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Shen Wei has Zhao Yunlan backed up against the bench in Lin Jing's lab, between jars of neon-coloured chemicals on one side and a spiky lump which Lin Jing swears is a Dixingren artefact but Zhao Yunlan is pretty sure is just a bit of rusty carburettor on the other.

Zhao Yunlan is bracing himself on the bench, barely staying on his feet, and Shen Wei has every possible part of his body pressed up against his. He’s got his mouth on Zhao Yunlan’s collar bone, on a patch of skin only just covered by the low v-neck of a shirt which Zhao Yunlan has worn because he loves how distracted Shen Wei gets when he sees him in it, and is licking at his throat in a way that is seriously disturbing Zhao Yunlan’s breathing.

Shen Wei is on his lunch break and has brightened Zhao Yunlan's existence by teleporting over from the university to spend it with him. He'd walked into the office, neat in Zhao Yunlan's very favourite of his tight suits, and face blazing with a smile as soon as he saw him, and Zhao Yunlan had taken one look at his boyfriend and sent the rest of SID out on the first errand he could think of. The possibly suspicious Dixingren activity at Sunlight Chemicals does need checking out, and Zhao Yunlan knows himself and knows the chances of him successfully keeping his hands off Shen Wei for the next hour are close to zero.

He'd told them he needed to consult with Shen Wei in private, ushered them protesting out of the door, and lured Shen Wei into the lab to a) show him the Longevity dial, which has been strobing even more than normal and is giving Lin Jing migraines; closely followed by b) plastering himself up behind him, putting his hands all over his chest and kissing the delicate skin behind his ear, then trailing his mouth down the line of his jaw, until Shen Wei had growled and shoved him back against the bench.

Shen Wei sucks harder at his throat and Zhao Yunlan’s body starts to shake. He’s is itching to get his hands on Shen Wei properly; he shoves one hand under his blazer and digs his fingers into Shen Wei’s side. Shen Wei makes a gratifying choked off sound and pushes his hips forward, and Zhao Yunlan widens his stance so Shen Wei is right where he wants him. The solid bulge of Shen Wei's erection is now snug up against Zhao Yunlan’s and, screw any good intentions Zhao Yunlan ever had, they are definitely fucking on this bench.

“LAO ZHAO!”

Someone is hollering from the corridor outside, fuck his life. He pulls back a scant inch from Shen Wei and puts his finger over his lips. Shen Wei breaks his heart by straightening up; flushed, mussed and doing his best to get his breathing back under control. Zhao Yunlan wants to eat him alive. Maybe if they just stay quiet, whoever it is will go away.

For his part, Zhao Yunlan is fine with the SID team knowing he and Shen Wei are together -- he's never liked hiding his nature and has been cheerfully bisexual around all his staff in the past to check out their reactions. And he admits he really just wants to parade around his gorgeous, amazing boyfriend as much as he can. But he and Shen Wei haven't had that conversation yet and he's not sure how he would feel about it. They've been discreet so far, right, though? They've been pretty discreet.

“Lao Zhao!” Da Qing yells again. “Stop making out in there! We caught a Dixingren.”

 




They emerge together a few minutes later.

“You can just teleport out, if you want,” Zhao Yunlan had whispered. “I can tell the others you left ages ago.” But Shen Wei had shaken his head with a half-smile, closed his eyes for a few moments and done some deep breathing thing that really hadn't helped with Zhao Yunlan's state of arousal, and followed Zhao Yunlan out into the main office.

Da Qing smirks when he sees them and Zhao Yunlan rolls his eyes at him, making a mental note not to buy him any of the tinned salmon he likes for at least a month.

The assembled members of SID, minus Chu Shuzhi who has a day off to attend to some mysterious dark-scarved business - are gathered around the prone, squirming form of a Dixingren teenager. He looks about eighteen, and the Dixingren bit is pretty obvious, as he has dark, wispy, semi-transparent tentacles emerging from somewhere under the rope which is currently tying him up. Zhao Yunlan is learning there are shades of Dixingren: most can pass for human pretty well but some can't, and this kid is definitely in the latter group.

“That was so amazing!” Little Guo is enthusing to a woman who Zhao Yunlan recognises as Zhu Hong's friend Song Miaoling. He's met her a few times before: she runs a gallery downtown, rides a 1968 Kawasaki that Zhao Yunlan would kill to get his hands on, and is cooler than Zhao Yunlan will ever be. He likes her.

“I didn't do much,” she protests, running a hand through her short hair.

“Don't be so modest,” Zhu Hong tells her. “Chief, we found him robbing a store down on River Street near the chemical plant. He knocked me down and was going to get away, but Xiao Song was passing on her bike, and she jumped off and hit him with a tire iron.”

“And then we tied him up!” Guo Changcheng continues.

“Are you sure you're OK?” Song Miaoling asks Zhu Hong, tilting up her chin to inspect a scrape on her cheek.

“I'm fine,” Zhu Hong reassures her. Her voice is soft and she's looking at Song Miaoling like she hung the moon and Zhao Yunlan thinks ...Oh.

He doesn't have time to process this revelation, because Little Guo is still talking.

“Can we summon Lord Black Cloak?” He sounds so goddamn proud of their group effort.

Zhao Yunlan cannot look at Shen Wei. There's a cough behind him.

“Chief Zhao, I'm afraid I must return to the university. I have an appointment with the Dean.” And Shen Wei speed walks out of the office. Zhao Yunlan watches him go fondly. His acting ability can't exactly be called stellar, but it had kept Zhao Yunlan fooled for long enough.

Zhao Yunlan takes his time finding the incense and the matches to give Shen Wei as much time as possible. He thinks about trying to get rid of Song Miaoling but she's already seen tentacle boy, and has proved she's more use in a fight than half his team; he's going to have to get her on the SID payroll anyway. He places the incense burner on the central table, lights it, and recites the incantation that he by now knows by heart.

There's a flicker of shadows in the corners, a tang of ozone in the air, and the Black Cloaked Envoy stalks into the room. Song Miaoling takes a step backwards and Zhu Hong puts a hand on her arm.

Zhao Yunlan leans back on the table, carefully echoing his stance of ten minutes earlier, and grins across at him.

“Brother Black,” he purrs. “It's been a while.”

“For what purpose have you summoned me?” intones Shen Wei, as if he can’t see the lump of prone youth on the floor. He looks his usual imposing and disinterested self, but the mask can cover a multitude of sins.

Zhao Yunlan waves an arm. “We've got a dangerous kleptomaniac here. You should take him away and tell him he's been a very… naughty boy.”

His voice goes gravelly on the last words, as he has a sudden flash of being in the boy's place and being chastised by the Envoy at his most stern, all the things Shen Wei could do to make him repent and, oh, that's something he's going to try to talk him into at the earliest possible opportunity.

The Black Cloaked Envoy swallows hard. Zhao Yunlan slouches more onto the table, knowing that Shen Wei's sharp eyes will be able to make out that he's still half hard. Shen Wei's eyes flicker down his body and Zhao Yunlan feels a thrill of triumph. He's going to pay for this later and it's going to be good.

At the edge of his vision he can see Da Qing looking utterly appalled at Zhao Yunlan being this much of a slut towards the Envoy when, as far as he knows, Shen Wei's back is barely turned. Fun though this is, Zhao Yunlan needs to wrap things up before he gives them away. He gestures at the Dixingren thief, whose tentacles are twitching feebly and going faint, now barely visible. Weird.

“Wanna take him off our hands?”

Shen Wei extends a hand imperiously, summons his glaive and brings it slamming down on the ground in a thud which reverberates through Zhao Yunlan's whole body. Zhao Yunlan realises he's grinning stupidly. His boyfriend really is pretty awesome.

The Envoy strides the few steps across the room, and scoops up the teenager with one hand.

“Thank you, Chief Zhao. Until we meet again.”

The words are rough, a promise, and Zhao Yunlan's smile broadens in anticipation.

The Envoy summons a portal, steps into it with the boy… and there's a flat explosion that Zhao Yunlan feels through his feet rather than hears, and the two Dixingren are propelled violently back into the room. The Envoy staggers back a pace, cloak swirling, and almost drops his delinquent charge. Someone in the room gasps.

Shen Wei puts out his hand again, as if beckoning, and a small black swirl appears, a portal trying to be born, but it dissipates just as quickly.

“Something wrong?” Zhao Yunlan enquires, laughter bubbling up irresistibly.

The Envoy is stony-faced.

“You know,” Zhao Yunlan continues helpfully, “this can happen to anyone. Maybe wait a few minutes and try again.”

Da Qing does a literal face-palm and Shen Wei shoots Zhao Yunlan a death glare.

“I'm leaving him in your charge,” Shen Wei says, shoving tentacle boy, who now just looks utterly confused and whose appendages have completely vanished, at Zhao Yunlan. “I will return,” Shen Wei announces, and walks out of the office, going... where?

Zhao Yunlan looks at the rest of SID, and they look back at him. The teenager he's now holding onto makes a weak attempt to escape and Zhao Yunlan gives him a shake.

“Da Qing, lock him up for now. Lin Jing, I want to know what just made that happen. Zhu Hong, explain things to Song-jie.”

Zhu Hong shoots him a 'what am I meant to tell her’ look and he shrugs at her. She's smart, she'll figure something out. Then he hurries out of the office in Shen Wei's wake, but when he gets outside there isn't even a sniff of black cloak to be seen.

 




Four hours later, and they've gotten nowhere. Confirming Zhao Yunlan’s suspicions that none of his inventions actually work that well, all Lin Jing has been able to discover is that the usual steady current of dark energy that permeates Dragon City just isn't there anymore.

“But then sometimes it comes back!” Lin Jing enthuses. He runs his hands through his hair, which looks even more like he's been electrocuted than normal.

“Look at this.” He waves his dark energy detector in a loop above his head.

“What am I looking at?”

“Exactly! The usual base level of energy just isn't there. But wait for it…”

He keeps whirling his arm, grimaces and rubs his shoulder, continues gyrating. There's a shrill scream from the device.

“There! The current isn't completely dead, but it's pulsing. And I think it's fading.”

“So what's causing it?”

Lin Jing drops his arm and looks baffled. Down the corridor, the phone rings.

“Chief,” Guo Changcheng calls. “The professor is on the line for you.”

If Shen Wei is using a phone, things must be bad. Zhao Yunlan heads out of the room, calling over his shoulder to Lin Jing. “Get on it! I need to know what's causing this. And get Sang Zan to help you - there must be something in all his books.”

Shen Wei sounds clipped and worried down the line.

“Heyyyyy,” Zhao Yunlan drawls. 'What's going on?’

“The connection between Haixing and Dixing is fracturing.”

Zhao Yunlan didn't know that could even happen.

“Can you meet me by the Green Bough portal?” Shen Wei continues.

“The one near the university? I'll be there.”

 




When Zhao Yunlan pulls up in the jeep, Shen Wei is standing very still, staring at what looks to Zhao Yunlan just like a patch of grass, but he knows must be the space occupied by the portal. Zhao Yunlan hurries over to him. The sun is dropping, shining palely through the trees. From somewhere in the distance drift the shouts of a university sports team practising.

“You OK? What's going on?”

Shen Wei's mouth twists. “I can no longer call on the dark energy; I believe none of us can.” He sticks out a palm, and a tiny puff of darkness appears, then winks out of existence. “The portal is still there, but it's fading. I need to try to get back through now.”

Zhao Yunlan in no way likes this. “But if it's fading, what happens if you go through and can't get back?”

Shen Wei won't meet his eyes. He isn't wearing his mask and robes, but right now he's the Envoy. “There's no other way. I must consult with the Justiciar.”

“There must be something else we can do.”

Shen Wei shakes his head. “Speak with your Ministry. They need to know that the passage between the realms is no longer there.”

He makes a slashing movement with one arm and Zhao Yunlan can just make out something, a translucent swirl of movement hovering over the grass. He reaches for Shen Wei, but he's already moving, body halfway in and halfway out of the gateway.

His face screws up in pain and for a horrible moment he's suspended in the air, his form going blurry, then solidifying again as he's shot back out towards Zhao Yunlan. He takes a few faltering steps, cheeks pale. Zhao Yunlan grabs at his shoulders to support him.

“That looked fucking awful,’ he says. 'Don't tell me it's OK, because I don't believe you.”

He squeezes Shen Wei's arms, steps in closer. “Come back to the office with me. We'll figure something out. If you can't get through, we must at least be able to send a message.”

Shen Wei shakes his head again. He looks tired and sad, and Zhao Yunlan wants to kiss him until everything is better. “I've tried that; it doesn't work. I'm the only one who could possibly get back through; it has to be me.”

Zhao Yunlan's fingers clench in the fabric of his jacket. He tries to think of something to say, some other way to persuade him, and comes up with nothing.

Shen Wei's eyes go soft. “I'll come back,” he whispers.

“You can't promise that.” He must look utterly miserable, because Shen Wei pulls his hand from where it's still resting on his shoulder and entwines their fingers together. His thumb smooths gently over Zhao Yunlan's knuckles.

“I can't lose you…” Shen Wei bites off whatever he's going to say. “I'll come back,” he repeats.

Zhao Yunlan needs to kiss him so much it physically hurts. But he hears running feet approaching and a group of joggers thunder past on the road, some of them casting curious glances at the two men as they go. Zhao Yunlan swears inwardly, takes a careful pace backwards.

“I'll hold you to that,” is all he can say.

Shen Wei waits until the runners are gone, then visibly braces himself and plunges forward again, a darker swirl opening up around him. This time he's sucked straight through, the air closes around him, and Zhao Yunlan is left staring at nothingness.

 




The next few days pass in a blur. Lin Jing works flat out on refining his dark energy detector, trying to find out the source of the remaining, weak remnants of dark energy, which spark briefly before disappearing again, and only complains a bit about the amount of overtime. Chu Shuzhi turns up again, looking woebegone.

“You've been around a long time,” says Zhao Yunlan. “You ever seen anything like this before?”

Lao Chu scowls. “No. The treaty should protect the passage between Dixing and Haixing. It's like a wall's come down, and it's cut off everything.”

“And you can't?” Zhao Yunlan mimics his usual manipulation of the threads of power with his hands.

He looks wretched. “No. The power just isn't there anymore.”

Zhao Yunlan sends frantic messages to the Ministry, getting more and more frustrated when the Minister won't return his calls. He stays up into the early hours with Zhu Hong and Sang Zan, scanning through barely legible text in the library's historical records of Dixing, trying to find anything that might explain the anomaly. He sends Zhu Hong home when her head starts nodding over a pile of dusty scrolls, keeps working away with Sang Zan until he can barely see straight, and then crashes out on the office couch.

He snaps awake as it's just getting light, thinking he can hear Shen Wei calling his name. He sits bolt upright on the worn leather, but his heart sinks as he sees the empty office around him. It's only been four days, he tells himself firmly, you coped fine without him for years, why are you being so dumb?

Then he gets up and hunts out the incense burner and matches, and whispers the incantation. The smoke hangs in the air, barely visible in the dawn light. Zhao Yunlan waits, hoping stupidly, for too long, but no portal opens; there's no heavy tread of the Envoy's boots on the parquet floor. Zhao Yunlan blows out the incense, murmurs, “Be OK, baby,” into the smoke, as if that's going to do any good, and heads into the library to carry on working.

Da Qing turns up a couple of hours later, takes one look at Zhao Yunlan and bullies him into going out for a late breakfast.

“What has Professor Shen said about it?” he asks once they're crammed into a corner table at the café round the corner.

Zhao Yunlan avoids his eyes. He should have thought of a good answer for this, and he's too tired to lie well. 'I can't ask him.’ He takes a huge bite of steamed bun to buy himself some time. It's savoury pork, usually his favourite kind, but it tastes like absolutely nothing. “He's… in hospital.”

“Have you seen him? Is it serious?”

“I don't know.”

Da Qing looks intensely sceptical.

“Look, just trust me,” Zhao Yunlan continues. “We're going to have to figure this out on our own.”

He tries to call the Ministry again, gets fobbed off once more, and drives over there, but gets turned away by the Minister's stern-faced secretary. Something is clearly going on here, but what? He calls all his contacts in officialdom, attempts his best charm, but gets nowhere. No one wants to talk to him, and it's making him furious. He goes home for a hasty shower and a change of clothes, and when he gets back to the office it's dim and quiet, although there are voices coming from the lab.

He makes his way towards it, but as he's passing the partially open door of a disused storage closet, movement inside catches his eye. Song Miaoling is bending down, cradling Zhu Hong's face in her hands as she kisses her, and Zhu Hong is clinging to her: small hands bunched up in Song Miaoling's red shirt.

A pang of sadness hits Zhao Yunlan: not long ago he was plotting to make out with Shen Wei in every dark corner of SID, and now everything has gone to absolute shit. He realises he's staring like a pervert and tries to leave them to it, but it’s too late; Song Miaoling breaks off the kiss, drops Zhu Hong like a hot potato, and looks out through the door at him in shock.

Zhao Yunlan isn't sure what to say: this wasn't included in any management training he'd ever received. He pauses, too long, and her face flashes with panic and she takes a step in front of Zhu Hong as if to protect her.

Zhao Yunlan realises that, right now, all he is to her is a cop.

“It's OK!” he exclaims. “It's just, you made me think about…” Honesty comes out of him. “I'm worried about my boyfriend.”

Zhu Hong's mouth makes a perfect circle at hearing him say something that sappy. Song Miaoling's scared expression has gone milder.

“What's wrong with him?” she asks.

“He's… ill,” Zhao Yunlan lies awkwardly. He used to be better at this. “I don't want to talk about it.”

“Is he that cute guy with the glasses who was here the other day?”

Zhu Hong rolls her eyes, socks her on the arm.

“Ow! I'm just saying, he's a hottie. I hope he gets better soon.”

She looks at him with such sympathy that Zhao Yunlan can't take it, and he flees to the lab.

Chu Shuzhi and Da Qing are gathered around Lin Jing's computer as he gesticulates at something on the screen. “Lao Zhao!” Lin Jing says excitedly. “Come look at this.”

Zhao Yunlan leans over his shoulder. There's a sketch map of some kind on the screen, but he can't tell what it shows. “Where is this?”

“Going out South-East from the city, towards Yishi Village. There's still some dark energy out there: it's stronger there than anywhere else.”

Zhao Yunlan is suspicious of the countryside. “That's just fields for miles, right? And marshes and things. Why would the energy be stronger over there?”

Lin Jing looks less happy. “I don't know.”

“Well, good work, anyway. See if you can narrow it down more and we can…”

“CHIEF!!!” shouts the usually soft-voiced Wang Zheng from the main office. “Are you here? Chief!”

Zhao Yunlan pelts out of the lab and down the corridor with the others on his heels, and they erupt into the room.

The Black Cloaked Envoy is standing in the centre of it.

Zhao Yunlan runs towards him, then stops three feet away, fists clenched. For a moment he can't even speak, absorbing Shen Wei with his eyes. He's pale under the mask, and holding himself in a way that seems over-careful.

“Lord Black Cloak, are the portals open again?” asks Da Qing from behind Zhao Yunlan.

“Are you all right?” Zhao Yunlan blurts at the same time.

“We have forced one open, but it won't last. We have about ten minutes, so I must be quick.”

“Ten minutes?’ asks Zhao Yunlan in horror. Then he collects himself. 'What do you need from us?”

“The heart stone has been stolen.”

“The heart stone?” bites out Chu Shuzhi.

Zhao Yunlan has never heard of it. “Is that what's causing everything? What is it?”

“The heart of the meteor that landed millennia ago, and the source of Dixingren power. It's kept, carefully guarded,” his mouth thins into a hard line, “in the palace, but someone has managed to take it out and through into Haixing. Without it, the connection between Dixing and Haixing cannot be restored.”

Zhao Yunlan thinks about anyone who could want to cause this much mischief.

“Zhu Jiu?”

“I suspect so.”

“But why would he want to cut himself off forever from Dixing?”

The Envoy shakes his head. “It's possible he didn't know its full effects. Perhaps he wanted it for some other purpose.” He steps forward, passes Zhao Yunlan a scroll, fingers lingering against his as their hands touch. “This may help.”

Zhao Yunlan's heart seizes up in misery. “We’ll find it for you.”

Shen Wei hesitates. “Chief Zhao, a word with you in private.”

Zhao Yunlan can't breathe. He shoves the scroll at Lin Jing, leads the Envoy through to the closest place they can be alone: the kitchen.

The door closes behind them and Shen Wei grabs for him, yanks him into his arms, squeezing him almost painfully tight. Zhao Yunlan buries his face in the crook of his neck, wishing the cloak wasn't in the way so he could nuzzle at his skin.

Shen Wei is shaking a little, leaning heavily into Zhao Yunlan.

'What's wrong?’ Zhao Yunlan whispers, panicked. “Are you..?”

“It's OK,” Shen Wei says, full of shit because it definitely isn't. “I burnt a lot of energy getting through.”

Zhao Yunlan holds on to him, wishing he could sink into him and never have to let go. “Don't go back,” he pleads. He pulls away so he can see Shen Wei's masked face.

“Don't go back,” he says again urgently. “We'll find the heart stone easier with you, and I…” He wants to say; I miss you, I need you.

Shen Wei's beautiful eyes are sad.

“I can already feel it pulling at me,” he says. “It isn't a, a natural portal. When it closes, it will suck me back through.”

Zhao Yunlan shoves his hands under the hood of Shen Wei's cloak, anchoring himself in his silky hair, and pulls him in for a desperate kiss. Shen Wei embraces him hard, lips caressing his. Zhao Yunlan's face is wet.

Shen Wei breaks off with a gasp, a strange tremor running through him. He grabs at Zhao Yunlan's hands, pushes him back, as the circle opens up behind him.

Shen Wei's eyes are red, but he's smiling.

“I'm happy I found you,” he says.

The blackness yanks at him; for an instant Zhao Yunlan can see him small, distant and falling, and then he's gone.

 



Zhao Yunlan slumps back against the wall, knocks his head painfully against the brick work as he does so, swears, and wipes his eyes angrily. He allows himself a couple of minutes to wallow, then stomps out into the office, yelling out for his team.

“Lin Jing; this rock we're looking for has to be somewhere on that map you showed me. How big an area is it?”

“Um, maybe five miles across?”

“OK, head down there and see if you can narrow it down any more. See what the dark energy detector does when you get near it.”

Lin Jing perks up. “I can take the drone!”

The acquisition of his newest toy, and latest hole in the SID budget, had involved a huge amount of whining and puppy eyes, which Zhao Yunlan still hasn't fully recovered from. “Take whatever you want, just get down there. Little Guo, go with him.”

He looks around at the circle of worried faces. They might not, can't, know exactly what's going on with him, but they all want to help, and for an instant he’s absurdly proud of them.

“We have to find Zhu Jiu. The stone must have knocked out his powers too, so at least he'll be less of a deadly little shit than normal.”

“I'll ask the cats,” Da Qing volunteers.

“I'll go see my uncle,” offers Zhu Hong. “If the snake tribe or the flower people know anything, I'll find out.”

Wang Zheng looks frustrated. “I wish I could come help search.”

Having staff who are incorporeal does sometimes have its drawbacks. “It's OK,” Zhao Yunlan reassures her. “If Dixing try to contact us again we need someone here.” He turns to Chu Shuzhi. “Let's hit the old factory first and then try everywhere else he's ever appeared. He has to be somewhere.”




For a being who usually likes to pop up all over the place causing purple-haired mischief, Zhu Jiu is now irritatingly hard to locate. Zhao Yunlan drives them all across the city and its outskirts, trying everywhere they've ever encountered him, to absolutely no effect. Da Qing reports in that the local kittens are being even more obtuse than normal and nothing has been heard from Zhu Hong.

Late the next day, they're trudging across an old building site where Zhu Jiu had once hurled a bolt of dark power at Zhao Yunlan, which he'd dodged only by diving pell-mell into a nearby ditch, when there's a flutter of black wings out of the inky sky.

“What do you want with him?” asks Ya Qing as the bird shape metamorphoses into her two-legged form. At Zhao Yunlan's side, Chu Shuzhi has shifted into a defensive stance.

Zhao Yunlan doesn't ask who. “We need to know what he did with it. The heart stone.”

“The stupid boy,” she says sadly. “He thought he could use it to call the Hallows to him, but by the time I found him it was too late.”

“He’s dead?”

She shakes her shoulders, ruffling feathers that aren't there. “No...but he's no threat to you now.”

She leads them to a small apartment a few blocks away. The electric bulb flickers in the hallway, and there's a strong smell of damp. Zhu Jiu is laid out on the bed, eyes rolled up inside his head.

“Can you help him?” Ya Qing asks.

Zhao Yunlan strides across the room, slaps his face to try and wake him. It's like hitting a shop dummy and all he does is hurt his hand.

Ya Qing gasps. “Don't hit him! It won't do you any good.”

Zhao Yunlan peels back one of Zhu Jiu's eyelids. He's out cold. “You better not be fucking pretending,” he grits out. He turns to Ya Qing. “Where did you find him?”

“Near here. He had enough strength to get this far, but no more. He said as soon as he touched it, it started burning him from the inside out.”

“So where the fuck is it?”

She shakes her head. “He just said he hid it; I don't know where.”

Zhao Yunlan leaves Chu Shuzhi to wait and watch in case there's any change, telling him to take shifts with Da Qing. More than ever, he needs to speak with the Minister but it's the middle of the night so he goes home to bed, not that he’ll be able to sleep.

 




The Minister's secretary looks unimpressed to see Zhao Yunlan again.

“Chief Zhao,’ she says. 'I'm afraid I've already informed you that the Minister isn't available.”

Zhao Yunlan slumps into an uncomfortable chair. “Look, I'm not going to go away until I've seen him, and eventually you're going to get sick of me cluttering up your office. Why don't we just do the easy thing?”

She glowers at him, makes a hushed phone call. Zhao Yunlan stares into space, eats lollipop after lollipop until his teeth have gone furry and he's uncomfortably jittery from the sugar. His phone shrills and it's Lin Jing, confessing that something, probably the heart stone's aura, is messing up the drone camera so “everything looks like it's shot through porridge.” Zhao Yunlan's mood darkens even more.

Hours go by. As he crinkles up the wrapper of the last lollipop, an official appears, leans over the secretary's desk and has a muttered conversation. She arches a brow at Zhao Yunlan. “The Minister will see you now.”

When Zhao Yunlan enters the wood-panelled office, the Minister is all smiles. “Chief Zhao! I'm informed you've been waiting? I'm sorry for your trouble; it's been busy, very busy.” He motions for Zhao Yunlan to sit. “Now, what is this about?”

Zhao Yunlan looks at him, stunned. Surely the Ministry must have noticed that Haixing's occasionally troublesome neighbours suddenly aren't around anymore?

He decides the Minister can’t really be ignorant of the problem, and goes straight in. “We've discovered that the portals being blocked is caused by the theft of the heart stone from Dixing.” He unrolls the scroll and pushes it across the desk; it depicts a pulsing red gem surrounded by waves of dark energy.

The Minister gives it a cursory look. “Ah, I see.”

“My science genius has narrowed down the location to a few miles: we need more of your staff to help comb through it.”

“How many?”

Zhao Yunlan snatches a number out of the air. “Two hundred?”

He leans over the desk, gives the Minister his best flirtatious glance up through his eyelashes. It has no appreciable effect; the Minister just steeples his fingers and regards him soberly.

“Have you considered, Chief Zhao, that you may be trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist?”

Zhao Yunlan gapes at him.

“The passage between the worlds closing is perhaps the best thing that could have happened to Haixing.” He gives Zhao Yunlan a broad, fake smile. “We have a chance now for peace, without constant Dixing infiltrations.”

“Yes, but..”

The Minister reaches over the desk and gives his shoulder a hearty pat. Zhao Yunlan holds himself very still, doesn't recoil.

“What about the treaty? Is it a good idea to let go of a ten thousand year agreement so easily?”

“Treaties can change when circumstances change.” His voice becomes infused with bonhomie. “I know you may be worried about your staff, but I assure you, we'll find good posts for them all if there is no longer an operational need for the SID.” He pats Zhao Yunlan's shoulder again. “I can't say too much now, but I have a plum position in mind for you; you don't need to worry at all.”

Zhao Yunlan searches for a line of attack, finds none. He likes to think he's usually pretty persuasive, but this is too important to him, it means too much, and his usual powers of flattery have withered and died. He lets the Minister utter some more platitudes and then gets up, defeated, and trudges out of the building.

When he arrives at the edge of Yishi Village, Lin Jing is nowhere to be seen. Zhao Yunlan calls him, gets no reply, paces irritably in the gathering dusk. Eventually a twig snaps and Lin Jing and Guo Changcheng emerge from the gloom, both dripping wet and daubed liberally with mud.

“What happened?”

Guo Changcheng looks even more sheepish than normal. “I fell in a stream?”

Of course he did. Zhao Yunlan turns to Lin Jing. “And what's your excuse?”

Lin Jing tries to dry his damp face with his sodden shirt, gives up in disgust, and ignores the question.

“Then Lin-ge fell in trying to help me out!” Guo Changcheng chimes in.

“It's no use, Chief,” Lin Jing says. “The dark energy is getting weaker and weaker and I can't narrow it down. The stone could be anywhere in there.” He gestures at miles of darkening scrub land, trees and water.

“It'd need an army.” He brightens. “Can we have the army? What did they say at the Ministry?”

Zhao Yunlan shakes his head. “Nothing doing. We'll get no help there.”

Little Guo gapes at him in shock. “They won't help? But…”

“Just, go home, both of you,” Zhao Yunlan says. “There's no point camping out here. We'll figure something out in the morning.”

He drives back to SID, chases away Zhu Hong - back from her fruitless visit to the snake tribe - to go get some sleep and collapses onto the couch, mind blank with worry and frustration.

Somewhere far below, Shen Wei is counting on him, and he's so fucking useless he can't even find a way to help him. He imagines a future without Shen Wei around to complain about the state of his fridge, bully him into eating vegetables, provide his effortlessly startling insights into SID's cases, and kiss Zhao Yunlan until he's nothing but a mass of nerve endings, and the thought makes the emptiness inside expand until it begins to swallow him.

Whiskey would help numb the edges of the world, but he can't even find the energy to go hunt out his stash. Da Qing comes in and finds him there hours later and tsks at him. “Why are you sitting here in the dark? Drama queen.”

Zhao Yunlan doesn't react. Da Qing flops down heavily on the couch next to him. “I know it isn't just the portals closing that's got you this upset. Wanna tell me what's really going on?” He butts at Zhao Yunlan's shoulder with his head, cat-like even in his human guise.

It probably doesn't even matter anymore, but guarding Shen Wei's secret feels more important than ever. It might be the last thing Zhao Yunlan can do for him.

“I can't.”

Da Qing humphs. “Suit yourself.” He looks at Zhao Yunlan for a moment, considering, then transforms and jumps into his lap, kneads at his thighs until he's in just the right position. The warm, living weight brings a bit of balm to Zhao Yunlan's soul; he strokes his inky fur, tiredness overtaking him, and falls asleep listening to Da Qing's purring.

When he wakes up it's light, Da Qing is nowhere to be seen, and Guo Changcheng and his uncle are having a whispered conversation in the corner of the office.

Zhao Yunlan looks over at them groggily. Something seems to have died in his mouth, and he's definitely drooled down his shirt in the night. Guo Ying sees he's awake and walks over to him. “Chief Zhao. I'm sorry to disturb your rest. Changcheng tells me you have a problem I may be able to assist with.”

Hope dawns in Zhao Yunlan. “We have a big bit of countryside to search through. Can you…?”

“It's best that I don't know too many details, but the new cohort of police cadets are due for their orienteering training shortly, and I'm sure I can persuade their trainers to move it up.”




The cadets are neat in their new uniforms, have been assembled at miraculous speed, and are chattering enthusiastically, obviously happy to be out of the barracks. They make Zhao Yunlan feel ancient.

He distributes copies of the scroll, tells them they're looking for a crucial piece of military hardware that has fallen off a plane, warns them to not even think about touching it if they find it, and the squad leader sets them off in a grid pattern to search.

Zhao Yunlan and the rest of SID - minus Chu Shuzhi who's still sitting vigil over Zhu Jiu - join them; combing through heath, scrub and wetland, but not finding anything other than swamp, determinedly unmagical rocks, and a large number of angry-looking wading birds. Lin Jing brings the dark energy detector, even though by now all it's doing is making feeble peeps at longer and longer intervals.

“The energy levels are so low now, Chief,” he says, twiddling with the device. “If we don't find the stone soon, there might not be enough juice left in it to open the portals again.”

Zhao Yunlan contemplates this looming new disaster. “It’s been a week already,” he says. “How long do you think we have?”

Lin Jing looks frustrated. “I can’t tell. Sorry, Chief.”

“All we can do is try,” Zhao Yunlan says in resignation. “Let's keep looking.”

When it gets dark enough that they risk losing cadets in the mire, the cohort leader calls off the search for the day and dispatches his charges back to the city, promising to return early in the morning. Zhao Yunlan rounds up his team, by now all muddy, pale-faced and yawning, and takes them for dinner in the nearby village. They're sitting around eating hotpot and looking at each other blankly across the table, when Zhao Yunlan's phone goes. It's the cadet leader, sounding agitated.

“Two of my cadets stayed behind without permission. They think they've found something.”

 




The cadet leader's torch light picks out the worried-looking faces of a cadet boy and girl, next to the black mass of a huge tree. As they get closer, Zhao Yunlan can make out something else, a faint red glow at ground level. He hurries forward and falls to his knees in the mud next to the light. Tucked away under the tree roots, the smooth, luminescent stone, the size of an ostrich egg, can't be anything other than what they're looking for. Relief and gratitude fills his heart.

“We got it!” he yells to the rest of SID, who are straggling out of the darkness behind him.

“We would never have seen it if it wasn't dark,’ one cadet says. 'It was the light that we saw.”

“What we you doing out here alone together?” snaps the cadet leader.

“We were...looking at the moon,” chances the other cadet, sounding like he himself doesn’t even believe what he’s saying.

Shit excuse, thinks Zhao Yunlan; it's been cloudy all day. He decides to swoop in before his saviours get into even more trouble. “Well done to you both!” he exclaims. “You deserve special commendation for your extra efforts. Chief Wang, you and your squad have my sincere thanks and I'll make sure the Ministry knows what a credit to you your cadets are.”

The cadet leader allows himself to be persuaded, and ushers the pair away, still berating them as they go, but in a less angry tone. As soon as they're gone Zhao Yunlan takes off his jacket, wads it up around his hands and pulls out the heart stone. The sickening lurch of dark energy fills him, but it's faint, bearable, and that can't be a good sign.

“We have to get it back to the portal; see if we can get it back through.’ And he sets off back to the road with it cradled to his chest, Guo Changcheng's torch lighting the way”




Zhao Yunlan can barely tell where the portal is in daylight; he's worried he'll walk right past it in the dark. But as soon as he gets out of the car with the heart stone, it leaps in his hands, pulling forward as if it's alive. “It wants to go through!” he says delightedly.

He follows as it tugs at him, unwraps his jacket from it, staggering from the pulse of wrongness as renewed dark energy hits him, and then it's torn from his hands, winking out of existence through the empty space that is the portal.

Zhao Yunlan waits, waits, looks around at the others. Nothing happens. Lin Jing is fiddling with the dark energy detector. “I think it's done something,” he says. “But I don't know exactly what.”

Zhao Yunlan has a pathetic urge to laugh. He'd been hoping for the portal to flare open, a longed-for dark figure to emerge, but there's nothing. They wait in the dark, all reluctant to give up, but eventually Little Guo yawns hugely and Zhao Yunlan shakes himself out of it.

“There's no point staying here. Let's go back to the office and see if we can figure anything out from there.” They climb back into the jeep and Lin Jing's car and set off through the night.

The letter materialises in mid-air over the dashboard as they're halfway back to the office. Zhao Yunlan almost swerves into a lamp post grabbing at it, making Zhu Hong, his only passenger, yelp, then he screeches to a halt so he can read it.

Three characters, in familiar handwriting: “Please come home.”

Zhao Yunlan squeezes his hands shut around the note, chest tight.

“What does it say?”

Zhao Yunlan looks over at her, hoping she can't tell in the orange glow of the street light that his eyes are wet.

“It worked. It's OK, it worked,” he babbles.

He drops her somewhere that from the unlikely shy smile on her face must be Song Miaoling’s apartment, then breaks the speed limit all the way home.

Coming down the hallway he still almost doesn't dare to hope; heart beating shallowly, palms sweaty. But when he's still a few paces away from his own door, it opens, and Shen Wei's beloved face is framed in the doorway. Zhao Yunlan launches himself forward, kicks the door closed behind him, and then he's pressed up against it and Shen Wei is kissing him.

Zhao Yunlan cradles Shen Wei’s face in his hands, winds a leg around the back of Shen Wei's to pull him in still closer and encourage him to rest his full, glorious weight on him so he can know he's real.

Shen Wei pulls back to let him breathe, and his lips caress his jaw, the side of his mouth.

“I thought it hadn't worked,” Zhao Yunlan gasps. “When you didn't come through.”

“I'm sorry,” Shen Wei's mouth glides down his throat. “It took a while for the dark energy to be restored and I, I knew as soon as I saw you I'd have to do this.” He kisses his way back up to Zhao Yunlan’s mouth, and Zhao Yunlan's knees go weak. They trade kisses up against the door, until Zhao Yunlan's spine is melting and he's got his hands fisted in the material of Shen Wei's shirt for support. He's wearing his human clothes, but he still smells faintly of the smoky incense that burns all over the palace in Dixing.

Shen Wei bows his head and buries it in Zhao Yunlan's shoulder. “I missed you,” he whispers.

Something in Zhao Yunlan which shattered apart when he watched Shen Wei being sucked back through the portal is only now being knitted together again. “Me too,” he says, low. “So much.”

Shen Wei straightens again and runs the backs of his fingers along Zhao Yunlan's cheekbone. “You look exhausted.”

“I'm not!” he protests, and then belies the statement when it ends on a huge yawn. Shen Wei smiles, and then braces his arms around him, lifts him up. Zhao Yunlan fucking adores this; when Shen Wei shows off his strength. He wraps his legs around his waist in encouragement, hangs on as Shen Wei crosses the room and drops them both down onto the couch. Zhao Yunlan squirms until he's in just the right position in his lap, cuddled up against Shen Wei's cool, solid chest.

“What happened in Dixing?” he asks. “Is everything OK?”

Shen Wei kisses the top of his head. “The heart stone is back in its rightful place. But I'm worried that it was stolen so easily. I have to go back and ensure it can't happen again.”

Zhao Yunlan's body tenses.

“Not now,” Shen Wei amends, kissing his hair again.

“Damn right, not now,” Zhao Yunlan grouses. He yawns again, so hard his jaw cracks.

Shen Wei pulls gently at him, guides his head back so he can look at his face. “You should sleep.” He isn't wearing his glasses and it makes him look absurdly vulnerable for a being who Zhao Yunlan has seen stop time and knows could blow up half a city block without much effort. Zhao Yunlan loves this soft side of Shen Wei that only he gets to see.

“Don't wanna,” he says. He can't possibly say: because I'm afraid you'll disappear again.

Shen Wei kisses him, so gently it makes Zhao Yunlan's heart hurt. “I'll be here when you wake up.”

“Promise?” Zhao Yunlan asks, and feels himself blush at how goddamn needy he sounds.

Shen Wei tilts his chin up with two fingers, eyes intent. “Forever.”

Zhao Yunlan can't breathe. He’s both intensely happy, and just maybe about to cry. It's too much. “I'm gonna shower,” he says, and climbs out of Shen Wei's lap.

When he emerges, clean and sleepy and having got slightly more of a hold over himself, Shen Wei is exactly where he should be: lying waiting for him in his bed. He's got the covers pulled up to his waist and he's wearing an old baby-blue t-shirt of Zhao Yunlan’s.

Zhao Yunlan pauses a couple of feet away to admire him.

“You look so good there.”

Shen Wei beams up at him. “Come here?”

Zhao Yunlan doesn't have to be told twice. He huddles under the quilt, plasters as much of himself over Shen Wei as possible, kisses his collar bone sleepily and falls quickly into unconsciousness.

He wakes in the early hours because Shen Wei is calling his name and patting at him. They've rolled away from each other in the night, and Zhao Yunlan scoots back over and nuzzles at him groggily. “What's wrong?”

“Oh,” Shen Wei sounds barely awake. “You're here.”

“Of course I am, you dummy.” Zhao Yunlan pushes at him until Shen Wei lets him be the big spoon, cuddles around him and Shen Wei gradually goes loose and sleepy against him. Zhao Yunlan falls asleep again, safe and utterly content and with his face buried in Shen Wei's soft hair.

When an intrusive early sunbeam hits him right in the eye he realises neither of them remembered to close the curtains the night before. He mashes his face further into Shen Wei's hair, tries to let sleep take him again. Despite the rude awakening he’s blissfully relaxed and satisfied: his body curled around Shen Wei's and nowhere to go and nothing to do but revel in it. His hand is resting on the sheet; he tucks it in against Shen Wei's chest and Shen Wei makes a sleepy noise and moves against him. “You awake?” Zhao Yunlan breathes into his hair, kisses his ear lazily.

Shen Wei says “Mmmmmm”, and it's such a delicious sound; Zhao Yunlan wants to hear it again. He kisses the lobe of his ear again, pulls it between his lips, traces his fingers across Shen Wei's chest. Shen Wei shifts again, his ass nudging tentatively back into Zhao Yunlan's groin and, screw sleeping in, Zhao Yunlan is definitely awake now.

His fingers move across Shen Wei's chest with more purpose, rub at the nub of his nipple through the cotton. This between them is so new that he hasn't yet time to experiment as he wants to; to take his sweet time exploring every part of Shen Wei and finding out what's gonna make him go loose with pleasure and what's going to heat him up until he's ready to fuck Zhao Yunlan through a wall.

He pinches his nipple between thumb and forefinger and turns out that's an easy win because Shen Wei inhales like he's trying not to gasp. Zhao Yunlan does it again, wriggles so he can kiss the back of his neck, open-mouthed and lewd and, coincidentally, get some friction for his rapidly hardening cock against Shen Wei's ass. He indulges himself: moves his hips against him, making lust boil up inside. Shen Wei pushes back into him, encouraging him with his body and that's, oh.

Shen Wei has fucked him hard and fast, and so slowly that Zhao Yunlan had been a melted remnant of himself by the time Shen Wei had let him come, but they haven't done this yet, and the sudden need to be inside him sets him aflame. He snaps his hips forward, keeps them there, pulls Shen Wei harder back against his body, pushes his cock against his ass like he means it.

“Can I, can I fuck you?” he murmurs into Shen Wei's hair.

Shen Wei says, “Mmmmmmm,” again, deep in his throat.

Zhao Yunlan gets his hand up under his shirt, flattens his palm over smooth skin, and Shen Wei's ribs quake under his fingers. “Was that a yes? I wanna hear you say it.”

His thumb rubs firmly over the pucker of Shen Wei's nipple and Shen Wei says, “Oh...yes, I want you to.”

Lust washes over him. OK. OK, he can do this. He moves reluctantly away from Shen Wei's pliant body, kneels up over him and throws back the quilt so he can see him properly. Shen Wei blinks up at him. His hair is sticking up and there's a pink flush coming up from the neck of his t-shirt which Zhao Yunlan just has to lean down and kiss.

“You look good in my shirt,” he says. 'But I'm taking it off you.’ He guides it over his head, fingers teasing at Shen Wei's sides, enjoying how Shen Wei's abs flex as he raises himself up to let him do it. Zhao Yunlan pushes him down again, sits back on his heels to appreciate him. His nipples are standing out hard from his chest and the bulge of his cock pushing out at his white briefs is making Zhao Yunlan's hands itch with the need to touch.

Shen Wei flushes even more, tries to fiddle with glasses that aren't there. “What are you doing?”

Zhao Yunlan gives in to temptation, brushes his fingers up Shen Wei's bare thighs, a tease, and then cups a hand over his erection and squeezes. Shen Wei's hips stutter up.

“I just wanted to look,” Zhao Yunlan says. “You're so lovely; you make me fucking crave you.”

Shen Wei smiles shyly at that and there's so much trust in his eyes when he looks up at Zhao Yunlan that it's shattering him apart. He kisses the skin right above Shen Wei's waist band, chasing the blush that by now is flooding across his body, then peels him carefully out of his briefs. His hard cock bobs against his stomach and Zhao Yunlan kisses it swiftly. Shen Wei says “Ah Lan.”

“I'm here, baby. I'm gonna make you feel so good.” He strips off his own boxers with hands that are only slightly shaking, then slicks up his fingers with lube, guides Shen Wei's knees bent and apart.

“Is it OK like this?”

Shen Wei lets him do it, lets Zhao Yunlan position him exactly how he wants him, just breathes, “yeah,” and “kiss me?”

Zhao Yunlan sucks air into his overheated lungs, pours even more lube over his hand just to be sure, and glides one finger inside Shen Wei. He's warm and tight inside and he clenches a little around him; Zhao Yunlan leans down and grants his request, kisses him while he gets used to the intrusion.

Shen Wei makes a noise into his mouth, moves back against him, getting a little demanding. Zhao Yunlan doesn't know how much he's done this before, if at all, he needs to go slow, make sure he's OK. He starts to move his wrist, fucking his finger in and out of Shen Wei's body, guided by the kiss getting less controlled as Shen Wei’s focus starts to shift to nothing but what Zhao Yunlan is doing to him. He adds another one, takes it slow, curls his fingers to touch, there. He knows he's got it right when Shen Wei breathes in raggedly, clasps at his back with both hands and tries to pull him even closer.

His hard cock is right up against Zhao Yunlan's stomach, getting it slick with pre-come as Zhao Yunlan moves over him, and as Zhao Yunlan starts to finger fuck him in earnest he makes a little mewling sound that Zhao Yunlan is going to remember for the rest of his life.

That frankly might be not be long, though, because Zhao Yunlan sits back up on his heels so he can get more strength behind his wrist, make him feel it, and the sight of Shen Wei spread out for him in the morning sunlight, eyes gazing wide at the ceiling, utterly unguarded as Zhao Yunlan fingers him, is enough to end him. He looks down at his fingers disappearing inside Shen Wei's hole and it's a mistake, too much. He grabs for his own cock with his other hand, gives it a squeeze, shivers at the hot wave of want that flashes through him.

He slows the movement of his hand, pulls his fingers almost all the way out, massages with his thumb at the stretched pink skin around Shen Wei's rim, and Shen Wei moans.

In the scant few times they've fucked before Shen Wei has liked to take charge and Zhao Yunlan has enjoyed letting him; this new, pliant Shen Wei who’s making little noises as Zhao Yunlan does whatever he wants with his body is making Zhao Yunlan's hindbrain melt apart. He kisses the side of Shen Wei's knee.

“Are you with me, beautiful? You ready for me?” His voice sounds unrecognisable to his own ears.

Shen Wei doesn't respond right away, lost in himself, and Zhao Yunlan feels a pang of worry, but then he breathes in hugely and props his head up on one arm, looks up at him with big eyes. “I'm ready,” he rasps. “I want you to do it.”

As soon as Zhao Yunlan slides home, pressed right up against Shen Wei with the solid weight of his knees over his shoulders and Shen Wei's blunt fingernails digging into his hips, urging him on, he has to stop, drop his scorching face down onto Shen Wei's shoulder and concentrate hard on not immediately coming.

Shen Wei shifts underneath him and pets clumsily at his side. “What's wrong?”

“'I, you feel too good. I gotta…”

He bites his lip, tries to think about making it good for Shen Wei and not just his own burning need to thrust into him until he comes. He props himself on his elbows, looks down into Shen Wei's flushed face so close to his.

“Hi,” he breathes stupidly. A smile breaks out on Shen Wei's face and he pushes himself up so they can kiss. The movement of his body does terrible things to Zhao Yunlan's equilibrium, and he moans into Shen Wei's mouth and starts to move his hips. Shen Wei's body takes it like he was made for Zhao Yunlan; he drops his head back onto the pillow and starts making urgent “uh...uh” noises with every thrust.

Going slow is not really an option anymore; Zhao Yunlan can feel himself swelling impossibly still harder inside Shen Wei's tight channel, and shivery forerunners of orgasm are starting to spread through him.

He’s on his way down and he wants desperately to take Shen Wei with him; he pushes himself up, rises to his knees, Shen Wei grumbling as he almost slips out, then gets a good grip on his hips and thrusts all the way back in again. That's deeper now and unbearably good; he pulls halfway out and starts a brutal rhythm, shoving Shen Wei's body up the bed again and again until Shen Wei grasps the rails at the head of the bed, muscles standing out from his arms. There's a shrieking sound of metal as the rails start to bend under his hands.

Sweat is dripping down Zhao Yunlan's chest and onto Shen Wei's body, the bed springs are creaking so loudly they can probably be heard halfway down the hall and Zhao Yunlan is starting to lose it. Shen Wei is making bitten-off groaning sounds now which Zhao Yunlan never thought could come from his lips. He takes one hand off the rail and reaches for his straining cock. Zhao Yunlan makes a supreme effort, gets his own clumsy hand around it in a tight circle, squeezes, and that's all it takes. Shen Wei inhales on an “ahh” and climaxes in a flood all over his stomach and chest.

Zhao Yunlan fucks him through it, aching, trying to be gentle, and then pauses when he thinks Shen Wei must be getting too over-sensitive and holds himself still, right on the edge. Shen Wei has gone boneless; flushed and smeared with come. He sucks air into his heaving chest a few times and then makes an urgent effort to focus his eyes on Zhao Yunlan and says “you stopped, why did you stop?” in a tone approaching his usual commanding self. Zhao Yunlan doesn’t need to be told twice. He wipes his sweaty hands on the sheets, gets a better grip on Shen Wei’s hips and thrusts into his loose and languid body, lets himself go, lets himself feel it, buries himself to the hilt with his eyes on Shen Wei’s beautiful, sated face and comes in a hot wave inside him.

When lights have stopped flashing in front of his eyes, he pulls out as carefully as possible, his spent cock giving a last twinge of pleasure, and flops right down on top of Shen Wei's messy body. Shen Wei just lets him, wraps his strong arms round him and holds him as both their breathing evens out.

Once speaking is no longer beyond him, Zhao Yunlan licks sweat off Shen Wei’s throat, and whispers, “you’re incredible. Fuck, I’m lucky,” against his skin. Shen Wei’s arms tighten still further around him in response.

After a few minutes, or maybe an hour, Zhao Yunlan groans and boosts himself up on jelly-like arms so he can kiss Shen Wei properly. Shen Wei kisses him back but he's starting to look a little fussy, so Zhao Yunlan forces himself out of bed in search of a washcloth. He helps Shen Wei clean up, gently, and kissing his way across his body as he goes, then drops the cloth off the edge of the bed because the fuck is he moving again anytime soon.

The bent metal of the headboard catches his eye and he laughs and taps it with a finger. “I'm gonna need to get a stronger bed,” he teases. Shen Wei blinks up at him.

“I'm sorry.”

“Nuh uh.” He trails a finger down Shen Wei's cheek. “I, uh, I love how strong you are,’ he admits. 'It gets me hot.”

Shen Wei smiles so sweetly that all Zhao Yunlan can do is snuggle down beside him again and pull him into his arms. Shen Wei kisses his collarbone, then nuzzles his face into his throat in a way that makes Zhao Yunlan melt. He dozes a little as the sun gets warmer, drifts in and out, and only wakes when Shen Wei stirs and gets out of bed. Zhao Yunlan can hear him clattering around quietly in the kitchen. “You better be coming back here!” he yells.

Shen Wei soon reappears, still deliciously naked and carrying tea. He climbs back into bed and Zhao Yunlan sits up, cuddles up to him as they drink it. Zhao Yunlan gropes around for his phone, messages Da Qing, tells him to tell the team to take the day off and stay in bed, because he is. Da Qing responds with fifteen eggplant emojis. Zhao Yunlan laughs, and tilts his phone to show Shen Wei, whose brow furrows.

“What are those vegetables?”

He looks so adorably confused that Zhao Yunlan can't not kiss him, and they get distracted again for a long, indulgent time. Afterwards, as they're curled around each other, Zhao Yunlan runs a gentle finger along his collarbone. “Da Qing… he's figured it out, you know.”

Shen Wei kisses his brow. “That's all right.” He hesitates. “It's OK if they all know.”

Zhao Yunlan feels strangely shy. “You mean about Brother Black? Or about us?”

'Both, I think.’

Zhao Yunlan wriggles in his arms, props himself up on his elbow so he can look him in the eye, cups his cheek in one hand. “Yeah?”

Shen Wei turns his face into Zhao Yunlan's palm. “Yes. You trust them, so I trust them.”

Joy floods through Zhao Yunlan and he kisses Shen Wei softly, trying to show him everything he can't yet say: that the last few days of hell have been worth it, that he's going to hold him to that promise that he'll be there when he wakes forever, that he never wants anyone else in his arms and in his bed. And Shen Wei kisses him back like he knows it, like he shares Zhao Yunlan's heart and can feel it full and overflowing for him.