Zhao Yunlan knows it by scent before he blinks the slight dizziness of the portal from his eyes. He perceives the smell of the place like you only do after a long absence—but it has been but a few days here, so of course nothing at all has changed. There are the lingering traces of the incense he lights to contact Dixing, and of the inviting cooking odors that are the hallmark of this apartment being their shared home, now. There is a faint staleness from unwashed sheets—a reminder that Zhao Yunlan had to go multiple nights without Shen Wei—and leather and cat fur and more things than he can identify but that make this his place. His and Shen Wei’s.
If Zhao Yunlan could still use portals himself, he couldn’t have resisted dropping Shen Wei in their bed. Shen Wei has deposited them just inside the door, and has a hand on Zhao Yunlan’s lower back to steady him as he finds his balance. “Would you like some tea?” Shen Wei says then—ridiculously, like he’s just come home from a day at the university, and Zhao Yunlan’s face splits into a grin because they’re home, and Shen Wei is back, and his phone isn’t ringing to alert him of any emergencies.
“Like I’d let you out of my reach for tea,” Zhao Yunlan says, and Shen Wei rewards him by looking adorably taken aback, like the idea that tea would take an astronomical second place to his presence never even crossed his mind. No food or drink could be as satisfying as it is to grab Shen Wei by the wrist and drag him over to—to the couch, because the bed will have to wait until Zhao Yunlan can be absolutely sure Shen Wei will still be there when he wakes up, and not—off in some dark hole somewhere doing penitence or something.
Zhao Yunlan releases Shen Wei to sprawl in his favorite corner with a deep and satisfied sigh. “It’s good to be home,” he says, and then the fucking phone rings and he almost jumps out of his skin.
It’s Wang Zheng, so he gives Shen Wei a very apologetic grimace and then accepts the call with a brusque, “What?”
“Chief Zhao! Where are you? I’m in the lab—Professor Shen is missing!”
“Ah,” Zhao Yunlan grins sheepishly at the phone, which Wang Zheng can’t see. Sang Zan must still be standing faithful guard, as his negligent chief never asked him to tell Wang Zheng what had happened. “Sorry about that. Uh. Everything is under control—Shen Wei’s awake, and we. We ended up at home?” He feels himself wincing. Maybe he should fire himself and save everyone the trouble.
But Wang Zheng doesn’t scold him, only exclaims a joyful, “Oh!” Then she asks, “And you are both in your apartment?” Now it sounds like she is grinning.
“I will call back if there are any emergencies, or any news on Professor Shen’s brother,” Wang Zheng says, cutting his attempted explanation short. “We shouldn’t bother you while you’re on sick leave.”
“I’m not on—”
“Please take care of yourself, Chief Zhao,” Wang Zheng chirps. “And of Professor Shen.” She is definitely grinning as she hangs up.
Zhao Yunlan stares at the screen, and then chuckles helplessly—they’re better than he deserves, sometimes, his SID family. He puts the phone down to stare at something much better.
Shen Wei is sitting stiffly in the couch, hands on his knees, arms still bare in a deliciously distracting way. Zhao Yunlan isn’t going to mention that, though, because if he does Shen Wei might take it as an incentive to leave the couch and put more clothes on, which would be tragic.
Shen Wei has at least angled his body towards Zhao Yunlan, and smiles ruefully. “I’m sorry. I should have let you notify the others of your departure.”
“I liked my departure just fine,” Zhao Yunlan waves that apology—Shen Wei is so terribly full of them—away. “They can handle things without me. But you—” Zhao Yunlan gathers his legs under him and scoots close enough to stroke Shen Wei’s cheek. “I finally have you back. My Xiao Wei.”
Shen Wei doesn’t pull away from Zhao Yunlan’s touch, and his eyes soften at the endearment. But he can read traces of anguish there, and in the way he holds himself, and knows that left to his own devices, Shen Wei will choose to apologize and keep apologizing. He’s opening his mouth around another one right now—Zhao Yunlan can tell, he can see it as clearly as if using a Hallow’s prescience—and he won’t have it. Won’t have Shen Wei wondering if Zhao Yunlan really wants him, if Zhao Yunlan really thinks he’s good enough or whatever fool thing is going through his ridiculous head. Before Shen Wei can get the apology out, Zhao Yunlan places both hands on Shen Wei’s over his knees, holding him neatly in place as the words come in a rush.
Shen Wei stares at Zhao Yunlan. Cannot believe the words he just heard, though Zhao Yunlan is somehow beaming while exuding a shy apprehension that would go well with the question.
“What?” Shen Wei feels he should say more, but that is really all he can do right now. Zhao Yunlan’s hands on his are very warm, enough that they are making his own palms damp.
Zhao Yunlan smiles, blindingly beautiful and bright, and cocks his head to the side. “Didn’t you hear?”
“I—” Shen Wei’s mind is terrifyingly blank all of a sudden. He did hear, of course he did. But he doesn’t know how to respond to something that he could never—something he has never conceived of and that isn’t supposed to be for him, not for anyone like him. And how could Zhao Yunlan ask now, after all Shen Wei has done—after all the harm he has caused and everything he has allowed to happen to Zhao Yunlan—
Zhao Yunlan laughs, quiet and self-deprecating. “I was going to make it a real proposal,” he says. “With a ring and everything. Maybe have Cong Bo film it.” He makes a sound like a sigh, but it is full of amusement as he keeps looking at Shen Wei, earnest and hopeful and not at all afraid.
“Why?” Shen Wei realizes his mouth has gone dry when the word comes out more croak than question.
“Why I wanted a real proposal?” Zhao Yunlan looks mildly affronted. “Because it’s you. And you deserve the best of everything, so the least I can do is give you the best I can do, and—”
“No.” Shen Wei shakes his head, Zhao Yunlan’s weight still pinning his hands to his knees. “Why—why would you want—why—”
There’s a shadow of hurt in Zhao Yunlan’s eyes, and Shen Wei stops before it can grow to darken his smile. “Xiao Wei, baby. My love. Please tell me you’re going to ask why a hopeless bachelor like myself wants to get married? Because if you ask me why I would want to be with you forever—” It makes Shen Wei despair a bit, the way Zhao Yunlan’s smile tightens into something he’s holding in place over more fragile feelings. Of course that was going to be his question—especially now, after everything he has forced Zhao Yunlan to endure.
Zhao Yunlan takes a deep breath. “Okay, fine. Before you answer—is there anyone else you’re planning on being with instead?”
“No!” Shen Wei doesn’t mean for his response to come out so forcefully—Zhao Yunlan’s face twitches away from his—but. No. No, of course not, how could Zhao Yunlan ever suspect that Shen Wei’s heart could be given elsewhere?
“And me? Are you saving the Lord Guardian for some arranged marriage, or—”
“Zhao Yunlan!” The mere thought of such a transaction—with Zhao Yunlan, with Shen Wei’s Yunlan—is outrageous.
“That’s a no, then.” Zhao Yunlan grins with a look of amused satisfaction, and finally lets go of Shen Wei’s hands to lean back very slightly. “So with that out of the way—please. Shen Wei. Won’t you be my husband?”
“Husband.” Shen Wei stares at Zhao Yunlan, who says the word like—like he covets it.
“Professor Shen—surely you understand how marriage works?”
“Marriage is when you find a person you want to be with forever, and you put them in your family registry, and you keep them in your life and you don’t ever let them go.” Zhao Yunlan’s voice grows more intense as he shifts from teasing to a kind of breathless desperation. Shen Wei leans into it, feeling Zhao Yunlan’s words prickling his skin and flowing through his blood and soaking into his bones.
“Shen Wei,” Zhao Yunlan says, sitting very still, eyes alight though his mouth has lost all but a trace of his smile. “I don’t want to let you go, ever again. I don’t.”
“Your brother tried to take over the world and all that. Yes. Yes—none of that changes you. Who you are to me, who I want you to be to me.”
Shen Wei has been through battles that have left him less shaken than Zhao Yunlan’s unhesitating words. He has seen horrors and marvels the world has long forgotten, but he has seen nothing as stupefying as the look in Zhao Yunlan’s eyes as he adds, “Always.”
It is more than Shen Wei should accept—far more than he deserves. It is nothing he ever expected, for all that Zhao Yunlan has long warmed his heart with passing remarks and gentle teasing about wanting Shen Wei to stay forever. And yet it is something he wants, now, fiercely and unreservedly—too much to hold back any longer. Too much to ever have considered any other answer to Zhao Yunlan’s question.
Yunlan’s heart is floating in a sky full of fireworks as the only answer he would ever have accepted finally comes tumbling from Shen Wei’s lips. And then those lips are on Yunlan’s, neither one of them able to tolerate any distance between them. The tenderness Yunlan feels is so vast he could lose himself in it with Shen Wei forever, but then he wants to look and see and touch what gives him all this joy. Wants to make sure Shen Wei isn’t giving himself over to desperation again.
Breaking the kiss, Yunlan strokes Shen Wei’s face, grinning so hard it hurts. Shen Wei gazes up at him with adoration and an apprehension that Yunlan is aching to dispel. “Shen Wei,” he says, kissing Shen Wei’s brow, fingers winding into Shen Wei’s hair. “You waited for me, for so long. And I didn’t know—I’m so glad I know now.”
Shen Wei’s arms tighten around Yunlan’s waist, and he breathes in harshly—at the reminder of what Ye Zun made him think, or at the reminder of all the time he spent alone, Yunlan doesn’t know. “It’s okay now. You’ll be my husband and I’ll be yours, all because you waited, Xiao Wei. I’m so glad—”
There is no waiting for the next kiss, however—Shen Wei’s hands cup Yunlan’s face, tugging him close, and they’re arching into each other, the closeness sweet enough to make Yunlan moan softly as Shen Wei lets him go to nod wordlessly. His eyes are so bright—Yunlan wipes at the wetness pooling in their corners, and the gesture feels intimately familiar, though he can’t remember ever seeing Shen Wei cry before.
“You promised,” Shen Wei whispers. “I never—I never forgot that promise. Not even when Ye Zun—” His tears are flowing freely now, and Yunlan doesn’t try to stop them, only dabs at Shen Wei’s cheeks with the sleeve of his gray sweater.
“You know,” Yunlan says, “I was really jealous of Kunlun.”
That makes Shen Wei hiccup—a sob turned into a chuckle, and it’s possibly the most adorable sound Yunlan has ever heard. “Yunlan…” Shen Wei says—disbelieving and amused and still so close to breaking under all the guilt Yunlan hasn’t yet managed to lift from his shoulders.
“When you think about it though, it’s actually really flattering? How worked up you got thinking I’d died ten thousand years ago.” Yunlan has to hold Shen Wei through the spasm of guilt that brings, but he won’t let Ye Zun’s mind games hang between them. “It’s okay—you’re okay. You didn’t do anything wrong—though you should have seen my face when I finally got it.”
There are still tiny drops of moisture caught in Shen Wei’s perfect lashes, so Yunlan leans down and kisses both eyelids, and Shen Wei sighs. “I never wanted to keep those secrets from you, but—”
“You couldn’t risk it. Just like I didn’t want to lie to you, but the timeline…Who knows what that might have fucked up.” Yunlan says it with all the frustration of an experienced time traveler.
“But it’s fine—I figured it all out, of course.” Yunlan reaches out to touch the yellow jade pendant over the white cotton of his undershirt. Shen Wei stills, but doesn’t flinch. “Except for this.”
Yunlan’s fingertips stroke the smooth stone, radiating a bit of his own warmth back at him much the way Shen Wei’s skin does. He looks up at Shen Wei under his bangs, lips quirked into a questioning grin. “I never saw it on you back then. So. Did I miss something?”
Shen Wei’s hand closes around the pendant, and Yunlan takes the opportunity to kiss the top of Shen Wei’s ears, one after the other, as he waits for Shen Wei to answer.
But instead of words, Shen Wei slowly opens his fist to reveal the once-solid sphere of the pendant split open. And between what looks like two solid halves—Yunlan stares at the small and crinkled and fantastically familiar piece of plastic.
“You kept the lollipop wrapper in there?!”
Yunlan laughs so hard that Shen Wei has to keep him from falling over—he doubles over with his forehead on Shen Wei’s shoulder and laughs until his stomach hurts, and when he finally looks up and blinks the tears of mirth away, Shen Wei is looking somehow both terribly offended and infinitely fond. “That’s an idea,” Yunlan murmurs. “Maybe we can get rings made out of wrappers? Or—hey, lollipop sticks—”
Shen Wei surges up to stop Yunlan’s mouth with a kiss. And in that split second, for the first time since Yunlan tackled him, Yunlan sees almost all of his own joy reflected in Shen Wei’s eyes. They hold each other, and move together, and everything between them is heat and boundless hunger—and enough microseconds of hesitation that Yunlan knows Shen Wei is still afraid. Afraid of taking all that Yunlan wants him to have, now and forever: Yunlan’s heart and soul and life and body. Shen Wei’s—only Shen Wei’s. Just as Shen Wei has been Yunlan’s all this time—time they both know about now, longer than Yunlan could have dreamed when he first fell in love.
Time spent with Shen Wei now, and time spent with Xiao Wei back then—time enough that Yunlan knows how to start taking Shen Wei apart to get to that fear and guilt. Yunlan can’t let Shen Wei give in to that doubt—can’t let him believe that he is taking anything from Yunlan that Yunlan isn’t offering freely, with his whole heart. So it is Yunlan who takes Shen Wei to bed and gives Shen Wei what he needs, letting him hold on as Yunlan blots out the last of his tears. Murmurs endearments and forgiveness and love as he brings them together, wrecking Shen Wei as sweetly and thoroughly as the very first time Kunlun held Xiao Wei in his arms.
Just like that first time, Shen Wei refuses to let go, after. Yunlan is too exhausted to do anything at all but fall asleep right there in Shen Wei’s arms. He starts drifting off while they’re still tangled in each other, before his heart has even stopped beating wildly against Shen Wei’s chest—but not before he smiles drowsily and kisses Shen Wei’s jaw and whispers, “Love you.”
There is a moment of beautiful, warm silence when Yunlan feels Shen Wei’s smile in his own heart. Shen Wei’s hand comes up to rest on Yunlan’s head, and he sighs happily, knowing his Xiao Wei will still be there when he wakes up. The last thing Yunlan hears as he lets himself plummet into rest is Shen Wei’s voice breaking with love.
Zhao Yunlan sleeps. Shen Wei—waits. Watches the pulse in Zhao Yunlan’s neck flickering with life. Watches the way his hair falls as it slowly dries, the dampness of sweat giving way to an unruly softness. And as he watches, Shen Wei feels Zhao Yunlan in his heart. That bond is not gone, not even after what he did with the Awl to save Shen Wei. A little fainter now than when Zhao Yunlan is awake, but—steady.
Strong enough that Shen Wei feels the first stirrings of unease before he sees Zhao Yunlan’s eyelids flutter as a nightmare tries to take him. Shen Wei gently strokes his hair, murmuring comforting words in his ear, and slowly Zhao Yunlan settles back into a calm and gentle sleep. Shen Wei caresses a last wrinkle of tension from his brow, and Zhao Yunlan’s next breath comes with a mumbled “Xiao Wei.” It floods Shen Wei’s heart with more love than he knows what to do with, hearing his name from Zhao Yunlan’s sleeping lips.
Shen Wei means to wait and watch, not sleep. But when the night is at its coldest, Zhao Yunlan stirs again. He curls up against Shen Wei’s side, seeking either heat or comfort. Shen Wei reaches over to pull the blankets more tightly snug over him—and Zhao Yunlan wraps himself around Shen Wei with a sigh of pure satisfaction before stilling into deeper sleep. Afraid to disturb him, Shen Wei lets himself sink into the soft mattress. Feels the weight of Zhao Yunlan’s limbs slung over his body, and the damp puff of every measured exhalation against his shoulder.
There is so much joy in his heart that Shen Wei aches with it, and when Zhao Yunlan nuzzles closer yet the moment is so overpowering his lungs nearly stop. Zhao Yunlan is safe. Zhao Yunlan is here, in this now, in his arms, and Zhao Yunlan loves him. Shen Wei lowers his face into Zhao Yunlan’s hair and breathes in his beloved’s presence, again and again. Slowly, gently, the restful sweetness of this night they share allows Shen Wei to relax.
Truly relax. Half asleep and half too giddy with love to quite let go of Zhao Yunlan, Shen Wei lets the darkness envelop him. Then he is floating. Floating up into a rich and golden light—a dream of love, and home, and promises kept. It is warm and bright and perfect—but not half as much as Zhao Yunlan’s smile waiting for him when he wakes.