With hindsight, Shen Wei could admit that it was generally a bad idea to agree to Zhao Yun Lan’s plans.
It was true, of course, that Shen Wei was naturally inclined to agree with whatever Yunlan asked of him. Usually he was able to guard against that instinct to some extent, mostly by avoiding eye contact and occasionally by physically leaving the room, but it was impossible to keep his guard up one hundred percent of the time.
The real issue was that Yunlan was both aware of and very willing to exploit this weakness.
“Xiao Wei,” he began, an opening salvo which Shen Wei felt like a physical blow. He must have misspoken, he thought, with some desperation. “Shen Wei, I have a favour to ask.”
Yunlan smiled across the conference table at him, his eyes half shut and his tongue poking out in a way Shen Wei found desperately appealing.
It would be very unfair to do this to anybody at four thirty am, but it was a particular cruelty to Shen Wei, who had been awake much of the evening marking papers and really wanted nothing more than a little peace and quiet before his first morning class began. He wasn’t entirely sure how he’d ended up spending an extra few hours at Yunlan’s apartment, considering how easy it would be to return to his own.
Things were becoming much more difficult than they ought to. Things like keeping a sensible distance from Yunlan.
He sighed, and shut the book he’d been pretending to read in between sneaking glances at Yunlan as he worked on his own paperwork. “What would you have me do?”
Yunlan leant forward, resting his weight on his elbows. “There is a location we need to survey for this case, but it is - how to put this…” He tilted his head thoughtfully, licked his lips.
Shen Wei bit his lip. “You know that danger is no problem for me, Chief Zhao.”
“No, no, it’s not that,” said Yunlan, eyes wide. “It’s simply that the location is, well. It’s a little seedy. I’m not sure a respectable professor like yourself should be seen there, but Lao Chu, Xiao Guo and Da Qing will be busy elsewhere, and Zhu Hong is… unsuitable. So I thought I might ask you to come with me, as a favour. Feel free to refuse.”
“Perhaps it would help if you told me of this mysterious location,” replied Shen Wei, when it became clear there was no clarification incoming. He had the distinct impression that whatever information Yunlan was holding back was either merely embarrassing or actively incriminating, and either way he needed to know about it.
With careful nonchalance, Yunlan slid the file he’d been perusing across the table towards Shen Wei. “It’s a club for Dixing, we think. Dixing and… hangers on, I suppose. I would go alone but Lao Chu’s convinced I’d get killed the instant I step inside. Says I have a bad attitude.”
“I see,” said Shen Wei. The uppermost page in the file had a photo of the alleged club, labelled as such - a storefront with blacked out windows and ‘地狱’ painted above the doorway in gold. “Do you suppose my attitude is less of an incitement to murder than your own? I’m flattered.” He smiled, despite himself.
“It’s hard to deny you’re much more reserved than I, Professor Shen,” said Yunlan. “So that’s one reason. The other reasons I think I’ll keep to myself. We all have to have some secrets, no?” He gave Shen Wei an odd look - there was a weight to it that Shen Wei didn’t know how to decipher.
“Of course.” Shen Wei ducked his head. “Well, in that case I’ll see you there this evening. What time should I arrive?”
“Our information says the place opens at 10pm, but I’m planning to turn up at around midnight. Wear something clubbable,” Yunlan said as an afterthought. “Your style is impeccable, of course, but a little straight laced for somewhere like this.”
Shen Wei blinked, looking down at his outfit. It was a little rumpled from the all-nighter they’d pulled, his waistcoat unbuttoned.
“No need to pout, professor,” said Yunlan with another grin. “If nothing else, just lose the tie and waistcoat and you might just make it in.” He winked. “Could lose a lot more than that, probably, but get to the venue first. Wouldn’t want to be arrested before you made it all the way there.”
There was really no way to get the conversation back to safe territory after that. With a sigh, Shen Wei stood up, shrugged on his jacket and picked up his bag, holding it against his stomach like a shield. “As I said, Chief. I’ll see you this evening.”
The place really did look kind of seedy. There were signs of damage and neglect that hadn’t been visible in the photo Shen Wei had seen, splintered wood in the window frames and a pane of glass replaced with plywood.
He smoothed down his shirt for the hundredth time, feeling self conscious amid the slow stream of patrons coming in and out of the entrance. It was less anxiety about the club itself and more about those patrons - if any Dixing was to notice the Envoy among them it would almost certainly result in a great deal of danger in close proximity to Yunlan. This was of course unacceptable. But the alternative was not less unpleasant - leaving Yunlan to face unknown dangers alone and relatively defenseless.
Shen Wei turned at the sound of Yunlan’s greeting, a smile forming unbidden on his face. He ducked his head slightly, tried to control himself once more.
“Good evening,” he replied. “Fancy seeing you here.” He raised his head, met Yunlan’s eyes for a moment.
It took another for Shen Wei to process the fact that Yunlan had also altered his wardrobe for the night - he looked almost as he always did, but there was something subtly different in his bearing, a new depth to his eyes.
His jeans were a little tighter than usual, his neckline stretched out. He was wearing eyeliner. Shen Wei swallowed. He brushed his shirt down again, twisted his fingers together behind his back to keep from reaching out and touching, as if he were a child left alone in a china shop.
“It’s certainly a pleasure,” said Yunlan, turning to look at the storefront that concealed the club, hands in his pockets, rocking back onto his heels. The line of his body drew Shen Wei’s eye, and, he assumed, the eye of any sentient being with any sense. “Good job on the outfit, by the way. It’ll do nicely.”
This was an unexpected danger.
“Just what are we looking for here?” Shen Wei asked, taking a step closer to Yunlan. It was important not to be overheard, of course.
Yunlan leaned in, so close Shen Wei could almost feel his breath against his cheek. “There is a report of a Dixing in Dragon City who has been hypnotising patrons at this club. We have only a rough description as any trace of this Dixing’s face has been wiped from victims’ memories.”
A deeply disturbed individual, then.
“Ah,” he said. He would have to stay close to Yunlan to keep him safe; not a hardship, of course. It would make it near impossible to use his dark energy, however, and that would be yet another unexpected danger.
He couldn’t ask Yunlan to turn back, though. Not without an explanation, one strong enough to convince him to stay away for good.
“Yeah,” Yunlan replied, looking troubled. He’d moved back to a respectable distance now. There was a flush high on his cheeks, despite the chill in the air. “We’ll have to stick close together in there. Keep out of this Dixing’s way.”
They had to descend down a flight of stairs, past a bouncer and a woman selling body paint, to enter the club. There wasn’t much ornamentation on the stairway, besides a few tour posters that were ripped beyond recognition.
The club itself was dimly lit, sticky and unpleasant, more or less as Shen Wei had expected. He grimaced as his left shoe released itself from a puddle of something just inside the doorway. Music throbbed in the background, somehow both overpowering and not loud enough, as patrons shouted conversations over other people’s heads.
“Not really your kind of bar, huh,” said Yunlan, raising his voice to be heard over the din.
“No,” replied Shen Wei, shaking his head. He couldn’t sense any Dixing in this main area, but there was no way to tell Yunlan that without inviting a number of follow up questions, none of which he was in the mood to answer.
His shirtsleeves were rolled to his elbows; he’d left his top button undone, exposing the hollow of his throat. It made him feel uncomfortable - vulnerable, even - despite the number of patrons that had forgone shirts altogether. He startled as Yunlan’s fingers closed around his wrist, tugging him through the crowd. The dry warmth of skin against skin felt very different from the close, muggy heat of the room.
“Alright?” Yunlan shouted over his shoulder. He was grinning in a way that Shen Wei assumed was supposed to be reassuring.
Shen Wei nodded. He opened his mouth, not quite sure how to respond.
In that moment another patron danced between them, breaking the hold Yunlan had on his wrist.
Yunlan swore, arm and fingers outstretched, but the damage was done.
Within a few seconds Shen Wei found himself swept into the crowd, unable to spot Yunlan through the mass of people and in such dim light. He scowled at existence in general. A flicker of fear wanted to catch into flame.
“This is a useless establishment,” he muttered, shouldering his way in the direction of the bar. “Full of useless, thoughtless people.” He let a flare of dark energy gather in his palm, hidden against the curve of his hip.
There was a Dixing in the room. Perhaps, Shen Wei thought, this Dixing had somehow learned to cloak itself, to avoid detection by others of its own kind. He could sense it now, though, a signal flare in the darkness of the room.
A flare coming from the same direction Yunlan had disappeared in.
His eyes widened, the flicker of fear growing. His journey through the crowd gained speed, stride lengthening, and he earned more than a few rude comments as he pushed his way towards the bar. It was impossible to care about that, though.
Yunlan was in sight, sat at the bar with a man with dark energy in the curve of his smile. It was a good deal quieter close to the bar - quiet enough that Shen Wei could hear the man whispering, each word making Yunlan wilt a little more.
Without conscious thought, Shen Wei slid up to Yunlan’s side and put a careful hand on his arm. Glancing sidelong at him, it was clear the Dixing had begun to do something - Yunlan’s eyes were glazed over, their usual keen focus completely gone.
“Yunlan?” Shen Wei said, attempting to sound something other than terrified. “I was just wondering where you got to! You have got to stop wandering off like this.” He turned his head to smile at the Dixing. “Thank you for keeping him company, but I think I’ll take it from here.”
“Oh, but we were just getting to know each other,” said the Dixing, his words like an oil slick. “Can’t you give us just a few minutes.”
“No,” said Shen Wei, far too quickly. He took a deep breath. “No, sorry. He promised me an early night, you know.” He smiled, and wrapped his fingers around Yunlan’s wrist. He’d been told once, several thousand years ago now, that his smile could have killed a lesser man.
If only it would work on this one.
“Well, fair enough,” said the Dixing, after a long pause. “I’ll let you look after your boy, if you insist.” Shen Wei didn’t take his eyes off him as he slid off his stool and back into the crowd, vanishing between one beat and the next.
He turned back to his - to Yunlan. “Chief Zhao?” He asked quietly, a thread of panic thrumming in his veins. “Are you alright?”
Yunlan blinked a few times. The glazed look faded after a few moments, his eyes returning to their usual dark shade. “What happened?” He made to stand up, only then noticing Shen Wei’s hand on his arm.
“My apologies,” said Shen Wei. He let go of Yunlan’s wrist, trying not to check for bruising. “We were separated. The Dixing almost got you.” He swallowed, ran his tongue over his teeth. “He may be looking for another victim even now.”
“Then we need to find him,” said Yunlan, a determined look stealing over him. His knees buckled as he stood, though.
Shen Wei reached for him and caught him easily, arm around his waist. “You should rest, Chief. Dark energy drains even the most determined of investigators, you know.” He tried to smile, but didn’t think he quite managed it.
“I can’t rest while that Dixing could be hypnotising another patron! What kind of officer would I be to stand by while a crime is committed?”
With a sigh, Shen Wei realised he wasn’t going to win the argument. It was becoming a familiar feeling, but not one he would ever enjoy.
Yunlan started to walk off, then paused and spun back, his weight on his back foot. “Hang on. Why did this man leave, anyway?”
Shen Wei felt like screaming for a moment. “What do you mean?”
With a frown, Yunlan took a step closer, one hand running through his hair. “He had me at his mercy, right? And even if you showed up, surely he could’ve found some excuse to get me on my own. Why let me go?”
“I may have - given him the wrong impression,” Shen Wei began. He ducked his head, unwilling to look at whatever reaction Yunlan might have to this particular piece of subterfuge. “He seemed to think we were… lovers, or something similar. Perhaps he doesn’t like to break people up.”
“Perhaps.” Yunlan’s hand came to rest on Shen Wei’s arm. Shen Wei looked up, startled, to find Yunlan smiling at him. “Thanks, anyway. It’s a good cover, and you probably saved my life.” He slid his hand down Shen Wei’s arm and took his hand. “Besides, if I had to pick someone to pretend to be my boyfriend, you’re certainly not my last choice.”
Shen Wei really didn’t know what to do with… any of that. “You’re welcome,” he said, after a pause that went on just a hair too long. “I apologise, nonetheless. I shouldn’t have lost you in the crowd.”
“How else would we have found him! Come on, Professor Shen. Silver linings, right?” Yunlan grinned. Shen Wei smiled back, helplessly.
They moved through the crowd more efficiently, this time, taking the time to move with the rhythm of the song until it was almost a dance. Almost.
Shen Wei couldn’t see the Dixing anywhere in the main area. “Is there another area?” He asked, as they leaned against the far wall, away from the noise.
“Lin Jing found the floor plan for this building from just a few years ago, and there were some service corridors that branch off from this room,” said Yunlan, slouching a little. “There should be a door nearby, but I can’t spot it in this light.”
A quick glance around revealed nothing. Shen Wei sighed, and shut his eyes, extending his senses just a little ways beyond what a human ought to have. He could hear an odd echo several metres to the left, like something behind the wall.
“It’s over there,” he said, pointing blindly.
Yunlan clapped him on the shoulder. “Good man,” he said cheerfully, and tugged Shen Wei after him. It was only at that moment that Shen Wei noticed they were still holding hands, that dry warmth still a comfort.
The door was supremely inconspicuous, painted to match the surrounding wall. It had a keyhole but no handle, and was unlocked.
This last fact made it slightly less inconspicuous.
Yunlan pressed his ear to the door, leaving Shen Wei to stand guard. He could feel the presence of a few more Dixing, now, but no malicious intent from any of them. It was likely they were simply here for a good time, like all the other patrons who hadn’t been dragged here out of a sense of duty to a man who’d been dead for ten thousand years.
Possibly Shen Wei was a little angry about the situation.
With a flourish, Yunlan pulled the door open just far enough to slip through, pulling Shen Wei in after him. He pushed it shut behind them and leaned against it, looking supremely pleased with himself.
This expression lasted only a few seconds before his eyes widened, that glazed look beginning to creep across them.
Shen Wei didn’t think before he stepped forward, pressing himself to Yunlan from knees to chest. Yunlan’s mouth was inches away from his. He could hear someone’s footsteps behind him - the Dixing, most likely.
He leaned in those last few inches without another thought. The feeling of Yunlan’s mouth against his was intoxicating, of course, like watching a meteor shower from a mountaintop or falling off a cliff into a rolling wave. He almost forgot why he was kissing him at all, until he felt Yunlan’s hands - one on his waist and one tangling in his hair. At that point he really did forget why they were kissing; he threw his whole self into it, knowing it would likely be the only time. The rasp of Yunlan’s beard against his own skin - the sharp tug of Yunlan’s hand in his hair - the whole feeling of having him, some version of him, at last. It was all far too much, and exactly right.
Yunlan moaned as Shen Wei bit down on his lower lip.
His own hands moved of their own accord - one resting on the door behind Yunlan’s head, the other cupped around the back of his neck, pulling him in closer. He didn’t know how long it lasted, his grasp of the passage of time faded and unimportant. All he knew was that they stopped, eventually, and he had one millisecond of uncomplicated happiness to look at Yunlan’s mouth swollen with kisses before he remembered to hate himself for it.
He stepped back.
“Chief Zhao, I - I don’t know how to -”
He didn’t get much further into his desperate apology, though. The Dixing, almost forgotten in the background, chose that moment to kick Shen Wei’s knees out from under him. If he’d been paying attention, it wouldn’t have affected him at all, but as it was he felt himself falling almost before he registered the impact.
“Shen Wei!” Yunlan jumped past him as he fell, landing a solid kick to the Dixing’s stomach before being swept aside as it advanced on Shen Wei, now slumped against a wall with his palms flat against the floor.
The Dixing smiled that oil-slick grin at him again. “You really are a determined little one, huh,” it said, moving towards him with dark intent in each step. “Let’s see how you feel when I --” It reached out a hand, perhaps to try (and fail) to put Shen Wei under its thrall.
Nothing happened for a long moment.
Shen Wei laughed, almost despite himself. Yunlan, now recovered from his sideswipe and holding the hall fire extinguisher, clocked the Dixing in the back of the head. It crumpled to the ground, still breathing.
“Thank you.” Shen Wei pushed himself up, making sure to dispel the dark energy he’d begun to gather almost by reflex under his palms. “Chief Zhao, I really must --”
Yunlan waved a hand at him. “Save it for later, Professor. Let’s get this somewhere secure, and then we can talk, alright?”
A pause. “Alright,” Shen Wei agreed. He bit his lip. “Are you going to call someone, or will we be sneaking a body through a crowded nightclub all by ourselves?”
It took far longer than Shen Wei would have imagined to get the Dixing out of the club without being noticed.
Thankfully, it wasn’t his job. Yunlan delegated it to Lao Chu and Xiao Guo when they returned from whatever errand they’d been running, and directed them to come and pick up the man as soon as possible.
A cab ride back to their apartment building passed in complete silence. Shen Wei wanted to speak multiple times, almost felt he had to, felt the words bubbling up vomit-like in his throat, but he never quite managed to find the right order for them.
It wasn’t until he was at Yunlan’s door, Yunlan stood in the living room and himself in the corridor outside, that he managed to speak.
“Chief Zhao,” he said, back ramrod straight, sleeves rolled down and top button done up. “I apologise for this evening. It was -- I crossed a line I shouldn’t have, and if you wish to avoid me from now on I completely understand.” He shut his eyes for a moment, pushed his glasses up.
Yunlan sighed. “I thought you’d pull something like this,” he said. Shen Wei heard him step closer, until he was almost on the threshold. “I don’t know what you think happened, but from my perspective you not only saved me from getting hypnotised twice, you also gave me the best make out session of my entire life. I’m not inclined to accept an apology when I would personally love a repeat performance.” He winked.
Shen Wei felt about fifteen different emotions in response to this. The foremost was panic, followed by anger, worry and then lust. He exhaled slowly, trying to calm down.
“Zhao Yun Lan,” he said, eventually. “We cannot do this again. There are -- things I cannot tell you, that would affect the way you feel about me. About this. I would prefer to avoid such complications.”
With a laugh, Yunlan put a hand on his neck. Shen Wei inhaled sharply, the dry warmth a comfort and an uncomfortable reminder. “I have my suspicions, Shen Wei. If you insist, however, I suppose I can delay until my suspicions are confirmed.”
Shen Wei shook his head. Ten thousand years yawned open in the few inches between them, in the barest gap between Yunlan’s hand and Shen Wei’s neck. “You may be waiting a long time, then, Chief Zhao.”
Not so long as he’d waited, hopefully. But a long time, nonetheless.
“If you insist, Shen Wei,” said Yunlan, smile fading. “I’ll see you around.”
It was impossible not to kiss him, just one more time, so Shen Wei did. The feeling of his mouth was just as good this time, of course, and would doubtless continue to be if Shen Wei allowed himself to give in again. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t.
Yunlan gave him a long look when he pulled back, something effortlessly kind in his eyes. He laughed, the way he did when he’d just solved a mystery and wanted you to know it. “Like I said, Shen Wei. I’ll see you around.”