Zhao Yunlan watches through the one-way window at the Black Cloaked Envoy strapped down into the metal chair. There's an IV drip connected to one of his arms, and if his hands weren't strapped down, Zhao Yunlan knows he'd be trying to claw it out. Someone had made the mistake of not securing him down properly exactly once. Even with the power inhibiting cuffs, the Black Cloaked Envoy isn't exactly physically weak. He'd pulled himself loose that time, mindlessly clawing at the IV drip in his arm.
Zhao Yunlan has been told that among its other effects, whatever that mix of things is that they're pumping into him, it feels like acid poured into his veins. The Black Cloaked Envoy has stopped screaming, and his head is lolling against his chest. "Get it out," he mumbles every so often. That's all he's said today, so far.
He's bruised and bloody from today's session and Zhao Yunlan forces himself to catalogue each new injury he can see. He'll read the full report later, but it's always different actually seeing it. Zhao Yunlan hates this, hates that he has to be in charge of the interrogations. The Black Cloaked Envoy might be the enemy General, but Zhao Yunlan still can't quite convince himself that anyone deserves this. But they need to root out any and all Dixing cells in Haixing, and now that they've actually captured the Black Cloaked Envoy—
Zhao Yunlan looks away from the one-way window, steeling himself before walking into the interrogation room itself.
"That's enough," he tells the interrogator sharply, dismissing him with a wave of his hand. He scurries out without a word, leaving his tools behind. Once again Zhao Yunlan is alone with the Black Cloaked Envoy.
The Black Cloaked Envoy is looking at him. His eyes are heavy-lidded and red-rimmed, his head keeps falling down. It's clearly a struggle to keep his attention focused on Zhao Yunlan.
"I'm sorry about this," Zhao Yunlan says a bit brusquely, as he walks to the Black Cloaked Envoy's side. For a moment he has the stray urge to brush away some of the sweat-damp hair clinging to the Envoy's forehead. He dismisses that ridiculous thought and bends over to carefully remove the IV from the Envoy's arm.
The Black Cloaked Envoy slumps down once Zhao Yunlan pulls the catheter out, a quiet sigh escaping him. Zhao Yunlan takes his time removing the restraints, giving the Envoy that little moment to gather himself. He's no danger to Zhao Yunlan in his current state, and even if he was—the guards are never far away.
"Are you up to walking?" Zhao Yunlan asks. They'll both be more comfortable away from this room. The Envoy seems to think this over for a moment, and Zhao Yunlan looks at the more visible injuries, mostly just bruises, and scrapes, but it's not like the old ones have had time to heal either. Maybe he should have offered to take care of the Envoy's injuries first.
The Envoy nods once, pushing at the armrests he's been strapped to to lever himself up. His legs buckle slightly and Zhao Yunlan quickly catches the Envoy around the waist, steadying him. "Alright," he says, lifting one of the Envoy's arms around his shoulders. "Let's get you back to your cell then."
It's slow going of course, and both of them ignore the guards following them. Zhao Yunlan helps the Envoy sit down on the thin, hard cot in his cell. "I should get you a blanket, at least," Zhao Yunlan mumbles quietly, and the Black Cloaked Envoy flinches at that, trying to pull away from Zhao Yunlan.
Zhao Yunlan stands up, ignoring the reaction for now. One of the guards walks in with a first aid kit, handing it to Zhao Yunlan before hurrying back out, and closing the cell door behind him. It's only the two of them again.
He sits down next to the Envoy, taking out the disinfectant and cotton pads. Wordlessly he takes one of the Envoy's bare arms. The Envoy tenses under his touch, but they've done this before, it's not like he doesn't know what Zhao Yunlan is about to do. Carefully Zhao Yunlan dabs at one of the deeper cuts, the Envoy doesn't react at all.
Zhao Yunlan glances up at the Black Cloaked Envoy's face as he keeps cleaning the wound. The Envoy is looking down at Zhao Yunlan's hands.
"Stop, please," the Envoy begs, his voice quiet and broken. Finally, Zhao Yunlan thinks. It's the first thing the Envoy has said to Zhao Yunlan. So far all he's done before is stare at Zhao Yunlan with those big, wet eyes filled with hurt.
Zhao Yunlan keeps cleaning the wounds, and the Envoy doesn't make a move to pull away. "I don't want these to get infected," Zhao Yunlan says, not ungently.
"You're different," the Envoy says quietly like he isn't really even talking to Zhao Yunlan. Zhao Yunlan is surprised at the sadness in the Envoy's voice, he would expect almost any other emotion than that. "I'm sorry," the Envoy says, still not meeting Zhao Yunlan's eyes.
Zhao Yunlan isn't sure what the apology is for. Part of him wants to yell that a 'sorry' is a bit too little, and far too late. But he's trying to build a rapport between them here, and that won't do. "So am I," Zhao Yunlan says, and those words feel more honest than he meant them to. The truth of them carve out a hollow space somewhere behind his lungs, and settle in there.
"We're not the monsters they make us out to be, you know," the Black Cloaked Envoy says. Zhao Yunlan doesn't think about all the Dixingren he's seen questioned, he doesn't think about the pity firmly lodged in his chest. His mother's death flashes in his memory and his grip on the Envoy's arm tightens. It takes a moment before he realises he's digging his fingers into the Envoy's flesh. The Envoy doesn't even flinch.
Zhao Yunlan loosens his fingers and continues on to the next, smaller scrape, and listens while the Envoy talks. He's supposed to get the Envoy to trust him, so, for now, he'll just have to listen to him talk about how the Dixingren are all misunderstood. Eventually, Zhao Yunlan will get the information he actually wants.
The same pattern keeps repeating. They interrogate the Black Cloaked Envoy, and he'll cry and beg, but never tell them anything that matters. The last few times that Zhao Yunlan has been left with him afterwards the Envoy has been too out of it to move, let alone speak. Zhao Yunlan doesn't want to think about the things the Envoy has talked about so far. There's no point in doubts.
Zhao Yunlan orders them to give the Envoy a day to rest and recover. Whether Zhao Yunlan feels bad for the Envoy or not, doesn't matter. He's not going to give Zhao Yunlan anything useful if they leave him in that state after every time. It's clear by now that the interrogations might break the Envoy in the end—maybe already have in some ways—but they're not going to make him tell them any of his secrets.
At the end of the day, Zhao Yunlan walks into the Envoy's cell, a blanket held in his hands. The Black Cloaked Envoy is sitting on his uncomfortable little cot, hugging his knees to his chest, his head bent down. He lifts his head at the sound of the cell door. He looks—surprised to see Zhao Yunlan.
Zhao Yunlan waits for the door to the cell to close behind him, giving them at least an illusion of privacy. "Here," he says, holding the blanket out to the Envoy. The Envoy unfolds slowly, setting his feet on the ground before reaching out to take the blanket. He sets it down in his lap, smoothing a hand over it. There's a ghost of a smile on his lips, as he looks at Zhao Yunlan.
For a moment Zhao Yunlan wonders what a real smile would look like on the Envoy's face. "Thank you," the Envoy says, and his words jolt Zhao Yunlan back to reality.
"I should have brought it sooner," Zhao Yunlan says. He gestures at the door of the cell. "I was just—busy." That's a lie, of course, it just wouldn't have been as useful to bring it earlier.
The Envoy huffs lightly, and Zhao Yunlan can't decide if that's amusement or not. Now that Zhao Yunlan has heard the Envoy talk at length—even if it's about all the wrong things—he's realised that in some things at least the Envoy is quite smart. And he knows from before that the Envoy is an excellent strategist. Zhao Yunlan wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Envoy knew what Zhao Yunlan was trying to do here.
It doesn't change the steps of this dance at all.
He sits down next to the Envoy. He hasn't really seen the Envoy this lucid in a while.
"Do you want to know my name?" the Envoy asks suddenly. Zhao Yunlan smiles at that, turning to look at the Envoy. This has to be some kind of progress.
"If you want to tell me, yes," Zhao Yunlan says. Only referring to their captives as "dixingren" is an effective enough interrogation tactic, but in this case, maybe this would be more useful.
This time the huff is clearly amused. "Shen Wei," he says, and keeps looking at Zhao Yunlan like he wants to know how he'll react. "My name is Shen Wei."
"Shen Wei," Zhao Yunlan repeats. The name suits the Envoy, he finds himself thinking for some reason. "It's a good name."
The Envoy's eyes seem to soften for a moment at those words. "I know who you are, Director Zhao," the Envoy says, his voice suddenly cold. For the first time, the eyes that look at Zhao Yunlan are hard and unforgiving.
The power suppressing cuffs around the Envoy's wrists spark once, and then the Envoy's hand is around Zhao Yunlan's throat, what feels like sharp claws piercing his skin. Instinctively Zhao Yunlan grabs the hand, trying to pull it away. The Envoy squeezes hard enough that Zhao Yunlan's breath cuts off, the claws digging in a bit harder. He pulls at the hand holding onto him, struggling to draw in a breath. He can't even yell out to warn anyone, but there are cameras, someone should be coming to—
His vision is swimming, black spots dancing in his vision, but he sees the Envoy make a gesture with his other hand, smoke shooting out from it, vanishing out into—somewhere. The door to the cell opens, and the hand from Zhao Yunlan's throat vanishes. He gasps in a breath, choking on it for a moment. Once he manages to catch his breath there are two headless guards lying on the floor, and the Envoy's blade is at Zhao Yunlan's neck.
"That was a—message," Zhao Yunlan rasps out. "You sent a message to—" The blade presses a bit closer and Zhao Yunlan falls silent.
"We wouldn't have found this place otherwise," the Envoy says, his voice grim. "Thank you for giving me enough time to recover, Zhao Yunlan." Zhao Yunlan feels like throwing up. "I'll do my best to keep you from harm," the Envoy says, and the last thing Zhao Yunlan knows is a burst of dark energy coming at him.