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And you'll fly

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Bai Yu shivers in the penetrating mountain chill, cold sweat and melted snow plastering his loose borrowed clothes to his thin frame. The Dragon’s cave provides some shelter from the wind at least, but it’s not much warmer than out there on the snowy peaks. Bai Yu hugs himself helplessly, but it doesn’t help much at all. He’s freezing and filthy from being dragged through the cave by his master’s guards, even a beast would be disgusted by this wet rat.

And the Dragon is no beast. Those who brought him here are.

When his master told Bai Yu he was going to replace his son as the sacrifice, he tried to fight, as hard as he could, but the guards overpowered him quickly, his ribs still throb.

It’s tradition. To ensure prosperous harvests, every hundred years the Lord of the town must bring his eldest child to the Dragon in the mountains. Bai Yu’s master didn’t want to. He beat and mistreated his servants, but he doted on his children. And Bai Yu is the same age as the young heir.

Bai Yu sits down on a rock and hides his head in the wide sleeves of a coat, more expensive than anything he’s ever owned. He thinks of the Dragon.

Enormous and majestic he appeared, as the guards threw Bai Yu on the ground. They ran stumbling over each other at the sight of him. Bai Yu’s heart was hammering deafeningly in his ears, but he pushed himself up on shaking hands and looked up.

The Dragon’s wings were blowing up a storm, his fangs bared, his long tail beating the ground, claws splitting stones. He was beautiful.

“I don’t want you here,” he roared in a deep thunderous voice like that of the mountain itself. And then in a streak of blinding silver-blue, he disappeared in the depths from where he’d come.

Bai Yu will freeze to death if he stays where he is, will most likely be killed if he even manages to get back home. His options are few, and stupidly the only thing he really wants is to see the Dragon again. It’s no crazier than going back into the snowstorm. He picks himself up and follows the Dragon into the heart of the mountain.

It gets gradually warmer as he stumbles over the uneven ground, sharp rocks tear his long unfamiliar robes and cut his skin. At least it’s not a labyrinth, a single tunnel leads him straight on. He’s exhausted and it feels like he’s been walking for hours when finally a huge hall opens up in front of him. It’s lit by something that looks like glowing stones, polished rock sparkles all around him.

And the Dragon reigns over it. Even more striking in the unearthly lights of the deep, his scales shine so brightly Bai Yu has to squint.

“Why did you come?” The Dragon’s voice is softer this time, but his wings lift up menacingly as he speaks. He dips his head slightly to look down at this lowly human that’s come to disturb his peace. The glide of his long whiskers through the still air holds Bai Yu spellbound.

“Can I stay here for a bit?” Bai Yu asks. He must be going mad, but he is not afraid, somehow he thinks the Dragon sounds sad.

The Dragon’s eyes, deep and dark, stare at him strangely. He doesn’t say anything, but also doesn’t eat Bai Yu on the spot. Slowly he beats his magnificent wings once and then they fold back down along his back.

Bai Yu takes a reckless step forward. If he could touch those wings of burnished silver...

“I have nowhere to go,” Bai Yu admits, “I’m not the Lord’s son really...” he falters. He doesn’t want to lie to this wondrous creature, but what about everyone back home? “You won’t punish the town for this, will you?”

“I don’t care for your people,” the Dragon says disdainfully, “they should leave me alone.”

“Why?” Bai Yu asks, “Aren’t you lonely here?”

He gives in to the urge and walks forward to where the Dragon is sitting on some mound of rocks, climbs up until he’s standing right next to the huge scaly head. The Dragon watches him unmoving, as if hypnotized by this tiny human’s long precarious climb.

“Can I keep you company, Long-ge?” Bai Yu asks, and reaches up to touch the Dragon’s nose.

The Dragon jerks away, startled, and upsets the gravel. Bai Yu loses his footing, freefalling... until a huge paw closes around him. He tenses up sharply, heart racing, but the claws don’t cut him and the grip is surprisingly gentle. He hisses anyway, all of his previous injures scream at him at once.

“I’m sorry,” the Dragon carefully puts him down, “I didn’t mean to... I was... startled.”

Bai Yu sways, he really has no strength left.

“You are unwell,” the Dragon says, and there’s concern in his otherworldly eyes. Bai Yu is a little mesmerized by them.

He shakes his head weakly: “Just cold and a little banged-up, really.”

The Dragon is silent for a long moment, as if he doesn’t know what to do. But finally he lowers his head, tilting his horns sideways towards Bai Yu. “Can you climb up? I’ll take you to a place you can rest.”

Rest? That sounds too good to be true. Bai Yu touches one of the horns gingerly, a little scared he’ll be shoved off, but the Dragon sinks lower down to accommodate him. Unbelievably Bai Yu is allowed to grab the horns and manages to swing himself onto the Dragon’s neck. He’s riding a Dragon! Who just said ‘sorry’ to him. Is he dreaming?

They make their way through some side hall, the Dragon walks slowly, so as not disturb his passenger. With his fingertips Bai Yu furtively touches the silver-blue scales, they are so soft and smooth, he can’t help but press his entire palm over the silky surface. He strokes it and hears a low guttural rumble underneath him. It reverberates through Bai Yu’s entire body in pleasant waves. He sighs and lowers his cheek onto the Dragon’s neck.

But soon they reach their destination. It’s a lower cave, a homely space with a small pool. Well, small for a Dragon. Bai Yu longs for it immediately. The Dragon bows his head carefully and Bai Yu slides down. He kneels by the water and eagerly dips his hand in. He pulls it out sharply and bites his lip in despair.

“What is it?” The Dragon asks worriedly, “You don’t like it?”

“It’s...” Bai Yu starts. He needs to wash, but he really can’t bring himself to get in, “...cold,” he finishes miserably, looking down at his wretched reflection in the water.

The water splashes, distorting the image and Bai Yu looks up. The Dragon has dipped a claw in and is frowning. It’s such an oddly sweet expression on his huge face that Bai Yu laughs suddenly.

“I can’t really feel cold much,” The Dragon says seriously, “Why are you laughing?”

“You were so concentrated just now,” Bai Yu keeps grinning, “I was a little charmed.”

The Dragon frowns a bit deeper, but Bai Yu can tell it’s not because he’s displeased.

Suddenly a rumble, much louder and stronger than before, ripples in the Dragon’s throat. He opens his mouth, sword-like fangs revealed and then a controlled stream of pure flame rushes towards the pool. The fire is spent soon enough, but Bai Yu is left breathing heavily, agitated by the magnificent display.

“Try it,” the Dragon urges.

Bai Yu touches the water again. It’s perfect. Hot but not scalding, so inviting.

He shakes off the filthy robes, wonders if he should be modest in front of the Dragon, but he can’t resist any longer. Naked he dives into the pool. Blessed warmth envelops him and he moans loudly. All of his cuts flare up in pain, but soon they are soothed, tension seeps from aching muscles and even his bruised ribs feel a little better.

“Thank you,” Bai Yu manages after a while. The Dragon has lain down by the pool and Bai Yu feels completely exposed to his penetrating gaze. He likes the feeling.

“My name is Bai Yu,” he says. “What shall I call you?”

“I don’t think you could pronounce my name,” the Dragon says, “but I liked what you called me earlier.”

Bai Yu smiles, “Brother Dragon? Long-ge?”

The Dragon nods and looks almost shy. Bai Yu wonders briefly if he’s reading all of his expressions right. It’s not like he has any practice interpreting dragon features, that’s really not how he’s imagined a dragon would be like at all. But Long-ge’s face is an open book to him. He reaches a hand out of the water and slowly the graceful creature moves closer inch by inch, until Bai Yu’s hand lands on his nose. He caresses lightly and his heart swells.

“You’ve been kinder to me than anyone ever has,” Bai Yu murmurs. The Dragon’s eyes crinkle in a smile. And then he pushes down very gently with his nose and dips Bai Yu under the water. Bai Yu emerges a few seconds later, laughing and sputtering. There’s a little rumble in Long-ge’s throat that, Bai Yu realizes with wonder and joy, is how he laughs.

“How is it that I just met you?” Bai Yu says in bewilderment. “When I should have always known you.”

Long-ge lowers his head on his paws and looks at Bai Yu with his fascinating eyes. “I don’t know why they started coming here, bringing people to me. I told them all to leave. You’re the only one who stayed.”

“They never came back to the town,” Bai Yu says, “Maybe they didn’t want to return to a place that was ready to kill them, or maybe they died in the mountains,” he frowns and splashes the water with his palms, “But I’m glad I didn’t run.” Bai Yu pulls at the Dragon’s hanging whiskers and gets puffed at fondly. “Are you always alone here?” he asks.

“Yes,” the simple answer makes Bai Yu’s heart ache.

“Not anymore, Long-ge,” he promises. His voice is steady and there’s no conflict in him as he speaks the words. A wing gently covers him, enveloping him in a cozy cocoon. “Hey, are there some healing properties to this water?” Bai Yu asks, “Nothing hurts anymore.”

“Maybe,” Long-ge says with that low laughing rumble, “You’ll be well now. Let me get you dry and you can sleep a bit.”

Bai Yu hums in agreement, sleep really sounds lovely right now, but he doesn’t want to leave the shelter of the wing. He’s rocked by Long-ge’s movements and by the time the Dragon lays him down, Bai Yu’s already asleep.

***

Bai Yu is so warm and comfortable, for a while he floats on a cloud, dozing. He’s not really aware of anything around him, but subconsciously he knows he doesn’t need to rise before dawn to work for his cruel master. There’s warm skin under his nose and as he nuzzles it, someone purrs contentedly in response. Like a happy cat, Bai Yu thinks. No, like... a dragon?

He jolts awake and is met with a pair of dark eyes fluttering lazily open. Bai Yu stares. A pale lean young man lies entwined with him on a bed of soft furs, his long black hair fanned out like wings. He’s ethereally beautiful. And Bai Yu knows these eyes.

“Long-ge?”

Long-ge smiles languidly and Bai Yu is dazed by the openness of his bewitching smile. He reaches out and touches the corner of Long-ge’s lips, traces up the sharp cheekbone and presses at the crinkle of his eye. His skin is so soft, Bai Yu is ashamed of his rough hands, but he couldn’t stop touching if he tried. Long-ge looks at him with such trust and such unfettered happiness. Not kissing him right now is a travesty, an impossibility. Bai Yu breaches the tiny space between them, breathes Long-ge’s air and their lips touch. Long-ge doesn’t taste human, he’s the wind and the sky... and he has no idea how to kiss. Bai Yu’s heart does a crazy somersault inside his chest. Long-ge sighs happily and parts his lips for him.

Bai Yu has to control himself not to grab fistfuls of his hair and just pull him in. He licks into the Dragon’s mouth, coaxes his tongue to twine with his own, pulls away to suck on Long-ge’s lower lip, dives back in. He strokes the smooth skin of his neck, just wants to press closer, as close as he can. Long-ge is so pliant, so responsive under Bai Yu’s hands and lips... Gods, what’s happening?

Bai Yu pushes himself up and hangs over Long-ge, who’s ended up half-underneath him. He stares, forgetting how to breathe. Long-ge smiles up at him with red swollen lips, he’s a vision in the inhuman shimmering lights of the cave, black hair spread out around his head on the furs, he’s so loose, half-lidded eyes full of mirth and a hint of hunger. Bai Yu is drunk with the sight of him, needs to taste him again, but can’t bear to stop looking.

“I didn’t know you could do that,” Bai Yu whispers in a daze.

“Neither did I,” Long-ge licks his lips in wonder, his voice is soft, singsong, so different and yet the same as before, “What is this?”

“This?” Bai Yu repeats.

“Yes, it feels so nice,” Long-ge says, “I want more of it.”

Bai Yu flushes, he’s talking about the kisses, the touches. It’s too much. Bai Yu shuts his eyes, can’t think with the beauty laid out before him.

“I... yes, more... but I meant... You can turn human?” Bai Yu stutters.

“Oh,” Long-ge says, “I didn’t know I could, I haven’t before. It just happened.” Bai Yu opens his eyes, when he feels a hot tongue lick his nose. A mischievous grin plays on Long-ge’s lips, “I was going to take you flying, but I want more of this first.”

“You... you can turn back?” Bai Yu blurts.

“Yes,” Long-ge nods, “I felt the change, I know how to do it now. It’s easy.”

Bai Yu will get to fly on a dragon later. It’s incredible and unbelievable. But not even that excites him more than this, right here, right now he’s already so high. He nips at Long-ge’s lips and traces slowly along his arms, relishing his shivers.

“More,” Long-ge breathes.

Bai Yu grins, giddy with this feeling, this earth-shattering happiness. He covers Long-ge’s body with his own.

“Before we fly out there, I’ll show you how to fly right here,” Bai Yu promises and kisses his Dragon.