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If Life Was A Movie We’d Have A Better Soundtrack Than This

Chapter Text

The first time Shen Wei meets Zhao Yunlan is when he innocently steps out of his Monday morning office hours and is immediately slammed into by 180 pounds of cop pursuing a suspect on foot.

In the movies they’d land face-to-face, hardly even ruffled. Shen Wei would be charmed by Zhao Yunlan’s roguish smile and Zhao Yunlan might admire Shen Wei’s eyes. They’d exchange some banter, help each other up, and the soundtrack would do something significant in the background. Zhao Yunlan would probably even help Shen Wei pick up his books or, in a more particular kind of movie, dust him off and let his hands linger pointedly.

In real life there’s an explosion of paperwork. Shen Wei winds up dazed and winded on the floor with what feels like both of Zhao Yunlan’s elbows and at least one of his knees trying to dig through his torso. Zhao Yunlan yells “Fuck!” and tries to get up, slips on a folder, lands on Shen Wei again, and then sprints off without another word. Shen Wei is left wheezing and curled around his bruised midsection in the wreckage of project materials that took him all of yesterday to meticulously assemble, with two appalled and newly romantically disillusioned students taking video of the trainwreck as his only background music.

It is not, as they would say, an auspicious start.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Between the high-speed collision, the resulting sore knee, and the weirdly labyrinthine layout of the university, Zhao Yunlan really thinks that losing the suspect is understandable and just the fact that he managed to keep up with him until the Administrative Building is pretty commendable.

Lao Chu reeeaaally likes using judgy eyes, though.

“Oh, you would have lost him too,” Zhao Yunlan grouses, rubbing his bruised knee. “Where the hell were you, anyway?”

Lao Chu rolls his eyes and stomps off in the direction of the car. Fine, fine, he and Daqing had been on the other side of campus at Zhao Yunlan’s direction; whatever. The point remains.

“Did anyone you ran by get a good look at the suspect?” Daqing asks, stretching in a way that always makes Zhao Yunlan think of a bored cat.

Zhao Yunlan doubts it - they’d been going pretty fast and everybody on this damn campus seems to walk around with their noses in books anyway. But he should probably go check on the poor guy he’d steamrollered in the Sciences Building, and canvassing for IDs is as good an excuse for it as any.

He hadn’t really gotten a good look at him, but he remembers the door the guy had been coming out of, and that’s a decent place to start. It had been a pretty epic collision - even if the guy isn’t still around, somebody probably noticed the aftermath.

He feels a slight pang. Hopefully one of the bystanders helped the man up, at least.

“I think I might know somebody,” he tells Daqing. “Let’s head back to the Sciences Building.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In Zhao Yunlan’s defense, he does come back to the office later to check on Shen Wei.

Unfortunately, his idea of ‘checking on’ is to pull out his ID and say, “Did you get a good look at the guy I was chasing? I might need you to look at some mugshots.”

As Shen Wei is currently elbows-deep in crushed paperwork and mourning over a formerly-beautiful full-color dataset that now has a bootprint on it, he is not terribly inclined to be civically minded.

“All I really noticed was an entire day’s work turning into confetti,” he says sharply. That isn’t completely fair - ‘confetti’ implies that the paperwork was shredded, which it was not - but his everything hurts and he can’t be bothered to think of appropriate metaphors.

“You make it sound like I stopped to rip up what you were holding,” Zhao Yunlan says, with what he probably thinks is a winning smile.

It is a very engaging smile, damn him, but people have used winning smiles on Shen Wei before, usually during finals or shortly before major assignment deadlines. He remains unmoved.

Zhao Yunlan sighs in exasperation. “Fine. I’ll leave my card. Let me know if you think of anything helpful.” He tosses it on Shen Wei’s desk and sees himself out.

In a movie, Shen Wei’s quirky but helpful best friend would show up right now to make some sort of loaded comment about Zhao Yunlan’s body or encourage Shen Wei to come up with some detail as a pretext to contact Zhao Yunlan later.

In reality he doesn’t have a best friend, or any friends at all, really, and only himself and his carefully calculated aloofness to blame for that, so what he gets is Li Qian edging tentatively through the door and looking at him like he’s about to cough up blood and die.

“Professor Shen, it really might be best to go to the hospital,” she says, wide-eyed. “You might have internal bleeding. Or broken ribs. Or a concussion.”

Shen Wei knows he doesn’t have any of those things now because a childhood with Ye Zun has given him the dubious advantage of prior experience and this, while painful, isn’t that by a long shot. Saying that probably wouldn’t help Li Qian’s mental state, though.

He corrects his posture and straightens up, suppressing his flinch with the ease of long practice. He is definitely going to have some colorful bruises tomorrow. “Li Qian, I’m really all right. I was startled but I’m perfectly fine now. Would you go see if Professor Gao has any spare project folders she’s willing to part with?”

Li Qian looks a bit doubtful but mostly reassured. Shen Wei waits until the door is shut to put his head down on the desk and make sad noises.

Damn Zhao Yunlan.

His ribs do really hurt. But even worse than that, he’s going to have to do battle with the department photocopier again.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“So hot, and yet so mean,” Zhao Yunlan laments as he heads back to the car with Daqing.

Dang. The judgy eyes are catching. “You ran him over, didn’t you.”

“Yes, Daqing,” Zhao Yunlan sighs. “I ran him over.”

“Was it because you saw how hot he was?” Daqing asks wearily.

Zhao Yunlan gasps in affront. “Why does no one have any respect for me? For your information I didn’t even get a good look at him until just now, and I did not intentionally botch a chase because of my libido, and it’s amazing how you don’t like getting your full salary each month.”

Daqing grins at him. “Just teasing! I respect your professionalism and your dedication to duty.”

“Ugh,” Zhao Yunlan complains. They’re coming up to the car and he can practically see the disapproval radiating off Lao Chu’s silhouette. He puts up a hand to stop Daqing. “Look - undeniable hotness aside - did you notice anything… different about that Professor?”

Daqing frowns. “I don’t think so, why?”

Zhao Yunlan shakes it off. “No reason. It’s probably nothing. Let’s get going.”

Chapter Text

That would have been the end of the story of Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan, a romance tragically cut short by never happening in the first place, except that Shen Wei does have a good memory for faces. And that night, as he’s theoretically making lonely dinner for one in his faculty dorm room but in actuality is running through the events of the day with a fine-toothed comb and seething about it in a genteel way, he realizes three things, to his dismay:

One. He did in fact see the person Zhao Yunlan was chasing.

Two. Justice compels him to disclose that fact and aid the police in their inquiries.

Three. He never actually asked Li Qian to set Zhao Yunlan’s business card on fire, so he has no excuse for not contacting Zhao Yunlan directly.

For one tantalising moment, he considers not doing the right thing. Or, possibly, calling an anonymous tip line. (Do they still have those?)

But it passes quickly, and he spends the rest of the evening sulking over his dinner and giving the phone dark looks. He knows, deep down, that he’s making more of this than is really necessary, but something about Zhao Yunlan’s manner has set him on edge. He feels the old prickle on the back of his neck that used to mean danger and now, apparently, means ‘look both ways before you cross the hallway’.

Finally, dinner done and the dishes washed and the kitchen wiped down and several other tasks completed, Shen Wei runs out of excuses.

Maybe Zhao Yunlan won’t answer the phone.

Please, please don’t answer the phone.

...He doesn’t answer the phone.

This would have been cause for celebration, except that technology and Shen Wei have a barely-controlled raging hatred for each other and in the process of trying to get the stupid automated answering system to record his message he only manages to hang up.

Twice.

He could try again later. He could give up and decide that the man being chased, whoever he was, is clearly destined to go free. He could offer to pay off Li Qian’s student loans if she’d only do it for him.

No. That would be using his powers for evil.

Which leaves going to the office in person.

Ugh. Morality is terrible.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Zhao Yunlan has been staring at their case board for so long he can feel his eyeballs withering.

He groans and grinds the heels of his hands into his eyes. It makes little sparks flash across his vision, but at least his eyeballs feel lubricated now. “All right. So I think given the way Running Man made his way through campus we can definitely confirm that these losers are connected to the University somehow.”

“We still can’t rule out that they’ve all just been students there,” Zhu Hong says for the fiftieth time, but Yunlan can tell her heart isn’t in it. She’s as tired of rehashing their terrible evidence as he is.

He lets his head fall back on the couch, glaring at the case board through partially-closed eyes. Half of it is filled with diagrams, bits of paperwork, and scrawled notes about possible connections.

The other half is full of pictures of the victims of this debacle - the pitiful ones of overdoses and the grisly ones of those who have been ‘silenced’ - and it’s those pictures that keep dragging all of them back through the evidence even as their frustration keeps mounting.

“We have to start somewhere,” Lin Jing says reasonably. “The University comes up too many times to ignore. Even if there isn’t a direct connection there might be an indirect one.”

Zhao Yunlan waves an approving finger in Lin Jing’s direction. “Good. Follow it. Anyone else?”

“I want to go back to the morgue,” Lao Chu says. “I don’t think we can get any more information from the overdoses but I think we can learn more from the others if we look hard enough.”

“Kinky, but I’ll take it,” Zhao Yunlan says, just so Lao Chu will make that hilarious ‘I hate you’ expression again. “Xiao Guo? Got anything?”

The boy startles badly and drops his notebook. Zhao Yunlan muffles his sigh. Someday the kid will chill out and stop being so jumpy, but it looks like it’ll be a long time coming.

“I could - I could check the victims’ social media?”

They’ve already done that, but why not? They’re already revisiting the autopsies, they might as well revisit every other damn thing too. Maybe someone did post a ‘me and my drug dealer’ selfie. Dumber things than that have broken cases before.

“Do it. Zhu Hong?”

“I’ll… talk to people,” Zhu Hong says delicately. “Maybe someone’s heard something new.”

“You want backup?” Zhao Yunlan asks, frowning.

“Not for this,” Zhu Hong says, a little grimly. Zhao Yunlan makes it a point not to inquire too deeply into her mysterious sources. He trusts her and she brings back good information and that’s all he needs to know.

“All right, be careful. Daqing?”

Daqing hesitates. “I know we shot this down earlier, but maybe your fa-”

“Nope!” Zhao Yunlan says, cutting that one off at the pass. The grindingly insulting ‘you’re too reckless’ lecture is bad enough without the ‘and don’t even have anything to show for it’ coda that asking for help would bring down on him. “You’re banished to the tip line with Wang Zheng. Anybody else got something?”

“Excuse me?” a voice calls from the reception desk.

Daqing, the closest to the door, leans back in his chair to look and then whips around, the legs of his chair hitting the ground with a thump. “Hot Mean Professor!” he hisses.

Any illusions Zhao Yunlan might have had about the story of his high-speed shitshow not spreading are shot down immediately as everyone in the room goes from ‘depressed but determined’ to ‘gossipy old ladies’ in a heartbeat.

“What, really?”

“Fast work, Chief Zhao.”

“Maybe he wants to help you relieve your tension!”

“None of you are allowed to speak to him,” Zhao Yunlan says, mildly scandalized by their shamelessness. “He’s probably just here to lodge a complaint anyway.”

They subside, but the barely-hidden smirks let him know he hasn’t dealt with the problem completely yet.

Well, the smirks and the way someone whispers “Try frisking him!” to a chorus of badly smothered giggles as he leaves the room.

Hot Mean Professor - Shen Wei, Zhao Yunlan reminds himself sternly - is standing in front of the reception desk, frowning at the sign that says ‘Yell for help’. He probably doesn’t get the joke.

It’s really tragic that he’s so good-looking.

“Professor!” Zhao Yunlan says, putting on his biggest, most obnoxiously cheerful smile. “Here to complain or here to inform?”

The Professor blinks at him, looking a little thrown, and then says, “Inform, actually. As I went over the events of the day I realised that I did see the face of the man you were chasing.”

It’s Zhao Yunlan’s turn to blink. “Really? That’s great. Come to the squadroom, I want you to look through some mugshots.”

By some miracle, by the time they get back to the squadroom everyone is at their desks doing passable imitations of competency. Zhao Yunlan stops the Professor at the little table near the entrance, where he’ll be able to look at the mugshot books but not get a good view of the case board, and shoves a stack at him.

“Knock yourself out. Let me know if anything looks familiar.”

He throws himself down in the opposite chair, popping a lollipop in his mouth. The Professor is already engrossed in his task, giving Zhao Yunlan ample time to study him.

Good-looking, obviously. Dressed in a way that’s suitable for his profession but slightly old-fashioned and just a little bit overly fancy, which is interesting. It could come off as vain but seems genuine instead.

Hair parted neatly - no surprise there, the Professor seems the type to do everything neatly. His expression is intense and focused, with a stubborn hint around the mouth that’s contrasted by the gentle, precise way he handles the mugshot books.

The niggling feeling of something grows in the back of Zhao Yunlan’s mind as he watches. Is it gut instinct trying to warn him? Could the Professor have been connected to an old case? Or is there something about the man that just doesn’t add up?

“There,” the Professor says, tapping the book. “This one. I’m -” he looks up at Zhao Yunlan and stops midword, a strange expression crossing his face.

“What?” Zhao Yunlan says around his lollipop.

“Nothing.” The Professor looks back down at the book. “You just look like - never mind. Here. This is the one.”

He shoves the book across to Zhao Yunlan, knocking one of the other stacks askew as he does. Zhao Yunlan barely glances at it, his instincts flaring.

“Yeah? That’s great, thanks. Have you seen him around the University, do you think? We could use some advice from someone with local -”

“No.” The Professor smiles to take the sting out of it, but it’s strained around the edges. “I apologize - I have a lecture to get to. Another time, perhaps?”

“You know where to find me,” Zhao Yunlan says, grinning back.

“Ah. Yes, of course,” the Professor says. “Well, I’ll see myself out. Good luck with your case.”

He turns to go and stops dead, staring at the bulletin board by the door.

“Something wrong, Professor?”

The Professor startles and tries to cover it. “That’s a strange thing to have in a police station.”

His tone is casual but his voice isn’t quite right and his face, when Zhao Yunlan gets close enough to see it, is pale.

“What, the ‘wanted’ board? That’s just for fun.” It’s true - one day after too many hours on the clock and too much caffeine, they’d turned this bulletin board into their own personal wanted section. It’s got a mugshot, sure, but it’s of some criminal lunatic from an old case Lao Chu particularly admires. The comic book poster is of Zhao Yunlan’s childhood hero, ‘Kun Lun: The Lord of the Mountains!!’. There are celebrities, historical figures, and even a section of cat pictures that everyone keeps ragging Daqing about.

The Professor turns and looks at him, and damn, if Zhao Yunlan had thought he was intense before, it’s nothing compared to this. This is like being filleted by a laser.

“I didn’t know Kun Lun was a comic book.”

... What?

“You must have had a terrible childhood, then,” Zhao Yunlan jokes.

The Professor blinks, another unreadable expression crossing his face.

“Good luck with your case. Please excuse me.”

He turns and leaves without another word. They hear the front door shut a minute later.

“What the hell was that?” Daqing says, scooting his chair out from behind his desk.

Zhao Yunlan has no idea, but he’s going to find out. “Lin Jing, run a search on the Professor.”

“Why? He was probably just appalled by your oral fixation,” Lao Chu says without looking up.

“I do not have a - you know what, for that you get to run the mugshot. Lin Jing, do the search.”

The team swings - a little grudgingly - into action.

“You could just ask him out like a normal person,” Zhu Hong says as she walks past.

“You’re all fired!” Zhao Yunlan howls.

It probably would have had more of an effect if he hadn’t fired them all on Thursday, too.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Somehow Shen Wei makes it out of the station and far enough around the corner that no one from the building should be able to see him when his legs give out. He manages to sink down on the edge of an ornamental planter instead of falling flat, but a few passers-by give him concerned looks anyway. His mind is in too much turmoil to register it.

Of all places. Of all times and all people. Why here? Why now?

Just like that, he’s fallen out of a somewhat pedestrian romantic comedy and ended up in a flat-out nightmare.

He could be mistaken. For a moment he clings to that thought, but it’s no use. Too many pieces have fallen into place. He could have dismissed the lollipop, or the strange sense of familiarity and danger, or the comic book poster... but not all three. Not in a police station. Not with that awful photo pinned up right next to everything else.

No. There’s no doubt - Zhao Yunlan was the boy in the cupboard, and once again he’s in the middle of something dangerous. The chances that Ye Zun is involved this time are vanishingly low, but one thing is certain:

Shen Wei must still protect Zhao Yunlan at all costs.

He takes a deep breath, and then another, and slowly regains control of himself. This reaction is extreme: there is no indication that it will be anywhere near as bad this time, and they are both adults now. Zhao Yunlan has probably faced situations like this many times in the past years and obviously come out unscathed. And unlike last time, he’ll have Shen Wei’s help.

Okay. Okay. Think like a scientist. First, he needs to confirm his hypothesis, then he needs to collect more data, and then he can formulate a response. For a brief, aching moment he wishes he had someone to help him think this through, but there are only two other people who know enough of the particulars to understand the situation and neither of them is a person to be trusted.

That’s fine, though. It’s not like Shen Wei has ever had a confidant anyway. Wishing for one is unhelpful, counterproductive, and unrealistic.

He’ll be fine. This situation will be fine. Everything will be fine.

Be brave.

Chapter Text

The University Library is huge and beautiful and imposing and absolutely not where Zhao Yunlan would be if they only sensibly kept their faculty records in a conveniently hackable online database.

Instead he’s here, in person, charming his way past a flustered grad student so he can get at the personnel files.

The paper personnel files. Kept in a filing cabinet.

“You should really digitize these,” he says. “And isn’t it a little weird to keep them in the library?”

Lu Ruomei, whose coordination has decreased by at least 50% since Zhao Yunlan smiled at her, giggles and then blushes furiously, trying to look serious. “You’re so right! But apparently it’s tradition or something.” She trips over a wastebasket and gives him a mortified look. Zhao Yunlan pretends not to notice.

“So these are the current faculty members?”

“Uh-huh.” She scrambles to find him paper and a pen to take notes with. “There’s a copier behind the desk, too, if you need it.”

“Thanks, I should be okay. You can go back to what you’re doing, I won’t keep you,” Zhao Yunlan says, smiling.

She takes the hint and goes, bumping into the doorframe as she does. Zhao Yunlan carefully hides his amusement and turns to his task.

He finds Shen Wei’s record quickly. There’s an ID photo, the standard kind that makes most people look like serial killers but Shen Wei look like an artist’s model, and then a stack of paperwork. Zhao Yunlan leafs through it, noting the titles (academic qualifications, class schedule, employment details, etc.) before going back through more thoroughly.

It’s a pretty disappointing read. Just like what Lin Jing was able to find in the public records, there isn’t anything that particularly stands out. The retention rates for Shen Wei’s classes are good. There aren’t any disciplinary letters. He seems to publish at an acceptable rate, inasmuch as Zhao Yunlan understands what that rate would be. The speed at which he progressed through his degrees looks like it was on the fast side, but that’s easily explained by determination and intelligence. Basically, he seems… ordinary?

There’s a quiet intake of breath just over his right shoulder. “Is Professor Shen in trouble?”

Hell, Lu Ruomei can be quiet when she wants to! Zhao Yunlan tries to calm his racing heartbeat. “You know him?”

She looks more serious than he would have expected, given her giggles and blushes earlier. “Everybody knows Professor Shen.”

“Cause he’s hot, right?” Zhao Yunlan says, winking at her.

Ah, there’s the blush. “Yes, but he’s also kind. We all know that if we need help we can go to him.”

Zhao Yunlan closes the folder and leans his chin on his hand. “What else can you tell me about him?”

“He holds you to a high standard, but he’s fair,” she says. “If you need extra help or more time he’s always willing to listen. And if you’re having out of class trouble… one of my friends was his student. He worked really hard but he was going to have to leave because of money problems, and then a mysterious benefactor paid the last of his tuition. We can’t prove it was Professor Shen, but we’re sure it was.”

Zhao Yunlan glances down at the folder. Nothing in what they’ve found indicates that Shen Wei has an unusual amount of money, but he is also living in the faculty dorms, which would allow him to save something up. Paying off the last of someone’s tuition isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Even so, it would be a pretty extraordinary gesture.

“And another friend, she was having trouble with a boy in her class, and Professor Shen saw her crying so she told him about it, and the next day the boy apologized and transferred schools.” She leans forward earnestly. “There are more stories like those, too. He looks out for us. A lot of the teachers, they’ll help academically to a point but they pretty much let us sink or swim on our own otherwise - I guess they figure we should be old enough to handle everything ourselves now, or it’s time we learned how to. But Professor Shen actually cares if we’re okay and tries to help if we’re not. I think he understands that sometimes people need more than they can ask for and he’s willing to be the first one to reach out. Not many people are like that. He’s a good person.”

A good person who prefers to do his good in secret, or at least very quietly, apparently. It hints at a deeper sort of empathy, the kind that’s learned through tough personal experience, which is interesting since everything else about him is so stubbornly unexceptional.

“Lu Ruomei, I’m really just covering my bases. You don’t need to worry. We investigate a lot of people who aren’t in trouble.”

She gives him a look. “A lot of very beautiful people?”

Zhao Yunlan gapes at her. “Why does everybody -”

“It’s okay,” she says gently. “You’re not alone.”

Zhao Yunlan wavers for a moment and then gives in. If he needs to come back for more information, she’ll probably be more likely to give it to him if she thinks they have something in common. And the Professor is attractive.

“A lot of people switch majors after taking his intro course, don’t they.”

“He’s basically the Biology Department’s entire recruitment strategy.”

She’s probably exaggerating, but still. “Yeah. That makes sense.”

He uses his phone to snap a quick picture of the bio page in Shen Wei’s folder - it includes the ID photo, which is incidental but still gets him another knowing look - and hands it over to be re-filed. “Thanks for your help. Can you tell me how to get to the Biology Wing from here?”

She gives him a stern look. “Don’t interrupt him if he’s busy.”

Zhao Yunlan holds his hands up. “I promise! It’s only a few follow-up questions and I’ll be very respectful.”

Appeased, she gives him directions and turns back to restore order to the file cabinet.

As soon as he’s outside, Zhao Yunlan calls Lin Jing. “You find anything?”

“Hi, Boss. No, Boss,” Lin Jing says. He sounds tired.

“What, nothing?” Zhao Yunlan says incredulously, spotting the statue of Li Bai and taking a left. “No parking ticket, no drunk and disorderly? Student pranks, witness statements - nothing at all?

No, Chief Zhao,” Lin Jing says. “I’ll keep looking if you want me to, but this guy looks like a completely ordinary citizen. Did you find anything in his employment records?”

“Nothing concrete,” Zhao Yunlan admits, gritting his teeth. “But I’m telling you, there’s something weird. He just doesn’t fit as somebody ordinary. When’s the last time you came across somebody like this in an investigation? It’s not normal.”

“We do usually investigate criminals,” Lin Jing points out. His voice is muffled. Zhao Yunlan bets he has his head on the desk.

Oh well, too bad. “Keep digging. There’s something to find and you’re going to find it,” Zhao Yunlan says. He spots the Sciences Building and hangs up without saying goodbye.

Honestly, he’d be willing to believe someone this unremarkable exists, but it’s certainly not Shen Wei. What ordinary person would have a weird freakout in the station the way the Professor did? And how many people with boring, completely conventional lives have the ability to spot quiet desperation the way he does?

There’s the nagging feeling at the back of Zhao Yunlan’s head to take into account, too. He’s not the kind of cop who trusts gut feelings over evidence, but it still needs to be paid attention to. He has experience, damn it. If his instincts are telling him that something’s up, he has to at least make a note of it. Even if deep in his cynical cop heart he would love to come across a gentle, kindly scholar with an altruistic streak and no ulterior motives, his cynical cop brain knows exactly how statistically unlikely that is.

He rounds the corner to Shen Wei’s office and stops for a second to compose himself, then knocks on the door.

No answer. The lights seem to be off too. The Professor is out.

Well. No matter. Zhao Yunlan’s a cop. He knows how to find people.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shen Wei tries to do the research himself first. He really does.

Eventually, however, he has to admit defeat. He unplugs the useless computer that the Biology Department keeps insisting he can’t give back and takes himself to the library. Needing technological help is embarrassing, but Li Qian is working the reference desk today and at least she’s used to him.

...Maybe a little too used to him. From across the main floor of the library he can see her spot the computer under his arm and wilt noticeably. He just barely manages to stifle his corresponding wince of apology and makes a silent promise that he’ll accidentally make too much dinner tonight and bring in a lot of leftovers to share tomorrow. Students are always hungry.

“I’m sorry to trouble you, Li Qian, but I need your help finding some information.”

She gives the computer a resigned look. “Of course, Professor Shen. May I see it?”

“Perhaps there might be some old newspapers in the archive? Searchable by card catalog…?” he tries, clutching the computer in both hands.

“Sorry, Professor Shen.” At least her resignation has an air of amusement now. “I think you’re better off learning how to do a web search.”

Damn. Well, it was worth a try, and he has to admire her stubbornness. This will mark the sixth time she’s attempted to gently coach him through the arcane mysteries of web searching.

He gives in to the inevitable and passes the computer over. “I tried to do the thing you showed me before, with the little box? But, um…”

The computer powers up. Li Qian’s eyebrows nearly hit her hairline. “...Perhaps we’d better use the reference computer.”

“Perhaps,” Shen Wei agrees meekly.

Li Qian turns her monitor so they can both see it. “All right, what would you like to find?”

Shen Wei lets out a quiet breath. “Whatever you can see about a police officer in this city named Zhao Yunlan. Present, past… anything helpful.”

She nods, already typing information into the various baffling screens. “I’ll print out what I find so you can take it with you and read it in hard copy.”

“That would be a great help, Li Qian, thank you,” Shen Wei says, letting his relief show in his voice. He’s going to accidentally make too much dinner for the next week.

“Okay… I found some recent news articles, so I’ll print those - oh. Wow. He’s very good-look -”

She cuts herself off and gives him a wide-eyed look. Shen Wei watches with detached fascination as her face turns red.

It takes him a minute to figure it out, and when he does he’s sadly sure his own face has gone a similar color. “Oh - no, this isn’t - I’m not - My interests are primarily to do with recent events and local history in order to provide some context for a project I’m undertaking. This isn’t a personal project.” Bless academia and its use as a training tool for spouting complete but convincing nonsense at the drop of a hat.

Li Qian nods frantically, fingers flying over the keyboard. “Yes. Yes, I understand, Professor Shen. I’m so sorry, I never should have implied - I’ll print all this out for you and I’ll see if I can convince the IT department to fix your computer again, okay?”

“Thank you, Li Qian. There’s no harm done.” Except to his sense of dignity, perhaps. Why, why don’t they still have physical newspapers organized by card catalog? It had been such an elegantly simple system. So easy to remember how to use. So private.

The printer whirrs to life. Li Qian grabs the stack of papers and thrusts them at him, her face still a little red. “Here you are, Professor. Good luck with your project.”

“Thank you, Li Qian. And truly, I took no insult. Thank you for your help.”

It’s all he can do to wait until he’s outside to start looking through the papers. He claims the first free bench and sits down, flipping through article after article. Most of them are reasonably modern - official statements, media speculation about recent cases, one puff piece ‘profile’ on the people in Zhao Yunlan’s department that initially looks promising but ultimately tells him next to nothing - and he promises himself to return to those later.

And then, third from last in the stack, he hits paydirt. He skims it, reads it a second time more closely, and then a third.

Kidnapped Boy Found Alive

The world seems to fade away around him, the chatter of the students replaced by dripping water and smothered breathing. He feels cold. Cramped. His lungs constrict with remembered terror. He can taste sugar and cheap candy flavoring.

Shen Wei runs. He doesn’t know what else to do. His control, always tenuous, has slipped completely. He told them, he told them he wouldn’t be able to manage Ye Zun much longer, that what they were asking him to do was playing with fire and that soon Ye Zun would lose patience with being used -

There’s another scream behind him. Shen Wei skids to a stop, his heart pounding.

He should go back. He should go back and try to stop this. Even if it’s justice, of a sort, and it’s happening to terrible people, this isn’t the way it should-

No. He has to focus. The men back there, what Ye Zun is doing to them - it’s his chance. Unlooked for, unplanned, but it’s his chance.

(If he does go back, if Ye Zun is angry enough at him too for his role in this, Ye Zun might even-)

He runs to a door halfway down the corridor and pushes the bar keeping it shut up and out of the brackets, setting it gently down against the wall. There’s enough screaming that they shouldn’t be overheard, but there’s no reason to take chances.

He pulls the door open. The boy, the captive boy, jumps to his feet, surprised to see someone his own age. “What -”

There’s no time to talk. No way to explain. Shen Wei grabs his wrist and drags him into the hallway, down to the corner where an ancient, long-ignored cupboard sits half-obscured behind piles of junk. He scrambles inside, tugging the boy behind him. It’s not as secure a hiding place as Shen Wei would like, but it’ll do until the coast is clear.

The boy pulls the door shut behind them. “Oh, this is a good hiding place. Do you have a plan? Are you hurt?” he whispers.

Numbly Shen Wei shakes his head.

“Okay, cool. What’s your name?”

Shen Wei just stares at him. He can’t seem to make his voice work.

“That’s all right, you don’t have to tell me. I’m Kun Lun!”

He waits expectantly. After a moment Shen Wei nods.

“You’re pretty scared, huh? That’s all right. I’m not, so I’ll protect you. C’mere.” He throws an arm around Shen Wei’s shoulders and pulls him close. Shen Wei’s heart stutters in his chest.

“Were they holding you captive too? Did you escape? I think they grabbed me because they want something from my dad, which is really dumb and they clearly didn’t do any research about him. Do you know what all the screaming’s about?”

Shen Wei freezes up. He can’t help himself. Even if what Ye Zun’s doing is allowing him to save this boy, it doesn’t feel… right. There should have been another way. And he has no idea how he’s going to handle Ye Zun after this, or where they’ll be able to turn to next for shelter. There just - there wasn’t enough time to make a decent plan, it all happened so fast -

“Whoa, okay, it’s all right! We’re safe here. Hey, I know -”

There’s a rustling sound as Kun Lun digs something out of his pocket. A lollipop appears in front of Shen Wei’s face.

“These always make me feel better. You want some?”

“I know, I couldn’t believe it either!”

A student walks by the bench, laughing into her phone, and the world snaps jarringly back into place. Shen Wei restacks his papers, absentmindedly evening up the edges as he stares blankly at the brick walkway and tries to calm his breathing, concentrating on the feel of his ribcage expanding and the sharp paper edges against his fingers.

So. It’s confirmed, then. It’s really him.

He presses a hand against his sternum. The aftermath of the memory makes his chest ache, but there’s more there than just lingering fear. From what he saw in the articles, Zhao Yunlan grew up… good. He seems like a good person.

Shen Wei is glad for that. He feels proud, even if he doesn’t really have a right to it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Li Qian still has Professor Shen’s research up on her screen when Lu Ruomei comes back from helping Professor Gao with the printer. Mostly it’s because the Chinese 204 students keep asking for course materials on reserve and she’s been too busy to pay much attention to her computer, but partly it’s because - incredibly embarrassing misunderstanding or not - Chief Zhao is quite handsome.

Li Qian hands over the last of the course materials and sits back down with a tiny sigh. Lu Ruomei leans over her shoulder.

“Why do you have that picture up?”

“Oh.” A little embarrassed, Li Qian minimizes the window. “Professor Shen needed help looking something up.”

Lu Ruomei pulls back in astonishment. “Professor Shen was asking about him? He was here earlier asking about Professor Shen!”

“He was?” Startled, Li Qian brings the picture up again. “You’re sure?”

“Definitely. He said it was just routine follow-up, but he also took a picture of Professor Shen’s ID photo and then asked how to get to the Biology Wing.”

Li Qian looks back at the picture, frowning. The name had seemed familiar when Professor Shen had said it, and the face seems a little familiar, too. Not like she’s seen him in person, but like she’s seen another picture…

She gasps as the realization strikes. “He’s the man from the video! The one who ran into Professor Shen!”

Lu Ruomei presses her hands to her mouth, wide-eyed. “Oh! Oh, that makes so much sense!” She flails in excitement. “Li Qian, Li Qian, it was a meet cute! Professor Shen had a meet cute!”

Li Qian winces a little, remembering the pain Professor Shen hadn’t quite been able to hide afterwards. It hadn’t been very cute in real life. Still, she can see where Lu Ruomei is going with this. “What if Chief Zhao suspects him of something?”

“What could he suspect Professor Shen of, being too nice? I told him what a good person he is. I think he’s smitten. Or pre-smitten.”

“Hmm. Maybe.” Li Qian taps her chin with her finger. She wants to think that Professor Shen could have a meet cute with a handsome police officer and wind up in a romance, but she also doesn’t want anyone to hurt him. Kind people, especially quietly kind people, are prone to being hurt, in her experience.

Still…

“We’ll keep an eye on it. Just in case.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hilariously enough, Zhao Yunlan strikes it lucky not too far from the library. The Professor is seated on a bench under a tree, frowning at a stack of papers. Zhao Yunlan watches him for a moment, gauging his mood - he seems distracted, less composed than usual.

Well, Zhao Yunlan can work with that. He is a master at throwing people off-balance.

He saunters over to the bench and throws himself down without waiting for an invitation. “Professor Shen! Enjoying the sunshine?”

The Professor straight-up actual-facts jumps, clutching the papers to his chest like he thinks Zhao Yunlan’s going to steal his homework. Nerd. “Chief Zhao! You - I didn’t expect to see you.”

For a split second his expression is just as unguarded as body language. There’s a lot showing on his face - surprise, worry, and is he actually… glad to see Zhao Yunlan? - and then his face blanks into a polite mask and his shoulders come down to a more neutral position. The transition is fast, total, and actually kind of impressive to watch.

Okay. What normal person has that kind of response down so well they can pull it off without thinking? Come on.

“I hope your day is going well. Are you in search of more miscreants?” Even his voice is smooth and unruffled.

So it’s going to take a bit of work to truly throw him off his stride. That’s all right; Zhao Yunlan likes a challenge. “Nah, just getting a feel for the place. You know? We still haven’t figured out why that guy was here, so I’m just poking stuff and seeing if anything shakes loose.” He gives Shen Wei a wolfish smile as he says the last part, but there’s no visible response. Dang. Well, it wasn’t the most subtle gambit.

“Was the identification of the suspect helpful? I apologize for not being of more use.”

Zhao Yunlan sighs, putting on a show of irritation and watching Professor Shen carefully. “Another corpse, another dead end. Disappointing. And gross! There was blood everywhere. The rookie and two of the beat cops threw up.” Mild exaggeration - only Xiao Guo threw up, but he did it twice.

A slight frown, and the Professor’s eyes flick over Zhao Yunlan from head to toe, so fast that Zhao Yunlan almost misses it. What, does he think Zhao Yunlan would be walking around covered in blood?

Well, maybe if he thought it would get him an interesting reaction…

“I’m sorry to hear that. It must have been upsetting.”

This conversation is getting upsetting, given how smoothed-over the Professor’s reactions are. All right, time to pull out the big guns. The lollipop rattled him before, for whatever arcane reason; time to see if it will again.

“It wasn’t a great day, I’ll tell you that much.” He pulls the wrapper off a lollipop and puts it in his mouth. He doesn’t make too much of a show of it - he hadn’t before, after all.

The Professor’s reaction is subtle but immediate. His fingers tighten slightly on his papers and he sucks in a barely-audible breath.

Well then. Time to make a show of it.

“Do you think you’ve seen that guy anywhere else on campus?” Zhao Yunlan shifts on the bench, spreading his legs and taking his usual relaxed sprawl from ‘slightly inappropriate’ to ‘background porno music’. A slight crease appears between Professor Shen’s eyebrows.

Zhao Yunlan pulls the lollipop out of his mouth, letting his cheeks hollow around it as it goes. It leaves his lips with a faint sucking pop.

He looks sideways up at Professor Shen. It’s a smolder. He knows it and he owns it. He also happens to know it’s very effective.

Professor Shen swallows hard.

“Professor? Seen him anywhere on campus before the other day?”

“I - what?” The Professor says. “Oh. No, I don’t… think so?”

“Too bad. Guess I’ll have to come up with another excuse to come looking for you.” He brings the lollipop back to his mouth, but instead of putting it back in he decides to try a little tongue action, right out in the open.

Professor Shen’s mouth falls open slightly, like he can’t believe what is happening in front of him. “Chief Zhao…”

It sounds like he’s trying to protest and got distracted. Zhao Yunlan smirks and holds the half-licked lollipop out. “What, you want some?”

Professor Shen’s hand half-reaches out automatically, and then his mouth snaps shut and he yanks it back. “I - office hours!” he blurts, and flat out panic-bails, not even pausing for the social niceties of saying goodbye or wishing Zhao Yunlan a nice day.

Zhao Yunlan pops the candy back into his mouth, grinning. That little experiment might not have told him too much more about the inner workings of the Professor’s mind vis a vis the case, but gosh it was fun.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shen Wei slams his office door behind him and leans back against it, fighting the urge to build some kind of barricade. His heart is pounding. What the hell was that? And why is his body all - why does he feel -

He sinks down on his heels, letting his papers fall to the floor, and presses his hands to his burning face. Okay. He’s fine. Deep breaths. That was a lot, just then, but he’s okay now. Just work through it.

Seeing Zhao Yunlan after confirming that he was actually the boy in the cupboard - obviously that was always going to be an emotional experience, and he hadn’t had time to properly process his new information before being confronted with Zhao Yunlan in real life. Hearing about the goriness of the crime scene and what kind of criminals Zhao Yunlan is dealing with (assuming the description hadn’t been exaggerated to get a response from him, he is fully aware that Zhao Yunlan is still thinking of him solely in connection to a crime and proceeding accordingly)... well, it’s completely reasonable that that was concerning.

The - the display afterwards, with the body language, and the - Zhao Yunlan’s mouth -

Shen Wei is an adult. It’s not unreasonable for his body to have… reacted to that. Even if he doesn’t, even if he just wants to protect Zhao Yunlan, it’s, it’s biology. He owes Zhao Yunlan a great debt, but he won’t pay it… that way.

And then… You want some?

Zhao Yunlan must not remember, or perhaps that moment just hadn’t had the same effect on him as it had on Shen Wei. That’s the only explanation. Still, it was extremely jarring to go from incipient sexual confusion to - that.

Shen Wei takes a deep breath and begins to gather up the fallen papers. So: Zhao Yunlan is testing him, and is simultaneously probably dealing with a very dangerous criminal element. Shen Wei can use that. That means Zhao Yunlan wants to continue to observe him, which means Shen Wei can observe him back, and possibly pick up some more details of whatever is threatening Zhao Yunlan. More data is always helpful. It’s hard to protect someone if you don’t know what to protect them from.

Yes. Now he just has to think of a strategy. The best source of information on Zhao Yunlan’s case would probably be in the station itself, so he needs something that will get him inside and allow him to remain for a little while. Being able to observe Zhao Yunlan’s coworkers would be an added bonus.

Ah, of course.

He’ll need to go to the grocery store.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Zhao Yunlan’s good mood following his conversation with the Professor lasts him through the rest of the day, even when Zhu Hong’s sources turn up dry and Xiao Guo’s social media investigation mostly just nets him a few new computer viruses and Lin Jing’s speechless exasperation. When he leaves whistling at the end of the day Lao Chu actually looks puzzled, and frankly that right there is worth quite a lot. The ‘I hate you’ face is entertaining, but the ‘wtf’ one is rare.

The sanctuary of his trashpile of an apartment is still a relief, even after a decent day. Zhao Yunlan heats up some instant noodles for himself and flops down on the couch, kicking an empty beer bottle and some dirty shirts out of the way. He can still see the top of the coffee table, so he doesn’t need to do laundry yet. Excellent: a relaxing night for once.

As he finishes his noodles, he debates how to spend his evening. TV doesn’t appeal to him too much, and going out now that he’s home seems like more effort than he feels like expending.

Wait. No. He knows exactly what he wants to do.

He slurps down the last of the noodles and tosses the cup on the coffee table. Where did he leave them…? Bedroom! Right.

It only takes him a moment of digging in the closet before he comes up with a battered cardboard box, scrawled all over with childhood warnings to not touch on pain of death. Inside is his jackpot: thirty-four well-loved issues of Kun Lun: The Lord Of The Mountains!!

He sits down with his back against the bedroom wall and pulls out the first issue. Damn, he’d loved this shit when he was a kid. Kun Lun had been a great hero - dashing, courageous, always protecting those in need. No matter what else was happening, no matter what else Zhao Yunlan had been going through, Kun Lun had been a rock-steady escape. He’d actually pretended to be Kun Lun once when he was particularly scared.

Smiling fondly at his kid self, Zhao Yunlan settles down for a good reread.

Chapter Text

When it comes to cooking, Shen Wei firmly believes that having too much is better than having too little. He regrets his philosophy a bit when it comes time to carry the food to the station, but it’s absolutely worth it once he gets there.

“Hello,” he says to the ethereal young woman at the front desk. “I’m Shen Wei, a professor from the University? I know you’ve all been working hard on a case lately and I thought you might appreciate some lunch.”

Her face goes from ‘professionally pleasant’ to ‘wide-eyed and half-starved’ in a millisecond, and Shen Wei knows he’s judged at least one of Zhao Yunlan’s coworkers accurately. His brief look at them had told him that while not University students they were still fairly young, and would probably appreciate a good meal just as much. Possibly even more, given that their schedules are likely in disarray from the case they’re pursuing. If movies are to be believed cops mostly subsist on bad coffee and greasy takeout anyway.

And then her face falls. “Thank you so much for thinking of us, Professor Shen. If you’ll leave the food with me, I’ll see that it’s distributed to the team.”

Yes, he’d wondered if he might run into this. On the one hand, he’s pleased that Zhao Yunlan’s coworkers are cautious enough to be suspicious of a gesture like this.

On the other hand, it’s interfering with his plans… not to mention he worked hard making all this and he’d hate to see it go to waste.

“Thank you, that’s very kind of you. Perhaps -”

“Professor Shen!” Zhao Yunlan booms from just behind him.

Shen Wei doesn’t jump, which he’s fairly proud of himself for. “Chief Zhao, how nice to see you.”

“Professor Shen brought us some lunch,” the ethereal woman says. “I was just about to -”

“- Show him in and have him eat with us? Great idea, Wang Zheng!”

Well, it looks like Zhao Yunlan’s curiosity about Shen Wei is about to work out in both their favors.

For her part, Wang Zheng hesitates for a split second in surprise, and then rolls with her boss’s new direction with admirable ease (and probably quite a bit of hunger). “Let me help you carry it in, then! Follow me, there’s a big table we can use…”

She hurries into the larger room where Shen Wei had looked at mugshots on his earlier visit and begins shoving stacks of paperwork aside to make room on the big table in the center. There are several desks with computers set to one side and a few freestanding bulletin boards on the other that Shen Wei makes note of. It’ll be trickier with Zhao Yunlan watching him, but once everyone’s occupied with the food he’ll see if he can steal a few covert glances at them. Until then, he’ll see what he can pick up from observing the people.

“Wang Zheng?” One of the men at the computers says, startled. “What -”

He brought us food,” Wang Zheng says.

The man gives Shen Wei a look of total hero worship. “I’ll help clear the table!”

“You’ve discovered my team’s weakness, Professor,” Zhao Yunlan says, a bit of sharpness to his grin. “I hope I can rely on you to only use this knowledge for good.”

“My students at the University are much the same,” Shen Wei says smoothly. “And everyone can use a good meal. I simply wanted to show my appreciation for your hard work keeping this neighborhood safe. Including the University.”

Drawn by the bustle, more coworkers start appearing from various corners of the station. Only one of them, a man with close-cropped hair and a stony expression, seems inclined to wariness, but he caves as soon as one of the younger members of the team exclaims with a rapturous expression, “Chu-ge, it’s homemade!

“Oh, it’s so good,” one of them moans, mouth full.

Even if Shen Wei didn’t have a vested interest in observing this entire interaction, it would be a fascinating thing to watch. The food is unpacked with commendable efficiency and soon there’s what Shen Wei can only describe as a free-for-all feeding frenzy.

The longer he looks - and the more he picks up on everyone’s names - the more he sees that there is a structure to the chaos. The suspicious one, Lao Chu, intervenes frequently on behalf of the youngest, Xiao Guo, to make sure he eats properly. Lin Jing and Daqing spend more time stealing food off each other’s plates than trying to get anything from the actual dishes. With big sisterly affection, Zhu Hong tries to bully everyone into using their manners and not being too greedy in front of company.

Zhao Yunlan has been drawn into the chaos as well. He hasn’t taken any food yet, but he seems to enjoy trading banter and good-natured teasing with his subordinates just as much.

Shen Wei isn’t going to get a better chance. By slowly letting himself be nudged away from the table by eager diners, he manages to wind up near the bulletin boards and glance over. He sees some very gory pictures, a scrap of paper with the University’s letterhead on it, a note scrawled in truly atrocious handwriting that says Where are the chemicals coming from??? -

“Look at you all, you should be ashamed! You haven’t even made sure Professor Shen has anything to eat!” Zhao Yunlan says.

“Oh, I don’t -” Shen Wei tries, but just like that he’s completely drawn in. Lao Chu swats Lin Jing on the back of the head and makes him give up his seat. The silent man next to Wang Zheng - Sang… Zan? Maybe? - produces a plate, and the next thing Shen Wei knows people are pushing things onto it and urging him to dig in.

His back is completely to the bulletin boards now. He’s not going to be able to get another look. For a moment he wonders if Zhao Yunlan had noticed his interest and diverted him on purpose, but his manner is very unsuspicious.

“You should try this one, Professor Shen, it’s really delicious -”

“He knows it’s delicious, he made it, you idiot.”

“Profeffor ‘Hen, if ih ‘eally ‘ood!”

“Stop talking with your mouth full, do you want him to think you’re poorly raised?”

“I think he’s probably already figured it out!”

“Here, Professor, have some more -”

Feeling slightly overwhelmed, She Wei mostly nods and smiles and tries to keep from winding up with half the food on his plate. “Chief Zhao, don’t you want any?”

It works - both as a diversionary tactic and, Shen Wei will admit, a mild form of payback. Zhu Hong gasps in affront, and a second later the rest follow her in rounding on their boss. Laughing, Zhao Yunlan fills a plate and settles down across from Shen Wei, pausing between bites to egg on his coworkers.

He looks… happy. Comfortable. Like he’s found his place and found the right people to be around him and is totally secure in it. Shen Wei watches with a feeling approaching awe. How did Zhao Yunlan do this? How did he know he could trust these people? It’s obvious why they follow him, his qualities shine through no matter how insouciant and offhand he’s being, but how did Zhao Yunlan manage to find them?

Shen Wei feels that ache in his chest again and has to resist the urge to press his hand against it. It’s good that Zhao Yunlan has this. Good because he deserves it, but also good because he can already tell that these people will protect Zhao Yunlan too.

A sudden chill runs down Shen Wei’s spine. Of course, that will run both ways. An attack on one of these people will feel to Zhao Yunlan like an attack on himself.

It just got a lot easier to hurt him, and a lot more complicated to protect him. Shen Wei is one person. He cannot possibly watch over all of them all of the time. How vulnerable are they? How worried about each of them should he be?

“Professor Shen?”

Shen Wei looks up. Zhao Yunlan is getting to his feet, so Shen Wei hastens to do the same.

Raising his voice over the general happy bickering, Zhao Yunlan tilts his head to the side and says, “Can I see you in my office for a minute, if you’re done?”

“Of course.” Shen Wei edges past Lin Jing - without getting a clear look at any part of the bulletin board in the process, unfortunately - and follows Zhao Yunlan down the hall.

The office turns out to be decorated in much the same way as the rest of the station, with lots of old wood and warm brick and worn leather furniture. It fits Zhao Yunlan very well.

“Thought you might appreciate a break. They can be pretty overwhelming and I’m guessing your food gambit broke down more barriers than you might have intended,” Zhao Yunlan says with a knowing look.

“Thank you. I am… more accustomed to quiet,” Shen Wei says with a rueful smile, carefully sidestepping the ‘gambit’ comment. “They seem like good people, though. I’m glad you have them.”

“Undisciplined, insubordinate, frequently rude - but, yeah, they’re okay,” Zhao Yunlan says, throwing himself down in his desk chair. He fumbles in a drawer and pulls out a lollipop. “Want one?”

Shen Wei is prepared this time. “Thank you.”

He takes the lollipop, then hesitates. It will be easier to keep an eye on Zhao Yunlan if Zhao Yunlan also wants to keep an eye on him, right? Well then.

What had Zhao Yunlan done first yesterday?

He puts the candy in his mouth. “Have you had any further luck with your gory crime scene?”

The corner of Zhao Yunlan’s mouth quirks up, just a tiny bit. Does he know what Shen Wei is doing? “Not much, unfortunately. And it killed off the one lead we had. Literally.”

Next Zhao Yunlan had sprawled in an… extremely suggestive manner. Shen Wei definitely can’t pull that off, so he’ll have to play to his own strengths, such as they are. For the first time in his life, Shen Wei finds himself wishing he was a more naturally alluring person. Oh well, he’ll just have to improvise.

He looks at Zhao Yunlan over the rims of his glasses, channeling ‘stern teacher’ with all his might, and pulls the lollipop out of his mouth, letting his cheeks hollow exactly the same way Zhao Yunlan’s had yesterday. ‘Stern teacher’ is a fantasy that people have, right? Well, anyway, it’s all he’s got.

“That’s unfortunate. Is there anything I could help you look into at the University?”

Zhao Yunlan makes an inarticulate noise and then a valiant attempt to turn it into an actual word. “Hng...Iiiii dunno. I mean, no, thank you, I’ll let you know if something comes up.”

Shen Wei allows that statement to sit there for a moment. From the blush rising up Zhao Yunlan’s neck, he’s hadn’t intended the innuendo.

“Please do. I’m always eager to assist the police in their time of need.” What next? Oh… the, the licking. Oh, no. That’s - that’s a bit much.

Steeling himself, Shen Wei licks the lollipop. Zhao Yunlan’s elbow slips off the arm of his chair.

“You - I - Professor Shen, have we met before? You seem familiar.”

From the near-babbling rate of speech, Shen Wei is nearly certain that Zhao Yunlan is grasping at straws in an attempt to stay in charge of the situation, but his chest clenches in panic anyway. He wants to keep Zhao Yunlan close - to protect him! - but the idea of him remembering the circumstances of their first meeting, or even worse, looking into it further -

“I’m sure I would remember,” he says, his voice even. He gives the lollipop a last lick. Zhao Yunlan’s face goes slack. “Unfortunately, I have a lecture to get to.” He rises, proud of himself for moving smoothly and unhurriedly, and stops at the door to look back over his shoulder. “Thank you for the candy.”

Zhao Yunlan gives a half-hysterical huff of laughter and doesn’t try to get up. Shen Wei very carefully doesn’t think about why that might not be an anatomically comfortable prospect for him at the moment. He’s not trying to - to seduce Zhao Yunlan or anything so sordid. This is just a somewhat unconventional tactic in pursuit of a greater goal. If he can keep Zhao Yunlan thinking about him, maybe Zhao Yunlan will do half the work of making sure their paths continue to cross. It’s just, it’s just encouraging more opportunities for data collection.

He pauses for just a second in the hallway to will his own anatomy to become more cooperative, and continues on. If he’s lucky, he might be able to catch another glimpse of the bulletin board on his way out. That was, after all, why he came.

Why he embarked on this mission!

Oh no.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Unsurprisingly, it’s hard for Zhao Yunlan to get the good Professor out of his mind after that little display. Something about the way he’d done it, the shy Professor bit paired with the earnest attempt at copying Zhao Yunlan’s own playbook - well, it was frankly kind of adorable as well as being stupidly hot, and it’s very hard to stop thinking about.

It doesn’t help that the rest of the team can’t stop talking about his food, either.

“You talk about him just as much as they do,” Lao Chu hisses, gripping his pen in a way that would worry Zhao Yunlan if he thought Lao Chu would actually go through with it. “Why don’t you go investigate him if you’re so obsessed?”

It’s not a terrible idea. This time of day Shen Wei should be on campus, which they need to investigate more thoroughly anyway, and Zhao Yunlan can check in with Daqing where he’s prowling around the University’s less public-access areas while he’s at it.

“You know, that’s not a terrible idea,” he says. “There’s something off about him. I should take a closer look.”

“Use protection,” Zhu Hong says absently, and then blushes furiously. “Your gun! Take your gun. Ugh.”

Daqing hasn’t noticed any weird shipments or suspicious people going into the University and seems kind of annoyed at being interrupted, so Zhao Yunlan moves on to the Sciences Building pretty quickly. He wanders the halls for a few minutes before spotting the kid from the library the other day, who directs him to a lecture hall. Zhao Yunlan slips into the back - in nearly the only empty seat, he’s amused to see - and settles down to observe his mysterious Professor.

It’s easy to see why Shen Wei is such a popular teacher. Even though Zhao Yunlan only understands about a third of what he’s talking about, Shen Wei is so interested in his subject that he drags the rest of them along too. There’s something about his quiet enthusiasm and the wonder in his expression when he introduces a new topic that goes straight past Zhao Yunlan’s logical brain and hits him right in the heart. Seeing someone genuinely enjoy what they’re doing and want to share it is a potent kind of magic, all right? And there’s something about Shen Wei’s face, the way even though he’s usually pretty reserved in person he actually seems to loosen up a bit while he’s teaching and let them all see just a glimpse of the person underneath...

To get his mind back on track Zhao Yunlan takes a moment to spy on what the students nearest to him are scribbling in their notebooks, expecting to find a lot of hearts and ‘Mrs.-or-Mr. Shen Wei’ doodles, but the kids actually do seem to be paying attention to the substance of the lecture. Every time Shen Wei asks a question or requests feedback, nearly every hand in the audience goes up, which in Zhao Yunlan’s educational experience is damn near unprecedented. He starts to re-evaluate his earlier conclusion that Lu Ruomei had been exaggerating about Shen Wei’s ability to recruit students for the biology department.

Granted, the way Shen Wei thanks those who participate and praises thoughtful answers has Zhao Yunlan wanting to raise his hand, too. Damn. He may be a suspicious figure in an ongoing investigation, but Zhao Yunlan isn’t a robot.

For the second time, Zhao Yunlan finds himself hoping that Shen Wei is just as innocent as he claims to be. He’s far from a romantic, but the idea of getting closer to an attractive, fascinating scholar who also appears to find him interesting appeals to him on a level he’s not quite prepared to acknowledge.

The class ends about twenty minutes after Zhao Yunlan sneaks in, which is unexpectedly disappointing. For a moment he debates using the bustle of the kids packing up their things to slip out unnoticed, but the temptation to take the opportunity to talk to Shen Wei a little more wins out. He stays where he is.

The last of the students trail out. Zhao Yunlan wedges his lollipop between his teeth and his cheek and gives Shen Wei a round of applause.

The corner of Shen Wei’s mouth twitches slightly, like he’s fighting the urge to smile. He finishes gathering his papers and makes his way over to Zhao Yunlan’s seat.

“You have an interest in developmental biology?”

“I do now,” Zhao Yunlan says, grinning up at him. “Good lesson, Professor. I think I might switch my major.”

Shen Wei huffs a laugh and turns towards the door. Zhao Yunlan jumps up and follows him. “Do you have an appointment you have to get to?”

“Yes, unfortunately,” Shen Wei says. “Is there something I can help you with? Besides changing majors, of course - you’ll have to bring that up with the Academic Dean.”

He hadn’t really thought of an excuse. Playing it by ear had seemed better. “Nah, just poking around. Figured I’d help you carry your books.”

Shen Wei gives him a look. Zhao Yunlan responds with one of his most winning smiles, and after a moment Shen Wei shakes his head and hands the stack of paperwork over.

Victory! Now Shen Wei can’t bail on him. “So, seen anything suspicious?”

“Well, I think one of my Intro students is plagiarising his final project,” Shen Wei says seriously.

Zhao Yunlan gasps.”No! Why would he do that, has he no respect?”

“He transferred from the History department for some reason. I don’t think Biology turned out to be what he expected.”

Zhao Yunlan glances at him. “Does he ask for a lot of extra help? One-on-one tutoring sessions?”

“Yes,” Shen Wei says, sounding a bit wearied by it. “I’m always happy to help, of course, but tutoring is really supposed to go through Student Services.”

He… genuinely means that. Zhao Yunlan can’t help but laugh.

“What?”

“No, nothing,” Zhao Yunlan says, still chuckling a bit. “Very strange behavior, you’re right.”

Shen Wei frowns at him, but lets it go. “How about you? Is the case going well?”

Zhao Yunlan sighs, some of his good mood evaporating. “It’s progressing. Crime-solving is a lot less exciting and a lot more time-consuming than the movies would have you think. We’re chipping away at it, but it’ll take some time.”

“No dramatic fights to the death, then? Rooftop chases?” Shen Wei’s tone is dry, but he looks amused.

“I have actually done a rooftop chase!” Zhao Yunlan says. “And a car chase! But I’ve also spent three days straight digging through dusty boxes in the basement of the city records department, so…”

Shen Wei frowns. “Some of that sounds dangerous. Do you think it will happen again?”

Zhao Yunlan bumps him with his shoulder. “Aw, is Professor Shen worried about me?”

Shen Wei coughs, looking embarrassed. “No. I mean, yes, as a citizen of course I’m concerned about your safety. Um. You do take people with you if you’re going to be doing something hazardous, right? Your coworkers seem capable.”

He actually is concerned. Despite himself, Zhao Yunlan feels a little touched by it. “Yes, yes, I promise I take no unnecessary risks.” Of course, ‘unnecessary’ can have a lot of interpretations.

Shen Wei gives him a flat look. “Hmm.”

Zhao Yunlan gasps in mock affront. “I’m not sure you know me well enough to be that skeptical!” He stops suddenly. “Didn’t we just pass your office?”

Shen Wei glances around. “Ah. Yes. I’d better take my things back, thank you, Chief Zhao.”

Zhao Yunlan gives them up reluctantly. Part of the job or not, he’d been enjoying the banter. “You’re welcome to come back to the station any time you like, by the way. The kids won’t stop talking about your cooking. I’m afraid they might mug you for recipes the next time they see you.”

Shen Wei shifts his papers from one arm to the other. “I wouldn’t mind. I like to cook.” He hesitates for a moment, then says, “I actually brought more lunch with me today than I really need. Would you like to take some with you?”

Does he sound a little hesitant to cut their visit off? Zhao Yunlan decides he does. “I would love some lunch. Thanks, Shen Wei.”

Chapter Text

Shen Wei’s strategy of befriending Zhao Yunlan in order to keep an eye on him may have some drawbacks. For one, he is rapidly losing the ability to distance himself from the situation and think dispassionately about it.

For another, this distracting warmth in his chest when he interacts with Zhao Yunlan, or sometimes even when he thinks about Zhao Yunlan, is becoming a problem.

He likes Zhao Yunlan. Of course he does. He always has. Liking him is not the problem, it’s…

He doesn’t know what the problem is, exactly, but there certainly is one. At yesterday’s faculty meeting he’d actually stopped paying attention and when he zoned back in it was to find that he’d absentmindedly written Zhao Yunlan’s name on his agenda. Twice.

And that’s not even getting into the nightmares. He’s used to nightmares, and often has ones about hiding in that cupboard, but now when he has that dream he’s hiding with the adult Zhao Yunlan and the terror -

Well. It’s worse, which is ridiculous, because an adult is infinitely more capable of self-defense than a child. Being a child had been horrible.

”Hey. You feeling better?”

Shen Wei nods. Kun Lun’s arm tightens around his shoulder, like a sideways hug.

“Good, I’m glad. It was pretty brave of you to come get me.”

Shen Wei shakes his head. No. ‘Brave’ would have been finding another way around this. ‘Brave’ would have been getting them out when the gang first realized how useful someone like Ye Zun could be. ‘Brave’ would have been finding a way for them to survive without the things they’ve been forced to do. The things Shen Wei has been forced to let Ye Zun do.

“Yes, you are,” Kun Lun insists. “Brave is being scared of a thing and doing it anyway, and that’s what you did. You probably saved my life, you know. Whatever these guys wanted from my dad, he wouldn’t have given it to them. You can’t save someone’s life and not be brave.”

Shen Wei stares at him in astonishment. He hadn’t thought about it that way. It had just… been the right thing to do, or as right a thing as he could see in the circumstances.

“Yeah,” Kun Lun says. “A whole entire person you saved. A whole life and a whole future. Everything I do from now on is because of something you did first, did you ever think of it that way? Even if it wasn’t me who got saved I’d think that was pretty cool.”

Shen Wei is overwhelmed. He has no idea how to respond to something like this. He shrugs a little and gestures to their surroundings.

Kun Lun laughs. “Yeah, I guess we’d better get on with the other half of the escape before I get carried away, huh?”

Shen Wei takes a deep breath to shake off the past and resolutely ignores the ghostly memory of Ku- Zhao Yunlan’s arm around his shoulders. No one had ever said anything like that to him before. Honestly, he’s pretty sure that was the first time anyone had ever seen him as his own person and not just a less-scarring-to-deal-with extension of Ye Zun. It’s no wonder he -

No.

Stop.

This is untenable. He needs to refocus on his original goal, which was to identify the threat facing Zhao Yunlan. The rest he can deal with afterwards.

He presses his hands against the surface of his desk and tries to refocus. He still needs more information in order to carry this plan out, and since Zhao Yunlan is being so - so - distractingly himself, he should probably go looking for a different source. Their investigation has at least a partial focus on the University, right? Some of the comments Shen Wei has overheard, as well as one of the pieces of evidence he’d managed to see, certainly bear that out. Therefore it’s logical to assume that Zhao Yunlan’s coworkers will be continuing to investigate the University.

And now Shen Wei has met them, and will recognize them. He just has to find one of them and see what he can learn.

The note that had been scrawled on the board had said something about chemicals. Accordingly, Shen Wei sets his steps towards the Chemistry Wing. He even has some paperwork to drop off with Professor Ouyang, so his appearance - and his remaining for a while to speak to a respected senior Professor - will be unremarkable.

Unfortunately, the Chemistry Wing proves to be unfruitful; he sees nothing suspicious and only narrowly avoids another invitation from the Professor to join his exclusive research team, which University gossip has revealed to be more of an alcohol-fueled mahjongg night, and the prospect of which fills Shen Wei with an introvert’s horror. Reasoning that Zhao Yunlan’s team might also be trying to figure out how the mysterious chemicals are getting in and out of the University, Shen Wei goes next to the loading dock under the Chemistry department.

There, finally, he gets lucky. The young team member, Xiao Guo, is sitting on a bench nearby with a view of the loading dock, doing a not-too-terrible impression of a University student taking advantage of the nice day to get some outdoor studying in.

“Hello - Xiao Guo, isn’t it?”

The boy startles badly, dropping one of his prop textbooks. “P-professor Shen! What are you doing here?”

Shen Wei blinks. “Well, I do teach here,” he says slowly. “And I met you the other day, so when I saw you - I apologize, am I causing trouble?”

“Oh no, Professor Shen, not at all!” Xiao Guo says, falling over himself in his efforts to reassure. “I was so startled. I’m sorry. Thank you for bringing us food the other day!”

Perhaps Xiao Guo is an intern? He doesn’t seem to have quite the same air of compete- no, that’s unkind. He doesn’t seem to have the same air of maturity as the others. Do the police have interns?

Shen Wei was just planning to question whoever he found, but now he feels like he should probably stay as a chaperone, too. He’s a little surprised Xiao Guo isn’t partnered with someone.

“May I sit with you for a moment? It’s quite common for professors and students to meet between classes, so I shouldn’t damage your cover.”

“Of course, Professor Shen, please sit down,” Xiao Guo says, eyes wide. “You may even help my cover, actually.”

Shen Wei smiles and takes a seat. “Thank you, I do hope so. So, what are we watching for?”

“Anything suspicious,” Xiao Guo says promptly. “Unusual shipments, people who are out of place, or anyone acting in what seems to be a furtive manner.”

So they do think that something is being masterminded - or at least routed - through the University. “Are there particular kinds of shipments we should make a note of?”

“Chemicals,” Xiao Guo says blithely. “Or guns. Guns would be a very big warning sign.”

“Yes, I would imagine,” Shen Wei says gravely. He’s been turning over his scant evidence in his head and ‘chemicals’ makes him think drugs, but that might be because in movies chemicals always mean drugs. There are certainly other kinds of chemicals that are illegal - bomb-making chemicals, for example, or any of those used industrially in counterfeiting. Certain acids and solvents can have criminal applications and would be easy to hide in a standard University shipment, or maybe -

Well. He can continue thinking it through later.

“I do some interdisciplinary work with the Chemistry department, so I should be familiar with a lot of the kinds of chemicals they are having delivered for research and coursework. If you would like me to look at something that seems out of place, I would be happy to.” He’ll also be able to spot anything that’s obviously illegal, but that’s more information than he wants to reveal.

“That would probably be very helpful, thank you, Professor Shen,” Xiao Guo says. “This case has been progressing a lot more slowly than Chief Zhao would like. I’m sure he’d welcome any extra insight.”

There’s that feeling in his chest again. Shen Wei ignores it and soldiers on. “I’m sorry to hear it hasn’t been going well. Haven’t there been some deaths?”

Xiao Guo’s face falls. “Yes. A lot of our suspects have been murdered before we can question them. And there have been a lot of overdoses.”

Aha. So it is drugs, then. And run by a very thorough group, it sounds like. Before he can go any further with that thought, though, he hears a very faint scuff on the path behind them.

“Xiao Guo. You shouldn’t be so free with information.”

Shen Wei doesn’t startle, but Xiao Guo does. “Chu-ge! Did you have any luck at the -”

“What did I just say?” Lao Chu says.

Xiao Guo wilts. “I’m sorry, Chu-ge. It’s just Professor Shen, though.”

Shen Wei gives Lao Chu his most harmless smile. The man doesn’t soften at all. Damn. This is probably going to be reported back to Zhao Yunlan.

If he goes back to thinking Shen Wei is a suspect, he’ll still try to stay close and find out what he can. Nothing has materially changed. So why does Zhao Yunlan thinking less of him feel… bad?

“Please don’t be too hard on him. It’s my fault,” Shen Wei says. “I should not have gotten in the middle of your investigation, but I was worried when I thought Xiao Guo was here alone.”

Lao Chu doesn’t unbend in the slightest. “We often have our own reasons for doing things that might not be apparent to you, Professor Shen. Xiao Guo, we’re needed back at the station.”

“Okay, Chu-ge,” Xiao Guo says, sounding miserable. “Bye, Professor Shen.”

“Goodbye. And be careful, please?”

Xiao Guo nods earnestly, but Lao Chu just gives him another inscrutable look. Belatedly, Shen Wei realizes that ‘be careful’ could sound like a threat, depending on the context.

Left alone on the bench, Shen Wei stares unseeingly at the loading dock. So: a ruthless drug cartel of some kind. That’s not great. It’s not a branch of illegality that Shen Wei is personally familiar with, so few of his past experiences will be able to help him. And they sound particularly dangerous, and he may have just lost the inroads he’d made with Zhao Yunlan and his coworkers. Any further information he needs he’ll have to get from somewhere else.

An organization this well-managed and widespread will have made some noise, gotten the attention of some very specific people. He still has the mask, wrapped securely and buried deep in his closet. He could find them again, make them -

No. He slammed that door shut a long time ago, and opening it again would cause a lot more problems than it would solve. For him, of course, but also for Zhao Yunlan, and that he will not do. Not even if Zhao Yunlan thinks - if his people think -

That’s fine. He doesn’t need them to like him, he just needs to protect them.

It’s fine if that bridge has been burnt. He can figure out another way.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Surprisingly for someone so surly, Lao Chu banging his way into the station is actually fairly rare.

This probably doesn’t mean anything good.

“What happened?” Zhao Yunlan asks, freezing with his lollipop halfway to his mouth.

“Your Professor was sneaking around asking Xiao Guo questions about the investigation,” Lao Chu snarls. Sure enough, Xiao Guo is trailing along behind him looking woebegone.

“It wasn’t anything dangerous, Chu-ge,” he tries. “I think he was just making conversation?”

“And you!” Lao Chu points an accusing finger at Xiao Guo. “You need to stop being so trusting all the time.” He whirls on Lin Jing. “Have you found anything in the background check?”

“Not you too,” Daqing sighs. “I don’t understand why you’re all so suspicious of the Professor.”

“Just because you think with your stomach and he fed you -”

“Actually,” Lin Jing says reluctantly. “Actually, I think there might be something weird about him too.”

Zhao Yunlan’s heart freezes and sinks even as his suspicious cop brain goes aha. “What did you find?”

Lin Jing scrubs one hand through his hair. “It’s more what I didn’t find. I’m still looking into it, I haven’t finished digging yet, but when I tried to look into his family there wasn’t anything there.”

Zhao Yunlan blinks. That doesn’t seem so bad. “Like he’s an orphan?”

Lin Jing shakes his head. “I don’t know. There would be records of that - state housing, fostering, something. All the information is in place for a casual search, his birthdate and identity papers and everything, but when you dig further you realise that there’s a birth record but no certificate. The school attendance records don’t tie to an actual school until University. It’s like someone went through and sort of… picked the trail apart.”

“Someone?” Zhao Yunlan asks. ‘Someone’ is never a good sign, and a ‘someone’ with the access and abilities to do what Lin Jing is implying is a downright bad one. Shen Wei, what are you involved in?

He’d already thought there was something off about Shen Wei. This is a possible break in a case that’s been weighing him down like an anchor. Why is his stomach clenching like this?

Lin Jing makes a frustrated gesture. “I don’t know who yet, or even if it isn’t just a series of clerical errors. I’ve made a few further records requests, and maybe when those come through it will clear it all up. It could still be nothing.”

Damn it all. “Keep digging,” Zhao Yunlan says. “If he’s really unconnected to all this, he’s doing a bad job of showing it.”

“Chief Zhao -” Zhu Hong starts, her expression sympathetic.

Zhao Yunlan jumps to his feet, cutting her off. “It’s the only lead we’ve got and he’s been suspicious since the start.”

“I bet if we arrest him he won’t cook for us any more,” Daqing says sadly.

“He probably only did that to get a look at what we’re up to,” Zhao Yunlan says harshly. He’s replaying every interaction with Shen Wei in his head now, searching for any chinks or fractures in the good Professor’s facade. When he brought lunch, had he lingered by the case board? When they’d talked, had he been too curious about their investigation? When he’d taken the lollipop, looked at Zhao Yunlan as he licked it, had that been…

All the nice things he does for the students, Zhao Yunlan’s treacherous mind supplies. All the good he seems to do in secret-

No. Not total secret, Zhao Yunlan thinks ruthlessly. Maybe just secret enough to make people notice and draw their own conclusions. What do I really know about him? Nothing. I want to like him. I want to believe he’s a good person and he likes me back because that flatters my ego. But none of that says anything about who he actually is.

Zhao Yunlan stifles a groan, pinching the bridge of his nose. He’s a cop. He just needs to follow the evidence.

All right. The first time Shen Wei had been here, the first time Zhao Yunlan had noticed something off, had been when he came to look at mugshots and then freaked out at the wanted board. The mugshot identification could have been him laying a deliberate trail, leading them on purpose to a fresh corpse, even if just thinking that makes Zhao Yunlan feel sick. The wanted board…

Zhao Yunlan stares at it. It looks the same as ever. Kun Lun poster? Hardly likely as a clue. Daqing’s cat pictures, or Zhu Hong’s thirst corner? Unlikely too.

“Lao Chu,” Zhao Yunlan says slowly, “why do you have this mugshot up here? What’s so great about this guy?”

Lao Chu gives him a long look, but answers seriously. “Nothing, but there’s no picture of the man who brought him down.”

“Wait, that’s why we have to put up with Creepy Mask Face?” Lin Jing says, outraged.

“Explain that further,” Zhao Yunlan says, ignoring Lin Jing. The mask tattoo is super creepy. Face tattoos are creepy in the first place - what kind of person gets one on his entire face?

Lao Chu frowns a little at him, but answers. “That guy ran one of the most brutal crews in the city about ten years ago. Dabbled in a lot of nasty stuff, so no one could ever tell where he was going to turn up next. He was untouchable until somebody infiltrated his organization and brought him down. No one knows who it was.”

“A cop?” Zhao Yunlan asks.

Lao Chu shakes his head. “No, best guess is that it was a civilian. The cops couldn’t get anywhere near him, and then one day an anonymous source called in a tip and when the cops got there the whole gang was tied up and waiting for them, evidence everywhere, whole paper trail stacked up and labeled. It was beautiful work.”

“Why haven’t we heard of this before?” Zhu Hong asks. “If he was that bad -”

“Because it’s embarrassing,” Zhao Yunlan says. He may not be familiar with the case itself, but he’s familiar with cops. All he has to do is imagine his dad’s reaction if a break that big got dropped into his lap by a random civilian. He’d be apoplectic.

“I only know about it because I was just out of the Academy and I helped with some of the cleanup,” Lao Chu says. “Gang off the streets or not, everyone took it as a slap in the face.”

“Do you think the Professor had something to do with this?” Zhu Hong asks. “He would have been, what, late teens at the time? I guess it’s not impossible.”

Zhao Yunlan shakes his head. “I’m not sure. Something on this bulletin board freaked him out the first time he was here and none of the other things make sense. Is there any chance the people we’re chasing now could be connected to the old gang, do you think?”

Lao Chu sighs. “I’d say no, but I can’t rule it out completely. Ye Zun’s still in prison, I know that for sure. He never really got into narcotics, so if it is one of his old buddies back in business it seems out of character, but the brutality of the retaliations fits and it has been ten years. A lot could have changed. I guess the real question is: if it is related, why are they popping up now, and why are they suddenly connected to the University?”

“It does seem like a stretch,” Zhao Yunlan says cautiously. Frankly, all of this seems like a stretch. Something doesn’t fit, and he’s damned if he knows what it is. This case was enough of a headache without dragging an entirely different investigation into the mix as well.

“I know you don’t want to hear this,” Daqing says quietly, “But if we are getting into ancient history we should talk to someone who was around at the time. Someone more senior than Lao Chu, I mean.”

“Fuck everything,” Zhao Yunlan says tiredly. “You want me to talk to my dad.”

“No, I don’t want you to,” Daqing says, uncharacteristically solemn. “But you might have to. You know how he’ll react if I go instead.”

Zhao Yunlan winces. That’s definitely not an option. “I’ll keep it on the table,” he concedes, “but not yet. I’m going to go talk to the Professor, see if I can shake something loose.”

“Take protection,” Zhu Hong says quietly.

“I will.”

Chapter Text

Despite his best efforts, Shen Wei feels subdued and anxious after his encounter with Lao Chu. He tries very hard to keep his worries hidden and thinks he’s doing his usual good job at it right up until his third period class presents him with a small cake and a signed card wishing him well.

So much for his inscrutability. If even his students have realised something is wrong he truly is losing control of the situation.

He takes more time than usual with the walk back to his office after class, trying to wrestle his thoughts into order. He hasn’t felt like himself since that fateful morning that he stepped out of his door and crashed right into Zhao Yunlan. Who could have known that the impact would throw more than his papers into such disarray?

He’s preoccupied enough that it takes him a moment to realise the man standing outside his office is staring at him, and a moment longer to place him.

His whole body goes cold, then hot. A few more pieces fall belatedly into place.

“Detective Zhao,” he says.

“Professor Shen,” the man returns, just as coolly polite. “And it’s Commissioner now.”

Oh, great. “Can I help you with something?”

The Commissioner tilts his head slightly in the direction of Shen Wei’s office door. The faint hopes Shen Wei had had about having this conversation in the relative safety of a populated hallway evaporate. He opens the door.

Commissioner Zhao follows him in. Shen Wei walks unhurriedly behind his desk to set down his things and remains there, keeping the furniture between them. “Please, sit down.”

It’s a perfectly normal way to handle the situation. If the Commissioner is reading anything into the way Shen Wei has placed himself, he doesn’t let it show on his face. “No, thank you. I’ll only be here for a moment. Are you aware that your name has come up recently in some records requests?”

Fuck. “I was not, but it makes sense. There was some police activity on campus recently and I was a witness to it.”

“I take it you met the officer in charge.”

It’s automatic to keep his expression neutral and his body language still. “I did. In my defense, until I saw you here I didn’t realise he was your son. It explains a few things.” Boy, doesn’t it ever. No wonder the Commissioner - Detective, then - had been willing to make that deal. Swallowing his law enforcement pride would have been a lot easier if his fatherly instincts were telling him how much he already owed Shen Wei for rescuing his son when they were children.

He’d wondered about that, at the time, but he’d been too grateful for the chance at a fresh start to question it too closely. Stupid.

“I imagine it does.” Commissioner Zhao’s face is just as unreadable. “I imagine you also know what I’m about to say to you.”

It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. “I think I do.”

“You know what I can do if you don’t stay away from him.” He gestures at the office. “This is a pretty nice life you’ve built for yourself here. If I didn’t know what kind of filth it was built on I’d say you’d done well.”

Shen Wei’s stomach clenches. “I’m not my brother.”

“I think we both know you’re just as dangerous, in your own way,” Commissioner Zhao says.

“Then shouldn’t you be glad to have me on your son’s side?” Shen Wei asks.

Commissioner Zhao smiles slightly. It doesn’t reach his eyes. “Are you?”

“He stands for justice, just as I always have.”

The smile vanishes. That hit just as hard as Shen Wei had thought it would. “If it turns out that you’re involved in the criminal activity on this campus I’ll see to it that you find the experience extremely unpleasant. And I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on what the consequences will be if you allow any harm to come to my son.”

“I believe my actions have already made my position on that subject abundantly clear,” Shen Wei says, icily polite. “I hope you have a pleasant day. It would perhaps also benefit you to remember that your threat is a double-edged sword… Commissioner.”

Commissioner Zhao smiles. There is no humor in it. “Now there is the person I expected to see. Your Professorial mask is very nicely made, Shen Wei, but it’s not perfect.”

With that parting shot he walks out, unhurried, leaving the office door open behind him.

Shen Wei sits down. He puts his hands flat on the desk and breathes carefully, focusing on the physical sensations around him: the coolness of the wood under his hands, the pressure of the sleeve garters on his biceps, the slight breeze from the building’s air circulation system. He can’t afford to get lost in this right now.

”No one’s seen my face. In the chaos no one will notice if I simply vanish. The credit is yours. I won’t say a thing.”

“And what do you want for that?”

“I just… I just want to be forgotten.”

No.

Wood under his hands. Pressure on his biceps. Air from the vents.

When he’s relatively calm again, he sorts through the papers he brought back from class, stacking them carefully according to content. He tidies everything away and wipes his desk clean with a handkerchief until the marks from his hands are gone and the wood gleams.

And then he thinks screw it and pulls the cake over. He usually doesn’t like sweets and normally would find a way to pass this cake on to Li Qian or Lu Ruomei, but it’s been a hell of a morning. He feels the sudden urge to do something impulsive and out of character, and consuming an appalling amount of sugar is probably better in the long run than punching a police commissioner in the mouth.

He pauses, fork clenched in his hand, until the rage subsides again, then selects a precise bite of cake.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Zhao Yunlan did a lot of thinking on the drive over to the University, and more as he made his way up the stairs and down the hallway, and by the time he arrives at Shen Wei’s office door he…

Has nothing. Absolutely nothing. He has arrived at no conclusions, sorted out none of his problems, and figured out no strategy for the conversation he’s about to have.

Fantastic. Flying by the seat of his pants, yet again. Maybe this is why he can’t make any damn headway on this godawful case.

Shen Wei’s door is slightly ajar, so he pushes it open instead of knocking. Maybe he’ll catch Shen Wei off guard. Probably he won’t. So far Shen Wei’s reactions have been frustratingly difficult to predict.

Two steps into the room he stops, staring. Shen Wei is seated at his desk, posture tense and stiff even for him, eating cake in a way that looks completely civilized and polite and somehow still manages to radiate total fucking fury.

“What did your students do?” Zhao Yunlan blurts out. Anger is a new thing from Shen Wei. Until this moment, Zhao Yunlan wouldn’t have been sure if he was even capable of it - he seems to prize his calmness so highly.

But oooh, there’s that laser glare. For a moment Zhao Yunlan feels like he’s being flayed alive, and then Shen Wei looks away, making a visible effort to control himself. Zhao Yunlan tries to get his breath back. Holy shit.

“It wasn’t a student, it was an adult and I’d prefer not to discuss it. My students gave me this cake, which I am now eating. Apparently I seemed upset.”

“And they gave you cake?” Zhao Yunlan asks cautiously. “You never really struck me as the cake type.”

“I’m not, usually,” Shen Wei says. He takes a breath and some of the tension goes out of his shoulders, though whether it’s because he’s relaxed a little or because he’s regaining control Zhao Yunlan can’t be sure. “I apologize for troubling you with my unfortunate day. How is the case going? Did you need something from me?”

“Horrible, and I have no idea,” Zhao Yunlan says, going completely on instinct. Shen Wei responds to people in distress, right? That’s what the students seem to think. Time to test it - both to see what happens, and to see if it’s a genuine response. “I’ll be honest with you, Shen Wei. I’m finding this case to be very frustrating. I don’t really know what to do next.”

Shen Wei eyes him for a moment, then silently offers him the fork.

Well, at least the cake will give him an excuse to stay and make conversation, and maybe sharing food will lower Shen Wei’s guard a little. And now that Zhao Yunlan thinks about it, wasn’t lunch supposed to be a few hours ago? Oops.

Zhao Yunlan takes the fork and sits down. It’s a small cake, but it looks pretty good. He hacks off a large piece and shoves it in his mouth.

The corner of Shen Wei’s mouth ticks up reluctantly. Zhao Yunlan grins.

“Your students have good taste in cake. You can trust me, I’m an expert.”

Score! That’s an actual smile on Shen Wei’s face now. It’s tiny, but it’s there.

Wait, dammit, He’s interrogating, not flirting.

“I’m glad you approve. I confess that I haven’t done much research on the subject.” He tilts his head a little, catching Zhao Yunlan’s eye. “I’m sorry that the case isn’t going well for you. Is there anything I can do to help? I might be able to look into parts of the University that you can’t access.”

Zhao Yunlan puts down his fork and levels a look at Shen Wei, dropping all the lighthearted banter and pretense. Shen Wei blinks, looking a little startled, and then his body language settles. He seems content to wait and be studied until Yunlan reaches a conclusion.

There are a lot of ways Zhao Yunlan could approach this, and he honestly has no idea what the right way would be. Confrontation over Shen Wei’s motives? A more subtle invitation to share information? Trying to lay a trap of some kind?

“Can I trust you, Shen Wei?” he asks.

Shen Wei’s eyebrows constrict, just slightly, and then his expression becomes intent. It’s just as focused as the laser glare from a moment ago, but instead of feeling like an attack the rest of the room seems to fall away until it’s only the two of them, alone in time and space.

“Yes. You can trust me.”

Zhao Yunlan forces himself to breathe. “Because I’ll be honest, you’re part of what I find troublesome about this whole situation. Can I trust you?”

Shen Wei touches his fingertips to his chest, his eyes never leaving Zhao Yunlan’s. “I swear to you on my life that I will never allow harm to come to you or your people, and that I will do everything in my power to help you see that justice is done.”

Holy fuck. Zhao Yunlan’s breath hitches. “That’s a pretty strong reaction.”

Shen Wei’s intensity fades abruptly. The rest of the room seems to come back into focus. Yunlan’s mind reels.

“Is it? I apologize.” Shen Wei glances away, suddenly every inch the shy Professor. “Yes. I suppose it was. I hope I didn’t alarm you.”

‘Alarm’ is not exactly the word for what Zhao Yunlan feels right now. “You’re a very confusing person, Shen Wei,” he manages.

Shen Wei glances at him. He seems smaller now, somehow. Unsure. “I’m sorry if I’ve caused you trouble. Do you believe me? That I wouldn’t harm you?”

“Yes,” Zhao Yunlan says slowly. What else Shen Wei’s promise might cover is something he’ll have to think about. It didn’t quite manage to be as reassuring as Shen Wei obviously hoped it would be, and technically didn’t include any assurance that Shen Wei was unconnected to the current case. “Do you have any information about the case that I don’t know yet?”

Shen Wei shakes his head. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I do. Perhaps I could look into-”

“No,” Zhao Yunlan cuts that off fast. If Shen Wei really isn’t involved in this, the last thing he wants to do is put the professor in the line of fire by accident. He feels increasingly uncertain about how much danger Shen Wei could or could not handle, but keeping him as clear of the situation as possible is definitely the safest option. “These guys are dangerous, Shen Wei. If you aren’t involved already then I want you to stay as far away from them as possible.”

Shen Wei tenses up. “Have they made threats against you?”

“I don’t think they care about us yet.” It’s pretty galling, honestly. These guys probably know exactly who’s in charge of investigating them - they’d be idiots if they hadn’t looked into it - but Zhao Yunlan and his people obviously don’t come across as a threat. It would be a good thing if it wasn’t, unfortunately, the stark truth. “But I’ve seen what they do to other people they don’t like and it’s not pretty.”

Shen Wei reaches across the desk and grabs Zhao Yunlan’s hand. “Please be careful.”

Zhao Yunlan stares in surprise, and an instant later Shen Wei snatches his hand back, cheeks turning a faint pink.

“I apologize.” He makes a show of checking his watch. “I have a student coming by shortly - I’m sorry to ask, but -?”

“Oh, right, of course,” Zhao Yunlan says, surprised to find himself suddenly just as awkward as the Professor. “Uh. Have fun? Goodbye.”

He makes it out into the hall with less than his usual grace, feeling off-balance and confused. He’s not entirely sure what he got from that conversation, or if it was what he wanted, or if it did anything more than confuse him further.

He can still feel the pressure of Shen Wei’s hand on his.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shen Wei stares down at his fingertips, a little stunned by his own audacity and lack of control. What had possessed him…?

“Professor Shen?”

Li Qian. That’s right. Shen Wei shakes himself and pastes on a smile. Strictly speaking he hadn’t been lying when he’d panicked and told Zhao Yunlan a student was coming, but he’d been stretching the truth a little bit. Either Li Qian is quite early for her meeting, or Shen Wei has been sitting here transfixed by his own hand for longer than he’s comfortable with.

“Is that cake?”

“Ah. Yes.” Shen Wei hastily scoops up the sad remains of the cake and deposits the box in the trashcan. “My apologies, I was a little distracted. Did you have any luck tracking down the extra sources for your paper?”

Li Qian pauses in the act of setting down her things. “I thought you wanted to meet about proctoring the Bio 106 exam? I can go get my research materials, it will only take a moment.”

Dammit. “That’s all right, Li Qian, it was just an informal check-in. Now, about the 104 exam -”

“Er. 106,” Li Qian says quietly, starting to look a little alarmed. “Professor Shen, is everything all right? It’s just, you don’t usually… eat cake.”

He doesn’t deserve Li Qian. The amount of delicate tiptoeing she has to do to preserve his illusions of dignity is really quite exorbitant. “No, I - I don’t. Everything is fine, thank you for asking, it was just a somewhat trying morning. I apologize for my distractedness.”

“Professor Shen, it’s okay.” She pauses, worrying her bottom lip, and then comes to some sort of decision. She pulls a laptop out of her bag. Shen Wei’s heart sinks. “Look, there’s something I should maybe show you.”

This just might be the thing that pushes me over the edge today, Shen Wei thinks sadly. “Is it about websearching?”

His tone must have been more plaintive than he’d intended, because despite her seriousness Li Qian ducks her head to hide a smile. “No, Professor Shen.” She sobers. “You might not like it, though. I’m hoping it will help, but you might not like it.”

“I suppose you’d better show me.” This day has already held more than its fair share of fraught conversations, he might as well pile on another.

She nods and powers up the computer, doing some arcane things to bring up a website that, from what he was able to grasp from the last time she tried to induct him into the computerized world, would be classified as a ‘forum’.

She opens up a section of comments that run all the way down the page and begins to scroll through them.

At the very top is a picture of him and Zhao Yunlan walking back to his office, his papers in Zhao Yunlan’s arms. Whoever posted it had followed it up with not text but a string of exclamation marks and tiny heart pictures. Below that is a picture of Zhao Yunlan in the back of his classroom, one of Shen Wei’s own face when he’d spotted his unexpected guest, the two of them sitting on a bench by the library… on and on until, at the bottom of the page, they hit a video of Zhao Yunlan running into him outside of his office.

“What is this?” Shen Wei asks when he’s managed to find his voice.

Li Qian sounds a little embarrassed. “Um. It’s ‘Caught Reading’. It’s the forum for the, well, the Professor Hottie and Chief Handsome Ship Club.”

“The…” Shen Wei can’t even repeat it.

“I didn’t show you this to make you feel self-conscious,” Li Qian says earnestly. “It’s just, you seemed a little upset, and I worried - look at the way he looks at you, Professor Shen.” She scrolls back up through the pictures. Shen Wei’s appalled gaze catches on phrases as she goes - So cute - their love is so soft - look how well he treats our Professor - and his brain just as quickly buries them under a self-protective layer of horrified amnesia. “Whatever might have happened between you, you can see how he feels about you.”

She stops on the picture of Zhao Yunlan carrying his things. Picture-Shen Wei is looking down, smiling just a little bit, and Zhao Yunlan is looking over at him. The expression on his face is gentle. Even fond.

Dazedly, Shen Wei reaches out and manages to make the page scroll down again. The same expression is there on Zhao Yunlan’s face as he sat in the back of Shen Wei’s classroom.

Setting aside the terrifying evidence that a decent portion of the student body seems to be extremely invested in a relationship that doesn’t actually exist, it is… deeply strange to see his life this way. He can remember the conversations they were having at each of these times, the worries and careful verbal minefields they’d been negotiating, but with all the context stripped away…

Well. He can see how the students came to their conclusions, and something in his chest twists with a painful kind of longing. The relationship in the pictures isn’t real, but…

No. He shuts that thought off. There are too many complications - the past, the current case, the fact that Zhao Yunlan still isn’t sure if Shen Wei is part of a vicious drug cartel. And of course there’s Shen Wei himself - he’s well aware that he’s not exactly a romantic ideal.

The computer dings softly, and a new picture appears at the top of the page: he and Zhao Yunlan, eating cake together, taken through Shen We’s office window. That helplessly fond expression is on Zhao Yunlan’s face again and, he is mortified to see, on his own as well.

The person who posted it captioned it “I’M DYING OMG”, which is fairly alarming. As he and Li Qian watch, the little numbers below the picture start to increase, which is even more so. Unfortunately, Shen Wei is pretty sure it’s reasonable to assume that each of those numbers represents a person looking at this photo.

Thank goodness he’s a tidy eater.

“Professor Shen? Was I right to show you this?”

No. Of course not. Why do the students even care about this?

“I - yes, Li Qian. Thank you, it was… kindly done.”

Even if it’s a lie, he’s glad he said it - from the abrupt way Li Qian relaxes, she was very apprehensive about his reaction, and she did have the best of intentions. If Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan had been having a relationship crisis - or even a relationship - her intervention might well have helped.

“If it makes you uncomfortable, I could try to make them stop this.”

“No,” Shen Wei says slowly. “No, that’s all right. It seems harmless enough. And haven’t you told me that the internet is very difficult to control?” He’s definitely going to start closing the blinds on his office window, though.

She smiles a little, which had been his real goal. “Yes, the internet is very difficult to control. I’m glad I was able to help you, Professor Shen.”

Shen Wei blinks at her. “You’re always a great help to me, Li Qian.”

She looks surprised and pleased, and pauses in the act of packing up her computer. “Oh! Well, I’m glad. Um, should we discuss the 106 exam now?”

“Yes,” Shen Wei says, collecting himself. “That‘s an excellent idea. Please take a seat.”

Chapter Text

Sometimes in police work you have to be very organized and methodical.

And sometimes in police work, when you and your team have hit the frustration tipping point and started losing heart, you have to just pile all the evidence on the table and hope that it makes you think of some new connections.

“Chief Zhao…” Wang Zheng says, trading tired looks with Sang Zan at the sight of the haphazard mess.

“Just trust me,” Zhao Yunlan says, aware that he’s probably coming across as a bit manic. “Okay, gather round, start digging. Sing out anything that occurs to you, no matter how weird or inconsequential.”

Zhu Hong is off chasing one of her sources and Daqing mysteriously vanished as soon as Zhao Yunlan started dumping boxes out on the table, but the rest of the team sighs and begins digging through the detritus with varying levels of enthusiasm (most keen: Xiao Guo, most depressed: Lin Jing, who’s probably having an allergic reaction to being in the presence of this much information kept in hardcopy). Surprisingly, Lao Chu is giving off distinct ‘I don’t immediately disapprove of this’ vibes.

“I have… a list of trucking companies,” Wang Zheng says, busily sorting the papers that have drifted nearest to her. Bless Wang Zheng and her willingness to go along with his shenanigans. “Does anyone have anything that matches?”

“I’ve just got invoices from that convenience store the second victim died in,” Lin Jing says, trying to look at the mess without touching any of the papers.

Sang Zan closes his eyes and screws up his face in concentration, then sticks his hand at random into the pile. “I h-have…” he hands the papers to Wang Zheng. She reads them out.

“A crime scene photo from the warehouse we raided - looks like it’s of scuff marks by the elevator shaft - and a list of chemical components.”

Lin Jing makes grabby hands and she gives him the list. He retreats over to his desk, frowning at it. It looks like he’s genuinely thinking something through rather than trying to bail on the work, so Zhao Yunlan lets him go.

Xiao Guo copies Sang Zan’s move, closing his eyes and grabbing something at random. “I’ve got Chief Zhao’s notes from one of our meetings. ‘Screw everything, if this motherf-’

Lao Chu confiscates the notes.

“I’ve got a list of companies in the city that get deliveries of raw chemicals,” Zhao Yunlan says. “Wang Zheng, want it?”

“Yes - I’ll trade you this surveillance photo of Professor Shen.”

Several people snicker, but they also look more motivated and optimistic than they did fifteen minutes ago, so Zhao Yunlan accepts the surveillance photo with dignity. It’s of Shen Wei talking with one of his students on the quad outside one of the academic buildings. He looks fantastic and very unsuspicious, so Zhao Yunlan sets it on the edge of the table where he can accidentally glance over every so often and see it again.

“Mugshots of known associates of the guy we chased through the University,” Lao Chu says, stacking some papers to the side.

“Lab results from the overdoses?” Xiao Guo offers.

“Here!” Lin Jing says. Xiao Guo passes them over.

“Lin Jing, you got something?” Zhao Yunlan asks, eyeing his subordinate’s body language.

“I don’t… maybe?” Lin Jing says, eyes not leaving his computer screen. “I’m not sure yet. It’s just a hunch.”

“Okay, keep following it.” He grabs a stapled packet of papers at random. “Anyone got a match for… the contents of the third overdose’s apartment?”

Whether anyone does or doesn’t they don’t find out, because Zhu Hong picks that moment to return from her expedition. Her eyes are glittering and there’s a predatory smile on her face.

“You’ve got something,” Zhao Yunlan says, a spark of adrenaline making its way up his spine. “What did you find out?”

“A name and a place,” Zhu Hong says. “Zhou. SuDep Industries.”

Wang Zheng gives an exclamation, pouncing on her stacks of papers. “Here! SuDep Industries. A lot of chemical deliveries, mostly related to genetic research and… something with a lot of syllables I don’t know how to pronounce.”

Lin Jing snatches it out of her hands, scrambling back to his computer so fast that his chair rolls too far and he has to pull himself back into place. “Give me a minute!”

“Everything go okay?” Zhao Yunlan asks Zhu Hong in an undertone. She’s never really run into trouble before with her sources, but he still worries.

She grins. It’s not a reassuring expression. “It went great. Since it came up earlier, I also did some asking about Ye Zun and his gang.”

Lao Chu stiffens. “What did you find out?”

Zhu Hong shrugs. “Not a lot of detail - even now, people are spooked. But I did find out that while the big-timers all went away, a couple of the small fish probably managed to escape the nets. Also, apparently Ye Zun had been starting to look into the drug trade as a possible side business, but was taken down before he could go any further than that. There could be a connection between that case and ours, but it might be as small as a low-level thug who’s managed to stay in the business.”

Interesting. A low-level thug wouldn’t explain Shen Wei’s reaction to the wanted board, seeing as how Shen Wei is decidedly neither low-level nor thuggish, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Could it just be a coincidence?

“If we start to turn something up…” Zhao Yunlan says slowly. “Do you think your sources might be able to give us more?”

“I’m certainly willing to ask,” Zhu Hong says.

Zhao Yunlan glances at her expression. In retrospect, it’s maybe not surprising that nobody has tried to mess with Zhu Hong when she’s questioning people.

“AHA!” Lin Jing yells.

Since Zhao Yunlan’s people are disciplined and professional, there is an immediate scramble to be the first to Lin Jing’s desk, with all the shoving and near-collisions that entails. Zhao Yunlan graciously decides not to notice it.

“What have you got?”

Lin Jing’s computer screen is filled with a lot of complicated-looking chemical diagrams, and the things he’d gotten from the evidence table are scattered around the desk and festooned with post-it notes. It’s an impressive amount of mad-science backdrop for only a few minutes’ work, and as he starts his explanation Lin Jing runs a hand through his hair and really enhances that vibe by leaving half of it standing upright.

“Well, I looked at all our evidence in such a shambles, and I started to think - maybe that’s what happened to the chemical composition of the drugs, too! And I was right!” He gestures excitedly at the screen. “One of our problems was that nothing at the University was suspicious, right? Well, none of it is - until you add it to the things SuDep Industries is ordering!”

He spins his chair around to give them all a triumphant look. “They cook half the ingredients up at the University - normal chemicals in, normal chemicals out. They cook the other half at SuDep with the same deal. But if both of those are getting sent somewhere else, and then you combine them, you get what’s been hitting the streets.”

“Damn,” Zhao Yunlan says, impressed despite himself. “That’s actually not a terrible plan. Even if we’d started getting suspicious of the SuDep side of things, all they’d have to do is stop shipments for a while or find another partner. And it was really sheer luck we kept digging on the University side at all-” well, sheer luck and Shen Wei’s inexplicable magnetism, “-because who would expect this kind of thing from somewhere with that kind of reputation? Even if we found the site where they were combining the chemicals, they could cut ties in a heartbeat and set up somewhere else, leaving us with nothing.”

“You think the University’s where it’s being run from?” Daqing asks from right behind him.

“Nice to have you back, lazy cat,” Zhao Yunlan says drily. “And I don’t know, it’s just a hunch. Could be SuDep instead, or an equal partnership.” He leans against the back of the couch, thinking hard. With this much careful structure and planning, whoever’s in charge of this little enterprise probably has a whole lot of contingency plans in place to prevent discovery. The smart route is to be careful and methodical and gather as much evidence as possible.

The really, really tempting route is to throw as much chaos at these assholes as possible and wait for them to trip. It’ll be more satisfying, but also probably paint a big target on Zhao Yunlan and his people. Given the efficient ruthlessness of their usual silencings, Zhao Yunlan doesn’t think it’s a stretch to assume that ‘killing cops’ is on the table.

“Lin Jing,” he says slowly, “how sure are you about the chemistry?”

Lin Jing blinks. “Pretty damn sure, boss.”

“Okay.” Zhao Yunlan straightens up. “Zhu Hong, you and Wang Zheng and Sang Zan dig into the records. See how much more paperwork we can find now that we know there’s a connection between these two places. See if you can find anything that might point to the third location. Lao Chu, you and Xiao Guo start looking into SuDep, and be careful. Don’t be seen, don’t approach, just stay on the edges and watch for the moment, okay? Daqing, you’ve got the University. Get eyes on the Chemistry department. Lin Jing, pick apart as much of the trail you followed as you can - I want whoever looks at it next to have to recreate what you just did.”

“Sure, Chief,” Lin Jing says, puzzled. “You planning something?”

Zhao Yunlan pulls out his phone. “I’m going to send up a test balloon.”

He steps away from the others a little, but doesn’t try for total privacy. Shen Wei should be in his office at this time, but the phone rings for just long enough that Zhao Yunlan thinks he’ll have to leave a message.

“Hello?”

“Shen Wei! I’m glad I caught you. Can you come down to the station? I need your expertise for the case.”

There’s a brief pause. “Oh! Really? Of course, I’m glad to. When would you like me to arrive? I can free up my afternoon if it would help.”

“This afternoon would be great! We’ll be expecting you. Thanks, Professor.” Zhao Yunlan hangs up and turns back to his crew. They look apprehensive.

“Get to your positions,” Zhao Yunlan says. “If the Professor’s an innocent, we’ll have independent confirmation of Lin Jing’s theory. If he isn’t… well. Keep your eyes peeled. Things might be about to get interesting.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To say Shen Wei is surprised to be called in to consult at the SID is an understatement.

He sits in his office for several minutes afterwards staring at the phone. He’d assured Zhao Yunlan that he was trustworthy, and he’d hoped that the man had believed him, of course he had, but… well, Zhao Yunlan is a cop doing a very dangerous job. He’s honestly a little worried that his reassurance seems to have worked.

Just how bad is Zhao Yunlan’s sense of self-preservation…?

He carefully writes out a note to put on his door telling students that his office hours are cancelled for the afternoon, and begins to gather his things. At least if Zhao Yunlan trusts him now, it will be easier to keep an eye on him.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shen Wei arrives so promptly that Lin Jing has only just finished setting the evidence stage. He must have started over as soon as he got off the phone with Zhao Yunlan.

“Shen Wei!” Zhao Yunlan says, throwing his arms wide. “You got here so fast! Did you run?”

“Uh.” Shen Wei blushes faintly. “No, I’m just - a very fast walker.”

“Well, anyway, we’re glad to see you. Can you tell us what you make of this?” He pulls Shen Wei over to the table - still pretty messy from earlier, but they’ve more or less cleared off one end to make room for the chemical stuff.

And a few… other test balloons, just in case.

Shen Wei bends over the papers, frowning. “You know my specialty is biology, right?”

Zhao Yunlan claps him on the shoulder. Is he overdoing the bonhomie? Nah, probably not. “I’ve seen your academic credentials, Shen Wei! I know you’ve got experience in chemistry.”

“Well, true,” Shen Wei says, already sounding distracted by the problem in front of him. Lin Jing nudges a pencil in his direction and he picks it up without seeming to notice where it came from. “This is a strange combination of chemicals. Where did you get this from?”

“A couple of different sources,” Zhao Yunlan says. “We’re trying to figure out if there’s some kind of connection, or maybe if some of this could combine to make something more interesting.”

Shen Wei hums acknowledgment under his breath, scribbling notes to himself on a scrap of paper. Zhao Yunlan backs off a little bit, letting him work, trading a glance with Lin Jing over Shen Wei’s bent head. Lin Jing watches Shen Wei work for a moment, following his notations with more success than Zhao Yunlan could ever hope for, and then gives Zhao Yunlan an elaborate shrug-and-head-tilt that Zhao Yunlan decides to take as a tentative endorsement of Shen Wei’s work.

More quickly than Zhao Yunlan would have thought, Shen Wei seems to come to the end of his investigation. He pauses for a moment, checking something, and then straightens.

“Well, I think it’s certainly suspicious,” he says, putting down his pencil. “It’s hard to say exactly without more context, but there are several ways these could all combine to make trouble for you.” He rearranges the papers a little and taps two different sections. “This and this, I think, are probably the most suspicious. It’s all theoretical, but if you combined these two and did a little work on them, you’d wind up with something pretty potent.”

“Potent like narcotics?” Zhao Yunlan asks.

Shen Wei nods. “I’m just speculating, but given what you’ve shown me and what I know of human biology, a little of this stuff would go a long way.”

“Addictive?” Lin Jing asks.

“Highly,” Shen Wei says. “Not to mention it’s strong enough that you’d be able to put in any number of additives if you wanted to stretch your supply to meet the demand without losing any of the effects, which would also mean that doses vary widely in potency from dealer to dealer. I’m guessing you’ve seen a fair number of deaths.”

“Afraid so,” Zhao Yunlan says, automatically glancing at the bulletin board where the crime scene photos had been before everything had ended up on the table. “You sound pretty familiar with the mechanics of this kind of thing.”

He’s expecting one of Shen Wei’s classic denials or backtracks, but the Professor just looks tired.

“I suppose I do.” He pulls off his glasses and rubs the bridge of his nose. It’s such an unexpectedly vulnerable gesture that Zhao Yunlan finds himself half-responding to it before he can control himself. “I worry about my students, Chief Zhao. I have looked into a lot of things that might bring them harm.” He hesitates for a moment, and then goes on. “Are these people using children? As couriers or messengers or anything like that?”

Zhao Yunlan frowns, surprised by the question. “Not that I know of. Why do you ask?”

Shen Wei shakes his head. “Sorry. It’s just - you hear things on the news sometimes. I’m glad you’re not having to deal with that on top of everything else.”

He puts the glasses back on and starts gathering up the papers, businesslike again, and if Zhao Yunlan hadn’t been watching closely he would have missed the moment when Shen Wei’s eye lands on one of the other papers on the table, one of the ones Zhao Yunlan had placed deliberately, and seeing it makes him go still for just an instant.

And then the moment is over, as if it had never happened. Shen Wei finishes stacking the papers and turns to Zhao Yunlan, smiling faintly. “I hope I was able to help?”

“Yeah, that was a big help, Shen Wei,” Zhao Yunlan says. “It’s good to have an academic on speed dial, as it turns out! I hope we didn’t disrupt your afternoon too much.”

“Not unduly, but I should be getting back,” Shen Wei says, smoothly grabbing the excuse Zhao Yunlan had dangled. “Please let me know if I can be of assistance again.”

“Actually - does the surname ‘Zhou’ ring any bells? It’s come up but we don’t know how it’s connected yet.”

Behind Shen Wei’s back, Zhao Yunlan sees Lin Jing start with surprise. Shen Wei tilts his head, thinking.

“Zhou... it’s not uncommon, I think there’s a student in the Classical Chinese department with that surname, and maybe one of the adjuncts in Archaeology… but I would assume it’s neither of them.” He pauses, thinking hard, and suddenly his expression clears. “Actually, I think Professor Ouyang in the Chemistry department has a friend named Zhou. Professor Ouyang has an ongoing mahjongg night, and I believe he might be one of the regular invitees. I’ve avoided participating in the event until now, but I could easily arrange to be invited myself and tell you for sure.”

Zhao Yunlan plunges abruptly from the adrenalized excitement of a new lead to cold-drenched terror at the thought of sending possibly-innocent possibly-gentle-scholar Shen Wei into a casual meeting of two incredibly ruthless drug lords. “Absolutely not. Thank you for your team spirit, but we’ll handle this from our end, Shen Wei.”

Shen Wei raises his eyebrows. “It wouldn’t come across as questionable - Professor Ouyang has invited me before. I know how to avoid raising their suspicions, and this does seem like the fastest way to confirm your theory.”

“No,” Zhao Yunlan says harshly. “I forbid it, Shen Wei. Stay away from them.”

Shen Wei’s eyebrows raise a little higher, and the stubborn hint around his mouth becomes a lot more pronounced.

Zhao Yunlan gives back as good as he gets, and after a moment Shen Wei frowns and backs down, reluctantly.

“Very well. I acknowledge your concerns. Keep the offer in mind, please, Chief Zhao.”

“You bet,” Zhao Yunlan says, meaning nothing of the sort. “Well, you’ve got your students to get back to. We’ve already kept you longer than you could probably spare.”

Shen Wei inclines his head in acknowledgment. “I’m always happy to help. Good luck with the rest of your investigation.”

Zhao Yunlan holds up a hand to keep Lin Jing silent until he’s sure Shen Wei is safely out of the building, and then turns back to the table, groaning a little at how every interaction with Shen Wei seems to cause as much confusion as it solves.

“Well, he passed the test,” Lin Jing says, shrugging. “I know you don’t have the experience to understand it, but this is smart work that Professor Shen just did - I unraveled that evidence trail pretty far, and he did some really cool thinking to put it back together. Is it okay if I keep these notes he made? They’re just… super nice chemistry, Chief.”

“Sure, fine,” Zhao Yunlan says absently, studying the table. Shen Wei was standing here, and his gaze had fallen about here when he’d had that blink-and-miss-it hitch in his movements...

“What’s the next move, Boss?”

“We wait and watch,” Zhao Yunlan says slowly as he picks up a packet of papers. “And we wonder why mugshots of our dead suspect’s known associates just made Shen Wei have a moment.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shen Wei walks through the city streets at a normal pace. When he hits campus, he smiles and nods at the students and faculty he’s familiar with. He proceeds to his office with nothing unusual in his manner, hyperconscious of the possibility that he’s being observed. He shuts the door behind him, pulls down the shades, and, once he’s sure that no passers-by or romantically overinvested students might be able to glance in, he sits down at his desk and puts his head in his hands.

At the beginning of the walk he’d been frustrated with Zhao Yunlan for sidelining him. By the time he was on University grounds, the frustration had faded to make way for unease.

Now, his stomach is cold with fear.

Not for himself - well, all right, a little bit for himself. He’s not an idiot - when Zhao Yunlan had asked about the mysterious Zhou and tried to forbid him from attending Professor Ouyang’s mahjongg night, he’d realised that meant that he’s been going to faculty meetings and fighting for funding and discussing students with a man who’s been cold-bloodedly masterminding the creation and running of a brutal drug ring at the same time. Shen Wei has put his past far behind him, but it’s never going to be so far removed that a realization like that isn’t going to give a hard twist to some very specific bits of his psyche.

At least there aren’t children involved. That would be - would have been -

He gives himself a shake, forcing himself to focus. Whatever hold the past may still have on him, in the present he’s far more terrified for Zhao Yunlan than he is for himself.

He’d known there were formidable criminals involved. He’d known that there had been some gruesome deaths. He hadn’t realized -

”I’m calling them my apprentices,” Ye Zun says, with that half-smile that always makes dread start uncoiling up Shen Wei’s spine and down his shoulders. “The ones with aptitude. What do you think, gege?”

No wonder the ‘silencings’ that Zhao Yunlan and Xiao Guo had mentioned had been noteworthy. Shen Wei had been careful to ensure that everyone had been solidly implicated when he’d taken down Ye Zun’s little clubhouse, but apparently he hadn’t been thorough enough.

Of course the rank-and-file would have been watching and learning at the same time, too. Of course it would have been one of them who was below notice enough to escape, and to lie low for all these years until he found a boss looking for someone able to deal out the kind of violence Ye Zun was so masterful at teaching.

Stupid. Stupid. Zhu Jiu had been beneath notice then but he certainly isn’t now.

Shen Wei has to fix this before it hurts anyone else. Certainly before Zhao Yunlan becomes enough of a threat to be noticed. He just has to - he just has to think and not panic a little more with every second because Zhao Yunlan could be acting on his suspicions at any -

Stop. Breathe.

Shen Wei has the advantage here. He knows the tactics, knows enough of the players. He can leave the policework and evidence gathering part of this to Zhao Yunlan and his people, they’re highly competent, but he needs to buy them some time, divert as much attention from them as possible, and, ideally, find some way to speed up their investigation as well.

What he needs is to force Professor Ouyang and his group to make a mistake and expose themselves in the process.

What he needs, specifically, is to give them a really juicy civilian target.

Chapter Text

Zhao Yunlan really, really doesn’t want to be here.

Setting aside that he has a bit of an authority problem, and that this building is by definition a symbol of the authority he has to answer to (literally - it’s the background image on all their official IDs and stationery), it’s also where his dad, the ultimate authority figure, spends his time lurking. And being judgmental and superior.

Zhao Yunlan sighs. This is for justice. He can do this if it’s for justice.

The research team has already uncovered some promising ties between the University and SuDep Industries. The surveillance teams are building a nice solid little log of shipments and employee movements. Now it’s time for Zhao Yunlan to earn his keep.

Allowing himself one last heartfelt groan, he squares his shoulders and enters the building. At least he has a meeting - oh-so-coincidentally timed to overlap with lunch, Zhao Yunlan is not a strategist for nothing - with Shen Wei to look forward to afterwards. Maybe if he can keep half of his mind focused on Shen Wei’s delicious cooking there’ll be less brainpower left for smartass comments that he knows will only get him into trouble with his father.

Hah. Yeah. That’ll be the day.

The elevator dings open and he trudges down the hall to his father’s office. It’s a corner office, because of course it is. With a fancy brass nameplate even.

Ugh.

His father’s secretary (secretary!!) waves him in with a cheerful and completely ominous, “Ah, he’ll be so glad to see you!” and Zhao Yunlan’s last, faint hopes that maybe his father will be busy or out of the country or spontaneously retired dissolve into mist. He’s committed now.

His father looks up from his paperwork as he enters.

“Hey, Dad,” Zhao Yunlan says, throwing himself down in one of the guest chairs. His father winces, just slightly, and his own mood lightens somewhat in response. “You know anything about some guy named Ye Zun?”

His father stills for an instant, and then takes off his glasses and leans back in his chair. “I’ve seen the official files. Why do you ask?”

Well, that was more of a tell than he’d been expecting. Usually he finds his father to be frustratingly opaque.

“It’s come up as a possible connection to a case we’re working on, and somebody pointed out it would be good to talk to someone who was around back then.” He smiles insincerely and gestures to his surroundings. “So, here I am. What do you know?”

His father shrugs. “He was put away years ago, I’d have to go back and refresh my memory. What kind of connection do you think you’ve found?”

Two can play at that game. “Not sure yet. Could be as minor as a henchman who managed to stick around. You must have heard some scuttlebutt about it at the time - you think someone involved in the case could have slipped the nets?”

“I suppose it’s always possible. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help - I’ve never really been one to participate in gossip.” His father tilts his head slightly. “I’m happy to see that you’re making some progress on your case. Do you have any leads?”

“A few.” You want information, old man? Give me some, first.

His father smiles a little. “As long as you’re being careful. From what I remember, the people involved with Ye Zun were not to be trifled with.”

Zhao Yunlan puts on a surprised expression. “Oh, I’m glad you do have some memories! I was starting to worry about your advanced age.”

Oooh, annoyance! Now that expression of his father’s he can definitely pick out of a lineup. “Very funny, Yunlan. Why haven’t you tried looking at the official files yourself, instead of coming to bother me about it?”

Wow, ouch. “We did. They’re… sparse.” He throws his hands wide. “I figured we could bond over it, you know, as manly policemen who are also related!”

His father sighs and rubs his forehead. “Well, sorry to disappoint you. I did actually have something unconnected I wanted to talk to you about, though.”

That can’t be good. “Oh?”

“Yes - I see that you’ve requested records about a professor named Shen Wei?”

Zhao Yunlan blinks at him, honestly taken aback. “Uh, yes? Why, you know him?”

“I did a little digging on your behalf.” Way to sidestep the question there, old man. “I don’t see that he has any connection to your current case beyond being a witness, but I wanted you to be aware that he’s more than he seems. Don’t trust him.”

Zhao Yunlan laughs. “Come on, you have to give me more than that.”

“I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t.” His father smiles pleasantly. “Good luck with your investigation, though. Please be careful.”

Fucking seriously?

“Wow,” Zhao Yunlan says slowly. “Even for you, that’s a whole new level, Dad. That’s it? That’s all you’re going to say?”

His father arches one eyebrow at him, and then pointedly turns back to his paperwork.

Zhao Yunlan gives a disbelieving laugh. “And I’m dismissed!” he says brightly. “Well, I’ll try not to let the door hit me on the way out. It’s really too bad we can’t even manage to be colleagues.

He manages to get himself out of the office before anything else comes spilling out, but it’s a close thing and he nearly chokes on the built-up bitterness in the hallway.

He and his dad have always had trouble relating. Exactly this kind of feeling is why he’d resisted coming here in the first place, and look! He doesn’t even have anything new to show for it except a few more questions about Shen Wei, which quite frankly is nothing new at all.

There had been one moment, just one, when he was a kid. He still vividly remembers the look on his father’s usually-stoic face, desperate worry and relief as he’d run forward and pulled Zhao Yunlan into the biggest hug of his life. He can still hear his father’s voice in his ear - Are you hurt? Are you all right? If anything had happened to you I don’t know what I -

It’s sad that, in retrospect, that had probably been the moment their relationship had peaked. After it had come adolescence, and Zhao Yunlan is man enough to admit that he was a little shit through most of it, but plenty of fathers and sons find a way to relate to each other after the hormonal fireworks have calmed down a bit. Once Zhao Yunlan had hit an age where they could start relating more like equals, though, his father had already built up like six walls and a few miles of barbed wire between them. Somehow they’ve never managed to get past any of it.

Zhao Yunlan sighs, sliding from bitter frustration into depression. This is what always happens when he and his father try to interact. He’d hoped that having a work element thrown in would help - this time - but no.

Ugh. At least he has lunch with Shen Wei to look forward to.

And I’m damn well going to enjoy it without suspicion, he thinks vindictively in his father’s direction.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shen Wei is not nervous. He’s well aware that’s probably abnormal.

He pushes the door of the Chemistry staffroom open, mild Professor smile firmly in place. “Professor Ouyang? Ah, hello, sir. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt -”

“Shen Wei!” The Professor rises from the staff table and comes over, leaving the other staff-members behind. “You never have to apologize, dear boy, it’s good to see you. What brings you to this side of the Sciences?”

“Oh - student assessments.” He waves the folder in his hand, nearly dropping the box he has in the other in the process. “I felt like a walk before going home today, so I brought them myself.” His ‘walk’ had also, incidentally, brought him by a route not being watched by Zhao Yunlan’s people. Fortunately for Shen Wei - if unfortunately for the processes of justice - Zhao Yunlan does not have enough manpower to adequately cover the whole of the University, and Shen Wei knows far too many sneaky ways around his own campus.

“Fine, fine.” Professor Ouyang relieves him of the folder. “And how are your students treating you? Another one of mine jumped ship for your intro class, I noticed.” He wags a finger at Shen Wei. “You should lend us your recruiting skills!”

I wonder if that’s what he was always trying to invite me to mahjongg night for, Shen Wei thinks, and feels a tiny tendril of horrified disgust snake its way through his calm.

“I did also have a question for you, Professor,” he says. “Forgive the impertinence, but you have a friend named Zhou, don’t you?”

Professor Ouyang’s expression doesn’t flicker. “Zhou? Why do you ask, Shen Wei?”

“Oh, I - no reason.” He glances away and then back, as if he’s having trouble maintaining eye contact. “Someone mentioned the name, and I was curious. It’s of no matter. Will you let me know if there’s anything wrong with those assessments?”

“Of course, Shen Wei,” Professor Ouyang says. His smile is perfectly cordial and correct, but the gregarious expansiveness of his earlier manner is gone. Bingo. “I’m sure they’re flawless as always.”

Shen Wei blushes and demurs, turning back towards the door. “By the way - Professor, do you have another mahjongg night coming up? I might be able to make this one.”

Oh yes, that definitely hit a mark. Professor Ouyang’s smile is starting to look a little forced. “I’m afraid we don’t have any scheduled at the moment, Shen Wei. I’ll let you know if we plan one.”

“Thank you.” With a few more innocent smiles and an awkward wave, Shen Wei sees himself out the door.

There. That should have set the bait. Now to make himself seem more dangerous.

For the first time, Shen Wei starts to feel the clench of anxiety in his stomach. This, quite frankly, is the part of the plan he finds the most intimidating - not only is it far outside his comfort zone, he’s well aware that -

Well. Once Zhao Yunlan realises what he’s done, this could very well mean the end of their friendship.

He pauses by the door to the quad, peeking through the window. Zhao Yunlan is outside, standing by the statue of Li Shizhen, just as Shen Wei had requested. There is a large group of students clustered on the grass nearby, which isn’t surprising - this section of the quad is shady and popular on nice days. Zhao Yunlan is frowning down at his phone, and the pants he’s wearing today are…

Irrelevant, to the mission at hand. Shen Wei takes a deep breath. Even if Zhao Yunlan hates him for this, he will be alive to feel that emotion, and that’s the true goal.

Be brave.

He pushes the door open. Zhao Yunlan looks up and catches sight of him, breaking into a truly lovely smile.

“Shen Wei! I was starting to think I’d picked the wrong stuffy academic statue to wait beside.”

“No, you have the right one,” Shen Wei says, smiling despite himself. “I’m sorry, though - something’s come up and I won’t be able to sit down for lunch today. I brought you some so at least you won’t have wasted the trip.” He holds out the box.

Zhao Yunlan’s face falls. “Oh… no, I understand. Things come up. Thanks for packing me a lunch anyway.” He smiles, although he still looks pretty disappointed. “I’ll just have to resign myself to pining over your delicious food and relishing the jealous looks I get from my coworkers when I refuse to share.”

Shen Wei laughs. The distance has closed between them. Zhao Yunlan is reaching out for the box.

It’s now or never. Oh no, oh no no no he can’t do this, right out in public without having negotiated it first, this is a betrayal -

At the last instant his nerve fails him, and the kiss lands awkwardly on the corner of Zhao Yunlan’s mouth. It’s probably the chastest, most horrible kiss Zhao Yunlan has ever received.

Zhao Yunlan drops the box of lunch, staring at Shen Wei in astonishment. All of Shen Wei’s plans and worries dribble out of his head and, in their absence, he very sincerely spends a split second desperately wishing to die on the spot.

Zhao Yunlan smiles. It’s the helplessly fond smile that until now Shen Wei has only spotted in pictures, and it’s absolutely breathtaking to see it in person.

“You realize what door you just opened, don’t you, Shen Wei?” Zhao Yunlan says.

Shen Wei watches in slow motion as Zhao Yunlan steps closer. His hand slides around Shen Wei’s side to the small of his back, and the other hand comes up to cup the side of his face.

And then.

And then Zhao Yunlan kisses him.

Everything melts away except Zhao Yunlan: the strength of his hands, the heat of his mouth, the texture of his hair between Shen Wei’s fingers. Time, the campus - everything ceases to matter. How could it matter, when Zhao Yunlan is so close that Shen Wei can feel his chest, his heartbeat, his tongue -

Zhao Yunlan pulls back slowly, and Shen Wei belatedly realizes that his lungs are starved for breath.

“You okay, Professor?” Zhao Yunlan says, smiling at him.

“Oh,” Shen Wei says vaguely. “That’s why people do that.”

Zhao Yunlan laughs and kisses him again - a quick peck to the lips, nothing like the kiss right before it. Shen Wei’s entire body goes ‘!!!!!’ anyway.

“If I let go of you, are you going to be able to stand?” It could sound mocking, but instead it sounds gentle and teasing. Shen Wei has never been gently teased before. He would like Zhao Yunlan to do it again.

“Probably not?” Shen Wei says dazedly. “Oh. I mean, yes, I’m fine. Thank you.”

Zhao Yunlan steps back reluctantly, letting his hands linger a moment until he’s sure Shen Wei is steady. “Well, now I really wish you were free for lunch,” he says. “Maybe dinner and breakfast, too.”

“Dinner and -” Shen Wei repeats, bewildered, and then understands. “Dinner and breakfast?

His eyes must be huge. Zhao Yunlan cracks up laughing. “Okay, we can work up to that. Can I walk you back to your office?”

“No, I - I’m not headed there,” Shen Wei says. “I have to - I’m glad I got to see you. I just have to- ” He can feel his brain regaining its function, and for the first time in his life is sorry to have it happen. He’s aware, now, of his surroundings and the lunch they dropped when they kissed and the fact that at least one of the nearby students applauded at some point in the last few minutes.

He risks a glance to the side. All the students are staring. Half of them are clutching phones. At least one is crying.

“- Have to go rebuild my reputation,” he finishes, his face flaming.

Zhao Yunlan laughs so hard there are tears in his eyes. “Poor Shen Wei! I’d say I’m sorry but I don’t want to lie. I guess at least they won’t hit on you in class now?”

“They would never!” Shen Wei says, scandalized. “You - you dropped your lunch. And you have a case to work on. And, and I’ll see if I can bring your colleagues lunch, too, and then, maybe we could have dinner. Um. Thank you for the kiss. It was very nice and I appreciated it.”

He’s rambling. He shuts his mouth with a click. Oh dear. This stage of the plan has gotten away from him a bit.

Zhao Yunlan wipes his eyes, still laughing a little. “Well, you’re very welcome, Professor Shen. I look forward to cordially exchanging kisses with you in the future as well, and thank you for the lunch. Even scrambled I’m sure it’s still delicious.” He picks up the box and tucks it under one arm.

Oh no. More gentle teasing. This seems very unfair, somehow. “I hope it is. Yes, I - I have to go. Be careful, Zhao Yunlan?”

“Always,” Zhao Yunlan says. “You be careful too, Shen Wei. Remember I’ve got dibs on dinner. And kissing. So if anyone asks for either of those, you’ve already got plans.”

He turns and walks off, whistling to himself. Shen Wei stays where he is, partly because he needs a moment before he can remember where his apartment is, and partly also so when Zhao Yunlan glances back he’ll be able to smile at him.

One of the students wolf whistles and is quickly hushed. Shen Wei winces and turns away. The ‘Caught Reading’ thing Li Qian showed him is probably melting down right now.

That thought banishes the last of the post-kiss haze from his mind and he sobers quickly. Even if the kiss turned out to be more than he expected, even if his heart is still pounding and he can still feel the ghostly touch of Zhao Yunlan’s hands on him, he can’t forget that it, like the prearranged meeting under the statue, was part of a larger plan. He spares a casual glance up as he makes his way down the path and, sure enough, sees the vague outline of someone watching from the Chemistry staffroom window.

So. He needs to get ready. Any time now, the trap might spring shut.

And afterwards… well, whatever happens afterwards, he will at least have the memory of this perfect, amazing, heartbreaking kiss to hold onto.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Zhao Yunlan is in a fog all the way back to the SID. He may have teased Shen Wei for getting so kiss-stupid, but the stark reality is that he was affected nearly as badly himself.

He parks the car and takes a moment to touch his lips, smiling to himself. Who knew the Professor would be such a quick study? That kiss had been… and having Shen Wei pressed up against him, literally melting in his arms, but still with it enough to get his hand in Zhao Yunlan’s hair and tug it just a bit...

He clears his throat and tries to get his mind back on track. Anyway! Yes, crime and murder. Much more important.

He gets a little distracted gathering up the box of lunch, and then again when he gets inside and his coworkers protest loudly at the fact he’s secured some of Shen Wei cooking and isn’t planning to share. Half of them are out gathering evidence and there’s probably technically enough lunch to be divvied up amongst the rest, but oh well. Zhao Yunlan has dibs.

Mine, mine, mine, Zhao Yunlan thinks giddily to himself. Just like Shen Wei’s mouth.

The look on his face at that thought is apparently not very subtle, because Zhu Hong throws a pen at him and tells him to control himself.

“Sorry,” Zhao Yunlan says, lying through his teeth. “What’s the latest? Update me.”

The latest is more steady but slow information-gathering. Normally Zhao Yunlan would be chafing at the time this is taking, but for the moment at least he’s being flooded by so many endorphins that someone could dump water over his head and he probably wouldn’t even care.

“What did the Professor do to you?” Lin Jing asks, sounding a little vexed.

Shen Wei kissed me in public outside the Chemistry Wing, Zhao Yunlan thinks, but fortunately for his coworkers’ sanity he manages to keep the details of this in his head, contenting himself with a dreamy smile. They know him well enough that they can probably-

Wait.

Hold up.

Shen Wei kissed him in public outside the Chemistry Wing.

Shen Wei. Kissed him. In public.

Outside the Chemistry Wing?!?

“MOTHERFUCKER!” Zhao Yunlan howls, standing up so fast that both his chair and his lunch go flying.

“What? What is it?” Zhu Hong yelps. Wang Zheng dives to try and save the paperwork on the table from Zhao Yunlan’s food, Sang Zan following a beat behind her. Lin Jing jumps up too but doesn’t seem to know what to do.

“What just happened - ?”

“Is the Professor evil again?”

“Chief Zhao -”

Zhao Yunlan’s chest is on fire - with betrayal, with embarrassment, with a foreign emotion that might actually be shame. He’s been suspicious of Shen Wei since the start, how could he drop his guard after just a kiss?

“Kiss? You and Professor Shen?”

“What?!”

“Chief Zhao -”

And why make him meet in front of the Chemistry wing? Was he trying to prove how close he could get? Was it some sort of sick power game?

No. No, that doesn’t make any sense. The look on Shen Wei’s face - he’d been terrified until Zhao Yunlan kissed him back. That hadn’t been feigned. Zhao Yunlan is unsure about a lot of things, but not that. And Shen Wei had enjoyed the kiss afterwards. He had.

So what - why this strange behavior? Shen Wei’s hardly shown any exhibitionist tendencies before - he’d barely even managed to lick a lollipop in Zhao Yunlan’s direction when they were completely alone. And why in front of the Chemistry Wing, right after Zhao Yunlan had told him how dangerous it was and had forbidden him from having any contact with -

”I swear to you on my life that I will never allow harm to come to you or your people, and that I will do everything in my power to help you see that justice is done.”

Sickening, relentless comprehension dawns. He’d wanted to know if Shen Wei’s reputation for responding to people in distress was genuine or a con, hadn’t he?

“Oh fuck, oh no,” Zhao Yunlan moans, body going numb with horror. “Oh, Shen Wei, no…”

“Chief, what?” Lin Jing says, exasperated.

Zhao Yunlan kicks the fallen chair out of his way, adrenaline spiking. “Wang Zheng, call everybody and tell them to drop everything and get to the University. Lin Jing, Zhu Hong - car, now!

They scramble after him, practice and training allowing them to grab their gear as they move, even if they’re still several steps behind him and completely confused.

“But Chief Zhao, what’s gone wrong?” Wang Zheng calls after them.

“That stupid fucking idiot has gone and set himself up as goddamn fucking bait!” Zhao Yunlan yells over his shoulder.

Chapter Text

Shen Wei goes straight from the quad to the faculty dorms. He has chosen his timing carefully - after his on-campus obligations are done, so it won’t look suspicious if he leaves a little early and goes home - and he’d been certain to drop his plans casually into his conversation with Professor Ouyang.

There’s really no good place to arrange to be jumped by murderous criminals, but his dorm room is the best option available. It’s a controllable space. It’s not suspicious for him to linger there for a while. The rooms are small and the building should be reasonably deserted this time of day - there will be fewer bystanders to worry about (and none of them students), and he’ll have the advantage if more than one attacker comes after him. In a cramped space, they’ll have to waste half of their energy trying not to hit each other by accident.

They could, of course, decide to wait and see what else he does, and then try something later when he least expects it, but given how quickly they seem to have responded to other threats - and how potentially disastrous he has made his own threat seem by demonstrating his close relationship with the police - he’s guessing the attack will come sooner rather than later.

And catching him alone with few witnesses? Hopefully that will be too tempting for them to resist.

He closes the door to his room behind him and takes a deep, steadying breath, and then he goes to work.

Shen Wei isn’t the type to accumulate many treasured personal possessions, so the few he does feel particularly attached to he boxes up and stashes on the top closet shelf, pushed far back. Then he locates anything potentially weaponizable - kitchen knives, dishes, and so on - and hides them.

That done, he rearranges the furniture to be as obstructive and inconvenient as possible. He selects his sturdiest rolling pin and stands with his back against the wall next to the door, closing his eyes.

And then he waits.

He’s a patient person anyway, and at times like this his ability to focus lends his patience an extra-stubborn edge. Professor Ouyang will probably call the mysterious Zhou to discuss the situation; if they have someone watching Zhao Yunlan and his people, they’ll probably check in with them too. If they’re smart, they have contacts among the student body, and statistically one of them may even know about the ‘Caught Reading’ website. The threat Shen Wei represents - or even just the possibility he’s being used as a mole by the police - will seem credible.

Then they’ll need to dispatch someone to deal with Shen Wei. Given Shen Wei’s general air of harmlessness he would expect one or two low-level thugs, but taking into account the law enforcement connection and the desire to send a particularly graphic message, he may get a larger group or one consisting of higher-level operatives. They’ll want it to be messy and horrifying, so he’s betting on fists or knives rather than guns.

He’s hoping for the second group. It will be a lot more perilous to deal with, but there’s a greater possibility that Zhao Yunlan will be able to get useful information for one of them, and as that will almost certainly be the group Zhu Jiu would be included in, Shen Wei can’t deny that he’s also looking forward to a certain amount of satisfaction from being able to hit Zhu Jiu a lot.

A soft scuff of feet in the hallway makes his adrenaline spike, his senses getting sharper as he tilts his head to listen. Certainly more than one person, but it’s impossible to say beyond that.

The footsteps come to a quiet halt outside the door. The hall is dimly lit, so the light from Shen Wei’s apartment will be easy to see.

Someone whispers something too softly for Shen Wei to make out, and someone else responds. Shen Wei guesses they’re checking to make sure the apartment number is correct.

He tightens his grip on the rolling pin and puts his other hand on the lightswitch, his eyes still shut.

The door crashes open, smacking against the wall and rebounding against the first thug through. Shen Wei hears footsteps running in - three people, at least, maybe four - and then someone says, “Where -”

Shen Wei shuts off the light and opens his eyes.

The thugs exclaim in surprise at the sudden darkness. Someone bangs into a bookcase. Shen Wei, his nightvision preserved, doesn’t give them any time to catch their bearings. He slips quickly into the center of their group and attacks.

The first one gets a rolling pin to the head and goes down hard. Shen Wei gives the second one a brutal jab to the solar plexus - he crumples, gagging, down but not fully out. The thug next to him turns and swings wildly. Shen Wei ducks under his fist and shoves him into a desk chair. He topples over, swearing loudly.

Thug Four grabs him from behind, pinning his arms and making him drop his rolling pin, and the fight devolves into chaos.

Shen Wei manages to throw that attacker off, but someone else clouts him across the ear, making him stumble. He catches himself and manages to get in two good shots to someone’s ribcage, cracking and then fracturing the bones, but one of them manages to find the lightswitch and then the slim advantage that darkness had given him is gone.

The lights blind him for a second. He takes a hit to the face but he remembers the layout of the apartment and rolls behind the short bookcase, reclaiming his rolling pin and breaking the arm of the first person to reach for him.

It gives him a little breathing space. He counts five attackers, three still standing but two on the ground. None of the ones standing are Zhu Jiu, but he can’t tell about the ones out of the fight.

Broken Arm pulls out a knife with his good hand. “Fucking asshole - what the fuck kind of professor are you?!”

“Biology,” Shen Wei says. “By the way, your radius is broken.” He can see the remaining two moving out of the corner of his eye - one with a bloody nose trying to circle the bookcase and pin him in, and the other, clutching his ribs, is moving towards the tipped-over desk chair.

Damn. When they haven’t been caught by surprise, these guys might actually know how to fight as a team. It’s a good thing he’s still largely unscathed, except for the blood he can feel trickling down his face. It’s not going into his eyes, though, so he dismisses it as irrelevant.

“You should get that arm set soon,” Shen Wei continues, using his kindliest Professor voice. “The more it swells up -”

Broken Ribs throws the desk chair, probably regretting it immediately as it strains his injury but Shen Wei is already diving below the bookcase and away from Bloody Nose, who has to skid to a stop to avoid getting hit by the desk chair Shen Wei dodged. Shen Wei comes up by Broken Arm, swinging his rolling pin directly up into his groin, and Broken Arm is firmly out of the fight.

Shen Wei almost makes it to his feet before Bloody Nose tackles him. He manages to get a glancing hit with the rolling pin to Bloody Nose’s head as they go down but the angle is bad and there’s no power behind it. They hit the floor with a crash and Shen Wei loses the rolling pin and most of the breath in his body.

Shit, Shen Wei thinks calmly, and then turns his attention to using his knees and elbows in as many unconventional ways as possible. Bloody Nose grunts in surprise as Shen Wei manages to hit him in the face and wedges his knee between them in preparation to levering him off, but before he can follow through Broken Ribs kicks Shen Wei hard in the side.

Shen Wei grunts in pain and rolls, partially blocking the next kick with the bulk of Bloody Nose’s body. He sinks his teeth into the only part of Bloody Nose he can reach - his arm - and the man swears.

“What did you - he bit me, the little shit! Dammit, stop kicking, you’re getting me more than him, for fuck’s sake just knock him out!”

Broken Ribs casts about for the discarded rolling pin, and Shen Wei realises he is out of time. He rolls again, making Bloody Nose swear and tighten his grip, but he wasn’t trying to free himself. He was trying to reach Broken Arm’s dropped knife.

His hand closes on the handle. He’d been hoping to get through this without killing anyone, since Zhao Yunlan won’t be able to question corpses, but if Shen Wei doesn’t manage to end this fight there won’t be anyone for Zhao Yunlan to question anyway.

He flips the knife and brings his hand up, aiming for Bloody Nose’s neck -

SHEN WEI!

Oh, thank goodness. Zhao Yunlan figured out the plan - and faster than Shen Wei had anticipated, too. He drops the knife and goes limp as Zhao Yunlan and his people rush into the room.

Someone yanks Bloody Nose away and an instant later Zhao Yunlan crouches over him, expression somewhere between panic and anger, checking him over with the hand not holding a gun.

“Shen Wei, are you all right? Where are you hurt? Don’t move, let me look -”

“I’m fine,” Shen Wei says, smiling up at him. “You have very good timing.” There is something very attractive about Zhao Yunlan right now. Perhaps it’s the rescue element or the intense focus of his attention. A little bit of Shen Wei is worried that it might be the action-star pose he’s accidentally striking with his gun.

“I have good -” Zhao Yunlan starts to repeat, and stops abruptly. The anger on his face wins out. “What the fuck were you thinking, Shen Wei? Do you have any idea how fucking dangerous this was? Why would you ever think that I would want -”

He cuts himself off abruptly, to the extent of looking away and putting his hand over his mouth.

Shen Wei blinks up at him, startled. Zhao Yunlan seems really upset about this. He’d anticipated that, of course, with the kiss part of the plan, but it hadn’t occurred to him that the fight would get this kind of reaction.

He really probably should have. Zhao Yunlan has been cleaning up the results of these kinds of attacks for a while now. Of course he had all sorts of horrifying images in his head that he could apply to Shen Wei as soon as he’d realised what Shen Wei was up to.

He should have thought of that. “Zhao Yunlan, I apologize for scaring you,” he says, and genuinely means it. He sits up, wincing a little - he’s going to have some very impressive bruises in a few hours. “I had intended to subdue the attackers before you had a chance to worry -”

Shut up.” Zhao Yunlan hisses. “Just, fucking shut up, Shen Wei. Don’t you dare say another word.”

He stops again, breathing carefully. Shen Wei holds his tongue, a nasty tight feeling growing in his stomach. He’d anticipated that Zhao Yunlan would be upset. He had. He’d known it would hurt to be…

He’d planned for this. It’s for the best. Even now he can see Lao Chu and the others handcuffing and searching the thugs, their movements hampered by the small space and the detritus of the furniture. Daqing rolls over the one Shen Wei had hit in the solar plexus at the very beginning of the attack and Shen Wei recognizes Zhu Jiu - older, with inadvisable dyed-purple hair and obviously groggy, but recognizable.

If this winds up breaking his heart, well, he’s still accomplished his goals. Zhao Yunlan has at least one high-level operative to question for his investigation. Shen Wei has successfully shifted the focus from the police to himself. Even now, when the police will have more leads and be more of a threat, Shen Wei will remain a prime target for having embarrassed Professor Ouyang and scored a win against his group. It’s exactly what Shen Wei had hoped for.

He still has the memory of the kiss.

Zhao Yunlan moves his hand and turns his head slightly towards Shen Wei. He won’t look him in the eye. “Do you need to go to the hospital? Nod or shake your head.”

The feeling in his stomach increases. He shakes his head. None of his injuries are life-threatening and all of them can be tended to with an ice pack or the contents of a standard first aid kit.

“Stay here. Don’t move. Once these assholes are restrained I’ll have someone take you to the station.”

He stands up and walks away without looking back.

All the air seems to leave the room. Shen Wei sits absolutely still, attempting to look obedient and helpful and not at all like his chest feels like it’s caved in. If his hands are clenched tightly enough in his lap to make the joints ache, well, that’s nobody’s business but his.

He tries to call up the memory of Zhao Yunlan’s mouth on his, his hands on his body, and finds that he can’t. He can’t even call up the brief touches as Zhao Yunlan had checked him over just now, or the ghostly touch of Kun Lun’s arm around his shoulders all those years ago.

Even that is lost to him.

Shen Wei breathes once around the ball of fire at the center of himself, and then a second time, and then a third, and he lets his focus narrow down to just that feeling: the coolness of the air against the roof of his mouth as he breathes in. The pressure of the garters around his biceps. The hard floor beneath him. The ache of his bruises.

Air. Biceps. Floor. Bruises.

He can survive this.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Zhao Yunlan is so furious that he makes Lin Jing drive Shen Wei back to the station. He says it’s because he needs to keep an eye on their prisoners, but nobody seems to buy it.

They do what he tells them, though. That’s the important part.

Three of the thugs are badly injured enough to be sent to the hospital - one with a broken arm, one with broken ribs, and the third unconscious. The two remaining, albeit bruised and bloody and, in one case, still wheezing slightly, are deemed healthy enough to be seen to at the station.

Where the hell did a boringly ordinary scholar learn to dish out this kind of damage?

Zhao Yunlan pinches the bridge of his nose to cut that thought off, and refocuses. He sends Zhu Hong and Xiao Guo back to the station and keeps Lao Chu and Daqing with him at the hospital, hovering menacingly.

“We’ll have the broken arm patched up pretty fast,” the doctor says, tone carefully neutral. “The other two we’d like to keep a little longer for observation.”

Zhao Yunlan nods and lets the doctor go back to work. “Daqing, you and Lao Chu take him back to the station when he’s released. Lao Chu, you stay there and start the interrogations, Daqing, come back when they’re all secured. I’ll keep an eye on these two while you’re gone.”

Daqing and Lao Chu trade looks. Daqing draws the non-verbal short straw.

“Chief,” he says hesitantly, “are you sure you don’t want to go back to the station yourself?”

Zhao Yunlan glares.

Bypassing the usual threat to Daqing’s salary and going straight to menace should be a pretty alarming indicator that Zhao Yunlan has left his usual casual demeanor behind. It’s a sign of how seriously Daqing seems to be taking this situation that he swallows hard but refuses to back down.

“You never want to miss interrogations. This is a big case.” Daqing shoots a desperate look at Lao Chu.

“Talk to the Professor,” Lao Chu says abruptly. “And before you start yelling, I’m saying that because he’ll tell you more than he’ll tell any of us and we need to know what his deal is.”

“He obviously doesn’t tell me much,” Zhao Yunlan snaps. It’s bad enough that Shen Wei’s got him so twisted up - the last thing he needs is an attack from his own damn subordinates.

“You didn’t see his face when you walked away from him at the apartment,” Daqing says. “I’m pretty sure one word from you will make him cave right now, as long as it’s the right one.”

“Oh, come on,” Zhao Yunlan scoffs, frustration rising in his throat. “He pulls off a stunt like this and you really think he’ll suddenly just start being honest because he’s having feelings? Have you been reading Sang Zan’s romance novels again?”

Lao Chu sighs. He looks like this conversation is giving him a migraine. Well, tough shit - he and Daqing started it.

“Lao Chu, you’re a cynical, paranoid bastard. Don’t wimp out on me now,” Zhao Yunlan says. Dimly, he’s aware that he’s being meaner than usual and that picking more than a play-fight with Lao Chu is a bad idea, but he’s feeling angry and disappointed and scared and about a hundred other things as the same time and it’s all building up inside of him and he needs to do something or he’s going to explode.

Lao Chu shakes his head and stares at the ceiling, as if this situation is trying his very last microscopic iota of patience. “Okay,” he says finally. “I agree with Daqing. You need to be the one to talk to him. He came up with a plan that very well could have killed him, and he did it for you. Whatever you think he feels or is faking, you have to take that into account.”

“Just because he came up with a stupid plan -” Zhao Yunlan begins hotly.

“Not stupid,” Lao Chu says, cutting him off.

“It was incredibly stupid!” Zhao Yunlan yells. “Who just decides to get jumped by criminals? What did he think was going to happen?”

“It wasn’t stupid,” Lao Chu says doggedly, raising his voice, “if the goal of the plan was to protect you and dying was an acceptable risk.”

Zhao Yunlan and Daqing both stare at him, speechless.

“...What?” Zhao Yunlan manages after a moment.

Lao Chu scowls. “If I have to explain it more than that you’re dumber than you think he is.”

“But why would he - we barely even know each other,” Zhao Yunlan protests, bewildered. He feels a little taken out at the knees. The roiling emotions are still there, but for the moment they’re swamped by shocked confusion.

“You could find out if you talked to him,” Daqing says, still looking sideways at Lao Chu but willing to take advantage of an opening if he sees one.

Zhao Yunlan sighs and lets his head drop down, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. He has a strong feeling that seeing Shen Wei will most likely just make the confusing emotions worse, and he has a nearly visceral desire to not let that happen. He’s tired of being confused. He’s tired of only understanding half of what he’s feeling and nothing of what Shen Wei is.

Ugh. Lao Chu and Daqing are right. He has to talk to Shen Wei.

Well, he’ll give himself a little something to cling on to: he has to yell at Shen Wei.

He groans theatrically. “You are terrible and I hate you both! Fine, I’ll take the prisoner back and I’ll start my interrogations off with the Professor. But I know you’re both just trying to get out of doing the hard jobs! I’m going to find some beat cops to take over for you here, just see if I don’t. There’s paperwork at the station to take care of.”

Daqing’s shoulders slump with a comical amount of relief at hearing Zhao Yunlan’s banter come back, and for a moment he feels bad about what he’s put them through.

“Aw, Chief, it’s not like that!” Daqing whines, playing along. Lao Chu just rolls his eyes, but that’s pretty normal too.

“Sure, sure,” Zhao Yunlan says. “Package the prisoner up, I’ll get going.”

What happens when he gets back to the station… well, he doesn’t think anyone knows that, least of all him and Shen Wei.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Chief has been gone for ten minutes and Daqing is still staring at him.

What,” Lao Chu snaps finally.

“You were able to put yourself in Professor Shen’s shoes pretty fast,” Daqing says. “Did you ever decide that -”

“Stop talking to me,” Lao Chu says.

“I work with so many grumpy people,” Daqing complains.

Chapter Text

When Zhao Yunlan gets to the station, Shen Wei is sitting stiffly next to the main table, blood still all over his face.

“You didn’t patch him up?” Zhao Yunlan asks Zhu Hong in an undertone, surprised. Zhu Hong’s hardly the most maternal of their little group, but she’s usually pretty conscientious.

“He insisted that we treat the prisoners first,” Zhu Hong says, shrugging. “We only just finished. You know the Professor bit one of them? Here, I’ll take your criminal.” She shoves the first aid box in his hands and grabs his captive before he can protest.

Damn. No way around it now. Shen Wei was watching that whole exchange, expression stoic and unreadable. Zhao Yunlan sighs and gestures for Shen Wei to follow him to his office.

Might as well get the formalities out of the way first. There’s the obvious cut on his face, right by his hairline, which had dripped blood down his face and onto his shirt. He’s been favoring his side, too, and his left sleeve by his dumb garter thing has a tear. The fabric around it is darker than it should be - likely a minor knife wound, given what the bad guys had been waving around when Zhao Yunlan’s people has arrived.

(Zhao Yunlan is not, not thinking about what else that knife could have done, and he does not look at the crime scene photos on the bulletin board as they walk to the office, and he absolutely does not imagine Shen Wei lying in a pool of his own blood -)

Okay. He’s imagining it a little. “Take off your shirt and sit down. Let me see the damage.” Maybe checking Shen Wei over will help erase that image that he is not, not thinking about.

Shen Wei stops short of the desk and doesn’t sit. “That won’t be necessary. I just need to clean the blood off my face and I’ll be fine.”

Zhao Yunlan doesn’t dignify that with a verbal response - he leans over and pokes Shen Wei hard in the arm. Hardly the most mature retort, but also probably the one least likely to lead to a shouting match.

Shen Wei hisses and flinches, looking at his arm in surprise. He probably didn’t even realize the cut was there. Adrenaline’s a hell of a drug.

The wound gives him a momentary pause, but he rallies quickly. “If you’d let me use your first-aid kit, I can quickly get this all seen to -”

Ha ha, fuck no, screw you, Zhao Yunlan thinks. He gives Shen Wei an insincere smile and waves his phone. “I have to take pictures of your injuries for the files.”

Kind of true - it’s always good to have a complete file. Still, given that six cops had interrupted Shen Wei mid-beating, hardly necessary as proof of a crime. It’s mostly only necessary as a way to annoy Shen Wei.

Some kind of expression crosses Shen Wei’s face, but it’s too subtle for Zhao Yunlan to identify. “Surely one of your subordinates -”

“Are you uncomfortable with me?” Zhao Yunlan asks flatly. By protocol he should offer to find someone else, but screw protocol. If Shen Wei didn’t want to deal with the fallout, then he shouldn’t have used the best kiss Zhao Yunlan’s had in years as a fucking distraction. “You didn’t seem that uncomfortable with me earlier.”

“I apologize for that,” Shen Wei says woodenly.

Zhao Yunlan waits. Nope, that seems to be all that Shen Wei wants to say about the subject, and abruptly Zhao Yunlan’s frustration boils over. If Shen Wei had looked guilty, or showed any kind of genuine feeling at all - but no. Of course not. He’s wearing his stupid blank-faced mask.

Zhao Yunlan slams the first-aid kit down on the desk, viciously pleased to see Shen Wei jump just a tiny bit.

“Really. You apologize. Would you like to apologize for setting yourself up as bait? Forcing the police to haul ass across the city to save you from your own idiocy?” Making me imagine you sliced to ribbons and beaten to -

No. Focus.

“Yes. I apologize for that, too,” Shen Wei says.

“Well, I don’t accept any of your apologies, Shen Wei,” Zhao Yunlan says harshly. Shen Wei’s jaw tightens a fraction, and then his expression smooths over. “You used us. You used me. And for what? To get yourself killed? To help us out? Do you really think we’re so useless that we need to kill civilians in order to solve cases? Why the hell was this all necessary?”

“No,” Shen Wei says, his voice cracking just slightly. “No, of course I don’t think you’re useless, I know you’re very good at what you do. But I also knew you would never ask me to do what I did, and I wanted -”

He cuts himself off.

“Wanted what, Shen Wei?” Zhao Yunlan asks. Lao Chu’s ridiculous theory is on the tip of his tongue, but he wants Shen Wei to say it himself.

When Shen Wei doesn’t answer, he repeats himself more loudly, getting right up in Shen Wei’s personal space. “Wanted what, Shen Wei?

Shen Wei swallows, avoiding Zhao Yunlan’s eyes. “I wanted to help.”

Zhao Yunlan’s blood feels like it’s boiling now, a dangerous combination of raging emotions and the adrenaline surge of an interrogation. He shoves Shen Wei hard enough to make him stumble back a step. “Making lunch is helpful! Buying us coffee is helpful! How the fuck was this helpful, huh? What the fuck kind of asinine plan was this? How stupid are you? Was this some kind of sick game? Who the fuck are you?

Shen Wei turns around abruptly so his back is to Zhao Yunlan, but not before Zhao Yunlan sees his composure break. The glimpse he gets is too quick for him to pick up on anything more than raw feeling, but it’s enough.

“That’s what it all comes back to, doesn’t it?” Zhao Yunlan says. “Your reactions have been screwed up from the beginning. Nothing about you makes sense. Who are you?”

No response. Shen Wei’s shoulders are tight with tension but his back gives no other information.

The rage fizzles as fast as it had spiked, leaving Zhao Yunlan tired and empty. Why did Daqing think he’d be able to get anything out of Shen Wei? A few days ago, maybe he’d have agreed. Shen Wei had puzzled him then, but he’d been… he’d thought that at least Shen Wei felt that same confusing affection too. Zhao Yunlan had known where he stood with that - the beginnings of a connection, maybe one that would be really good.

Now? Now he’s honestly about thirty seconds from arresting Shen Wei and letting Zhu Hong at him, and it’s just… exhausting.

“Just take your shirt off, Xiao Wei,” he says dully.

It must be the sudden change in tone that gets Shen Wei’s attention, because he whips around and stares at Zhao Yunlan.

“I’ll send one of the others in to get your statement,” Zhao Yunlan continues bitterly. “Maybe you’ll feel more comfortable talking to one of them."

He goes back over and opens the first-aid kit. A moment later Shen Wei seats himself gingerly on the edge of the desk.

Fine, then.

“Shirt off,” Zhao Yunlan reminds him.

Shen Wei complies slowly, eyes never leaving the side of Zhao Yunlan’s face. Zhao Yunlan is honestly just too tired for this shit. Why is Shen Wei being so weird now?

It takes forever for Shen Wei to undo all the fiddly little buttons and he seems to be going slowly on purpose, and Zhao Yunlan gets irritated before he’s even halfway done. He bats Shen Wei’s hands away and finishes the job himself, briskly and impersonally, trying hard not to think about how after That Kiss he’d anticipated doing something very similar in a very different context.

They get a little tangled up as Zhao Yunlan tugs the shirt down Shen Wei’s arms without thinking to deal with the garters first, and in another context it would be funny. Instead, Zhao Yunlan has to take a step back and breathe so he won’t lose his temper again.

Shen Wei finishes getting the button-down and undershirt off by himself and tucks them aside, sitting meekly with his shoulders slightly hunched. He looks like he’s trying to seem small and harmless, or maybe he’s just uncomfortable without all his starched layers of clothing armor.

Zhao Yunlan lets him stew for minute, studying him with his arms crossed. Shen Wei is well-built under his shirt, which is unsurprising. He’s going to have some very impressive bruises in a few hours - there are deep red marks springing up all along his side and scattered randomly across the rest of him. The knife slice is, as anticipated, minor, and will only take a few butterfly bandages and a little gauze to close.

He also has several scars, which Zhao Yunlan wouldn’t have expected before finding him still alive in a room full of half-conscious gangsters, and he has to stop and breathe again before flicking the first aid box open and getting out the disinfectant.

Shen Wei takes a breath as Zhao Yunlan gets to work, as if he’s going to say something, and then lets it out slowly. Zhao Yunlan doesn’t respond. Either Shen Wei will share or he won’t. Maybe it will even be the truth.

A moment later Shen Wei does it again, only this time he finds the nerve to keep going.

“About twenty years ago,” he says quietly, “you had a very bad day and ended up hiding in a cupboard with a boy your own age.”

It takes a moment for Zhao Yunlan to figure out what the hell Shen Wei is even talking about, and when he does it’s like getting an electric shock directly to his brain. He drops the gauze and takes a half-step back, staring at Shen Wei.

He remembers that day. Of course he does. He’d been kidnapped, had been absolutely sure his father would rather crush the kidnappers under the force of the law than negotiate, and just before he could panic completely some terrified kid his own age had sprung him loose and hidden him in a cupboard until the bad guys were… well, honestly, Zhao Yunlan had never figured out what happened to the bad guys.

He’d been so scared he’d called himself Kun Lun, hoping to borrow courage from his hero. He’d given the boy a lollipop.

All the pieces slot together, so easily and impossibly that he can’t believe he didn’t think of it before and also can’t believe it can be true. “You were the boy in the cupboard,” he says numbly.

Shen Wei nods. “I was too scared to speak. You put your arm around my shoulders and told me I was brave.”

Zhao Yunlan’s knees feel weak. He sinks down on the floor, feeling a little like he’s going to pass out. “You got me out of the building and pointed out the road, and I thought you were right behind me but when I turned back you were gone.” His father and damn near half the cops in the city had descended before he’d had a chance to work up the nerve to go looking for his savior.

“I had… something else to do.” Shen Wei kneels down beside him, watching his expression worriedly. “Are you all right? I’m sorry to bring all this back again. I know you probably don’t want to think about that day much.”

“I don’t mind thinking about it,” Zhao Yunlan says. He really doesn’t - it had been upsetting, but not as traumatizing as it probably would have been if Shen Wei hadn’t gotten him out. He’d barely even had nightmares about it - once the fear had worn off, it had seemed like a grand adventure. “You figured this out that first day in the station, didn’t you? Is that why you did all this?”

“Yes.” Shen Wei’s hands twist in his lap and then he forcibly stills them. “I wanted - I wanted to protect you. You were very kind to me that day.”

Zhao Yunlan gives a half-hysterical bark of laughter. “I was kind? Shen Wei, I’m pretty sure you saved my life. By all rights I should be the one coming up with half-baked plans to rescue you. Also, I hate to break it to you, but I’m kind of a jerk.”

“No,” Shen Wei says immediately. “Zhao Yunlan… you can’t know, and I’m glad you can’t know, how much of an effect your kindness had. There hadn’t been much of it in my life up to that point, and it…” He stops, looking torn, and then continues. “There’s more than one way to save someone.”

Well, that’s fairly appalling. What had Zhao Yunlan even done? He remembers the lollipop, and a fair bit of bluster about how not scared he was, and he might have put his arm around Shen Wei at some point, mostly because he needed comfort and it was clear Shen Wei wouldn’t be able to provide any from his end.

That’s a pitifully tiny amount of kindness to have left such a long-lasting mark. Looking at Shen Wei’s face, though, he doesn’t think it’s a lie. He looks anxious and half-worshipful, as if Zhao Yunlan is something special and not just an ordinary person. It’s a little discomfiting to be the subject of it, but when he strains his memory he can almost remember that same expression on the face of the boy in the cupboard.

Zhao Yunlan shakes his head, still floored by the revelation. “What were you even doing there? And where did you go afterwards? As soon as I became a cop I tried to get the files and figure out what happened, but my dad had had them sealed.” And boy, hadn’t that caused a fight. Sometimes Zhao Yunlan wonders if that hadn’t been the fight that had really ended all hope of repairing their relationship, but honestly, it has some stiff competition. “Did you ever find out what all that screaming was about?”

Shen Wei shudders. “It - there was - I guess you could say there was an internal difference in opinion. Most of them died. That’s what the screaming was.”

And young Shen Wei had walked right back into it. Why? Was whoever was supposed to be looking out for him in that fight?

“Lucky break for us, I guess,” Zhao Yunlan says. “Had you been kidnapped too?”

“I wasn’t there willingly,” Shen Wei says. “I’m sorry I left you outside by yourself. I wanted to see if there was anyone else I could save, but there… there wasn’t.”

”Are these people using children? As couriers or messengers or anything like that?”

Aw, fuck. Oh, Shen Wei… Is that why his father had warned him away and said Shen Wei wasn’t what he seemed?

From the look on his face, Shen Wei had ended up with Zhao Yunlan’s share of the nightmares. He squeezes Shen Wei’s shoulder, torn between his cop instinct to press for more details and his human instinct to respond to someone in distress. It hasn’t escaped his attention that Shen Wei’s still being pretty cagey with the facts, but it’s hard to say whether that’s due to trauma or another attempt to cover up even more secrets.

The human instinct wins out. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

Shen Wei’s breath hitches. “I’m sorry I wasn’t open with you earlier. I didn’t - I wasn’t sure how you’d react.”

Zhao Yunlan sighs and pulls Shen Wei into a one-armed side-hug. Shen Wei doesn’t seem to know what to do about it, but he pats Zhao Yunlan awkwardly on the knee and Zhao Yunlan decides to take it as appreciation.

“I’m still plenty mad at you, Shen Wei. Long-buried secret childhood connection or not, this was a seriously stupid plan and we’re going to have a lot of words about it. But I guess I can cut you some slack for childhood trauma.”

“Ha,” Shen Wei says drily. “Zhao Yunlan, I want to apologize for the kiss, as well.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Zhao Yunlan says automatically, even though yes, he is still pretty pissed about it.

“I think we can both agree that you did a better job at it than I did,” Shen Wei says. “But no, I wanted to apologize for using that moment of intimacy for something… underhanded. It should have been more…” he makes a frustrated gesture with one hand, like he can’t find the right word, and finally says “...romantic,” in a resigned tone, like he thinks Zhao Yunlan will make fun of him for it.

“I wish it had happened that way too,” Zhao Yunlan says evenly.

“I honestly thought you’d be a lot more upset about the kiss than the fight,” Shen Wei admits. “I’m sorry. That probably doesn’t make anything better.”

“It gives me a slightly disturbing insight into your character, which up until now I have had a lot of trouble making out,” Zhao Yunlan allows. “And yeah, I’m still not okay with all of it, but I’m willing to keep talking to you about it. Just not right now, because I have to go interrogate some bad guys.”

“Well, duty calls,” Shen Wei says. “I’m - I’m very grateful you’re still willing to - I had anticipated that maybe one of the outcomes of this would be that you would never want to - I’m glad that I was wrong,” he finishes.

I’ll give him points for trying to talk about feelings, but I’m taking some away for doing it really badly, Zhao Yunlan thinks, giving him a flat look. Shen Wei is actually looking a little winded by the effort of his extremely terrible attempt.

“In the future, maybe examine that thought a little more closely, huh?” Zhao Yunlan says.

Shen Wei gives him a little wince of a smile. “I’ll try.”

“Okay.” Zhao Yunlan gets himself up and hauls Shen Wei after him. Shen Wei looks surprised by the gesture, but the fact that he accepts it probably speaks volumes about both his desire to humor Zhao Yunlan right now and the way he’s feeling in the post-fight adrenaline crash.

“You think you can finish patching yourself up? I’m sorry to bail mid-task, but -”

“No, of course, please go,” Shen Wei says. “I’m quite all right.”

Bullshit, but close enough. “I’ll send someone back in with an ice pack for you. Those bruises are going to hurt soon.”

From the flicker of expression on Shen Wei’s face they already do, but he just nods and smiles. “Thank you.”

Once he’s outside with the office door shut behind him, Zhao Yunlan takes a moment to pause and re-center his mind, trying to transition from ‘emotional upset’ to ‘hardass cop questioning criminals’. The faster they move, the faster they might be able to catch Ouyang and SuDep with their hands dirty, but he won’t be helping anyone if he walks into an interrogation with his head all over the place.

And given that in just the past few hours he’s swung from heady first-kiss-of-the-relationship endorphins to betrayal to terror to anger to… whatever word best fits finding out that your current mysterious kind-of-crush saved your life when you were ten and may have imprinted on you like a baby duck in the process, ‘all over the place’ is a pretty good description of his emotional state right now.

He doesn’t have the time to sort through all this right now. He feels a little more certain that Shen Wei is on their side, even if he doesn’t like how Shen Wei’s gone about trying to help them, and he’s just going to have to leave it at that for the moment.

“Chief Zhao?” Wang Zheng asks from right next to him.

They’ve all pretty much gotten used to Wang Zheng’s unconscious knack for moving silently, so Zhao Yunlan doesn’t jump. “Yeah, I’m coming.”

“Actually, I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

The others he might snap at, but he has a bit of a soft spot for Wang Zheng, which probably means she got deputized by them to ask this question in the first place. Still, he can’t help but smile a little bit.

“It’s been a hell of a day, Wang Zheng, but I’ll be fine. Let’s go interrogate some bad guys.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shen Wei is living on borrowed time, and he knows it.

He’s glad that Zhao Yunlan seems to have taken the news of their shared past well, and he’s beyond glad that they seem to have reached a more equitable place in their friendship, but he’s also very clear on the fact that Zhao Yunlan is a cop first and foremost and ‘childhood trauma’ is only going to protect his secrets for so long.

Sooner or later, Zhao Yunlan’s curiosity is going to win out, and he’ll start digging. And since Zhao Yunlan is a very good cop, sooner or later he’s certain to find out the rest of the story. Honestly, it’s probably only due to Zhao Xinci’s pride that he hasn’t found out already.

Shen Wei has no illusions about how that will go. Zhao Yunlan is vastly kinder and more open-minded than his father, but even he must have limits.

Strangely, there’s almost a kind of peace in knowing that the explosion is coming soon. Shen Wei has done what he set out to do, more or less, and what comes next is out of his control. Preventing it is impossible. There’s no use worrying about it anymore.

He hadn’t realized how much worrying about it was costing him until he stopped.

After Zhao Yunlan leaves the room, Shen Wei finishes tending to his wounds, puts his shirt back on, and drags Zhao Yunlan’s guest chair across the floor until he can see part of the main room when he sits in it. It’s not a great view - he can’t see the front door or the desks everyone works at, but he has a decent view of the end of the big table and, once he opens the door a little, into the hallway outside the office.

And then he waits, and watches.

It’s hard to build a narrative of what he sees - there’s a fair deal of walking back and forth and looking at things on the table, and nothing that’s being said in the main room echoes down the hall loudly enough for him to make it out. Most of what he can tell is that everyone seems focused and unhurt.

Every so often a few people will walk down the hall, and he manages to catch some tiny snippets of conversation that way.

“- doctor says maybe tomorrow, so have Lao Chu -”

“- the surveillance photos?”

“Seem to have done a pretty good job compartmentalizing their -”

“- smirks at me one more time I’m going to -”

The smirk is probably Zhu Jiu - he doesn’t stand out particularly well in Shen Wei’s memory, but Shen Wei remembers him being smug even then, and if he really is taking inspiration from Ye Zun -

Well. No one who had to deal with Ye Zun was ever able to forget that particular smile he’d used right when he was about to do something horrifying. Zhu Jiu has no chance of ever duplicating it, but Shen Wei bets he can still be extremely irritating. And really, at this point he just has to play for time and give Professor Ouyang’s group a chance to bury everything. Getting arrested for assault isn’t great, but it’s a long sight better than assault, drugrunning, and murder.

Just like that, Shen Wei’s doom closes in on him.

Feeling disconnected from reality, he gets up and walks into the main room. Zhao Yunlan looks up from where he’s scowling at what seem to be surveillance photos, his expression getting a tired edge when he sees Shen Wei.

“Shen Wei, I’m sorry but I don’t have a moment right now -”

“I can get Zhu Jiu to talk,” Shen Wei says.

Zhao Yunlan flounders a little, caught off-guard. “I - well, thank you for offering, Shen Wei, but as a civilian I can’t let you into an interrogation. And I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but we’re not allowed to beat prisoners with rolling pins.”

“I don’t need to go into the room,” Shen Wei says. It really is extraordinary how calm he feels right now. “If he can see me through the door it will be enough.”

Zhao Yunlan sighs, rubbing his forehead. Shen Wei has become a problem for him, and he already has enough of those. “Look, Shen Wei, you put up a good fight in the apartment, but I doubt that scared them enough to -”

As if in a dream, Shen Wei walks over to the wanted board by the door. He stands next to the mugshot of Ye Zun and turns to face them. And then he tilts his head a little bit, and smiles -

He knows he’s gotten the expression right when Lao Chu draws his gun. Zhao Yunlan lets out an explosive “Fuck!

Shen Wei drops the pose. “If I can borrow Zhu Hong’s eyeliner I should be able to fake the tattoo well enough to pass at a distance.”

They’re all staring at him. The shock on Zhao Yunlan’s face is strong enough to prevent Shen Wei from telling what else he might be feeling.

He should probably keep talking. They probably want explanations and reassurances right now.

He can’t find the words.

Surprisingly, it’s Lao Chu who makes the first move. He lowers his gun slightly and says, “You’re the one who took him down, aren’t you?”

Shen Wei nods. He can’t bring himself to look at Zhao Yunlan.

Lao Chu glances over at his boss, nods to himself, and puts the gun away. “Zhu Hong, get your eyeliner. Professor, do you need the picture to copy from?”

“No.” The tattoo is one of the many memories Ye Zun has given him that he’ll never be free of. There’s always been a part of him that -

No. Not the time. He needs to be able to hang on to this calmness for a little while longer.

“Here.” Zhu Hong gives him a wary look, and then hands the eyeliner to Lao Chu. “It’s okay if you use it up.”

“Thank you.”

Zhu Hong gives him a tense wince of a smile and steps back.

Shen Wei takes the eyeliner from Lao Chu. He’s committed now. Hopefully if he concentrates on recreating the artistry of the tattoo, he won’t have to focus on watching his face slowly turn into Ye Zun’s in the mirror.

Dimly, through his protective calm, he can feel a tendril of horror uncurl in his stomach at that thought, but he quashes it ruthlessly. He’ll have time to fall apart about this later, when he’s done everything he can for Zhao Yunlan’s investigation and he’s back in his apartment, alone again.

He can keep everything shut down until then.

Chapter Text

Zhao Yunlan’s brain is whirling.

Distantly, he’s aware of Lao Chu’s questions and the exchange of Zhu Hong’s eyeliner, the visual of Shen Wei’s back as he walks towards the bathroom. He knows he should probably say something.

He just doesn’t have the brainpower for it. Every synapse, every neuron feels like it’s firing at once, and all of it is focused on Shen Wei’s revelation. It’s like he’s been trying to complete a Shen Wei puzzle made of nothing but identical center pieces, and someone just handed him all the edges.

A brother. It has to be. An identical twin brother, at that, and one who, all the evidence seems to suggest, was not a nice person to be around. What does that do to a child like Shen Wei, who at ten years old was already willing to risk himself in order to rescue a stranger?

He’d wondered where Shen Wei had learned to spot desperation. (By looking inside.) He’d wondered why Shen Wei had gone back into the building as a child. (His brother.)

He’d wondered why there was screaming. Was that Ye Zun too?

It makes sense, if it was. It makes a lot of sense. Shen Wei’s over-developed sense of responsibility, his reticence, his reluctance to share his past - if his brother was able to cause screaming like that as a ten-year-old, then Shen Wei’s probably been doing damage control for him - on him - his entire life, right up until he put him in prison for good. And then once Ye Zun was taken care of, he’d transferred that overcranked sense of responsibility and caretaking to anyone who came near him: students with money troubles, anyone upset or being abused.

To a cop with, Zhao Yunlan is self-aware enough to admit, not the greatest sense of self-preservation.

It’s no wonder Shen Wei didn’t want to tell Zhao Yunlan any of this. Too many people, especially law-enforcement-type people, would look from Ye Zun to Shen Wei and not be able to see farther than Shen Wei’s face into the gentle, kind person inside, one who at every possible opportunity chose mercy and compassion instead of violence or power.

Well, except when protecting others. And given what he’s heard of Ye Zun, Zhao Yunlan is no longer surprised that Shen Wei knows how to hold his own in a fight, or that he has scars. He doesn’t know enough about Ye Zun to say whether he felt the same sense of protection for Shen Wei as Shen Wei clearly did for him, but he doesn’t think it’s a stretch to assume that as Ye Zun was growing up and starting to form the ways in which he reacted to the world, some of those methods would have been practiced on the most convenient available target.

Or... is it darker than that? Is there a part of Shen Wei, a part that’s more like his brother, that he’s deliberately buried? Zhao Yunlan has seen unexpected intensity from Shen Wei before, and Shen Wei had done a brutally efficient job of defending himself against his attackers. The hardest thing that normal people face in a fight, Zhao Yunlan has noticed, is breaking through that last mental barrier of deliberately causing harm to another person. Shen Wei had had no hesitation. He’d broken bones. Was that because it was done in protection of someone he cared about? Or was it because he and Ye Zun are more alike than he wants to acknowledge?

No.

He’s going too far into speculation. It’s tempting to fill in the details with what he now knows but that’s dangerous thinking, especially when it comes to Shen Wei. It’s the danger of a cop brain, unfortunately.

Hang on a minute. Speaking of cops -

“Chief?”

Zhao Yunlan blinks, startled by Lao Chu’s hand on his shoulder, his last half-formed thought flickering out before reaching completion. He glances automatically in Shen Wei’s last known direction; the bathroom door is just closing behind him, so Zhao Yunlan can’t have been lost in his head for too long.

“Yeah,” Zhao Yunlan says, forcing himself back into the here and now. “Get the purple jerk back into the interrogation room. As soon as Shen Wei’s ready I’ll start on him.” He pauses, strategy brain coming back online. “How badly do you think seeing Shen Wei as Ye Zun’s going to rattle him?”

Lao Chu suppresses a shiver. Zhao Yunlan can relate - there had been something about the expression Shen Wei had had, the way he’d stood, that had reached straight down into Zhao Yunlan’s lizard hindbrain and tweaked some primal fear response. Even knowing it was Shen Wei and Shen Wei would never hurt him - well, it had still been effective.

“I think it’ll rattle him pretty badly,” Zhu Hong says with feeling.

“Was that really what Ye Zun was like?” Zhao Yunlan asks Lao Chu.

Lao Chu makes a face. “I only saw him once and it was from a distance, but yeah. I think it is.”

“Damn,” Zhao Yunlan mutters. “That is really fucking creepy.”

“How are we going to explain him being in the police station, though?” Zhu Hong asks. “I guess we could pass him off as a consultant or an informant, but it might also be effective to let Zhu Jiu think it’s a hallucination of some kind.”

Yikes. That’s surprisingly nasty, for Zhu Hong… but they’ve all been frustrated by this case. He’ll allow it.

“Oh, I think it will be best to let Purple Hair fill in those details himself,” Zhao Yunlan says with no small amount of relish. Zhu Jiu, besides being a criminal who has (allegedly) done terrible things and (definitely) tried to do several of those to Shen Wei, is really fucking annoying. Also, now that Zhao Yunlan’s gotten a better idea of what Ye Zun was like, he thinks it’s possible that Zhu Jiu’s been trying to pull off the Ye Zun smirk on him and failing badly.

Fucking punk wannabe.

“What we imagine is always worse than reality,” Lao Chu says in agreement.

Zhao Yunlan gives him a startled look. Lao Chu is being practically open and sharing today, between this little comment and the bit at the hospital when he’d pegged Shen Wei’s self-sacrifice impulse.

Lao Chu catches him looking and glares at him. Well, that’s normal, at least.

“I’ll get the prisoner,” he says, and stalks off.

“Chief, you look surprisingly cheerful, given what just happened,” Zhu Hong says warily.

Zhao Yunlan wipes the smile off his face. “I’m really looking forward to seeing Purple Punk’s face when he gets the shit scared out of him.” Super true. Maybe he’ll get the footage of it off the security camera later, too.

“I mean with Professor Shen.”

Zhao Yunlan sighs. He’d prefer not to have this conversation now, and much as he likes her, Zhu Hong wouldn’t be his first choice to have it with, but it seems like an important thing to set straight.

“It explains a lot about him, honestly,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, I still have a whole list of questions, but it also clears up a bunch.”

“Do you think we can trust him?” Zhu Hong asks bluntly.

“Yes,” Zhao Yunlan says immediately. “Like I said, I want to ask some questions still. But gut instinct? Yeah. I think we can trust him. As long as he doesn’t start trying to protect us again, anyway.”

Zhu Hong doesn’t look entirely reassured. He probably should have left that last bit out. Oh well - time for a distraction.

“Call the others back to the station, would you? And clear everyone out of the library and the lab, get them downstairs. I’m guessing this bastard will crack pretty fast once he sees Shen Wei and as soon as we have enough for warrants I want to be able to move.”

She nods, professionalism overtaking curiosity.

“You got it, Chief.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shen Wei doesn’t think as he finishes recreating Ye Zun’s mask on his face. He doesn’t think as he loiters outside the interrogation room with Zhu Hong until the right moment. He doesn’t think as he allows his body to move like Ye Zun’s and his expressions to show like Ye Zun’s. He feels a twinge of satisfaction as Zhu Jiu’s face drains of color and total panic takes over, but he manages to lock everything else down until he’s back in the bathroom.

And then he realizes that in order to wash the makeup off his face he will need water and paper towels, and he can’t get to either of them without seeing himself in the mirror above the bathroom sink.

Sickening revulsion washes over him.

His skin begins to crawl. He can feel the lines of the mask on his face sinking in, becoming permanent.

How had he ever thought he could escape this? How had he ever thought he would be free?

Zhao Yunlan has seen. His people have seen. Every time they look at him now they’ll see Ye Zun, and so will he.

What does it say about him that it was so easy to become Ye Zun? How could he have found so much satisfaction in the terror he just caused?

What kind of person is he? All this time he’s thought he was safer than Ye Zun. What if ‘safer than’ is just another way of saying ‘not quite as bad as’?

He desperately, achingly needs to get this mask off.

The walls are closing in. He can’t breathe. He’ll be stuck like this and then Zhao Yunlan will come looking for him and see him here, with his face painted and his hair mussed up to look like Ye Zun’s and Shen Wei will see in Zhao Yunlan’s eyes just how repellant he is.

Zhao Yunlan will look at him like he’s a monster.

No. No. He can’t bear that.

He forces himself to move, backing over to the sink and trying desperately to keep the mirror behind him, and feels around until he can find the paper towel dispenser. It’s a terrible angle and his arm twists painfully, but he manages to get a handful of towels into the sink.

Getting them wet is awkward too and he half-drenches the back of his shirt, but then he’s able to escape back towards the door where he won’t catch a glimpse of his own reflection.

He scrubs his face, frantic in his need to wash off the tattoo. If he just scrubs hard enough -

Oh no. No.

How will he know it’s gone?

He’ll have to look in the mirror to check.

Oh no, oh no, what if he looks and it’s still there, what if it really is permanent -

He gives a soft moan of terror. Dimly he recognizes the fact that he’s fast losing rationality, but even as the thought crosses his mind it’s swept away by a fresh wave of panic. He’s been so careful, so aware, always trying to take the path that brings him closer to civility and compassion, but the past few days - as soon as he’d met Zhao Yunlan he’d started to plan -

Lying, plotting, violence. He’d been ready to kill.

He can almost smell the blood now, almost feel the hot splash of it as the knife slides home, the body of the thug going limp as he dies. Just like Ye Zun. Alike in soul as well as face, now. And then what? Would he have killed the rest?

Would he have been able to stop before he got to Zhao Yunlan?

Bodies everywhere. Blood everywhere.

Just like Ye Zun. Just like Ye Zun.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Thank you sir. We’ll wait for it to arrive,” Zhao Yunlan says, and hangs up the phone.

“Well?” Daqing asks, leaning forward so far he’s damn near in Zhao Yunlan’s lap.

Zhao Yunlan grins. “He says it’s enough. He’s couriering all the paperwork over and as soon as we have it we can go.”

There are sighs of relief and exclamations of satisfaction from everyone in the main room.

“We probably have about half an hour to kill,” Zhao Yunlan continues. “Get your gear ready, split up into teams - we’re going to hit SuDep and the University simultaneously. The Minister okayed us borrowing extra personnel so we can get the private residences at the same time. As long as you’re ready to go when the paperwork gets here, I don’t care what you do with the time in between.” Not that there’s much of it, but everyone deals with adrenalized stress in their own way. Daqing, for example, will probably head straight for the snacks.

Zhu Hong looks up, startled. “Speaking of time,” she says, a little guiltily. “I think Professor Shen’s still in the bathroom.”

“Really?” Zhao Yunlan blinks. “Okay, I’ll check on him. Everyone else, get your stuff.”

He gets up and makes his way down the hall to the bathroom. Behind him he can hear the bustle of everyone getting ready, slightly more excitedly than usual, but that’s to be expected when they’re this close to finally being able to put such a troublesome case to bed.

He sidles up to the door and knocks courteously. “Shen Wei, are you all right? Zhu Hong said you were still in here.”

He presses his ear against the door. He can’t hear any movement, but he can hear the quick, rapid breathing of someone in distress. He tries the doorknob. It’s unlocked - thank goodness for small favors.

“Shen Wei, I’m coming in.”

“Don’t look!” Shen Wei gasps, voice thin and strained. “Please, I’m fine, just go -”

He’s standing jammed up into the corner of the bathroom, a double handful of soggy black-streaked paper towels pressed to his face. For a moment Zhao Yunlan is perplexed, and the he realises that Shen Wei’s body is turned as much as possible away from the open space of the bathroom, not from the door.

He isn’t hiding from Zhao Yunlan, he’s hiding from the mirror.

Oh geez. Zhao Yunlan hadn’t even considered what it might do to Shen Wei to see his brother’s face looking back at him. Shen Wei’s always so controlled, so measured and calculated - even when he’s making dumb decisions, they’re thought through.

Clearly he hadn’t thought this one through enough. Or maybe he had, and still considered it an acceptable risk, which is worse.

Either way, Zhao Yunlan definitely doesn’t have to worry about Shen Wei turning into his brother any time soon if this is how he reacts to a little bit of facepaint.

He walks forward, keeping his steps soft and his body language gentle and inviting. Not that it does much - Shen Wei’s face is covered, and as soon as he hears Zhao Yunlan approaching he presses himself back into the corner as if he can phase through the wall if he just tries hard enough.

“Shh,” Zhao Yunlan says. “Shh, Shen Wei, it’s all right. I won’t look.”

Either it’s the tone or the words, but Shen Wei freezes up in confusion long enough for Zhao Yunlan to wedge his hands between Shen Wei and the wall and get him into a hug. It’s very awkward, because Shen Wei’s elbows are pinned between them and he’s dripping water everywhere, but from the chilled feeling of his skin Zhao Yunlan knows he’s picked the right approach.

Carefully, making soothing noises and swaying a little side to side, he manages to press Shen Wei’s head down until it’s up against his own neck and shoulder. Water trickles down under his shirt from the paper towels - and probably some eyeliner too - but Shen Wei doesn’t pull back. He starts to shiver, slightly.

Zhao Yunlan keeps at it, murmuring soothing nonsense, and after a few minutes he becomes aware that Shen Wei is saying something under his breath over and over. He pauses in his own litany to listen, but it doesn’t make much sense - it sounds like Shen Wei is just repeating “Arms, warmth, heartbeat,” to himself.

Whatever it is, it seems to help. After a few repetitions Shen Wei manages to take a more controlled breath and mumble a stricken “Sorry,” into Zhao Yunlan’s shoulder.

“Nothing to be sorry for,” Zhao Yunlan says, keeping his voice soft. “You did a good job. Purple Jerk told us everything. I’m sorry I didn’t realize how hard this would be for you.”

“It’s stupid,” Shen Wei says. His voice is stronger, but a little wavery. “It’s - I’m all right. You can’t possibly have time for this.”

He must be feeling better if his self-sacrifice instinct is back online. It figures that would be the first thing to return.

“I have a little time,” Zhao Yunlan says, shrugging. “We had to wake up some very important people to get the paperwork we need to take everyone out, so it’ll be a few minutes before we’re able to go anyway. Might as well get a few hugs in while I wait.”

Shen Wei groans. “I’m so sorry.”

“Stop apologizing,” Zhao Yunlan says as kindly as he can. “Hey - I’ve never met Ye Zun. All I’m going to see is you with a bunch of black crap on your face. Want me to make sure it’s all cleaned off?”

Shen Wei tenses up again. Zhao Yunlan gives him a reassuring squeeze. “No pressure, Shen Wei. Your decision.”

It’s both predictable and a little heartbreaking that Shen Wei straightens up at that. “Yes. Thank you.”

Zhao Yunlan would bet a homemade lunch that Shen Wei is nowhere near ready, but he doesn’t see any benefit in refusing. He loosens his hold, keeping one arm around Shen Wei’s back, and reaches up to brush his fingertips against Shen Wei’s hands. “Okay. Let me see.”

Shen Wei takes a deep breath and lowers his hands, eyes screwed shut.

It’s not as bad as Zhao Yunlan was expecting, given Shen Wei’s obvious level of dread. The lines of the tattoo are completely ruined, although Shen Wei does still look like someone threw ink at his face. He’s also aggravated the small cut by his hairline - there’s a tiny trickle of blood mixing in with the rest of the mess.

“No mask,” Zhao Yunlan says.

The tension leaves Shen Wei so fast that for a second Zhao Yunlan thinks he’s going to have to hold him up. He firms up his arm where it’s pressed against the small of Shen Wei’s back, but Shen Wei manages to steady himself.

“You do look kind of like someone punched you in the face, though. There is indeed black crap everywhere.”

Shen Wei laughs a little. It’s half hysterical, but he opens his eyes, which is a win. He seems to be having trouble looking Zhao Yunlan in the face but they can work up to that.

Zhao Yunlan takes the wad of paper towels from Shen Wei and starts cleaning him up, keeping his touches light and gentle. The eyeliner is stubborn - trust Zhu Hong to have something water-resistant - but Shen Wei relaxes a little more and leans into the touch, which is even better.

“We might need some soap or makeup remover to really finish the job,” Zhao Yunlan says. “But at least for the moment you don’t look too bad.”

“Thank you,” Shen Wei says to Zhao Yunlan’s chin.

“Any time,” Zhao Yunlan says. “Here, let’s sit down for a minute.”

Shen Wei doesn’t protest, which tells Zhao Yunlan a lot about how shaky he’s still feeling. The jerky way he slides down the wall tells him even more.

Zhao Yunlan positions himself so he’s pressed up against Shen Wei’s side with his arm over Shen Wei’s shoulders. He hadn’t actually set out to recreate that moment when they hid in the cupboard as children, but he doesn’t think it’s a bad thing that it kind of happened anyway.

From the way Shen Wei takes a deep, shuddery breath and leans his head back against Zhao Yunlan’s arm, he agrees.

“I told you you were kind,” he says.

Zhao Yunlan laughs. “Fine, you win. I’m a paragon among men. I will also pay you money to say that the next time Lao Chu glares at me. I wanna see his face afterwards.”

Shen Wei huffs a soft laugh. “Opportunist.”

“Definitely.”

He takes a moment to study Shen Wei. He’s a weird combination of pale and still makeup-smeary, which gives his face a slightly greenish look, but he does seem a lot calmer than he was. Depending on the time, a few more minutes sitting like this will probably put him on a decently even keel.

Of course… surreptitiously, Zhao Yunlan glances at his wristwatch. They still have about fifteen minutes left, assuming his calculations vis-a-vis the abilities of sleep-deprived cabinet ministers to sign and courier paperwork at the ass-end of night are accurate.

Might as well try.

“Hey.” He nudges Shen Wei’s shoulder. “Tell me about your brother? Not the criminal stuff, the brother stuff.”

Shen Wei sighs as if he’s been expecting something like this. “Ye Zun was… bright. In a smart way, but also bright like the sun - it hurt to look at him, sometimes. You just - you knew something was slightly out of control. Everything was just a little bit too much, too fast, too hard, too violent. He had a way of looking at you that made you sure he knew everything you were thinking and was amused by it. He was - he was like a fire. He could provide light and warmth, but he was dangerous, too, and it could change in a second.” He makes a face. “I’m sorry. I don’t have much practice describing him.”

“Who was older?” Zhao Yunlan says, even though he’s pretty sure he knows the answer.

“Me, by sixteen minutes,” Shen Wei confirms. “I know that’s not much, but sometimes it felt like a lot. Under everything else, there was always something almost childlike about Ye Zun, even as we grew up. He felt hurt like a child and lashed out like one, too. I always felt like… it was up to me to figure out where we were going to sleep, how we were going to get food, if there was someone to look out for us. It’s impossible to tell who I would have been without him.” His expression twists, part grief and part longing. “I didn’t always make the best decisions. A lot of what happened is as much my fault as it was his. Even if he is… the way he is, I still...”

“You love him,” Zhao Yunlan guesses. He knows a bit about loving difficult people. Damn father.

“He was terrible,” Shen Wei says reluctantly. “He hurt me as much as he hurt anyone else. But sometimes he could be… I think he was protective of me too, in his own way. A part of me has always wondered…” his voice trails off.

“Wondered?” Zhao Yunlan prompts, when Shen Wei seems too lost in thought to continue.

“Well… it’s probably wishful thinking, but..” he hesitates, and then goes on. “When I decided to take him down, I persuaded him to let me join his gang, and then I suggested that if I wore a mask and no one knew I was his brother, we could use the fact that we’re identical to a strategic advantage, by making it look like he could be in two places at once. Really I wanted to hide my face, because I felt… because I couldn’t…”

“You didn’t want to do it,” Zhao Yunlan fills in.

Shen Wei sighs again. “No. I knew I had to, but I wished it could have been someone else. There’s a part of me that wonders - he got that tattoo towards the end, when I was almost ready to make my move. It matched the mask I wore, which he seemed to think was funny, but a part of me has always thought… maybe some part of him knew what I was doing, that the end was near, and maybe he got the tattoo so that we would finally look different. So I could go on afterwards without matching his mug shot.”

Zhao Yunlan doesn’t know enough about Ye Zun to say one way or another, but he hopes for Shen Wei’s sake that’s true - a final kindness, an unspoken forgiveness from a brother who’d put him through so much.

“It was partly because of what happened the day I met you that I even tried anything at all, you know,” Shen Wei says, glancing over at him. “Ye Zun and I were separated right afterwards - I guess it was too hard to place us as a pair - and a part of me was relieved to finally be on my own. But after a while I started thinking about how you’d called me brave, that day, and that there wasn’t anything brave about hoping someone else would step in and fix things for me. So I went looking for him, and found him setting up his own fledgling criminal empire.”

“Damn,” Zhao Yunlan says softly. Honestly, it’s pretty terrifying to find that his actions that day had been so formative for Shen Wei. He doesn’t feel qualified now as an adult to decide the course of someone’s life, much less when he was a child. “I have to say, part of me is kind of wishing you’d stayed with your second chance.”

“Well, you got me a third chance, too, so don’t feel too bad,” Shen Wei says, smiling. “If you hadn’t been there to be rescued that day I wouldn’t have been able to disappear as an adult.”

The last few pieces click into place, and Zhao Yunlan swears with feeling. “Fucking - it was my dad, wasn’t it? He was the cop in charge of Ye Zun’s case and he’s the one who mucked all your records up afterwards. Fuck that bastard, that makes so much sense. That’s why everything is sealed and redacted too, isn’t it?”

“Probably.” Shen Wei seems very calm given the bombshell that’s just gone off in Zhao Yunlan’s head. “When I met him after the takedown he remembered what I’d done as a child and I think he felt he owed me as your father, so he agreed to keep me out of the official reports and to obscure the fact that I’d been involved as long as I kept my mouth shut too. I didn’t know it meant altering so many records, but it makes sense. As soon as you found out who I was as a child, I knew you’d figure out who I’d been as an adult, too. He must have followed the same logic.”

That was also about the same time that Zhao Yunlan stopped being an asshole teenager and started trying to have a decent relationship with his dad, too. But given Zhao Xinci’s pride and his absurdly high standards - whenever he looked at Zhao Yunlan he must have remembered the time he’d allowed his morals to be compromised. It must have been torture.

“You just explained a lifetime of distantly disappointed parenting,” he says dazedly.

“For the record, I didn’t even realize he was your father until recently,” Shen Wei continues. “I couldn’t entirely understand why he’d chosen the way he did, but I was grateful for it.”

“I can’t decide if the next time I see him I’m going to genuinely try to have a civil conversation or if I’m going to punch him,” Zhao Yunlan says. “He is the most stiff-necked, righteous, judgy - you know what, I’m definitely going to punch him.”

He’s half-joking and Shen Wei seems to realize it, because he smiles and says, “Believe me, I understand the impulse. Why do you think I was so angry that time you came and ate my cake?”

“He’d been to visit you?” Why that - definitely getting punched. Definitely. Zhao Yunlan would bet his badge that Zhao Xinci had gone to try and warn Shen Wei off. “Damn. Now I want to eat some cake. Vengefully.

Shen Wei laughs out loud. “Have a lollipop in the meantime.”

“Damn straight I will.” He’d get one out of his pocket now if it wouldn’t involve some undignified wiggling to reach it.

Down the hallway, he hears an uptick in activity. The paperwork must have arrived.

He squeezes Shen Wei’s shoulder again. “Hey. I want you to do me a favor.”

“Of course. Anything,” Shen Wei says simply.

Wow. He’s going to have to be careful with his abuse of this power. “I think we’re about to head out. I don’t want you to stay at the station waiting for us, okay?”

Shen Wei frowns. “But - “

“Ah! You promised. I want you to go home and get some rest, all right? You have like three lectures tomorrow and if you look tired the student body will probably murder me.”

Shen Wei grimaces like he thinks that might actually be a possibility, which is fairly alarming. “I know a lot of the hard-to-spot ways around the University. You might need me. I could call out.”

“Ha!” Zhao Yunlan says. “I bet you can’t. You’d feel guilty by second period. But if you can give us a quick rundown of the layout that would be great, and I promise I’ll call and let you know how everything goes, okay? And I promise I’ll be careful.”

Shen Wei isn’t thrilled, but he gives in. “I - fine. All right. You know, I never in my life wanted a cell phone until right now.”

“You just want me to liveblog a major drug bust, don’t you,” Zhao Yunlan teases.

“Live - what?” Shen Wei says, looking totally lost.

“Never mind.” He gives Shen Wei’s shoulders a quick squeeze and then, driven entirely by impulse, plants a kiss on the side of his head. “All right, up and at ‘em. Let’s bust some criminals.”

Chapter Text

Technically, Shen Wei does keep his word.

He leaves the station, reluctantly, glancing back several times to see everyone getting geared up and pouring out of the building and into vehicles. And he does go home, because he needs to wash his face properly and find a shirt without blood on it. And, probably, find a way to comb his hair so the cut on his face isn’t as obvious.

The shattered remnants of his apartment, however, are not restful. He hadn’t realized how much of the furniture had ended up broken, and he doesn’t remember the hole in the wall by the closet happening at all. Any neighbors who were home during the fight are probably going to be very trying to deal with when he finally runs into them - and that’s entirely setting aside how the University is likely to react.

That thought should probably bother him, but there’s a sense of peace inside him that he doesn’t ever think he’s ever felt before. He’s not sure if it’s due to the new stability of his relationship with Zhao Yunlan or the catharsis of finally releasing secrets he’s held for his entire life, but he feels… clean. At ease, as if a pain he’d been ignoring for so long he’d stopped noticing it has suddenly eased.

He winds up walking out onto campus. It’s still dark, but the very early beginnings of dawn are starting to lighten the air. At this hour, both too early and too late, the campus is deserted. It’s not the first time Shen Wei has gone for a walk at this hour. Especially when he has trouble sleeping, a little time on the deserted grounds often helps him find some equilibrium.

He intends, at first, to go to his office and sit by the phone, but his subconscious has other ideas. Without thinking, he finds that he has arrived at the bench overlooking the Chemistry department’s loading dock - the same one he’d found Xiao Guo doing surveillance from, what feels like weeks ago now.

He settles down. It’s still dark enough that the lights on in the building - few, but more than there should be at this time - stand out starkly, and that he nearly misses the police vehicles creeping up with their headlights off.

Zhao Yunlan could be in a different group, but Shen Wei feels certain he’s here. He watches the shadowy figures vanish into the building. There are more of them than he’d expected - Zhao Yunlan must have reached out to other stations for more manpower.

That’s good. That will keep him safer.

More lights come on in the building, and then for a long while there are no more obvious signs of activity. No one conveniently runs by the windows to give him a view of what’s happening, but his imagination fills in a lot of blanks. He strains his ears for gunshots, but hears nothing.

The dawn light is growing and the contrast between the lit windows and the shadows of the building is less striking. When several figures come out onto the loading dock, it’s light enough for Shen Wei to see that several of them are in handcuffs, and the one in the lead is definitely Zhao Yunlan. He looks like he’s okay.

“Professor Shen?”

Shen Wei startles a little and turns. Li Qian is standing by the bench, obviously having just woken up. She has pillow lines on her face and her clothes are that distinctive mix of pajamas and outdoor wear that only happens when someone gets dressed while half-conscious.

“Li Qian? What are you doing up so early?”

She holds out her cell phone. “Chief Zhao texted me to tell you to go home.”

Shen Wei’s jaw drops. He turns back to the loading dock.

The tiny figure that Shen Wei had identified as Zhao Yunlan waves.

“Li Qian, I am so sorry,” Shen Wei says. “He shouldn’t have woken you.”

Li Qian shrugs and slumps down on the bench beside him. She must be tired to be so unguarded. “It’s okay. I needed to do some studying anyway. What just happened?”

“Well,” Shen Wei says drily, “you probably don’t need to worry about finishing your chemistry lab.”

Li Qian groans. “I did it last night.”

“I’ll write you a note to get out of whatever else you have,” Shen Wei says. He wouldn’t offer that to a student who doesn’t work hard, even feeling as magnanimous as he does at the moment, but Li Qian has earned a little leeway.

She blinks at him in surprise. “Thanks, Professor Shen. I appreciate that.” Her phone dings again, startling her, and she glances down. “Chief Zhao says, ‘I mean it Xiao -’ um, you can read it yourself,” she says, going pink.

Shen Wei squints at the tiny screen.

I mean it Xiao Wei
All fine
Lots of arrests
Go home

The smile crossing his face would probably be embarrassing if he saw a picture of it. “Tell him I’ll have cake for him when he’s free to visit.”

Li Qian dutifully types this out. “You know, Professor Shen, I could help you get a cell phone and show you how to use it.”

They both consider this.

“But I’m okay with passing messages,” Li Qian says hastily. “This is totally fine, actually, now that I think about it.”

“I don’t deserve you, Li Qian,” Shen Wei says. “All right, let’s go before we get arrested.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In the end, they raid the University, SuDep, and six private residences simultaneously, and they get the entire crew in one fell swoop. It’s like something out of a movie. Zhao Yunlan, Zhu Hong, and Lao Chu tag-team questioning Ouyang and Zhou, and they turn on each other so fast it’s almost a let-down.

After that it’s all paperwork and processing.

Zhao Yunlan turns SuDep and the Chemistry department over to the Forensics guys, the processing over to the rank-and-file, promises full written reports to the higher-ups, and shepherds his weary crew back to the station.

“All right!” he says, clapping his hands with glee. “I’m so proud of you all I’m willing to give presents. Who wants an extra day off, and who wants to get an absurd amount of takeout before I send you home to sleep?”

They exchange glances.

“How about,” Daqing counter-offers, “we go home to sleep and you persuade Professor Shen to make us lunch later in the week?”

“I accept your terms,” Zhao Yunlan says grandly. “Disperse and rest, my minions!”

Even Lao Chu is too satisfied with the close of the case to give him too much crap about that last comment, although Zhao Yunlan’s pretty sure he hears someone hiss “Why is he like this?” as they all troop past, exhausted and triumphant.

“You’re leaving soon too, right?” Daqing asks, pausing at the door.

“I promise, I promise,” Zhao Yunlan waves him off. “I’m going to tie up one or two things and I’ll be gone too.”

Honestly, he doesn’t have anything to finish up. It’s a weird thing, but when they’ve finally come to the end of something big like this, he just likes having a moment when he can stand in the station and be quiet for a few minutes. It’s almost like putting the building itself to bed.

The sound of footfalls coming through the entranceway interrupts his reverie, and he’s drawn his gun before his brain has time to process the new information.

“I come in peace,” Zhao Xinci says drily, holding up his hands.

That would be a first, Zhao Yunlan thinks, but he puts the gun away. “Commissioner. What brings you around?”

The temporarily buried anger from his conversation with Shen Wei starts a slow burn in his belly, and for a moment he almost asks his father to just come back later. He’s jubilant but tired, and it would have been nice to have this moment to himself without a parental invasion.

Zhao Xinci shrugs, looking strangely awkward. “I wanted to congratulate you on a job well done.”

Zhao Yunlan waits for the other shoe to drop, the ‘but-’ or the ‘although -’ to make an appearance.

Zhao Xinci just kind of stands there.

“Thank you,” Zhao Yunlan says eventually.

Zhao Xinci nods. There’s another horrible, yawning silence.

“I noticed in the preliminary reports that Professor Shen was helpful to you,” Zhao Xinci says finally.

“More helpful than some,” Zhao Yunlan says neutrally.

Zhao Xinci winces, just slightly, and that more than anything gives Zhao Yunlan the push to keep going.

“Did you know he was the one who saved me when I was kidnapped as a kid?”

If he wasn’t looking for it and if Shen Wei hadn’t told him about his own fears of discovery, Zhao Yunlan would have missed the slight tensing of his father’s muscles, the increased stiffness in his posture. He’s bracing for a hit.

“I was aware,” he says.

Zhao Yunlan sighs, too worn out to be subtle. “Look. Was it because you gave him a second chance after he handed you Ye Zun that it’s always been weird between us? Because it’s sure as hell the only thing I’ve been able to come up with that isn’t damaging as fuck and frankly I’m tired of thinking about it.”

Zhao Xinci frowns. “Did you - did you think it was something you’d done?”

Zhao Yunlan uses his whole body to convey a silent and exasperated duh.

Zhao Xinci rubs his forehead. “No. It wasn’t anything you’d done. I worry about you, because you’re my son and you take risks that terrify me, but… no. I didn’t intend - “

He trails off. Zhao Yunlan lets out a bark of laughter.

“What?”

Zhao Yunlan shakes his head. “I was giving Shen Wei a hard time earlier for being terrible at talking about his feelings and I’m just amused at the parallels. You two might actually have some things in common if you weren’t so tangled up.”

Zhao Xinci’s jaw tightens, but after a moment he concedes. “I could stand to be better at it.”

“Well, bravo,” Zhao Yunlan deadpans. “Look, Dad, I’m pretty tired. Could we maybe work on this in installments?”

“I - yes. Of course.” Zhao Xinci actually looks kind of fidgety. If Zhao Yunlan weren’t so tired it would probably freak him out. “I’ll - I’ll catch up with you later.”

He starts to leave and then pauses. “You and Shen Wei seem to have developed something of a friendship.”

“Yeah, and you and I have a lot more work to do before we can go anywhere near it,” Zhao Yunlan says firmly. The high possibility that the friendship might still turn into a relationship is another matter entirely, and one he will save for when he feels like giving his father an attack of the vapors.

“Fair enough.” Zhao Xinci turns back towards the door. “This really was a decent piece of policing.”

Zhao Yunlan stares at the empty doorway for a while afterwards, dumbfounded both by the effusive-for-Zhao-Xinci praise and the extreme awkwardness of the attempt. Finally, he pulls out his phone and texts Li Qian.

Did not punch father pls tell Prof S to have so much cake.

He’d like to say more, maybe would consider accepting gesture of physical affection in lieu of confectionary or wanna have a sleepover circle yes or no, but there’s only so much he wants to put Shen Wei’s poor grad student through, so he leaves it as it is.

Shaking his head at just how many things the last twenty-four hours has held, he gathers his things and takes his weary self off to his apartment and his bed.

Chapter Text

Shen Wei never does wind up getting any rest. He returns to his office after walking Li Qian back to her apartment and briefly considers trying to catch a nap at his desk before his first lecture starts, even if sleeping in a chair will aggravate the bruises and strained muscles that he admits are starting to ache pretty badly.

Then he realises that in the tumult of setting himself up as bait and maybe getting killed in the process, he’d neglected to lay out his lecture notes and handouts ahead of time, and the whole issue becomes moot anyway. The resulting battle with the department copier, which everyone else seems to use with ease, devours the last vestiges of his free morning.

He finds it difficult to get as annoyed as he usually would with it. Partly he’s too tired, but mostly he’s too content. Even the pain of his injuries and the stress of a half-prepared lesson plan can’t damage his sense of well-being this morning. The threat to Zhao Yunlan has been dealt with - at least until the next one appears - and he has cake to look forward to. Zhao Yunlan had even texted Li Qian to confirm the appointment.

He freezes momentarily in the act of organizing his notes. If they’ve made plans for cake later, even if Shen Wei is looking forward to Zhao Yunlan’s company far more than he’s looking forward to the overwhelming amount of sugar, does that make it… a date?

No. Surely not. They may have kissed once and shared some very formative bonding experiences, but Shen Wei is getting embarrassingly ahead of himself. Within the last day Zhao Yunlan hasn’t been sure Shen Wei could be trusted, let alone dated. Before, right after that kiss, maybe they could have… but now?

Besides, Shen Wei is pretty sure a date requires some sort of formal declaration. What that formal declaration would entail, he has no idea, but he’s nearly positive it hasn’t happened. And anyway, he probably has a good deal of slow, cautious work to do re-establishing their friendship before he can speculate about anything like dating.

No. Friendship is likely his best bet, and not at all a bad consolation prize. It is far, far better than nothing, which is what he’d thought he might exit this whole scenario with.

He pauses again in his work. Without the case to keep bringing them together, he’s not actually sure how to go about spending time with Zhao Yunlan. He can keep bringing food to the station, of course, but surely that will seem a little obvious after a while, and they won’t get to spend much time by themselves.

Could he bring food to Zhao Yunlan’s house? Would that be weird?

Shen Wei has never set out to make a friend before. How do people do it? All of his own pursuits are solitary ones - he doubts that he can use calligraphy practice or grading papers or an exciting new science journal as a reason to hang out. And Zhao Yunlan would probably be upset if he arranged to be threatened by violent criminals again.

The first students arrive, bleary-eyed and clutching hot beverages, and Shen Wei sets aside his personal life in the interests of gently persuading thirty sleep-deprived nineteen-year-olds to be fascinated by biology.

By the second lecture, the students are more awake and clearly buzzing with half-formed rumors of what happened in the Chemistry Wing. It takes nearly half the class period to get them to settle down and focus, at which point he has more than enough lecture material to get him through to the end.

He probably should have anticipated the way the students would react to such an upheaval. To be honest, he hadn’t thought much about what would come after his little bait stunt. There hadn’t seemed to be much point to it.

Nevertheless, he turns towards his final class with more stubbornness than anticipation. The rumors, he’s sure, are only going to get worse, and the students more excitable. He wonders if there’s been an official email of some sort. He generally relies on Li Qian to check his email for him and give him a brief summary, which now that he thinks about it is a habit he should probably break.

Preoccupied as he is, it takes him a moment to realize the way to his classroom door is being blocked by a man he dimly recognizes as working in the Chancellor’s office.

“Professor Shen, the Chancellor needs to see you.”

“I have a class starting,” Shen Wei protests, pointing. Surely this will just cause more upheaval? He’s hardly known for skipping his classes, and any break with routine at a time like this will cause undue upset. “Can I come by after it’s -”

“He said now, please,” the man repeats. On a closer look, he appears to be quite frazzled.

Ah. Yes. On the other hand, this is probably a day in which it is advisable to treat the University’s administration with patience and quick obedience.

“Of course,” Shen Wei says, mentally rewriting his syllabus to account for the missing class period. “Please, after you.”

If he’d thought the aide seemed stressed, it’s nothing to how the Chancellor looks. He’s normally a polished and urbane man with an office so immaculate that Shen Wei harbors very private doubts as to whether he actually ever does any work in it.

Today, however, his office looks like it’s been hit by a storm. There is paperwork everywhere. Aides are rushing about, looking more panicked than purposeful, and several phone lines are ringing simultaneously. Even though the raid on the University wasn’t Shen Wei’s fault and was completely necessary for justice and for the protection of the University’s students, he feels a momentary pang of guilt.

“Chancellor?”

The Chancellor finishes barking a series of orders at an underling and shoves a stack of papers aside. “Professor, care to explain the events of last night?”

‘The events of last night’ covers a lot of ground, and much of it involves things Shen Wei doesn’t particularly want to discuss with his boss. He settles for a neutral and hopefully time-buying “Last night, sir?”

Fortunately, the Chancellor is not an interrogator, and is in any case too rattled to have the patience for drawn-out questioning. “The fight, Shen Wei! The state of your apartment! Professor Gao tells me that there was some kind of altercation in which the police were involved, and my aide says your room is ruined. Does this have something to do with the raid last night?”

“Raid, sir?” Shen Wei says, dredging up as much astonishment as humanly possible. He’ll have to play this very carefully in order to avoid putting himself on the Chancellor’s bad list - or, even worse, dragging in Li Qian by dint of her connection with him. “I was attacked in my room last night, it’s true, but I assumed it was because I had been to the police station earlier to provide some expert -”

“Forget that.” The Chancellor cuts him off impatiently. “Professor Shen, are you going to be arrested? Have you been - running, or dealing, or whatever it is - have you been involved with drugs on this campus?”

Shen Wei doesn’t have to fabricate his affront. “Certainly not, sir!”

The Chancellor bangs his hands on the desk and leans forward, as aggressive as a police officer from a movie. “Shen Wei, am I going to have to find someone to cover your classes?

“No?” Shen Wei says, involuntarily leaning back.

The Chancellor’s shoulders slump abruptly. “Well, thank providence for small mercies. If we lost you I really think the students might riot.”

“Uh,” Shen Wei says, reeling. “Thank you, sir?”

“Don’t thank me,” the Chancellor snaps. “There’s still the matter of your room. I’m told it’s uninhabitable, and I’m sure there’s something in your housing contract about destruction of property. You’ll have to find somewhere else to live.”

“Find - right now, sir?” Shen Wei asks, too taken by surprise to be politic.

“Well, you can’t live in your office,” the Chancellor says. “And even you can only pull so many all-nighters. So yes, now, Professor. And really, Shen Wei, I can’t spend any more time on this.”

“Of course, sir,” Shen Wei says, stepping back. “Thank you, sir. Um. Good luck.”

“Ouyang had tenure, for the love of sanity,” the Chancellor says plaintively.

“So I heard, sir,” Shen Wei says, edging towards the door.

Tenure,” the Chancellor repeats.

“Yes, sir,” Shen Wei calls over his shoulder, abandoning propriety and flat-out bailing into the outer office. He’s nearly run over by one of the interchangeable aides, and stumbles out into the hallway with less than his usual grace.

He’s brought up short by the fact that the hallway is entirely full of students, Li Qian and Lu Ruomei at the front.

“What?” he manages, too thrown by the last several minutes for anything more eloquent.

Li Qian takes in his unusual state of discomposure and claps her hands over her mouth, eyes wide with horror. “Oh no, they actually fired you!”

An angry murmur goes through the mass of students.

“No!”

“Not Professor Shen!”

“That’s it, I’m transferring.”

“Don’t transfer, protest! Who’s got signs?”

“I have a bullhorn!”

Shen Wei waves his hands frantically. “I haven’t been fired!”

The murmuring stops.

“But you missed class,” Lu Ruomei says. “You never miss a class.”

“I’m very sorry to have alarmed you all,” Shen Wei says, pitching his voice to be heard. “The Chancellor asked to speak to me about an unrelated matter and it unfortunately coincided with the start of class, but I promise I’ll be able to adjust the syllabus so we don’t miss anything. I would never let you be unprepared for your end-of-term exams.”

They take this in.

“Oh, Professor Shen,” someone says pityingly.

Li Qian lowers her hands, mouth twitching. “I’m sure we’re all very glad to know that, Professor, thank you. All right everyone, you heard him! Back to your work, no need to protest today.”

“Not about this, anyway,” Lu Ruomei mutters.

The crowd disperses, several students detouring to murmur “Glad you weren’t fired, Professor,” and, ominously, “We’ll come back if they try again, Professor, don’t worry!”

Shen Wei watches them all go, thoroughly bemused. It makes a sort of sense - the Chemistry department has been abruptly decimated, so of course the students assumed the worst when he’d been absent.

“It’s heartening to see how invested they all are in their education,” he says to Li Qian and Lu Ruomei, the only two left.

They stare at him.

“They came for you, Professor Shen,” Li Qian says. “They came because they like you and they want to protect you the way they know you protect them.”

Shen Wei blinks at her, trying to fit this into his worldview. He likes to think he’s an adequate teacher - a decent one, even - and perhaps he does allow himself to get a little more involved in his students’ lives than other professors do, but… surely that should just be expected? Surely that’s just what a person does? When his students are upset or in trouble, of course he helps them. How could he not?

He hadn’t expected that they’d be - that they’d feel - for him? Really?

“Fo you,” Li Qian says softly, as if she can read his mind.

“And also because the only other time you’ve missed class you were found unconscious in the faculty lounge running a fever of - oof!” Lu Ruomei says, cut off by Li Qian’s elbow in her side.

Shen Wei coughs, using the moment to get ahold of himself. His chest feels oddly tight and his eyes are burning a little. He’s never had allergies before, but it’s not unheard of to develop them later in life.

Yes. Allergies. That must be it.

He clears his throat. “Well. Thank you both for coming. It’s - I wasn’t - I’m sure there must be things I’m taking you away from, for which I apologize. I wouldn’t want to disrupt your day.”

“It’s no problem, Professor Shen,” Li Qian says kindly. “I’m glad they didn’t try to fire you.”

“No,” Shen Wei says, seizing on the new subject with relief. “Although I find myself unexpectedly in need of an apartment, which will take some research.” He can probably manage one or two more all-nighters in his office before he needs to find a place to get actual sleep, but that will buy him some time. He’s honestly not sure how to go about finding an apartment. Not the kind of apartment a professor would live in, anyway.

“Why not ask Chief Zhao?” Li Qian suggests. “He’s been texting me all morning with messages for you and he’d probably know which places to avoid.”

“That’s a very good idea, Li Qian, thank you,” Shen Wei says, surprised by the suggestion. “I’ll do that. And both of you had better be on your way - unless I’m mistaken you have lab time starting soon.”

“Oh no, is that the time?” Lu Ruomei says, looking at Li Qian’s phone. “You’re right, Professor, we have to run. Glad you weren’t fired!”

Shen Wei watches them rush off down the hall and allows himself a moment to breathe. There’s a warm feeling in his chest that’s both like and very different from the feeling he gets when he thinks of Zhao Yunlan, and it isn’t a feeling he’s very familiar with. That the students had come to the office to check on him - Li Qian he might have expected, since they work so closely together and it would be a terrible imposition for her to have to find another thesis advisor at this stage, but - all of them?

Well. A surprise, to say the least, and a lovely one.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Zhao Yunlan spends most of his day dozing luxuriously. He dumps the conversation with his father and any residual worries about the case out of his head without ceremony, and instead allows himself to nap to his heart’s content. Occasionally, as it occurs to him, he rolls over and sends Li Qian a note to pass on the Shen Wei, regretting that he can’t text Shen Wei directly but not feeling energetic enough for an actual phone-to-phone conversation. In any case, Shen Wei should still be in the middle of his third class for the day.

He smiles, snuggling down into his comforter, and lets his mind rest contentedly on Shen Wei for a moment. He should have anticipated that Shen Wei would find a way to watch over them while they conducted their raid. It was entirely unsurprising to see him sitting on the bench near the Chemistry Wing, neatly buttoned up into a fresh Professor outfit, one leg crossed casually over the other. Even though it was barely dawn and he had to be aching from the fight, he looked like he could have been attending a lecture.

Zhao Yunlan had never thought he’d find that kind of thing ridiculously attractive, but here he is.

When the phone does ring he feels a spike of conditioned dread and adrenaline, convinced for a second that there’s been a mass breakout of their criminals or the station caught fire or Lin Jing needs bail again, but his worry is quickly swamped by a rush of affection when he sees that the call is coming from Shen Wei’s office phone.

“Xiao Wei!” he says, mostly because he’s pretty sure it will make Shen Wei blush. “How are your terrible students? Are they letting you take it easy? You’re probably pretty sore today, huh.”

“Oh!” Shen Wei says, sounding derailed. “Yes, a little, but it doesn’t bother me. I’m afraid I called with a purpose, Zhao Yunlan.”

“Phone sex?” Zhao Yunlan asks brightly.

“Wh - you -“ Shen Wei stammers. “How would that even - no. Uh. No, not... that.”

“Pity,” Zhao Yunlan says, thoroughly enjoying himself. “You want me to arrest somebody?”

“No,” Shen Wei says, amusement starting to filter through his shock. “Actually, I need some advice. It turns out that the University is not fond of their employees staging elaborate and destructive fight scenes on campus, and I find myself in somewhat urgent need of an off-campus apartment. Do you know of any good places? Or ones I should avoid, or perhaps a good agent?”

“Hmm,” Zhao Yunlan says, running through a mental rolodex of every apartment building in the city he’s ever visited on official business. It doesn’t entirely surprise him that the University had something to say about Shen Wei’s extracurricular activities. They’re probably lucky the punishment wasn’t worse, considering that Shen Wei was instrumental in getting most of their Chemistry department and a third of their grad students arrested and didn’t even warn them about it ahead of time. “Let me guess - you need somewhere affordable, available now, preferably furnished?”

“Yes, precisely,” Shen Wei says, sounding sheepish. “I don’t have many possessions and none of them are furniture. I don’t mind sleeping on the floor for a while until I get everything sorted out, but if a furnished option is available…”

“I might have an idea,” Zhao Yunlan says slowly. In fact, he most definitely has an idea, and it’s a brilliant one. “I may know of something that would work.”

“Thank you, Zhao Yunlan,” Shen Wei says, relief heavy in his voice. “What can you tell me about it?”

“Well, it’s in my building, so I can vouch for the upkeep,” Zhao Yunlan says, grinning at the ceiling. “And it’s furnished, affordable, and available immediately… would a roommate be a deal-breaker?”

“A roommate?” Shen Wei says, surprised. “No, I suppose not, if it’s someone you recommend. Do you think we’d get along?”

“Pretty sure you will,” Zhao Yunlan says, stretching happily. “I think you’ll find you have a lot in common.”

“Then it sounds ideal,” Shen Wei says. “Thank you very much, Zhao Yunlan. Is there a number I should call?”

“I’ll take care of it,” Zhao Yunlan promises.

“Are you sure? I don’t want to put you out.”

“It’s my pleasure, Shen Wei,” Zhao Yunlan says with relish. “I’ll take care of everything and text Li Qian the details. You’ll be able to come by after your office hours.”

“I have to say, this is more than I’d hoped for,” Shen Wei says. “I don’t mind telling you I was a little worried - but thank you, Zhao Yunlan, you’ve aided me again.”

“All right, all right,” Zhao Yunlan says. “Go back to your academic monsters. You can flatter me more later.”

There’s no mistaking the fondness in Shen Wei’s voice. “All right. I’ll talk to you later.”

Zhao Yunlan drops the phone on his pillow and gives himself a moment to feel very self-satisfied. He has the air mattress Daqing always uses when he sleeps over, and that’ll do until they can get an extra bed. Ideally, of course, they’d just share, but he isn’t going to push Shen Wei faster than he’s comfortable with.

Well, other than the slight issue of tricking him into moving in. That’s probably faster than Shen Wei was expecting, and technically they should have gone on an actual date first that didn’t involve a criminal investigation. Oh well. Zhao Yunlan’s always been an improviser.

Shen Wei in his space! He likes the idea even better the more he thinks about it. What with Shen Wei’s classes and his own unpredictable schedule it might otherwise be an uphill battle to find time to be together - but if they live together, then it’ll be easy! He can make sure Shen Wei is taking care of himself, and maybe Shen Wei will even cook for -

Reality crashes in. Zhao Yunlan sits bolt upright in a panic, sending dirty clothes and an empty takeout container flying.

“Hoshit I need to clean!!”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Thank you both for helping me with this,” Shen Wei says, still a little embarrassed it was necessary.

“It’s no problem, Professor,” Li Qian says, pulling a box out of the cab and handing it to Lu Ruomei. “I trust Chief Zhao, but I’ll feel better if I’ve seen where you’ll be.”

“The building looks okay,” Lu Ruomei observes.

“Yes, it looks nice,” Shen Wei says, resolutely squashing any nervousness. He’s worn one of his better suits to make a good impression, but there’s only so dignified one can be while holding a cardboard box. He’d been a little disconcerted when Li Qian and Lu Ruomei had offered to help him move - it had felt like an abuse of power, even though they’d been very stubborn about it - but now that he’s here he’s grateful for their presence.

“And you’ll be living in a building with a police officer,” Li Qian continues as they make their way to the elevator. “That’s good, right? Safer.”

Shen Wei had explained his need to move so suddenly in as vague a way as possible, but Li Qian had still been alarmed. It hadn’t helped that picking up the heaviest box had given his various injuries a hard twinge and he hadn’t manage to cover the wince in time.

“And you’ll have a friend nearby,” Lu Ruomei adds. “So if the roommate doesn’t work out, maybe you can just go hang out with Chief Zhao and get to know him better.”

That is a cheering thought, although Shen Wei isn’t sure why Li Qian subtly kicks Lu Ruomei in the ankle after she brings it up.

“Which apartment is it again?” he asks. He remembers very well what number it is, but his nerves are starting to make themselves known.

“The one at the end of the hall, there,” Li Qian confirms.

They arrive at the door. Shen Wei sets down his box and straightens his suit jacket.

“You look good, Professor,” Lu Ruomei whispers encouragingly.

Be brave. Shen Wei takes a deep breath and knocks.

It flies open to reveal none other than Zhao Yunlan.

“Shen Wei! Welcome!” He gestures expansively into the room behind him. “Please come in and make yourself at home. I just finished tidying up.”

“This is… your apartment?” Shen Wei says, utterly poleaxed.

“Yep!” Zhao Yunlan says happily. “Furnished, available immediately, very reasonably priced, and comes with an incredible roommate to boot!”

And they were roommates,” Lu Ruomei says faintly behind him.

“I’ve only got an air mattress rather than a second bed, but we can fix that easily enough,” Zhao Yunlan goes on. “What do you think, acceptable?”

Acceptable? This is… more than acceptable. So much more than he’d hoped for. That Zhao Yunlan is willing to open his home for him, his place of sanctuary - even if their relationship never goes further than friendship, this is so much more than Shen Wei had ever dreamed of.

“Yes,” he says, hoping his voice is steady. “Yes, this will do well, I think.”

Zhao Yunlan grins. There’s an edge of relief to it - he must have been worried that Shen Wei would react badly. “Great! Bring your stuff in. How much more needs to be carried up?”

“Oh, this is it,” Shen Wei says. “Li Qian and Lu Ruomei were gracious enough to help me with it.”

“Here you go,” Li Qian says, handing her box to Zhao Yunlan with more assertion than he’s used to seeing from her. “Professor, I’m glad to see you’ll be staying somewhere safe. Lu Ruomei, put your box down. We’ll let you get settled in.” She grabs Lu Ruomei by the arm and pulls her into the hallway, calling back, “You don’t have any meetings until noon tomorrow, Professor, so take your time unpacking!”

“Huh!” Zhao Yunlan says, looking startled.

“The University gossip mill is going to be exciting tomorrow, I think,” Shen Wei says drily, retrieving his last box from the hallway and shutting the door behind him. “We may even give the Chemistry department a run for its money.”

“I hope you don’t mind that I wasn’t totally above-board on this,” Zhao Yunlan says, looking a little sheepish. “I thought it was kind of funny. And I really do have two beds, I promise this isn’t a weird coercive booty call. Plus I’ve been looking at the space and I think we can fit a desk in that corner over there. I started clearing off the bookshelf but I wasn’t sure how many books you’d have. Oh, and, uh, don’t go in the refrigerator yet. I still need to clean that. I’m kind of a slob.”

“I don’t mind,” Shen Wei says, a warm feeling growing in his chest. “And fortunately for you, I like to clean. And to cook.”

Zhao Yunlan laughs. “Did I mention I may have promised my staff that I’d ask you to make lunch for them?”

“You didn’t, but that seems fair considering the work they’ve put in lately,” Shen Wei says. “That box there is mostly cooking utensils - “

“Oh, good,” Zhao Yunlan says. “I basically only have one pot. And a kettle. But I’m very good at microwaving!”

Shen Wei shakes his head fondly and reaches out for the box.

Zhao Yunlan doesn’t let go of it immediately, and for a moment they’re standing very close. Zhao Yunlan’s eyes flick down towards Shen Wei’s mouth and then back up again.

He pushes the box into Shen Wei’s hands and backs up a step. “Not a weird coercive booty call!” he repeats, his smile looking a little wild.

Shen Wei takes the box and sets it down against the wall, heart beating erratically. Does he dare…? Zhao Yunlan won’t do it himself. Not since it looks like he’s worried Shen Wei will think he’s taking advantage.

Yes. He can do this, for both of them.

Be brave.

He stands up, takes a breath, and turns back towards Zhao Yunlan.

“I apologize in advance if I’m being presumptuous,” he says, wishing he didn’t sound quite so stiff but too nervous to relax. “Zhao Yunlan, may I kiss you?”

The breath goes out of Zhao Yunlan like he’s been punched. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to. I really mean it, I didn’t get you here to make you feel obligated. But, um… You’re sure?”

Shen Wei takes a step closer. “Extremely. As long as - as long as it’s not an imposition.”

Zhao Yunlan shakes his head, grinning. “It’s not. I would like to formally request a kiss.”

“Granted,” Shen Wei says, and kisses him.

It’s like the kiss on the quad, without the terror and extenuating circumstances. Shen Wei has a better idea of what to do, this time, and he doesn’t feel guilty, and oh...

The kiss ends. He’s gasping for breath, just like last time, and somehow Zhao Yunlan’s arms have ended up around him and his hand is in Zhao Yunlan’s hair again. He feels… mussed, in a very nice way. And very grateful for the way Zhao Yunlan is kind of holding him up.

“Hey,” Zhao Yunlan says, smiling softly. “Welcome home, Shen Wei.”

Chapter Text

With the case finally behind them, Lin Jing decides to go in to work a little early and get some of the things he’d put on the back burner off his plate. Most of it is routine and fairly boring - checking news feeds, monitoring the server activity, backing up their most recent files, so on and so forth. He makes a cup of coffee to keep himself company and powers up his main terminal. If he gets this done quickly, he can spend the rest of the day working on the fun projects he’d had to shelve while they were pulling extra shifts and going without sleep.

He takes a sip of his coffee and decides to start with checking the webcrawlers he has searching the internet for the names of SID employees. He’s not expecting much - news of the bust hasn’t hit the media yet, and most of what the webcrawlers usually grab are a few social media mentions and maybe a candid shot or two of them out in public. None of them have had time to socialize or pursue their hobbies for weeks now, so it should be pretty sparse.

Sure enough, there’s really only one thing worth checking into - a mention of the Chief’s name on some University student blog. ‘Caught Reading’? Ugh. Boring.

Sighing at the things he does for his job, Lin Jing clicks on the link, bracing himself for a bunch of academic bullshit or maybe a rant about the police invading the ivory tower.

The page loads.

Lin Jing chokes on his coffee.