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Make a Gamble, Take a Gamble

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"I just want to make a gamble. I'm gambling that he has his own difficulties. He is too deep a person; he likes to suffer in silence. So I can only wait - wait till the weight of it is too much, and he tells me about it himself."
--Zhao Yunlan, episode 23

Zhao Yunlan hasn't had a single lollipop all day. He doesn't even notice until the afternoon, when he hangs up after a phone call from the Ministry nagging him to be more "proactive" about catching Dixingren. He reaches into the drawer where he keeps his sweets, pulls one out - and then puts it back. He's lost his appetite for them.

That's when he realises just how screwed he is.

He pulls his boots down from the desk and pushes to his feet, heads out of his office into the main space of SID headquarters. Time to grill his people on all the progress they aren't making. What's the point of being chief if he can't spread the frustration around?

But in the doorway, he stops dead.

Shen Wei is right there, sitting on the sofa, with Da Qing hanging over the back next to him. And everything that's been roiling in Zhao Yunlan's head since last night, since Shen Wei left, bubbles to the surface.

Shen Wei in the kitchen, a knife clattering to the floor. That awful, blood-smeared cut on his wrist, leaking black energy. Shen Wei smiling - looking like death warmed over, but his eyes shining, as if there's not a single doubt in him: "You're worth it."

Zhao Yunlan never thought Shen Wei could be hurt like this, much less because of him. He isn't worth it - isn't worth Shen Wei's pain, isn't worthy of the intensity behind his eyes. It turns his stomach, what Shen Wei did for him, just to cure his eyes and heal his black energy corruption.

But is it for him? Shen Wei seems to think he's repaying Zhao Yunlan for something Zhao Yunlan doesn't remember having done. He can't mean the mugging - the Black-Cloaked Envoy would have walked away from that without a scratch whether or not Zhao Yunlan came along.

What does Shen Wei see when he looks at him? It's not Zhao Yunlan; it can't be. It has to be someone else, something else, some secret Zhao Yunlan doesn't know. Something that makes him think Zhao Yunlan should be okay with Shen Wei being hurt.

Secrets. It always comes down to secrets with Shen Wei. Zhao Yunlan never liked unsolved mysteries, and he's used to figuring people out. He'd figured out the Black-Cloaked Envoy's secret, after all. But Shen Wei is a damn onion, one layer of secrets after the next.

It all leaves him with a grating sense of wrongness, and here in the doorway, faced with Shen Wei, it sears through him again: everything that kept him tossing and turning last night, a confusing, furious mess of too many feelings under his skin. Everything that kept him restless all day.

He must have made a sound, or maybe it's cat instinct, because Da Qing turns his way.

"Lao-Zhao! Ah," Da Qing says, giving him a grin and gesturing in Shen Wei's direction with an elbow, "don't complain. He said not to disturb you."

Da Qing is probably remembering previous griping to the tune of Why didn't you tell me right away he was there? Because right from the start, Zhao Yunlan has never wanted to miss a moment of Shen Wei's presence.

Now, he can't quite look at Shen Wei, who must have come straight over from his 2 o'clock lecture. Stubbornly performing business as usual, as if nothing's wrong.

Zhao Yunlan glares at Da Qing instead. "He brought any news? Any new leads? Is that why he's here?"

Da Qing looks to Shen Wei, then at Zhao Yunlan again. He leans forward, eyes narrowed and nose twitching, then sways back again.

"No." Shen Wei's voice cuts in, taking pity on the cat caught in the middle. "There have been no new developments. Da Qing was just catching me up on the investigation." Despite his interference, he directs his words towards the table; he doesn't look at Zhao Yunlan.

"You were catching him up?" Zhao Yunlan stares Da Qing down. "On what? The absolute nothing we've got?

Da Qing huffs. "Don't take your moods out on me. I'm a cat, I have dibs on all the moods here."

At his desk, Lao-Chu snorts. He's watching. Great, now Lao-Chu probably thinks he's snubbing Shen Wei.

Zhao Yunlan grimaces, mimes a half-shrug in Da Qing's direction. "What have we got, then?" he demands with an expansive gesture at his team, moving into the room after all. He swerves around the table and sits on the stairs leading to the upper level, as far away from everyone - from Shen Wei - as he can while still being part of the discussion. The silence between them yawns wide and loud. Zhao Yunlan's mouth is dry; his throat is tight. He thinks if he put a lollipop into his mouth now, he might retch.

Lin Jing is the first to fill the silence; the others follow. Zhao Yunlan listens to the recitation of everything he already knows, everything that's leading them no closer to the master of the Merit Brush. Lao-Chu starts playing with his puppet, throwing baleful looks in Zhao Yunlan's direction.

Zhao Yunlan stares blindly ahead, feeling thoroughly churlish for not being more grateful for his restored sight. Shen Wei's very presence is a pressure on his skin, whether he looks at him or not.

At least that dreadful paleness has left Shen Wei's face, and his lips are back to their normal hue, last night's sickly white gone as if it had never been. That's something, right? Maybe Shen Wei is going to be fine.


Would he even tell Zhao Yunlan if he wasn't? Last night, he'd shrugged off his own pain as if it didn't deserve mentioning. Worth it. Zhao Yunlan hates those words.

After he'd tricked Shen Wei into revealing himself as the Black-Cloaked Envoy, Zhao Yunlan had been so happy to have them both on the same page. And when Zhao Yunlan had been blind, Shen Wei had practically moved in with him, seeming perfectly comfortable in Zhao Yunlan's presence. He'd really thought they were getting somewhere. Sure, there were still secrets, but he'd gambled that Shen Wei would tell him eventually, if he just waited him out.

He'd forgotten the cardinal rule: when you make a gamble, you can lose.

And then, because this is how absurd his life is, Zhao Yunlan ends up literally gambling for his life, stuck in a grotesque parody of a videogame.

It would be ludicrous if it wasn't so deathly serious, the mechanics of the game playing out in well-lit mundane corridors and hospital rooms. But the cruelty of it is breath-taking. The terrified face of the woman opposite Zhao Yunlan, putting a gun to her head and firing, sure she's going to die, won't leave him any time soon.

He could strangle Zu Ma, the vicious little brat.

Da Qing, Lao-Chu, Zhu Hong and Xiao-Guo, at least, are taken out without serious damage. But the game keeps threatening them anyway.

It's not until he's gulped down a glass of water with a fifty percent chance of being poisoned - because if that's what he has to do, he will; if that's the only way to protect everyone, he will - it's not until he's standing there, waiting for the poison to take effect, that he realises.

Gambling his life for someone else's: of course it's worth it. It's not about their worthiness. It's about doing the right thing.

And Shen Wei, Black-Cloaked Envoy, dispenser of justice with a solid core of mercy at his heart, is one of the best people Zhao Yunlan knows.

His stomach clenches, not with poison but with truth. Zhao Yunlan can't pretend any longer that he doesn't understand, that he wouldn't do the same.

If it had been Shen Wei opposite him, what would he have done? Tried to fire that gun more than just twice. Downed both glasses of water, before Shen Wei could.

Of course he would have.

And then Shen Wei is there, sleek and elegant in his grey suit, cold fury burning under his calm expression. One burst of black energy later, Zu Ma's game - the one he controlled, the one he was controlled by - is destroyed.

Zhao Yunlan didn't call Shen Wei. He should have, but he didn't. But Shen Wei came back for him anyway. Of course he did.

Things aren't right between them, and Zhao Yunlan has no idea how to make them right. But Shen Wei is here, all the same.

The day remains on theme: a moment later they're combing the hospital in search of a bomb. But in the back of Zhao Yunlan's head, everything is Shen Wei.

Shen Wei, who is here with him. Shen Wei, who took care of him through his blindness, who cooks for him and protects him and works with him. Shen Wei, who has all those secrets, and that mysterious past he keeps alluding to but not explaining. Zhao Yunlan's been coming up with more and more far-fetched theories, none of which make sense. Past lives, amnesia, brainwashing, transmigration ... none of it fits. And if it's up to Shen Wei, he'll probably never know.

Shen Wei will keep risking himself for Zhao Yunlan, and won't ever explain why. How is Zhao Yunlan supposed to live with that? But then again, how is he supposed to let go? And would letting go change anything, in the end?

Then he finds Shen Wei with a bomb in his hands, and letting go is the furthest thing from his mind.

Shen Wei looks up from the bomb, the last gambit in Zu Ma's sick little game. "There's no other option now," he snaps, sharp with urgency. He wants to take the bomb through a portal and blow himself up. To sacrifice himself again. And there's nothing Zhao Yunlan can say that will stop him.

Last week - hell, two days ago - he'd have thought the Black-Cloaked Envoy could handle an explosion just fine. Why had it never occurred to him that it might not be so easy? Shen Wei made it look easy, that was why. If he hadn't caught him in the kitchen with that knife ...

Now, it comes down to gambling again. He hasn't had much luck with that lately, and Zu Ma doesn't think like other people; who knows what he did to that bomb? But Zhao Yunlan has to try. Even if he's not as confident as he'd like. If he can't defuse this bomb ...

No. He can. He has to.

But first he has to convince Shen Wei to let him. At least Shen Wei is still sitting there, listening. In his heart, Zhao Yunlan begs him to hear the truth. "We're part of each other's lives now. If you were to die, do you think I could be all right?"

Shen Wei looks at him, startled. He's here. He's still here.

Zhao Yunlan summons a grin. "Shall we make a gamble?" And he desperately hopes he's right that there's only the one bomb. If there are more, they're as good as dead already, along with everyone else in the hospital.

"I'm sorry," Shen Wei says, after a moment. "The things I'm keeping from you ... you'll definitely know them one day."

It's a vote of confidence, but that's not what Zhao Yunlan hears the loudest.

He stares. His brain fizzles, thoughts whiting out. For a moment, he forgets the bomb in Shen Wei's hands, about to explode. Because Shen Wei just ... just ...

Zhao Yunlan had given up on ever hearing it, but Shen Wei just promised him the truth. One day: all right, that's vague as hell, but it's a promise, and Shen Wei doesn't make promises lightly.

Zhao Yunlan is almost grateful for the bomb now. Without it, would Shen Wei have said anything? How long would the strain between them have lasted?

Bomb, right. His brain switches gears, finally. And then he's down on one knee, grinning up at Shen Wei, filled with reckless confidence and ready to show off.

When the last wire is cut and the countdown stops, they grin at each other in relief. Adrenaline and elation are singing in Zhao Yunlan's blood, and the tight-coiled tension in his chest has started to unwind.

There's still so much he doesn't know, doesn't understand. But maybe the old gamble will pay off, after all. Shen Wei promised: he might be slow to share his secrets, but he will in the end. All Zhao Yunlan has to do is wait him out.

That's all right. That's fine. They're both still here; there's time. Zhao Yunlan bounces to his feet, energised and grinning.

There's more to worry about: Da Qing and the others have disappeared from the hospital and aren't answering their phones. Zhao Yunlan's fingers tap nervously against his thigh as he tries again. But Da Qing's phone goes to voicemail, and Lao-Chu's, too. He switches gears, calls Wang Zheng at headquarters. But she hasn't heard from the others since they left for the hospital.

Shen Wei stands close to him, concern visible on his face. Zhao Yunlan wishes he'd touch him the way he might have before last night. Then he could just lean into him for a second.

But Shen Wei doesn't reach out, and Zhao Yunlan doesn't know how to, either. He closes his eyes for a moment, then turns back to his phone.

The next call actually goes through, and he's never been so glad to hear Zhu Hong's groggy voice before. She's at home, with no idea how she arrived there or what happened in between.

Zhao Yunlan wants to shout at that damned kid again. When Zu Ma finished using them as puppets in the game, he must have just put them back on the shelf - told them to go home and forget.

"Of course," says Zhu Hong, when she hears everyone else is still incommunicado. "Snakes have a far superior constitution."

Zhao Yunlan grins. "Go check on everyone else," he tells her. "We're still tied up here at the hospital."

Shen Wei looks at him, and it's only then that he realises he spoke for both of them. He grins back, and Shen Wei smiles.

They can heal this rupture between them. They can get back to normal. Zhao Yunlan wants that desperately - needs it.

"Shen Wei." Abruptly, Zhao Yunlan reaches for Shen Wei's arm - for the wrist he'd cut the night before. That cut is burned into his memory, the black energy welling up and the effort it took to close it. Shen Wei's smile falls away, and his muscles go tight. For a moment Zhao Yunlan thinks he'll shake him off.

He doesn't; he simply stands there, tense and uncomfortable, not meeting Zhao Yunlan's eyes.

Just how badly hurt is Shen Wei? He's been all right today, the awful bloodless look from last night vanished as if it had never been, so maybe it wasn't as bad as it had seemed, or maybe Shen Wei is just that good at pretending to be fine when he's not. With a hot spurt of anger, Zhao Yunlan wonders how much practice he's had. (Too much. Too much, either way.)

He sucks on his lower lip. Lifts Shen Wei's wrist between them. Fights the wholly inappropriate instinct to place a kiss on the spot where that cut was. Says the only thing he can: "Are you going to be all right?"

Shen Wei swallows. The tendons in his wrist flex, but he doesn't pull away. "It will take time," he says eventually.

Relief rushes through Zhao Yunlan like a waterfall. All right. Shen Wei's answer might mean anything - what will take time, exactly? Healing? That exchange of energy he mentioned last night? Something else that Zhao Yunlan has no clue about? But Shen Wei didn't pretend not to understand the question, and he didn't flat-out refuse to answer, either.

"Okay," Zhao Yunlan says, inanely, and belatedly remembers to let go. "Okay."

Zhu Hong reports back in just after Dr Cheng tells them Zu Ma's condition has turned critical and he won't last much longer. Da Qing, Lao-Chu and Xiao-Guo are all safely at home, still passed out but seemingly none the worse for wear.

Worries somewhat soothed, Zhao Yunlan heads into Zu Ma's room.

He stares down at the kid in the hospital bed. He still wants to shake him, but Zu Ma's already regretting everything, and he's dying. Moreover, Shen Wei, in whose jurisdiction this whole mess falls as a Dixing-related crime, isn't saying anything at all.

And he's right; there's nothing to say now. No need to make the kid's last moments more unpleasant.

The drive home is almost normal, yet not quite. The tension between them is no longer thick enough to cut with a knife - Zhao Yunlan shudders at the thought - but there's still so much unresolved. He'll have to do something about that.

At a traffic light, he leans over Shen Wei's knees to rummage in the glove compartment and dig out a lollipop. Shen Wei doesn't push him off, and the glare levelled at Zhao Yunlan when he finally straightens is entirely business as usual.

Zhao Yunlan grins at him. "Want one?"

"No." But a corner of Shen Wei's mouth twitches.

Zhao Yunlan looks down at the lollipop in his hand, grimaces and tosses it onto the dashboard. "Yeah, me neither, actually."

Shen Wei's eyebrows shoot up.

Zhao Yunlan pushes the door open, and there's Da Qing on the sofa, stirring as if he's waking up from a nap, not from being mind-controlled, or hypnotised, or whatever it was. Zhao Yunlan breathes relief.

It doesn't take them long to explain what happened, and Da Qing seems entirely fine. Zhao Yunlan ruffles his hair, and he pulls away, not in a cuddly mood.

Shen Wei smiles at them, then looks down. "If everything's in order here, then I have a lecture to -"

"Da Qing," Zhao Yunlan talks right over him, too loudly, "you said you were going to go out, didn't you? High time - you nearly slept through it all, you lazy cat!" Da Qing just stares, so he shoves at him. "Go on, off you go!"

"What if I don't want to?" the damned cat complains, then huffs. "Never mind, I can't stand it when you two stare at each other like that. I'm going out just to save myself!" He turns into an actual cat, and - thankfully - does leave.

Zhao Yunlan would have liked a moment to gather himself, but Shen Wei is already speaking again, picking up where Zhao Yunlan interrupted.

"Zhao Yunlan, I really do have a lecture to prepare." The smile he offers seems apologetic, at least.

Just stay, Zhao Yunlan wants to say. I just want you to be here with me. Is that too much to ask?

"So what?" he demands instead. "You did that here while I was blind." He'd even cleared the desk in the other room for himself. It had been piled with odds and ends before, unused since Zhao Yunlan moved in.

Shen Wei's eyes shift to the open door, the evidence of their cohabitation. He says nothing.

"Damn it!" Zhao Yunlan forces himself to take a deep breath. He's not going to shout in frustration. He's not. "Those secrets you said I'd get to learn one day," he says, his voice tight, and pretends not to notice when Shen Wei winces. "Are you just going to keep me at arm's length until then?"

"I - what?" Shen Wei stares at Zhao Yunlan, clearly taken aback. "That's not what I -" He doesn't seem to know how to complete the sentence. His hand comes up to press against his throat, against the pendant Zhao Yunlan has glimpsed there a few times, but his eyes are glued to Zhao Yunlan's face. "I'm not."

And that's - that's really not the reaction Zhao Yunlan expected. He swallows, helplessly. "Then don't leave."

After a moment, Shen Wei nods, eyes bright, looking just as helpless.

Shen Wei does have to leave, just for a minute, to fetch his papers, and Zhao Yunlan stands there the entire time, not looking away from the door, counting seconds. But Shen Wei returns, deposits his papers and a stack of reference books in the other room, and then goes to the kitchen to make tea.

Zhao Yunlan trails after him, unsettled. He has to fix this. Somehow.

At least Shen Wei has taken off his glasses. That's a concession, right? It means something. It's him - not the Black-Cloaked Envoy, not Professor Shen, not either of his public selves, just Shen Wei himself, here with Zhao Yunlan.

Shen Wei pours tea, and they sit at the breakfast bar, as they have a dozen times before. But this time, the very air between them seems to waver. They're on the cusp of something; Zhao Yunlan can feel it. It will either bring them closer or drive them further apart. His throat constricts.

Shen Wei takes a sip of tea, sets the cup down. Zhao Yunlan watches, takes a drink of his own. Looks across the room to the open door, to the room he's started to think of as Shen Wei's office. Fiddles with the rolled-up sleeve of his jeans jacket. Grimaces.

It hurts. Not as much as it hurt when he thought there might be no hope - that Shen Wei might not want him to ever know the truth at all. But the loss of the easy companionship they'd fallen into so quickly, so early on - that still hurts.

It's frightening how crucial Shen Wei has become to him. Zhao Yunlan was okay before they knew each other, wasn't he? His life was fine when it was just him and Da Qing and his work. But the prospect of going back to that now is nothing short of miserable.

He'll be fine, if he has to. Of course he'll be fine. (It's a lie. He knows it, can't even pretend to himself that it's not. But he repeats it as a mantra, nonetheless: He'll be fine.)

It's too much. Zhao Yunlan jumps to his feet. "Xiao-Wei," he says, the nickname torn from his throat, "I can't do this any more. I need to know."

Shen Wei sets his teacup down with a clatter. "I already told you I can't tell you now." He stands up slowly, like a tight-coiled spring, as if any quick movement might make him snap. As if he's just barely holding back on stepping into a portal and disappearing without a trace.

Panic sears through Zhao Yunlan. "Not that." He steps forward, urgently, holding Shen Wei's gaze across the breakfast bar that's still between them like a barricade. Shen Wei's frozen expression is no help at all. He squeezes his eyes shut, helplessly. Makes a gamble. "I don't need your secrets, Shen Wei. I just need to know one thing. This." He opens his eyes, gesturing between them. "This thing between us. What you did for me. Is it us? Is it for me? Or is it all because of those secrets you can't tell? Repaying something I didn't do?"

This is what a real gamble looks like. A real risk. Not the stupid, cruel, stupid game that Zu Ma put on, Russian Roulette and all: this, putting himself on the line.

Shen Wei stares at him, eyes wide. "I ..."

"If it's me, if it's us, then it's all good. Whatever you want. Whatever you can. But if it's not, if it's all about something else, then ... well." He swallows, shakes his head, looks away. He hates how needy he feels. Tries his best not to be. "Then, never mind."

"Zhao Yunlan," Shen Wei whispers, barely audible. He's still staring. For a long moment, he stays frozen in place, and dread pools in Zhao Yunlan's stomach. Then he steps around the breakfast bar into the kitchen, stands right in front of Zhao Yunlan, and finally the words rush out, as if Shen Wei can't make them come quickly enough: "It's always been you."

A breath explodes from Zhao Yunlan's lungs. He takes another, and it trembles out of him, his chest shaking with it. "Okay," he manages, hoarsely. "Okay."

We've always been friends, echoes in the back of his mind, but the part of his brain that's always speculating, calculating, that keeps trying to make sense of Shen Wei, is almost completely drowned out by sheer relief.

If Shen Wei had said no, he'd have had to find some way to let him go. But he doesn't have to, now. He doesn't. Zhao Yunlan tries for a smile. It feels more wobbly than he likes.

Shen Wei's lashes lower as his gaze drops to Zhao Yunlan's clenched fingers, then sweep up again. His gaze seems to linger on Zhao Yunlan's mouth, but maybe that's wishful thinking. Then his hand closes over Zhao Yunlan's biceps, squeezing almost painfully, and he's looking him straight in the eye.

"Always," he repeats, insistent, before letting go. "I can't - there's so much I can't tell you. But never doubt that, Zhao Yunlan." He lets out a small snort. "One day you'll know it all, and you'll probably laugh. Until then ... trust that it's you. Trust me on that, if nothing else." His mouth quirks, a troubled expression flickering over his face. "If you can."

"I've always trusted you." Right from the start, no matter how suspicious Shen Wei behaved, no matter how many crime scenes he turned up in. "Even when I knew I shouldn't."

Shen Wei smiles at that, eyes bright. "I would say you always should, but I may be biased."

Zhao Yunlan lets out a snort of his own. He leans sideways, hip against the edge of the sink, one arm braced against the back of it. The slouching position puts his eyeline slightly lower than Shen Wei's, so he can look up at him through his lashes. "Ah, Shen Wei. If you're biased, then I'm doubly so. Which makes us perfect for each other, don't you think?"

He's aiming for the kind of flirtation he's always directed at Shen Wei, the kind Shen Wei generally answers with fond irritation. Zhao Yunlan means what he says; of course he does. But that's not why he says it.

He's missing his mark, or Shen Wei is in a particularly quixotic mood, because Shen Wei's gaze actually softens. He bows his head, smiles down at the floor between them. When he looks up again, he meets Zhao Yunlan's gaze frankly, with no sign of irritation, fond or otherwise. "I've always found," he says, and his voice seems deeper than normal, resonating somewhere in Zhao Yunlan's hindbrain, "that perfection is entirely in the eye of the beholder."

Zhao Yunlan swallows. Feels sure he's just been set up for a punchline and can't resist taking the bait anyway. "What about your eyes, then?"

"They're looking at you," Shen Wei says simply, devastatingly.

Zhao Yunlan's heartbeat hammers in his ears, in his throat, in his very fingers where they're braced against the cool metal of the sink. "Shen Wei, you're killing me here."

Too late, he remembers how Shen Wei usually answers that kind of phrase: with a warning not to joke about such things. He makes a grimace, lips pulled back and eyes wide, at the same moment that Shen Wei says, deadly serious, "You asked."

Not even a complaint? Zhao Yunlan stares. Shen Wei stares right back.

"Shen Wei," Zhao Yunlan says again, "if you're joking with me ..."

He can't continue the sentence. Shen Wei does have a strange, twisty sense of humour, but he's not joking now. He's meeting Zhao Yunlan's eyes, almost in challenge.

"Shen Wei," he tries, a third time, and this time it just tumbles right out: "If you don't kiss me right now, I think I really am going to die."

Still no remonstrations: Shen Wei stares at him for another long moment, his gaze burning, glued to Zhao Yunlan's face as if he's weighing every detail of his expression, trying to judge how serious he is. Then there's a sudden gleam, a fierce, sharp grin, and Shen Wei's left hand is on Zhao Yunlan's shoulder, pushing. Zhao Yunlan's buttocks hit the edge of the counter, and Shen Wei's right arm wraps around his shoulders, holding his upper body steady now he's no longer braced against the sink. A second later Shen Wei's lips are on him, his body pressed tightly against Zhao Yunlan's.

Zhao Yunlan's knees go weak.

His whole body is gooseflesh. Every inch of him is aware of Shen Wei's closeness. It's overwhelming, and his fingers dig into Shen Wei's shoulders, grasping for more.

Shen Wei's breath is ragged, loud in Zhao Yunlan's ears, but he's still in control. His tongue runs over Zhao Yunlan's teeth and pushes into his mouth, sloppy and wet with urgency, thoroughly stealing the breath from Zhao Yunlan's lungs. Then he pulls back, teeth scraping lightly over Zhao Yunlan's lower lip as he does. Zhao Yunlan's hips surge forward desperately, his cock starting to fill, a whine escaping his mouth.

"Like this?" Shen Wei murmurs against his lips, tugging at his own collar, loosening his tie.

"Just like this," Zhao Yunlan rasps, voice thick with emotion. He wraps his arms around Shen Wei to pull him closer, to hold him there, to make sure this is real.

"Zhao Yunlan." Shen Wei's breath shivers against Zhao Yunlan's ear, and he sounds almost frantic, raw. "I need you to be sure."

Zhao Yunlan lets out a sound that's half laugh, half sob. "I've always been sure." And if Shen Wei had ever kissed him like this before, he'd never have doubted this was for him.

Shen Wei jerks back, not out of his grasp but far enough to stare at him. Which is still too far, damn it. His eyes are glassy, and his cheeks have a flush Zhao Yunlan has never seen on them before.

"Come back here," he demands, roughly.

Shen Wei lets himself be pulled. Very slowly, he shifts his body, one knee sliding between Zhao Yunlan's, a firm thigh pressing against his cock. Oh.

Zhao Yunlan ruts against the pressure; he can't help it. And - oh, again. There it is, Shen Wei's hardness pressed against his hip. Yes.

Shen Wei throws him a grin, just before their mouths come together again. Hot shivers run over Zhao Yunlan's skin, like he's about to melt - no, he wants to melt, but needs just a little bit more heat. He presses closer, clutching at Shen Wei.

Shen Wei's hands are roaming over Zhao Yunlan's shoulders, his hair, the sides of his face. Seeking skin, the only place it's available: they're both still wearing their jackets, but letting go is too much to ask, even just long enough to slip them off.

Zhao Yunlan hitches a leg up onto the counter, to pull Shen Wei more closely between his thighs. Shen Wei moves right in, makes a desperate sound, thrusts twice, their cocks rubbing against each other through their trousers, and then hisses. "Not in the kitchen."

"Not letting go." Zhao Yunlan grinds against Shen Wei. Shen Wei gasps. Can't argue with that, can you?

Then, "Fine." Shen Wei steps backwards, pulling Zhao Yunlan with him, away from the counter. What? His hands slide down to Zhao Yunlan's hips, to his thighs - hitches them up. Lifts him off his feet, just like that.

With Zhao Yunlan's legs wrapped around his hips, Zhao Yunlan's arms clinging to his shoulders, their erections trapped between them, Shen Wei moves across the flat in quick, steady strides. Carrying him, and not even slightly out of balance doing it.

Wow. That's really - wow.

Wrapped full-body around Shen Wei, Zhao Yunlan can only hold on, breathing hard against the rush of it. He can't resist planting a wet kiss against Shen Wei's forehead, which is the only part he can comfortably reach. Shen Wei lets out a sound more like a growl than a groan, swerves to the side abruptly and topples them both onto the sofa. Zhao Yunlan lands on his back, and Shen Wei on top of him, knocking the air out of his lungs.

Oh, he thinks when he catches his breath and his brain comes back online. Didn't even make it all the way to the bed. Wow.

Above him, Shen Wei's eyes are wild. Zhao Yunlan's heart clenches. This is for him. He can't doubt it now: this is Shen Wei, with him. He's driven Shen Wei to this.

It's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen.

Shen Wei's Adam's apple bobs. "Can I -"

He wraps a calf around Shen Wei's hip again, pushes up a little. "Please. Anything."

Shen Wei closes his eyes, lets out a strained groan, and then he's rutting against Zhao Yunlan, artless and urgent, burning with need. Beneath him, Zhao Yunlan can only hang on for the ride.

Shen Wei's weight presses down on him. They're clutching, thrusting, fabric bunching under Zhao Yunlan's hands. He's never been so desperate for anything, for anyone - never been too desperate to even pull his cock out. But right now, he can't even stop for that much. And neither, it seems, can Shen Wei.

It's glorious. Shen Wei letting go, wanting - letting himself want, and more, letting himself have: this is what Zhao Yunlan's been wanting to see from him, since forever. He's not sure what he did right to get it now, after everything that went so wrong, but he'll take it, no matter what.

Was this desire, this need always there under the surface? How much more has Shen Wei been holding back? Right now, Zhao Yunlan can't bring himself to care, because Shen Wei isn't holding back any more.

It builds between them, the pressure, the urgency - they rock together, too far gone to care about anything but more, their breaths turned to gasps, and then it bursts out of him without warning, hot and raw, his body seizing with his release.

Shen Wei's eyes are wide above him. Another jerky thrust, and another, and he collapses, heavy and trembling, on top of Zhao Yunlan.

After a while, Shen Wei stirs. He braces himself, tugs off his tie, unbuttons his collar, and rolls them over so he's no longer pressing Zhao Yunlan into the sofa. It has to be a Dixing power that's keeping them from falling off. They lie there for a long time, knees bent awkwardly, one of Shen Wei's legs hanging over the edge, but both of them unwilling to let go. Needing to breathe together, hold each other. Feel.

Eventually Zhao Yunlan sits up, suddenly really wanting a lollipop. He grins, delighted. Shen Wei watches him, his gaze heavy and warm, a small furrow forming on his brow.

Zhao Yunlan shrugs out of his jacket, then leans across Shen Wei and over the back of the sofa for his lollipop jar. Slides down again half on top of Shen Wei, slowly unwraps a lollipop. Holds it out to Shen Wei. Shen Wei's eyes widen. His lips part - probably in surprise, but Zhao Yunlan's always been up for grasping an opportunity when it presents itself. He slips the lollipop into Shen Wei's mouth and grins at him.

Shen Wei blinks. Swallows. Stares. He sits up, partially dislodging Zhao Yunlan. But just as Zhao Yunlan starts to wonder what the hell kind of minefield he's stepped in now, Shen Wei bursts into a bright smile - a genuine one, crinkles and all. His eyes are shining. Zhao Yunlan drinks it in.

His mouth looks even more gorgeous than usual with the green stem of a cherry lollipop protruding.

Slowly, very slowly, Shen Wei lifts his hand, reaches for the lollipop's stem, and pulls on it. His lips purse, curling around the sweet, then pop loudly, obscenely, as it plops free. He lifts it to Zhao Yunlan's lips. "Do you want?"

His mouth is open and he's moving forward before he has time to think.

Shen Wei doesn't immediately let go. He studies Zhao Yunlan's face, as if he can't quite believe this is real. Well, that makes two of them. When he does release the stem, he strokes slowly down Zhao Yunlan's arm, sending a shiver over his skin. Then both his hands are at the hem of Zhao Yunlan's shirt, slipping under. He waits a second, maybe for a protest - as if! - then pulls it up. His palms slide over the bare skin of Zhao Yunlan's belly, and Zhao Yunlan shivers with it. Yes. Please.

Swallowing heavily, Zhao Yunlan offers the lollipop back to Shen Wei, who accepts it, and moves to get Shen Wei out of his jacket. Shen Wei lets him, eyes roving over Zhao Yunlan's body with so much hunger, and he seems inordinately pleased, as if this is more than he expected, better than he expected, as if it's everything.

What did he expect? Shen Wei should expect everything from him. Zhao Yunlan wants him to. Wants him to take it for granted.

But if they're both getting more than they expected, Zhao Yunlan won't complain.

They trade the lollipop back and forth between them: shirts, shoes, trousers, sticky underwear. Finally, only Shen Wei's yellow jade pendant remains. Shen Wei sets the empty lollipop stem down on the table and stands up, gloriously, unselfconsciously naked, holding out a hand, palm open.

Zhao Yunlan drinks in the sight, the pale smooth skin unmarked by any scars, despite the Black-Cloaked Envoy's long and dangerous life. He wonders what hurt, what injuries that skin is hiding. He wants nothing so much as to caress every inch of it. Shen Wei's cock is half-hard again, and he wants to taste it. He wants everything.

He takes Shen Wei's hand.

Zhao Yunlan falls down onto the mattress, pulling Shen Wei on top of him. His hands keep roving over the planes of Shen Wei's back, groping his buttocks, running over his arms. He can't stop, has to touch him everywhere.

Shen Wei pulls away, rolls to the side, captures his reaching hands. Zhao Yunlan opens his mouth to complain, but what he sees in Shen Wei's face stops him in his tracks. Shen Wei's eyes seem wet with emotion - something tremulous and uncertain, like hope. Zhao Yunlan feels wholly inadequate under that gaze.

For a long moment they lie like that, face to face but not touching, save for Zhao Yunlan's hands clasped between Shen Wei's.

"Will you let me?" Shen Wei asks finally, hoarsely.

Zhao Yunlan is helplessly nodding, not even knowing what he's agreeing to. It was always going to be yes, no matter what.

Shen Wei makes him turn over, guides him into position with a hand pressed down against the back of his neck, and Zhao Yunlan shivers.

Is it deliberate, that he can't see Shen Wei like this? It might be. But with everything Shen Wei let him see earlier, how much can it still matter?

He wants to see Shen Wei. He wants to know him, know all his secrets. Zhao Yunlan exhales a shuddering breath into his pillow. He also wants this, kneeling face-down, braced on his elbows with his thighs spread wide, his spine arching, his buttocks on display, on offer for Shen Wei. Giving Shen Wei whatever he wants. Trusting - no, knowing he doesn't have to ask for more, that Shen Wei will give him all he needs in turn.

Showing he can be patient, when he wants. And he does want to, for Shen Wei.

Shen Wei's fingernails dig, just for a moment, into that spot at the back of Zhao Yunlan's neck, as if he knows how sensitive it is, the way the touch sears through him straight to his cock. As if he knows every secret of Zhao Yunlan's body without even trying. The wave of lust that wells up is so intense, Zhao Yunlan's vision actually blurs out for a moment.

Shen Wei's hands runs down along the length of his spine, soothing him.

"Do - do you have the Dixing power of knowing exactly what someone likes in bed?" Zhao Yunlan gasps out.

Shen Wei snorts. He cups Zhao Yunlan's buttocks, thumbs stroking towards the crack. "That would be a spectacularly useless power."

Zhao Yunlan pushes back against Shen Wei's hands, his heart full to the bursting. Not that he thought Shen Wei would go looking for other lovers, but still. "Is that a no?" he mumbles.

"It's a no." The smile in his voice is audible, and he presses a kiss on the small of Zhao Yunlan's back. Zhao Yunlan bites his lip.

Shen Wei shifts to mouth at the tender skin on the inside of Zhao Yunlan spread thighs, sucking, then nipping. Rubbing his cheek against one thigh, then the other. It feels almost unbearably intimate, even though he doesn't even touch Zhao Yunlan's cock, which is achingly hard, hanging in the air with nothing to thrust against.

"Shen Wei," he whines. Just the name. He won't ask, not even beg. Not this time; not right now.

"Yes." That one word promises everything. Shen Wei reaches over the side of the bed for the lube that's in the box underneath, and Zhao Yunlan doesn't have to wonder how he knows; he probably found it the first time he tidied up around here. Zhao Yunlan had got a few excellent fantasies out of that image.

But then there's a slick finger pressed against his opening, circling carefully, and all other thoughts are driven from Zhao Yunlan's mind. Shen Wei's finger breaches the tight ring of muscles, and he lets out a strangled cry, arching back against it.

Shen Wei braces a forearm across Zhao Yunlan's lower back, holding him firmly in place. On reflex, Zhao Yunlan pushes back against it, futile against Shen Wei's strength, then subsides. Shen Wei moans.

Oh. It flushes over him in another shocking wave of heat, the knowledge that Shen Wei likes this, likes holding him down. It makes him want to stay in place, makes him want to give him everything.

Soon, it's two fingers slipping between Zhao Yunlan's cheeks, sliding easily inside. With Shen Wei keeping him in place, he can't push back much against the fingers that tease him, open him up further, make him ready for Shen Wei.

Shen Wei places a tender kiss on Zhao Yunlan's buttock. His fingers keep moving, inexorably pushing against Zhao Yunlan's prostate, driving him wild.

And then - fuck, yes - Shen Wei's lines up behind him, the head of his cock large and hot between Zhao Yunlan's cheeks, one hand steadying himself and the other curved around Zhao Yunlan's hip.

"All right?" Shen Wei murmurs, needlessly. The incoherent sound Zhao Yunlan makes probably isn't much of an answer, but Shen Wei takes it, shifting his hips. His fingers guide the way, and then the tip is inside, sliding deeper. Filling Zhao Yunlan.

Shen Wei's cock feels large, overwhelming, the slow first push inside almost too much of a stretch, but it's so good, right there inside him. For a long moment Zhao Yunlan can do nothing but pant into his pillow, feeling ... everything. Feeling Shen Wei.

Shen Wei fucks him slowly, deeply. And - yes - one hand curls around to grip Zhao Yunlan's cock, finally, stroking him just as slowly, in the same rhythm.

It's not fast, not urgent, completely unlike their first frantic coming-together on the sofa - not a race for the finish line, simply building and building, an ever-increasing rise of pleasure that feels like it could keep rising, forever, intimate and tender and cherishing. Zhao Yunlan's heart aches with it, with the rhythm Shen Wei is building, with the tears leaking from his eyes.

His orgasm, when it comes, is just as drawn out, his entire body clenching with it. Shen Wei lets out a startled "Oh," and falters, stops.

Oh, indeed. He's pushed Shen Wei right over the edge with him. Shen Wei falls forward, curling over Zhao Yunlan's back, his mouth wet and open against that spot on the back of his neck, sending impossible spikes of yet more pleasure through Zhao Yunlan as they both shiver through the aftershocks, still locked together.

Afterwards, turned face to face again, they lie in each other's arms, sweaty and sated, their breath still calming slowly. Shen Wei buries his head in Zhao Yunlan's shoulder, the jade pendant pressing against his chest, and Zhao Yunlan can feel tremors under Shen Wei's skin.

Good. He's not alone feeling too much. That's good.

Zhao Yunlan pulls Shen Wei's hand against his lips, brushes a kiss against his knuckles, his palm, and then, daring, his wrist. "Shen Wei," he murmurs.

Shen Wei doesn't pretend not to understand him. Doesn't tell him to stop, either, or not to ask this now. Doesn't even really tense, only holds on more tightly. Good.

Finally, a murmur against Zhao Yunlan's neck: "I'm here."

And Zhao Yunlan's heart flows over, all over again.

Maybe there are always going to be things unsaid between them. But everything Zhao Yunlan doesn't know is far in the distance now, not standing between them. There's no space between them, anyway - they're skin to skin, as close as can be.

He took a gamble, pushing for as much as he did. Asking, laying his heart on the line. He could have lost - could have made the distance between them too vast to bridge. What would he have done then? He shoos the thought away, because here they are, instead: here they are.

Because when you make a gamble, you can win. And this time, he has. This time, they both have.