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Zhao Yunlan wakes to the taste of blood on his lips and he groans as his head throbs with a sharp pain. They were investigating a haunting; a mother and her two boys with her oldest son already dead by the monster. There were signs that it was a ghost out for revenge against the woman but they didn’t have enough information yet. Zhao Yunlan tries to get up because he doesn’t want anymore deaths here.

He rolls to his side, and tries to swallow the blood down, figuring he cut his lip on something. The ghost was malevolent and vicious and even with his team supporting him it was difficult. Zhao Yunlan had to protect them, and that meant being in the line of fire or taking a hit to defend them. That’s probably what had happened though he can’t recall for sure.

It’s a comfortable bed so it’s not his. Zhao Yunlan lifts his arm and stares in confusion at the green robe he’s adorned in. The texture is fine, fluid, and he wonders if it’s silk. He doesn’t know enough about fabrics to be able to figure something like that out.

Zhao Yunlan forces himself to sit up and looks around, hoping to find his clothes and shoes. The room is uncomfortably bare, nothing but a bed and a stool. It’s got to be some kind of hiding place one of his people found but then why redress him?

He scratches at his head and then gets up, legs a little wobbly but otherwise pretty steady; his headache is down to a dull throb and that he can ignore as he figures out what’s going on here. His feet are bare and though the floor looks clean Zhao Yunlan would really like a pair of shoes.

The door that he had noticed but hadn’t gotten up to try opens and blessedly, it’s Shen Wei. He’s blocking out the last rays of the setting sun and when he sees Zhao Yunlan awake, he beams at him. Zhao Yunlan’s knees nearly buckle.

“Shen Wei,” Zhao Yunlan cries in relief. He rushes up to him and grabs his arms. “Where are we? What’s going on? The ghost attacked us and then I woke up here. Are you alright? Is everyone else fine?”

Shen Wei closes the door behind him with a smile and takes his arms as well, gentle but firm, especially as he begins to guide him back into the room.

“The ghost is taken care of. It won’t hurt anyone else,” Shen Wei says. “You stepped into its path to protect one of your employees. I brought you here to heal you.”

At that Shen Wei touches his chest and Zhao Yunlan remembers now, how the ghost had mauled him, tearing a hole right through him. Fuck it had hurt. How had he forgotten such a thing? It should have been lethal. He rubs his hand over his robed chest and smiles when he realizes how complete he is.

“I owe you my life then,” Zhao Yunlan says. “Thanks.”

“Of course,” Shen Wei says softly.

He sits Zhao Yunlan down only for him to jump back up. Shen Wei doesn’t try again. He watches him with a strange expression which Zhao Yunlan attributes to his almost death. Shen Wei likes him, and Zhao Yunlan obviously likes Shen Wei, so this near fatal experience is another chance for them to get closer. But Shen Wei is probably feeling emotional about it so it’s best to tread cautiously.

“Thanks for the robe too. I didn’t think this was your style but it’s nice,” Zhao Yunlan says, smirking a little as he lifts his arm to wave the big sleeve around. His stuff must have been shredded; a part of him lights up that Shen Wei got to see him naked, certain that he was pleased at what he found. “This is your place then? It’s kind of boring. I’m not surprised it’s simple but you take it too far, Shen Wei.”

Shen Wei just smiles at him.

“Alright, let’s get back and finish this case up. I’m going to make Lin Jing write this report. I’d make Xiao-Guo but he’d fuck it up. Maybe I will make him write it and make Lin Jing edit it. Hah, that actually sounds good, punishes them both.”

Shen Wei is still smiling.

“Alright,” Zhao Yunlan says again. “I need my shoes. Did they get torn up? How the fuck did my shoes get messed up? You got an extra pair that’ll fit me well enough?”

“You almost died,” Shen Wei says. “It’s too dangerous out there.”

Zhao Yunlan freezes in place. He swallows, still tasting blood.

“Come on, Shen Wei, let’s go back. I gotta tell those kids I’m fine. They’re probably worried.”

“Perhaps,” Shen Wei says. “It’s true, they don’t know what’s happened to you. It was quite hectic there. But I know you’re safe here. You almost died, Yunlan.”

“I didn’t die. You saved me. Right? So it’s fine. Let’s go,” Zhao Yunlan says but Shen Wei just shakes his head, with that same smile. But now it’s unsettling and Zhao Yunlan’s instinct tells him to run. There’s no way to run though. Shen Wei is the Ghost Slayer; he’s sitting on the bed for now but in an instant he can be between Zhao Yunlan and the door.

“You’ll be safer here where I can protect you,” Shen Wei says.

“This isn’t funny anymore, Shen Wei,” Zhao Yunlan says. “I need to go back.”

Shen Wei smiles. Zhao Yunlan stares at him, not sure what he’s seeing. Is this Shen Wei? The Ghost Slayer? Or someone else? The Shen Wei he knows wouldn’t do this. Shen Wei is kind, loves him even though he holds it back like it would kill him to let himself love Zhao Yunlan, but he’s never stopped him like this.

Sure enough, when Zhao Yunlan turns and runs towards the door, Shen Wei is there blocking him.

“You need to rest more,” he says and despite Zhao Yunlan trying to smack his arm away, he presses a hand to his forehead.

That sharp blinding pain returns and Zhao Yunlan sinks into the oblivion of forced sleep. He feels Shen Wei against him, holding him steady as his muscles go limp, and what once was a sturdy, comforting embrace now feels like a pit he keeps sinking into, deeper and deeper no matter how much he struggles. He can’t escape it and Zhao Yunlan groans as his consciousness violently goes dark.

#

Shen Wei is silent as he listens to Chu Shuzhi’s latest report, staring at the corkboard covered in photos of Zhao Yunlan, lost in thought. The SID is used to this though. Ever since Zhao Yunlan disappeared two weeks ago, Shen Wei has been desperately searching for any hint of him, and the team wasn’t surprised when he announced that he had quit his teaching position. They all know Shen Wei is out there, searching for any clue, no matter how slight.

Zhu Hong knows his pain. After all, that bastard Zhao left without saying goodbye to any of them. She still doesn’t understand what happened. None of them really know. She remembers the ghost attacking Xiao-Guo and Lin Jing, Zhao Yunlan tossing Xiao-Guo out of the way and stepping in front of Lin Jing to stop the blow.

The image of Zhao Yunlan’s chest spurting blood is vivid in her mind. She had screamed, but her shout had been drowned out by the furious roar of the Ghost Slayer, who had attacked the ghost like a man possessed. Between Chu Shuzhi and the Ghost Slayer the ghost had been torn to shreds.

And Zhao Yunlan had bled out, trying in vain to stop his ruined lungs and heart to keep working. She could have understood his death. But the moment between checking to see where the ghost was, where Chu Shuzhi and the Ghost Slayer were attacking, and then looking back, Zhao Yunlan had vanished.

They didn’t even know if he was alive or dead. But at this point even finding a corpse would be something. At least then they would know, and they could mourn. Zhu Hong obviously prefers him alive, wants him back as the cocky chief she knows and loves, but it’s been two weeks and they have nothing. The Ghost Slayer had coldly informed them that he would handle the rest of the case with the ghost and that he would leave their missing chief in their jurisdiction. It wasn’t his area, that was true, but Zhu Hong wishes he had cared more. He had obviously been incensed at seeing Zhao Yunlan attacked.

Something is going on but despite their strategies and skills, the SID still has no answers after two weeks. She bites her nail as Chu Shuzhi finishes describing the nothing they found in the surrounding area, citing the next places they’re going to search. Shen Wei leaves without saying anything and she looks at Chu Shuzhi who sighs deeply. His face looks even more gaunt than usual.

“He’s taking it hard,” Lin Jing says, dark bags under his eyes. The lazy monk has been scouring the neighborhoods, asking questions and actually working hard for once. He probably blames himself though Zhu Hong knows that Zhao Yunlan would have done the same for any of them. That’s the kind of chief he is. Lin Jing glances at Zhu Hong then stands up, checking his phone. “I’m off. There’s still some daylight; I can ask a few more people around.”

She watches him go then sees Chu Shuzhi turn to her. He probably knows that she was barely listening, too caught up in the whirlwind thoughts of her grief.

“Don’t tell Professor Shen about the next meeting,” Chu Shuzhi says.

She blinks at him.

“He’ll want to know,” Zhu Hong says.

“Want to know what? That we haven’t found anything? That we’re failing over and over again?” Chu Shuzhi laughs bitterly. Zhu Hong clenches her fists but she can’t argue that. They are failures, unable to even help their boss even though he has always protected them. “Spare him, Zhu Hong. He’s suffering the most.”

“We’re all suffering because of that bastard!” Zhu Hong shouts out, slamming her hand against the wall hard enough that it sends the photos on the corkboard rattling.

“That doesn’t help anyone,” Da Qing says softly, his tone subdued.

Zhu Hong glares at him but he barely pays attention to her. Da Qing is another one who has been distraught; Wang Zheng caught him mewling pathetically in one of Zhao Yunlan’s old jackets though she made them all swear not to tell him.

“He can’t even take care of his stupid cat,” Zhu Hong mutters, wiping at her eyes and sniffing through her clogged nose. She’s so mad she’s crying, big ugly tears with snot about to drip and there’s no one around to make fun of her for it. Her eyeliner and mascara are waterproof plus she has tissues in her purse. She knows how to plan ahead for shit unlike some shitty bosses she can name.

“Fuck off,” Da Qing says. “I don’t need him to take care of me. He needs me to take care of him. Always has. I’m going out too. If he comes back tell him I’m going to beat him up for this. Worrying this cat sick, that’s all that punk is doing and he’s probably having the time of his life somewhere.”

Zhu Hong nods as she blows her nose raw; she’ll hold Zhao Yunlan down so Da Qing can kick his ass to his feline heart’s content. And then she’ll cry in relief after.

But for now, the chief chair is empty, and the SID is without its captain. Another day of searching comes and goes with nothing to show for it.

#

Zhao Yunlan is sitting by the window, absently staring at nothing. There’s not a lot to do here yet. Shen Wei doesn’t trust him with tools which is fair because Zhao Yunlan would absolutely use them to break out. He’s asked for video games but Shen Wei doesn’t know anything about them, and he’s hesitant to give him any sort of technology. Which again, fair, because Zhao Yunlan would absolutely rig up some kind of bluetooth or wifi to get in touch with someone to let his team know that Shen Wei the Ghost Slayer has completely lost his fucking mind and is keeping him captive in some fool attempt to ‘protect’ him.

Shen Wei knocks then enters after a silent moment, as Zhao Yunlan refuses to greet him. He holds a tray of breakfast and it smells delicious, enough that Zhao Yunlan’s mouth starts watering without his approval. Going on a hunger strike has crossed his mind but he hasn't resorted to that yet, certain that Shen Wei would just stuff food down his throat. It would be worth it to piss Shen Wei off. It’s coming soon, but not just yet.

“They’re searching for you still,” Shen Wei tells him as he sets their breakfast out. Zhao Yunlan’s gaze lingers on the perfectly boiled eggs.

“I bet you sit there too, all sad faced and mourning like,” Zhao Yunlan spits. Shen Wei doesn’t deny it. Zhao Yunlan wants to be furious but instead he’s just heart broken. He laughs, destroyed and far more hurt by this man than he could have ever imagined, and covers his face with his hand. “You’re so fucking cruel to them. Why didn’t you leave them a corpse? They could have mourned it better.”

“Do you want them to mourn you?” Shen Wei asks, like he would do it. The crazy fucker would. He’ll make one and shape it just like Zhao Yunlan, where not even Da Qing would be able to tell the difference, and then that would be it for Zhao Yunlan. No one would look for a dead man. Zhao Yunlan doesn’t know what would be better at this point.

Zhao Yunlan doesn’t answer him. Instead he sighs and plonks down in the chair across from Shen Wei, watching as he sets the table. He’s a well fed prisoner even if some days the food tastes like ash in his mouth. Shen Wei doesn’t forget his vices either, provides him beer and cigarettes which he never bothers to hoard, not when Shen Wei keeps bringing them.

“It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out for,” Zhao Yunlan says, tearing into his bowl of rice as Shen Wei hands it to him. “So is this poisoned? Drugged with love potion? Will it make me want to happily submit to your little fucked up game of house?”

“I wouldn’t poison you,” Shen Wei says, only slightly offended sounding. He eats calmly, letting Zhao Yunlan take the first pick of everything. “Again, if there’s anything you need or desire-”

“I want out of here,” Zhao Yunlan snaps.

“You’re safe here,” Shen Wei says. He glances up at him from under his eyelashes. “I can’t keep you safe out there.”

“Who said it was your job to keep me safe?” Zhao Yunlan snarls. “It’s not your job! I can take care of myself! Yeah, I fucked up last time; that’s just being human! Maybe it was my time to die, who knows! You can't stop me from dying eventually!”

Shen Wei lifts his head to look at him properly and Zhao Yunlan gulps something like fear back. He shifts back too, trying to put some distance between them. It almost hurts, how intensely Shen Wei looks at him, like he’s the whole world and more. He can't stand it.

They had been doing so good, getting closer even if it was painfully slow, and now it’s all fucked up.

“I can’t lose you again,” Shen Wei says. His hands are white knuckled as he holds his bowl too tight. “That was too close. If I hadn’t been right there you would have died. There was nothing your employees could have done.”

“Then I should have died,” Zhao Yunlan says stubbornly. “Better that than this-”

“Don’t say that,” Shen Wei begs and Zhao Yunlan stops, swallowing the rest of his words. He wants to forgive Shen Wei, he hates himself for thinking that, and Shen Wei just sits across from him, eyes wide and wet with unshed tears.

Zhao Yunlan could wipe them away and Shen Wei would like it. Shen Wei would probably let him, encourage it, and he could feel Shen Wei sink into his embrace. A few weeks ago he would have been crowing in delight over something like this happening.

Zhao Yunlan clenches his fists to hold himself back. He hates Shen Wei for this. And he’s not sure he would forgive Shen Wei if he let him go now.

“Go,” Zhao Yunlan says, turning his face away. “I can’t...can’t stand to be around you right now.”

“Yunlan,” Shen Wei says.

“Go!” Zhao Yunlan shouts, standing up and slamming his hands flat on the table. One of the glasses tips and shatters. Zhao Yunlan doesn’t look at Shen Wei. He can’t do it. That face, those tears, he can’t handle it. All of his wants are conflicting and writhing inside of him, fighting for that which his heart desires and what his mind detests.

“Let me clean this up first,” Shen Wei says softly, gesturing to the broken glass.

Zhao Yunlan doesn’t say anything, too afraid of what will come out. Shen Wei keeps to his word, sweeping everything up so that Zhao Yunlan isn’t in danger of getting cut while walking around barefoot, then leaving without only a quiet farewell.

Zhao Yunlan drops back into the chair and flops onto the table, his head aching from the swirling mass of emotions he’s suffering.

What happened? Where did it go wrong? What could Zhao Yunlan have done differently?

The questions loop through his mind but no matter how hard he thinks, what path he could have taken, he still lifts his head to that hatefully same house. Zhao Yunlan stands up and listlessly tries the door, unsurprised to find it locked, and he kicks it once even though it hurts.

He doesn't know if he’s more bored or mad.

But perhaps even more than that he’s heartbroken at what Shen Wei is doing to him. He rubs his face and goes to see if he can break open the ceiling and escape through there.

#

It doesn't surprise Da Qing to find Shen Wei at Zhao Yunlan’s grave; his parents had finally given up after a full year passed and erected the headstone for him, though there was nothing in the ground. They gave up too quick, they all did, but Da Qing is still searching.

He meows to announce his presence and Shen Wei turns to see him, then bends to trace the characters of Zhao Yunlan’s name on the tombstone. It’s kept clean, since the SID makes certain to come once a month and report their efforts. Zhu Hong returned to the snake tribe six months after Zhao Yunlan vanished but she joined them last month, telling the empty grave about how her uncle is teaching her to lead the clan.

Da Qing frequents it often, usually sleeping here for the night if it’s not too chilly. The smell of cold stone and funeral dirt is sadly familiar now. He woke up once to Yunlan’s father petting him, murmuring that he was a good, loyal cat, and silently crying the whole time.

Stupid kid, making everyone depressed. Da Qing walks up and sits by Shen Wei’s feet, staring at the tombstone.

“It’s been a year,” Da Qing says. A year and a half next week.

He’s a cat and he brings nothing. Shen Wei didn’t either. Maybe he didn’t mean to stop here but felt a compulsion nonetheless.

Shen Wei makes a noise to show that he heard him. But he doesn’t move.

“The others have given up,” Da Qing says, his nose twitching. There’s a familiar scent around. “But you and I haven’t yet. Disloyal, all of them.”

“I don't think they’ve given up,” Shen Wei says. “Moved on, perhaps. I’m sure they would jump to help him in an instant if they found anything out.”

Da Qing is quiet for a moment then his face twists into a scowl, a slight hiss escaping his words.

“You’re giving up too? Already? A year is nothing even to humans! A year is nothing to me! I’ll search for an eternity even if all I find is a corpse! You love him! I was expecting more from you but you’re just like the rest! Have you found a new love that you want to shower with attention? Is your heart that fickle?”

Shen Wei shakes his head.

“How could I love anyone else?” Shen Wei asks softly, more to himself than to Da Qing.

“He’s not dead. I would know it. I...I have to know,” Da Qing says. Part of him means it technically; the guardian order is part of his duties and when Kunlun dies and reincarnates, Da Qing moves to the next reincarnation. He’s felt no such compulsion.

But he also means his feline heart which Zhao Yunlan doesn’t realize matters and cares, because he’s a great big dick. One shouldn’t speak ill of the dead but there’s no consensus for missing people who can’t be dead yet.

Da Qing just wants to know. If Zhao Yunlan isn’t dead, then why isn’t he here? He knows, he absolutely knows that Zhao Yunlan isn’t so much of a jerk to just stay away. Something has to be keeping him away. But what on earth has the power to do that? Da Qing just doesn’t know. So he keeps searching, studying, and researching, wishing his level of cultivation was higher so he had more power. Maybe he could have prevented this; maybe he could have protected Zhao Yunlan better.

Shen Wei reaches out to pat his head, going slow so that Da Qing has a chance to move away. He doesn’t. It feels good, to know that someone else shares this heartbreak, and Da Qing lets Shen Wei scratch behind his ears. But though Shen Wei is gentle, it’s not what he wants; he wants those rough, irreverent hands manhandling him. The firm and rough grip of someone tossing him out of the room.

Da Qing bites back a wail because it’s Shen Wei who smells so much like Zhao Yunlan; the scent overwhelms him and he resists the urge to burrow his nose into Shen Wei. No doubt the man has kept everything of Zhao Yunlan’s; that doesn’t explain why the smell is as strong and fresh as it is. Later he’ll wonder about it, Da Qing tells himself, for right now he just wants to breathe it in as much as possible.

“He would be proud of you,” Shen Wei says and it hurts to hear.

“I don’t want him to be proud. I want that asshole here,” Da Qing mutters. He’s not going to climb into Shen Wei’s arms. Da Qing didn’t pick up shamelessness from Zhao Yunlan.

“I’m sorry,” Shen Wei says.

Such empty words but that’s all they can repeat to one another.

“Nothing you could have done,” Da Qing says with a sigh. Shen Wei’s hand twitches, probably done with petting him, and he moves away from Shen Wei’s hand to go lay on the grave. The smell of dirt is repulsive, a disgusting reminder of what he has lost, but Da Qing settles there still.

Shen Wei stays a few more minutes then leaves, probably to go out and search more, but who knows with that man. They really don’t know that much about him, do they now? Da Qing watches him leave, eyes narrowed. He’s not surprised that Shen Wei turns back around for one last look; Da Qing’s stare isn’t easily dismissed. Da Qing innocently licks his paw.

Shen Wei still hasn’t taken up his teaching position again and Da Qing had absently wondered at how he was making due. But maybe he’s not making due; grief does strange things to people and cats. It’s something he should look into, if only for Zhao Yunlan, who wouldn’t like to hear about a grieving and lost Shen Wei.

Da Qing closes his eyes and rests in the only place where he feels some kind of comfort. The SID is too painful, their old apartment now belongs to someone else and Zhao Yunlan’s childhood home is too empty. He’s going to nap and then search again; somewhere, someone has an answer for him, even if it’s just a skeletal corpse that he finds in the end.

And though he hopes that’s not the answer at least it would be closure.

#

Shen Wei is watching him. Zhao Yunlan doesn’t know how to explain it but he feels it. He can’t find him though but that makes sense; if Shen Wei doesn’t want something to be found then it won’t ever be found.

Zhao Yunlan walks through the forest, his bare feet treading freely over the dirt ground; he hasn’t walked around like this since he was a child and back then he’d been dumb. He hadn’t cared about the sticks and stones that dug into the soft parts of his heels. But though Zhao Yunlan had looked, he hadn’t found any sign of shoes, and staying in that house was making him go stir crazy.

He hadn’t found any normal clothes either, so he’s stuck in this freaking bathrobe, and he lets the ends get muddy and filthy, viciously glad of it.

The first time he checked and the door hadn’t been locked, Zhao Yunlan had stepped out cautiously, glancing around every second, waiting for Shen Wei burst out and catch him. Then he had run as far and fast as he could, ignoring how his feet had tripped and bled. He had gotten lost and then finally run out of energy, but he kept walking, clinging to that small sliver of hope that he could find someone else and get the help he needed to escape Shen Wei.

Shen Wei had found him and dragged him back, chiding him for getting hurt. The door had remained locked for months after. Then once his feet had healed up completely Shen Wei had started talking him out for walks, citing he needed fresh air.

He’s walked like this beside Shen Wei, aware that it was a ‘privilege’. Shen Wei didn’t have to say it, not when he acted like he was granting his wife some kind of immeasurable gift. Zhao Yunlan doesn’t think that Shen Wei is growing soft or lax. He’s too suspicious of Shen Wei; he won’t trust anything about him.

Today the door had been open and Zhao Yunlan had still been cautious, but he hadn’t run. He only wanted to be outside, away, and he’d just started walking. He’s tired like always nowadays and his feet are torn up again from the rocks and sticks on the ground. He keeps walking.

When Shen Wei falls into step beside him, Zhao Yunlan sighs, and glances over at him. Shen Wei doesn’t seem disappointed or surprised; he just quietly walks next to him, waiting for Zhao Yunlan to say something.

“What did you do to keep me here?” Zhao Yunlan asks. No matter which way he turned, he could always see the prison of his house, but Zhao Yunlan couldn’t think about what it meant.

“Labyrinth,” Shen Wei says simply and Zhao Yunlan doesn’t hide his groan.

He should have figured that out. But he hadn’t been truly thinking about escaping this time; he’d just wanted to be outside, away from this beautiful little farce that Shen Wei has constructed.

“Your feet are injured,” Shen Wei says.

“Carry me back then,” Zhao Yunlan says and he’s not surprised when Shen Wei stops and gets to his knees, offering just that. Zhao Yunlan makes a noise of disgust but climbs on, letting his body naturally mold itself to Shen Wei, but not seeking him out. His feet ache now that he lets himself realize it and he wouldn’t be surprised if he got some sort of infection.

Shen Wei is gentle as he washes and applies ointment, then bandages his feet. Zhao Yunlan feels like a king for a moment, and he chuckles bitterly at that, not answering Shen Wei’s inquisitive noise at the sound of his laughter. Shen Wei’s hands are soft and gentle, pausing whenever Zhao Yunlan hisses in pain.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Shen Wei scolds lightly.

“Get me shoes then,” Zhao Yunlan says. Shen Wei won’t. He wants Zhao Yunlan barefoot and happily enclosed in their little home.

“I visited your grave today,” Shen Wei says and Zhao Yunlan glares at him.

He doesn’t want to hear about this. Shen Wei told him when they held the funeral and memorial for him, mentioning every detail he thought Zhao Yunlan would want to hear, and Zhao Yunlan had thrown a plate at his head. Shen Wei had let it hit him, blinking past the blood in his eyes, and continuing his tale as if nothing had happened.

“Da Qing was there. He will never stop looking for you,” Shen Wei tells him.

“Good. He’ll keep you looking over your shoulder forever,” Zhao Yunlan says. “If anyone could find me it would be that irritating cat.”

Shen Wei smiles at him and Zhao Yunlan hates it.

“‘If’,” Shen Wei repeats and Zhao Yunlan hates him, hates him, hates him. He could rip Shen Wei apart and it would never be enough. But even now it’s the same Shen Wei he fell for, who treats him like he’s something too precious, who takes care of him in this prison of his making, and seems content with being hated as long as Zhao Yunlan stays safe.

He still hates him.

But despite that he can’t help that drop of love in him, beating and pounding whenever he hears Shen Wei arrive. He’s never hated someone so much and it’s still not enough to drown it out.

“I’m tired. I don’t want to see you,” Zhao Yunlan says. He does nothing all day but he’s always exhausted somehow. Then today he pushed himself too much during his walkabout. He’s doubly tired and pissed about it. Shen Wei makes a soft noise to show he understands. He picks him up and Zhao Yunlan allows it since he doesn’t have the energy to fight back right now, then sets him on the bed.

“I’ll return with medicine and food,” he says and leaves him to rest, lighting the incense that helps lull Zhao Yunlan to sleep.

Zhao Yunlan watches the smoke rise and curl; he’s checked it already but it’s not drugged, just a normal stick of incense meant to encourage rest. It smells woodsy and he hates it. Hates that it suits him, that Shen Wei probably waltzed into some tiny boutique shop to purchase it especially for him, that it actually does help him into a deep sleep.

Zhao Yunlan rolls over, deftly scooping the fabric of his robe so that it isn’t bunched up under him. Shen Wei refuses to bring him jeans or anything normal. He just acts like he doesn’t hear him. So Shen Wei has a robe kink; it’s not as satisfying to find out about that now when it’s all Zhao Yunlan is forced into. It’d be different if it was something Zhao Yunlan could secretly buy online and then surprise Shen Wei with.

He slaps himself once in the face. That dream is done and over with. He’s going to find a way to run away from here and then never see Shen Wei again. He’ll outrun his creepy ass stalker for the rest of his life if he has to. He’s not going to sit here and be a pretty little doll for him to play with.

Zhao Yunlan sighs and lets himself drift into sleep. But for a change his mind conjures up dreams of blood, dripping and swelling around him, and he can’t escape it. It fills his throat and he gags on it, but it doesn’t stop.

“Yunlan, please drink it,” comes Shen Wei’s soft voice and Zhao Yunlan thinks it’s part of his dream till he wakes up. Shen Wei is holding a bowl to his mouth, gently propping him up so that Zhao Yunlan can drink without choking, though the taste is so vile there’s no way he wouldn’t vomit it up. Zhao Yunlan pushes Shen Wei away and spits thick, dark red saliva that stains the bed.

“What is that?” Zhao Yunlan demands, coughing and wiping at his lips. He knows the taste of blood and he spits again to get rid of it, glaring at the cup of water Shen Wei is trying to push into his hands.

“It’s medicine,” Shen Wei insists and Zhao Yunlan wants to howl in rage.

“That’s not medicine. Where did you get that from? Whose blood is it? Are you killing people to keep me here? Is this how you trap me here? What the hell are you doing? Answer me, Shen Wei! I didn’t think I could hate you more but I guess I fucking can!”

Shen Wei looks at him with wide eyes and Zhao Yunlan sees the way his hand goes to the buttons on his shirt. With only an inkling as to what he’s doing, he tears Shen Wei’s shirt apart, dumbstruck at the fresh wound on his chest.

He stares at it, unprocessing, not even able to admire that pale chest the way he had once dreamed of.

“It’s unsightly,” Shen Wei apologizes, pushing his hands away gently and re-buttoning his shirt.

“That’s your blood,” Zhao Yunlan says. “Your heart...why would you do that?”

“I’m a ghost,” Shen Wei says gently, setting the bowl down on the nightstand. “Do you think humans and ghosts are meant to be together? They can’t, of course. Without even trying I maliciously soak up your energy just by being around you. My heart’s blood can counteract it, slightly.”

Zhao Yunlan stares at the covered wound now that he knows it's there.

“What happened to you that you’re so fucked up now?” Zhao Yunlan murmurs, shaking and trembling. He’s afraid of the answer.

“I can’t lose you anymore,” Shen Wei says.

Zhao Yunlan’s mind lingers on the ‘anymore’, because although Shen Wei’s tone never changed, his eyes were engulfed in despair at that one word. It’s sick and wrong but he lets Shen Wei hold him, stroking his head as he slowly settles down, his limbs going lax. He hates that Shen Wei’s arms comfort him but they do.

“So this isn’t our first life together?” Zhao Yunlan says, not a question he needs answered. Shen Wei doesn’t say anything but he closes his eyes. “Why now though?”

“I can’t lose you anymore,” Shen Wei repeats.

And Zhao Yunlan still wants to escape, still wants his freedom. He loves Shen Wei, always will, but he hates him too, enough that he wishes he could wring his stupidly perfect neck. Zhao Yunlan reaches up and cups his cheek, words gone; they wouldn’t be enough anyway. They haven't been this entire time.

He pushes his head up till their lips meet, and he detests himself for his stomach flipping in excitement as Shen Wei responds back. It isn’t right. Zhao Yunlan never wanted it like this.

But Zhao Yunlan’s all too human heart clenches in anguish and adoration as he lets Shen Wei finally push him down onto their bed. If he can’t escape then he can have this. Shen Wei is all he has now. It’s twisted and broken, this obsessive worship of Shen Wei’s, and what could have been a sweet, encompassing love is something malicious instead. Zhao Yunlan mourns it. He liked Shen Wei, he loved him, he truly did.

This is letting that last spark lead him to survival and eventual escape. Zhao Yunlan kisses him but he will always try to find ways to escape, will always hate him for this. He can’t truly fool Shen Wei so all he can do is wait for the leash to slacken, for the door to open enough, to keep himself paddling with his head above water even if he risks drowning the entire time.