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A Winter's Tail

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On a lazy Sunday morning, Bai Yu sprawled out on top of a make-shift blanket formed by his tails and sighed happily. Beyond the windows, tiny snowflakes danced through the air, glittering silver with sunlight's reflection. It was the perfect weather to be indoors, basking in the warmth of a comfortable bed while enjoying the scenery outside.

It wasn't easy for a nine-tailed fox spirit to masquerade as an ordinary human actor - illusions could only do so much when his tails almost took up more space than he did. He was lucky that his fans treated his bizarre new penchant for sitting in oversized chairs as nothing more than an opportunity to create more memes. But now, lying in bed on top of the world's fluffiest blanket while his gorgeous boyfriend absentmindedly stroked the soft fur of his newly grown ninth tail, he felt that all the hassles his tails brought him were worth it.

… Okay, okay, flying and immortality were pretty nice perks too.

Letting out a yawn, Bai Yu nudged Zhu Yilong. "Long-ge. If you keep giving this ninth tail the special treatment, my other tails will start feeling neglected…"

Zhu Yilong rolled his eyes without ever taking his attention off his phone.

Fox spirits were known for their charm and irresistible magnetism. Who had ever heard of a fox spirit being ignored in favor of a phone? In the face of such a heartless display of disdain, a lesser fox spirit could very well end up questioning their own abilities. But Zhu Yilong's free hand continued its steady strokes through Bai Yu's fur, and no matter what front Zhu Yilong put up, he couldn't hide the gentle waves of affection he was giving off.

Bai Yu closed his eyes in satisfaction as Zhu Yilong's fingers scratched just the right spot near the tip of his tail. Any minute now, he was going to make his move and demand the attention that all his tails rightly deserved. As soon as Zhu Yilong's hand stopped reducing him to a helpless puddle of bliss, anyway.

"Xiao Bai. A new hotpot restaurant just opened up nearby."

When Bai Yu opened his eyes, he was greeted by the sight of Zhu Yilong licking his lips and staring at the phone like he was ready to devour it whole. A slow smile crept up on Bai Yu's face. Now that Zhu Yilong's guard was down, it was the perfect opportunity to attack.

Making a non-committal noise of agreement, Bai Yu shifted his position and sat up, all while taking care to keep his ninth tail as still as possible under Zhu Yilong's touch. Then, fast as lightning, his other eight tails lunged forward, aiming for Zhu Yilong's most ticklish weak spots.

By the time Bai Yu caught the slight upward curve of Zhu Yilong's lips, it was already too late. A layer of translucent scales formed over Zhu Yilong's skin, effortlessly blocking Bai Yu's attempt to tickle him. Then, to add insult to injury, a dragon tail snuck out and poked Bai Yu in the waist, causing him to yelp and fall over.

"So childish," said Zhu Yilong righteously, as though he didn't just gleefully join in the fight.

"Long-ge, how could you bully me like this?" Bai Yu pouted. Okay, so fox spirits weren't a match for dragons when it came to physical and magical prowess. But brute strength had never been where their advantages lay. With half-lidded eyes, Bai Yu gazed up at Zhu Yilong and gave him a wicked smirk. "You know how much I love your horns, but you always stop your shape-shifting before they appear. How about you let me play with them in order to make it up to me?"

The tips of Zhu Yilong's ears turned red. His tail immediately disappeared, and the scales on his skin faded away as well. "They're too sensitive, you know this…"

Bai Yu lowered his voice and snuggled in closer. "Isn't that why it's fun?"

Zhu Yilong's gaze darkened. He needed no further words to thoroughly drive away all coherent thought from Bai Yu’s head.


Of course, permanent victory over the temptation of hotpot was impossible. Wrapped up in an oversized winter coat that barely had enough space to stuff all his tails, Bai Yu tried to ignore the waves of amusement rolling off Zhu Yilong as they walked towards the hotpot restaurant.

"Not only is this coat is extremely stylish, it's also very practical." Bai Yu gave Zhu Yilong a defiant look, daring him to disagree.

Unable to hold back any longer, Zhu Yilong laughed. "Your tail's sticking out of your collar."

"Wow, Long-ge, that's a very hurtful way to talk about my very fashionable new scarf." Bai Yu glared balefully at his uncooperative tail until it obediently wrapped itself around his neck.

Zhu Yilong laughed again and threw an arm over Bai Yu's shoulders. "Xiao Bai, if you were cold, you should have said something."

Between his coat and the fur from his tails, Bai Yu wasn't actually all that cold. But if he admitted to that, he'd also have to admit that he wasn't deliberating using his tail as a scarf. So, grinning widely, Bai Yu leaned in closer against the walking furnace named Zhu Yilong and wrapped an arm around Zhu Yilong's waist. "Thank you, Long-ge. You're so considerate."

"Of course." Zhu Yilong's eyes were wide and earnest, and his smile was fond. Under his feet, the snow began to melt from the rising heat.

This was fine. His magic was strong enough to withstand far more extreme temperatures than this. Bai Yu wiped the sweat off his forehead and beamed at Zhu Yilong, his fangs flashing. "My Long-ge is truly worthy of his title as the hottest actor of the year."

Zhu Yilong rolled his eyes.

Undeterred, Bai Yu continued. "It's a lucky thing I wore my gloves today. Otherwise, you'd be too hot to handle."

"Xiao Bai." Zhu Yilong shot him an unimpressed look.

"Don't worry, though. I'm your biggest fan, so I can always cool you down when you get too hot."

"Go away!" Zhu Yilong lightly shoved Bai Yu as the temperature dropped back to normal.


If anyone asked - and let's be honest, even if nobody asked - Bai Yu could go on all day about every single thing he adored about Zhu Yilong. His fox spirit WeChat group actually had to mute him for a week back when they were in their honeymoon phase. That said, nobody was perfect. If Zhu Yilong had one flaw, it would be his baffling ability to attract all sorts of supernatural trouble - like that time a simple photoshoot turned into a quest to placate a resentful ghost fogging up the camera lenses, making him late for his date with Bai Yu. Or that time he bought a cursed artifact off Taobao, and neither of them noticed it until Peng Guanyin joined them for dinner and got turned into a cat. (Who knew that transformation curses didn't work on shape-shifters?)

And now…

"Long-ge." Bai Yu looked helplessly at the painting on the wall which suddenly gained a new dragon and sighed. "Did you just get transported into a painting?"

Sound didn't seem to transfer from inside the painting, so Zhu Yilong could only nod dejectedly.

"I knew there was something off about this hotpot restaurant." Bai Yu tentatively poked at the painting, aiming for Zhu Yilong's horns. A swipe of Zhu Yilong's claws scratched softly at the tip of Bai Yu's fingers, making him giggle.

"Okay, okay, wait, let me see if I can pull you out of the painting? Can you grab onto my finger?"

Zhu Yilong's adorable, miniature claws scrabbled at the painting's surface, but he wasn't able to fully break through.

Bai Yu took out his phone. "Let me see if my group chat knows anything about this."

With a disdainful flick of his tail, Zhu Yilong turned around and began exploring his surroundings, trying to find his own way out. He didn't appear to have many options, though. The painting he was trapped in depicted the clear, green waters of West Lake and its surrounding mountain peaks in the distance, but there was no obvious exit in sight.

Bai Yu watched as Zhu Yilong dove into the lake's waters, sending tiny water droplets out of the painting that quickly evaporated. When the lake did not yield an escape route, Zhu Yilong soared back into the air and flew past the trees in the mountains.

"I hope this won't count as vandalism," muttered Bai Yu as the several trees in the painting fell over. Turning his attention back to his phone, he opened up his 'Zero Fox Given' WeChat group and sent out a message.

White Fox: Hey, has anyone here ever gotten stuck inside a painting before? Asking for a friend.

Fox Pas: I can't believe a fox as careless as you has somehow managed to become the first one in this group to get all nine tails.

White Fox: No, it isn't me! I'm a low profile fox spirit who always stays out of trouble. My beautiful dragon boyfriend on the other hand…

Foxglove: Don't make me mute you again. This isn't the PDA group!

Starfox: What kind of painting is he stuck in? I'm surprised it's powerful enough to capture a dragon.

Fox Pas: Maybe it's one of those legendary paintings where you have to cultivate for a thousand years before it lets you out. Is there a hidden martial arts technique in there somewhere?

White Fox: No! Come on, guys. Someone here has to have some actual, helpful information, right?

Foxglove: Well, tell us more. What do you see in the painting?

White Fox: It's a pretty standard painting of West Lake.

Fox Pas: Hmmm… And you aren't lying or showing off when you say that your boyfriend is a dragon?

White Fox: I'm such a handsome fox, why do you all doubt that my good looks could capture the heart of a dragon?

Starfox: Oh, are you thinking that the key to the puzzle is in Jade Dragon Mountain?

Foxglove: It might not be a bad place to start looking. Hopefully you guys won't need a phoenix to head to Golden Phoenix Mountain.

White Fox: Well, I'm just as dazzling as any phoenix, so I'm sure we'll be fine.

White Fox: All kidding aside though, thanks for the help guys. We’ll see how this goes.

Looking up from his phone, Bai Yu searched the painting and found Zhu Yilong already at the top of one of the mountain ranges, holding a pearl in his mouth. Unconsciously, Bai Yu's gaze strayed to the Golden Phoenix mountain ranges. His tails swished back and forth as he sank deep into thought.

The pearl and the dragon from the myth were both here now. The only thing missing now was the phoenix.

Could it really be…?

But even if this was the solution to their problem, where was he supposed to find a phoenix? They were just as old-fashioned as dragons when it came to adapting to modern ways, so it wasn't like he could just find one on-line.

Dammit, Foxglove totally jinxed them!

"Long-ge, hold on! I'm thinking of a way to get you out of there." Bai Yu patted the tiny dragon's head, earning himself a fierce little glare.

Right. Better focus on the problem at hand. First, they had no phoenix. And second, there was no guarantee the painting would let them in even if they did.

On a whim, Bai Yu cast a phoenix illusion on himself and pushed against the painting.

The backlash made him fall on his butt.

Seeing Zhu Yilong laughing at him through the painting, Bai Yu narrowed his eyes, and cast the illusion of a bowtie on top of each of Zhu Yilong's horns.

Now it was Bai Yu's turn to laugh as Zhu Yilong snarled at him and tried in vain to take off the bowties with his claws.

"If you don't like the bowties, maybe I could give you a tophat instead?" asked Bai Yu, gloating. As long as he was outside of the painting, Zhu Yilong could do nothing about any of the illusions he cast on it.

… Wait a minute.

Bai Yu smacked himself on the forehead. "I've been such an idiot!"

In the painting, Zhu Yilong nodded in agreement.

A spark of golden light left Bai Yu's fingertips and landed on the painting, transforming into a phoenix that flew to the top of the other mountain range.

The moment a pearl appeared in the illusory phoenix's beak, the world around them shifted. Then, Zhu Yilong was back in human form again in the private dining room they'd booked.

"Long-ge!" Bai Yu jumped into Zhu Yilong's arms and nuzzled him. "I'm sorry, I already ate all your hotpot."

"With your spice tolerance?" Zhu Yilong rolled his eyes and gently peeled Bai Yu off him. When he looked up, however, he froze.

"Xiao Bai." A low, warning growl sounded from Zhu Yilong's throat. "What did you do?"

Bai Yu blinked innocently. "What do you mean? Isn't this non-spicy hotpot soup base your favorite?"

"Bai Yu!"

"Ahh, Long-ge, spare me! Spare me! Let go of my tails!" yelped Bai Yu. "I'm just kidding! I'm just kidding! I placed two separate orders and swapped them while you were distracted holding the love of your life in your arms! The real order is in the next room."

"That's more like it." Zhu Yilong all but ran towards the next room.

Shaking his head, Bai Yu grinned and followed.


Although they usually made it out of Zhu Yilong's little misadventures none the worse for wear, Bai Yu would be lying if he claimed that he wasn't at least a little worried when he lost Zhu Yilong to a painting. So if he was a bit more clingy when they went to sleep that night, he couldn't really be blamed for that.

"Xiao Bai," murmured Zhu Yilong.

"Hmm?"

"Your tails are wrapped too tightly around me."

"Oh," said Bai Yu. His tails loosened their hold on Zhu Yilong by a tiny fraction.

Zhu Yilong laughed softly, then pressed a kiss on the tip of Bai Yu's nose. "It'll take more than a painting to keep me away from you."

"I wasn't worried," lied Bai Yu as he rested his head on Zhu Yilong's shoulder. "Well, maybe I was a little worried about your day being ruined if you missed out on the hotpot."

"I think you were more worried that you'd miss out on your chance to prank me with the hotpot if I couldn't find my way out."

"Long-ge, you have no faith in the kind and innocent nature of fox spirits."

"Fine, fine, you win." Zhu Yilong's eyes shone with fondness. "Now go to sleep."

"All right." Bai Yu smiled and closed his eyes. "Good night."