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A perfect vow

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Shen Wei blinks at his shoes, surprised to see them moving.

His head pounds. He reaches a hand towards his temple, but someone catches his wrist. “Don’t touch. Your hands are dirty.”

Shen Wei looks down. His hand is indeed filthy: dirt and grit cover it, black under torn fingernails. He tries to check his other hand but can’t. That arm is slung around Zhao Yunlan’s shoulders, being pulled uncomfortably as Zhao Yunlan tugs him forward with insistence. Shen Wei lifts his foot higher to help get over a pile of rubble, and they stumble onward.

His ribs hurt. He should heal them. He gathers his dark energy under his skin, frowning at the wisps escaping between his fingers. He looks down to his bloodstained shirt and finds his head too heavy to lift back up. His energy scatters into darkness and he follows.


Zhao Yunlan presses something to his lips. Shen Wei lets liquid pool in his mouth, trying to focus on Zhao Yunlan’s worried eyes even though it makes his head hurt. They’re sitting down. Or rather, Shen Wei is propped up against a half-demolished brick wall and Zhao Yunlan is crouching beside him.

Water slides down his chin and Shen Wei realises he forgot to close his mouth. He does so, then makes the oddly conscious effort to swallow. It tastes wretched, as if washing cement dust off his tongue.

“... if you can.”

Zhao Yunlan is talking to him. Shen Wei knows, because he watched Zhao Yunlan’s mouth move, and he heard the words. Only, what were the words?

There was Move, and SID, and If you can, between all the static. “Of course I can,” Shen Wei replies, except those are not the sounds that come out of his throat.

He clears it, tries again, fails again. Clears it - clears it - clears -- and keeps on coughing. His throat feels raw, his tongue thick. The air tastes of vile smoke. Shen Wei retches before he’s aware it’s going to happen. His body feels disconnected, as if several steps ahead of his mind.

It makes his head hurt. He holds it in his hands. While the palms are very clean, the backs of his hands are dirty. He looks at them, puzzled. Hands...head.

He remembers something that tells him he can touch, now. He does, and finds a very tender, sizeable bruise near his hairline. He winces and conjures dark healing energy. Zhao Yunlan’s hand takes his and brings it down to his lap, disrupting the flow of energies.

“Look at me. Xiao-Wei, look at me for a second.” Zhao Yunlan’s smile is tremulous and his gaze is fierce. Shen Wei wants to stare as requested but finds it abnormally hard to keep up. Yet, he looks and looks, biting his tongue to stay focused because this is Zhao Yunlan, asking. Shen Wei could never deny him. Still, it is a relief when Zhao Yunlan nods and indicates he can stop. “Alright. Thank you, you did good.”

Shen Wei lets his stinging eyes close on the praise, at last. Zhao Yunlan’s voice spikes in authoritative alarm. “No. Don’t sleep just yet. And stop trying to heal yourself.”

Shen Wei wants to listen, but his mind keeps skipping away. The floor is extremely uncomfortable, his clothes itch, and Zhao Yunlan is tapping on his cheek. He blinks in confusion Zhao Yunlan, finds him dirty and worried. There’s blood on his cheek.

“What’s wrong?” Shen Wei mumbles, trying to shake off the cloak of lethargy weighing down his senses. “What happened?” He reaches for his memories but concentrating only makes the rushing of blood in his ears roar, and it obfuscates Zhao Yunlan’s answer. Shen Wei attempts to use his dark energy to heal Zhao Yunlan. He flinches as it bounces out of his control and a pulsing recoil leaves his hands numb. Zhao Yunlan snaps something, his muffled voice upset. That is… not acceptable.

Shen Wei shakes his head to clear his thoughts. It sends them spinning instead, taking the room with them. Some memories break loose, as fragile and senseless as petals blown on the wind. There was a fight, thunder, their car. Zhao Yunlan being lifted off his feet. Walls. Industrial walls, made of concrete and bricks, crumbling like sand and rocks gnawed by ocean waves. No, that's not right.

“The water was in a bottle, wasn’t it?” Shen Wei asks. He realises he interrupted Zhao Yunlan saying something. “My apologies. You were saying?”

Zhao Yunlan frowns at him, mouth set in a hard line, but continues talking. To his...hand? Oh, to his phone. That makes more sense. Shen Wei looks around, slowing down his blinking to avoid dislodging too many colours. They seem alone right now. Shen Wei leans back against his supporting wall to better admire Zhao Yunlan at work.

Zhao Yunlan is good at handling difficulties as they arise. For someone who missed out on many years, Shen Wei felt he was doing a proper job at surviving in this new world, full of flashing and buzzing screens everywhere. This changed when he met Zhao Yunlan, who bites into life to the bone and grins around each mouthful.

There’s such an electrical hum beating at the back of Shen Wei’s head that is getting louder and louder. Soon, it is howling at him in shades of deep blue and purple, an aureola starting from the edges of his vision and looming in until he can barely make out Zhao Yunlan’s face anymore. “I’m sorry,” he tells him, again.

Zhao Yunlan snarls and pinches Shen Wei's ear. Shen Wei jerks upright in surprise, angry at being woken up -- except he’s never angry when Zhao Yunlan wakes him, and he wasn’t sleeping. “Did I doze off?” He asks.

Zhao Yunlan’s mouth is set in a firm, serious line. “Almost,” he replies. “Stay awake.”

“Why?” Shen Wei yawns, his eyes drooping. He’s tired. He must have expended his energy beyond limits, again. He had promised Zhao Yunlan he’d be more careful -- after they came back, after they fought about this topic. Why were they fighting?

Shen Wei looks Zhao Yunlan up and down. He’s a little dirty and his clothes a bit more scuffed than they usually are, but he looks whole and hale. Whatever happened, Shen Wei was able to properly protect Zhao Yunlan. Possibly to the cost of his own health. Shen Wei smothers a spike of smugness under his well-worn blanket sentiment of having no regret. “I’m sorry," he lies.

“Stay awake for 6 minutes longer and I’ll forgive you anything. Make it to 10 and I won’t ask you what for.”

Shen Wei smiles at this. He would be a fool to decline this bargain. Except, even now he can feel the crushing weight of exhaustion leaning on his mind. A little ashamed, he asks: “Count for me?”

A warm hand settles on his neck, fingers gripping the back. Zhao Yunlan's forehead touches his, a warm anchor. “Of course. It’s been 40 seconds already. Stay with me.”

“For as long as you’ll let me,” Shen Wei replies automatically.

“Forever, then.” Zhao Yunlan confirms.

His beauty is dazzling and this feels like wedding vows. “We should get married,” Shen Wei hurries to say before the thought slips away.

Zhao Yunlan barks out a wet laugh. “What, now? Xiao-Wei, we’re not engaged yet.”

Shen Wei shakes his head, slow enough not to dislodge contact with Zhao Yunlan. “You’ve proposed to me more than a dozen times. Some of them outside of -- bedroom activities.”

Zhao Yunlan smiles, broad and radiant. “Ahhh. For sure, my treasure. But you haven’t accepted yet! One thirty.”

Shen Wei considers Zhao Yunlan. His hair is a mess, his shirt had way too many holes even before the fight they must have gone through, and he smells of smoke and sweat. There’s a smudge of dried blood on his stubbled cheek that isn’t his; it’s pulled up by the exquisite twist of Zhao Yunlan’s mouth. His aura is gorgeous, his manners a double-sided blade, and his soul perfectly irregular.

Shen Wei kisses him, an uncontrolled fall of his mouth against Zhao Yunlan's. Zhao Yunlan catches him, whispering numbers between the quiet short presses of their lips.

Their relationship is a rough landscape made from promises kept and broken, their bond an unbreakable cornerstone at the center. Shen Wei wants to keep making new vows and work at holding true.

There’s a ringing disturbance growing louder in Shen Wei’s ears, muffling his thoughts again. He sighs away from Zhao Yunlan’s tenderness.

“I do accept. On one condition.”

“Five forty. Name it.”

The ringing is deafening. Still, he thinks Zhao Yunlan will hear him over the noise. “I want to propose to you, too.”

Zhao Yunlan laughs, grabs his shoulders and gathers Shen Wei in a fierce embrace.

“Deal. But I have to warn you: I will say yes.”

There’s shouting and movements around them as the red Jeep parks and the SID team pours out. Shen Wei misses Zhao Yunlan's arms as soon as he stands up, but is rewarded by being able to watch Zhao Yunlan take charge of the scene, dividing tasks and condensing information. He's so talented.

Then Cheng Xinyan is there, still in her hospital coat and holding first aid supplies. Shen Wei is alarmed to see her. “Is someone injured? Zhao Yunlan-“

“He’s fine,” she says without ever looking away from cleaning some wound Shen Wei must have on his temple. She's brisk and professional but not unkind. “How are you?”

Shen Wei is going to propose to Zhao Yunlan, and Zhao Yunlan is going to say yes. Nothing else seems very important. “I am fine.”

There’s a cacophony of voices raised at that. Shen Wei lets them fade in and out of his awareness.

Shen Wei is moving, but his feet are still.

He's on a gurney, he realises, just as he is being loaded into some sort of vehicle. It has bright interior lights and, to Shen Wei's surprise, a Dixingren healer. This must be one of the newer developments in Cheng Xinyan's interworld-relations healthcare reform.

Shen Wei's attempts to protest are disrupted by the escalating pounding of his head.

He reaches up to rub his temple but Zhao Yunlan catches his wrist. Shen Wei blinks until he can focus on the glow of Zhao Yunlan's worry. He rotates his arm and brushes their palm together, interlacing their dirty fingers. He brings their joined hands to his lips.

"There's nothing to worry about," Shen Wei reassures him.

The reply is drowned by the surrounding noises but Zhao Yunlan's expressive face nonetheless clearly conveys his opinion on the matter. Shen Wei manages a smile.

Soothing waves of healing wash over him, a remarkable absence of pain towing him ever closer to oblivion.

Zhao Yunlan's hand is strong and steady in Shen Wei's loosening grip. Silently, Shen Wei repeats his vows to the universe.

He was alone for so long, and now he's not. He's got a soon-to-be fiancé, a lot of things to plan and guests to invite.

The wedding for sure will be rowdy and a complete mess of protocols. Shen Wei is glad. It will be perfect.