and carried it back into the room where he'd found it. He thought about flinging it just anywhere on the floor, but Kaidoh had followed him to make sure he didn't do that. So he set it in about the place where he'd gotten the chalice from.
Kaidoh, naturally, came into the room to shift the chalice to another spot. Momo didn't see the difference between that spot and the first. "Neat freak," he said under his breath.
"What?" Kaidoh asked, narrowing his eyes at Momo
"Nothing," said Momo. He went back to polish the next thing.
It was going to be a long afternoon.
While he was rearranging things in one of the treasure caves, Momo found a set of reed pipes. He turned them over in his hand, looking at them from all angles. Pipes like these ones had been a part of Momo's education. They had to learn either music or poetry, Momo's instructor had told them, and music had seemed like the more active of the two, so he'd chosen that.
Momo sat down on one of the rocks and started to play one of the tunes he'd learned. It was a good way to take a break from organizing and polishing treasure in accordance with Kaidoh's exacting standards. He finished that song and started on another one, a long ballad with, what? Thirty-five or forty verses, at least.
Kaidoh peered into the room just then.
Momo stopped playing and set down the pipes. "Don't worry, I'm working. I was just taking a break, that's all."
"No," said Kaidoh. "Keep playing."
"O...kay." Momo picked up the pipes again. Kaidoh curled up in the mouth of the cave, listening, his ears twitching in time with the music. So, music could soothe the savage beast.
After that song, Momo couldn't keep playing anymore. He wasn't a minstrel, and he hadn't really practiced in a long time. "So," he said, trying to control his panting. "Does this mean I can stop cooking dinner and polishing stuff, and just play music instead?"
"No," said Kaidoh, and got up to leave. "You're not that good."
Oh well. It had been worth a shot.
"You're filthy," said Kaidoh one day, his nostrils flaring in distaste. By Momo's calculation, it had been a couple weeks since he'd first been taken prisoner.
"I am not," said Momo, just because he had to disagree with every insult Kaidoh flung his way, whether it was true or not. He sneaked a glance down at himself. He was filthy. His clothes were covered in the polish he used for the gold and silver stuff, and they were also streaked with ashes from the cave floor. He'd taken off his armor a long time ago, but he couldn't change out of his tunic and trousers because he didn't have anything else to wear.
"Yes you are," said Kaidoh. "Go take a bath or something. I can smell you from a mile away."
"You cannot!" Momo protested. "I can hardly smell myself from right here!" He took a deep breath and coughed, wrinkling his nose. Okay, so maybe he did need a bath.
"I'd have to wash my clothes, too, though," Momo pointed out. "It's not like you have anything else for me to change into. What should I do, walk around naked while they're drying?"
"I never wear clothes," said Kaidoh.
"Don't remind me!" Momo groaned. "It's just lucky you're not human, or that would be really weird. Ew."
Kaidoh glowered at him. "I do have other clothes."
"You do not-" Momo began reflexively, and then stopped. "Oh. Really?"
"Yes. Moron." Kaidoh jabbed a claw in the direction of a big wooden chest in the far corner of the cave. "In there."
Momo still had no idea how Kaidoh kept track of everything, with so many things lying around. It hardly mattered. Kaidoh knew, so Momo didn't have to bother finding his way around. He headed over to the chest and opened it. There was a silk dress on top. He picked it up and dropped it on the floor, out of the way.
"Pick that up!" Kaidoh snapped. "It'll get dirty."
"Why do you care?" Momo retorted. "You wouldn't even fit in it."
"I wouldn't want to!" said Kaidoh irritably.
"Yeah, yeah." Momo picked it up anyway, and laid it over the arms of a tall candelabra by the chest. Next was a slightly plainer dress, a brown one made of rougher material. Momo put that one aside too. He went through the whole chest, finding one dress after another. For a change of pace there was a skirt and blouse combination.
"Hey!" said Momo, scandalized. "There's only dresses in here!"
"So?" Kaidoh asked.
"Well, so!" Momo waved the skirt around as though that would make his point. "I'm a man. A knight. I don't wear dresses."
Kaidoh shot him a venomous look. "Then go naked." His nostrils had started to glow a faint shade of orange, which was a bad sign. It meant that he was getting tired of this particular argument.
"I'm going to take a bath," said Momo, returning Kaidoh's look with an equally venomous glare. He took the skirt and blouse with him, and didn't say anything else about them when he stalked out of the back room, wearing them. They were a little small, but that was the least of his complaints.
In the next few days, he tried stitching the skirt together into a semi-decent pair of pants with some thread he'd unraveled from one of the other dresses. His sewing skills weren't up to the challenge, though, and his attempts failed miserably.
Momo felt really, really stupid. He'd come to fight this dragon with dreams of slaying the thing, and returning proudly home with the princess and the dragon's head in tow. Instead, he was working as a crossdressing maid for a dragon with a cleanliness fetish.
It was humiliating. Although he had to admit, some of the silk dresses were more comfortable than armor had ever been.
Momo heard the hoofbeats before he actually saw the riders approaching. He was outside, hanging up some of his laundry to dry. He figured it would be good to have at least some men's clothing to wear, which was why he'd bothered to wash his old outfit. (He'd also washed the pretty lavender silk dress. He'd grown fond of that one, though he'd never admit it out loud.)
When he heard the horses and the voices through the trees, he craned his neck, trying to see who it was. It didn't take him very long to recognize the voices, and he brightened, about to yell out to them. Then he looked down at what he was wearing (a pink gown with lace, very slimming, but that wasn't the point), yelped, and fumbled and fought his way out of the dress. He grabbed his trousers even though they were still wet, and managed to pull them on just as the riders came into view.
"Hey, you guys," said Momo, leaning against a rock as though he hadn't a care in the world.
"Momo!" Eiji trotted up to Momo on horseback, grinning. "I thought we'd never see you again!" He flung himself off of his horse and onto Momo, who had to catch him. It was difficult, given that Eiji outweighed Momo by at least ten pounds, or thirty pounds given the armor Eiji was wearing.
"Oof," said Momo. He tottered, swayed, and then by some miracle regained his balance.
"Momo, you're all right!" Oishi trotted up behind Eiji, catching Eiji's horse's reins before the horse could meander away. Fuji was right behind Oishi on his own horse, smiling, but then that was hardly unusual for Fuji. Both of them slid off of their horses, too, but kept their bridles in hand, unlike Eiji.
"Yeah, I'm fine!" Momo had never thought he'd be so happy to see the three of them as he was at that moment. "I can't believe you guys finally made it! Where's Echizen, anyway?" He looked around.
"He said you had to be dead," Eiji said cheerily. "And if you weren't, he wasn't going to bother coming to rescue you."
Momo made a mental note to take that one up with Echizen when he got home. "So you guys went home, then?"
"Yup," said Eiji.
"After we couldn't find the dragon's cave, or you, we decided it would be best to regroup," said Oishi, and smiled brightly. "You found the dragon, then?" He pointed to the cave behind Momo. "What about the princess?"
"Oh. Yeah." Momo thought for a second about making something up, and then decided it wouldn't be a very good idea. "I found the dragon, but not the princess, exactly."
"So whose dresses are those?" Fuji asked.
"Why are your pants all wet?" Eiji asked curiously, a second later.
Momo looked quickly at the silks and linens and lace, playing it safe and ignoring Eiji's comment. "Uh, I guess other princesses'. Kaidoh just had them laying around."
"Kaidoh?" Eiji asked.
"Yeah, uh, the dragon." Somehow he didn't think it would sound very good that he knew the dragon's name. "I mean, I've been here for so long, I decided to spy on him, and I learned his name that way." That sounded a little better.
"Does he talk to himself, and that's how you found out?" Eiji was still draped all over Momo, which was sort of uncomfortable. Momo shifted, trying to make it so that Eiji's shoulder plate wasn't digging into his skin. "Or did you read his letters? Do dragons write letters?"
"Oh, just, stuff," said Momo vaguely. "So, uh...you guys are here to rescue me, right?" That sounded pathetic, but frankly, Momo didn't care as much as he might have. He was sick of polishing chalices.
"Of course," said Fuji. "But Momo...why don't you just rescue yourself?"
"Because he's a dragon! I already tried fighting him, and it didn't work!" Momo didn't mention that he'd lost his sword before he'd actually started fighting. "Not that I didn't get some good hits in. But he's huge, so it was like he was cheating. I'm his, uh. Prisoner, now."
"But Momo," said Eiji, in the voice that meant he was about to burst into laughter. "Why don't you just leave?"
"Because I can'!" Evidently they wanted to leave him there to cook and clean for Kaidoh forever. "There's a dragon! Remember? Come on, you guys!"
"Momo," said Oishi, and incredibly, even he sounded like he was going to laugh. "The dragon's not here right now, is he?"
"Well, no, of course not," said Momo. "He's out hun...ting...and. Oh." Suddenly it occurred to him that Fuji, Eiji, and Oishi weren't the ones being stupid. "Oh! Oh. Well, I, uh...huh." Momo searched desperately for an excuse that would make him sound less like an idiot. "I don't have my horse!" he said triumphantly. "I couldn't walk all that way."
"We're only two miles from where you started, you know," said Fuji. Eiji couldn't contain his laughter anymore.
"Oh," said Momo. His sense of direction was worse than he'd thought.
All of a sudden, there was a rush of air. The horses started pulling on their reins, whinnying nervously, the whites of their eyes showing. Kaidoh landed in the clearing outside of the cave, flapping his wings twice before folding them. He looked just as worried as the horses. "Who are these people?" he asked Momo.
"They're...my friends," said Momo, for lack of anything better to say.
Momo shouldn't have been startled that it was Fuji who spoke up first. "Syusuke Fuji. It's a pleasure to meet you." Fuji bowed, and then lifted his head, smiling up at Kaidoh. "I'd offer to shake your hand, but I've heard it's not proper dragon protocol. Is that right?"
Momo stared at Fuji. Kaidoh stared at Fuji too, looking just as surprised as Momo did, or more. "That's...right," Kaidoh said finally. He bowed his head stiffly to Fuji in return. Momo was slightly miffed. Kaidoh had never so much as offered to bow to him.
"I'm Eiji Kikumaru," Eiji butted in gleefully, giving Kaidoh his best dramatic bow. It was pretty impressive. Eiji was amazingly flexible, even in full armor. He grinned at Kaidoh. "You're Kaidoh, right? Momo told us," he added conspiratorily.
"...yes," said Kaidoh, sounding as though he'd unexpectedly swallowed something that hadn't gone down quite right. Evidently he didn't get much company and wasn't used to it.
Momo, for his part, felt that there was something very, very wrong with the whole situation. "You know he's a dragon, right?" he asked randomly. He squinted at Kaidoh. Maybe Fuji and Eiji saw something that he didn't.
"Of course we do," said Eiji impatiently. "Oishi, you should introduce yourself, too."
"Oh...yes, of course." Oishi gave a courtly bow and gave Kaidoh his own tentative smile. "It's good to meet you. It seems as though Momo's been doing very well."
"What?" Momo spluttered, before Kaidoh could say anything at all. "I'm his prisoner! He makes me wear dresses!"
"I do not," said Kaidoh.
Eiji started laughing helplessly again, clutching his stomach. "Those are your dresses!" He pointed to the clothes drying on the rocks. "I didn't know you liked to dress like a woman, Momo!"
"I don't!" Momo bawled. For being the friends he hadn't seen in weeks, the three of them sure weren't providing much comfort. They'd practically tricked him into saying that thing about the dresses. "There's just nothing else to wear, okay!"
Kaidoh eyed all of them speculatively. "Do you want to stay for dinner?" he asked gruffly, ignoring Momo's outburst.
"Oh, we'd love to," said Fuji.
"Fine. Go make something," Kaidoh ordered Momo.
"What? But..." Momo looked at Fuji, and then at Eiji and Oishi. Eiji snickered, Fuji smiled implacably, and Oishi gave him a sympathetic look. But that was it. "Well, fine!" Momo stomped off into the cave to cook up the sheep Kaidoh had brought in earlier.
This was not at all the way he'd imagined this reunion going.
"So you guys really aren't going to rescue me?" Momo asked plaintively.
Eiji, Fuji, and Oishi were in the process of saddling their horses, getting ready to set off for town again. "You don't really need to be rescued, Momo," said Fuji. "Remember?"
"Yeah, but the dragon's back now..." Momo trailed off. Kaidoh went hunting every day, so it hardly mattered that he was back for the moment, Momo supposed. "You guys could fight him for me."
"Well, I don't know," said Oishi, with an apologetic smile. "Now that we're friends with him, I don't think that fighting him would be the best thing to do. You're not that uncomfortable here, are you?"
"Well, no," said Momo, thinking of the fresh meat and sometimes vegetables that Kaidoh brought back every day, and the nice featherbed he slept on, and the arguments with Kaidoh that shouldn't have counted as part of being comfortable, but somehow did. "Not really. I guess."
"Anyway, rescuing you isn't the same as rescuing a princess," said Eiji, swinging onto his horse. "No one rescues knights from dragons!"
"They could..." said Momo, but it was hopeless. His friends rode off without him, Eiji turning and waving enthusiastically from his saddle. "We'll come and visit again, promise, Momo!" he called back.
"Stupid friends," said Momo, and went back into the cave to clean up the dinner dishes and maybe, just possibly, to change back into one of his dresses.
He meant to leave while Kaidoh was out hunting, really he did. But then as he checked one of the treasure caves to make sure everything was properly in place, he noticed a spot on one of the urns, and he had to polish it or else stupid Kaidoh would freak out when he saw it.
Then he put the urn back in its place, and saw that an assortment of gold jewelry had fallen off of an equally gold table, and of course he had to pick all of it up. If he left the place a mess, Kaidoh would come after him for sure. Then he was hungry, so he went to eat some of the meat he'd dried and saved.
By the time Kaidoh was supposed to come back, Momo had decided that it wasn't such a great day for escaping after all.
Momo heard the now-familiar whoosh of wings outside of the cave. "Hey," he called, as Kaidoh's claws scraped on the stone. "Did you bring back anything good, or just some old goat like last ti-" he cut off.
Kaidoh collapsed just inside the cave's entrance, blocking it, halfway inside and halfway out. He managed to lift his head to glare at Momo for a second, and then that fell to the ground with a heavy-sounding thud.
"Hey!" said Momo, alarmed. "What'd you do to yourself?" He hurried over.
"Cold," said Kaidoh, in a small voice that wasn't nearly as gruff as usual.
"Cold?" Now that Momo thought about it, he realized that it had been chilly today. The cave was always warmer than the outdoors, so it hadn't bothered Momo too much. "Well, get in here!"
Kaidoh's eyes blinked sluggishly shut, and then opened halfway. "Can't."
"What are you going to do, then? Freeze out there like that?" Momo put a hand on the dark green scales. "You are cold! You dummy." Kaidoh was usually warm to the touch, probably because of the fire that was always burning inside him, or so Momo assumed. This time Kaidoh's skin was as cool as that of any lizard Momo had ever found.
"Okay, get in here." Momo set his shoulder against Kaidoh's side and pushed. Kaidoh barely twitched. "Come on!"
"Stop it," said Kaidoh, sounding irritable for the first time since he'd gotten back. That had to be a good sign.
"Yeah, like I'll stop," said Momo. "You're blocking the door. If you die there, I'll starve to death!"
"Good," said Kaidoh faintly.
Momo had a sudden flash of inspiration. "Move it!" he commanded, and whacked Kaidoh with the flat of his hand. (Not too hard, because he still remembered the last time he'd tried that, but hard enough.) "You stupid overgrown frog. You went out in the cold, and now you won't even come in where it's warm? Huh?"
Kaidoh hissed quietly; definitely a good sign.
"It's a good thing you have me here at all," Momo went on, shoving Kaidoh as hard as he could. "You're too dumb to survive on your own. Yeah, that's it."
Inch by inch (and annoyed hiss by annoyed hiss), Momo got Kaidoh crawling into the warmth of the cave. Kaidoh collapsed again in the middle of the floor, but Momo was already satisfied. "There. That's better. Now hang on a second." He went and found a candle, and brought it back and held it up in front of Kaidoh's nose. "Here. Just breathe a little bit of fire, okay?"
Kaidoh blew out a breath, but there was no flame in it, just a couple of sparks.
"I guess you can't," Momo taunted.
Kaidoh's eyes narrowed, and he blew out another breath that was almost too much fire for one little candle. Momo had to pull his hand back to stop it from getting singed. After that, Kaidoh closed his eyes completely, exhausted.
Momo patted Kaidoh's shoulder. "Just hang in there." He went to get some wood from their store of firewood, and came back with some kindling. He used the candle to set that on fire, made sure it was burning strongly, and then went and hauled a few good-sized logs into the middle of the cave. Pretty soon, he had a really good fire going, right by Kaidoh. He didn't let it get too close, though. He wasn't sure exactly how fireproof dragons were.
Then he rushed around collecting dresses and blankets and whatever else was lying around that could be used to cover a dragon with. He draped all those things over Kaidoh, wherever he could reach. He stood back and surveyed his work. It was funny, but Kaidoh wasn't nearly a thousand feet tall, or even a hundred. He was more like ten, maybe fifteen feet tall, and probably twice as long.
Momo pressed a hand to Kaidoh's scales. It might have been his imagination, but Kaidoh already felt warmer. Momo sat down, leaning against Kaidoh and tending the fire whenever it started to go down a little.
He didn't even complain about going without supper that night.
Momo somehow fell asleep on the floor of the cave next to Kaidoh. He woke up when something nudged him. He groaned. He was sore all over. "Five more minutes..." He snuggled against the scaly wall behind him.
"No. Wake up." Kaidoh shoved Momo gently with his front leg.
"Gently" for a dragon was a little different than "gently" for a human. Momo tumbled head over heels, and jumped to his feet, ignoring his aches and pains. "I'm up, I'm up!" he told Kaidoh, and yawned. "What do you want?" He didn't ask how Kaidoh was doing, because the dragon was clearly well enough to push his knight around.
"There's someone outside." Kaidoh's ears flickered, and he stared intently at the cave's entrance. "I can't see them, but I can hear them and smell them?" He slowly started gathering his legs under him, trying to stand up.
"Quit it," said Momo, kicking Kaidoh in a way that was probably affectionate for a dragon. "If you're dumb enough to freeze yourself half to death, then I'm dumb enough to go see whoever it is." That wasn't quite what Momo had meant to say, but it was close enough.
Kaidoh let out a quiet snort. "That's true." He settled back down, and Momo headed over to find out who was lurking around their- no, Kaidoh's cave.
He found out soon enough. The instant he set foot outside of the cave door, a sword came at him. Momo yelped and jumped to the side. The blade came within an inch of his throat, which was way too close.
"Oh, I'm sorry." The person was wearing full armor, including a helm so that Momo couldn't see their face. The voice was decidedly female. "Isn't this the dragon's cave?"
Momo gaped. "You're a girl?" It didn't seem very relevant, but Momo was shocked.
"Mm-hm." Sheating her sword, she pulled off her helmet, and then pressed a finger to her lips, smiling. "I'm An Tachibana, but don't tell anyone. I don't want my brother to find me."
"What?" Momo took a minute, but then he recognized the name. "If you're the princess, how come you're dressed up like a knight?"
"If you're a man, why are you wearing a dress?" she countered.
Momo looked down at his pretty lavender skirt. "I...uh...it, it's comfortable?" he offered weakly.
"Well, I don't think so, and that's why I'm dressed like this." She glanced over at the cave. "So is there a dragon here?"
"Oh. Oh, yeah. There is. I'm his prisoner, kind of," said Momo, wondering if it still counted when he could escape just about anytime he liked.
"Oh good!" An said brightly.
"Huh?" said Momo.
"If you're the dragon's prisoner, then I can rescue you," she said. "And if I bring back a dragon's head and a dragon's captive, then my brother will stop trying to marry me off. He means well," An confided. "He just doesn't know what I really want."
"What? No!" Momo had heard the part about the dragon's head and stopped listening for the rest. "You can't kill him!"
An cocked her head to the side. "Why not? Don't you want to escape?"
"Well...well...I mean, yeah. But...um..." He didn't want to mention that Kaidoh was still sick. It was possible that this dragon-slaying princess would try to take advantage of it, and kill Kaidoh while he was weak. Momo thought of a likely excuse. "I don't want to see you get hurt! He's...he's, uh, a thousand feet tall!"
"Dragons don't get that big," said An confidently. "Don't worry, I'll be fine." She tried to step around Momo, into the cave.
"No!" Momo blocked her way. "I can't let you!" He cast around for something else to put her off, since she obviously wasn't scared enough for her own life. "I'll...I'll fight you!" Of course, he wouldn't really fight a princess, but then, he didn't really have a sword. He pretended to draw an invisible blade. "With my invisible sword, uh...Kaidoh!" It was the only name he could think of, aside from the princess' and his own.
The princess stepped back and looked at him. Momo shook his imaginary sword at her.
"You really don't want me to fight the dragon, do you," said An.
"No," said Momo. "I guess not."
"I can take care of myself, you know," she said, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, I can tell," said Momo, remembering the way she'd almost skewered his neck. He rubbed it, grateful that it was still completely connected to his body. "It's just that, uh, the dragon, he's, uh..." he lowered his voice, hoping that Kaidoh was asleep or, by some miracle, wouldn't hear. "He's my friend. Kind of."
"Oh," said An, nodding knowingly. "Why didn't you just say so in the first place?"
"Because!" said Momo, unable to explain it further. "I don't know."
"I wouldn't kill a dragon who's a knight's friend," said An, winking. She put her helmet back on. "Just don't tell my brother that you saw me if he comes by, all right?"
"Okay," said Momo. "No...no problem."
She started to walk away, and then turned back. "I almost forgot! You're Momoshiro, right? Takeshi Momoshiro?" When he nodded dumbly, she said, "Fuji asked me to say hello from him." She waved, and then disappeared into the trees.
"She's gone," said Momo, walking back into the cave. "It was just some princess, the princess I was going to rescue from you, actually, but I guess she did just wander off on her own, I don't know, but she doesn't want her brother to find her or anything, so..." he was rambling, but he had a good reason.
"Thanks," said Kaidoh gruffly.
"Oh." Well, there went any hope that Kaidoh hadn't heard his exchange with the princess. "Yeah. Whatever."
Kaidoh wouldn't look at him, which was good, because Momo wouldn't look at Kaidoh, either, or not at his eyes. It was hard to avoid looking at a dragon entirely. Momo sat down where he had been, in the curve of Kaidoh's neck by the dying fire. The scales were a lot warmer than they'd been the night before.
"I only did it because you're sick," said Momo, breaking the silence. "What kind of idiot are you, anyway, getting sick from the cold?"
"If I didn't have an idiot knight to feed, I wouldn't have been out so long," Kaidoh retorted.
"Oh yeah?" Momo crossed his arms, staring Kaidoh right in one big, reptilian eye. "And who'd cook all your food if I wasn't here? Since you like it cooked evenly," he mocked.
"I should have gotten that princess instead," Kaidoh grumbled.
"If you had, I would've killed you and saved her," said Momo.
"No, because I would have roasted you first."
"Like you could."
It seemed like nothing else needed to be said, because they both shut up at that point. Then Momo came up with something else. "I was going to escape yesterday, you know."
"You should've done it," snapped Kaidoh. "And left me alone."
"What, to die?" asked Momo, settling himself more comfortably against Kaidoh's neck. "Stupid."
"Better than listening to you." Kaidoh shifted so that his head rested next to Momo, practically in Momo's lap.
Momo decided that maybe, just maybe, he'd wait a little longer before escaping.