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without complexities or pride

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Shen Wei gets there just in time to hear Zhao Yunlan say, “You pay to listen, I get paid to sing.” He is smiling, but the look in his eyes are anything but friendly. “Everything else? Do not even think.”

“Am I offering too little?” the merchant asks. “I have gold. And when I am pleased, I am very generous.”

Yunlan laughs at that. “Your money means nothing to me, Mister.” He smirks and adds, “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”

You-”

“There is a price to pay if you break the rules of Kunlun Hall,” Yunlan reminds him, in a sing-song manner. “I get paid only to sing. And right now, I do not feel like singing for you, Mister. Will you be leaving voluntarily, or will I have to get some men to invite you out?”

The man sneers at Yunlan, and raises his hand, clearly intending to strike. “You little whor-”

Shen Wei doesn’t let him finish.

Touch him and Kunlun Hall’s punishment will be the last thing you’ll have to worry about,” Shen Wei seethes. “I promise they won’t even have a chance to strike you.”

The man’s eyes go wide at the sight of Shen Wei and he scurries away.

Shen Wei doesn’t go after him, though he thinks that he probably should, even if it’s just to teach the man a lesson; Yunlan is here, and therefore Shen Wei has no inclination to leave.

“Lord Black Cloak Envoy,” Yunlan greets demurely, moving closer to Shen Wei. “I was wondering if you would come in.”

Ah, so he had heard Shen Wei outside the door. It’s not exactly surprising news — Yunlan seems to always know when Shen Wei is at his door.

Shen Wei should probably check the door for charms, but he’s always otherwise distracted whenever he’s here.

“I did not want to overstep,” Shen Wei says.

Yunlan smiles. “Overstepping implies that there is a limit of acceptability,” he says, taking Shen Wei’s hand to lead him to a seat in the corner. “You and I both know that where you are concerned, I have none.”

Shen Wei doesn’t say anything to that. Yunlan is always flirtatious; Shen Wei has come to learn how to not let it appear to affect him.

“What are you after tonight, Lord Black Cloak Envoy?” Yunlan asks, after he sits Shen Wei down. “A drink? A song? A...warm bed?”

Shen Wei had only come because one of his men had reported back to him saying that Yunlan might be in trouble. He knows that Yunlan can take care of himself, knows that Kunlun Hall would be more than equipped to deal with a drunk lusty old man, but Shen Wei still came.

There would never be a situation wherein Shen Wei would not come to Yunlan if he perceives Yunlan to be in danger, no matter how small the threat.

“You get paid to sing,” Shen Wei parrots Yunlan’s words back to him.

Not for anything else, not for anyone, not for any price. Kunlun Hall’s rules about Zhao Yunlan are clear.

“Kunlun Hall’s rules do not apply to you,” Yunlan says simply, moving to steep some tea for Shen Wei. “You are the Black Cloak Envoy. Lord Kunlun holds you in high regard.”

“And you hold him in high regard,” Shen Wei adds before he’s able to stop himself.

Shen Wei can hear the wretched jealousy in his own voice, and no doubt Yunlan can as well, because Yunlan’s smile turns sly, and his eyes are very knowing when he says, “In a way, I suppose I do.”

Shen Wei looks away from Yunlan at those words.

He doesn’t want Yunlan to feel obligated to treat him differently, to allow him liberties he wouldn’t with anyone else, just because he’s the Black Cloak Envoy.

He doesn’t ever want Yunlan to have to do anything Yunlan doesn’t want to do.

He suddenly feels so tired. “I should go,” he says.

“Nonsense,” Yunlan says. “You’ve just arrived. The tea isn’t even ready yet.”

“Master Zhao-”

Yunlan,” Yunlan corrects, glaring lightly. “Ah Lan, if you prefer.” He leans in closer to Shen Wei. “Xiao Lan Lan works as well, if you’re feeling playful.”

“Yunlan,” Shen Wei concedes, cheeks heating up slightly at Yunlan’s proximity. He smells good, and oh, he’s close enough that Shen Wei could reach out to press his lips to Yunlan’s skin, to see if he tastes as good as he smells.

He draws away. “I should go,” he repeats.

Yunlan’s eyes narrow, and before Shen Wei even has the chance to stand, Yunlan’s already on his lap, smile smug as he loops an arm over Shen Wei’s shoulders.

“Now you can’t go,” Yunlan says, pleased.

Yunlan.”

Yunlan sighs. “When will you give into my charms, my Lord?” he asks. He presses closer. “Do my features not please you? Am I undesirable to you?”

Shen Wei doesn’t reply, but Yunlan must read an acceptable answer from Shen Wei’s face, because his sharp smile turns softer at the edges, and his eyes look terribly fond.

“You are worried about the disparity in our stations,” Yunlan says, skimming his lips over the curve of Shen Wei’s cheekbone. “You are worried that Lord Kunlun is making me repay your life debt on his behalf. You are worried that I’m being forced in all my interactions with you.”

Shen Wei swallows. “Yunlan…”

He wonders when he’s become so easy to read.

He wonders if everyone else can also tell that he would do anything for Yunlan.

“You worry too much, my Lord,” Yunlan says, still smiling that secretive smile of his. “You know that life debt Lord Kunlun owes you means nothing.”

This much is true.

Shen Wei hadn’t saved Lord Kunlun’s life — all he’d managed to do was to be at the right place at the right time, unintentionally thwarting the assassin’s attempt on Lord Kunlun’s life. No doubt Lord Kunlun would have taken care of the assassin on his own had Shen Wei not shown up to begin with. All Shen Wei had done was probably to save Lord Kunlun the trouble of killing the assassin himself.

By the time Shen Wei was done with the assassin, Lord Kunlun had already left the scene, and Shen Wei had expected that to be the end of the story.

The next day, however, a messenger from Kunlun Hall had informed him that Lord Kunlun now owed him a life debt, and that not only was he always welcome at Kunlun Hall, he was also to be treated with utmost respect by anyone who served Lord Kunlun.

It was, frankly, a little absurd, considering Shen Wei hadn’t even managed to get a glimpse of the elusive Lord Kunlun the night he supposedly saved his life.

He’d gone to Kunlun Hall the next day with the intention of clearing the air with Lord Kunlun; he’d ended up meeting Yunlan instead, and Shen Wei had left Kunlun Hall promising Yunlan he would be back, buoyed by the sweet smile on Yunlan’s face when Shen Wei made that promise.

“Lord Kunlun just wanted to keep you around,” Yunlan tells him. “When he said that you saved his life, he meant that he had not truly lived until he saw you. When he said that he would repay your life debt with his life, he meant that he wanted to spend his life with you.”

Shen Wei blinks at Yunlan, confused.

“Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you, my Lord?” Yunlan asks, pressing his forehead to Shen Wei’s. When Shen Wei doesn’t reply, Yunlan continues with, “I’m trying to tell you that Lord Kunlun wanted you the moment he saw you, that he got to know you through the days following that and fell for you, that Lord Kunlun’s heart now belongs irrevocably to you.”

Shen Wei startles at that, thrown off kilter by where the conversation has gone. “You are speaking nonsense,” Shen Wei admonishes.

“Am not,” Yunlan fires back. “And do you know how I know?”

Shen Wei shakes his head.

“I know,” Yunlan says slowly, whispers the words into the corner of Shen Wei’s lips, almost, “because I, Zhao Yunlan, am Lord Kunlun.”

Shen Wei makes a noise of astonishment, and Yunlan grins at him.

“You what?”

“Which part did you need me to repeat?” Yunlan asks. “That I am Lord Kunlun? Or that I am in love with you?”

Shen Wei’s heart seizes at in love with you.

Yunlan says it so simply, as if it is how it should be, as if it should be a matter of common sense, as if he’s never felt any other way than this.

“I-” Shen Wei manages to get out before he stops.

His heart feels too full, and Yunlan is too close.

Yunlan’s eyes twinkle, as if he knows exactly what Shen Wei is thinking about. The curve of Yunlan’s lips is almost challenging, like he’s daring Shen Wei to choose any answer other than the one they both know is already at the tip of Shen Wei’s tongue.

“The second one,” Shen Wei finally whispers, hoarse. “Please.”

Yunlan is smiling when he finally kisses Shen Wei.