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No Better Time

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The first thing Zhao Yunlan does when he's back to human is offer a heartfelt and slightly excitable, "Thank you!" to the Black Cloaked Envoy who's also turned human-shaped.

The second thing is to turn right back into a tiny dragon to see if he can. This time, somehow it doesn't even involve any falling, and he finds himself on the bed instead of in the air. He makes a triumphant and excited chirp and then stumbles over his own legs in his excitement, his tail kind of flailing and… Well, he ends up in a slightly undignified tangle.

Da Qing laughs at him. Even the Black Cloaked Envoy huffs slightly in amusement. Zhao Yunlan would be more annoyed, but he's a bit busy trying to sort out his body. The Black Cloaked Envoy reaches out to help him, gently straightening him out and settling him upright.

Zhao Yunlan bumps his fingers with his head gratefully, rubbing his head against them, and chirps a bit. It's not like he can actually say, 'thank you,' right now. Learning how to use his words as a dragon is definitely up there in his priorities, right under figuring out how to not end up tying himself into a knot by accident.

The Black Cloaked Envoy moves his fingers, scratching slightly at the back of Zhao Yunlan's head. Suddenly, his whole body goes limp without asking Zhao Yunlan first. The Black Cloaked Envoy scratches a bit more and a stuttering little purr vibrates in Zhao Yunlan's chest, startling him enough to almost make him fall over again. The Black Cloaked Envoy's fingers hesitate and Zhao Yunlan squeaks a small protest.

Please don't stop!

Before Zhao Yunlan needs to figure out how to make the Black Cloaked Envoy do that again, his fingers scratch at that spot again and then run down the length of Zhao Yunlan's spine. His purr stutters a few times and then picks up until it's a constant vibration in his chest. Zhao Yunlan is just going to stay here, like a limp noodle, for the rest of his life.

Or at least for as long as the Black Cloaked Envoy keeps doing that.

"I thought you wanted to turn back," Da Qing says with a sniff.

Zhao Yunlan opens his eyes to glare at the cat because now the Black Cloaked Envoy stopped. Da Qing is just jealous he's not the one getting petted.

Zhao Yunlan waits for a moment, but that seems to be all the pets he's getting for now. He sighs, but fine, Da Qing might have a point. He should make sure he's not stuck like this again.

It only takes a moment of concentration before Zhao Yunlan is sitting on his bed next to the Black Cloaked Envoy entirely human-shaped. He grins at the Black Cloaked Envoy, and before he even thinks about it he's leaned in just a bit and wrapped an arm around his shoulders.

"You're such a good teacher, Hei-laoge," he says companionably.

He feels the Black Cloaked Envoy stiffen under his touch. Zhao Yunlan's stomach lurches, something cold gripping his insides. Some people just don't like being touched, he tells himself. There's nothing wrong with that. Maybe touching him as a dragon is just different somehow.

Slowly, Zhao Yunlan pulls his arm away. "Truly, thank you for bothering to help me. This isn't how I envisioned meeting Heipaoshi, but…" Zhao Yunlan shrugs and smiles at the other man.

For a moment the Black Cloaked Envoy doesn't say anything, and Zhao Yunlan can't really tell what his expression is behind that mask. The Black Cloaked Envoy's mouth opens slightly and then closes like he might have been about to say something but changed his mind.

Zhao Yunlan can't help but look at those lips for a moment. Then his eyes widen as something occurs to him. "Do you even know who I am, Hei-laoge?"

Da Qing had used his name, but how closely has the Black Cloaked Envoy been following the SID? Zhao Yunlan has his suspicions about Chu Shuzhi, but still… Maybe the Black Cloaked Envoy doesn't know.

Zhao Yunlan sticks out his hand, which is a bit awkward as he's still sitting next to the Black Cloaked Envoy. "Zhao Yunlan, Chief of SID," he introduces himself.

The Black Cloaked Envoy hesitates for a moment, and maybe he really doesn't like touch, despite how he'd definitely been touching Zhao Yunlan when Zhao Yunlan was a dragon. Maybe he needs to turn into a dragon again? Except then he can't actually talk to the Black Cloaked Envoy. Before Zhao Yunlan can quite decide to pull his hand back, the Black Cloaked Envoy grasps it.

His grip is firm, his hand callused and warm. Zhao Yunlan feels a warm shiver go through him. And still, the Black Cloaked Envoy seems to hesitate to say anything. Zhao Yunlan suddenly wonders if he even has a name to offer back. Well, he probably has a name, most people do, but it's not something to give to people like Zhao Yunlan.

"And it's not like you need any introductions, Hei-laoge. It's quite hard to miss who Heipaoshi is," Zhao Yunlan says quickly, a small grin on his lips.

"It's… good to meet you, Zhao-xiong," the Black Cloaked Envoy says solemnly, hesitating just a tiny bit.

Zhao Yunlan smiles broader and then tries to pull his hand back, except the Black Cloaked Envoy doesn't let go. Zhao Yunlan looks down at their hands in surprise, before lifting his gaze again. The Black Cloaked Envoy let's go suddenly, shifting slightly before abruptly standing up.

Instinctively Zhao Yunlan reaches out to snag a corner of his sleeve, assuming that he's about to leave and just wanting to stop him. "Wait," he says quickly.

The Black Cloaked Envoy turns to look at him, his jaw held stiffly. Zhao Yunlan lets go of his sleeve and smiles sheepishly. Yeah, the dragon cuddles might have made Zhao Yunlan a bit easier with the touching than he would otherwise be with the Black Cloaked Envoy. He thinks the Black Cloaked Envoy probably isn't used to people being quite so free with his person. Who would dare?

"I don't have anyone else to ask," Zhao Yunlan says, and it comes out a bit more vulnerable than he might have wanted. "So I can only hope Heipaoshi would be willing to help me. Would Heipaoshi maybe consider teaching me more about… being a dragon?"

Da Qing makes a kind of strangled noise in the background and maybe that request is kind of audacious. This is the Black Cloaked Envoy, after all. But Da Qing is the one who asked him here in the first place!

The Black Cloaked Envoy stares at him and Zhao Yunlan wants to squirm under that gaze. Instead, he smiles and gets up, just to be on level ground with the Black Cloaked Envoy, and maybe because he really needs to move.

"Enough to get me started at least. I keep stumbling over my own feet. And I have no idea how to even talk!" He looks pleadingly at the Black Cloaked Envoy.

"Speech will come with time," the Black Cloaked Envoy says stiffly.

Well, damn, Zhao Yunlan thinks. He really doesn't like not being able to talk. It makes him feel surprisingly helpless. But as long as he knows how to switch back to a human, it's not so bad he supposes.

"The rest…" the Black Cloaked Envoy says and then hesitates.

"I promise I'll be a diligent student. I promise I won't make things difficult for you, Hei-laoge," Zhao Yunlan says earnestly. He'll try at least. He really does want to figure this out. It's what he inherited from his mom, after all.

"Very well. I will help you," the Black Cloaked Envoy says, sounding so stiff that it comes out sounding awkward.

Zhao Yunlan smiles brightly at him. "Thank you. Again. You're amazing, Heipaoshi," Zhao Yunlan praises, the sudden relief making him go a bit overboard in his words perhaps.

The Black Cloaked Envoy is really nothing at all like the image Zhao Yunlan had built up in his head before meeting him. Sure, the Black Cloaked Envoy is sounding all stiff and solemn right now, but with the way he'd acted earlier… Zhao Yunlan is pretty sure he's mostly feeling awkward. And that's a weird thought, that the Black Cloaked Envoy might have trouble with social interaction.

Right now, the Black Cloaked Envoy is standing there, in the middle of Zhao Yunlan's messy apartment, looking at him with eyes that look just a bit too large. The mask might hide a lot, but those eyes are still perfectly visible.

"You're welcome, Zhao Yunlan," he says at last.

Zhao Yunlan is about to ask him if they should get started right then, or if the Black Cloaked Envoy wants to meet up at some later point. He has no idea what kind of schedule the Black Cloaked Envoy might have. But before he can get to it he's interrupted by the sound of Da Qing's phone.

Zhao Yunlan turns to look at him and is somewhat surprised to find a human-looking Da Qing lounging on his bed. Da Qing shrugs slightly and fishes out his phone.

"It's Lin Jing," Da Qing announces, looking at the screen. Zhao Yunlan frowns slightly and then realises that that probably means it's to do with their current case. He might have been a bit out of it at the time, but he can still recall Da Qing telling Lin Jing to go after the Dixingren.

Zhao Yunlan should probably have thought of the case earlier, they really do want to catch the Dixingren, but he'd been distracted by… well, everything else. Zhao Yunlan looks back at the Black Cloaked Envoy as Da Qing answers his phone. The Black Cloaked Envoy looks at him like he wants to say something, but then glances in Da Qing's direction and stays quiet. He probably doesn't want to disturb Da Qing's conversation.

A few moments into the phone call, the Black Cloaked Envoy's jaw tightens quite visibly and he gives Zhao Yunlan a look that makes Zhao Yunlan feel small all of a sudden. The Black Cloaked Envoy's disapproval is… something, alright. Zhao Yunlan is suddenly wondering how good the Black Cloaked Envoy's hearing might be and what exactly Lin Jing might have been saying because Da Qing's answers haven't given all that much away.

"He got away," Da Qing says once he ends the conversation. "Lao Chu and Lin Jing are back at the office."

Zhao Yunlan rubs a hand down his face and says, "Yeah, we should probably get back there. See if we can figure out anything."

Then he looks at the Black Cloaked Envoy. "Do you want to come, Hei-laoge? We could probably use the help tracking this guy down. If you happen to know anything…" He shrugs slightly.

He might have been quite adamant about not asking for help from Dixing, but that was before he met the Black Cloaked Envoy. Zhao Yunlan can admit that he might have been wrong about some things.

There's a small moment of silence and then the Black Cloaked Envoy says, "It would be more efficient for us to work together."

Zhao Yunlan wonders if he should take that to mean the Black Cloaked Envoy has been looking for the same guy they have?

There's an awkward moment where no one quite seems to know what to do next. What Zhao Yunlan should do is grab the car keys and get going, but he gets stuck on the thought of offering to drive the Black Cloaked Envoy. There's nothing wrong with offering to drive him, now is there?

The image of the Black Cloaked Envoy in his robes and mask climbing into Zhao Yunlan's car seems so out of place that Zhao Yunlan has to bite his lip to keep from laughing.

He swallows quickly and gestures vaguely in the direction of the door. "I can drive—" he starts saying at the same time as the Black Cloaked Envoy goes: "I can—"

They both go abruptly quiet and just look at each other.

"You were saying?" Zhao Yunlan prompts after a few heartbeats of slightly awkward silence. This had all been going a lot better when Zhao Yunlan couldn't talk.

He thinks he can hear Da Qing mentally facepalming on the bed. Or possibly actually facepalming; he's not going to turn and look.

"I'll make a portal," the Black Cloaked Envoy says. Then he hesitates for a moment, before adding, "You're welcome to come with me if you want, Zhao Yunlan."

Zhao Yunlan feels his eyes widening. He really should say that it's no trouble to take the car, and it's not that far away and they're probably not in that much of a hurry. But he can't deny that he's ridiculously curious about what the Black Cloaked Envoy means by a portal. Of course, Zhao Yunlan has been told about how the Black Cloaked Envoy can come and go at will, but… it's very different hearing about something and seeing it. It's even more different getting to do it himself.

Now, how is Zhao Yunlan going to say no to that?

"I'll take the car!" Da Qing announces quickly.

Zhao Yunlan looks at him with raised eyebrows. Da Qing just stares at him, unimpressed. Zhao Yunlan raises his eyebrows a bit more.

"Even thinking about it makes me queasy," Da Qing grumbles. "I don't remember why."

There's a small noise from the Black Cloaked Envoy, who then very quickly clears his throat as Zhao Yunlan turns back to look at him.

"Da Qing's experience with portals… has not been very good," he says like he knows more about Da Qing's past than Da Qing does. Which, come to think of it, is entirely possible. "It shouldn't be quite so bad for you, Zhao Yunlan. But it might still be unpleasant," the Black Cloaked Envoy says, doing his best to keep his voice all grave and neutral, which Zhao Yunlan is starting to suspect is just the tone the Black Cloaked Envoy uses for pretty much everything. Then there's a small pause, the corners of the Black Cloaked Envoy's lips twitching slightly, like he might be fighting a smile. "You probably wouldn't feel it much at all as a dragon."

Zhao Yunlan rocks up and down on his feet. He feels a bit giddy and moving helps. He really, really does want to try this portal thing. At least once, just to see what it's about.

Da Qing huffs. "You do whatever you want, Lao Zhao," he declares.

Zhao Yunlan grins and then squints a bit suspiciously at the Black Cloaked Envoy. "Will it actually make a difference if I'm a dragon?" he asks.

He definitely sees the Black Cloaked Envoy's lips twitch a bit again, he thinks with some satisfaction. One of these days he'll definitely see him actually smiling. But when the Black Cloaked Envoy speaks it's still that same solemn tone. "Dragons are… hardier than humans. And being smaller will make things somewhat easier," he tells Zhao Yunlan.

It doesn't really explain much and Zhao Yunlan wants to ask more questions. But he also really wants to get on with things, and he figures he'll know what to ask better once he tries it out first. And it's not like he's worried the Black Cloaked Envoy wants to harm him or something. He might have, once, before he had the Black Cloaked Envoy cuddling him to make him calm down.

"Okay," Zhao Yunlan agrees quickly. "But you'll have to pick me up. I really don't know how to fly yet," he says with a small grimace. The dragon thing is exciting, but it's a bit ridiculous how useless Zhao Yunlan is at it. You'd think things would come naturally, but no, he can barely manage walking without falling over.

"Of course," the Black Cloaked Envoy agrees, followed by a solemn nod.

And then Zhao Yunlan takes a deep breath and… shifts. No time like the present, right? It's only when he's suddenly very small and in mid-air that he realises that he might have miscalculated a bit. He has no idea why this time he ends up in the air when the last time that he'd transformed he'd ended up on the bed without any issues. But he doesn't really have time to ponder the difference because he's a bit too busy falling.

And then, just as he's realises he's falling, he isn't anymore. A pair of hands are holding him very gently. Zhao Yunlan takes a few shaky breaths, the beginnings of panic slowly flowing out as he breathes. Then he turns his head up to look at the Black Cloaked Envoy and squeaks.

Zhao Yunlan has no idea what that sound is supposed to mean, and he's the one making it. The Black Cloaked Envoy moves him slightly so that he's held in one hand without any part of him trailing away. Zhao Yunlan is grateful about that because he's not entirely sure he has enough control to make sure that the rest of him wouldn't follow whatever stray body part. Then, the Black Cloaked Envoy pats him very lightly with one finger. Zhao Yunlan suddenly feels a bit like a child being comforted, which is… not entirely inaccurate he supposes.

"Perhaps we should start your lessons sooner rather than later," the Black Cloaked Envoy says with a sigh.

Zhao Yunlan warbles in agreement. And then tries to press his head up against the Black Cloaked Envoy's finger. Look, the whole petting thing feels nice, okay? But instead of petting him more, the Black Cloaked Envoy carefully moves him up to his shoulder, gently helping Zhao Yunlan move inside his hood. Zhao Yunlan feels just a bit shameless, and a lot like he might fall off at any moment, even from inside the hood. Inadvertently, he grips the Black Cloaked Envoy with his claws. And then realises what he's doing and quickly tries to tell himself to let go. An apologetic squeak falls from his mouth as his talons… feet… whatever refuse to quite obey him.

"I won't let you fall, Zhao Yunlan," the Black Cloaked Envoy says, his voice gentle and soothing instead of that solemn tone he's been affecting. "I promise. But I prefer to have my hands free, in case of anything unplanned."

And apparently, he also thinks that hiding Zhao Yunlan inside his hood is a good idea. Zhao Yunlan is suddenly wondering what exactly he expects to happen when they arrive at the SID. He realises that the Black Cloaked Envoy doesn't like the SID—and really, considering the previous chiefs, Zhao Yunlan wouldn't like them either—but surely their relationship isn't that bad.

Well, maybe the Black Cloaked Envoy just likes to be prepared. Or the portalling thing is a lot worse than Zhao Yunlan thinks and he needs his hands free to… do some sort of dark energy… thing. He really hopes it's the first one.

He chirps quietly.

"I don't expect anything to happen," the Black Cloaked Envoy assures him.

Zhao Yunlan chirps again and then presses himself down against the Black Cloaked Envoy's shoulder, his talons still holding on a bit harder than they probably should, but the Black Cloaked Envoy doesn't say anything at all.

Zhao Yunlan can hear more than see the portal being opened. He can taste cold and lightning at the same time and it takes a bit to sort those sensations out because he's pretty sure he's never been able to taste lightning before.

"I'll see you at the office," Da Qing announces, sounding a bit too amused.

Zhao Yunlan cheerfully chirps back at him, even if there's a small knot coiled tight in his belly. The Black Cloaked Envoy's hand presses against him lightly, through the cloth of his hood. It makes Zhao Yunlan relax a bit; the Black Cloaked Envoy wouldn't let anything happen.

He's suddenly trusting the Black Cloaked Envoy a whole lot, isn't he? Well, maybe it's the whole dragon thing. He is another dragon. It might just be instinct. He'll definitely think about that later.

"Are you ready, Zhao Yunlan?" the Black Cloaked Envoy asks.

Zhao Yunlan chirps resolutely.