Most nights since their escape they have slept curled up together, the way they did as children, usually with Shen Wei wrapped up around Ye Zun’s back, holding him close in the little bed in the eaves of the house. Occasionally Ye Zun could not tolerate being touched, and begged to be left alone; occasionally Shen Wei had to be elsewhere due to his duties as Sidhe Ambassador, and on those nights, despite the presence of Chu Shuzhi drowsing in the high-backed leather chair to keep him company, Ye Zun would lie frozen in quiet terror, imagining that the Sidhe had finally lured his brother out only to fall upon him announcing that they had discovered the missing statue and they knew it was his fault. On those nights Ye Zun imagined them taking Shen Wei back to Fairie and using him, as he had been used, or transforming him to marble, as he had been transformed, and he was torn between horror and a shameful streak of spiteful satisfaction at the thought.
Tonight they are curled up in Shen Wei’s bed, after Ye Zun had sought him out. They have both been quiet and careful, stepping around one another as they performed their ablutions and making wary space, their conversation halting and stilted. Ye Zun knows that Shen Wei is thinking about Zhao Yunlan, and struggling with the knowledge that he has hurt the man deeply. It pains Shen Wei to think of it, but there is no getting around the truth that his feelings for Zhao Yunlan are inextricably tangled with his feelings for the Kunlun who had tried to save them both; Ye Zun does not know why he is trying to separate them in his mind. Meanwhile Ye Zun is trying to understand his own response to Zhao Yunlan’s gentle request for privacy; it had made him feel powerful, but also scaldingly ashamed and wrong in a way he had not known he could feel. Neither of them speak his name, but as they curl up together in Shen Wei’s bed, Zhao Yunlan is like a ghost in the room with them.
Shen Wei wraps his arms around Ye Zun, and it makes Ye Zun feel safe - but it makes him feel other things too, now, that it had not provoked when they were children. It has been difficult to think of this embrace the same way, since Fairie, and all the more so ever since Ye Zun started spying on Zhao Yunlan’s dreams. He has found himself fascinated by the helpless sounds of pleasure that Yunlan wrings from Shen Wei’s pliant body, in dreams, and confounded that sometimes they make one another laugh.
He has found himself wanting to touch, and pinch, and taste, and bite, and see how wrong Yunlan might be about Shen Wei’s responses - or how right. He is - curious, in ways he had not expected to be.
Zhao Yunlan has an active imagination and a wide variety of experience, and although initially he had tended to dream of introducing Shen Wei to intimacy, as he got to know Ye Zun’s brother better and saw occasional glimpses of the steel beneath his demure facade, and heard the occasional acid remark that belied the surface sweetness, Yunlan’s dreams increasingly featured Shen Wei taking the initiative and holding him down and taking his own pleasure. At first Ye Zun had skittered back from this with a visceral rush of distress, but - bizarrely, it seems that this fantasy makes Zhao Yunlan feel safe. Treasured. He clearly loves being told what to do, and if he protests or rails it is only in order to provoke his imaginary Shen Wei into being more forceful.
It took Ye Zun a while of watching, baffled, from the corners of Yunlan’s dreams to begin to understand this at all, for it is so very far away from his own experiences, but - he envies Zhao Yunlan this innocence, more than a little. Now sometimes Ye Zun finds his thoughts snagging on this fantasy too, finds himself trying to imagine the weight and strength of Shen Wei pinning him in place and making him squirm, while keeping him safe. Giving him pleasure. It still shocks him, that this kind of vulnerability can be wanted; that one could imagine the other person could ever be trusted to be kind, if one let them inside one’s body or soul. But if he could trust anyone that way, it would be his brother; he is beginning to imagine the possibility that it might also be Zhao Yunlan, but that still seems like some kind of trick he hasn’t yet understood.
More often he liked to imagine Shen Wei helpless underneath him, open-mouthed, eyes shocked, twisting and gasping and shattering under his touch. Powerless. Needing him. This is intoxicating in its own right, and sometimes Ye Zun likes to make him suffer, because Ye Zun is never going to be entirely kind, but increasingly he is imagining what it might be like to resist that temptation. It is a different kind of power. It frightens him how much he wants it.
For decades Ye Zun has been coasting in others’ dreams as his only contact with other living souls, so it had not really seemed like a violation, when he let his consciousness stay tangled up with Zhao Yunlan’s while the man bedded his brother downstairs in a room that still smelled of smoke; it had not seemed very much like a violation when Ye Zun came back to himself sticky and spent in the quiet of his attic room with the salt taste of his brother’s skin on his tongue.
But it was a violation. He has thought about it since, at length, and he knows that neither of them would be comfortable if they knew. He thinks Shen Wei in particular would be mortified.
A little piece of him enjoys knowing that. Shen Wei has always been too perfect. It makes Ye Zun want to sully him, and bring him down to Ye Zun’s level. It makes Ye Zun want to take away his nice things and lick them, get them dirty, make them his. Make him share.
And it’s difficult to forget all this now, while he’s tangled up in bed with Shen Wei. Because he knows exactly how to make Shen Wei come apart. He has started to itemise the places where he knows for a fact that his mouth could wring gasps and moans and frantic sobs out of his protective older brother. He thinks that he could make Shen Wei lie back and let him do it, maybe, if he just found the right words, the perfect words to explain how desperately lonely he has been, and how lonely he still feels, and how badly he wants all this touching and thrusting and squirming to be something that feels good. That feels controllable, and not terrifying. That feels safe. That feels his. Something that could include laughter, and comfort.
But he doesn’t have the words. And so he’s curled up in bed with Shen Wei, feeling warm and protected and cherished in the way he has not felt since he was little more than a child, the way that Shen Wei has been trying desperately to make him feel ever since they fled the bounds of the Seelie Court, and he is trying to decide whether Shen Wei could tolerate a kiss.
Just a whisper-soft brush of lips against lips.
Or maybe more. Maybe his mouth pressed chastely to his twin’s, delicate puffs of air brushing gently from his nose to warm his brother’s skin, breaths mingling, his hair falling like silk against his brother’s throat, his eyelashes prickling against his brother’s cheeks like spiders’ legs.
Or maybe more. Maybe he could lick a wet stripe over his brother’s innocent pink mouth and suck the bottom lip into his own; bite it; suck it and nip it and worry it until it’s tender and swollen, the way Shen Wei’s familiar mouth was the first time he came to the attic room still flushed and glowing from Yunlan’s kisses. Perhaps he could chase the taste of Zhao Yunlan from his brother’s mouth, and press his own taste there instead.
Perhaps he could let his lips graze down Shen Wei’s throat and suck the curve of his adam’s apple, feeling the flutter of the pulse under his mouth, and choose not to use his teeth. Perhaps he could lick the sharp curve of his collarbone, and bite at the sensitive skin on his chest. Perhaps he could touch the curves of his hips and the dip of his belly button and cup the drowsy flesh that lies quiescent between his thighs, quickening it into life. Perhaps...
He thinks that Shen Wei might let him, if he pretended to be dreaming.
He thinks Shen Wei might let him, if he asked nicely enough, or if he cried.
He thinks Shen Wei might let him, if he pinned his brother down and demanded it as a debt he was owed.
He hasn’t tried. Yet. But as he snuggles back into his brother’s arms, and feels the familiar warmth of limbs and muscles and unconditional love stretched out around him, he wonders how much longer he will be able to wait.