It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first. Chief Zhao’s always been a touchy-feely jerk who gets into other people’s personal space - his legs sprawled when he sits down, a shoulder pat here or there, leaning toward you when he speaks with the end of his lollipop wriggling in your face.
Nobody blinks initially when he starts to do the same to the Black-Cloaked Envoy.
Well, Chu Shuzhi jerks in his seat a little bit, when he sees Chief Zhao put his arm across the Black-Cloaked Envoy’s shoulders the first time, his hand carelessly curled against the dark fabric.
But the Envoy barely seems to notice - he just continues running off his theories about the Dixingian with wind powers causing trouble in Dragon City. He almost seems to adjust his posture against Chief Zhao’s grasp, so it’s more comfortable for the both of them.
Then it starts to escalate throughout the case.
Chief Zhao makes a dirty joke about the rebel Dixingian having ‘good stamina’ while winking at the Black-Cloaked Envoy, who doesn’t say anything. (Lin Jing covers Da Qing’s ears. Da Qing scowls, nearly bites off his fingers. “I’m 10,000 years old, you pathetic computer geek.” Lin Jing moves to cover Guo Changcheng’s ears, and Chu Shuzhi gives him A Look, and he stops.)
They’re attacked while on stakeout, the Dixingian whipping up a mini tornado that knocks them down. The Black-Cloaked Envoy manages to hover through the winds and land semi-gracefully, and Chief Zhao distractedly brushes his fingers through the wrinkles on the Envoy’s robes while trying to come up with a good battle plan. Chief Zhao murmurs a comment about dry-cleaning his honor’s robes for him, and Guo Changcheng swears that he saw the Envoy smile in response (nobody believes him, though).
When the Dixingian shows up, Chief Zhao steps in front of the Black-Cloaked Envoy with his revolver drawn, and he fires. The Dixingian dodges. It seems like a normal fight, but then the Envoy reappears in front of Chief Zhao to draw the Dixingian’s attention, and Chief Zhao tries to sidestep him so he’s first, and they keep doing that several times as if they’re two superheroes trying to insist that the other is the damsel in distress. It’s a miracle they don’t trip over each other, and the only thing Zhu Hong can say is, “What the fuck.”
Chief Zhao makes the second dirty joke of the day by complimenting the Black-Cloaked Envoy’s weapon - “Black-Cloaked brother, your blade looks the best when it’s transformed into a glaive. It’s very long and very potent” - and this time, okay, nope, Chu Shuzhi drags Guo Changcheng away out of earshot.
Finally, Chief Zhao squeezes the Black-Cloaked Envoy on the arm before the Envoy takes the rebel Dixingian through the portal, his grip trailing off.
Chief Zhao leaves for home, whistling, zooming away on his motorcycle, and still at the SID, the remaining members of the team just stare at each other.
“Is it me,” Lin Jing says, “or was that extremely disturbing?”
“Somebody needs to tell Professor Shen,” Zhu Hong says, with a frown. She’s obviously still not happy about Chief Zhao dating someone who isn’t her, but she knows that this is the right thing to do. Chief Zhao being that much of a bastard is...disappointing...
“The personal affairs of the Black-Cloaked Envoy are none of our business,” Chu Shuzhi says curtly. “I think he’s humoring the chief.” With that, he nods, and gestures for Guo Changcheng to follow.
But Guo Changcheng lingers behind. “W-wait. I think Sister Hong is right. We should tell Professor Shen. Professor Shen really does seem to like Chief Zhao and it seems very - very sad if Chief Zhao likes someone else right now.”
Lin Jing snorts. “That ‘someone else’ is the fearsome Black-Cloaked Envoy. It’s strange, he’s not Chief Zhao’s usual type. Does he even have a body under there? Could he be a million-year-old mutated being?”
“Watch your tongue,” Chu Shuzhi snaps.
“Fine, fine,” Lin Jing says. “But you should worry, Old Chu. Not only is Professor Shen getting played, it’s your precious hero’s heart, too. Old Zhao is a beast.”
Da Qing makes a cackle-like purring noise. He’s in his cat form, eating the team’s leftover food and watching as if he’s seeing a particularly interesting drama storyline unfold on television.
“Da Qing,” Zhu Hong asks, “are you certain he’s still with Professor Shen? Are they together?”
“Professor Shen practically lives at our place now,” Da Qing says, licking at a container (Guo Changcheng vaguely thinks, that was mine). “They had breakfast this morning. Professor Shen cooked. Delicious dumplings.”
That’s when Da Qing realizes that if Zhao Yunlan breaks up with Shen Wei, there would be no more dumplings.
He says, “What’s the plan to get Old Zhao to back off the Envoy?”
The SID team has a very long discussion. Wang Zheng and Sang Zan overhear them and join in.
Wang Zheng finds an excuse to talk to Zhao Yunlan that morning. She’s been going through Lin Jing’s recent pay deductions with a metaphorical fine-toothed comb and needs Chief Zhao to approve it.
(“I hate you,” Lin Jing says later. “I know this was part of the plan, but I hate you.” Sang Zan stutters out a defense of Wang Zheng. She just smiles.)
As Wang Zheng speaks with Chief Zhao, his phone goes off - signaling that Shen Wei’s recent class has finished - and he seems to brighten, his eyes flickering to the door. Posture straightening, the lines of his face softening.
“Professor Shen will be coming by soon?” Wang Zheng says, not taking her eyes off the spreadsheet.
“He said he’ll be helping write the report of yesterday’s case,” Zhao Yunlan says. “And he’s bringing lunch.”
He throws in some praise about Shen Wei’s cooking skills - which Wang Zheng doesn’t pay too much attention to, because she can’t eat - but her takeaway is that Chief Zhao is hung up on Shen Wei. In fact, she is reminded of herself, telling her brother of the flowers that Sang Zan had given her, without ever naming him.
“I’m pleased to hear that you and Professor Shen are happy together,” she says, softly.
He starts. “Ah, Professor Shen and I--”
She raises her eyebrows. “Love is an enduring thing, Zhao Yunlan. It can last hundreds of years, despite going through many hardships. If you’re happy right now, hold onto that happiness.”
“That’s very wise, sister,” he says, pointing his finger at her.
She ignores his interruption. She says, “Human beings aren’t perfect. I know that Sang Zan turned cruel and harsh after my death. But he has come out of it as a kind, good-natured man. He is sorry for the wrongdoings he’s done to our people, and he’s now doing his best to serve the citizens of Dragon City as part of the SID. Where there is love, there is repentance, and forgiveness, and change.”
“Very wise,” Chief Zhao repeats. He looks wide-eyed, earnest. “You should tell Guo Changcheng to write down your lessons in love. Although it appears he’s getting on well with Old Chu, eh?”
Wang Zheng doesn’t know if her message has sunk in, but she prays it has.
The next day, the Black-Cloaked Envoy comes by to update the SID about the prison sentence issued to the Dixingian with wind powers, and Chief Zhao is back to his usual handsiness.
This time, he even offers the Envoy one of his lollipops. (Guo Changcheng thinks he catches a startled, panicked look in the Envoy’s eyes behind his mask, something like a flush on his cheeks, and again, nobody on the team believes him when he tells them what he saw.)
“I knew it,” Lin Jing crows. “I knew your soft-hearted love story approach wasn’t going to work.”
“What do you suggest, then?” Wang Zheng says, her arms crossed.
“Blackmail photos of the Envoy and Chief Zhao in a compromising position, attached to an email labeled WE KNOW YOU’RE A FILTHY CHEATER, STOP.”
Guo Changcheng lets out a strangled choking noise out loud.
Zhu Hong says, “That’s a stupid idea. You’ve been texting Congbo, haven’t you?”
“It’s his area of expertise,” Lin Jing says. He clears his throat. “I’m not here because I care about the tender feelings of anyone involved. I’m here because I think a calm work environment is good for my paygrade, and nobody wants the Black-Cloaked Envoy to lose his shit if all of this blows up. A blackmail email--”
“Who’s going to catch Chief Zhao and the Black-Cloaked Envoy in a compromising position?” Da Qing scoffs.
Everyone turns to look at Chu Shuzhi.
The email plan gets nixed, not only because it’s idiotic and impossible, but because Guo Changcheng is very adamant that it’s an awful thing to do, and of course Chu Shuzhi takes his side on principle.
(Guo Changcheng feeds orphans and plays with puppies in his spare time. Blackmail would taint the very core of his being. “High and mighty unlike the rest of us,” Da Qing grumps, and goes to steal Guo Changcheng’s lunch for the hundredth time.)
In the end, Chu Shuzhi relents to having...a conversation...during his usual customary reports with the Black-Cloaked Envoy.
Chu Shuzhi says stiffly, “There is a deception at every corner, Lord Envoy. One must always be careful who he trusts and draw appropriate boundaries, no matter how harmless an individual may seem.”
The Envoy, who seemed more detached than usual while Chu Shuzhi was reporting the SID’s goings-ons, looks up. “Did something happen between you and Guo Changcheng?”
He actually sounds concerned.
“ What, ” Chu Shuzhi says, taken aback. “ No. ”
How did he even know--
Okay, the truth is -- Chu Shuzhi couldn’t shut up about Guo Changcheng when he first joined the SID. During his weekly reports to the Envoy, he ranted about the useless, pathetic newbie.
He even speculated that Guo Changcheng could be a spy for the Department of Supervision on behalf of his uncle, until Chu Shuzhi eventually discarded that idea because Guo Changcheng would be a terrible spy.
Then the tone of his reports started to change, and the Envoy had to patiently wait as Chu Shuzhi talked about the time he stole Guo Chancheng’s diary and learned more about him, and then Chu Shuzhi brought up Guo Changcheng's improvements in training and Guo Changcheng’s investigative abilities becoming sharper.
(Shen Wei is bemused every single time, but he takes the opportunity to slip in a couple of questions about Chief Zhao’s wellbeing. Chu Shuzhi, too focused on the subject of Guo Changcheng, offhandedly answers them without taking much notice.)
“How’d it go?” Da Qing asks.
Chu Shuzhi, too dazed about the fact that the Black-Cloaked Envoy is aware of his love life, only takes Guo Changcheng by the hand and walks out the door. He’s been accompanying Guo Changcheng during his shifts at the soup kitchen after work.
It’s finals week and Shen Wei is holed up in Zhao Yunlan’s apartment grading papers. He would usually be in his office, but right now, he has no desire to be disturbed by stressed out undergrads pestering him about their grades.
To the consternation of his colleagues and the Dragon City University’s president, Shen Wei still refuses to use email. That forces his students to knock on his office door, even outside his usual office hour times.
So, he’s at Zhao Yunlan’s apartment, waiting for him to return for dinner, grading in the meantime. There is takeout food on the table, but Zhao Yunlan isn’t back yet. Shen Wei frowns and checks his watch every few minutes.
The silence is broken by a soft meowing noise. Da Qing pads into the apartment through the cat flap.
“Old Zhao’s running late,” Da Qing says, his voice strangely muffled. He clambers onto the couch, perching next to Shen Wei. “Yashou tribe emissaries stopped by.”
Shen Wei’s pen stops moving over the paper he’s grading, and his eyebrows are knitted together with tension. “Any problems?”
“No, just formalities,” Da Qing reassures him. “Just trying to get everything in order for the upcoming Yashou tribe market. They wanted the approval of the local Guardian, in case there’s any trouble. Permits. Nasty wares getting into the human populace, stuff like that. It was boring, so I left.”
Da Qing stares at Shen Wei for a moment, his head cocked to the side, his cat eyes piercing and glowing. Then he curls against Shen Wei’s lap, nudging aside the papers he’s grading, and drops something from his mouth.
It’s one of Zhao Yunlan’s lollipops.
Shen Wei lets out a little huff of a laugh. Da Qing’s teeth had sunk into the stick, but it’s still intact. The wrapper labels it as green apple flavored. Shen Wei drops his pen and picks it up, twirling it between his fingers. “Did he tell you to give me this?”
“I’m no errand cat who takes orders,” Da Qing says, affronted. “I stole it from his pockets.”
Shen Wei gives the cat a knowing look. He says, “Since you came here with a treat, you should have dinner. There is some fish on the table.”
“You have good sense,” Da Qing says approvingly. “You remembered to order food for the thousand-year-cat cat. Sometime Old Zhao forgets. I knew there’s a reason why I bothered to come home.” He leaps from Shen Wei’s lap and makes his way toward the table, but also sneaks a backward glance at Shen Wei.
Shen Wei is holding the lollipop and smiling. His other hand is curled against his chest, clutching the pendant necklace hanging from his neck.
For the next couple of days, Da Qing makes it his mission to steal lollipops from Chief Zhao and deliver them to Professor Shen. Shen Wei never eats them - he only tucks them away like they’re precious keepsakes.
It’s almost sickening - the soppy fond smile on Shen Wei’s face every time. But Da Qing tells himself he’s playing messenger for the greater good.
Zhao Yunlan eventually realizes what Da Qing is up to and helpfully leaves his lollipops scattered around the SID headquarters so Da Qing doesn’t have to pick his pockets or rummage through his drawers.
Eventually, Da Qing catches Chief Zhao teasing Shen Wei about his newfound collection of lollipops - “What’s the fat cat up to anyway? Why don’t you give them back to me?” - and Shen Wei only looks at Zhao Yunlan with the curve of a smile on his face, and ew, they’re kissing, and Da Qing dives out of the apartment through his cat flap before he sees anything beyond that.
“Did it work?” Da Qing asks hopefully.
The Black-Cloaked Envoy had come by to talk to the Yashou emissaries, who had stopped by the SID headquarters once again.
Chief Zhao is looking at the Black-Cloaked Envoy from under his eyelashes, and there’s a certain low note in his voice when he addresses him: “your honor.”
(Guo Changcheng is certain that he catches the Black-Cloaked Envoy call the chief “Yunlan,” under his breath, but yet again, no one believes him.)
“Fuck you, you cheating bastard,” Da Qing says, and the rest of his diatribe lost to a storm of furious curses. “I played the fluffy kitty matchmaker angle, but it’s useless.”
Lin Jing is laughing his ass off. Da Qing swipes at him with unsheathed claws.
There is a timid knocking on the other side of his office door. It’s almost too faint to hear, but with his enhanced abilities, Shen Wei can perceive it, and he glances up from the book he’s reading and calls the visitor to come in.
He finds himself face-to-face with a fidgeting Guo Changcheng.
“What’s the matter?” he says. “Did anything happen at the SID? Are there any Dixingian criminals--?”
“N-no,” Guo Changcheng says. For a moment, he’s utterly frozen - terrified - hovering in between indecision and the visible urge to flee. Then he musters himselfs, takes a deep breath, and takes a seat in the chair across from Shen Wei’s desk.
Guo Changcheng mutters, in a babbling stream of words, “I am sorry. The SID is a good place to work, and I am proud of this job and my colleagues. And I know that Chief Zhao is a good chief, very wise and clever. But there are certain matters - delicate matters of the heart - that have to be handled very carefully--”
Shen Wei frowns, comprehension dawning.. “Little Guo, is it serious? Whatever troubles you and Old Chu are experiencing right now, I’m not sure I’m the right person you should consult. I don’t know--”
Guo Changcheng stares at him, speechless.
Lin Jing had planted a tiny camera on the front of Guo Changcheng’s shirt. Currently, the team is huddled around Lin Jing’s computer monitor in the SID headquarters, watching the scene unfold. Chu Shuzhi feels a powerful wave of deja vu.
Somehow, Guo Changcheng manages to recover. He says, stuttering, “Not me. I mean you and Chief Zhao. I know he’s together with you. But he’s expressing affections for another - a scary powerful person who does like him back - and it isn’t fair to you, Professor Shen. This is shameful unfaithfulness, I apologize for our Chief’s behavior. You deserve to be treated better.” He’s wringing his hands violently.
Now it is Shen Wei’s turn to be struck speechless.
Back at the SID headquarters, the team is watching the scene on the edge of their seats. Da Qing loudly munches the popcorn Lin Jing had made for them.
Shen Wei says, “I’m - I’m sure it’s a misunderstanding, Little Guo. Go back to work.”
Unhappily, Guo Changcheng stammers another apology and leaves.
This is it, he thinks to himself. This is a happy relationship destroyed. And back at the SID headquarters, the others are looking at each other in regret, and praying that everything will be patched up - that Shen Wei will confront Zhao Yunlan, and he will repent.
Meanwhile, Shen Wei puts his head in his hands and tries very hard not to laugh. Kunlun give me strength.
“Zhao Yunlan. The kids suspect you’re cheating on me with me.”
“I know. Congbo gave me a baffling phone call the other day, rambling about Lin Jing asking him about blackmail tactics. I figured it out. It’s hilarious.”
“It’s hilarious that they think you’re a shameless flirt?”
“Well, I am. Only for you, baby.”
“Shen Wei, Shen Wei. You have no idea how much I want to jump you in that Black-Cloaked Envoy get-up. Push down your hood and kiss your mouth underneath that mask. Mess up your hair and then unwrap all those layers.”
“You should put it on for me right now. Activate your magical girl Black-Cloaked Ambassador transformation.”
“You’re the one who said you would pay for dry-cleaning if anything happened to my robes.”
“I bet you can just magic it away, but I will pay for dry-cleaning and new robes if I have to.”