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foxxian pauses in the middle of trying to fish three stubborn babies out from inside his shirt. he holds his breath, waiting for dragonji's answer. "This," dragonji glances at him, "is Wei Ying." the man waits, as if expecting more. "I… see," he finally says.

the man strokes his beard. "The Cloud Recesses welcomes you, Wei Ying. I am Lan Qiren, uncle to His Majesty and the Second Prince." foxxian bows. from within his shirt, one of the babies growls. "Oh my gosh, my apologies," foxxian sputters. "They're just a little nervous."
"No apologies needed. It is understandable," lqr says, although he's frowning. "You must be tired. We'll have another bed set up in Wangji's jingshi, then you may retire for the day." foxxian bows again, then sticks close as dragonji leads them down a path.
the cloud recesses is much larger than lotus pier. the buildings are clearly designed with dragons in mind; they are massive, with ceilings that seem to scrape the skies, and paths so wide that they could fit ten horse-carts side by side. foxxian feels incredibly tiny.
the babies, braver now that they're alone, tumbles out from foxxian's shirt to go explore. they fly around—licking, nibbling, and bonking their heads on whatever is closest to them. "Is that normal?" foxxian asks weakly. dragonji considers this for a while. "For the moment."
foxxian gives a snort-chuckle at that. dragonji blinks at the sound, then turns his head away, the tips of his ears pink. the jingshi is in a secluded part of the cloud recesses and is surprisingly small. human-sized. the interior smells comfortingly of dragonji.
the babies make a beeline for dragonji's neatly-made, wrinkle-free bed. within seconds, they mess it up, wriggling their way through the soft fabric and tracking dusty pawprints all over the pristine sheets. "Oh." foxxian's shoulders sag. "Sorry. I can, um, I can wash that."
"No need." dragonji plucks each baby off of the bed. "I'll bathe them." foxxian waits for him to pull out a bathtub or step into another room. instead, dragonji takes them outside. "There's a Cold Spring nearby," dragonji explains on the way there. "It will be good for them."
the babies squeal their distress as dragonji carries them into the cold springs. "The cold is not harming them," dragonji reassures foxxian as he thoroughly washes each baby. foxxian stays on the shore, trying not to think about how see-through dragonji's wet robes are.
dragons are not shapeshifters at heart. they may change their form, but parts of them will always remain dragon. parts of dragonji's shoulders retain their scales, shining opalescent and blending seamlessly into human skin at dragonji's chest. foxxian swallows carefully.
he does not remember much of their coupling; it's mostly sensations: the scent of sandalwood, the heat of another body, the maddening caress of lips along his neck. foxxian wonders if he'd kissed those scales, gazed into those eyes, or dug his fingers into those shoulders.
it's difficult to imagine doing so now. dragonji is a good partner, but they are not—close. their children tie them together, and little else. if they were left alone together, foxxian imagines it would be awkward. foxxian hugs his knees and forces himself to watch the babies.
the youngest, rotund one is—predictably—a baba's boy. he finishes his bath with minimal grumbling and gets deposited on the banks by dragonji. after shaking himself out, the baby waddles over to foxxian and, still wet, crawls into foxxian's lap for miserable cuddles.
the eldest is next, most likely because the middle one has bandages and will require more time to wash. the baby wails his grievance to the universe as dragonji patiently explains to him why he needs to retract his little fox claws from dragonji's robe.
cw: slight blood, no major injuries baby claws are sharp and unused. they scrape harmlessly across dragonji's scales, but dig into his human skin. dragonji doesn't make a sound, not even when tiny spots of red appear on his chest. eventually, the eldest is clean.
cw: slight blood, no major injuries the middle is no better, influenced by his brother's bad behavior. he too fights against his father, shrieking as if dragonji is trying to drown him. he leaves tiny claw marks on dragonji's skin—just enough to bleed a little.
"There we are," dragonji sighs as he hands the middle baby to foxxian and hauls himself out of the spring. foxxian towels the baby off, hyper aware that dragonji is undoing his robes. his back is turned, so foxxian can't see anything, but he's still *undressing*.
foxxian clears his throat before speaking. "Any permanent damage?" "No," dragonji replies. "Just some scrapes." foxxian ties the end of the middle baby's bandages into a small bow. "I have some leftover bandages here, if you need them. Turn around."
dragonji stays silent for the longest time. the stillness drags on. just as foxxian is about to cave to embarrassment and throw the roll of bandages at dragonji's head and tell him to tend to his own wounds, dragonji makes the smallest, shortest "Mn," sound and turns around.
foxxian's breath stops short. the cold springs naturally glow a soft turquoise. the light reflects off of dragonji's skin and scales. the droplets of water cling to his body and hair like tiny, liquid jewels. he looks heaven-crafted, and foxxian almost fears touching him.
but he makes himself. makes himself look down at dragonji's chest. makes himself concentrate on the constellations of scratches and claw imprints in dragonji's skin. makes himself cover them with bandages. dragonji is very near. foxxian can feel his breath on his own forehead.
when the bandages are used up, foxxian dares to raise his head. it is a mistake. the moment foxxian locks eyes with dragonji, he can't look away. he almost doesn't blink. all he can see is gold, gold, looking back at him. dragonji's face doesn't move, but his breaths shake.
distantly, foxxian wonders if it was like this, before. if dragonji had once looked at him like it would tear him apart to look away. if time had stood still for them both. foxxian exhales shakily. dragonji's lips part, barely, almost imperceivably.
foxxian is not aware of leaning in, of tilting his head and closing his eyes. he almost doesn't feel the hand on his waist, or the soft exhale on his mouth. their noses brush, almost too lightly. one of foxxian's hands reaches up to cup dragonji's cheek. their lips touch—
tiny high-pitched growls break out behind them, making dragonji and foxxian whip their heads around. the fox-dragon babies, now dry and fluffy and bored, have decided to play tug-of-war with their father's boots. they snarl and yank a boot around, dragging it through the dirt.
"Ah! No, no, no!" foxxian dives after the babies. dragonji's hand slips off of his waist. "Your father still needs that, you little rascals—" the babies flee, dragging their stolen prize with them. foxxian has to chase them around the cold spring.
when they loop back around, dragonji is finishing up tying a dry robe layer together. he easily stops the babies in their tracks with a well-placed foot. foxxian confiscates the boot back from them. he winces; it's all scuffed and muddy. "It's alright." dragonji takes the boot.
with the boots safely secured and adrenaline fading, a quiet awkwardness settles. dragonji puts his boots back on as foxxian busies himself with rounding up the babies. what was that, back there? they had almost—almost— foxxian feels his ears heat up. oh, heavens.
what was he thinking? he and dragonji aren't—and they were so close to—and the babies were RIGHT THERE, and— foxxian buries his face in his youngest's fur, earning him a questioning 'mmrp?' sound from the baby. he should apologize. yes. that would be the right thing to do.
foxxian takes a deep breath and raises his head. before he can get a single word out, dragonji says, "It's time for supper. I will go get our meals. Do you remember the way back to the jingshi?" "Uh." foxxian closes his mouth. "Um. Yeah. Yeah, I do. I can find my way."
the moment dragonji leaves, foxxian realizes that he, maybe, doesn't remember the way back to the jingshi. it is no big deal; at the very worst, he will just have to ask someone for directions. he sets off in the direction he thinks they came from with an armful of babies.
he's lost within minutes. the cloud recesses buildings are tall and their paths are wide, but everything looks the same. there is also no signage; the lans have no reason to put directions in their own home. foxxian exhales deeply and looks for someone to ask directions.
he spots a white-robed lan walking by in front of them—and in human form, too. foxxian perks up, and jogs over. "Ah, pardon me, Your Lordship," he doesn't know what to address the lan, but he figures 'your lordship' is a safe bet. "Could you please direct me to—" the lan turns.
lqr looks evenly at him. "Good evening, Wei Ying." "Oh," foxxian sputters. "You're Lan Zh—Hanguang-Jun's uncle." "Hm." lqr's brows furrow. "It is late." "I know." foxxian laughs nervously, then stops when lqr's frown deepens. "I, um, I'm a bit lost, actually."
lqr strokes his beard. "Did Wangji not accompany you back to the jingshi?" "No, he went to get our supper." foxxian wrings his hands together. "A-anyways, have a good evening. I should get going." "Wait," lqr sighs, then walks over to him. "I will show you the way."
the walk is very awkward. foxxian is off-balance thanks to the babies all clinging to one side of his body, and lqr keeps his eyes forward. "I trust Wangji is treating you well," lqr says. foxxian heaves one of the babies onto his shoulder. "Oh, yes, he is. Very much so."
"Hm." lqr still doesn't look at him. "Do the children need anything?" "Um," foxxian thinks about it. "Not for now. I wouldn't say no to extra towels and blankets, though." "I will arrange for more to be brought to you," lqr replies.
they fall back to silence. the babies, now just a little more curious than cautious, begin to peek out from behind foxxian. one of them gives a tiny warning growl. lqr responds with clicking sounds from his throat. the growl immediately stops as three pairs of ears perk up.
foxxian seizes the chance. "Would you like to hold them?" he blurts out. lqr nods. "Yes." he holds out his hands. carefully, foxxian deposits each baby into lqr's arms, watching their reactions the whole time. the babies are still cautious, but not scared. they chirp at lqr.
lqr's gaze softens as he clicks more at them, which the babies eagerly echo back at him. the smallest of smiles appears on lqr's lips as he gently touches the youngest one's ears. "I see Wangji has been spending time with them," he says. he says it like he had not expected it.
"Hanguang-Jun is selfless and attentive," foxxian carefully answers. "I have no reason to keep the children from him." lqr doesn't respond to that. he strokes each baby from their nose to their tail, inspecting. he stops at the middle one's bandages. "What happened here?"
foxxian winces. he cannot bring himself to lie. "I wasn't careful enough," he admits. "A hawk got him. Hanguang-Jun had to rescue him." lqr presses ever-so-gently on the bandages. the wounds underneath are almost fully healed, and there is no pain. the baby licks lqr's wrist.
"You must have been terrified," lqr says to foxxian as he scratches under the middle baby's chin. "He is so small." foxxian's eyes sting. "Yeah," he chokes as tears cloud his vision. "It was—yeah." lqr mercifully doesn't look at him and continues walking alongside him.
when they arrive at the jingshi, dragonji is already there, searching around the perimeter of the house. when he spots them, he hurries over. "Shufu," he bows to lqr. "Thank you for escorting Wei Ying back." "It is of no trouble," lqr replies.
the next few minutes are a bit chaotic. the babies have decided that they Like this new dragon person who makes the soothing click noises and gives the nice scritches and they Do Not want him to leave and they will Wail Loudly at any attempts to remove them from his person.
by the time foxxian and dragonji get the babies off of lqr, lqr's robes are mussed and all three babies are crying. "My apologies, shufu," dragonji says as the youngest bites his nose in defiance. "It is late and they are tired." "It is late," lqr agrees. "I will leave you be."
the babies quiet down once they're brought into the jingshi. three little noses twitch at the smell of hot food on the table. "Did shufu give you any trouble?" dragonji asks as he sets the babies down. "Ah? No." foxxian also releases a baby. "He was—nice. Surprisingly."
"Why is it surprising?" dragonji asks. "Because…" foxxian awkwardly gestures at both of them and the babies. "Surely your shufu must have had bigger plans for you: a career supporting the emperor, a life of imperial duty, maybe even a betrothal to someone from a good family."
dragonji's eyebrows are starting to furrow, so foxxian quickly clarifies, "I'm not saying you can't do any of those! You can still support your brother and—and marry some heir to a noble house or something. But you didn't plan to…" he gestures again at everyone in the room.
"Shufu did wish for me to serve as advisor to my brother," dragonji says slowly, "but he did not impose any expectation on me. It is of my own will that I serve my brother, as is—any relationship choice I make." "Oh." foxxian laughs uneasily. "Well. That's. good to hear."
they settle down to eat supper. the babies are not yet old enough to eat anything other than milk and a little bit of broth. they whine and paw at their parents until they give each of them a spoonful of their soup. foxxian chews on his chopsticks as he glances at dragonji.
he can't stop thinking about what almost happened back at the cold spring. how close they were. had been. dragonji's breath is always slightly cold, but his lips were—is—warm. he is warm, the kind of warm that makes foxxian want to curl up into and sleep, surrounded by him.
cw: lactation the babies are starting to fuss, and foxxian is done with his supper, so he shifts into fox form and jumps onto the spare bed made for him. he circles several times, stomping the bedsheets down, before flopping onto his side. the babies crowd his belly, nursing.
dragonji clears the table and goes to prepare a bath. foxxian idly watches him bring in bucket after bucket full of hot water. once the bathtub is filled, dragonji stands a respectful distance away and quietly watches foxxian and their children.
the babies are sleepy when their bellies are full of warm milk, and they are quick to pass out. foxxian does a full-body stretch before hopping off of the bed and turning human. dragonji gives him a nod. "I've drawn you a bath." foxxian eyes the steaming bathtub appreciatively.
"Thank you," foxxian says. he feels the impulse—almost too brief to be registered—to dart forward and kiss dragonji's cheek. he shakes his head and goes behind the screen to bathe. when he steps into the bathtub, he lets out a satisfied moan. dragonji coughs lightly.
the bathtubs in the cloud recesses are big, and foxxian can sink down until the water level is just under his nose. it doesn't hurt in the least that dragonji has thoughtfully sprinkled safflowers and quince fruit slices in the water. everything smells heavenly.
foxxian isn't aware that he fell asleep until he hears someone whispering his name. the water has cooled down, but not so much that it is no longer warm. he blinks drowsily and turns to look at the source of the sound. dragonji is standing next to the bathtub, his eyes closed.
"Wei Ying," dragonji whispers again, blindly reaching out until his hand touches the bathtub. he grips the edge. "Wake up. It's getting late." foxxian's sleep-addled mind is not sure why he is being woken up to be told that he needs to go to sleep. he doesn't want to move.
dragonji's hand moves along the edge of the bathtub until it touches foxxian's hair. "Wei Ying," he calls again as he cautiously opens his eyes, his gaze locked solely onto foxxian's face. foxxian gives him a lazy, sleepy smile. "Hello," he mumbles. "Good bath."
"Mn." dragonji turns away and holds a towel out. "Why so shy, Hanguang-Jun?" foxxian sighs as he takes the towel. "There's no part of me you haven't seen." dragonji's ears turn crimson. "Wei Ying!" he whisper-scolds. "Am I wrong?" foxxian teases.
dragonji doesn't reply. instead, he gets another towel for foxxian's hair. when foxxian stands up to step out of the bathtub, dragonji looks away again, his hands clenched into tight fists at his side. humming, foxxian wraps himself in the big towel and wipes his face on it.
the robes dragonji gives him are soft and made of thick silk. foxxian coos at the texture as he dresses. he emerges from behind the screen to join dragonji in looking at their children. the babies are fast asleep on the spare bed, sprawled out, taking up most of the space.
it usually takes a lot more fussing and effort to get the babies to sleep, yet… here they are. asleep. foxxian exhales slowly. "Usually they try to fight it more." "Mn," dragonji agrees. "We should leave them be." "Good idea," foxxian says.
the silence that follows is suffocating. foxxian is *very* aware that there is only one bed left—and it's dragonji's own bed. he sucks in a slow breath. "So, I'm just going to—" "I'll going to take the—" dragonji says at the same time. they both stop.
"Sorry, you were saying?" foxxian asks. dragonji clears his throat. "I can sleep on the floor. You may take the bed." oh that—that isn't what foxxian was going to suggest at all. far from it, actually. "I'll take the floor," foxxian insists. "I can't take your bed."
"You are a guest," dragonji frowns, "and the mother of my children. You cannot sleep on the floor." "You're my host," foxxian raises an eyebrow, "and the father of my children. I cannot kick you out of your bed." "You and the children are top priority," dragonji argues.
"The children are fine," foxxian hisses, "I've slept on floors in the past. It's not a big deal." dragonji's lower eyelid twitches. "You've slept on floors," he echoes. "In Lotus Pier?" foxxian groans. "No, not Lotus Pier, it was before—" "Before?" dragonji sounds alarmed.
foxxian gives him a baleful glare. "Not so loud!" one of the babies stirs, mumbling. both foxxian and dragonji hold their breaths until the baby settles back down into deeper sleep. "Fine," foxxian sighs. "If neither of us will take the bed, then we both take the floor."
the floor is actually quite nice, especially after dragonji spread layers upon layers of blankets on it. foxxian happily tucks himself deep into his blankets, adjusting them and fluffing them to be just the way he likes it. dragonji is on his own pile of blankets, watching him.
It is a cold night, but foxxian is warm. his children are quietly snoring away in a nearby bed, and their father is settling in close by. dragonji extinguishes the lights with a wave of his hand and lies down. "Good night, Wei Ying." "Good night," foxxian whispers back.
foxxian's night vision is excellent. in the dim light, he can still clearly see dragonji lying awake, his face turned in foxxian's direction. his golden eyes glow ever-so-faintly in the dark. foxxian doesn't know anything about dragons' night vision or lack thereof.
perhaps dragons can see in the dark. perhaps they can't. dragonji's gaze is steady and calm, and foxxian finds himself gazing back. he has the thought to bring up what happened at the cold spring. they are both still awake, and they can whisper to avoid waking up the babies.
A simple, "Were you going to kiss me?" would be a good start. the more foxxian thinks about it, the more it seems like dragonji was going to. he hadn't pulled away, back then. foxxian hugs himself, pressing his hand to where he remembered dragonji's hand resting on his waist.
foxxian knows that dragonji makes an effort not to touch him—which is why foxxian cannot stop thinking about it. a hand on his waist is different from a hand on his arm, or his shoulders; a waist-touch has *implications*. it scares him a little, to be honest.
he has had a year to accept that he would not be living out the domestic dream of finding someone, connecting with them, being courted with gifts and sweet words, then marrying them. conceiving from a heat-addled night spent with a stranger had shut him out from all that.
he had been scared—and angry—throughout his pregnancy. he has no mate, and no one was looking for him. whatever the babies turn out to be and whatever their species-specific needs are would be foxxian's sole responsibility to handle. he'd felt abandoned, and anxious.
then the babies' antlers started to grow. and they flew. and madam yu wrote the letter to the cloud recesses. and dragonji came, and stayed, and never once showed any semblance of leaving. it's for the babies. of course it's all for the babies. foxxian refuses to be a fool.
but while foxxian's mind is made up, his heart is unfortunately still soft and easily swayed. it leaps every time dragonji interacts with their children, or whenever dragonji spoons more food into his bowl, or each time he catches golden eyes gently watching him.
perhaps it will fade in time. perhaps, as the babies grow and their needs evolve, dragonji's attention will shift more fully onto them. perhaps, in a few weeks or months, foxxian will look back at this moment and berate himself for jumping to conclusions. he should… slow down.
there is no need for foxxian to ask about the almost-kiss right now. desperation isn't a good look. dragonji is already doing more than enough. it doesn't hurt to wait. dragonji's blinks are growing longer, and foxxian feels his own eyes starting to shut and stay closed.
foxxian startles awake the next morning to the feeling of a cold, wet nose being shoved directly into his ear. the eldest baby, thrilled to see his mama awake, wastes no time lavishing his face with kisses. the middle baby headbutts foxxian's chest, demanding milk.
the youngest walks over foxxian's belly, forcing an, "Oof!" out of him. the babies are not heavy, but tiny fox paws—no matter how cute—can be surprisingly pointy and painful. not a second later, dragonji gives a similar grunt of pain as he, too, receives a paw to his abdomen.
there's not much to talk about whenever the babies have needs. foxxian barely says a word to dragonji that isn't about their children for the whole morning. the day is busy. the lan dragons are eager to meet their new family members, and the fox-dragon babies want to explore.
the cloud recesses is so much bigger than foxxian's bedroom. the youngest and eldest babies fly around excitedly, sometimes almost crashing into pillars and walls. the middle stays tucked in foxxian's shirt, most likely still spooked from his experience with the hawk.
it is easy to identify who is in dragonji's family tree; their antlers have glowing cloud carvings in them. the lans click at the babies in greeting, then patiently hold themselves still as the babies tug at their whiskers or bite their ears or wrestle their talons.
while most of the attention is on the babies, the lans still sometimes give foxxian long, assessing looks. foxxian does not know how to read dragon facial expressions; he hasn't a clue what they mean, so he just waves in greeting. one of the dragons huffs in response.
they encounter a bit of awkwardness when they run into emperor lxc on lxc's return from holding court for the day. the babies' memories aren't the best—especially since dragonlxc never held them before—and dragonlxc looks *very* similar to dragonji.
the babies bolt forward, clicking excitedly. the eldest and youngest fly through the air, while the middle one darts across the floor. dragonlxc looks confused, but delighted as three babies crash into him. dragonji looks BETRAYED.
the babies, through clicks: baba!!! baba!!!! baba!!! dragonji: I have been. abandoned. 😭😭 cast aside. 😩😩 forgotten. 😔😔
while dragonji and dragonlxc look similar, they do not smell similar, and it doesn't take long for the babies to realize that something is off. their clicks slow. they eye dragonlxc warily. the middle one ducks away from head pats. foxxian calls to them, and they dart back.
"They are precious," dragonlxc laughs. "Looks like they thought I was you, Wangji." "Hm," dragonji mutters as he tucks the babies closer into his arms and noses each of them. "Hello, Wei Wuxian," dragonlxc nods at foxxian. "I hope your stay so far has been satisfactory."
'satisfactory' would be selling the cloud recesses short. "It has been amazing, Your Majesty," foxxian confesses. and it has. the dragons have been here long enough that no hawks or eagles dare to come close. the babies are happy. everyone they've met so far already adores them.
it is different from lotus pier. the jiangs offer the babies much love, but they have always… been unsure of what to do with them. here, the lan dragons greet the babies nose-to-nose and offer clicks, which delight the babies to no end. ancestral home of the dragons, indeed.
dragonlxc gives foxxian an indescribable look. "You know, there is no time limit to how long you may stay here," he says, gently. "You and the babies are welcome anytime. Should you ever decide to live here—" dragonji clears his throat. it is enough for dragonlxc to fall silent.
"Have you taken them to see a physician yet?" dragonlxc asks instead. foxxian straights up, alarmed. "Why? Are they sick? Do you sense something?" "It's just a precaution," dragonlxc reassures. "Our physicians are dragons, too. It's for the little ones' sakes."
as far as foxxian knows, their babies are the only fox-dragon hybrids in the world. a checkup with a dragon physician would be beneficial. the babies disagree. as soon as they smell the strong herbs in the physicians' wing, they whine and try to flee.
"It's alright, babies," foxxian croons as soothingly as he can. he has to grip the babies by their tails to keep them from flying off. the attending physician is as reticent as dragonji; she handles the babies almost indifferently.
it claws at foxxian's heart to see her flip his babies this way and that, fingers probing and pressing on tiny limbs and soft bellies. it kills him a little bit every time she furrows her brows—like she has discovered something unexpected.
the babies are not having fun. they do not like this dragon-lady who does not speak to them and does not offer the nice, soothing click sounds. they cry out to their parents. the physician furrows her brows again. "Hm." she gives the babies back. "They are healthy, as dragons."
foxxian scoops the babies up and holds them close. he tries not to glare at the physician as the babies bury their faces against his neck, chirping miserably into his hair. "I don't know much about foxes," the physician admits. "So I'm afraid I cannot provide proper care."
foxxian's heart sinks. this is what he has been afraid of from the very start; there are so few foxes in existence that little is known about them—much less anything related to their health. foxxian will have to tend to his children's fox needs based off of nothing but intuition.
(short comedic break) lqr: wangji you shouldn't have mated with a fox. we know nothing about them. you risk the babies' health. dragonji: yes shufu but I have a counterargument dragonji: *picks up baby* dragonji: *displays their tiny pink toebeans* lqr: lqr: i agree
in the evening, when dragonji takes the babies to go bathe in the cold springs, foxxian takes the opportunity to ask around for the cloud recesses library. if they have any materials on foxes, he should have a look at them, to make sure they're not false.
the library pavilion is breathtaking—and massive. like all other buildings, except for living quarters, it is designed to allow dragons to move among the shelves. it's a lot of space. foxxian shifts into fox form for more speed and agility. he bounds into the library
luckily, while huge, the library is well organized. it doesn't take long for foxxian to figure out how the sorting system works, and he trots off to find the section on huli jing. it is a very small section. maybe only ten or so scrolls and books, total.
shifting back to human, foxxian takes all the scrolls and books out. he sits down with them and opens the first book. a folded piece of paper falls out from between the first two pages. foxxian picks it up and reads it. it's a list of the book chapters, with notes beside them.
the writing is immaculate, with perfect strokes and just the right amount of ink. foxxian raises his eyebrows as he reads some of them: "myth" "truth" "inconclusive" "myth" he flips to the next page. there's another folded piece of paper. the book is riddled with them.
he spends more time looking through the notes than the actual book. unthinkingly, he adds his own notes—confirming or disproving the 'inconclusive' observations, and writing in his own thoughts. whoever wrote the notes must be a scholar; there's so much writing.
then he reaches a section talking about huli jing reproduction. it's a short section, and full of falsehoods. it claims that huli jing seduce their partners to steal their vitality, and that they deliberately take on the form of beautiful people to coax their victims into mating.
the section also warns against being a huli jing's mate. they are not monogamous, the text claims, and to fall for a huli jing is to suffer a slow, disgraceful death from heartbreak and drained vitality as the huli jing flounces off to their next victim. it's false, of course.
foxxian doesn't remember much about his parents, but he remembers that they were devoted to each other. his father had been full of life, not the least bit drained, and his huli jing mother had had eyes for no one but his father. foxxian himself feels no urge for multiple mates.
surprisingly, there is nothing written on the folded paper on that page. it's blank except for a single ink dot, like the note-taker had been about to write something down, but paused too long. foxxian clicks his tongue in disappointment. "Do better, little scholar," he mutters.
he continues to go through the books and scrolls. the notes are still scattered about, offering insight into the unknown scholar's mind. there is tragically little information on huli jing, and it doesn't take foxxian long to reach the last book.
when he picks up the book, paper falls out. foxxian picks them up and unfolds them. his heart stops. it's not notes. it's one—no, multiple drawings, different variations—of someone who looks very similar to him. the artist even drew the unruly lock of hair he always has.
the drawings clearly aren't *of* foxxian; they do not look like the artist sat down and drew him. they look more like—like the artist attempted to draw him from memory, without any references, and had to try multiple variations to get some of his features right.
some of the spacings between the eyes are a little off. the shoulders are too narrow. his jawline is a little softer than what is on paper. but three things remain constant: the red hair ribbon, the silver-grey eyes, and the lock of hair that would never lie flat.
slowly, foxxian folds the drawings back up and sets them aside. he feels like he has somehow invaded someone else's thoughts; and he has a growing suspicion on who that someone is. the book, like the others, contains only a short section on huli jing. this one is on appearances.
this one is much closer to truth. it states that huli jing are master shapeshifters, able to mimic just about any appearance. it claims that huli jing use this skill to seduce, trick, and evade—and that once a huli jing has escaped, the chances of finding it is basically zero.
there are no notes accompanying this section, only more drawings of foxxian look-alikes. they seem lost somehow—loose strokes of charcoal, the facial features indistinct, with only the red hair ribbon colored in, like it is the only thing the artist is certain about.
foxxian leaves his own note, just a short, "True," for the section on huli jing appearances, before closing the book and putting it back. dragonji and the babies should be done bathing at this point, so foxxian leaves the library and heads back to the jingshi.
he doesn't know what to think. there's no doubt about the artist's identity; there's only one dragon who knows what he looks like enough to doodle his face on notes in books. he remembers how quickly dragonji walked away in lotus pier when asked if he ever looked for foxxian.
when foxxian enters the jingshi, he's immediately tackled by three overjoyed, still slightly wet, fox-dragon babies. they are so wriggly that it's difficult to give them all kisses, but he manages. dragonji is in the middle of setting supper on the table. "Wei Ying," he says.
"Lan Zhan," foxxian greets. "I hope the babies were better behaved today?" "Mn." dragonji nods, then gestures to the table. "Eat." the food is good—better than yesterday's. foxxian cannot resist a happy purr in his throat when he recognizes some yunmeng dishes.
the babies smell the dishes too. they are still too young for anything but milk, but it doesn't stop them from sticking their noses up and sniffing the air curiously. foxxian tries his best not to shovel food into his mouth. it's difficult. being a parent is tiring work.
"It's really good," he tells dragonji in between mouthfuls. dragonji's ears are pink. "Mn," he hums. "Where did you go?" "The library pavilion," foxxian answers. "I was looking through the section on huli jing." dragonji's spoon stops stirring in his soup bowl.
"There are some inaccuracies," foxxian continues, because he's suddenly scared of what dragonji will say. "I added the corrections to the notes. O-of course, I could be wrong too. I'm just going off of personal experience. I only know one other huli jing: my mother, and she, um—"
he's rambling—and badly, too. but dragonji makes no effort to stop him. "It's just—yeah, you're right," foxxian sputters. "There isn't much information available on huli jing." "Mn," dragonji says. a beat of awkwardness. "I do like the drawings, though," foxxian blurts out.
"Ah." dragonji nods; the movement is jerky. he doesn't say anything else. foxxian can't take it anymore. he hurriedly stacks his empty bowls, mumbles a thank-you, and scampers off to go nurse his babies behind a privacy screen.
as the babies nurse, dragonji cleans up the table and starts preparing foxxian's bath. foxxian watches his silhouette through the privacy screen; he can smell the scented oils dragonji is setting out. by the time the babies finish, dragonji has already retreated to his bed.
foxxian relaxes into the hot water of the bath. he can hear the pit-pat of the fox-dragon babies' paws as they make their way to their father, then dragonji's almost-inaudible grunt from what is surely a tiny baby paw planted directly on his throat or stomach.
when foxxian emerges from behind the screen, freshly-washed and dressed, two of the babies chirp upon seeing him. the youngest is biting on the hem of dragonji's pants, growling, thrashing it about. "Be good," foxxian scolds as he picks up the youngest and pries its mouth open.
the other two babies scamper over dragonji to go greet foxxian. the middle one steps directly onto dragonji's stomach; this time, dragonji only makes a slightly pained expression. foxxian scoops them all up. "It's time for bed," he tells them. "Say goodnight to baba."
the babies cannot speak yet, but they give a chorus of squeaks that makes dragonji's gaze soften. foxxian walks back to his bed and sets the babies down. he picks up the blanket edge, ready to tuck them in. to his surprise, they crawl off the bed.
foxxian's eyebrows shoot towards his hairline. "What is it?" the babies make discontent rumbles and turn to waddle back towards dragonji's bed. foxxian gives an incredulous laugh. "Aw, you don't want to sleep with me anymore? You want to sleep with baba?"
a small part of him is hurt that his babies now prefer their father over him, but he supposes it is inevitable that he must relinquish the title of favorite parent on occasion. he helps the babies onto dragonji's bed. "Do you mind?" he asks. "I can take them back if you do."
"It is alright." dragonji moves over and peels the blankets back. the babies dive under the blankets, excitedly vocalizing. the eldest begins to furiously dig into the bedsheets. "Well," foxxian laughs. "That's that, I guess. I'll see you all in the morning."
the moment he turns his back and takes two steps, a cacophony of squawks and cries emerge from the babies. "Oh, now you want to go with me?" foxxian picks them up. "Alright, come on, then." this time, foxxian barely manages a step before the babies start to cry again.
foxxian sighs and hoists them up so that they're face-to-face with him. "Baobei, you need to make up your mind," he says. "Baba needs to rest, and so do I. You have to pick one of us to sleep next to." the babies squirm, making soft purring sounds. one suckles on foxxian's hand.
he carries them back to his own bed, much to their protests. as foxxian sits down, the youngest wriggles free and sprints across the floor towards dragonji. dragonji is now sitting up, and holds out his hands for the baby—but the baby doesn't run into them.
instead, the baby plops his bum down on the floor, about midway between the two beds. shivering from ears to tail, he looks back and forth between foxxian and dragonji. when neither of them moves, he lifts his little nose. and gives a pitiful, howling cry.
foxxian knows he shouldn't give in; if he gives in, then the babies could learn that screaming and crying gets them what they want. unfortunately, he's already walking towards the baby before he knows what he's doing. "Aiya, aiya," he sighs as he picks the baby up. "Fine, fine."
he carries the babies to dragonji's bed. "Um." he shifts the babies around in his arms. "Sorry. I think, uh, I think they want to cuddle with both of us. At least until they fall asleep. If you don't mind, maybe we could—" "Mn." dragonji moves all the way to the edge of the bed.
tucking the babies in is easy now that they're no longer fussing. they curl into happy little piles, snuggled in between foxxian and dragonji. foxxian is sitting on the bed; he doesn't dare lie down. "You can sleep first," he whispers to dragonji. "I'll just go back later."
dragonji gives the quietest, "Mn," before closing his eyes. finally, all is quiet. the only sounds are the rustle of the trees outside, and three harmonizing snores. foxxian watches the babies, fondness brimming in his heart. this is perfect. everything about this is perfect.
he could watch this forever—if he didn't have to sleep. his bed seems so far away and cold, and the babies are so warm and soft. just a little longer wouldn't hurt. then he'll return to his bed. in the meantime, he'll just briefly rest his head on the bed. it won't be for long.
the last thing foxxian is aware of before he dozes off is a blanket being draped over him, and the candles being blown out in the room.
((i wrote the latest update to this song, btw:…))
at first, foxxian thinks he's still dreaming. he's already starting to forget what he dreamt about, but parts of it carry over to the waking world. the warmth of another's body against his. the scent of sandalwood. the sound of three little voices quietly snoring against him.
more sensations slowly filter in. it is still dark out, but birdsongs carry on the wind. it is too early to get up—especially since the babies are still sleeping. foxxian knows better than to disturb sleeping babies. he's about to fall back asleep when his pillow moves.
pillows aren't supposed to move. but the pillow—now that foxxian is aware of it—doesn't feel much like a pillow. it's far too hard. and it's rising and falling. and it's— it's dragonji's chest, a very wide-awake foxxian realizes. he'd fallen asleep in dragonji's bed.
he freezes up, eyes wide. he can hear dragonji's heart beat under his ear, slow and steady. thank heavens dragonji isn't awake— one of the babies does a little kick in its sleep, dislodging its blanket. dragonji's hand grasps the blanket and tucks it back over the baby.
so dragonji *is* awake. foxxian's heart sinks. damn. he feigns sleep. it's the only option; the babies are cuddled up between them. moving could dislodge them. the minutes tick by. dragonji doesn't move. when one of the babies stirs, dragonji lays a soothing hand on its back.
foxxian feels something in his chest twist. they look like a family, he thinks. families share a bed while their babies sleep between them, right? at least that's what he thinks. hopes. he knows it's not real. he'd fallen asleep here on accident. he and dragonji are not mates.
mates. foxxian hates how that word settles itself deep into his stomach, tucked away like a dirty secret. they are not mates. they are not mates. they are not mates. 'and yet you sleep in his bed,' the thought bubbles up rebelliously, 'and he cares for your children.'
foxxian stomps that thought down. he is in dragonji's bed purely by accident, and it is only right for dragonji to take responsibility for putting three little lives inside of him. anything beyond that—anything more intimate—is out of the question. there is no need for it.
foxxian refuses to be greedy. it is already a miracle that the imperial family welcomed his babies with loving arms. he dares not ask for more, especially not this. still, he cannot help feeling disappointed when dragonji moves and detaches himself from foxxian and the babies.
the babies stir at the disturbance, but settle when dragonji gives them each a kiss on their foreheads and gently nudges them towards foxxian for warmth. after tucking the babies in, dragonji shifts more towards foxxian and leans down. foxxian holds his breath, heart pounding.
dragonji is very close. foxxian can feel his breath on his cheek, cool as an autumn breeze. is dragonji going to kiss him? the possibility of it makes foxxian's head swim. if dragonji kisses him, then—then foxxian will know. he will *know*, for certain, and he could—they could—
dragonji shakes his shoulder gently. "Wei Ying," he whispers. foxxian can't ignore that. he opens his eyes and squints up at dragonji. "I must attend court today," he whispers, backing up to put some distance between them. "Shufu is willing to watch the babies if you're tired."
court? oh. the imperial court. because dragonji is the second prince—and the emperor's only brother. "Go on ahead," foxxian mumbles around a yawn. "We'll be fine." "Mn." dragonji nods. he pulls the blanket tighter around foxxian. "Sleep. I'll have breakfast delivered later."
foxxian doesn't move for the longest time after dragonji is gone. his mouth tastes bitter with disappointment; he doesn't know why, but after watching dragonji give each of their children a kiss on the forehead, he'd really thought that dragonji would also—
he buries his face in his pillow. this is ridiculous. he's acting like a teen. he has no claim on dragonji. an infatuation doesn't need to be more than just that. dragonji is kind, gentle, and patient. anyone would fall for him. it doesn't mean anyone is entitled to be with him.
he tries very hard not to think about the drawings in the library books of someone who looks very much like him, red hair ribbon and all.
when he next wakes up, it's almost noon, and the babies are up and ready for the day. they bump their snouts against foxxian's chest, whining for milk. once their bellies are filled with warm milk, they tumble outside, ready to explore once more.
their flying has improved, and they soar higher and higher above foxxian's head. it still pulls at something visceral and panicky within him to see them so out of reach, but it helps that there are always at least one pair of dragon eyes on the little ones at all times.
it still feels so strange to be in the cloud recesses, with its wide roads and buildings and its dragon residents flying through the air or weaving along its columns. but the dragons are quiet and accepting, gazing fondly at the babies and nodding at foxxian in greeting.
the dragons with cloud-like swirls engraved into their antlers offer their noses to the babies, who eagerly press their tiny snouts to their family member's and exchange excited clicks with them.
during one such exchange, the middle fox-dragon baby sticks out his tongue and starts covering his family member's nose in tiny mlem mlem fox kisses. the lan dragon looks confused, but nonetheless holds still and lets themselves be licked.
lan dragon: 🤨 foxxian: those are kisses. he's kissing you. lan dragon: 😐 lan dragon: 🤔 lan dragon: 🥺💕🥰
lan dragon, later, to their mate: hello my love do u want to see a huli jing greeting that i learned from hanguang-jun's mate today? lan dragon's mate: sure, what did u learn lan dragon: *licks their mate directly on their face*
the more they explore, the more foxxian finds his thoughts drifting back to dragonji. he has no idea how court is held in imperial settings, but surely there is time set aside for breaks. perhaps—perhaps dragonji will want to see the babies in between sessions.
there is no telling how long foxxian wandered with the babies. the lans reside in the inner sanctum part of the cloud recesses, and there are no path signs pointing to the throne hall. eventually, he flags down a dragon and gets directions from them.
along the way, he spots something familiar: a white-robed figure with a guqin strapped to their back. foxxian's heart leaps. "Lan Zhan?" upon hearing the name, the babies simultaneously turn their heads to look. they break out into excited chirps as they fly towards the figure.
it takes foxxian only a few steps closer to notice that the person is not dragonji. their shoulders are too narrow. their hair is too short. there is no ribbon around their forehead. the babies do not notice. they collide with the person, almost knocking them off their feet.
"Gah!" the person cries out as they stumble forward. "What the—" the babies immediately realize their mistake and barrel back to foxxian, squeaking in distress. foxxian gathers them in his arms as he hurries over. "My apologies, sir," he starts. "Are you hurt?"
the person straightens up, dusting his sleeves off. he narrows his eyes at the babies. "What /are/ those?" huh. a bit rude of him, foxxian supposes. "They're my children," he answers. the person looks the babies over again, then at foxxian. "Your children," he sounds flat.
foxxian raises an eyebrow. "Is there something wrong?" "You're human," the person insists. "You can't give birth to—to—" he waves his hand at the babies, "—beasts." foxxian's other eyebrow goes up. "I'm a huli jing," he says flatly. "These are Hanguang-Jun's and my children."
he'd hoped that would be enough to get the person to back off; it isn't. the man's face twists in disgust. "So," the man sneers, "the rumors are true, I see: Hanguang-Jun has bedded a huli jing and fathered—" he gives the babies a dismissive glance, "—'children'."
it's the first time that anyone has disrespected foxxian and the babies in the cloud recesses. foxxian is angry, yes, but… he looks the man over. the man is dressed in white and carries a guqin, but he doesn't have the antlers or tail that mark him as a dragon in human form.
yes, now that foxxian is looking more closely, he can see that the man's hair guan resembles antlers, but aren't actual antlers. the bits of scales visible at his neck also aren't dragon scales. they're… "Carp," foxxian says. the man's cheeks turn red. "What did you say?"
"You're no dragon; you're a carp spirit," foxxian says. "And a desperate one, too. You're obviously trying to pass as a dragon—Hanguang-Jun, specifically." the man goes pale as a sheet. behind him, two watching men start to fidget. "Su She," one whispers, "we should be going—"
su she shakes him off. "Why would I want to be Hanguang-Jun?" he snarls through clenched teeth. "He's not as great as everyone thinks he is. After all," the once-over he gives foxxian is full of disgust, "he stooped to fucking a low-born huli jing and fathering mongrels."
the slap foxxian delivers across su she's mouth is almost hard enough to draw blood. the two other men startle. "Su She!" one darts forward to support him; he glares at foxxian. "How dare you! This man is a close friend of His Majesty's trusted advisor—" foxxian slaps him too.
"I wouldn't care if he were His Majesty himself," foxxian smiles with all teeth and no humor, "the next time you dirty my children's ears with your crass words, I'll rip your tongue out." the youngest growls from his perch on foxxian's shoulder. the middle yells out a snowflake.
su she cradles his cheek in his hand as he glares daggers at foxxian. "Mongrels, the lot of you," he mutters, fuming. "Don't you dare think you can hide your origins. Do you believe that you're important now just because you slept with a dragon prince? Because you seduced him?"
foxxian opens his mouth to retort, but su she keeps going. "You have no idea what people are saying about you, do you." su she's laughter sounds insane. "About how noble, illustrious, pathetic Hanguang-Jun spent months searching for a huli jing, like some sort of madman."
a part of foxxian's outrage gives way to shock. months? searching? 'The drawings in the library,' his brain reminds him. "Poor, poor Hanguang-Jun," su she mocks, "so bewitched by a huli jing that he abandoned his dignity to go look for them when he didn't even know their name."
"He even resorted to climbing Baoshan Sanren's mountain and knelt at her temple's entrance for a month," su she's laugh is unkind, and a little screechy, "just to be told by one of that old huli jing's disciples that she has never heard of you! You're not even from her mountain!"
foxxian almost doesn't hear su she's laughter anymore over the hum in his own ears. he knows baoshan sanren; or rather, he knows *of* baoshan sanren. there is much mystery surrounding the oldest huli jing alive, secluded away on her mountain with her clan of orphaned huli jing.
surely dragonji was not that desperate; surely dragonji couldn't have resorted to kneeling for a *month* outside of baoshan sanren's mountaintop home because he couldn't find answers anywhere else—because he knew nothing about foxxian, not his name, not even his appearance.
foxxian thinks back to the drawings he'd found in the library, and how each subsequent sketch slowly grew less and less sure of his features, until all that was left was a vague drawing of the back of someone's head, with a red ribbon tying their hair up.
how long would dragonji have kept searching for him if madam yu hadn't sent word that foxxian birthed fox-dragon babies? months? years? decades? no wonder dragonji had looked at him with such wide eyes when foxxian went to confront him about the bracelet not-betrothal gifts;
it was likely the first time dragonji got a good look at his human form—and recognized him, no doubt. and foxxian had slapped him right after. it feels awful.
su she is somehow still talking. "Don't think you're somehow above the rest of us now just because you seduced a dragon." he crosses his arms. "At the end of the day, you're still just a huli jing with unknown origins, and your children will never be pure dragons."
foxxian tilts his head back lazily and blinks at su she. "Perhaps," he says. "Nonetheless, dragon blood flows in my children's veins, and the imperial family recognizes them as their own—which is more than can be said for you, little carp." su she's face twitches. "You—!"
"Did I hit a nerve?" foxxian flutters his eyelashes with fake innocence. "I bet it's so much easier for you to whine about how dragonhood should be yours, instead of putting actual effort into seeking out a dragon's gate to jump over." su she starts to turn shades of red.
"Watch your mouth, mutt," he hisses. "Your children may have dragon's blood, but you have nothing." "I have no dragon's blood," foxxian agrees with a hum, "but I have had a dragon inside me, which is more than you ever will." one of the men behind su she makes a choking sound.
"And don't think I haven't noticed," foxxian takes a step forward; su she takes a step back, "I slapped you, yet you haven't once tried to lay a finger on me—or step closer to me, for that matter." he takes another step; su she steps back again. "So what are you afraid of?"
"I don't think it's me, because otherwise you would have never spoken to me in the first place." another step. foxxian smiles again. "I don't think it's my babies, because they're harmless." the eldest growls from under foxxian's arm. "Mostly harmless," foxxian corrects.
su she takes another step back. "My friend is His Majesty's trusted advisor," his voice wavers. "If you do anything to me—" "And I'm the mate of His Majesty's brother," foxxian says without thinking. "He once killed a hawk without a thought because it threatened our baby."
su she doesn't flinch, but his lower eyelid twitches. "I don't mean that as a threat," foxxian says pleasantly. "I'm just pointing out how protective Hanguang-Jun is. I'm sure he will be very interested in what you've said to me today."
su she takes another step back. "You're just a lowly huli jing. You're nothing." his jaw clenches. "You don't scare me." "Don't I?" foxxian croons, as he starts to shift his form. his bones scrape against each other. his skin stretches. features appear and rearrange themselves.
he could change into any form he wished, from the smallest of creatures to the most terrifying beasts. he could look like something out of the most pleasant of dreams, or the worst of nightmares. he doesn't think of what to change into. he just… does.
he grows taller. his black robes shift into white as more layers form. his face rearranges itself to look more severe, sharp—unsmiling. silver cloud-patterned antlers emerge from his head. his eyes turn golden. su she's eyes are round. one man makes a muted, terrified sound.
"Hh," su she can't get the word out. "H-Han—" the two men accompanying him throw themselves to the ground. "H-Hanguang-Jun!" they gasp. "You idiots!" su she snaps, but his voice is shaking. "That's not Hanguang-Jun! That's—that's—" he glances at foxxian again, face pale.
foxxian sorely wants to grin, but he can't; dragonji does not smile. it would break the illusion. it feels amazing to be in this form, like foxxian is borrowing dragonji's strength and icy-calm resolve and wrapping it around himself like a blanket. it feels like power.
the three men are a mess. one is on the verge of fainting. the other is hyperventilating. su she is completely silent; his face has gone completely white. foxxian regards them one by one. "I believe we are done here," he says in dragonji's voice. "Get out of my sight."
it is astounding how quickly people can run when scared. the two men leave immediately amidst sputtered apologies and hasty bows. su she is gone the quickest; he'd turned and bolted as soon as the last word left foxxian's mouth. foxxian watches them go with a scoff. cowards.
meanwhile, the fox-dragon babies—who are new to this whole object permanence thing and are *quite* certain that their baba was their mama just a second ago and now mama is GONE—are looking at foxxian like:
ah, foxxian realizes. the babies have never seen him change into anything other than his human and fox forms. of course they would be confused. he moves them around in his arms until they're all facing him. "Hello baobei," he murmurs. "It's still me."
the eldest looks doubtful. the middle sniffs curiously at him. the youngest inches forward, putting his paws on foxxian's chest and reaching up to press his nose against foxxian's. he clicks. a fondness swells within foxxian. their youngest still thinks he's dragonji.
"Aiya, I'm not baba," he tells the youngest, who seems a little confused that he is not receiving clicks in return. "I'm a shapeshifter. I only look like baba. Baba is currently—" —standing in front of them, frozen. staring directly at foxxian with shocked, golden eyes.
for the longest time, nothing happens. both of them stand there, staring at each other in silence. thoughts run through foxxian's head at the speed of light. the first is: how awkward it must be for dragonji to stand face-to-face with an exact copy of himself.
the second thought is much more terrifying: when did dragonji arrive, how long has he been there, and how much has he seen and heard? the rush of adrenaline from foxxian's encounter with su she is starting to wear off, along with his bravado. oh. he'd said many things.
quick as a wink, he shifts back to his human form; the babies—who had been too confused by the presence of TWO babas to move—startle in his arms. "Ah!" foxxian's voice sounds too high pitched. "L-Lan Zhan! Hello! I didn't—I didn't see you there."
dragonji blinks like he's coming out of a trance. "Mn." the babies scramble to greet him, crowding together to press their noses against his face and click at him. when dragonji returns the clicks, they wiggle excitedly. "So… how was court?" foxxian blurts out.
"Uneventful," dragonji answers as he cradles the babies in his arms. foxxian waits for elaboration, but when none is given, he nervously laughs again. "So, that man, just now, Su She, he—um, was something, wasn't he." "Indeed." dragonji doesn't look up from the babies. "I saw."
"Ah," foxxian croaks. "You saw, huh? Um, like the last bit, or everything?" dragonji's face is too calm, too even. "I saw enough." foxxian doesn't know what that means, but he has a hunch. he swallows. "Ah. Right. Um. Sorry I said I was your mate. I don't know why I said that."
"You don't know," dragonji echoes, "why you claimed to be my mate." "Yeah." foxxian grinds the toe of his shoe against the ground. "I-I just, it just slipped out. And now that carp is probably going to tell the whole world. I've put you in a difficult position. I'm sorry."
dragonji takes a while to respond. "Su She's claims are of little concern to me." "But you don't know what rumors about you could spread as a result," foxxian protests. "There are already rumors about you supposedly kneeling for a month on Baoshan Sanren's mountain—"
"Like I said, Su She's claims are of little concern to me. Do not give them more attention than they deserve." dragonji abruptly turns on his heel. "Uncle and imperial brother requested we join them for their midday meal. We should go." foxxian gawks as dragonji walks away.
what the—the /nerve/ of him to just—and right when foxxian was about to ask why he had been driven to such lengths to try and find foxxian. foxxian silently fumes as he follows. well, if dragonji doesn't want to talk about it, then fine. he can have it his way. stupid dragon.
lunch is awkward. neither dragonji nor foxxian say a word beyond what is necessary. between anger at dragonji and the jitteriness of dining with the emperor and his uncle, foxxian hasn't had much cause to talk. the middle baby whines and nibbles appeasingly on foxxian's chin.
part of foxxian's anger melts into guilt. his poor babies; they do not understand why their parents are acting this way. he nuzzles his baby and is rewarded with tiny kisses. the look lqr gives them can almost be described as envious. next to him, the emperor smiles.
lunch finishes with little fanfare. as soon as the last servant leaves, lqr reaches over and plucks the babies out of dragonji's and foxxian's arms. "I wish to spend time with my grand-nephews," he says. "Being parents is tiring. Go rest up. I'll return them in the evening."
foxxian opens his mouth to protest, but then decides lqr probably can't hear him above the sounds of three ecstatic fox-dragon babies all clicking loudly at the same time. ah, well. some time alone would be nice. foxxian, for one, could use a nap.
as lqr hurries away with the babies, emperor lxc gives dragonji a pleasant smile. "Wangji, the Nie clan recently sent over a collection of painted fans. I thought perhaps you and Wei Wuxian would find them pleasing. I had them sent to your jingshi for your perusal."
the look on dragonji's face is very complicated. "Yes, Your Majesty." "Good." emperor lxc turns to smile at foxxian. "It will be good for the two of you to spend some time together." after lxc leaves, foxxian whispers, "Do you think Su She told him?"
"Unlikely," dragonji answers. "They do not interact. Su She's rank is too low for him to directly talk to the emperor." so lxc is doing this on his own. foxxian tries not to think about the implications of that. he wordlessly follows dragonji back to the jingshi.
the jingshi is quiet without the sound of little paws pattering across the floorboards. foxxian is torn between missing his babies and feeling relieved at the lack of three tiny beings demanding his attention. he doesn't know why he says it, but he does: "Why are you mad at me?"
"I'm not mad at you," dragonji says. he's arranging some items on the shelves, and he's not looking at foxxian. "Fine. Why are you *upset* with me?" foxxian crosses his arms. "Is it because I copied your likeness in front of Su She?" "No," dragonji answers.
foxxian raises his eyebrows. "So you *are* upset with me. You didn't deny it." the silence from dragonji is deafening. he picks up a book and begins looking through it. "Not with you. It is not your fault." "But it's caused by me, isn't it." foxxian walks towards him.
dragonji says nothing. he sets the book down on a different shelf and begins rearranging everything on it. foxxian stops a few inches from him. "Is it because I said I'm your mate?" dragonji still doesn't say anything, but his throat moves as he swallows.
the pieces start to form together in foxxian's mind; the drawings in the library books, the extensive research, the rumors. he takes a breath to steel himself, and another. "Lan Zhan," he says. "Were you—did you look for me?" dragonji's hands stop moving.
"There are drawings of—of me in the library books on huli jing," foxxian presses on. his heart is pounding, but he can't stop. "Su She says you knelt for a month outside of Baoshan Sanren's home in your search for me. Lan Zhan, what's going on?"
dragonji doesn't respond—he doesn't even turn around to look at foxxian—but it's impossible not to miss the way his shoulders sink, or how his silver horns tilt as he looks down at his feet. foxxian ducks under dragonji's arm and wriggles in between dragonji and the bookshelf.
dragonji makes a small noise of surprise and tries to step back. "No," foxxian grabs him by his robe and holds on. "Don't, please." dragonji shifts his weight from one foot to the other, and back. his throat bobs as he swallows. "What are you doing?" he whispers.
foxxian isn't sure either. there is so much he is not sure of; he isn't sure of his place in the cloud recesses, and he isn't sure what the future holds, but he is certain of one thing: "You looked for me," foxxian breathes. dragonji closes his eyes. his exhale is shaky.
foxxian's heart is in his throat, yet it doesn't stop him from speaking. "You looked for me," he says, choked. "Why? Out of duty? A sense of responsibility? Or…" his mouth is dry. he can hardly form the words, "… or…" dragonji turns his face away.
somehow, that was enough. the realization hits foxxian like a rock. "Oh." his voice is small. "You fell in love with me." dragonji inhales so hard that the tendons in his neck flex. "Do not trouble yourself with it," he says urgently, almost scolding. "It is of no consequence."
"No consequence?" foxxian tightens his grip on dragonji's robe, in case he tries to leave again. "Lan Zhan, this changes everything!" at that, the blood drains from dragonji's face. "It does not have to," he insists. pleads. "I will—restrain it. It won't affect you."
"Won't affect me?" foxxian's knuckles are white from gripping lwj's robe so tightly. "Lan Zhan, of course it will affect me! If I'd known you felt like that, then I would have—" he nearly bites his tongue in his panic to close his mouth.
"—then I wouldn't have slapped you," foxxian corrects in a hurry. "For the bracelet gifts. That was—that was cruel of me." dragonji shakes his head, low and heavy. "It was understandable. You thought they were betrothal gifts. You do not feel the same."
"Still," foxxian chokes. "I hurt you. I hurt you. If I had known—" "My feelings are not your responsibility," dragonji's voice is tight; he still isn't meeting foxxian's gaze, "nor are they your concern. I have no desire to continue this conversation." he tries to step back.
foxxian manages to resist being pulled. "Are you serious?" he demands. "We're addressing something very important right now!" "I do not deem it relevant to our duties as parents." dragonji takes another step back. foxxian stumbles forward. "I do! Lan Zhan, you big dumb dragon—"
"My feelings will not get in the way of providing for you and our children." dragonji places his hands over foxxian's as he tries to pry foxxian's fingers off his robe. "Let go of me." foxxian can't believe this. "I will let go if you say to my face that you no longer want me."
dragonji stills. he stops trying to free his robes from foxxian's hands; instead, his own hands rest on top of foxxian's fingers, heavy and cool to the touch. his breathing is strained. "Say it," foxxian dares, voice cracking. "Say it, and I'll never bring all this up again."
dragonji's throat bobs. "I…" he sounds hoarse. foxxian watches him with wide eyes. his heart is pounding so much it makes him feel sick. finally, dragonji lifts his head and looks at him with eyes of dulled gold. "I am sorry," he whispers as he leans forward— —and kisses him.
'he is warm,' foxxian thinks through the haze in his mind. somehow, dragonji's mouth is warm, and so, so familiar. they melt into each other, arms around waists and necks. foxxian dares to lick dragonji's lower lip and dragonji groans—just like foxxian somehow knew he would.
they must have kissed like this during foxxian's heat. they must have. there's no other explanation for how natural this feels, like they have done it a million times before. "Lan Zhan," foxxian breathes in between kisses. that feels natural, too—saying his name. "Lan Zhan."
"I couldn't find you," dragonji's breath shudders in between kisses. "I tried. I looked. But I couldn't—" "Shh, I am here now." foxxian muffles his words with another kiss. "I won't leave." dragonji sighs against his skin before kissing down foxxian's neck.
they don't so much climb on the bed as collapse onto it. foxxian can hardly believe the sounds coming out of his throat. he sounds pathetically desperate. needy. a high whimper escapes him when dragonji licks up his neck. foxxian lifts his hips on instinct.
dragonji's outfit has so many layers. foxxian paws through them, frustrated. "Goddamn—layers," he hisses through his teeth as dragonji kisses his collarbone. "Why do you have so—" dragonji claws off his white lan robes with a half-transformed hand, talons slicing through silk.
at any other moment, foxxian might stop to gawk at the sheer ridiculousness of dragonji destroying his robes, but at the moment, he's too busy trying not to hyperventilate as dragonji yanks foxxian's waistband down. "Lan Zhan, slow d-down," foxxian whimpers. "I've never—"
the frustrated sound dragonji makes is a rumble, low enough for foxxian to feel in his chest. still, he slows down. foxxian knows he isn't in heat—he won't be for another year at least—but he still feels feverish. with trembling arms and legs, he tries to turn onto his stomach.
dragonji stops him. "No." he gently pushes foxxian onto his back. "I want to see you." foxxian melts a little inside. he sits up just enough to reach dragonji's face and give little kitten licks at the corner of his mouth. dragonji responds by ravaging his mouth with a kiss.
foxxian easily parts his legs to let dragonji settle in between them. he's in the middle of brushing torn strips of white and blue silk off of dragonji when he feels something press against his bare inner thigh. no. not just something. *two* somethings.
with a frown, foxxian pushes at dragonji's chest until dragonji lifts himself. then foxxian looks down in between their bodies. he lets out a screech. "Two?!" "Dragons have two," dragonji says, leaning down to nibble on his ear. foxxian ducks away. "I can't take two!"
dragonji follows him, lying back down on top of him to keep him from squirming. "You did," he says, trailing his lips along foxxian's jawline. "And you will." foxxian screeches. "What?! None of the babies have two!" "And they are proof that you can handle me," dragonji replies.
at the sensation of two hot, wet tips pressing against him, foxxian can't help a choked moan. without thinking, he cants his hips upwards, trying to chase the sensation. dragonji exhales so deeply that foxxian shivers from the chill in his breath. "Needy," dragonji murmurs.
needy? foxxian huffs exaggeratedly and pushes dragonji away. "Needy? Who's needy?" he scoffs. "Get off of me." dragonji makes a disapproving 'hm' sound and wraps one hand around foxxian's wrists. The other hooks under foxxian's knee to pull him up, more open, more exposed.
foxxian squirms and bites back his cries as dragonji slowly enters him. the stretch is almost too much—even though he could tell that dragonji was taking pity on him and only putting one in. yet all of this is still somehow familiar, like his body remembers.
as if on cue, his body traitorously begins to respond. each of dragonji's thrusts is easier than the last; when foxxian looks down between them, he can see dragonji's member, shiny with slick, pulling out from his body before sinking back in.
foxxian lets his head fall back down onto the pillow, whining. "Oh-hh." forming words is very difficult. His mind is a fog. the bed creaks. dragonji's face is buried against foxxian's neck, his breaths in time with his thrusts. their hands meet, fingers interlacing.
it's too much. foxxian tries to say it's too much, but he can't get the words out in between breaths. he tugs on dragonji's hair to try and get him to slow down, but it's no use. he comes hard and fast, his wails smothered by dragonji's mouth. his legs tremble uncontrollably.
as foxxian lies there bonelessly, dragonji kisses him again, deep and loving. "Well done, Wei Ying," he croons as he pulls out of foxxian. foxxian whines a little at the loss, but before he can complain more about it, dragonji reaches down to line himself up and pushes back in.
it takes foxxian all of two seconds to realize that this feels *much* bigger than before—around twice as big, to be more precise. "W-wait," he sobs. "Too much, Lan Zhan! T-too much, I can't—let me r-rest, please—" "You can," dragonji says, kissing up his chin. "Relax."
foxxian gives a small, strained moan. he'd come so hard and is so tired that relaxing is not hard, but there is still so much of dragonji to take in. "Did I," he wheezes, "did I really—take all of you? Back then?" "Mn," dragonji nuzzles his cheek. he begins moving. "All of me."
foxxian gasps when dragonji fully enters him; he can feel him in his stomach. "All of me," dragonji breathes. "Just like this—" he thrusts, "—for hours—" he sucks a mark on foxxian's neck; another thrust, "—for days, you took all of me." a soft, choked moan leaves foxxian.
there are tears in his eyes. he's definitely crying—there's too much going on. he's still sensitive from his orgasm, and dragonji is everywhere: in him, on top of him, against him. dragonji's breathing is getting heavy and fast. he kisses foxxian's tears away. "Stay," he pleads.
two, three more hard thrusts, and foxxian is coming again, legs wrapped tightly around dragonji's hips. his fingernails rake down dragonji's back, scratching across human skin and dragon scales. he sobs with abandon, his head thrown back, as he repeats dragonji's name.
dragonji follows shortly after, pressing hard enough into foxxian to almost fold him in half. his fingers dig into foxxian's waist, holding him in place as dragonji comes inside him with an pained-sounding groan. foxxian makes a small noise when he feels heat spread within him.
with care, dragonji slowly lowers himself onto the bed. he holds one of foxxian's legs in place with a hand as he rolls them both onto their sides so that they face each other. he doesn't pull out. foxxian is more than happy to submit to kisses and caresses. he's exhausted.
"I'm not going to get pregnant again, am I?" foxxian asks. his voice is a little hoarse, but he can't be bothered to care. "Hm," dragonji hums. his hips twitch as if trying to push every last bit of seed as deep into foxxian as possible. foxxian raises an eyebrow. "Am I?"
dragonji slides a hand over foxxian's stomach. "Can huli jing conceive outside of heats?" foxxian shivers; the touch tickles. "Rarely, I think. Do dragons have breeding seasons?" dragonji somehow smiles with his eyes. "No. We are fertile at all times." "Ah," foxxian croaks.
dragonji thumbs along a few of the pale stretch marks on foxxian's belly. "Are you… opposed to having more children?" he asks cautiously. foxxian groans. "A bit late to ask that, huh?" he settles, thinking. "I love children," he confesses. "And I think ours are the cutest."
dragonji visibly relaxes a little. "They are," he agrees. foxxian thinks a bit more. he'd been so scared and alone during his pregnancy. with their unknown nature and their unknown father, the babies growing within him had felt like… invaders, almost—strangers within his body.
he hadn't known what was happening, or what to expect. he'd laid *eggs*, and nobody knew what sort of creatures lay within, just waiting to emerge. truth be told, at the time, foxxian had had nightmares of horrifically-formed beings emerging from those shells.
there was a moment when jc had a strange look in his eyes as he helped watched the eggs; he looked like he wanted to crack open one of them, just to look, and know, what had grown inside of foxxian. he'd said nothing, of course, but foxxian knew—because he'd thought the same.
it is an awful thought in hindsight, but at the time, there were too many unknowns. nobody knew what the eggs contained—or if they were eggs at all—and nobody knew of the long-term effects on foxxian's body. and foxxian had feared that he wouldn't be able to love his children.
dragonji must have noticed his silence. he presses a kiss to foxxian's forehead. "Three children is enough," he says gently. "Any more, and I fear they may turn the Cloud Recesses inside-out." with a huff, foxxian buries his face against dragonji's neck. "Maybe I want them to."
dragonji hums in response. his fingers comb through foxxian's hair. after another minute, foxxian lifts his face, irritated. "Aren't you going to ask me what I mean by that?" "What do you mean by that?" "Well, *now* it doesn't count, because I told you to ask me," he scoffs.
dragonji does his laugh-exhale again. "Wei Ying." he kisses foxxian on the forehead. "Wei Ying." on his cheek. "Wei Ying." on his other cheek. foxxian squirms. his face is on fire. "Ugh, ugh, fine!" he shoves at dragonji's chest until he stops. "It's just—I wouldn't mind—that."
dragonji waits for a bit, then leans forward again, this time aiming to kiss foxxian on the nose. foxxian screeches and ducks away. "Alright, alright! I wouldn't—I said I wouldn't mind! Children, that is." his face must be as red as a cherry. "More of them. Yours."
dragonji looks at him. his facial expression doesn't change. he doesn't even blink. then, foxxian feels it: dragonji's cocks, still buried in him, twitch with renewed interest. "Wha—wait, hold on," foxxian sputters. "I didn't mean right now! Our babies aren't even weaned yet!"
"Dragons don't require milk for long," dragonji says as he rolls onto his back, pulling foxxian on top of him. "Foxes do!" foxxian argues, his voice fading into a whimper when dragonji lifts him by his hips until just the tips of his cocks remain inside of him.
in this position, at this angle, foxxian is utterly exposed. he looks down in between his legs; dragonji's cocks are shiny with both his own seed and foxxian's slick. foxxian starts to tremble all over. "M-mercy, Lan Zhan," he pleads. "I'm so tired. You're going to b-break me."
dragonji does not spare him any mercy. he pulls foxxian down as he brutally fucks up into him. no matter how much foxxian squeals or begs, dragonji doesn't slow down or stop. foxxian sobs, arms shaking as he tries to prop himself up against dragonji's chest.
when he can no longer hold himself up, he collapses onto dragonji, hands weakly curled against his chest. dragonji kisses him. "You're beautiful," he breathes. foxxian doubts he is; he's covered in sweat and tears and he's moaning uncontrollably, but dragonji seems to like it.
there is no telling how much time passes. when dragonji finally pulls him back onto the bed, foxxian is so exhausted that he can't move a muscle. "You are insatiable," he groans as dragonji pulls out of him. "Mn." dragonji kisses him before sitting up and leaving the bed.
"Why do you bite so much?" foxxian whines as dragonji returns with a warm, wet towel and begins wiping him down. "I thought dragons were herbivores." "We are," dragonji replies as he pushes foxxian's knee up and away, spreading him open. he looks in between foxxian's legs.
it takes foxxian a while to realize that dragonji is watching his seed trickle out of foxxian's body. then he finds out that he, shockingly, can still move his body when he squawks in outrage and kicks dragonji away. dragonji huffs a silent laugh and resumes cleaning him.
foxxian must have passed out in the middle of being cleaned, because the next thing he knows, he's wearing a light silk robe, his skin is clean, and his hair has been brushed. dragonji offers him a cup of water. "Drink." foxxian downs the water and lies back down on the bed.
when dragonji crawls into the bed and pulls the covers over them both, foxxian easily buries himself against him. he doesn't so much fall asleep as gets dragged down into sleep. he rests so deeply that he doesn't even dream. when foxxian next wakes, it's already dark outside.
… it's already dark outside. foxxian nearly sits up in alarm. the babies! he'd completely forgotten about their babies. he has no idea how long it has been since he last saw them, but it has been far too long. they must be *starving*, and the lan dragons don't have milk.
dragonji is still asleep, his arm around foxxian's waist. slowly, quietly, foxxian shifts into his fox form and slips out from under his arm. after giving dragonji a tiny affectionate lick on his forehead, he jumps off the bed and squeezes out the door to go find his babies.
there are still lan dragons out and about, which is good—it means it's not bedtime yet, and foxxian hasn't terribly inconvenienced lqr and the emperor with the burden of finding the babies a place to sleep. he remains in fox form, using his eyes and nose as his guides.
as he trots along the side of the wide stone path, he suddenly picks up lqr's scent. his ears perk, scanning for his babies' voices. although he hears nothing, he follows the scent. even if the babies are not currently with him, lqr will know for sure where they are.
back in the jingshi, dragonji stirs awake. the room is dark. no candles are lit. his bed is cold. his bed is cold. "Oh, no," he chokes, hands frantically searching across the bed and finding nothing. "Oh, no, no, no. Wei Ying. Wei Ying."
------------- foxxian spends an awkwardly long time outside of lqr's room. he forgot to put on shoes and he's only wearing the white silk robe dragonji gave him, so he would be severely underdressed if he entered as a human. but he can't speak as a fox—which would also be rude.
eventually, he decides to go as a human. after checking his reflection in a nearby pond and arranging his hair to hide his hickeys and bite marks, foxxian knocks on the door. "Who is it?" lqr asks. "It's Wei Wuxian," foxxian answers. "Come inside," lqr says.
foxxian steps into the building. to his surprise—and relief—the interior is warm. he exhales in relief and rubs his cold hands together. "Good evening, Lan-xiansheng." lqr is sitting at his desk with a bulge at his chest; foxxian's youngest, pudgiest baby is tucked in his robes.
the fox-dragon baby is the epitome of comfort; he's buried so deeply in lqr's robes that only his ears, forehead, and snout are visible. the top of his head is flat, like someone has been petting—or kissing—him there, repeatedly. he's snoring quietly, fast asleep.
it takes foxxian a moment to locate his middle child, and with good reason; his middle baby is almost unrecognizable with how covered in ink he is. he's so busy shredding and rolling around in rice paper that he hardly notices foxxian's entrance.
as foxxian steps into the room, lqr raises an eyebrow at him. "Why are you wearing so little?" his voice is quiet, but scolding. "Do you wish to catch your death of cold? Where's Wangji?" "He's back at the jingshi," foxxian answers. "I hope the babies didn't give you trouble."
the lines on lqr's face deepen. "They were not any trouble." nearby, the middle fox-dragon baby growls as he thrashes a sheet of rice paper around. bits of ink-stained paper float about in the air. some drift over the fireplace and catch on fire. "Uh huh," foxxian says.
lqr somehow smoothly rises to his feet without disturbing the baby in his robes. with one hand supporting the bulge at his chest, he walks over to a wardrobe and pulls out a thick robe. "Put this on," he tells foxxian. "I'll summon Wangji to bring your shoes later."
as foxxian slips into the heavy robe, the middle fox-dragon baby suddenly notices him. with a great shriek that startles the youngest baby awake, the middle launches himself at foxxian. "Oh no." foxxian is wearing a pristine white robe, and the baby is covered in ink. "Oh no—"
inevitably, foxxian and his newly-borrowed robe get covered in ink as he tries to hug a very excited, very wriggly fox-dragon baby. the middle baby is so happy that the only sounds he can make are long, whining cries as he tries to crawl into foxxian's robes.
the youngest, now fully awake from what was undoubtedly a luxurious nap, fights his way out of lqr's robes and bounds over to join them. his fur is still very warm from lqr's body heat, and he's still a little slow from sleep, but he greets foxxian with many mlem mlem kisses.
foxxian is in the middle of covering them both in kisses when he startles. "Where's my eldest?" "With my imperial nephew," lqr grumbles as he fixes the front of his now-empty robe. "He wanted to show him around the throne room." foxxian's jaw drops. "Oh. Wow. The throne room."
"My imperial nephews claims the eldest one wanted to see," lqr says gruffly. "He took him there after their supper." "Supper?" foxxian asks. he runs a hand on his middle baby's belly; it feels surprisingly full. "I may have… fed them," lqr bows his head. "They were hungry."
foxxian's eyebrows reach for his hairline. "Fed them?" "I used a mixture of rice milk and cream that has had herbs steeped in them," lqr clarifies. "It's what I fed my nephews when they were small." dragonji and his brother were raised by lqr? huh. he must be experienced, then.
"Thank you for feeding them," foxxian sighs. "I was worried about them going hungry." "It is no trouble," lqr insists. "I do not mind." foxxian nuzzles both of his babies. "Well. It is almost bedtime. I should be going, and this one needs a bath." he nudges the middle baby.
lqr takes a little too long to answer. "Of course." he returns to his wardrobe. "I'll accompany you to the throne room. I believe I still have a pair of Wangji's old shoes here…" he produces a pair of clean boots. they're a little big on foxxian, but they fit well enough.
the walk to the throne room takes a while, with lqr wordlessly taking the two babies back into his arms once they leave his quarters. foxxian doesn't mind; his babies look happy enough to be carried by their great-uncle. the throne room, foxxian soon discovers, is massive.
it is immediately apparent that the hall is built for dragons; the throne is not so much a chair as it is a coiling, carved, stylized jade mountain. foxxian can only imagine that the emperor holds court in dragon form, towering over his subjects from his throne of white jade.
emperorlxc is, indeed, in dragon form—but he is not on his throne. rather, he is in front of it: standing on his hind legs, with his front talons propped against the throne. he is speaking to a tiny dark grey fluff ball at the very top of the throne.
"This is what I see daily," emperorlxc's voice rumbles through the hall. "What do you think?" the eldest fox-dragon baby peers down at the ground far below. he sniffs the air, then lets out a small yip that echoes in the massive room. "I completely agree," emperorlxc says.
emperorlxc: look, nephew—everything the light touches is our nation eldest fox-dragon bby: mrrp? emperorlxc: that shadowy place is your father's jingshi. 😌 you must never go there when your parents are there together, alone.
no matter how many times foxxian reminds himself that his babies can fly, it still scares him to see his baby up so high. "Baobei," he calls. the eldest fox-dragon baby's ears perk up. he starts doing a silly little indecisive dance in place, uncertain whether he can jump down.
eventually, fear gets the better of him. he trembles on the edge of the throne, looking directly at foxxian, and starts to openly cry. emperorlxc clicks at him, which calms him a little. he offers his snout; the baby scrambles on and coos excitedly as emperorlxc brings him down.
once the baby is close enough, he leaps directly down into foxxian's waiting arms; he doesn't bother flying, and crashes hard enough into foxxian that foxxian nearly loses his balance. the fox-dragon baby is a ball of joy and relief. he cries directly against foxxian's neck.
the crying doesn't last for long; the baby notices that there are patches on his mama's neck that are… discolored. he sniffs at one particularly nasty-looking red spot and whines. he licks it. foxxian yelps, laughing. "Ah! Don't do that! I'm, er, I'm fine. It doesn't hurt."
unfortunately, the baby is quite determined. further investigation reveals even more of these strange red marks. his whining grows. these look so painful! poor mama! meanwhile foxxian is MORTIFIED. there's no way lqr and emperorlxc don't see the bite marks and hickeys.
"Ahaha." he gently pushes his baby's snout away and wraps his cloak tighter around his neck. "Um. That's just, uh. It's—" "I saw nothing," emperorlxc says demurely, now back in human form. "Your neck looks fine." foxxian groans. he wants to shrink into the cloak and disappear.
"I hope they were not too much trouble for Your Majesty," foxxian says. "Not at all." emperorlxc gives him a kind smile before reaching out to scratch under the eldest fox-dragon baby's chin. "This little one was very curious. I enjoyed showing him around."
"That is good." foxxian gives his babies a kiss on their heads. "Thank you, Your Majesty, Lan-xiansheng, for watching them." "It is our pleasure." emperorlxc hides his mouth behind a raised sleeve. "Do let us know should you ever find yourself in need of a… break, again."
'i am never going to ask them to watch the babies again,' foxxian thinks with the sort of deliriousness that comes at the tail end of being too embarrassed. "Of course," his voice cracks. emperorlxc's smile slips as he looks around. "Where's Wangji? Is he not with you?"
"Lan Zh—" oof, maybe foxxian shouldn't be so familiar with his name; he's still a prince, after all. "His Highness is still asleep. I came to get our children, because it's late." to his surprise, emperorlxc's eyes widen. "You left him *alone*? After the two of you—" he stops.
at that moment, one of the babies gives a soft whimper and starts to shiver. the youngest fox-dragon baby flies back to lqr and wriggles his way down lqr's robe again. foxxian's next exhale is visible. the wind picks up, blowing frigid air and falling snow into the hall.
it's almost summer. there should be no snow.
immediately, emperorlxc shifts into dragon form and flies directly into the forming blizzard. lqr pulls the disgruntled youngest baby out of his robe and tucks him into foxxian's cloak along with the others. "Keep them warm," he orders, before he also changes into a dragon.
foxxian holds them close; low temperatures are dangerous for tiny bodies—even half-dragon ones. "What's going on?" he calls above the growing howl of wind. "Where's Lan Zhan?" "He is clearly out of his mind," lqr answers as his talons scrape against the stone floor. "Wait here."
foxxian badly wants to follow them out into the storm, but his fox form has long since shed its winter coat; he would have no protection in either form. the babies are terrified. they have never witnessed a storm before. they shiver and quietly cry from within foxxian's cloak.
"Shh, shh," foxxian tries to soothe them. he rocks them back and forth, then decides that if he sits down and curls around them, they might be warmer. "It's alright. It's just—it's baba's storm. Baba wouldn't hurt us." that helps a bit, somewhat. the babies are still scared.
"Wangji." it is amazing how emperorlxc's voice can be both soft and yet sharp enough to cut through the wind. foxxian strains to hear him. "Huang-xiong," that's dragonji's voice. he somehow sounds both resigned and panicked. "I—brought someone back. Wei Ying. You've seen him."
emperorlxc sighs. "Yes—" "You've seen him," dragonji is a little louder and definitely more panicked. the wind starts to pick back up. "He was here. He has grey eyes, a red ribbon—or, he did. I don't know if he—he's a huli jing. He can shape-shift. But he was here. I held him."
"He *is* here," emperorlxc says gently. "Wangji, he just went to retrieve your children." there is a very heavy pause. "Children." dragonji sounds distant, despite not having moved. "We have children." "You cannot see them right now," lqr states firmly. "You'll freeze them."
"My children," dragonji breathes. to foxxian's alarm, ice starts to creep into the throne hall from between the door cracks. "My children. You've seen them too." "Yes." emperorlxc's words are deliberately slow and low, like calming a panicked horse. "They're all here."
foxxian can almost taste blood from biting his tongue. he wants so badly to call out to dragonji and make his presence known, but he's already starting to lose some sensation in his fingers. the babies haven't stopped shivering. if he calls out, and dragonji opens the door…
… then chances are high that the freezing cold would reach their babies, and that is not something foxxian is willing to risk. outside, lqr and emperorlxc are still speaking. "Wangji, you need to recenter yourself," lqr orders. "This is improper behavior, and it cannot go on."
"You have our word that your huli jing mate and children haven't left the Cloud Recesses," emperorlxc vows. "All will be well, Wangji. Now, please: calm down. The storm will not aid your search." ice continues spreading across the floor. foxxian moves away, keeping his distance.
the more ice seeps into the throne hall, the colder the air grows. foxxian's teeth start chattering. at least one of the babies has stopped crying, too tired and cold to continue. then, without warning, the youngest, pudgiest fox-dragon baby lets out a shrill, pleading wail.
the ice stops at foxxian's feet. even the wind ceases to howl outside. the baby cries out again before foxxian can stop him; the sound echoes around the empty hall. the doors fling open. cold wind and snow rush in. foxxian's eyes nearly freeze shut; keeping them open hurts.
he can't see, and he can't cry out. it's so cold that he no longer feels cold. all he can do is sink to the floor, curled around his now-silent and unmoving fox-dragon babies. there's ice in foxxian's hair. and eyelashes. and clothes. maybe even his lungs. it's hard to tell.
he doesn't fall unconscious—at least not completely. he hears shouting, the doors slamming shut. then, the sound of something massive flying overhead and away. the doors open again, this time without any biting cold. hurried footsteps approach, then someone picks foxxian up.
whoever it is must be strong; foxxian is half-convinced that that he has frozen into a heavy block of ice. he's jostled about as whoever is carrying him breaks into a run. he can't tell for sure if he's still holding his babies. he hopes he is. he can't leave them behind.
he hears voices. none of them belong to dragonji. something warm and heavy presses down on him—a blanket, most likely. foxxian is so cold that the warmth almost burns. his eyes still hurt. he's not sure if he can speak. he's so tired, and he doesn't know where his babies are.
when he sleeps, it's deep and dreamless. he wakes to warmth; he can hear a fire crackling and see its light through his eyelids. his eyes are still dry and painful; his vision is a blur. still, he sees a white-clothed sitting figure surrounded by three fuzzy, moving things.
foxxian tries to speak. "L—" his throat feels like he swallowed sand. he coughs and tries again. "Lan… Zhan?" the figure hesitates, then gathers the three fuzzy things and walks over to foxxian. "It's Lan Qiren," the figure answers gruffly, before placing the fuzzies down.
whatever doubts foxxian had about the fuzzies' identities immediately disappear when he's attacked with needy whines and licks across his face. one of the fox-dragon babies—they all sort of look the same at the moment—accidentally shoves an entire paw in foxxian's mouth.
"The babies are in perfect health," lqr explains as foxxian yelps and spits out the stray paw. "They are not immune to the cold like we dragons are, but they seem to enter a torpor state when exposed to unexpected temperature drops." "So they fell asleep?" foxxian sputters.
"They fell asleep," lqr sighs. "You, on the other hand, were wearing only a thin silk robe and a single cloak. The physician expects you to fully recover, but until then, stay warm and do not touch your eyes." foxxian feels around for a baby to hug. "Where's Lan Zhan?"
this time, lqr's sigh sounds much more weary. "That foolish boy is going to be the death of me. He flew off after he saw you—most likely to take the snowstorm away from you." "When is he coming back?" foxxian tries not to sound desperate. "I want to see him."
"He should return soon." lqr stands up. "In the meantime, we can set up a guest bedroom for you and the children." foxxian scowls. "I prefer to sleep in the jingshi." "That's not possible at the moment," lqr replies bluntly. "Wangji has frozen the jingshi. It's uninhabitable."
the guest room is in a section of the cloud recesses that foxxian is not familiar with. it is also not as big as the jingshi. the fox-dragon babies whine softly as they sniff the air; there's no trace of dragonji's familiar sandalwood scent here.
"You should get some rest," lqr says before he leaves. "Don't strain your eyes." "I want to wait for Lan Zhan," foxxian tells him. a pause. "You should get some rest," lqr repeats, firmly.
the babies are restless. they've just woken up from what they think is nothing more than a good nap, and they don't want to go to sleep. they squeal in protest when foxxian tries to tucks them into bed. foxxian's body is still tingly from nearly being frozen, and he's tired.
"Baobei, can we not do this right now?" he hates how tired and upset he sounds, but he can't help it. "I want baba to come back too, but I can't fly and I don't know where he is, so we're just going to have to wait for him to return." the babies grumble, but they quiet down.
eventually, they all curl up next to foxxian, but they don't sleep. the middle fox-dragon baby quietly cries to himself, hiccupping every now and then. that hurts to hear. foxxian gathers them in his arms and pulls them closer. "Baba will be back very soon," he promises them.
'very soon' turns out to be half an hour later. at the noise of approaching footsteps, all three babies lift their heads simultaneously, ears perked. when knocks sound at the door, the babies scramble off the bed, yipping and clicking the whole way to the door.
the door slides open, and foxxian hears a chuckle. "Isn't it past your bedtime, little ones?" that sounds like the emperor. foxxian squints at the door. his vision is still a little blurry, but he can see two figures—both of them bending to pick up the babies.
foxxian sits up in bed. he almost rubs his eyes, then remembers at the last moment not to. "Your Majesty?" "It is good to see you're alright, Wei Wuxian," emperorlxc replies. foxxian can't tell which of the two spoke. "… Lan Zhan?" a pause, then a quiet answer, "I am here."
he is here. foxxian gives a small exhale and sinks back down onto the bed in relief. he would recognize dragonji's voice anywhere, even if he can't see him. the babies are ecstatic. the room is filled with yips, clicks, howls, and whines as they greet their father and uncle.
after showering each fox-dragon baby with affection and reassurance, emperorlxc dismisses himself for the night. "I'll send a physician tomorrow to check on your recovery," he tells foxxian before he leaves. the room is much quieter now that it's just them and the babies.
even the babies have quieted down, although it's difficult to say if it's because emperorlxc tired them out or if they've picked up on the awkward atmosphere in the room. "So," foxxian starts, "the legends of dragons being the masters of the skies is true, I see."
dragonji exhales. it sounds shaky. "The blame for today's incident falls on me alone. I lost control, and my actions endangered you and our children." foxxian raises an eyebrow. normally, he would be tempted to downplay the severity, but his babies were involved in this.
"Yeah, you did make me think that our babies were going to freeze to death," he says. "That's a high price to pay for 'losing control'." the silence before dragonji's answer is stifling. "It is," he whispers. "It will not happen again." "It had better not." foxxian retorts.
"I promise it will not." "Can you?" foxxian raises an eyebrow. "Because it sounds like you panicked. How can you be certain that you won't panic again?" this silence is even longer than the previous. "I will not put you or the children in danger again." dragonji is so quiet.
foxxian sighs deeply and rubs his face, careful to avoid his eyes. "Why did you panic, anyways?" he asks. "It must have been serious if it made you lose control like that." "It was a…" dragonji seems to struggle to find words, "… personal matter. I will handle it myself."
foxxian scowls in his direction. "Oh, no. This stopped being a personal matter when it involved our children. What's going on? I heard you asking the emperor if he'd seen me." dragonji's breath audibly hitches. it's the only clue foxxian needs.
"Oh, you're *kidding* me," foxxian groans. "Seriously, Lan Zhan? I was getting our babies! I was gone for half an hour—maximum! Are you telling me that I can't leave your side now without permission?" dragonji bows his head. his hair must be undone; parts of it cover his face.
"Is this a dragon thing?" foxxian demands. "'I slept with you, therefore I belong to you' or something like that?" he pauses, thinking. "Uh. Dragons don't view sex as marriage, do they?" "No." dragonji sounds oddly strained. "This is not a marriage. You are not… mine to keep."
there is something about the way he said those words that makes everything foxxian was going to say evaporate out of his brain. "Lan Zhan?" he squints; he really wishes he could see more clearly. "You sound a little… are you alright?" no answer. dragonji is completely silent.
foxxian can just barely see one of his babies in dragonji's arms. the baby doesn't whine the way he normally would when he senses that his parents are upset. instead, the fox-dragon baby is making soft clicking sounds in between audible 'mlem' sounds near dragonji's face.
he's comforting him, foxxian realizes with a jolt. if dragonji were angry or frustrated, their baby would be trying to appease him—not comfort him. foxxian is suddenly on his feet, alarmed, and walking towards them. "Lan Zhan?" he reaches out. "Lan Zhan, oh. Oh, no."
dragonji flinches and tries to step back, but foxxian is already in front of him. foxxian reaches out to touch his face. it's a little damp near his chin, most likely from their baby's licking, but his eyes are distinctly wet. "Oh," foxxian says quietly.
foxxian doesn't think twice about taking dragonji's hand and tugging him towards the bed. "Come here," he says. "Sit with me." the moment dragonji sits down, foxxian pulls him down into an embrace. dragonji makes a choked sound and buries his face against foxxian's shoulder.
dragonji, foxxian discovers, is a silent crier. he doesn't sob or wail or hiccup. he just trembles in stifled silence—which is somehow so much worse. foxxian pats his back. "Aiya, I didn't know I birthed a fourth child," he jokes gently. "Shh, it will be alright."
their fox-dragon baby is a little annoyed that he doesn't have full access to his father's face anymore. he wedges his snout in between dragonji's neck and foxxian's shoulder, grunting softly as he tries to nose his way back to dragonji's face. foxxian boops him. "Be patient."
dragonji doesn't move for a long time, but his breathing slowly settles and some of the tension leaves his body. foxxian continues rubbing his back and humming quietly to him. at one point, he turns his head to press a kiss against dragonji's hair. dragonji makes a soft sound.
"There we are," foxxian croons as he adds more kisses to the side of dragonji's head. "Do you feel better?" dragonji lifts his head, but doesn't back away. their noses almost brush. "Mn." "Good," foxxian whispers as he leans forward and presses their foreheads together. "Good."
it takes very little effort for foxxian to close the distance and kiss him gently. dragonji exhales and returns the kiss. it's slow and comforting, not like the frantic, desperate kisses just a few hours prior. it warms foxxian from within and makes his skin tingle pleasantly.
meanwhile, the fox-dragon babies, who have Never seen a mouth-to-mouth kiss:
the babies are very confused. they crawl onto their parents' laps, chirruping, to investigate. they sniff at their parents' faces and lick the underside of their chins. foxxian breaks away with a giggle when the licks get too ticklish. "Baobei, you're all so nosey!"
dragonji gathers the babies in his arms and holds them in between him and foxxian. satisfied that their parents' attentions are back on them, the babies settle. the youngest rests his head on dragonji's hand and closes his eyes. "Feeling better?" foxxian asks.
dragonji nods. "Can you tell me what happened today? From your perspective?" foxxian presses. dragonji pauses. he looks back down at their fox-dragon babies. foxxian's sight is still blurry, but it's not so blurry that he misses the way dragonji's brows furrow.
dragonji, foxxian realizes, responds positively to physical touch—so foxxian wastes no time scooting closer and tucking his head in and under dragonji's chin. he hears dragonji inhale sharply, then exhale slowly at the contact. "Tell me, please?" foxxian says. "I want to know."
he feels dragonji rest his cheek against the top of foxxian's head. he still doesn't answer, so foxxian just lets it be. this feel nice, anyhow. warm. safe. just as foxxian is contemplating calling it a night and going to sleep, he hears dragonji murmur, "I thought you left."
Elissa 🥮 | yiling laozu apologist
I write dank MDZS stuff|she/her|21+ profile|ENG/中文|Pic by @leelee_ahn|all dynamics wangxian 💙❤️|
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