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Building Pictures in the Sand

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Moon was tired, but not so much that he was ready to sleep. He contemplated pulling out a book to read. He had tucked one of the simpler books that Needle had given him for the Sky Copper clutch into the blankets of his own bower and he took it out sometimes when he just wanted to lay about. He was still trying to figure out some of the shapes but could recognize most of them by now.

He couldn’t do that only half a turn ago. It wasn’t like it was obvious, and since he could speak Raksuran just fine, it seemed to have slipped the minds of most of the court that he couldn’t read. Moon had sometimes slipped into the lessons that the fledglings got but it was hard to get anything useful out of it when he couldn’t show up every day. (He could have, but didn’t want to remind them that he was basically ignorant.) 

Then Thorn had started bringing him the baby books they were learning from, hardy things of thick paper or sturdy cloth meant to withstand both clumsy fingers and sharp edged claws.

He was sitting on Moon’s lap, reading the book aloud aloud and pointing at the words as he did. “The q-queen wanted to give her consort a beau-utiful p-p-p-,“ Thorn paused, placing up at Moon for help. 

Moon froze. He had even less experience reading and was mostly nodding along as Thorn read. He couldn’t correct any mistakes Thorn made, let alone read the book himself.

Thorn waited a few moments, but when Moon just shrugged and looked uneasy, he was forced to abandon his lap to find someone else to tell him what the word was. Carefully holding the book open to the correct page, he dashed across the room to pull on the sleeves of one of the teachers.

Embarrassed beyond belief, Moon nearly headed up to the consort’s level where he could be alone, but Thorn returned just as fast and kept him there by crawling back into his lap.

“A beautiful pe-n-da-nt.” Thorn carefully sounded out the word, placing up briefly at Moon to make sure he had his attention. Once he caught Moon’s gaze, he returned to the book. “But she…”

This happened several times, enough that he began dreading the sight of Thorn carrying a book. But he couldn’t deny the boy whenever he came crawling into his lap - he seemed to be taking lessons on looking sweet and helpless from Bitter.

Enough times doing this and Moon started being able to recognize a few words, and later individual sounds. A few of the teachers had noticed the difficulty and brought him more books to ‘read to the children’ never mind that they were simpler books meant for even younger children. The court was sneaky like that - they had learned that Moon was bad at taking help for himself, but wouldn’t say no if it was for another’s benefit.

He could hear Jade’s breath evening out and her tail was stilling where it lay against his hip. She was clearly tired, after a morning keeping everyone in line on top of carrying Bitter the entire flight back. He was still refusing to fly, though Frost and Thorn were developing into sturdy fliers, their shaky furious flaps finally straightening out into easy glides and strong thrusts of their wings. Though Moon had attempted to carry Bitter part of the way, Jade had just hitched the boy tighter in her arms and reminded him that he would need to be as rested as possible should he need to take the fledglings and run while she stayed and fought.

Moon thought she was being stubborn. Fledglings or not, he didn’t think he would abandon her. (He wasn’t completely sure, after all the fledglings were counting on him. Maybe he would find them a place to hide and then come right back). And if she was going to fight anything, she would need energy too. Luckily, nothing was stupid or hungry enough to try and attack them on the way back.

They had been at the edge of the sea, taking the fledglings to see the water’s expanse, along with a handful of aeriat, mostly young warriors who needed to get some energy out. Save for the usual minor predators and internal fighting, little in the way of incidents had happened recently, and it wasn’t even a full day’s trip away from the tree. It was simple enough to take everyone out early in the morning, half asleep as they launched from the upper branches of the home-tree. More that once Moon had been forced to give the fledglings a nudge so that they didn’t fly into a branch or trunk. By the time the trees shrunk and then finally thinned out, everyone was far more awake. 

A storm had blown through the previous night, so a number of shells and other debris littered the beach for the fledglings to investigate. For some reason the three children kept bringing Moon bits of shell and stone and decaying plant bits to hold. Eventually, he started dropping bits behind them as they walked, hoping they wouldn’t notice. They had planned on teaching the three to swim, now that they had a body of water larger than the baths and fountains back at the colony.

Several of the aeriat, mostly younger ones, switched from leisurely swimming to dive-bombing into the water, climbing high, then letting themselves fall with a great splash. The boys were looking interested, but Frost whined and fussed every time she got too close to the spray. 

Finally growing impatient with their clutchmate’s stubbornness, the boys abandoned her to the call of the water. Thorn joined a few of the other flyers in throwing himself into the water. Making sure that Frost was being watched, Jade joining them to launch him back out for another turn. He wasn’t really learning how to swim properly, but he could flail his way to the surface and he was having fun.

Meanwhile Bitter dragged Moon by the hand to stand knee deep in the water. One hand clutching at the back of his neck, Moon steadied Bitter as he explored deeper and deeper into the waves. Soon, Moon found himself having to drop the few remaining bits of debris to help Bitter wade through the water. On Bitter, the waves soon reached up to his chest and at points up to his shoulders.

“Here, hold my arm and stretch yourself out.” Moon encouraged Bitter to float and kick in the water. The boy arched his back oddly to try and keep the water out of his face, but attempted to follow the instructions. “It’s alright to put your face in the water, just don’t try to breathe it.”

“It stings my eyes.”

“Sea water will do that. You’ll get used to it fast and it goes away quick. Give it a try.”

Bitter took a deep breathe and forced his face underwater. It was rather comical at how hard he was trying but barely getting deep enough to get the edges of his hair wet. He surfaced with a gasp and flailed his legs. He snorted and grabbed at Moon’s arm tighter to get the water out of his face.

“Good job. This next time try blowing bubbles, it will keep the water from going up your nose.”

The boy took another breathe to try again when, next thing Moon knew, Bitter was swept from his arms and nearly out of arm’s reach as the currents caught at him.

“Bitter!”

He made a lunge at the panicking boy, but ended up with a face-full of water instead. The nearest warrior, Heather, lunged too and was much more successful at pulling the from the water.

Bitter screeched, angrily protesting the dunking he had taken, clinging tightly to Heather. Even after she reached the dry shore he refused to let go until Moon had gotten close enough to jump to instead.

Jade, Thorn, and the others playing were looking over to see what the fuss was about. Frost abandoned the hole she had been digging to comfort her still shaking brother.

“It’s okay, Bitter. You’re alright now, just a bit of water that’s all. You’re alright.” It took several minutes to stop him from crying, and no amount of coaxing got him back in the water. Perhaps in solidarity, Thorn soon joined them on the beach too. It was less exciting once you realized something had it’s dangers.

After that, the water wasn’t nearly as exciting to the children. None of then wanted that close to the water, and ran whenever the crashing waves reached too high up the beach. Between that and the time drifting into the afternoon, it wasn’t long before they decided that it was time to head home. Moon nearly took off carrying Bitter, but Jade had scooped him from his arms and refused to return him.

The aeriat were tired from the long day and the previous flight, but still everyone wanted to get back soon. The comfort of a good meal and your own pillows was calling.

Having traveled back faster than they left that morning, they were tired by the time they landed. Still wound up from the morning, the fledglings clung like burrs and eventually Jade decided to just allow them what they wanted and to send them back later. Piling into Moon’s bed, Jade just watched while the fledglings all tried to climb into Moon’s lap. Moon didn’t want to be separated from them either, but after one too many sharp elbows and bony knees a short growl had them skittering back. Thorn stepped on Frost’s tail and, with a pounce, the pale queenling turned on him for a mock fight. Bitter soon joined in, and even Jade threw in a few comments and quick prods with her feet and tail to keep the tussle fair.

As the afternoon shadows lengthened, the three children calmed down, eventually curling up on pillows that had fallen to the floor. They were exhausted from everything that had happened that day. Jade had fallen into a doze as soon as the bed had stopped bouncing and Moon was feeling pretty cathartic himself.

Moon was picking slowly through the pages of the book, sounding out a few words but mostly understanding what was going on, when he felt a tugging on his head. Looking to the side, he found Bitter sitting crosslegged beside him, hands still where they had been holding Moon’s hair. He had though the boy asleep with the others, but maybe a little more comfort couldn’t hurt. Bitter’s expression didn’t change as he reached for Moon’s hair again. The older consort remained still as Bitter began twisting and braiding his hair together. The soft sighs of the sleeping children and Jade were the only noises in the room and Moon felt a sudden burst of emotion for the Raksura around him. It wasn’t so much a reaction what he was currently doing, though that had it’s part. It was that peaceful afternoons and collecting seashells hadn’t been what he expected of his life by now.

He lay there for an indeterminate about of time, just letting Bitter braid his hair and Jade drape herself half over him and wished that this day wouldn’t have to end.