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A shield before the night

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It’s another cold night.

Winter’s quickly fading into spring, but the mountain nights continue to leave icy tears dangling from still-bare branches. It would be warmer further down the mountain, but there are people there. Humans.

Shen Wei wraps himself more tightly around didi, coils his body around the tight knot didi has wound himself into. Covering him as much as Shen Wei is able. Both to keep him warm and in an attempt to hide the flash of pale moonlight off white scales.

A probably redundant effort. The tree hollow they’ve found for tonight is twice a man’s height from the ground, and Shen Wei has made sure their single blanket is tucked securely around didi. Shen Wei’s own body is a shield between didi and any of the night’s predators that might come through the narrow opening. Be it an owl or a larger dragon or just the bitter wind, Shen Wei won’t let any of them lay a claw on his didi.

There’s a noise from above, and Shen Wei freezes. Tenses every muscle. Strains his ears past the slow hiss of didi’s quiet breaths, past the deep, even rhythm of his heart and the quickening beat of Shen Wei’s own. Hears the unfamiliar rhythm of a third. There’s the rush of the wind sweeping past, the bare branches rattling like old bones. The creak of talons digging into wood, the all but silent rustle of smooth feathers. Another breath of wind, another creak of the branch. The rush of beating wings and displaced air. A scream cut off by the snap of a neck.

The sky must be close to lightening before Shen Wei allows his now aching muscles to relax. He stretches his senses to the furthest of their abilities, but finds nothing more dangerous than a foraging mouse.

There are fine shivers running through didi’s too thin body. Shen Wei cranes his neck to snag the loose corner of blanket and tuck it more firmly around them. Licks reassurance down didi’s antlers until he settles, never waking. Morning will come too soon, and then it will be time for them to move on. They may be able to make the next mountain in a couple days, if didi allows Shen Wei to help him. Shen Wei hasn’t seen any smoke rising from its slopes the past half moon, and he’s sure he spotted the glimmer of sunlight off a river or pond. If they’re lucky, Shen Wei will be able to catch a fish or two for didi, perhaps even risk a small fire.

But they have a little time til dawn yet. The winter and too many nights of too little sleep gnaw at Shen Wei’s bones and the cold makes him feel sluggish, like he could sleep until the summer sun is high in the sky. He curls even more tightly around didi, though there’s already nary a breath between them. Drags a fold of blanket over the both of them and settles his head next to didi’s.

They have a little time.

Shen Wei falls alseep to the song and caress of his didi’s steady breathing.