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Exposed in Flame

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Existing as both a dragon and a Dìxīngrén had always been Shěn Wēi’s nature, even if he had hidden his dragon self for so long in this modern Hǎixīng. It feels like he has been given a part of himself back, being able to shift at will again without worry about how Zhào Yúnlán will react.

Zhào Yúnlán’s unconditional love and friendship continue to astound Shěn Wēi each and every day.

He finds himself in his dragon form more often than not these days when they are at home together. Shěn Wēi curls comfortably around Zhào Yúnlán’s neck, head tucked against the warm skin above his collarbone. He also takes naps with Dìdì, his dragon form nestled into luxuriously long grey fur. They take turns grooming each other, a form of mutual comfort whenever one of them has had a bad day.

Dìdì seems to welcome this closeness, but sometimes Shěn Wēi worries that there is a shadow behind Dìdì’s eyes when he watches Shěn Wēi’s dragon.

Dìdì still hasn’t returned to his dragon form as far as Shěn Wēi knows, and refuses to talk about it, even if Shěn Wēi asks directly. Shěn Wēi knows that it has to have its roots in their time apart, a time that neither of them like to speak of, but the sadness that Dìdì can’t hide makes Shěn Wēi worry.

It doesn’t take much to make Shěn Wēi worry. His twin was a cat and refused to speak for years. Shěn Wēi doesn’t know how well either of them would do if Dìdì retreats like that again.

Shěn Wēi suspects that Dìdì’s choice of a cat form is due to the fact that it has some similarities to their dragon selves–claws, good hearing, small stature, but he doesn’t say so.

Zhào Yúnlán seems to agree, though he is his usual cheerful self when around the twins together. It is only when Shěn Wēi and Zhào Yúnlán take time to themselves that Zhào Yúnlán lets his instinctual curiosity and desire to know loose, picking apart whatever Shěn Wēi can or will share.

It is part of the reason that they work. Their broken edges fit together, roughness soothed.

“Just keep showing him that he can change back, don’t let his hesitance stop you from being so ridiculously cute.”

Shěn Wēi sniffs, knowing that Zhào Yúnlán just likes the novelty of having a tiny dragon boyfriend that he can coo over. No matter how much Zhào Yúnlán wheedles, Shěn Wēi refuses to be in his dragon form at SID. He’s even had to get Dìdì to police Zhào Yúnlán’s phone to make sure no pictures of them make it into the group chats.

Dìdì will let his dragon out again when he’s ready, Shěn Wēi continues to tell himself each time he notices that shadow. Perhaps one day he’ll believe it.

***

Shěn Wēi doesn’t often succeed in convincing Dìdì to join him on the Dragon University campus, but when they do, they walk, stretching out those moments together without the distraction of Zhào Yúnlán’s massive vehicle and loud music. The cheerful chaos that ensues when Zhào Yúnlán drives is simultaneously endearing and exasperating to Shěn Wēi. Dìdì’s presence on such journeys only adds to the noise.

And they both like the walk, even if it is in companionable silence. This is one such evening, enjoying the breeze and fading light.

Dìdì notices something wrong first. “Smoke. Gēgē. I smell smoke.”

They’re just passing the student dorms and Shěn Wēi is ready to ignore the smell. As a student, being dragged out of bed because someone left something in the microwave too long was not infrequent.

Before Shěn Wēi can comment, Dìdì is running, sprinting toward one of the nearby buildings. Shěn Wēi follows, hurrying now that he sees what Dìdì had spotted: flames as well as black smoke curling out of the windows.

The door to the dorm is locked, but Shěn Wēi’s powers make quick work of the mechanism and they race into the building. Dìdì starts pounding on doors, shouting fire, while Shěn Wēi searches for an alarm box. He finds it and yanks, ignoring the spill of dye onto his hand.

The dorm is only partly occupied this time of day, students still out for evening classes and events, dinners and parties. Shěn Wēi shoos students toward the door, glad that there aren’t more of them. The fire is growing, and Shěn Wēi needs to get closer to the source if he’s going to stop it from spreading.

Dìdì hurries back toward him, coughing, practically carrying a student who can barely stand.

“This one is injured, you can heal him better than I can.”

“But the fire,” Shěn Wēi protests, already taking the student from his twin and helping to get him outside.

“Fire department is on it’s way. Better we don’t make a spectacle.”

Shěn Wēi nods. Dìxīngrén aren’t public knowledge yet, and if Hǎixīngrén can put out the fire….

The have the student outside on the grass, and Shěn Wēi is quickly surrounded by others as he starts trying to treat the boy. He recognizes some of them from his classes, but pushes all thought away as he checks the extent of the damage. It appears to be mostly smoke inhalation, some burns along his arms…

“Don’t go back in there!” A student shouts.

Shěn Wēi looks up to see Dìdì racing back into the building. “Dìdì!”

“Míngyǔ’s girlfriend is still inside,” a voice says, low.

Terror thrills along Shěn Wēi’s spine. He’s sunk his power into the boy—Míngyǔ—and shouldn’t leave him, but Dìdì…

Watching the door while his hands keep the flow of healing energy through the student under his hands, Shěn Wēi sees when a girl stumbles out, hacking and coughing. She’s caught by students and drawn away from the building.

Dìdì doesn’t come out after her.

She’s weeping, coughing, and Shěn Wēi doesn’t stop to listen to her words. The boy is stable enough for now, with medics on the way. He runs to the building, looking for a way in. The fire has spread, and with so many witnesses—

“Xiǎo Wēi!”

Shěn Wēi spins to find Zhào Yúnlán sprinting toward him, then those strong arms are around him.

“Dìdì,” Shěn Wēi mutters, pulling away, even though he wishes he could sink into that offered comfort.

He and Zhào Yúnlán are closest to the building, closest to the fire. Shěn Wēi can feel the heat beating against them. There must have been lots of fuel for the fire to spread so quickly, and he can’t see a way to get in, to search for his twin.

A projectile flies out of the building above the flames and crashes into Shěn Wēi’s chest. He catches it reflexively, cuddling the shivering body close.

Dìdì is a tiny dragon, steel grey streaked with soot, shaking and hacking. Shěn Wēi goes to stroke his head and freezes.

Dìdì’s horns are gone. All that’s left are mangled stumps.

“Yè Zūn?” Zhào Yúnlán asks, quickly stripping off his jacket and offering it to Shěn Wēi to wrap up the tiny creature.

Flinching away, Dìdì scrambles inside Shěn Wēi’s suit coat and twines around his neck. Shěn Wēi reaches up and strokes his hand down his twin’s spine. “Can we leave? Do we need to make statements?”

Shrugging his jacket back on, Zhào Yúnlán leads them away to where his red monstrosity is waiting. “I’ll have Dà Qìng let the police and fire department know where to reach you if they have questions. Let’s get you and Yè Zūn home.”

Shěn Wēi accepts a steadying hand on his elbow to help him up into the passenger seat, keeping one hand cupped around Dìdì at his neck. He lets a trickle of dark energy stream into his twin, searching for any damage from the fire, hoping he won’t find deeper scars than the ones on Dìdì’s head.

Zhào Yúnlán has them home in a matter of minutes, and Shěn Wēi follows him upstairs to their apartment.

“Shower. I’ll order something gentle for dinner,” Zhào Yúnlán orders. Then he’s cupping Shěn Wēi’s face and drawing him in for a kiss. “I’m so glad you’re both alright.”

Shěn Wēi could lose himself in that kiss, but he’s sure that he smells of smoke, and he needs to check on Dìdì. Nodding he lets his nose brush against Zhào Yúnlán’s in a comforting nuzzle before he steps into the washroom.

Turning the water on serves to both call up steam and cover his voice as he coaxes his twin out from under his collar. “I need to clean up, and so do you, Dìdì. Do you want me to fill the sink for you?”

The slate dragon reluctantly crawls down Shěn Wēi’s arm to the edge of the sink and balls himself up, one slitted eye peeking up.

“We don’t have to talk about it, but I need to know that you’re alright. Do you want to come into the shower with me, or bathe in the sink? Do you want to change back?”

“Bath,” Dìdì’s voice comes out in a croak.

Shěn Wēi fiddles with the taps to get the right temperature and then plugs the sink to let it fill. “Do you want help?”

The dragon’s head swings back and forth in a definite “no.” “Go shower, Gēgē. I’ll be fine.” Then he dives into the water and swishes himself about with a pleased churr.

They’d both liked swimming in their dragon form when they were children, and Dìdì always craved the feeling of being clean.

Shěn Wēi strips out of the suit, letting it fall to the floor. He’s content to let it be disposed of—donated, used as rags, he doesn’t care. The shower feels wonderful.

When Shěn Wēi steps out to dry off, he sees that a small grey cat is curled up by the bathroom’s heater.

The cat follows him out of the bathroom, into the bedroom, staying nearby as Shěn Wēi dresses in comfortable clothes. Then they both walk into the kitchen where Zhào Yúnlán is waiting, phone out beside him on the breakfast bar.

“Sit. Eat.”

Shěn Wēi sits, picking up his spoon as ordered. Zhào Yúnlán has containers of soup, nourishing, gentle, portioned out into bowls. Dìdì jumps up into his lap and curls up, nuzzling his nose against Shěn Wēi’s stomach. Shěn Wēi doesn’t protest, and lets Zhào Yúnlán hold his hand in silent understanding.

“Fire’s out,” Zhào Yúnlán tells them as he watches Shěn Wēi eat. “No one is severely injured. It looks like the fire started in the kitchen. Someone forgot to put water in their noodle cup, started a fire in the microwave, and then spread it trying to put it out incorrectly.”

Nodding, Shěn Wēi realizes he’s not surprised. It is a common enough occurrence for students to set off fire alarms using the microwave.

“You and Yè Zūn will need to give statements at the fire station tomorrow, but it doesn’t have to be early. I’ve already called you in sick to the University.”

Shěn Wēi squeezes the hand in his in gratitude.

“And I know you’re listening, Yè Zūn. We won’t ask you any questions; you can tell us or not, whenever you’re ready. But you don’t need to hide your dragon, either.”

The cat’s grey head pokes up above the table so that he can glare at Zhào Yúnlán before snuggling back into Shěn Wēi’s lap.

Zhào Yúnlán laughs, and Shěn Wēi smiles, feeling something loosen in his chest.