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No one is ever sure where young Lord Zhao’s manservant had come from. Not that it matters – he is after all, a servant first and foremost, loyalty pledged to the Zhao family, and that was more important than his own origins, his own name.  What everyone does know, is that he’d been hired right after Lord and Lady Zhao’s deaths. That when their son had reappeared after his parents’ bodies had been found and buried, there was already a shadow trailing him. Unobtrusive, near-soundless, and ever-present.

The perfect manservant. Zhao Yunlan thinks, watching said servant polishing cutlery for a dinner party. A slight frown of concentration marring his smooth forehead as rubs a piece of cloth over a gleaming silver knife, setting it back down into its rightful place beside the porcelain plates before starting in on another. The activity itself is innocuous, but Yunlan’s seen Shen Wei handle enough blades to not feel his pulse pick up pace, just a little, the longer he watches. Full aware of how deadly the delicate silver could be, if anyone were to force Shen Wei’s hand.

“Is there anything I can help you with, my Lord?” Shen Wei’s soft voice stirs him out of his thoughts. His eyes dart up from behind silver-framed spectacles, and Yunlan lets out a breath. Having Shen Wei’s full attention is like being in the path of a bullet, or a knife. Flaying you open before drawing back just as quickly, leaving Yunlan winded.

He’s had over ten years to get used to it. He never gets used to it.

But he does know how to turn it to his advantage.

“Hmm. Maybe.” Yunlan grins. Shen Wei’s gaze tracks him as he saunters over towards him, hands in his trouser pockets, posture relaxed. Unafraid as he sits on the chair next to Shen Wei. This close, his right eye stings beneath the patch. Shen Wei’s gaze darts to it. Yunlan can see his pulse jumping, just the lightest of hairline cracks along the mask of his composure as he takes the seat beside his, just shy of too close for comfort.

Yunlan wants to skim his lips over Shen Wei’s throat. He wants to bite down hard, taste the surge of Shen Wei’s shock against his mouth, breathe in the scent of his skin and catch his half-open pink lips in a kiss.The way Shen Wei's eyes flash tell Yunlan his manservant knows precisely what he's thinking.

“Lord Zhao,” Shen Wei’s voice is remarkably controlled even as his hands tremble, and Yunlan feels a surge of hopeless affection at the uncertain fragility that Shen Wei never managed to completely hide from him. “I am trying to work.” Yunlan smirks at his brave attempt to keep on polishing the silverware. Leans against Shen Wei, so that he can’t move without the press of Yunlan’s arm against his. So close that Yunlan can smell him, the scent of snow and soft incense rising faint from his skin.

“I haven’t even touched you yet.” He observes, and he’s rewarded by the sight of bloodless cheeks flushing ruby red. Shen Wei looks like he’s about to say something, but it catches on a sharp inhale as Yunlan leans forward, teeth delicately grazing his earlobe. Shen Wei's throat quivers, half-hidden by his cravat, and Yunlan has to resist the urge to swipe a trail against the exposed skin with his tongue.

“You’re the devil here.” Yunlan mutters against his neck. Shen Wei's aura is cold. Yunlan can feel it radiating around him, not quite emanating from but completely surrounding him like a cocoon of ice. “Shouldn’t you be the one doing the seducing?”

He doesn’t wait for Shen Wei’s reply. The cold sharpens, and Shen Wei’s breath stutters to a halt when Yunlan reaches over, takes his hand.

The hand bearing the seal.

Shen Wei holds himself very still as Yunlan strokes the back of his hand through the glove before lightly tugging it off, revealing the delicate black lines of the seal spiderwebbing across the paper-pale skin. He’s very careful not to touch Shen Wei’s skin, gripping him loosely by the wrist, right over his sleeve. His right eye throbs beneath its cover as his left follows the dark patterns. Arcane symbols that spell out the terms of their contract, the hold Shen Wei has over his soul.

“Lord Zhao,” Shen Wei says. His voice has gone quiet, but he’s still breathing, still pretending at humanity. Watching, not making a move. Like a hunter waiting for his trap to close.

Yunlan’s thumb drifts to the center of the seal, hovering. Just hovering, not touching. Shen Wei has stopped breathing, though his pulse still beats. Yunlan wonders, not for the first time, what it would be to see his servant for what he is. To take one of the knives and peel back his false human flesh.

Yunlan,” Shen Wei’s voice is soft. Almost pleading. Yunlan smiles at him, holding his gaze as he presses his lips right in the middle of the seal.

Shen Wei’s skin is cool beneath his lips. Like a corpse’s, but a corpse wouldn’t shake in Yunlan’s grip as he mouths kisses against the back of his hand before turning it over and starting in on his palm. Shen Wei’s eyes fall halfway shut as Yunlan sucks at his wrist, skimming over the frantic beat of his pulse. The only spot that feels almost warm in Yunlan’s grasp, like this. So human when he’s the farthest thing from it. Something terribly, horribly vulnerable in the way his fingers of his trapped hand curve against Yunlan’s cheek. Cradling his face, and the sensation of it shoots straight down to Yunlan’s groin.  

Yunlan smiles, reaches up with his free hand. He removes his eyepatch, wincing just a little as light strikes his eye. He removes Shen Wei’s glasses with the same hand, gently brushing away the stray locks of hair that had fallen over his forehead, tracing his thumb beneath that liquid dark gaze.

It takes little, so little to lean forwards. To kiss that mouth, petal-soft, and feel it open beneath his. Yunlan explores him lazily,  thorough and almost unbearably gentle. Savoring the light taste of blood, burning want slithering beneath his own skin as Shen Wei responds with barely-restrained hunger. Those dark eyes falling shut, only opening when Yunlan stands, tugs him up.  Pulling him flush against him and feeling the quiver of his body, remembering how Shen Wei had trembled, his body lily-white beneath Yunlan’s like an offering the first time he’d taken him.

He can make Shen Wei kneel with a word, Yunlan knows. He can make him beg until his throat is raw. Shen Wei granted him that power. The contract is written over Yunlan’s soul as clearly as it is on Shen Wei’s skin, binding him to the devil upon death, and everything that came after.

But as Yunlan has found out, there’s power to be had in tenderness.  Yunlan brushes his mouth against Shen Wei’s forehead, then down his cheekbone. His hand on the small of Shen Wei’s back, feeling his every tremor, every heartbeat. His desperate hunger for mercy.  

“Let me have you?” Yunlan whispers against Shen Wei’s lips, leaning their foreheads together and waiting for his answer. The devil’s eyes burn as he gives Yunlan everything he wants.