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Endurance Under Ice

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Shen Wei is accustomed to endless walks. He had marched across valleys and mountains, he had stood watch for any signs of life over silent battlefields, and closed his eyes when crossing the same places a hundred years later, then teal-and-amber meadows with only the odd spearhead still stuck between the flowers sprigs. Time stretches and thins at its own whims during those walks; the easiest way to endure is to let yourself drift on its currents. He knows the same applies to the cold. Winter gnaws at you, toothless gums worrying at your toes and fingertips and making their way inwards, muscles going tight then burning, lancing pain spreading through the limbs and settling in like a mouse that waits for your eyes to close so it can steal your breath. The only relief is to find shelter and wait for the pain to thaw.

That is to say, Shen Wei is very familiar with the relativity of time. He had learnt how to adjust his gait for long distances, setting a steady pace that will get him to his destination with reliable efficiency. Experience had taught him that constant movement was the only way to keep the cold from stopping him permanently. Even half-blind from hunger or grief, he had always managed to expend the precise amount of strength required to keep walking and survive. He had never let himself delay or deviate from his course.

However, Zhao Yunlan, unconscious in his arms and bundled in Shen Wei's black cloak, has never been a factor in these calculations before. It is remarkably distracting.

Shen Wei finds himself looking down, just a second, to make sure Zhao Yunlan's breathing is still even, that his hair has gone from frozen at the tips to an endearing wild damp mess, or that his lips are returning to their normal rich shade of blush rather than the worrying bruised plum brought on by the deep cold -

- but whenever he steals a glance at Zhao Yunlan, the curb disappears under Shen Wei’s feet, or a parked car appears in his path, or, now - Shen Wei's foot doesn't go high enough to clear the step and he trips into the closed door of the SID headquarters.

Shen Wei blinks. Has he crossed the town already? Something isn't right. Shen Wei concentrates on the facts, despite how worryingly slippery they feel. He intended to use a portal, but then - something disturbed the energy, and he found himself a few districts off. Did the Dixingen with the power to control temperature wake up from Shen Wei's blow? No, he can't have. When Zhao Yunlan threw himself in front of Shen Wei and took in part of the blast in his stead, Shen Wei had retaliated by hitting the Dixingren with full force and -

The door underneath Shen Wei's shoulder opens, and he almost falls but catches himself at the last second - except his knee gives out, and he does fall. By good fortune he sprawls on his back, and thus gets crushed by Zhao Yunlan's weight rather than the other way around. Shen Wei's head cracks against the wooden floor and hopefully covers the noise of the gasp he couldn't quite stifle at the impact. Frozen strands of hair catch and disperse the overhead light in a dazzling motion. One hard, sharp lock knocks against his temple from the small involuntary movements his body is making.

"Hei Pao Shi?" someone says. Shen Wei ignores them.

Instead, he checks over Zhao Yunlan, or at least he intends to do it, but his glasses are fogged - or missing? - and Zhao Yunlan is suddenly so heavy Shen Wei can't sit up. He can hardly breathe.

"--n Wei!"

Shen Wei coughs. And keeps coughing. Some sensations are tingling back into his limbs, an unpleasant rush of insect bites eating away at a numbness that he had not discerned moving in.

As the sluggishness recedes, Shen Wei discovers he is cold. He had shaken most of the icicles off his cloak before he draped it around Zhao Yunlan, but his hands are stained dark with frostbite, and his trouser legs weighted down by unmelted ice.

Zhao Yunlan was hit by a fraction of the assault and almost died from it. Shen Wei hopes his energy-reinforced cloak is warm enough to help Zhao Yunlan recover more smoothly from the attack's effects.

The prickling sensation morphs into a rain of needles aiming for Shen Wei's marrow. He is both freezing and burning at once, a gurgling volcano shrouded in snow.

He needs to reach safety. Zhao Yunlan's best chance at healing is if Shen Wen can reach the SID swiftly. Is he still moving, or is he being moved?

Trembling fingers land on Shen Wei's jaw, sliding up to his neck. They are cold, too, he can tell, but they feel aflame to him.

"S-Sh-Shen W-"

Zhao Yunlan. Shen Wei wants to open his eyes, but his eyelashes are frozen shut. His teeth are chattering and cutting apart any sound attempting to escape. He turns his head into the touch instead; welcomes the sensation of Zhao Yunlan's careful hand even as it feels like a branding iron on his cheek.

"Shen Wei!" Zhao Yunlan says again. His voice is stark lighting amidst the deluge of useless physical information clouding Shen Wei's mind at the moment. The name echoes all around Shen Wei, in front of him and behind him, stolen from the past and grown into the future.

Two soft hands settle on Shen Wei's shoulders to hold him down, and oh, they hurt. Shen Wei never wants them to leave. They make the frozen sea retreat a little, allowing slivers of conversations to break through the waves.

"- having seizures - No, stop it - Shen Wei! Stay with me. Lao Chu is - I'm fine, let me -"

The clawed fist around Shen Wei's core melts in relief. Zhao Yunlan is fine. Then it's all good. This is his shelter and he needs nothing else. He can stop moving.

A warm blaze settles over him, arms wrapped tight around his waist. He is so tired.

Time fades sinks away.

It takes Shen Wei several deep breaths to notice there are covers over him and cushions under him. Noises and voices around him sound muffled, and barely any light filters in. It is chilly in the apartment. Maybe the heat broke. Shen Wei wonders why he aches so much. Did something happen? Is Zhao Yunlan safe?

"Shh, I'm okay," Zhao Yunlan whispers, close. They're lying tangled together, with the familiar round weight of Da Qing over Shen Wei's feet. It feels like all of their blankets are heaped over them, trapping them in a little cavern of their own, but considering how cold it is, Shen Wei can't blame Zhao Yunlan for seeking a little warmth.

"Oh yes, this is all for me," Zhao Yunlan chuckles. His laughter is very warm on Shen Wei's lips. Shen Wei mumbles a question. Arms tighten and gentle fingers trace soothing patterns on Shen Wei's back.

"Later. Sleep now."

Shen Wei burrows deeper into Zhao Yunlan's hold and sighs, content. There is no battlefield here anymore. Only the forever stretch of Zhao Yunlan's embrace and the warm colours of springtime blooming behind Shen Wei's eyelids as he falls, at last, into a peaceful dream.

 

/the end