Actions

Work Header

A Dragon’s Dance

Work Text:

“This is a bad idea.”

On the far end of Xianle’s domain, three mermen gazed across the territory border out into the open water.

One, the crown prince of his kingdom. The others, his personal guard and attendants. It was rare to allow the crown prince to stray so far from the capital—with the open waters infested with monsters and folk of the most twisted kind—but as he had grown older Xie Lian had similarly grown more curious and daring, demanding to be taken out to see some of the further reaches of the kingdom’s territory. Despite the protests of his entourage, eventually, with enough persuasion, Xie Lian would almost always get his way. Being a prince had its merits, after all.

Xie Lian turned around to face his companions. Feng Xin looked to the side awkwardly, avoiding his gaze. Mu Qing, the merman who had just spoken, met his eyes steadily. “This is too dangerous, we should not get involved with their kind.”

Xie Lian sighed, turning round back to the sight which had caught the three mermen’s attention. “We cannot simply leave it like this though...”

A little bit ahead of the trio, a rather gruesome sight was unfolding. Suspended in the water ahead of them was a nasty snarled web of net: a human construction. Within it, a tiny child was wriggling in desperation to free itself, likely draconic in origin. Its long obsidian tail and pale arms were ensnared tightly by the mesh. It was struggling ferociously, yet each thrash of its body only seemed to tighten the net’s hold on the child, digging the harsh wire further it further into its soft flesh. From where Xie Lian and his two companions watched, a sharp metallic scent slowly began to permeate the water.

Xie Lian couldn’t bear to watch any further, rules be damned. Determined, he swam forward. He called out to his companions.

“You two stay back, the more of us there are the more likely one of us will get caught—I’ll get him out.”

Ignoring the protests behind him, Xie Lian slowly approached the child struggling within the net. The closer he got, the better he was able to see the scene in front of him. The dragon child seemed to be a young boy, with a dark ebony head of hair and tail. His eyes were squeezed tightly shut, out of exhaustion or pain Xie Lian couldn’t tell. The net had managed to cut into some of the more vulnerable and exposed areas of the child’s body, and a fair bit of bruising had already begun to develop across his pale skin. It was likely he had been struggling within the net for quite some time.

Xie Lian called out softly to the child.
“Hello? Can you understand me?”

The boy jerked at his voice, he must have not seen or heard Xie Lian and his friends before, startling at the sudden foreign voice. The child blinked open a single one of his eyes—a dark obsidian filled with pain.

Xie Lian was still not sure if the child could understand his language or not, but he decided to continue speaking softly anyway as he gently approached the child.

“Please don’t move—I am going to get out out of this. I am here to help you.”

While speaking, Xie Lian made sure to make slow, calming gestures with both his hands and fins. It seemed to work, because as Xie Lian edged closer, the child’s struggling seemed to have completely ceased. While one of his eyes remained shut, the boy’s open eye remained fixated on Xie Lian as he slowly parted and unraveled the tangled bits of net from the child’s body.

The small dragon remained surprisingly tame as Xie Lian worked his way through the net, gently freeing small sections of his body. The pained look in the boy’s open eye had faded, and what had replaced it was instead a emotion filled with sharp bewitched intensity. Seeing such a small child carry such a strong expression could be considered by some to be a bit frightening, but Xie Lian didn’t pay it much attention. Despite being a relatively well-off prince, Xie Lian had pretty good instincts for people and he didn’t sense any malice from the dragon.

“That’s it, you’re doing fine. Just a little bit longer...!”

With a sharp tug, Xie Lian managed to snap the remaining bits of net which had bound the child’s body. The child jerked—a sharp cry escaping his throat.

Then, with his arms newly freed, did something Xie Lian was not expecting. Rather than dart off into the horizon, vanishing into the darkness of the deep ocean, the child seemed to launch himself into Xie Lian’s arms, desperately clinging to the white fabric cloaking his upper body and wrapping his tail around Xie Lian’s midsection.

Xie Lian couldn’t help but laugh a little bit at this; the child’s hold was a bit ticklish, but it was moreso the sudden display of affection from a species so infamous for their destructive tendencies that had caught him off guard. Children were children no matter the species, he supposed.

Still, the seeing the child had been safely freed and the child’s grip on Xie Lian, Feng Xin and Mu Qing quickly swam up behind him. Feng Xin sighed, and tried to tug off the child from Xie Lian’s body in whatever best way he could. Still, the dragon clung on desperately, stubbornly refusing to relent in his hold. Feng Xin pleaded with him, “Your Highness..!”

With that, as cute as it was, Xie Lian figured it was about time to end this. Gently patting the dragon’s back, he chastised, “Alright alright, that’s enough. We both have places to be don’t we?”

The child looked up at him—his single open eye boring into Xie Lian’s own.

“Come on now, you’re free to go now. If you want to thank me, live on to thank me some other time, yeah?”

Xie Lian was pretty sure he heard Mu Qing scoff at this, but he chose to ignore it. Still staring up at him, the child loosened his grip—unwilling but obedient. Sensing his reluctance, Xie Lian couldn’t help but have a bit of sympathy of the child. Dragons were notoriously isolationist, with young dragons being expected to fend for themselves starting from a young age up until they took a mate. This was likely the first time the child had been shown such a level of care and affection in a long time.

Still, it was not his place to interfere or judge the customs of another species. Xie Lian brushed himself off, giving the child a glance over to make sure he was indeed unharmed, then swam back to rejoin his two companions.

Feng Xin fussed over Xie Lian for a bit, making sure that the small dragon had not clawed off or torn any of his scales or fins. Xie Lian let him, then once he was sufficiently satisfied, the trio prepared to return to the capital.

As he departed, Xie Lian couldn’t help but look over his shoulder once more. Far behind him, the boy remained in the same spot—seemingly having had never taken his singular open eye off of him.

 

It wasn’t until they had returned to the royal capital, had Xie Lian noticed one of his red coral earrings had gone missing.

 

——

 

Ah, there was another one!

Poking out from the sand, nestled somewhat obscurely among some rocks, lay a small shiny trinket. Xie Lian swam over to the glimmering artifact, pulling it out from the sand and investigated it curiously in his hands. It was pale and shiny, befitted with small stones that glimmered like jewels. It seemed rather well-made—Xie Lian was not quite sure if it was a piece of jewelry or an abstract art piece—but it was likely something that would fetch a fairly high price if sold to a collector.

“Curious...” Xie Lian murmured to himself.

This was not the first time this had happened. Nor was it an especially uncommon occurrence. Often when Xie Lian went out scavenging for scraps or other trinkets, in the areas he would often frequent he would find small, high-valued items nestled in slightly hidden places. Passerbys would likely not notice these small artifacts, but someone who often visited these same sites would be bound to notice these new additions.

This had been ongoing for quite a few years at this point, with Xie Lian finding these trinkets at least several times a month. In fact, thinking back, he believed the first he began to find these items was several hundred years ago before the fall of his kingdom. Though, back then, these findings were not nearly as frequent nor extravagant, so whether these events were linked or just a matter of chance was a bit debatable and Xie Lian tended to lean towards believing in the latter.

It had been a few hundred years since the fall of Xianle. An unfortunate mixture of disease, polluted waters, and overfishing by humans had led to a scarcity of supplies and a famished population. Rebellions rose up and neither him nor his parents had the capacity to intervene or assist the people. In the end, his people tore themselves apart, leaving the former flourishing kingdom in a ravaged, scattered, and war-torn state.

Xie Lian had long abandoned his royal title, and made his livelihood as a scavenger. While he had remained in hiding for quite a few years, after the passing of both his mother and father and the departure of his friends—Mu Qing leaving to care for his mother and Feng Xin leaving after a somewhat harsh falling out—eventually sufficiently enough years seemed to have passed where he was no longer recognized by his fellow merfolk. After all- most statues of himself and the royal family had long been destroyed at the height of the rebellions, and eventually the kingdom’s people were forced to shift their focus to their own survival than hunting down any remaining members of the royal bloodline.

Where previously long-standing cities dwelled, small villages and trading sites had popped up; a harsh but still survivable lifestyle. It was still a safer option than choosing to leave the former kingdom’s grounds and facing the open-oceans, where all sorts of demonic monsters reigned.

But this was all so long ago, too long to continue being hung up on. Shaking these thoughts off, Xie Lian redirected his attention to the area where he unearthed the small trinket. Reaching into one of his sleeves, he pulled out a small piece of scrap—a measly but otherwise well kept piece of junk—and placed it in the same spot where he dug out the trinket.

This too, was now a habit, and by the next time he revisited these areas the objects that he himself left would be gone or replaced with something of higher value. Xie Lian was not quite sure when he had started doing this either, but he felt guilty to be constantly taking the fanciful things left in these areas without a bit of repayment. It also reminded him a bit of how he used to leave higher valued items in exchange for the smaller scraps he found when he was still royalty, though now it seemed that he was in the inverse side of receiving someone’s charity. He supposed fate was funny like that.

Though he did not know the source of his findings, by now he could tell that the leavings were intentional. Perhaps they were being left by some wandering philanthropist who had taken pity on some of the less well-off locals, or simply someone who had too much free time and had started doing so out of boredom.

Sometimes, during his long treks, Xie Lian could have sworn that someone was indeed watching him, though he never was able to find the source of these lingering gazes.

Either way, Xie Lian was eternally grateful for each of these findings—there were too many days where pawning off these treasures meant the difference between having a meal to eat or going hungry. So, despite the rather curious origin of these trinkets, Xie Lian was not foolish enough to stop engaging in this lighthearted bartering with this mysterious stranger.
Given how long he had now been doing this, he had sufficiently concluded the behavior as being harmless. If someone had ill intent towards him, they would have made it known long ago.

Xie Lian straightened himself out, then carefully added the trinket to his small collection of scraps, careful not to chip or damage any part of the piece. Giving the area one last look-over, he began to set out west towards the far end of the former kingdom’s domain. While it was a bit more dangerous to stray closer to the continental drop-off and the open ocean, Xie Lian normally had better luck in his findings the further he strayed from areas where other scavengers frequented.

Places more central in the region were common to the other scavengers, and even if one were to find something of value in those regions there was a greater chance of being forced into a fight over the limited scraps. Besides, in spite of by now being unrecognized by other merfolk, there was still a deeply-rooted hesitation within him during close encounters with members of his species, and in the past he had a few awkward encounters with his old companions, so Xie Lian preferred to keep his distance when at all possible.

So, Xie Lian strayed further and further west.

As Xie Lian neared the drop-off, a small movement caught his eye. Among a batch of swaying seaweed, something colorful seemed to be nestled within the green foliage. Sometimes, on his luckier days, in these areas he could find highly profitable species of coral, so Xie Lian was hopeful as he neared the small jumble of weeds. He parted the batch of swaying ferns, blindly reaching down—

“Ack-!”

A sharp, stinging pain shot up Xie Lian’s arm. Recoiling, he clutched his burning hand to his chest. He glanced down. Tiny, red dots had welled up on his palm—already swelling slightly—and a numbness slowly was coursing up his arm through his veins. Hissing, Xie Lian glared at the seaweed thicket. Rather than a batch of coral as he’d hoped, a small, brightly colored pufferfish seemed to glower back at him, its spines glistening with a vicious green venom.

Oh, you had to be joking.

He was rather familiar with the species. Being stung by one was not lethal, at least to his species. But... it was a nuisance. The venom of this species of pufferfish was well known to have hallucinogenic properties, and back when he used to train in the royal palace, sometimes the trainees would have to be reprimanded for bringing back the fish to the palace. It was common for some to wish to be intentionally stung by the fish to achieve the desired recreational high the venom could produce. Xie Lian had never personally tried it, nor had ever had the desire to, but he had seen it often enough to be able to recognize the fish and knew to avoid it.

Well, never tried it until now, that is.

“You’ve got to be kidding me...”

Xie Lian stared down at his wounded hand, the wound’s red swollen dots mocking him. A tingling numbness had already taken over his arm and was quickly spreading through his body, he could feel his heart-rate was rapidly increasing and already sensed himself growing increasing lightheaded. He sighed, clenching and unclenching his fist, there was not much he could do now except wait for the venom to run its course. Xie Lian took a deep breath, and tried to remain calm as he settled down on the ocean floor, intending to limit his movement and slow his blood-flow as much as possible.

Remaining calm was much more difficult than Xie Lian expected it would be.

A few minutes had passed, and by now Xie Lian was a wriggling mess, kicking up plumes of sand with his tail and fins as he rolled about on the sea floor. Fire was coursing through his veins, filling him with a giddy elation and a seemingly boundless supply of energy.

He had quickly abandoned his plan of silently waiting it out; remaining still was painful—impossible even. His vision spun as he continued to twirl and thrash about haphazardly, childish amusement filling him up at the amount of messy sand he managed to toss into the water.

“Hahahaha...!”

Xie Lian found himself laughing, at what or whom he wasn’t sure. Either way—it felt right. Felt good.

Growing bored and rather uncomfortable with continuing to roll about on the seafloor, Xie Lian propelled himself upwards, twirling about madly and darting in every which direction. He felt ridiculous, and if anyone were to see him in such a state they would probably believe him to be mad or possessed, but at this point he didn’t quite care.

“Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous... Ha!”

Continuing to giggle himself, Xie Lian kept twirling about. His movements were wild but still graceful, and he flipped and flopped about in the open water without a care, eager to find an outlet for the surging roar in his veins.

He didn’t even notice when he drifted over the continental margin and entered the open ocean, too distracted by his own amusement to be bothered with worrying about something so small.

Similarly, he didn’t notice when a lithe dark figure, formerly obscured within in the dark crevices of the cliff margin, unraveled itself from its hiding place where it had been observing him and began to slowly approach him.

Xie Lian continued spinning, completely flippant with how ridiculous he looked. There was a slight buzzing noise in his head which was slowly growing louder, and his vision had begun to cloud. Still, with the untamed electricity coursing through every muscle in his body, he still remained rather apathetic toward such small things.

Suddenly though, Xie Lian felt something slightly graze his tail fin. Looking down, his heart lurched a bit; a rather large figure had managed to swim up down under him while he had been distracted by his stupor.

His vision was slightly clouded, so Xie Lian had trouble making out specific distinguishing characteristics at the distance the creature remained at—but with its size and overall build Xie Lian determined it must be a serpentine or draconian man.

“H-hello? May I help you?”

Xie Lian’s voice was slightly higher pitched than usual and a bit slurred, and asking the question felt a bit ridiculous. There was likely a language barrier between their species, after all. Still, Xie Lian didn’t sense any killing intent. The man said nothing, but quietly edged closer to Xie Lian.

Xie Lian squinted his eyes, trying to focus on the man’s face. Despite his muddled vision, with the man’s now closer proximity he could make out some of the more defining features of his figure.

It was definitely a dragon, given the rather large horns protruding from the man’s head and the small littering of scales about his features and his long, dark tufted tail. He couldn’t ascertain the exact age of the creature, but it seemed to be a younger but fully matured member of his species. He had a rather sharp and handsome face, accompanied by dark, long flowing hair which was accented nicely by a subtle widow’s peak. Xie Lian also noted there was a small braid in the main’s hair, topped with a small red bead—a nice delicate drop of color which helped temper his more savage features.

The most interesting feature, however, was the man’s eyes; one a pitch black, the other a burning crimson.

Wordlessly, the stranger had reached for Xie Lian’s injured hand. But, perhaps out of wariness or perhaps out of mischief, Xie Lian quickly retracted his arm and darted a small distance away from the dragon.

Once out of direct arm’s length, Xie Lian spin about in a teasing twirl, grinning at the man. Foggily, Xie Lian was pretty sure at some point he had learned that dance was an important part of some type of draconian custom, but in his current state he couldn’t quite recall what that was. Giggling, he twirled again.

The dragon’s eyes widened a bit at this gesture, but any shock he had towards such silly behavior was quickly masked as he determinedly made his way closer to Xie Lian once again, reaching for his swollen hand. But, same as before, once the dragon got within about an arms length of Xie Lian he would dart a short distance away and would return back with a small twirl, spin, or other small teasing movement. It was a rather childish game of cat and mouse, but Xie Lian only felt himself growing more elated with each moment his situation growing more ridiculous than the last. With each new iteration of this small ritual, the look in the dragon’s eyes seemed to grow increasingly intense—as if some latent, suppressed instinct was growing stronger within him. Laughing, Xie Lian called out to the man.

“Come on—you do it too!”

The dragon paused at this- his expression complicated. Then, to Xie Lian’s surprise, complied and gave a small twirl in return. The dragon’s body was much longer and more powerful than Xie Lian’s own, so the force of the action sent a small rush of water towards Xie Lian, knocking him slightly off guard. Once he regained his composure though, he snickered and reciprocated the action of his companion, giving him a small flip in response.

Then, starting with that, the two began to engage in a somewhat ridiculous display of dance. Xie Lian would perform for him a spin, twirl, or flip, and in response, the dragon would mimic his action. While these gestures started small, the longer the two kept at it, the more bold and audacious the motions became, some being merely flirtatious, with others bordering on erotic. Xie Lian had never behaved in such a way before, and if he were lucid he would likely want to bury himself in a pit and die somewhere; but in his current state with a rather handsome stranger he couldn’t find it in him to care. It had been far too long since he had been able to let go and just have fun with anyone, and far longer since he had any desire to.

Surprisingly too, his draconic companion did not seem put off at all by these actions, and in fact the longer they continued this affair he seemed to himself be encouraging or taking initiative with some of the more daring gestures.

The buzzing in his ears was almost deafening now, and Xie Lian was struggling to maintain coherency. However, it was after he had completed a rather intricate flip all the while coyly fluttering several of his fins, that Xie Lian felt a pair of arms quickly snake around him and tightly seize his waist.

Looking up, he found himself eye to eye with the dragon—his face mere inches from his own. The dragon’s chest was heaving, his eyes wild with some emotion Xie Lian could not identify. The dragons claws dug into the small of his back slightly, seemingly determined to this time not give Xie Lian any option of retreat.

They met each other’s eyes for a few long moments. The dragon’s grip tightened, and his eyes narrowed a small almost unnoticeable amount, as if he were barely managing to hold back a deeply suppressed desire. Then, in spite of himself, Xie Lian felt himself leaning forward—gently brushing the man’s lips with his own. Dimly, he registered how soft they were.

This seemed to have broken through whatever restraint had been caging the dragon. He forcefully pulled the merman tightly into his embrace, possessively securing the smaller man in his hold. Eyes burning, the dragon snarled and forcefully bit down on a patch of exposed skin on Xie Lian’s shoulder.

“Ah-!”

Xie Lian gasped, a high pitched note forced from his throat. A metallic scent filled his nose, and the heat which bloomed from the wound made his already blurred vision swim, threatening to overtake it. The dragon’s teeth remained buried deep within in Xie Lian’s skin—forcefully holding him still as the dragon thoroughly marked the area.

As the buzzing in his ears roared, the darkness finally seemed to have gained the winning edge over Xie Lian’s ability to maintain consciousnesses. As his body went slack and he drifted off, Xie Lian felt the dragon’s grip soften, gently cradling the merman while securing him in his embrace.

 

——-

 

Xie Lian yawned, feeling himself slowly waking up. He sighed, shifting himself down further into the soft bedding below him. There was a warmth enveloped around him, surrounding his entire body with its presence and security.

He was warm and comfortable. When was the last time he had felt so safe? So secure? So...

...

Xie Lian opened his eyes.

He... He has absolutely no idea where he was.

His eyes needed to adjust, but he could tell that his surroundings were completely foreign to him. He was able to reason that the area was some type of cave or cavern given how it was so poorly lit and the relative stagnancy of the water—with the only light sources being small bits of red bioluminescent algae which clung to the surface of several jagged rocks and cave walls. Xie Lian could also make out that littered about the area in small piles, were small shiny trinkets, jewelry, and other precious valuables... was this some type of treasure hoard?

Confused, Xie Lian tried to rise up- then immediately met some type of resistance which halted his movement. Something was clinging to him from behind. Frowning, he turned his head.

His eyes immediately widened in shock as he realized what exactly had a hold on him.

Unbeknownst to him before, a pair of large arms had been encircling Xie Lian’s waist.
He had been sleeping while being pressed from behind by a giant draconian man. The dragon was deep in slumber, his—embarrassingly enough—bare torso rising and falling rhythmically against his back. Despite the relative depth of his slumber, he still had Xie Lian rather securely fixed within in his hold.

...All right then.

Trying not to panic, Xie Lian mind whirled as he struggled to recall how he had managed to find himself in this situation. He remembered going off to scavenge like usual, on the western boundary. He spotted something in a patch of seaweed but then-!

The memories came flooding back.

Instantly, shame and embarrassment flooded Xie Lian. If he weren’t so tightly-held right now, he for sure would have hidden himself away in a ditch somewhere out of embarrassment. How could he have acted so ridiculous? So shameless? He looked back at the dragon’s handsome, peacefully sleeping face behind him.

Xie Lian’s eyes drifted downwards to the man’s lips. This dragon... he had even-!

If before his embarrassment was enough to make him want to hide in a ditch, by now it had reached a level where Xie Lian would probably be completely content with burying himself forever in one.

Still though, why had the dragon brought him back here? By now, Xie Lian had concluded that this must have been the dragon’s primary lair- likely where it maintained a treasure hoard. From what he had learned of the other species, dragons were known to primarily keep to themselves. Generally, the only other close companion a dragon would keep would be their...

...

Suddenly Xie Lian remembered what exactly it was that he had forgotten about the significance of dancing for draconian culture.

Oh.

Oh no.

Xie Lian was definitely in trouble now.

Trying not to wake the dragon in his panic, Xie Lian tried to squirm his way out of the dragon’s hold. Unfortunately, the man’s grip on him was fairly unrelenting, and the more desperate his struggles, the tighter the dragon seemed to cling to him- stubbornly bringing him closer even while deep in sleep.

His movements were definitely not careful enough though; as soon after his struggling began he felt the body pressed into his back stiffen, then he heard the man sharply exhale.

Resigned, Xie Lian hung his head turned once more to face the dragon. He was met with two open eyes—one red one obsidian—regarding him curiously.

“You are awake.”

Xie Lian startled at the deep voice. He hadn’t heard of many dragons who had bothered to learn merfolk tongue, given their isolationist nature, so the fact that this dragon knew his language was a bit surprising. His shock must have been clearly evident, as the dragon chuckled as he observed Xie Lian’s reaction.

Xie Lian felt the arms encircling him slacken, then, overwhelmed with panic, he swiftly sprang up and darted away from the larger man. With the dim lighting and unfamiliarity of his surroundings, Xie Lian wildly twisted his head about, not sure which way he could swim to reach an exit.

The dragon frowned at this behavior, but had yet to move to stop him. The man spoke up, “You do not have to be afraid. I will not harm you.”

Xie Lian chose to ignore him, and continued to desperately swim in circles about the cave. He had not spotted an exit, but had noticed a rather large enclosed structure with a small hallowed out opening within one of the dragon’s treasure piles. It resembled a giant pot of sorts, but it was likely some obscure art piece.

Swiftly, Xie Lian swam down and squeezed himself into the hollowed structure. The opening was big enough to accommodate himself, but the dragon was likely too large to force his way into the small enclosure—giving Xie Lian a minute sense of security. As he struggled to calm himself, he noticed the dragon had made his way over to him.

He sat still, observing him, but made no sudden or otherwise frightening movements towards Xie Lian. He settled down a little bit away from the enclosure where Xie Lian hid, continuing to watch him. It seemed that he had not anticipated Xie Lian’s sudden fear, and was now making an effort to ensure he was maintaining a comfortable distance.

...

Xie Lian was the first one to break the silence.

“What is your name?”

It was a rather strange thing to ask—rather than asking to be let go or how to leave—but it is what Xie Lian had come up with in that moment.

The man too, seemed a bit surprised by this question, but seemed to answer it honestly.

“This one is known to most as Hua Cheng, but for you I would prefer ‘San Lang’.”

Xie Lian was a bit dumbfounded on how to respond to that, but out of courtesy replied, “Then, I am known as Xie Lian.”

Hua Cheng gave him a knowing smile, and Xie Lian couldn’t help but feel that this was information that had already been known to the dragon. Given it was familiar with his language, who knows the extent of what other information it was privy to.

Xie Lian shifted a bit within the enclosed space, leaning out a bit to better take in the surrounding view.

While before he had only given the treasure piles a passing glance, by now he had noted the extent and extravagance of the dragon’s collection. Shining luxuries, battle worn swords, invaluable jewelry—all priceless items—were stacked somewhat haphazardly about the cave.

Curiously, Xie Lian called out, “You have quite an impressive collection.”

Hua Cheng smoothly responded, “I am glad gege thinks so. I would gladly give it all to gege if he were to ask it.”

Again, Xie Lian didn’t quite know how to respond to that, but by now he was sufficiently flustered. “That... that won’t be necessary.” Averting his eyes from the dragon in front of him, Xie Lian instead tried to refocus on scoping out possible avenues of escape. Among the many piles of treasures within the room, an abnormality caught his eye.

Among the piles of luxurious, shimmering treasures, another pile sat. This one was surprisingly well-kept in compared to the other ones, it’s artifacts neatly stacked rather than haphazardly strewn about, and a noticeable greater level of care seemed to have gone into the maintenance of this pile.

But, it wasn’t the orderliness of the pile which caught his eye, but rather the contents. This pile consisted of ambiguous scraps, collections of writings, and other lower valued items—they were the types of objects that Xie Lian himself might happen upon while out scavenging—not something befitting of such an extravagant hoard.

Hua Cheng followed his gaze. “That pile consists of my most precious treasures. Even if you were to count my entire collection, nothing could ever compare to value a single one of those has for me.”

“...”

It seemed that this dragon had a fairly deep sense of sentimentality.

Hua Cheng was silent for a moment, then said softly, “Gege does not have to be afraid. San Lang will show him the way out, if he desires.”

“...”

In spite of himself, he felt there was sincerity in the dragon’s words. Quietly, Xie Lian poked his head out of the enclosure. Hua Cheng gave him an encouraging smile, but otherwise remained still. He seemed to by now have fully realized and anticipated Xie Lian’s wariness, and did not have any intention of making any sudden moves that would frighten him back into the enclosure.

Slowly and methodically, Xie Lian fully emerged from his hiding place. Hua Cheng watched him patiently, remaining still.

Once he had come out, Xie Lian spoke up, “Will you truly let me go?”

Xie Lian noted a flash of emotion within the dragons eyes, but Hua Cheng calmly replied, “If that is what gege wishes, this one would be honored to show him the way.”

“Then why did you bring me back here in the first place?” Xie Lian questioned.

Hua Cheng dipped his head, a noticeable shadow of guilt entering his expression. “Forgive this one for being too presumptuous. I had originally only intended to approach you to help care for your wounds but I... this one allowed himself to be carried away by instinct. Forgive me.”

His wounds? Xie Lian looked down and indeed- he had not noticed it before, but the area where he had been stung by the pufferfish had indeed been treated and was wrapped delicately with a white bandage. It seemed that while he has been unconscious, Hua Cheng had taken to dressing his wounds.

... His wounds. Another memory resurfaced in Xie Lian’s mind and he reached back to touch the skin along his shoulder. Sure enough, that area seemed to be carefully bandaged and treated as well. While this type of bite was not something customary for his people, it didn’t take much for him to conclude it meant something of importance to a dragon. There was a full ache emanating from the region that he had not noticed before in his state of shock, but it was clear that the hands that treated the wound were careful and caring.

Noticing his movements, Hua Cheng once again dipped his head in shame. “... This one once again apologizes for his presumptuousness. He is fully prepared to atone for his actions in any way gege would deem fit.”

Embarrassment welled up within Xie Lian. Turning his head, he grumbled, “...Well what’s done is done... I too acted in ways that were... inappropriate... forgive me.”

Hua Cheng shook his head. “There is nothing to forgive.”

He made a movement which edged closer to Xie Lian, then stopped, seemingly reminding himself to keep his distance. Xie Lian, pushing aside his wariness, decided to approach the dragon instead. Hua Cheng seemed surprised at this, but made no movements to try to further the distance between them or voiced any protest.

For quite some time, a question had developed in Xie Lian’s mind, one that he was determined to answer. Closing the gap between himself and the dragon, Xie Lian got a much better view of the object of his curiosity—the small red bead on the braided end of a lock Hua Cheng’s hair.

Indeed, while before he had thought nothing of it, the object seemed to be intimately familiar to him.

“This bead,” Xie Lian questioned, “Do you know it’s origin?”

Hua Cheng’s eyes remained steady, and he responded, “It belonged to the Crown Prince of Xianle.”

“Indeed.”

This time, Xie Lian made his way over to the curious pile of scraps and cheap trinkets. He continued, “And this—what were the origin of these?”

Hua Cheng went quiet. Then, after a few moments, softly spoke up. “...If His Highness has already figured it out, then why is he asking this one?”

...Indeed. By now Xie Lian had been able to pick out certain distinguishable pieces from the pile, pieces which seemed vaguely familiar to him— an indication that at some point he had seen them before. Pieces that he had carefully nestled away in the hidden places where he unearthed the more fanciful treasures; his humble but honest offerings to his mysterious benefactor.

The two went silent once more. Hua Cheng avoiding his gaze, maintaining the posture of one deeply remorseful and ashamed.

After all these years, he finally had a face and a name to the one who had been showing him those small acts of kindness. The singular person who still, after all these years, remained intent on showing him mercy. Xie Lian was not sure what expression he wore, but he knew it was endlessly complicated as he worked his way through his feelings.

... After all these years, in the end, he had in actuality been courting with a dragon. It was so silly, so ridiculous, and yet—

And yet, he discovered that he wasn’t necessarily afraid.

Xie Lian swam closer to Hua Cheng. “Then don’t you want to know my answer?”

Hua Cheng’s body was stiff, his eyes downcast. He sucked in a deep breath, then exhaled, “Very well-“

His words were cut off.

Xie Lian had suddenly embraced the larger man, arms wound tightly about the dragon’s waist. It was a subtle action, but his meaning was clear.

...

The dragon stilled in shock, then, carefully wound his own arms around the smaller merman.

...To hell with it all.

Xie Lian worked his way up the dragon’s body, then gently cupped Hua Cheng’s face. Meeting his gaze, suddenly, a bout of embarrassment seized him—and Xie Lian laughed shyly, “Haha... sorry... I don’t really know what I’m-“

This time, it was his words that were cut off. Hua Cheng had promptly seized his lips, kissing him deeply. Xie Lian squeaked in surprise, then, found himself shutting his eyes and relaxing in the larger man’s grip, letting him take the lead.

He gasped as he felt the dragon’s hands begin to roam about his waist and back, working their way under his loose fitting cloak to explore his body. Xie Lian gasped at the movements, his skin and scales tingling in the places where the roaming hands caressed. Moaning, he sunk more deeply into Hua Cheng’s kiss—greedily exploring the man’s soft lips and tongue.

Xie Lian himself soon allowed his hands to roam- feeling out the hardened muscles of the dragons’ toned back. Every now and then his fingers traced a small scar on the man’s flesh, indicative of the rather brutal existence the dragon must have been living. Sympathy flashed through him, he must have been living such a lonely life.

With his skilled tongue and hands, Hua Cheng managed to pull another moan from Xie Lian—this one loud and forceful enough to temporarily separate the two’s lips.

Xie Lian’s eyes felt heavy and lidded and he blinked them open. He was vaguely aware of a stinging sensation in his mouth where the dragon’s fangs had nicked him, but that was a rather minor thing in comparison to the sight before him.

Hua Cheng’s eyes too, appeared heavy. His brightly shining eyes remained fixated on Xie Lian’s lips, seemingly ready to resume his attack at any moment. Still, instead he asked a question.

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

Xie Lian lifted his chin so that Hua Cheng met his eyes. The dragon’s eyes were dark but tempered by restraint, again, he was likely struggling to keep his instincts in check. Breaking the silence, Xie Lian pulled him forward, catching his lips once again.

Up until this point, Xie Lian hadn’t fully realized how much Hua Cheng had been holding back. Now, given Xie Lian’s approval, the dragon’s movements became more ferocious—pulling him closer and digging his claws into the man’s back.
Xie Lian gasped in both pleasure and pain at the contact, rutting his lower half forward against the dragon’s waist.

A hot voice grazed past his ear. “Eager, are we?”

The grip on him tightened and Xie Lian felt himself being pulled downwards, the two tumbling down toward the cushioned floor of the cave. Hua Cheng was a domineering presence, possessively pressing down on him and forcing another moan from Xie Lian. Hua Cheng’s lower half slowly wound its way around Xie Lian’s own, his lower half and tail firmly restrained as they were encircled by the dragon’s long body. Xie Lian encouraged it, sputtering and gasping as he tried to pull the dragon closer and closer onto him—savoring every inch of contact with the larger man.

“Ha-aah...” Xie Lian’s breathing began to grow increasingly labored. Heat was surging through him, making him shudder as each new wave rolled down his body. Hua Cheng growled on top of him, then with a quick flash of his claws, a the sound of fabric echoed throughout the cavern. He had torn cleanly through the sparse robes covering Xie Lian’s torso, and now gazed hungrily down onto the merman’s exposed chest.

Leaning down, Hua Cheng began to investigate Xie Lian’s chest with his tongue, greedily trailing over his chest and nipples. Xie Lian gasped, fingers burying themselves deeply into the flesh of the dragon’s back.

“Ah-!” A sharp pain rose up from his left nipple, Hua Cheng had gently bitten the hardened bud. The puncture was not deep enough to cause any real harm, but Xie Lian was a bit shocked at the boldness of the action nonetheless.

Hua Cheng looked up at him, grinning all the while his tongue was still toying with Xie Lian’s chest.

Cheeky little-!

Xie Lian opened his mouth to reprimand him, but instead of words another gasp was torn out as Hua Cheng’s hands strayed lower down his body, to where his arousal was now thoroughly building. He teased the sensitive region, playing with the region where his scales subtly parted and revealed his arousal.

Determined to avenge himself, Xie Lian took the initiative to reach down to the region below the dragon’s naval. The species were rather physiologically similar in at least that regard, as Xie Lian quickly found a somewhat hidden slit similar to his own. Applying a small amount of pressure in the region, Hua Cheng grunted, his own member sliding out.

It was anatomically similar to his own but much larger, and was colored the same shade of obsidian as his dark scales. The darkness of the room accompanied by the slight red bioluminescent light highlighted the bulging veins and cast sharp, dark shadows along the slight ridges on the length. The entire member was coated by a generous amount of a highly viscous substance—likely highly helpful in smoothening the way for intercourse despite the thing’s rather massive size—and a small trickle of sticky precum had gathered at the length’s head.

Xie Lian experimentally grasped at the member, then recoiled when Hua Cheng let out a throaty hiss.

“Sorry! Sorry, did I hurt you-“

Hua Cheng snarled and thrust forward against him. Xie Lian gasped, the contact between their two members burned with liquid fire. He quickly returned the gesture, drawing another broken hiss from the dragon on top of him.

Hua Cheng sucked in a breath, calming himself, then guided Xie Lian’s hands to his own member.

Hands over his own, he guided Xie Lian’s movements—encouraging him to stroke himself in slow, fluid motions. “Touch yourself like this... that’s it...” Xie Lian whimpered, trembling at the pleasure welling up in him. “Doesn’t that feel nice?” A burning tongue tickled Xie Lian’s finned ear, thoroughly exploring the region.

“Mmm... A-ah...”

Soft sight continued to spill from Xie Lian’s lips, now finding himself lost in the addictive motion of his guided hands.

It felt good, really really good.

One hand still on Xie Lian’s own, Hua Cheng reached down to grasp his own member—coating his palm with the viscous fluid. From there, his hand trailed down past his naval, seeking out another key region on Xie Lian.

Xie Lian gasped, feeling a coated finger graze his entrance. Hua Cheng’s claws were, thankfully, retractable, and he began to very gently encircle the hole hidden within the small parting of his scales.

“Oh— oh!”

Hua Cheng continued to coyly play with this region, all the while littering the nape of his neck with small kisses and gentle bites. Then, he gradually began to work his finger into that spot, starting with the tip but then slowly pushing it to a greater depth.

Xie Lian wriggled a bit at this. It wasn’t painful, but it was a sensation that was intense and foreign. To help accommodate him, Hua Cheng’s other hand which still rested on top of Xie Lian’s own gave him an encouraging squeeze.

“You need to tell me if it hurts... I do not want this to be painful for you.”

Xie Lian nodded, then gasped as the finger in him twisted slightly—brushing a small bud of nerves which when touched shot a jolt of pleasure through him. Hua Cheng grinned at this reaction. “Here?” He questioned, giving the area another press.

“Oh my-!” Xie Lian’s head lurched back and he jolted. Hua Cheng quickly took the opportunity and but down onto the merman’s now exposed neck.

“Ah! A-ah!”

Another finger had joined the other and was now pressing into him—quickly joining the other in gently teasing this bundle of nerves. The stretch from the additional finger burned a small amount, but it wasn’t necessarily painful. In fact, he found himself quite enjoying the slight burning, the feeling of being spread open and taken by the dragon’s prying fingers.

Xie Lian whimpered and shivered. By now, he was burning all over, his arousal demanding an escape. Hua Cheng’s hand remained on top of his, encouraging faster strokes along his slightly dribbling length.

“Do you want to come?” A heated breath once again teased his ear. A third finger carefully entered him—further stretching him open. Xie Lian gasped, leaning into the movement of the fingers- trying desperately to fuck himself on them.

“Oh please, please, please-!”

But, to his surprise, Hua Cheng instead drew back, withdrawing all three of his fingers. A sound of protest escaped from Xie Lian’s throat, as he instinctively bucked his hips in attempt to chase the retreating digits. It didn’t take long though, for Xie Lian to feel something else brushing against him- something coated in fluid and much much larger.

Hua Cheng’s eyes were burning. “Last chance,” He gritted out. “Do you want to stop here?” His face was wild, monstrous even. His mouth hung open, exposing his long fangs, the edges of his mouth and tongue decorated in bits of sticky vibrant blood from the areas of Xie Lian’s lips and skin he had bitten too harshly.

But, it was unneeded. His eyes watery from arousal, Xie Lian shook his head, pushing his body closer. The movement pressed his entrance tightly against the dragon’s member, allowing a small portion of it to slip inside. Xie Lian gasped at the intrusion, as he was slowly stretched to accommodate the dragon’s size.

Hua Cheng bit his lip, then slowly thrust in—savoring the slow intrusion within Xie Lian’s tight body. He clenched occasionally, and with each tightening of his body Hua Cheng paused, sometimes retreating slightly, then as he grew more relaxed carefully continued working his way deeper into the merman’s depths. Eventually, his stomach bumped against Xie Lian’s skin, the entire length buried inside of him.

Xie Lian squirmed a bit, it was an intensely filling sensation. His hole was stretched to its limit and burned, twitching around the hot thick length. But, it felt good. So so good.

Hua Cheng rested there for a moment, then, one shallow thrust was all it took to fully send Xie Lian over the edge.

Xie Lian screamed, his body spasming as his orgasm coursed through him. He jerked several times as he released into Hua Cheng’s grip, his fingers methodically jacking his length through his trembling euphoria, watching admiringly as bits of white liquid welled up into the water from between his fingers.

As the burning, trembling sensation left him—Xie Lian felt himself fall slack in the dragon’s grip, his body forcefully relaxing on his comedown. His skin was flushed, from the tips of his brows to his naval. He looked up at Hua Cheng, eyes heavy and watery. His mouth had fallen open, and he was openly gasping for breath, struggling to regain his composure.

Hua Cheng watched the small man unravel under him. Then, tightly gathering the merman in his arms, then murmured, “Don’t be afraid, Your Highness.” I’m contrast to his gentle words, a sharp thrust smacked against Xie Lian, resulting in a pleasured wail.

Hua Cheng gripped Xie Lian’s arm’s tightly, pinning them against his sides as he began to thrust into him. His movements started rather slow, but quickly gained speed as the merman found himself quickly regaining his arousal and hardening once again. Feeling the intense drag of the length deep within him, pulling out such intense unbridled pleasure, Xie Lian began to lose himself in the other man’s motions and whims. Hua Cheng angled himself slightly, aiming at that one sweet spot within him with deadly precision, grinning victoriously with each moan, gasp, or whimper he could draw or coax out from the smaller man.

“There, ah-! Right there! Please!” Xie Lian found himself pleading, begging for more as the dragon quickened his pace. It was so so much, too much, but also not nearly enough. The stretch, the fullness he felt from the thick member burned, but it burned so blissfully. It felt like he was being possessed, being claimed by some wild animal—but he couldn’t help but love every second of it. Desire welled up in him at possessive pull and caress from Hua Cheng’s claws, every domineering thrust. Xie Lian’s lower half and tail remained tightly bound by Hua Cheng’s own, leaving him in an intense position of vulnerability.

“Do you like it? Being filled by me?” Hua Cheng stared down at him, his slitted eyes wide and feverish. Xie Lian could see bits of his reflection within them—his tightly knitted brows, the slight draw of his lips, the pink flush staining his pale skin. Xie Lian whimpered in response, then let out a shuddering gasp at an especially heavy thrust from below, arcing himself forward to increase every drop of friction he could manage.

Each thrust shook Xie Lian to his core—feeling as if every inch of his body were being overtaken by a untamable liquid ecstasy. The push and pull of the dragon’s hips pressed against Xie Lian’s own hardened member; the teasing tension inside and on top of him drove him into a state of complete delirium.

“For so long... Wanted you for so long... But I never dared believe—never thought-!” Hua Cheng’s words were mostly spoken to himself, hot, broken and feverish. Eventually, his ramblings ceased to be words that Xie Lian could understand—the dragon likely reverting back to his native tongue in the midst of his ecstasy. He leaned down, and erratically began to kiss and bite along Xie Lian’s shoulder as his member moved within him, as if he were trying to eat up every morsel of his body like he were some starved, savage beast.

“Oh gods, oh—oh!”

The dragon’s thrusts had grown relentless, forcing the merman under him into a position of compliant submission. Xie Lian’s throat was beginning to grow sore from the frequency and intensity of his gasps and moans, and he felt sticky hot tears begin to well up in his eyes.

Xie Lian struggled a bit, completely pinned beneath the large dragon. Hua Cheng’s breaths were growing more labored, his thrusts carrying a needy weight behind them. Xie Lian himself was once against close to being pushed over the edge. Balling his hands into fists, he cried out, “Oh please—please—inside—!”

That was all it took. With a savage snarl, Hua Cheng gave one last powerful thrust, then immediately after Xie Lian felt a burning hot liquid pour inside of him. Quickly after, he himself cried out, body trembling as he released and clenched down on the dragon’s thick, pulsing length.

The two remained like that for quite some time, Hua Cheng’s member continuing to pulse and pump into him for quite some time. But by now his grip on Xie Lian had slackened, allowing the merman to free his arms. Arms encircling the larger man, Xie Lian pulled him closer as he felt his mind go deliciously blank. He felt himself drifting off on the ebbing waves of pleasure emanating through him.

Xie Lian felt the rise and fall of Hua Cheng’s chest pressing down heavily on top of him, but made no effort to push to dragon off. Partially, he did not want to, partially, he doubted he had the strength in his body to do so.

“...Are you alright?”

Hua Cheng seemed to have managed to regather himself, but the question was heavy with exhaustion. Xie Lian responded by pulling the dragon closer—his member still buried inside of him.

“...I’m a little sleepy.”

Hua Cheng chucked quietly at this, he himself reciprocating Xie Lian’s movements, pulling him closer. Xie Lian felt a clawed hand delicately stroke down the back of his head, fingers trailing through his long hair. The dragon rumbled.

“Sleep then. I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Dazed yet comforted, Xie Lian closed his eyes. He allowed himself to drift off—secured within the embrace of the dragon.

Among the many glimmering treasures of the cave, the large dragon settled down alongside him, cradling the most precious treasure he could have ever hoped to attain.