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After the Rains

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When the clouds burst and rain starts coming down in torrents at the end of the day, Da Qing is the one who accompanies Zhao Yunlan into the parking lot, makes him put on his seatbelt, drives him home, and then proceeds to annoy the fuck out of him by way of proving that nothing has changed. He climbs all over Yunlan as soon as they’re on the couch, flickering into cat form for a while to sit on top of his chest and knead him viciously — those dainty talons are sharp — and then back into human form to investigate all the kitchen shelves for tragically uneaten snacks.

“You could never see much anyway,” Da Qing says cheerfully as he returns, mouth full, munching. The couch creaks under his weight. “No big loss. Human eyes are garbage. And as for your sense of smell—”

Zhao Yunlan kicks out a foot in the direction of the rustling, connects, and the package goes flying. His nose may not be as good as a cat’s, but he can still tell that Da Qing was eating dried bonito flakes. Which are now all over the floor, presumably. “You’d better clean that up before Shen Wei comes home.”

Da Qing sniffs. “Why should I? He’s used to cleaning up your messes. And right now, all you have to do is wave your hand and he’ll be at your service.” He makes a scoffing sound in the back of his throat, as if he’s coughing up a hairball. “Maybe you did it on purpose, to get the Black-Cloaked Envoy treating you like that. Like your royal attendant, always at your side, anticipating your every move. Don’t you know only cats deserve that kind of devotion?”

Zhao Yunlan kicks again, harder, but this time Da Qing jumps nimbly out of his way and lands on his shoulder — in cat form, luckily. He settles there like a big fat pillow, and Zhao Yunlan sinks deeper into the couch, listening to his purr. It vibrates through him, and it’s comforting, calming.

Not that he needs calming or comforting, of course. He’s just dealing with a temporary setback, like getting a wheel clamp on his car. Except attached to his face. Something like that.

Whatever Da Qing may say, Zhao Yunlan can feel his other senses getting sharper. Every noise the building makes around him registers: the ping of the elevator, the footsteps and the squeaking wheels in the hallway (his neighbor from three doors down, with her little grocery cart), the slow rumbling burr of his own refrigerator, the rain rattling against the windows.

Slowly he sinks into a half-doze, never quite falling asleep, occasionally surfacing to wonder vaguely what time it is. It’s harder to keep track of time when he can’t sense light or dark, or read a watch, or look at his phone. He misses his phone, though at least he can still use it to call people. Not that anyone has called him since he got home. The SID team is probably keeping him out of the loop, with some misguided idea of protecting him, and he’s going to have to yell at them about that. But not right now.

He yawns, long and loud, stretching against the well-worn leather of the couch. The hissing rain is like white noise, blanketing him in its roar.

Sometime soon, Shen Wei will get home, from his lecture or whatever it was that called him out of the SID office and away from Zhao Yunlan’s side this afternoon. No, not a lecture, that was yesterday, and today is…Friday? Right? Zhao Yunlan has the full college schedule on his phone, which is no use whatever right now, but at least he was smart enough to set alarms for Shen Wei’s lectures and office hours. No alarms that he can remember today, so no lecture.

Actually, it is a bit odd that Shen Wei didn’t tell him where he was going. Especially now. He wouldn’t have left Zhao Yunlan’s side without a good reason — Da Qing is right about that, at least. Shen Wei has been attentive, just the right side of smothering, and Zhao Yunlan’s gotten so used to it that when he finally tries to get up from the couch, it’s odd that Shen Wei’s forearm isn’t right there for him to grab and lean on.

Da Qing yowls at his nap being interrupted, pads around hoovering up the spilled fish flakes, then settles back down on the couch, in the warm spot Zhao Yunlan just left. Yunlan doesn’t need eyes to see that happening: he knows his cat. And he knows his apartment, which feels familiar under his hands — a table edge here, a shelf there — and only bruises him twice as he stumbles toward the kitchen, yawning.

Why did he get up, anyway? His couch is warm, safe. He could sleep properly for once, maybe even in bed. No sunlight to wake him up. Surely he’s earned it, saving the world and so on.

It’s got to be late, maybe very late. All he needs is for Shen Wei to come home.

Was there something else he wanted? What else could there be?

Oh, food, maybe.

Huh. The mere thought makes his stomach come alive, eager to make demands. It must be Shen Wei’s fault for getting him used to regular meals, as if there’s anything wrong with subsisting on random office snacks and takeout. Admittedly, it’s kind of hard to maintain that the important, busy, always-working, ever-vigilant Chief of the SID doesn’t have time to eat a proper dinner when it’s the Black-Cloaked Envoy dishing up the meal.

Usually, Shen Wei would be home by now, making dinner preparations. Chopping vegetables, turning the rice cooker on. Washing things, slicing other things. Those sounds are ones that he could listen to forever, and in his mind’s eye the sure, deft movements that go with them just unspool. One time he watched Shen Wei fillet a fish, lifting the delicate bones away in a single, perfect skeleton shape with the edge of his blade, and Zhao Yunlan had to take a very firm hold of himself and breathe, because he’s learned the hard way that Shen Wei doesn’t like being interrupted while he’s cooking.

He holds on to the edge of the counter while he thinks about learning that lesson, just sinking into that memory for a while. A spark of heat rolls through him, but even that is too much now, too much to deal with in his current state. It takes forever to remember why he’s even standing at the sink, but then he manages to grab a glass, pour water, drink.

It…might not have been a clean glass? But Shen Wei isn’t around to tell him so, or scold him, or gently take the glass away from him and replace it with some kind of medicinal tea. For a scientist, Shen Wei puts a lot of faith in the healing effects of various herbal teas. Maybe because he can’t drink the good stuff.

Except for his just-used glass, the rest of the sink is empty, the counter clean. Of course they are. But there’s probably food somewhere that Da Qing hasn’t eaten yet. Ingredients, anyway. Maybe it’s time Zhao Yunlan started gaining some independence, some new skills. He could learn to chop stuff. It can’t be that hard, right?

A sharp knife, a clean cut. Shen Wei sharpens the kitchen knives every week, slowly, attentively, using a whetstone as well as some steel implement that makes ringing sounds when the blade scrapes down it, his long fingers wrapped around the knife handle with a firm, precise grip. (Shen Wei doesn’t like being interrupted while he’s sharpening knives, either. Sometimes Zhao Yunlan feels like his life is an unending sea of profound unfairness.)

Absently, aimlessly, Zhao Yunlan starts opening cabinets, feeling for what’s inside. It’s a miraculous thing to have all this food in the house, but he can’t tell what any of it is. The trouble with shelf-stable food is that it all comes in plastic. Not something he ever noticed before, but now he does. He can tell the shape of an onion with his hands, or smell a ginger root, but most of these packages don’t give him any clues except smooth slick surface. This, is this rice, these small pellets inside a square package of yet more plastic? Or millet, or some kind of beans, or— He could wake Da Qing, ask him, but they established long ago that cats don’t cook. Cats just eat, especially this cat.

Zhao Yunlan drops the package on the counter and rubs his neck. This isn’t a good idea. He’s tired, hungry. Dig the well before you’re thirsty, his grandmother would say. Ha. He could probably find work digging ditches, if this small problem with his eyes doesn’t work out. Or maybe become a media sensation as the first blind supermodel. At least, once he feels a little more like himself and less like a wrung-out rag. He’s never going to mention it to Shen Wei, but wielding the Longevity Sundial against Ye Zun took something out of him, and it wasn’t just his sight.

Da Qing is snoring now, and because he’s still in cat form, it’s a cute, small sound (not that Zhao Yunlan would ever tell him so) that adds itself to the rhythm of the humming appliances, the rain buffeting the windows, the footsteps coming down the hallway outside…wait.

They’re a hair slower than usual, more halting, but he would recognize those footsteps in a crowd of thousands.

Zhao Yunlan perks up, smiling wide as the moon, beaming like the lovestruck fool he is. “Shen Wei!” he calls, not even waiting for the front door to open. “What took you so long? I’m starving.”

 

***

 

“Oh, you…you’re still up,” Shen Wei says, toneless, not even sounding surprised. Or, well, pleased.

If Shen Wei’s simply tired, after this long day and that frustrating visit to the useless quack who was supposed to cure him, Zhao Yunlan could sympathize. But he’s too busy to actually do it, with all his instincts going into overdrive, because Shen Wei just ran across a fucking tripwire that lives in Yunlan’s bones, and it’s way more reliable than eyesight ever was.

Shen Wei’s footsteps were too slow just now, too measured, and he didn’t actually walk into the room; he stopped inside the door as if his batteries had just run out.

And now he’s standing there on the doormat like he needs to be invited in, for pity’s sake, like he doesn’t actually live here (even if they ’ve never officially discussed it, even if Shen Wei is still paying for the apartment across the hall, at this point it just functions as a home office, as well as a clothes storage facility for Shen Wei’s meticulously tailored suits and Zhao Yunlan’s collection of limited edition Supreme drops) and Zhao Yunlan is too tired to deal with Shen Wei having some kind of weird politeness crisis, but he’s going to deal with it anyway because… Because.

Since Shen Wei isn’t moving, Zhao Yunlan makes his way over there, and it’s possible that he forgot where he left his slippers, or maybe he stumbles over them on purpose, because he knows Shen Wei can see him, even if the lights aren’t on. (They probably aren’t on, Da Qing wouldn’t bother.)

Because he knows Shen Wei will catch him.

And he does.

Oh.

Well, that at least explains the doormat situation.

Shen Wei is wet. Not just wet, sodden. Soaked.

For one single terrifying moment, Zhao Yunlan thinks blood, but he can’t smell anything like that, it’s just…water.

Of course. The rain.

Shen Wei’s vest and shirt cling to him, his hair is in his eyes and still dripping, he’s not wearing his glasses, and Zhao Yunlan resists the urge to skim his hands down and feel just how tightly his wet trousers are clinging to him. It’s difficult, but he is a well-trained investigator and he’s not going to get sidetracked. Much, anyway.

“Professor Shen looks a little untidy,” Zhao Yunlan says, ducking his head to smile up at him. He knows what his most guileless smile can do to Shen Wei, even if he’s not able to observe the results right now. And he has to admit it, he hates not being able to see this — he always wants to take Shen Wei’s perfect professor persona in both of his undeserving hands and mess it up, wrinkle him, undo him, and for once it seems like fate has been kind and done it for him.

“Yes. I apologize,” Shen Wei says, vaguely, and only Shen Wei could apologize for the existence of rain. “I regret my lateness—I—if you’re hungry—did you not want the steamed fish in the fridge? Or the noodles?” His voice trembles, just a little, and because Zhao Yunlan is still plastered against him he can feel the shiver running through him.

It takes him a moment to hear what Shen Wei’s saying, focused as he is on the way Shen Wei seems to be leaning into him.

Oh, that’s where the food was.

That’s where any normal human being who isn’t Zhao Yunlan would expect the food to be. He should know that by now, but somehow in his head the fridge is still a place where he keeps his forgotten takeout collection, some sticky sauce bottles that have lost their labels, and maybe, on a good day, a pack of beer.

Zhao Yunlan tilts his head back, considering the situation, absently rubbing his hands over Shen Wei’s shoulders to ease the shivering. So maybe Shen Wei is just tired as well as wet. Maybe. But why exactly is the Black-Cloaked Envoy allowing himself to be in such a state, anyway? The Envoy doesn’t need to walk in the rain. He doesn’t even need to take a cab or the subway. He could just portal in and arrive at Zhao Yunlan’s doorstep bone dry, unwrinkled, perfect. Is it that that would be a waste of resources? A luxury?

“You need not concern yourself,” Shen Wei says, and he catches Zhao Yunlan’s hands, holds them in his. “I won’t catch cold. And I—I have good news—” his voice trembles, again, and that might mean good things or it might mean trouble and tripwire and before Zhao Yunlan can process any of those options, Shen Wei is kissing him.

When Professor Shen comes in from a triple lecture day, or when the Black-Cloaked Envoy comes back from a harrowing trip to Dixing, it takes some time for Zhao Yunlan to unwind him properly, to get him to a place where kissing is welcome, where Shen Wei can get out of his own head and stop being polite and distant and cautious, stop thinking plans and strategy and contingencies and start thinking more and now and please. So at the end of a long day the process usually starts slowly, and it has never, ever started like this.

Shen Wei is kissing him hungrily, desperately, like Yunlan’s the only dish on the menu and Shen Wei wants to eat him up. It sends a bolt of heat right through him, and he wraps his hands around Shen Wei’s waist and clings, pressing tighter, soaking up the rain with his own rumpled t-shirt and jeans, just holding on as Shen Wei’s tongue owns him.

They’ve kissed like this before, but rarely at home, rarely in times of peace and quiet. It’s always — on the battlefield, he wants to say, even though that’s not the right term (but why does it feel so right, then?) — on some case-related mission, in an overgrown field, or a hospital hallway, or even a deserted alley in Dixing. When they need relief from unbearable tension, from nightmarish attacks and risks and the neverending fear for each other’s safety —

It’s not easy, it’s a hell of an effort actually, but Zhao Yunlan pulls back. He winds his fists in Shen Wei’s hair and stares at him with blank unseeing eyes. “What happened? What’s wrong?”

There’s a beat of silence.

“Nothing,” Shen Wei says, then breathes in, carefully. Moves one arm out to his side, makes wet rustling sounds, digging into his pocket. Then a familiar, faint click as he—

puts his fucking glasses back on.

“Are you kidding me right now,” Zhao Yunlan says, torn between laughter and despair. “What. Happened.”

“…I got caught in the rain?” The tone is light, even flirtatious, and it rings so terribly false.

Zhao Yunlan can tell, he can feel in his bones that Shen Wei is smiling his adorable inoffensive sweetly shy lying smile while he says it. The smile that doesn’t quite reach the corners of his eyes, which is why the glasses are so handy. And even though Zhao Yunlan can’t see him, even though they’re at home, he still felt like he had to put them on.

“Won’t you let me tell you the good news?” Shen Wei sounds almost plaintive, now, like he came in with some kind of expensive gift and Zhao Yunlan won’t even deign to unwrap it.

Zhao Yunlan cocks his head, spits out, “Not if you’re lying to me.”

Shen Wei becomes very still under his hands. At last he takes a deep breath, shakes his head once as if shaking something loose, and water splashes into Zhao Yunlan’s face.

“I went back to Dr Feng,” Shen Wei says quietly. “I apologized to him. It took a while, longer than I would have liked.” He exhales, slowly. “I really did get caught in the rain.” When he reaches out and delicately wipes the drops off Zhao Yunlan’s face with his fingers, Zhao Yunlan can’t help leaning into that touch.

Something is still not adding up, but what he’s saying now rings true. Of course Shen Wei, the students’ darling, Professor Politeness, would go back and apologize to that asshole. And he didn’t want to mention it, because he knows how Zhao Yunlan would feel about Shen Wei covering for him. Why, why, why will Shen Wei insist on shouldering burdens that aren’t his?

“Did it work?” Zhao Yunlan asks, brusque.

Shen Wei’s fingers still rest on Zhao Yunlan’s cheek. “Yes. We have an appointment — we can come back tomorrow, and he will try again. That was my good news.” He says it so quietly that Zhao Yunlan almost feels guilty.

Almost lets himself feel relieved, too. This development is…wow. It’s unexpected. Zhao Yunlan had written the asshole doctor off completely, put him out of his mind. But even if he’s just a quack, if Shen Wei thinks it’s worth it to go back and try his healing skills, then Zhao Yunlan isn’t going to say no. Whatever was going on with Shen Wei just now, Zhao Yunlan can’t shake his bone deep trust in him.

“Did he give you any trouble?” Zhao Yunlan asks, probing one last time because he just can’t help himself.

If anyone was going to apologize, it should have been Zhao Yunlan, if he could bring himself to do it; he could have made an effort, used his best polite phrases, bowed without rolling his eyes. Or maybe he should have sent Da Qing, who was after all the one who got caught spying. Cats are terrible at apologizing, though.

Shen Wei shakes his head. “No more than you do.”

Well. That covers…quite a large spectrum, doesn’t it.

“Right. Of course.” Zhao Yunlan chokes on a bitter laugh, and he doesn’t know what his expression looks like in this moment, but —

“Don’t mistake me,” Shen Wei says then, and his voice gets impossibly soft as he finishes, “If you were trouble, I'd like more of it. I’d like it by the dozen, to trouble me for the rest of my life.”

Oh.

When he said it to Shen Wei, it was the truth. It was everything inside him, tied up in a bow and delivered with a little top spin so that maybe Shen Wei wouldn’t hear it, would think it was just a line.

But Shen Wei saying it to him is—

—it’s too much, and yet it’s everything he ever wanted—

—that he could never—

—at some point he must remember to start breathing again.

“Zhao Yunlan?” Shen Wei says, sounding worried.

Yunlan lets his hands slide down Shen Wei’s neck and tugs him closer still, hiding his face in Shen Wei’s hair. It smells like rain.

At last he manages to catch his breath, and his voice sounds fairly normal when he says into Shen Wei’s ear, “Sounds like you’re quoting someone very wise.”

Shen Wei makes a sound like a quiet huff, or the smallest possible laugh. “I am.”

Right, that’s quite enough of that. Zhao Yunlan takes one step back, rakes his eyes over Shen Wei’s body as if he can actually see it, and says, “Speaking of wisdom: don’t you think it’s time I got you out of those clothes?”

 

***

 

The vest and shirt are easy enough, even with those damn garters, but wrestling Shen Wei’s wet trousers off takes a while. They’re very tight, very clingy, and he’ll be able to fuel some excellent daydreams with just the feel of them, sliding them slowly down Shen Wei’s hips and thighs. If his touch lingers, well, he doesn’t hear any complaints.

Though when he sinks down to his knees and starts poking at slippery, tightly-knotted shoelaces, Shen Wei’s hands land on his shoulders and grip hard. “No—you shouldn’t—”

Shen Wei doesn’t say why, doesn’t continue, and Zhao Yunlan is too busy trying to unpick the goddamn meanest knot ever tied to listen. Or, well, he does listen, he just doesn’t care. If Shen Wei thinks it’s bad manners to let his boyfriend take off his shoes for him, he’ll just have to suffer. (As if Shen Wei hasn’t done the same for him, when they barely even knew each other and Zhao Yunlan was still courting the possibility that Shen Wei was a disturbingly beautiful, devastatingly intelligent serial killer.)

He does reach up with one hand though, just to pat Shen Wei’s hip, almost as if he’s patting a nervous horse being shod: stay still, just let me work here, okay?

It seems to help: Shen Wei doesn’t say anything else, but there is something about his stance that changes, as if he becomes more rooted to the floor, more steady. Zhao Yunlan gives him one last pat, then returns to picking at the knot with his fingernails, muttering curses under his breath until finally.

As he starts taking off the shoe, Shen Wei leans into him again, trusting, pliant, almost boneless, and exhales as if he’s finally letting go of all the weight he loads onto his shoulders, and Zhao Yunlan is overcome by a wave of something that isn’t raw desire, something still too naked to be named.

It feels like he’s being given a gift, one more important than any good news: to be the one who is allowed to take care of Shen Wei.

The only one, something possessive in him whispers, but it’s true enough. Shen Wei’s students might adore him, the SID team might admire him, all of Dixing might fear him, but they will never have this: they will never see him drop his guard.

Zhao Yunlan is the only one who can get close enough to be trusted with something as small and undignified as struggling with wet shoelaces, or lifting Shen Wei’s feet one by one to take his shoes off, or something as momentous and shocking as dropping wet clothes by the door instead of carefully hanging them up (later, later, Zhao Yunlan tells himself, knowing full well that he’ll never get around to it and the wet clothes will have magically disappeared the next time he thinks of them).

He’s definitely the only one who is allowed to take Shen Wei’s glasses off, fold them, and put them safely on the coffee table.

Back when they were out in the Northwestern mountains, just before Zhao Yunlan got his first real clue as to Shen Wei’s other identity, he claimed that right for the first time. He fended off worried concern from Shen Wei’s students and the rest of the SID team, carried an unconscious Shen Wei upstairs by himself, took off his glasses, made him comfortable on his bed, and didn’t spend even a single second staring at Shen Wei’s strangely vulnerable, naked, flawless features, or checking his breathing, or arranging his pillow; there are no witnesses to say otherwise.

“Come on, Xiao Wei,” he says, when he’s flung the last sodden sock over his shoulder, and hears Shen Wei’s quick intake of breath.

Zhao Yunlan rises to his feet, and Shen Wei instantly holds out an arm for him to grab. For a moment, he just stands there, because even the tiniest decision feels like an effort right now, and then he starts heading toward the couch. It’s not entirely clear which one of them is leaning on the other, but what does it matter, as long as they get there?

And once they get there—okay, so he’s maybe not the most nurturing guy in the entire world, and if there was any kind of ledger being kept between them he would be deep in the red for all his life, but he can at least grab towels and prepare a hot drink (chrysanthemum tea, if his nose isn’t lying to him, with a spoonful of honey) and make a nest for Shen Wei on the couch, dislodging Da Qing from his favorite spot.

Da Qing saunters off, grumbling something about his spot getting cold anyway, and thumps on top of the liquor cabinet, where he likes to curl up tight, head between paws, tail over nose, so he doesn’t have to listen to anything his idiot roommates get up to.

At one point, Zhao Yunlan would have been surprised that Shen Wei even let himself be undressed with Da Qing in the room, but nowadays he’s well aware that Yashou have their own rules of good behavior, and that Shen Wei’s courtesy and politeness are more than just the shield he carries — they’re part of him. To treat a Yashou in animal form as human is the height of rudeness; to treat a Yashou in human form as an animal, the same. (Not that that will ever stop Zhao Yunlan from calling Da Qing damn cat, whatever shape he’s in at the moment, but then their friendship has rules of its own.)

Finally, Zhao Yunlan is rewarded with half-dressed, half-bare Shen Wei leaning back on his couch (something that has never happened before, since this is an unthinkable state of disarray; Shen Wei is decently dressed or he is indecently bare, and the interval between is something that Zhao Yunlan always tries and fails to get him to linger in), with his hair sticking up in places now that it’s drying.

Undershirt, underwear, bare arms, bare legs, towel around his lovely shoulders, his hands wrapped around the mug of tea...the only thing bad about all this is that Zhao Yunlan can’t actually see it, that he has to build a mental image from touch and scent and sound and memory. It’s pretty detailed, in full color, and filling out every second, but still.

Zhao Yunlan tries to undress him further, but is met with stubborn, immovable opposition — “You said you were starving” — and so he settles next to Shen Wei, barefoot, a bowl of noodles in hand, another bowl nestled precariously on the couch between them (this, also, is shocking behavior, because apparently Shen Wei eats at a table or not at all) full of steamed fish in light soy sauce, with bits of ginger and spring onion on top. It’s leftovers from yesterday, but it’s still just as delicious now.

He would like to feed Shen Wei by hand, but that’s just not going to work — he might end up stabbing him in the eye. So instead he hands him a second bowl of noodles and some chopsticks, hoping Shen Wei will actually eat and not just sneakily pretend to. (Sometimes Zhao Yunlan has to take a second and remind himself that not everybody likes to mess with people as much as he does.)

Da Qing jumps down from the liquor cabinet as soon as he smells the fish, and Zhao Yunlan fends him off with jabs of his chopsticks. “You ate your own weight in fish already,” he tells Da Qing, who growls at him, his tail whipping from side to side in challenge.

Zhao Yunlan pushes him with his foot. “Shove off, go prowl in the restaurant district. The Floating Dragon has an all-you-can-eat special that starts at midnight.”

Da Qing bites his toes, but it’s a friendly bite, and at last he heads toward the window that is always left open for him and jumps out.

They eat in companionable silence, with Shen Wei passing him carefully selected bits of fish now and then, and finally the sound of moving chopsticks slows down, stops. The couch shifts as Shen Wei collects the bowls and puts them on the coffee table—

“If you even think about washing up, I will murder you,” Zhao Yunlan tells him, settling deeper into the well-worn leather and flinging his head back.

“If you could read my thoughts, that would be an effective threat,” Shen Wei says calmly, with just a smoky hint of amusement. Zhao Yunlan lives for that tone of voice, and will do almost anything to make it happen.

“No, it wouldn’t,” Zhao Yunlan says, grinning. “Can you read my thoughts, though?” He stretches again, yawns so widely his jaw cracks.

“You know I can’t,” Shen Wei says, still calm, but now there’s something underneath that isn’t amusement, something that sounds wary. As if he thinks that Zhao Yunlan is once again trying to dig underneath his skin, to strip him bare in more ways than one.

But that’s not what he—no. He didn’t mean it like that.

For once he doesn’t want to force Shen Wei out of hiding, not now he’s here and safe and cared-for. (If that asshole doctor was rude to him, murder is still on the menu, though.)

“I’m so tired,” Zhao Yunlan complains, stretching out his bare feet until he reaches Shen Wei’s thigh and pokes him with his toes. “And so are you. Don’t deny it.”

Shen Wei says nothing, which means victory.

“You could take me to bed,” Zhao Yunlan says. “That’s what I was thinking. You could just—”

Shen Wei starts moving before he’s finished, exactly the way he planned it. Zhao Yunlan sighs contentedly as Shen Wei lifts him up, strides over to the bed with him, puts him down so gently that he can barely feel himself landing on the mattress, removes his jeans with terrible, ruthless efficiency, and then starts to pull the duvet over him.

“No, wait—” Zhao Yunlan says, waving his hand in the air like he’s trying to catch teacher’s attention. “I meant you could take me to bed. Don’t you know what that means?” Take me to bed, do unspeakable things to me, but please do all the work because—

“I thought you were tired.” To anyone else Shen Wei might sound deadpan, but Zhao Yunlan can hear the fond exasperation.

Zhao Yunlan begins a spirited denial, but the silence tells him that Shen Wei isn’t buying it. And to be fair, neither is he, possibly because his eyes keep trying to close, like shutters on a store at midnight. He keeps his hand up, though, reaching toward him. “Come in with me, then. And don’t—don’t take your underthings off?”

Shen Wei pauses, and Zhao Yunlan is 100% certain that he’s being given a baffled stare by the smartest, most beautiful, most oblivious man he’s ever met. “What?”

“I want to take them off,” Zhao Yunlan explains, enunciating very carefully, because his pillow is soft and the duvet is soft and this is all just a terrible amount of effort for something so simple. “In the morning.” (Maybe it’s already morning? Details.) “Later. When I wake up.” He yawns one more time, and it takes all the energy he’s got left to say: “Slowly?”

He gets no answer, but the mattress dips under Shen Wei’s weight, and that’s all the answer he needs.

Shen Wei is warm against him, no longer cold and shivering, and he really must be exhausted, because he lets Zhao Yunlan roll him over and pull him close, nestle his head on Zhao Yunlan's shoulder.

Shen Wei doesn’t usually let him do that, probably because he thinks Zhao Yunlan getting pins and needles in his arm all night is just the worst thing in the world. But now — Zhao Yunlan sighs with contentment at his quiet, private armful of Shen Wei.

For some reason Zhao Yunlan doesn’t fall asleep as fast as he thought he would. Well, okay, he knows the reason. The bed is dragging him down, and it’s a struggle not to give in and let it pull him into the depths of sleep, but Shen Wei is using him for a pillow, Shen Wei’s hair is a fall of silk against his neck, and he wants to savor it.

He listens to Shen Wei’s breathing settle into a quiet, almost inaudible rhythm, and after a while he folds his other arm over Shen Wei’s chest, leaving it there like a warm weight.

Protection. Against what? Why would the Black-Cloaked Envoy need protection, even in sleep? But it feels like it matters, it feels right.

He will guard Shen Wei, even in his dreams.