When night fell, Chiharu began to shiver in his sweater. Up here on the mountain, it got so cold in the fall, and the winter to come would be even worse.
He felt Rin’s arm fall over his shoulders. It would be embarrassing if anyone saw them, but that wasn’t likely at this time in the evening, along this country road that led to his old house. He leaned in. Rin hummed a happy sound.
This synergy between them, the escalating warmth and happiness, felt out of control. If this was part of the dragon God’s seduction, he didn’t want to get in its way.
“Let’s get home, I’ll cook you something hot to warm you up.”
Chiharu nodded. Having a spouse, regardless of gender or species, was quite a boon to his productivity and health. Otherwise, he’d get absorbed in writing and forget to feed himself, or eat prepackaged junk food.
He had heard before that those who loved to eat were the best cooks. That might explain how Rin picked up the skill so quickly. No one loved eating more than he did.
Soon they were sitting around a hot pot. The house was clean, signs of destruction were almost gone.
“Ah.” Chiharu plucked a piece of potato from his soup. “It’s properly skinned.”
“Yes, I’ve been practicing.”
He wondered how many potatoes had to die before Rin learned it. “I kind of miss your potato slivers, they had character.”
“Next time, I’ll carve them into any shape you desire.”
“I see.” He took a long sip of the broth before setting the bowl down. “Do you enjoy cooking?”
“Yes, of course! I enjoy everything that makes Chiharu-dono happy!” The way he smiled and bristled with energy made Chiharu think of a puppy.
“But, do you like doing it? Aside from that. Before this, you’d just eat animals raw, right?”
“It’s true that cooking can make me impatient sometimes when I’m hungry, but the techniques humans employ, as well as their spices and combinations, make food so much more interesting. Being able to cook food and eat the food cooked by others has truly enriched my life.”
“I want to try all the human food there is!”
Chiharu chuckled. “That could take a while.” Like reading all the books in the library. “I’ll help you.”
Rin couldn’t stay in his seat. He moved to Chiharu’s side and hugged him. “Thank you, Chiharu-dono.”
“Ah, about that...”
Rin looked back at him. “Is something wrong?”
“Could you call me just Chiharu? If we’re going to be a loving couple, as you put it...”
Rin’s eyes sparkled. “Really? Then will you call me Rin?”
Chiharu cleared his throat. “Yes, I will.”
“So happy!” Rin hugged him again, squeezing tighter this time. “Can I call you Chii-chan?”
“No, not that.”
Rin looked at him with the sad puppy dog eyes.
Chiharu sighed. “Okay, if we’re alone, you can call me Chii. But not Chii-chan, okay?”
“Yes, Chiharu-dono, I understand! Ah—I mean, Chii.”
Hearing a nickname from Rin’s lips just for him made his chest warm. “Rin.” Saying this felt good, too.
“I’m done eating. Would you please rinse these plates? And I’ll go draw a bath for you.”
Rin stood and stacked his plates and bowls. “You don’t need to do that, Chiharu. I have already mastered human bath-taking.”
“Maybe so, but I want to.”
Rin’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Join me when you’re done.”
Chiharu slipped into a robe and waited for Rin to finish tidying up in the kitchen. He turned the water on. The room warmed up quickly, steam fogging the frosty window.
What kind of scent would a dragon prefer? Rin didn’t seem partial to anything, he loved everything new just as much.
Chiharu used some sandalwood and lavender bath salts. Sure enough, Rin’s nose was twitching in curiosity when he entered. “What is that smell?”
“It’s an advanced technique,” Chiharu said with a soft laugh. “Come on, get in.”
Rin looked at him wearing just his robe and his eyes took on that sparkle of excitement they often did. “Are you going to help me wash?”
“Yes, I’d like to.”
Rin stripped out of his clothes and splashed into the water. He looked up at Chiharu, pleading with his eyes.
Chiharu took off his robe and slid into the bath behind him. With the mass of both of them in the tub, the waterline rose almost to the edge.
“Can you reach the faucet?”
Rin nodded. “Yes.” He leaned forward and the water sloshed out into the floor. “Ah, sorry.”
Rin turned the water off and returned carefully to his position. He reclined back against Chiharu and nuzzled the underneath of his chin. “Ah, Chiharu-dono...”
It might take some time for his nickname to stick. Chiharu kissed Rin’s head through his hair. “Are you happy now?”
“Yes, I am so happy.”
The water began to swirl. “Calm down, Rin. If you can’t stop yourself from making fountains in the bath, I’ll have to get out.” Although, he didn’t blame him. Sitting skin to skin in the hot water, it was hard not to be a little excited.
Rin sighed. “I don’t want that to happen, so I’ll do my best to calm down.”
“Just relax.” Chiharu took the sprayer and wet Rin’s hair. “Is it too hot?”
Rin relaxed even deeper into him. “It’s just right.”
Chiharu urged him to lean forward a bit and began to wash hair for him. His fingers rubbed his scalp. With his hair slicked back like that, it reminded him of a moment they’d shared in bed, when Rin was satisfied and catching his breath with his head lying on Chiharu’s chest.
“I like baths too,” Rin said. “Living as a human is worth the extra effort.”
“Is it more comfortable if you release your form, at least a little bit? Does it use less of your power if you do?”
“But it’s unsightly...”
“It’s true your dragon form is a bit much for this kind of space.” He chuckled. “But, I don’t mind the talons and the scales. I think it’s beautiful.” He punctuated that with a kiss to Rin’s shoulder.
Rin relaxed. His skin began to prickle and then flake into the shapes of his scales, never fully solid. They remained translucent silver, like bits of crystal.
Chiharu liked the texture of them under his fingernails. When he tapped them, they made a soft and hollow sound.
Rin whimpered. “Don’t tease me so much.”
“I’m not trying to, I promise.” Chiharu took a brush from the stand beside the brush and grazed it across Rin’s shoulders. “Here, is this too rough?” It was a stiff brush for scrubbing callouses.
Rin’s body shuddered and he released a breathy sigh. “It is just right.”
He continued to scrub Rin’s scales. It wasn’t as if incorporeal scales could get dirty anyway, but Rin seemed to like having them brushed with soap, and when Chiharu sprayed them clean with the shower nozzle.
“Is this something dragons can do for each other?” Chiharu asked.
“Hm?” Rin craned his head around. “What do you mean?”
“When two dragons get together, do they like to clean each other’s scales? Same as two human people would wash each other’s backs.”
“Oh, I ah...” Rin looked away and seemed embarrassed by the idea. “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never met another dragon.”
Chiharu wrapped his arms around Rin and pulled him back against his chest. Because Rin was so tall, he could rest his chin on his shoulder easily. “You like it, and I kind of enjoy it, too. Let’s leave it at that.”
“Chii...” Though he relaxed, he sounded worried. “Why are you asking about what dragons do?”
Chiharu sighed. He held Rin and pet his hair. “You’re so eager to do everything a human does,” he says. “It got me wondering if there’s anything about being a dragon that I might enjoy.”
Rin smiled at that. “Well, dragons can fly! But you’re scared of heights, so...”
“Maybe I wouldn’t be, if I could fly.”
“And we can breathe underwater!”
Chiharu laughed. “But you are kind of restricted to your pond, huh?”
That earn him a huff. Rin’s scales prickled up like a hen’s feathers. “Maybe you’d prefer a mighty sea dragon.”
“No, no, I think you’re quite enough dragon for me.” He leaned in to kiss Rin’s cheek.
Rin kissed him back, on his forehead. “My dear Chiharu,” he said. “I don’t want you to become a dragon. I don’t want to take you away from this world of cooked food, hot baths, and wonderful friends.”
“I know. It just got me wondering.”
The smile Rin gave him at that was a good deal more mischievous. “How about for one day? I can always turn you back.”
As much as he had been entertaining the idea of two dragons flying happily through the air, and preening each other’s scales, the idea of having his body transformed still unsettled him.
Rin saw it on his face. “It’s okay. Chiharu is a human, and that’s how you should stay.”
“I didn’t say no.”
Rin’s eyes went owlish at that. “But...”
Chiharu held him tighter and buried his face into his shoulder. He would do almost anything to keep Rin from disappearing, and to stay with him. “Maybe, just for a day. Just let me warm up to it, okay?”
He could feel Rin’s chest expand as he took a deep breath. He released it as a contented sigh. “We’d need a big tub to fit both of us if we were dragons.”
Chiharu lifted his head and laughed. He felt the water bubbling around them. “Hey, don’t get too excited.”
“I can’t help it, when I see you laugh.”
“I guess a little is okay. Now it’s like a jacuzzi.”
Rin grinned and began to pepper kisses all over his face and ears. “I love you, Chiharu-dono.”
Chiharu nuzzled back against him. “Chii is fine.”