Actions

Work Header

Scales

Work Text:

*

Objectively speaking, having a dragon boyfriend is seriously cool, and comes with a side-helping of good cooking and cleaning services. Though that might just be a having Shen Wei as a boyfriend thing, rather than anything strictly related to him being a dragon.

On the downside, it also comes with said boyfriend telling him out of the blue that he’ll be going away for a whole week to some mountain somewhere, alone. Now, Zhao Yunlan knows that Shen Wei is more than capable of looking after himself – is, in fact, possibly the most potentially terrifying being on the planet. Rationally, he knows that. But Shen Wei is also currently curled up on Zhao Yunlan’s lap in his tiny dragon form, looking up at him with big eyes, which give such an impression of harmlessness and vulnerability that Zhao Yunlan is having some trouble with this whole concept. On a feelings level. Before Shen Wei, he’s pretty certain that level hadn’t even existed, but just a few months of basically living together have made it pretty damn clear that it’s never going away again.

Shen Wei blinks slowly, taking in Zhao Yunlan’s expression, and then his form blurs for a split second until Zhao Yunlan finds himself with a full-grown Dixingren in his lap. For all his fussiness in other areas, Shen Wei is often strangely unselfconscious around Zhao Yunlan. He merely adjusts his legs a little and loops his arms around the back of Zhao Yunlan’s shoulders, settling in more securely.

“I know the timing isn’t ideal,” he says quietly. From this close, Zhao Yunlan could count every single eyelash as they dip towards Shen Wei’s cheeks. “But it must be now. I always take this week off every year.”

He isn’t wrong. With Zhu Jiu still being an increasingly pesky irritant, two Hallows at the SID and two more missing but presumably not far behind, the timing really could be better.

“Is this a Heipaoshi thing? Or a dragon thing?”

Shen Wei heaves a tiny sigh – at the phrasing rather than the question itself, Zhao Yunlan is pretty sure.

“The latter. We used to be a wandering people, more so than the Crows, Snakes and Flowers, so a meeting place was established. Once a year, those who could congregated there to remember the past year and inscribe new stories into memory.”

For all that their faces are bare inches apart, the look in Shen Wei’s eyes is remote, seeing into a past Zhao Yunlan can’t even imagine. Zhao Yunlan swallows around the lump in his throat.

“And you still go every year.”

The distant look fades, replaced by sadness as clear as the summer sky outside. Shen Wei dips his head. “I still go every year. There are no more stories to tell, but someone should remember those that were.”

He can’t help himself anymore. Zhao Yunlan leans forward, at the same time tugging Shen Wei’s waist towards himself, and draws Shen Wei into a tight hug. Shen Wei’s surprised huff of air tickles at Zhao Yunlan’s ear.

They stay like that for a while, chests pressing together with every breath. Then Zhao Yunlan’s arms empty and a small dragon winds itself around his neck, trilling softly and rubbing his head and horns along Zhao Yunlan’s jaw.

“All right, so, important yearly ritual, that’s fine. But unless it’s too private to share, I’m coming with you.”

The trilling stops. Pinpricks of pressure sink into Zhao Yunlan’s skin as Shen Wei launches himself off his shoulder, so he can hover in front of him instead, hitting Zhao Yunlan with a wide-eyed stare of concentrated worry.

“Seriously, Xiao Wei, if this is a dragons only type of thing, I won’t badger you about it.” Zhao Yunlan reaches out to draw a gentle finger along Shen Wei’s neck. “But I would like to learn of your history, if you’re willing to share it, and I know you’ll keep me safe.”

Shen Wei blinks, muzzle twitching and horns swaying. After a long moment, he sneezes out a tiny cloud, which Zhao Yunlan takes as agreement.

*

“Dress warmly,” Shen Wei warns. “The mountain isn’t hospitable to humans.”

Zhao Yunlan grimaces at his back. Dragon City never really gets that cold, so his wardrobe doesn’t have anything in it that can deal with below freezing temperatures. Eventually he picks out his warmest jacket and puts on running tights beneath his jeans. At least he has hiking boots and thick socks, which should do well enough.

Shen Wei comes back in, takes one look at Zhao Yunlan’s choice, and rummages around in his part of the closet so he can push a long, heavy coat in a deep blue onto him instead.

Zhao Yunlan gives it a little thoughtful shake. “Do you miss being able to wear robes all the time?”

“They are a practical garment,” Shen Wei says, which means yes.

Grinning to himself, Zhao Yunlan shrugs on the coat, which turns out to be quite comfortable but almost oppressively warm in the comfortable surroundings of his apartment. On the other hand, when he looks up again, Shen Wei is staring at him, eyes focused on where Zhao Yunlan’s hands are peeking out from the black wool sleeves with an intensity that’s a lot more draconic than human.

Huh, so Shen Wei likes Zhao Yunlan wearing his clothes. His grin widens – something to consider in future.

“Should I bring anything else?” he asks, probably sounding exactly as smug as he feels.

Shen Wei doesn’t seem to notice his tone, or if he does, shows no reaction beyond blinking slowly in a way that Zhao Yunlan is pretty sure has more to do with the way Zhao Yunlan’s fingertips are worrying the fabric of the coat. “No. You won’t be there long.”

He almost protests, but thinks better of it. This is important to Shen Wei – he should rein in his curiosity.

Shen Wei’s arm settles around his waist with a distinctly proprietary air as he gestures with his other hand. Zhao Yunlan has travelled through enough portals with him by now to be mostly used to the sensation, but it never does fail to make him feel a little off kilter, like all his hair wants to bristle.

He takes a deep breath and steps forward in tandem with Shen Wei.

The portal spits them out in an icy middle of nowhere. Zhao Yunlan shivers reflexively, pulling Shen Wei’s coat closer around himself. The view is dominated by a large, white-tipped mountain. When he glances to the side, Zhao Yunlan finds Shen Wei’s eyes riveted on the peak, expression unreadable.

Zhao Yunlan lets him have a few moments, but when it doesn’t look like Shen Wei is going to move any time soon, he asks, “Are we there?”

Shen Wei turns, and there’s already something dragon-like to his eyes. Usually he’s very much either or in terms of physical appearance, but something about the locality seems to be affecting him already. Zhao Yunlan half expects his horns to rise from the hair ruffling in the stiff breeze.

“No. Most Yashou living places have subtle defences woven into the earth. Approaching takes some care.”

Zhao Yunlan raises a brow at this new piece of information. “Is that how the Snake Tribe can live so close to Dragon City without humans stumbling into their lands all the time?”

“It is.” Shen Wei’s lips quirk. “The Dragon Tribe’s measures were merely a little more specific. One needs to be able to fly to reach the meeting place.”

He supposes that makes sense, for a flying species. The only problem being that Zhao Yunlan very much can’t fly.

The air warps, Shen Wei’s Dixingren form swirling into the dark blue dragon Zhao Yunlan has had many – enthusiastically taken – chances to admire from up close by now. He’s a little bigger than Zhao Yunlan has previously seen though, head rising well above Zhao Yunlan’s.

“I will carry you,” Shen Wei rumbles, those unearthly tones in his dragon voice never failing to send shivers down Zhao Yunlan’s spine.

Zhao Yunlan reaches out instinctively, hand tangling in part of Shen Wei’s silky ruff in a way that elicits a pleased trill. From there, he hesitates. Firstly, much as he trusts Shen Wei, it doesn’t seem entirely safe to ride him – Shen Wei may be strong, but his body is slender and there’s no obvious place someone could… sit. Secondly, it doesn’t seem entirely respectful to even think about sitting astride Shen Wei in this form (Zhao Yunlan has no such hang-ups with his Dixingren form). Even after months, there’s still a little nugget of lingering awe when he beholds Shen Wei as a dragon. He doesn’t blame himself for it, either. Who in their right minds wouldn’t be awed by a real-life dragon?

On the other hand, surely Shen Wei wouldn’t have offered if he weren’t fine with it, and it’s already abundantly clear that he’d rather gnaw off his own claw than have harm come to Zhao Yunlan, so.

“Are you sure?” Zhao Yunlan can’t help asking nonetheless, seeking reassurance.

Shen Wei’s head turns, gold eyes blinking solemnly before his head dips to snuffle warm breath into Zhao Yunlan’s hair. “Freely offered,” he says, the words echoing with a weight Zhao Yunlan doesn’t understand and probably never will. So much of Shen Wei’s cultural context is long gone, never to be understood by anyone else.

Zhao Yunlan nods, briefly reaching up to smooth a hand along Shen Wei’s soft snout. “Then how do I do this?”

Shen Wei’s snout nudges him forward. “Sit in front of my forelegs and hold on. I’ll do the rest.” A big golden eye catches his gaze. “I won’t let you fall, Yunlan.”

“I trust you,” Zhao Yunlan says simply and swings his leg across Shen Wei’s body. It’s an awkward position while they’re not yet in the air, still half squatting on the ground, but as soon as he wraps his arms around Shen Wei’s neck, Shen Wei rears, pushing off in one smooth movement.

A yelp of shock gets stuck in Zhao Yunlan’s throat, air tearing from his lungs at the speed they’re ascending into the sky. Yet Shen Wei’s movements are so smooth, smoother than any bird could possibly fly, that Zhao Yunlan wouldn’t know they were in the air were it not for the rushing wind and the view all around. It’s a good thing he doesn’t mind heights. It’s also a good thing that Shen Wei’s scales are warm all along his front, because it really is fucking cold and only getting colder as they ascend. Too cold to really enjoy the no doubt majestic view – maybe he can convince Shen Wei to do this in a warmer climate at some point? Zhao Yunlan turns his face into the coat collar and Shen Wei’s ruff to hide from the icy sting of the air.

He misses the approach, only raising his head when Shen Wei’s body angles a bare breath before they land on a stretch of open rock just below the snow line.

It takes his legs a moment to remember how to work, but eventually he manages to slide off Shen Wei’s back, wobbling only a little on the strangely even ground. In front of them, the mountain opens into a tunnel so smooth it can’t be natural – not that the quiet, warm glow emitting from its depths, or the elaborate carvings around the stone edge, in a language Zhao Yunlan can’t decipher, wouldn’t have given that away anyway.

“Shen Wei?”

Much as Zhao Yunlan would like to get out of the wind, he doesn’t want to make a misstep here, on Shen Wei’s ancient home ground. Shen Wei rumbles an acknowledgement that has the light briefly flare brighter – in reaction to his voice, or perhaps his dark energy? If Zhao Yunlan had needed further clues that this is no ordinary place, that would have done it – and moves forward. Zhao Yunlan follows, watching as Shen Wei’s dragon form grows a little smaller to more comfortably fit into the tunnel.

The air warms with every step, going from ‘freezing cold, fuck’ to ‘cold but bearable’ in the few steps it takes to reach the large chamber that must be the heart of the meeting place. If Zhao Yunlan hadn’t seen just how massive the mountain is from the outside, he wouldn’t have credited there being enough space this far up to accommodate a circular room of such vast size.

Veins of orange-golden stones run all across the walls and ceiling, the cause of the warm light, giving the entire space an otherworldly appearance that not even the best effects budget could manage in a movie or TV show. The way the light plays across Shen Wei’s scales, glimmering flames of blue and gold and orange playing around his body, is enough to arrest anyone’s breath.

But Shen Wei moves forward, carefully stepping down the three long shallow steps to the large slightly sunken circular area in the middle, and in following Zhao Yunlan’s gaze is caught by the scrolls upon scrolls resting all along the outer circumference of the chamber in a continuous inset alcove that comes up to about Zhao Yunlan’s chest. Leather, bamboo, paper, even a few materials he doesn’t recognise – if he isn’t mistaken, all of them bearing stories of dragon lives past. Inscribe new stories into memory, Shen Wei had said, but clearly the Dragon Tribe hadn’t left their oral heritage only to their memories. No wonder this place is special to Shen Wei; on top of the connection to his own people, there’s so much history, so much knowledge, that it must be close to heaven for a scholar like Shen Wei.

Just as Zhao Yunlan starts wondering whether there’s anything he should be doing to show respect – why hadn’t he thought to ask Shen Wei this beforehand? – Shen Wei reaches the very centre of the room and rears up, form growing until his body describes one vertical line and his snout reaches the ceiling. As soon as it touches the rock, light flares, brighter than the previous illumination, the previously dark centre spot of the ceiling glowing white before settling into a slightly more muted blue, almost the same colour as Shen Wei’s scales, that mingles with the gold and orange until the whole space is lit.

Then Shen Wei drops back to all fours, unnaturally graceful and light, and Zhao Yunlan swallows past a sudden lump in his throat. It’s one thing to see Shen Wei in the utterly mundane surroundings of Zhao Yunlan’s apartment, blending in to a degree. Here, in this setting, it’s absolutely inescapable that Shen Wei is old and might as well have stepped out of a myth, so far is he beyond the ordinary.

Zhao Yunlan has always done all right in the self confidence department, but it’s a little hard to stand among all this splendour and not feel inadequate.

Perhaps Shen Wei picks up on his mood, or perhaps this is what he always does, but in the process of turning towards Zhao Yunlan he transforms again, until it’s Shen Wei the professor standing in front of him, sleeve garters and all. Not even wearing a jacket.

“Aren’t you cold?” Zhao Yunlan blurts out and Shen Wei’s face creases into a smile.

Shen Wei stretches out a hand and Zhao Yunlan lays his palm over the one offered without thought. Shen Wei’s skin feels utterly normal, smooth and calloused in turns, a little cool but no more so than usual, blood pulsing through veins in the same ways it does for any human.

“The cold doesn’t bother me.”

With a gentle tug, Shen Wei leads Zhao Yunlan to one side of the chamber, gaze trailing over the markings carved into the rock above the scroll shelves. Dates, perhaps?

“All this” – Zhao Yunlan waves a hand to indicate the space, just as Shen Wei picks up a scroll that looks pretty much like any other to Zhao Yunlan’s untrained eyes – “why?”

As far as he’s aware none of the other Yashou tribes have anything like this and nor does Dixing. Why did the dragons go to such lengths to immortalise their legacy?

Shen Wei’s gaze drops and he sighs, sadness tugging at his lips. He steps forward, folding to sit on one of the steps leading down to the centre of the chamber. Zhao Yunlan immediately plops himself down next to him.

“There were a few half dragons, half Dixingren like me, all extremely powerful. I haven’t managed to isolate why the combination of those species seems to be so fruitful in terms of energy levels, but the records show it was. One of them had a power of foresight. She told the Elder at the time that the Dragon Tribe would one day extinguish – it was decided that while that fate could not be averted, what we could do was preserve our history. Either for those who survived or for our sibling Yashou.”

Wordlessly, Zhao Yunlan shifts closer, offering what little his presence might do to allay that deep sadness. Shen Wei’s grip tightens on his waist, drawing Zhao Yunlan closer to his body still.

“Have you ever thought about transcribing all this? So that there’s more than one copy, should something happen to this place?”

Shen Wei’s shoulder twitches under Zhao Yunlan’s head. “It would be the project of a lifetime. I couldn’t bear to bring anyone but you here, Yunlan.”

And neither would he remove the scrolls, which belong to this space and have done for millennia.

Zhao Yunlan bites his tongue to stop from offering other options. Scanning technology might do what Shen Wei needs, but right now isn’t the time to bring it up. He could always float the idea once they’re back home and Shen Wei seems a little less… brittle.

He keeps leaning quietly into Shen Wei as Shen Wei reads his scroll, breathing in tandem, and when the day starts to make way for night, he doesn’t argue about being flown back down the mountain and sent back to Dragon City via portal. The SID needs him too, and Shen Wei hadn’t been kidding when he’d said the space wasn’t meant for humans – Zhao Yunlan might be able to survive there for a week, but it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience, without supplies to boot.

Besides, he wouldn’t begrudge Shen Wei needing a little space with the past.

*

It’s not that Zhao Yunlan isn’t suspicious of the reports of a possibly Dixing-related disturbance in an out-of-the-way warehouse that has trap written all over it, but they still need to investigate it either way. Especially with how much trouble Zhu Jiu has been stirring up after losing out on the Mountain-River Awl. If Shen Wei were here, Zhao Yunlan might’ve called Heipaoshi in for backup – if they had just a couple more field agents it wouldn’t be a problem, but with only him, Da Qing, and Lao Chu really qualified… well, he doesn’t want to put anyone at risk – but Shen Wei is still in the mountains for another two days and Zhao Yunlan wouldn’t interrupt his one week up there a year without damn good reason. It might still all be a false alarm after all.

He leaves Xiao Guo back at headquarters though. Zhu Hong glares until he agrees on letting her come along, on the basis that Zhu Hong can look after herself (read: stomp the unsuspecting under her heels) even if she isn’t an official field agent. So it’s four of them cautiously making their way into the warehouse, all bare cement and shadowed corners.

It’s far too quiet, given that they were alerted in the first place by someone reporting ‘strange noises and lights’ in the area. The chances that this is a trap are steadily climbing. Zhao Yunlan grits his teeth, exchanging a speaking look with Chu Shuzhi, who looks grimly determined. Well, he almost always looks grimly determined, but he doesn’t normally have dark energy sparking around his fingers in readiness. Zhao Yunlan’s own hand is sitting on the dark energy gun under his jacket.

Da Qing sniffs at the air, eyes narrowing. “Lao Zhao, there were definitely Crows here recently.”

“Crows?” Zhao Yunlan repeats, mind racing back to the lone crow that kept following them around on the writer case. “Yashou?”

Da Qing nods, but before he an add anything else, his head flies around. “Boss – !”

Crows swoop into the space from all sides, small bodies so fast and nimble as they circle that even getting his gun drawn isn’t of much help to Zhao Yunlan, unless he wants to start firing randomly in the hopes of hitting one of them.

Predictably, Zhu Jiu pops into existence next, grating laugh bouncing off the bare walls. Next to him stands a stern-looking woman in the gothest outfit Zhao Yunlan has seen in a while. The Crow leader, presumably.

He barely listens to the gloating exclamations Zhu Jiu is spouting – the Guardian has fallen into my trap blab la you will all die bla bla – busy evaluating their chances and possible escape routes. There are at least fifteen crows plus the two leaders, which isn’t great odds, especially given that Lao Chu is their only really good fighter. Zhao Yunlan is no slouch, and Da Qing and Zhu Hong can each do a lot of damage, but none of them are really trained for it – particularly not the busy melee this situation could turn into. Their best chance is to create an opening and retreat before someone gets hurt.

He exchanges a grim look with Chu Shuzhi, who seems to have come to a similar conclusion, for he jerks his head towards the door on their left. Zhao Yunlan nods, just as Zhu Jiu winds down his speech.

They make a break for it, Chu Shuzhi at the front, flinging strings like there’s no tomorrow, and Zhao Yunlan at the back, trying to simultaneously keep aiming his gun and usher Zhu Hong and Da Qing forwards. For a brief moment it looks like they might succeed, but then the Crows close ranks around them, half of them transforming into human shape as the other half keeps swirling in maddening arcs.

On the plus side, Zhao Yunlan finally has something to aim for. On the downside, they all have swords.

He hits one of the attackers in the arm before they rush in and he has to duck to keep his head on his shoulders. Up close, swords (and who even fights with swords anymore anyway?) are less of an advantage – once he’s on the inside of the swing, Zhao Yunlan stomps down on the attacker’s foot, eliciting an audible noise of pain, and uses the non-sword arm as leverage to push the guy into the Crow next to him. Both curse, turning angry glares on Zhao Yunlan, who has to scramble backwards to avoid the next swing, blade whistling through the air a few inches in front of his face.

In an instinctive effort to minimise vulnerabilities, he ends up back to back with Chu Shuzhi, Da Qing and Zhu Hong in a similar position on their left. They’re not quite overwhelmed yet, but if Zhu Jiu at any point deigns to interfere, they’re cooked. Bright red energy spills from Zhu Hong, and Zhao Yunlan would wince in sympathy for the poor guy she just kicked square in the nuts if he weren’t busy using the distraction she provided to shoot two more of the swirling Crows. Feathers tumble amid harsh cawing, caught in other wings’ drafts and making it even harder to get a clear view of the struggle.

Zhao Yunlan doesn’t even see the blow coming – possibly because the Crow who snuck up on him ditched his far more noticeable sword to just attack bare-handed. He does see Da Qing jumping into the attacker’s arm with a snarl before the blow can connect, clawing at the poor Crow’s face. The Crow falls back, shrieking, leaving Da Qing free to bound back to Zhu Hong. A line of electric blue shoots out and trips another attacker as Chu Shuzhi jerks it back. The Crows in human form are thinning out, but Zhao Yunlan is worried about those still swirling overhead, not to mention Zhu Jiu, whose laziness must surely come to an end eventually.

“We need backup!” Zhao Yunlan shout-hisses at Chu Shuzhi, taking advantage of the brief lull. Already, more of the whirling Crows, who Zhao Yunlan is pretty sure at this point were mostly there to keep them from escaping, land on two legs.

“Cover me!” Chu Shuzhi snarls and Zhao Yunlan bites his tongue on the exasperated question of how exactly he’s supposed to do that when staying alive himself is all he can manage. But Zhu Hong is already shifting to the side to half cover Lao Chu, Da Qing moving with her, hissing at a Crow so viciously the Crow actually takes a step back, arm still lifted.

Then Chu Shuzhi grunts in pain and Zhao Yunlan’s head jerks around, gaze snapping to the black dart just barely sticking out of Chu Shuzhi’s shoulder and then down to find Chu Shuzhi’s left hand clutching a burning talisman.

The grin on Chu Shuzhi’s face as the last of the ashes float to the ground is bloody and vicious in equal measure.

One heartbeat. Two.

Everyone is staring at the small pile of ashes.

And then Shen Wei drops out of nowhere with a roar that shakes the walls.

Scales flash all around them, drawing a tight circle with them safely in the middle because Shen Wei is big, bigger than Zhao Yunlan has ever seen him. His normally slender body circumference now towers above all their heads, cutting off their view of the assailants.

If the noises are anything to go by, that’s not something they need to worry about. In fact, Zhao Yunlan is pretty sure the broken off shout and following thump are the extremely satisfying noises of Zhu Jiu getting absolutely flattened by a massive tail. Somewhere beyond the impenetrable wall of Shen Wei’s scales, rock crumbles – are some of the walls falling? Zhao Yunlan quickly glances up at the ceiling and finds quite a lot of Shen Wei still in his vision, but no sign that he’s planning to outgrow even that.

He resists the urge to reach out and lay a hand on scales he’s used to being much smaller – his hand wouldn’t even span a single scale now. Shen Wei might be distracted by the feeling and Zhao Yunlan isn’t going to risk it. Besides the expressions on Chu Shuzhi and Zhu Hong’s face – as close to open-mouthed shock as he’s ever seen on either of them – are plenty to distract himself with. Though Zhao Yunlan does reflect, with a little bit of regret, that Shen Wei is going to have to work extra hard if he wants to have them act anything approaching normal around him ever again.

It takes a moment for the lack of noises to register.

“All done then?” Zhao Yunlan asks the air, and grins at Shen Wei’s acknowledging rumble.

The wall of scaled body shifts, opening the circle. Zhao Yunlan steps forward first, and even more used to Shen Wei’s dragon form as he is, he has to blink a little at finding a head nearly as big as he is hovering over the indeed very flattened body of Zhu Jiu (unconscious), a massive claw casually pressing the stern Crow (conscious) into the concrete.

If it were anyone but Shen Wei, Zhao Yunlan would echo the fear that’s stark in her expression. But Shen Wei’s golden eyes, when they land on him, are as warm as ever and the tip of his tail that nudges around Zhao Yunlan’s shoulders is as gentle as ever.

There’s a startled intake of breath behind him at the gesture, but Zhao Yunlan pays it no mind, and Shen Wei, too, is turning back to the Crow he’s pinning to the ground.

“Elder Ya,” he rumbles. Coming from this big a creature, the sound of his voice trembles through Zhao Yunlan’s bones, a deep resonance that sets his skin buzzing. “I have no wish to meddle with the affairs of other Yashou, but if you persist in harrying the SID and coveting the Hallows, I will intervene.”

Zhao Yunlan’s estimation of the Elder rises a few notches when, face white and shaking, she still manages to pull herself together enough to answer with some measure of defiance. “Was there ever any other outcome, Heipaoshi? The snakes are as good as your cousins and it’s well known you’re friendly with the Flower Tribe, but you’ve never given the Crow Tribe much heed.”

Shen Wei’s nostrils flare. “When I approached your Elder after my awakening, I was shunned for choosing to live hidden among the humans. I would’ve been pleased to be friendly with the Crow Tribe as well, then as now. Peacefully.”

Going by her expression, this is news to the Crow Elder, her fingers curling against the concrete as if to make a fist.

“Peaceful?” she spits. “So you would have us keep retreating from the spread of humans, keep dying at their hands, until there’s a few of us left, cowering in the far corners of the world?”

Shen Wei cocks his great head, eyes blinking lazily. “Is that what Ye Zun promised you? A place in his new world order?”

Elder Ya remains silent, lips pressed tightly together.

“He won’t deliver, you know.” Shen Wei sounds almost clinical. “Not once you’ve outlived your usefulness to him. As the one who knows him best, that much I can guarantee you.”

The silver claw that had been pressing her down shifts, landing right next to her body instead. Shen Wei waits as she shakily gets to her feet. Zhao Yunlan’s respect increases further. It’s no small doing to be able to stand after being pressed to the ground by a few metric tonnes of dragon and then look said dragon square in the face.

“I’m not unsympathetic to your plight, Elder Ya,” Shen Wei says, and for the first time Zhao Yunlan consciously considers how it never seems like he could lie in dragon form. There’s just too much… gravitas. “But I have lived through a war and the only solution it offered was death, particularly to those who did not deserve it. Co-existence with humans is inevitable – if you wish to think about non-violent ways to improve your tribe’s position, contact me.”

Elder Ya keeps staring up at him for a long moment, then nods. She transform in a shower of feathers, and Shen Wei does nothing to stop her flight.

Shen Wei’s gaze shifts to Zhao Yunlan and then further to Chu Shuzhi, Zhu Hong and Da Qing. “Leave the Crows,” he instructs, tail flicking to indicate the bodies in varying states of unconsciousness. Zhao Yunlan is almost certain that none of them are actually dead, which is the sort of stunning control he has come to expect from Shen Wei.

As Zhao Yunlan steps forward to handcuff the limp form of Zhu Jiu, he sees Chu Shuzhi bow deeply out of the corner of his eye.

“Daren.”

Shen Wei dips his massive head in return, probably giving Lao Chu half a heart attack in the doing.

“My thanks, for keeping Zhao Yunlan safe and calling for me, Chu Shuzhi.”

Chu Shuzhi looks like he can’t quite decide whether it’s sacrilege or heaven to receive such thanks. “It was my honour, Daren.”

Shen Wei rumbles again. Zhao Yunlan is starting to suspect that particular modulation means more than is quite interpretable, but is thoroughly distracted from that line of thought by Shen Wei’s head swinging back towards him.

“I may… need some assistance getting home,” Shen Wei says – which may be the most concerning thing he has ever said to Zhao Yunlan – and his form is already blurring, meters upon meters of scales disappearing into nothingness.

Zhao Yunlan expects his tiny dragon form, perhaps, or just something smaller, but instead it’s Shen Wei’s Dixingren body that folds towards the ground. Shoving the whys aside for another time, Zhao Yunlan jumps forward to catch him, grunting a little under Shen Wei’s weight but managing to keep them both from falling as Shen Wei’s head pillows on his shoulder. His eyes are open still, and clear of pain as far as Zhao Yunlan can tell, a small smile playing on his lips – whether due to finding himself in Zhao Yunlan’s arms or the successful conclusion to an incident that could well have turned out far worse unclear to anyone but him.

*

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Zhao Yunlan can’t help asking for the second – ok, fine, it’s the third – time.

Shen Wei closes the bathroom door behind himself and gives Zhao Yunlan a Look. He seems fine, expression calm and no hint of pain or fatigue in his motions. But Zhao Yunlan has already learned that Shen Wei is horrifyingly good at hiding those things if he wants to.

Something of his true worry must have shown in his expression, for Shen Wei sighs, audible over the quiet whistle of wind as a localised gust dries his hands. “I was merely tired. It’s a natural consequences of maintaining a form that large for so long. While some measure of size shifting comes naturally to us, the extremes require a lot of energy.”

Zhao Yunlan blinks. “Isn’t your favourite small form quite extreme?”

“Not proportionally,” Shen Wei says, a hint of the professor creeping into his intonation. “The equivalent of the size I was today in the other direction would be perhaps as big as a finger. Besides, dragons do grow from childhood, like most beings, and the body remembers that shape.”

Bodies remembering childhood shapes? Zhao Yunlan isn’t sure that makes any more sense, but it’s not like he’s got much of a clue. He squints a little, drawing his gaze over Shen Wei’s Dixingren form again.

“And that loss of energy doesn’t pass over to your other form?”

Shen Wei smiles approvingly. “Not directly. The mental strain lingers, but the physical energy stores are different.”

Zhao Yunlan resists the urge to whistle. In effect, Shen Wei can exhaust his powers in one form, and then switch to the other. Very handy – not that he wants Shen Wei to be in a position where he has to do that.

Speaking of Shen Wei’s awesomeness –

“I’m apologising in advance for how my team is undoubtedly going to behave next time you drop by the SID.”

Shen Wei’s brows knit together pensively, but he doesn’t look surprised. “I had hoped to avoid such… awkwardness,” he says softly, “but perhaps that was too optimistic.”

Suddenly Shen Wei looks far too alone all the way at the other end of the living room, and Zhao Yunlan is already moving forward before he his mouth gets in gear.

“Xiao Wei,” he says, leaning into Shen Wei’s arm, “they’ll definitely get over it. They’re a shameless bunch, after all. It might just take a little while.”

Shen Wei nods, effortlessly taking Zhao Yunlan’s weight.

Eventually Zhao Yunlan shifts back again so he can catch Shen Wei’s gaze. “I’m sorry this whole thing interrupted your week in the mountains. Do you want to go back?”

“Is that why you didn’t call me?” Shen Wei asks, gaze turning thunderous. “A yearly ritual isn’t nearly as important as your life.”

Zhao Yunlan winces because, yes, he probably should’ve seen that coming. “We didn’t know it would be that bad. We didn’t even know it’d be anything, to be honest.”

Shen Wei’s steely gaze doesn’t yield an inch. Zhao Yunlan sighs gustily, gesturing with both hands. “Lao Chu did call you, if you’d forgotten. It all worked out fine.”

“And why exactly did it have to be him who called me?” Shen Wei asks frostily.

Zhao Yunlan ducks his head a little, scratching at the back of his neck. “Because you don’t have a phone? And there wasn’t any signal on the mountain anyway?”

“That’s what the incense is for,” Shen Wei says, and somehow the steeliness is morphing into something pained and vulnerable. Zhao Yunlan is terrible at saying no to Shen Wei when in small dragon form, turning those wide, pleading eyes on him, but it turns out Shen Wei is entirely capable of making a similarly effective face in this form, eyes glimmering wetly.

He definitely knows what he’s doing, the sneak, but damn if it isn’t working anyway.

Another second passes, and Zhao Yunlan caves like a soggy house of cards – unimpressively and with a splat.

“All right, all right, put those eyes away, I’ll take an incense cone with me from now on.” He crosses his arms across his chest, feeling just a little petulant at having been outplayed at a game he himself excels at. “Happy?”

“Immensely,” Shen Wei says dryly. His expression barely changes, and yet somehow any sense of pleading vulnerability has thoroughly disappeared. “I’m always pleased to hear you’re exerting the bare minimum of effort to keep yourself alive.”

Zhao Yunlan shrugs expansively. “Who needs effort when they have a dragon boyfriend?”

The growl with which Shen Wei reels him in close is more than a little inhuman. Zhao Yunlan grins.