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the minor gods

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Cuddles with Shen Wei, whether in human or dragon form, has quickly become one of Zhao Yunlan's favourite things. Human-shaped Shen Wei is warm and solid, and holds Zhao Yunlan like he is an ancient treasure, more precious than anything else in the world. It makes Zhao Yunlan feel safe and cared for, like a warm bowl of congee in the morning or a carefully laid out plate of orange slices after dinner.

Dragon-shaped Shen Wei, on the other hand, is like being handed the key to an apartment. Like an open invitation, or a secret shared. When Shen Wei changes into his tiny dragon form, with his body the length of Zhao Yunlan's arm and his head a firm weight in the centre of his palm, Zhao Yunlan feels like he is holding Shen Wei's heart in his hands. He likes to curl up into a disc on Zhao Yunlan's chest, sometimes with his head resting in the dip between Zhao Yunlan's collarbones or snuggled into the crook of his neck. When Zhao Yunlan runs a finger between his horns or through the fur rippling down the ridge of his spine, he lets out a deep purr that vibrates through his entire body — an incredibly soothing sound that Zhao Yunlan finds himself falling asleep to more often than not these days.

On one such night, with the sound of Shen Wei's contented purr in his ears and the feel of his scales under his hands, Zhao Yunlan is drifting lazily between sleep and wakefulness when an idle question pops into his head.

"Shen Wei?" He mumbles.

"Yunlan?" Shen Wei responds in a low rumble, his voice somehow sounding deeper in this form despite being much smaller. One of his eyes, incongruously big for his small body, opens to peek up at Zhao Yunlan.

"You know how dragons — like, big dragons — are supposed to control the weather?"

"Yes?"

"Can you do that? Do you have some kind of power?"

"Mn," Shen Wei hums in answer. His eyes slip closed again, like he is satisfied that there is nothing urgent to worry about.

"Like what?"

"It's similar, just smaller."

"Smaller?" Zhao Yunlan asks, and wonders what "smaller than the weather" means.

"I'll show you some time." Shen Wei says, and snuggles in tighter.

"Okay," Zhao Yunlan agrees. Whatever it is, it probably means having to get up, and he is too comfortable to do that right now. He scratches the top of Shen Wei's head again, spurring another round of purring. It isn't long before they both fall asleep and the question floats away to where half-awake thoughts often go — drifting somewhere in the subconscious, hiding until something pulls it back to the surface again.


Then Shen Wei goes away on a business trip. The field visit to the mountains lasts two weeks, and Zhao Yunlan spends the entirety of it sulking. It's the longest Zhao Yunlan has gone without seeing Shen Wei since meeting him and worse, the site is remote enough that cell service to the phone that Zhao Yunlan had finally convinced Shen Wei to get is sporadic.

"Are you five years old?" Da Qing says in disgust as he slips through the window into the apartment and picks his way to where Zhao Yunlan is lounging across the sofa.

"I'm a perfectly well-functioning adult," Zhao Yunlan says around the two lollipops in his mouth.

Da Qing hops onto the coffee table, then growls as he lifts one paw to sniff at it. "Doesn't seem like it, seeing as I now smell like spicy bean sauce."

Zhao Yunlan waves a hand in the air. "I'll clean it up before Shen Wei gets back. There's still two more days." He can't help but let out a sigh at that.

"You'd better. I can't believe you can make this much of a mess in just two weeks." Da Qing looks up to survey the takeout boxes covering every available flat surface, the dishes piled up in the sink and the clothing scattered over the floor. Zhao Yunlan follows his gaze, and — yeah, okay, so the apartment is kind of a disaster zone. He's been trying so hard to keep things clean after Shen Wei had tidied up the first time (mostly because he knows if he doesn't, it will just end up with Shen Wei spending more time cleaning when he's over, and they have much better uses for time than that), and he had been doing so well! But it had been way too easy to slip back into his old habits over the past two weeks, especially since he hasn't exactly been in the best of moods.

"If he breaks up with you I'm leaving with him," Da Qing continues, hopping up onto the back of the sofa and looking down at Zhao Yunlan like the imperious cat he is. "I'm not going back to the way you were living before, a cat has standards."

Zhao Yunlan snorts. "You didn't seem to have a problem with it the past twenty years. And why do you get to complain when I'm the one paying for food and the apartment?" To emphasize his point, he picks up the nearest thing at hand to throw at Da Qing, which happens to be a styrofoam cup from the latest round of takeout. Unfortunately, Zhao Yunlan doesn't notice that the cup is only mostly but not completely empty, and a light shower of coffee rains down on his shirt as it makes its way towards Da Qing's head.

At least he isn't the only one taking damage. Da Qing screeches as the drops of liquid land on his fur and flies at Zhao Yunlan with all the indignation that the King of Cats can muster, and the two of them end up tangled in a flurry of fur, hair and scratched skin.

In the middle of this (if truth be told) unfairly-matched fight, they are interrupted by the ringing of Zhao Yunlan's phone. They both freeze and, after a resigned look down at his scratched-up arm, Zhao Yunlan reaches over to answer. He doesn't look down at the caller ID, so it's only his own fault for being surprised by the voice on the other end.

"A-Lan, where are you?!"

He blinks. "Oh. Hi, Ma."

"Oh? Is that any way to greet your mother?" The voice on the other end demands, then continues right on without waiting for a reaction. "Anyway, are you at your apartment? Hmph, of course you are. It's not like you do anything else on the weekend, unless you're out drinking. Are you out drinking?"

"Ma, it's two in the afternoon!"

"Exactly, so you had better be home!"

"I am..."

"Good, well I was just visiting Auntie Zhu, her place isn't far from where you are. She brought back marinated duck neck from her recent trip back to her hometown, I know you really like it, so I figured I'll drop by and bring them to you."

Zhao Yunlan's first thought is a craving for the spicy, flavourful snack, which makes for an incomplete but acceptable substitute for Shen Wei for the next two days. His second thought is that he absolutely cannot let his mother see the state of his apartment. It's not that she doesn't know he's a mess — she did raise him, after all — but he had sworn to his parents that he is doing better and had even bragged about how good Shen Wei is at keeping him in line in an effort to butter them up before introducing him (not that Zhao Yunlan is worried about them not liking him, because who could not like Shen Wei?).

But the crux of the matter is, he needs to keep his mom away from his apartment. "Aiy, Ma, it's okay, you don't need to go out of your way," he says hurriedly. "Why don't you just keep them for yourselves? Ba likes them too, doesn't he?"

"Your father needs to cut his salt intake," she harrumphs. "Don't worry, it's a nice walk. I'll be there in half an hour.” She declares, then the line goes dead.

Zhao Yunlan takes a second to stare at the phone in his hand and sigh. Then, out the corner of his eyes, he sees the stain on the coffee table, sticky-looking and with the indent of a paw print in it. He jumps up.

"Shit!" He yells into the air, and leaps into action.


Twenty minutes later, Zhao Yunlan is furiously scrubbing the kitchen counter when he hears the sound of a key turning in the lock. He doesn't spare it much thought, thinking he is just hearing the neighbour coming home given the terrible state of soundproofing in the old apartment building. But then the door opens, and there is the sound of footsteps and the wheels of a luggage rolling across the floorboards.

He looks up in surprise. "Shen Wei? Why are you back already?"

"Yunlan?" Shen Wei looks, somehow, just as confused as Zhao Yunlan feels. He blinks, his eyes open wide in that way that makes him look like some kind of baby animal. Instead of his usual dress pants and button-up, he is dressed in jeans and the windbreaker from Zhao Yunlan's closet that he had smugly bundled Shen Wei into before he left. His hair is just a little bit tousled, like he hadn't gone through his usual routine that morning and had maybe taken a nap in the car. "We finished early. I sent you a message before we left the mountains but I don't think it went through. I messaged you again when we entered the city."

Ah, which would probably have been around the time that Zhao Yunlan and Da Qing were fighting, which was of course followed immediately by his cleaning rampage. Zhao Yunlan looks around at the apartment and despairs. He had managed to put away the things scattered on the tables and floors, and get his bed looking like a place to sleep instead of a storage bin. But the dishes still aren't washed, his floors are looking pretty dirty, and he can only hope that his mother won't need to use the washroom while she's here.

"What are you doing?" Shen Wei asks, drawing Zhao Yunlan's attention back to him.

"Uh, cleaning?"

Shen Wei sighs. "While I wish you would take better care of yourself, you really don't need to clean for my sake. I can do it, just give me a few minutes to put my things away."

"No, no!" Zhao Yunlan protests. "You just got home, you should rest!" Then he pauses, his eyes catching on the clock. "And it's not that, though I was going to clean for you anyway. It's...ah...my Ma is coming. In ten minutes."

"What?" When Zhao Yunlan looks back at him, Shen Wei's eyes have somehow gotten even bigger. "Your mother is coming here? Now?"

Zhao Yunlan nods, feeling resigned. Not only is the apartment going to look like shit when she gets here, this is apparently how his mother is going to meet Shen Wei for the first time, too. Maybe if Shen Wei goes to his own apartment for now, Zhao Yunlan can tell her that he's still away on his trip? But he doesn't know how Shen Wei would take that suggestion — when Zhao Yunlan had brought up visiting his parents before, Shen Wei had been both touched and also very nervous, and Zhao Yunlan doesn't know which part of him is winning right now.

Just as he is pondering this, there is the soft whoosh of displaced air. Zhao Yunlan blinks, and sees that there is now a small dragon hovering where Shen Wei was standing.

"Xiao Wei?" Zhao Yunlan stares. Is accidental transformation a sign of stress? He wonders, hoping very hard that Shen Wei isn't having a nervous breakdown, though there is a somewhat manic gleam in his beady eyes. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," the dragon-shaped Shen Wei says as he flies into the kitchen. "Go change. I'll take care of it from here."

"...What?"

"Go, we don't have much time," Shen Wei insists, flicking his tail in a shooing motion.

Zhao Yunlan is still confused, but he glances down at his coffee-stained shirt and sees the wisdom in that suggestion. He slips off his shirt and goes to his closet to pick up a clean one. Just as he's slipping his head through the shirt, he hears strange noises starting up from behind him — what sounds like sloshing water and strong wind, plus some clinking sounds. He turns around, and gapes at the sight that greets him.

Shen Wei is there in the middle of the kitchen, flying in a circle with his long body rippling through the air. There's a flurry of motion in and over the sink, where the dishes seem to be washing themselves. There's a hissing sound that seems to be coming from a large soup bowl that's hovering above the dish rack, and when Zhao Yunlan walks in closer he sees a jet of water being aimed at its insides like a particular skinny power hose, except without the hose. Even more absurdly, there appears to be a small tornado whirling around the whole commotion, keeping the water and food bits from flying out and redirecting them down into the sink instead.

"Yunlan, get off the floor."

"Huh?" Zhao Yunlan asks, but jumps onto the couch because clearly dragons are not to be disobeyed. He looks down, and sees the afternoon sunlight catch on the floor starting from one wall and moving swiftly in a gleaming band over to the other, as if someone is mopping the floor but also without the mop, leaving it — while not perfectly clean — definitely cleaner than it was before.

While Zhao Yunlan is still processing all of this, Shen Wei has already finished with the main room of the apartment and is flying into the bathroom. The same sounds start from that direction as well, and Zhao Yunlan stares dumbly after him for a few seconds before starting to laugh.

"So, smaller than the weather, huh?" Zhao Yunlan says when Shen Wei has come back into the living room and landed on Zhao Yunlan's arm and shoulder in what can only be described as an uncharacteristically undignified flop.

"I am controlling the same elements, just at a smaller scale," he mumbles into the crook of Zhao Yunlan's neck.

Zhao Yunlan shakes his head and chuckles. He reaches out to cover Shen Wei with one hand and scratch behind his horns. "You're ridiculous and I love you," he says.

He only realizes what he has said when Shen Wei stiffens under his hand.

Oops, has he not said that before?

"A-Lan?" comes Shen Wei's voice, sounding tremulous. He wriggles against Zhao Yunlan's hand, and Zhao Yunlan moves it away so Shen Wei can fly around to face him. His eyes are huge, and a bit watery. He opens his mouth as if about to say something.

Just then, the doorbell rings.