It was all quite sudden. One moment, Allan was making his way down a quiet country lane with a light drizzle wetting the earth; the next, there was a body pressed against his, his own name echoing in his ears.

The one who’d collided with him was smaller than him, and incredibly light even for that size; so it was that he only lurched back a step rather than tumbling into the mud. Laughing, he sought the shoulders of the one suddenly embracing him, giving them a squeeze. “And a good day to you as well, Raskin,” he said with a chuckle. “You’re looking well.”

The storm drake seemed to suddenly become aware of the fact that he’d just seized Allan in a tight embrace in the middle of the lane – and while it was no city street, teeming with people, they were certainly attracting some attention. His grip loosened. “Ah… forgive me,” he said, rather more softly than he’d called Allan’s name. “I suppose I’d grown even more fond of you than I had realized.”

“No harm done,” Allan assured him. Lacking horns of his own to touch to Raskin’s, as friendly male drakes were wont to do in greeting, he settled for giving one a firm rub. “Even if I wasn’t expecting quite so, ah, intense a greeting, it’s very far from unwelcome.”

Raskin tilted his head into the touch for a moment, then drew back, gripping Allan’s shoulders in turn. “The last I’d heard, you were still in the Great Drift with Tabar. When did you get back?”

“Not even an hour ago,” Allan confessed. “And I had no idea I’d find you in a little farming village like this. Are you with the others, or on your own?”

“There were some highwaymen hassling travellers on the road,” Raskin explained. “The three of us put a stop to the worst of it. Krall and Katia are helping to deal with the stragglers.” The drake shrugged, wings shuffling. “It’s left me at loose ends, but it does need doing. Some company would be welcome indeed.”

Raskin was a potent elementalist, to be sure; but perhaps, when one wanted prisoners rather than casualties, too much so. Killing wasn’t the only thing he could do – or he’d be an utter wreck; he was unfond enough of it being easy – but his magic was chancy that way. “Company I’d be glad to provide, dear friend,” Allan said. “Tabar wanted to pay a visit to the local smith, and might take the afternoon about it, so I’m on my own as well. I was just looking for a place to get a meal when you found me.”

“Food I can provide,” said the drake.

And so he did; good, hearty fare at the inn where he and his companions were staying. They didn’t have much chance to catch up properly over their meal – much of what Allan had encountered in the north wasn’t something he wished to air in the common room – but they swapped a few tales of quiet days travelling, of hunts, of good turns done by and for each of them. Raskin’s tales in that vein were quite a bit more exciting; all of Allan’s were domestic, as there simply hadn’t been any other sort to do.

“In all the weeks I was there, I never saw any of the snow-cats fighting each other,” he recalled as he followed the drake up the stairs. “Not even the good-natured scrapping that’s so common in Farnhold. Leave the cities behind, and it also seems they cast aside violence. It was an amazing thing, but,” he shook his head, “I had some trouble enjoying it properly. I kept waiting for something to happen.”

“They are friendly folk, in their own quiet way,” Raskin said, pausing at one of the room doors. “Would it truly have been that conspicuous? I’d have thought that I wouldn’t have missed such fighting.”

“I might not have,” Allan granted, “if not for how they did end arguments.”

He waited until the door was shut behind them to go on, “I think Tabar is rare in how spare he is with words – and he might well be holding himself back in just how friendly he is. I did witness arguments over this or that, from time to time. But those who argued always parted on amiable terms – and no few times, they helped get there with a quick sexual exchange, there and then. Right in plain view! Among the same sex, more commonly it was nothing more than a quick touch if it wasn’t a chaste embrace, but if it was a man and a woman – or if they otherwise did fall within each other’s interests…!”

“That’s… quite friendly indeed,” Raskin admitted. He sat on the fur spread before the hearth. “Maybe it’s for the best that I didn’t go along; quite apart from the cold weather, I’m not sure I could have borne the sight of that without saying or doing something inappropriate.”

Raskin was not inclined toward violence or jealousy; so what did that leave? Allan sat beside him, resting a hand on the drake’s knee. “If you’d have been inspired to seek out some company… well, I’m not sure you could do something they would think inappropriate. The first settlement we reached – a dozen adults, half as many children… The headman invited us in out of the blowing snow and offered me his own bed to get warm. Complete with his mate.”

He could almost hear the blink that met that news. “Is that… typical, for them?”

At least Allan wasn’t the only one who found it rather daunting. “Apparently so. Twice I was there when bands met, and they exchanged the same sort of hospitality. Though in those cases, they seemed to be old and familiar friends already. Almost family. Perhaps literally so.”

The drake’s hand settled atop his. “All right,” Raskin said after a long moment. “You were probably right. They’re much friendlier in their usual habitat than they let on.”

Allan let his arm curl around the drake’s midsection as they leaned against one another. “I missed you,” he sighed. All the casual, friendly lovers in the world couldn’t replace the drake’s straightforward affection. With him, once Allan had learned a few basic cues, there was never any wondering just what a particular gesture meant.

And right then, weary from the road and dizzy from the experiences he’d had, that straightforwardness was a thing to treasure.