He smelled wrong, was all. That was all she could say. He smelled wrong and she didn't want him on her back.
Sometimes her companion came to their daily training smelling a tiny bit of him, and she grouched, but that was nothing a good tongue bath wouldn't fix, and no matter how much her companion protested she always ended up shrieking in laughter, and that was always good. Kai knew it wasn't her companion's fault anyway; the elders were making them share a nest, to encourage mating, but like her Meiran would ever consent to mate with anyone who smelled like that.
"You are not just-hatched anymore," would say Great-Aunt Long Quin Guo in a chiding tone; "It is unbecoming of you to throw such tantrums and hide behind bestial instincts to explain away your uncouth behaviour. He is your companion's husband, and it is discourteous to make him walk."
"I said he will not ride me," Kai would reply, "so he may keep exercising his legs, and not grow fat." And she would snort a gust of uncouth fire and make her cousins recoil, because they all expected it of her anyway, and by the Ancestors, if she was going to be looked down upon for her Kazilik blood she would make every single drop count.
Her companion was always torn between wincing and laughing, and in the end laughing always won. "You are a bad, wicked creature," she would say, and pet her nose. "Come, Nataku, let's learn to blow smoke rings."
Secretly, Kai sometimes thought she might have possibly forced herself to endure him as a passenger -- so long as he made not a move closer to the base of her neck, where her companion sat -- if, from the first day her companion had come storming in her pavilion snarling and furious and hurt, Kai hadn't positively hated him.
But as Kai grew, Meiran's enjoyment of Kai's rebukes of her husband dimmed slowly, and his scent on her grew, inch by inch, until one day she went home screaming at him like always and came back the next morning smelling of him so strong nothing Kai could manage would erase it.
Her face was red, and when Kai reared back and snorted it was at Kai that she looked hurt, and then she used not that old nickname Kai responded to faster than her own name, but the official one the Elders had bestowed on her, the one that said clearly what she was; change, modification -- an experiment, something new and untried and with no history behind her.
"Kai, he -- he's not so bad, really. He -- we... Maybe..."
"You've mated," she hissed back; she couldn't stop herself, the betrayal in her voice, because against-Wufei was one of the core blocks of the wall that cradled the entity called Meiran-and-Nataku, and she was knocking it down.
"W-what? No! It was just--"
'No,' her companion had said, but she meant 'not yet' and so Kai spat out the gust of fire gathering in her throat and flew off before she could witness all that fiery defensiveness turning into flustered stammering and pleased embarrassment.
She'd always been mouthy, but in the next week she turned her tongue on everyone who committed the mistake of presenting her a target, and sometimes breathing beside her was enough to do so. Murmurs got louder, got into more berating, and she endured them somehow when they came from the Elders, but when a dragon not a year older than she was started trying to lecture her as well she struck, teeth and claws, like one of her wild ancestors.
The next day she was locked in an old, disused docking bay, since she couldn't be trusted to stay in her own pavilion if told to, and she was still so furious she could have melted a hole in the outside hull and flown off, if anyone had dared to walk in and aggravate her one inch farther.
The next day as well, and the third, since she had not repented yet, not apologized.
The fourth day the colony started shaking.
She called and screeched and clawed at the door, the ventilation shafts; everything was sealed tight. She could feel the low, resonant boom of explosion through the soles of her feet, but not more; sound didn't penetrate. She strained for a human voice, but nothing, nothing, she was going crazy--
It was him, it wasn't her, standing at the door with tools still in hand and sparks from the shorted out console burning his arms. She didn't care right now, almost bowled him over.
"I know where she is!"
He had dragged her lightest harness there, mere silk loops (everything else would have been too heavy, slowed him down, she knew), and Meiran would need something when she caught up with her, so she allowed him to throw it on her back, tug it closed, and then she grabbed him in her hand and flung him on her back, and she was gone. In the corridors she could only run, not fly, and dragons weren't made for speed on the ground, but she eeled around tight corners and jumped over staircases and ignored the teeth-grinding hiss of her claws on metal.
On her back Wufei held on like he'd been riding galloping war-dragons all his life, and good for him, she wouldn't have stopped to pick him up.
"Left!" Full-length glass window. "Fire!" She spat. Hit flame-weakened glass and clear plastic dead-on. Uncoiled like a spring into the air, wings belling open even as shards sliced at them.
In the air she listened to his hands slapping her sides, left -- no, more left, that way -- since she didn't have reins and there was so much smoke he couldn't speak. She arrowed in the right direction, ignoring dogfighting mobile suits and drop shuttles and her own cousins.
"That suit! Down here," Wufei was telling her -- she was turning her head obediently to his voice, already diving -- thinking her Meiran did not belong in a machine, but better than another dragon -- none of her cousins fought, they were too good for it -- but when Meiran was on Kai's back Kai truly could become Nataku.
And a mobile suit came, and sliced it in two.
There was nothing between that moment and landing -- crashing, truly -- with the enemy suit in flames behind them, nothing before she started clawing the soldered-close door open. "Slowly!" screamed Wufei, voice raw like he'd told her a dozen times before, and she gentled her hold, pried it open inch by inch as he slid down her neck, she was keening and she couldn't stop and she couldn't slip in and take Meiran out but Wufei could, he could, Kai loved him, could get her out, save her.
She couldn't see the blood on her companion but she could smell it, could smell nothing but. Behind them the cockpit was painted carmine. No. No, no, no.
She knew Meiran was still talking, could see her lips moving, but she could hear nothing, it was as if all the world had gone silent.
Her companion went still in Wufei's arms, in the tight coil of Kai's body. Meiran went still and the world went still with it, for a minute, a century.
Wufei reclined her down slowly on the ground, gentle like her companion still even cared about that, and slowly he looked up, and his teeth were bared.
They killed a lot of people that day. At the end when they were growing weary of it and the world wasn't so rage-hazy they let those run who wanted to run, but by then there were very little of those left. Meiran would have disapproved, she who often said the weak should not fight, and one weak enough to run away was definitely not worth the effort, but only perhaps some pity.
Kai never regretted it.
They hadn't killed enough.
His skin still smelled wrong to her, he was still like an itch on her back, too male to ever be hers.
They had both been Meiran's. It would have to do.
It was okay. It wouldn't have to do for very long.