Zhao Yunlan wakes up. He feels vaguely like there's something off with that, like he shouldn't be waking up in the first place. He opens his eyes to darkness, which is, frankly, quite unhelpful. He sits up and waits for a bit, waving his hand in front of his face. It's too dark to really see anything but vague shapes, but at least that means he's probably not blind. He really, really doesn't want to go through that again. Because then Shen Wei might—
Zhao Yunlan gasps for breath, feeling like something tight and icy is wrapping itself around his heart. He can't breathe. Shen Wei is— No, no. Nononono. That's not— Shen Wei isn't— He can't be gone. But Zhao Yunlan had seen him after—there'd been fire and pain and then—Shen Wei. He remembers.
He squeezes his eyes shut and he can see Ye Zun stabbing Shen Wei, as that memory plays itself out against Zhao Yunlan's closed eyelids. He doesn't want to remember this, but remembering Shen Wei in that place beyond time, beyond life maybe, isn't much better. Knowing that Shen Wei is gone, knowing that Zhao Yunlan should be— He had been burning, he had—
No. Shen Wei can't be gone. Not if Zhao Yunlan is still here, not when Zhao Yunlan is waking up.
A door opens with a rush, banging lightly against the wall. Zhao Yunlan jerks his head up, his scream cutting off abruptly. He hadn't even realised he was screaming until that moment, until the echoes of it seem to vibrate in the sudden silence. He swallows once, and his throat hurts from the screaming.
He blinks at the figure in the doorway, backlit by a faint light from the other side of the door. The figure is blurry. He blinks furiously and finally realises it's his eyes that are blurry with tears. Fuck, he thinks and tries to remember how to breathe. None of it really helps, since the tears just keep streaming down his cheeks. He feels light-headed.
"Lan Lan? What's wrong?" the figure asks in a voice some part of him thinks he should recognise, while hurrying toward him. She sits down on the bed and pulls him into her arms. For some reason, he doesn't even try to stop her and just buries his face against her, his painfully fast heartbeat settling slightly. She smells of—
"Mom?" he gasps against her chest.
"I'm here, Lan Lan. It's all fine, it was just a nightmare," she says soothingly and Zhao Yunlan just cries more. He doesn't think he can stop.
Zhao Yunlan must have fallen asleep at some point because he wakes up again. It still feels wrong, but at least he has a bit more of a grip on himself now. The memory of—of Shen Wei doesn't take him by surprise this time. He can breathe through it now, even if it feels like it's ripping his heart to shreds and tears still keep falling from his eyes. At least he keeps himself quiet.
The room he's in is lighter now, and he thinks he remembers this room, kind of. He forces himself not to think about—Shen Wei. His breath starts going faster and his fingers prickle and feel numb. He wipes at the tears in his eyes.
He looks around the room. It is the room from his childhood. And the person who'd held him while he cried in the night had been—his mom. She's alive, he thinks. Zhao Yunlan is alive. He's not supposed to be, neither of them is supposed to be.
He looks down at his too-small hands. He throws the blanket off him and looks down at himself, at the light blue pyjamas covered in tiny cats. None of this is right. He isn't right. Zhao Yunlan swallows, and a sudden pain twinges at his throat. Weirdly, it helps somehow. Makes this seem more real. He really had screamed his throat raw last night. That probably means this isn't a dream. You're not supposed to feel that kind of pain in dreams, right?
He doesn't know how this could have happened. But he'll take a wild guess and blame the Hallows. It's not like Zhao Yunlan hasn't time travelled before, and he refuses to believe that someone would have trapped him in a nightmare. Not when it feels this real. Not when he remembers dying and burning, he doesn't think even that—Nightmare Master could have made up that.
Obviously, this isn't like the last time Zhao Yunlan had time travelled. That had made more sense, if time travel ever makes any sense. But then again, Zhao Yunlan had died this time, hadn't he? He supposes that means wherever he had met Shen Wei, wherever the Hallows had taken him, he didn't have a body anymore. So what, the Hallows somehow stuffed him into his own past self? How does that even make sense? Why? He doesn't remember anything after Shen Wei—
Zhao Yunlan swallows and forces his mind back to the present. Shit. He's crying again. He wipes at his eyes and tries to take deep breaths. His fingers are tingling again, and his face feels numb. After a moment of breathing calmly, he feels a bit more normal.
Alright then, he doesn't care if this makes sense or not. It doesn't matter why the Hallows did what they did. He's here now, and he sure as fuck will make sure that things go different this time. He can save his mom. He can save Shen Wei. His hands tremble and he presses them against his thighs, the kitten covered fabric bunching under his hands, and takes a few calming breaths.
Well, he might need some help. He's pretty sure a kid won't be able to do too much about stopping that Dixingren that had— He cuts off the thought, he doesn't need to remember the details of that. Not now.
First things first. He really needs to get up and figure out how old he is right now. That way he can figure out how much time he has before— He swallows again, and it seems to hurt less this time. He tries to settle his breath. He probably also really should figure out what the hell he's actually supposed to be doing right now. His parents might—hah—worry otherwise. School is probably a thing.
Surely he's at least old enough for school? He should probably be a lot smaller otherwise, he thinks, a small huff of a laugh escaping him. Yeah, being amused is better than being hysterical, he tells himself.
He takes a few deep breaths and then finally gets out of bed. Fuck, but his emotional control is shit right now. He's not sure if that's because kids are just not that good at it, or because Zhao Yunlan is really not in the best of places emotionally speaking. He almost laughs at himself. Yeah, it's probably both.
Turns out that school really is a thing he needs to go to. It turns out to be less of a disaster than he was expecting. He barely got through the morning with his mom, and by the time he got to school, his hopes weren't all that high.
But apparently, at school, he can just avoid talking to most people and everyone just assumes he's having a bad day or something. And apparently, Zhao Yunlan, the kid, just doesn't have that many close friends. Now that he's forced to think about it, he remembers he'd been a pretty shy kid. 'Sensitive' he'd overheard his mom say at some point, he doesn't even remember to whom.
Of course, while that solution works at school, he can't exactly avoid his mom. Not that he wants to! Of course, he doesn't, it's just—hard to look at her and not burst out into tears or run over to hug her, or probably both. And that reaction would make her worry. Zhao Yunlan really hopes his emotions are going to level off a bit, at some point, because there's no way he's going to get through things like this.
Somehow, Zhao Yunlan manages to get through the week. And yeah, it turns out that suddenly avoiding talking to the other kids at all for a whole week might be something that people worry about, judging by the roundabout questions his teacher has asked him a few times. But that's fine, as long as no one tells his mom. They probably won't since it's not like Zhao Yunlan has caused any sort of trouble. And well—it's not like Zhao Yunlan really knows how to do things any differently. He's not used to kids, and he sure as hell doesn't know how to talk to them when he's supposed to be one of them.
Despite his best efforts, which admittedly kind of suck, his mom—probably predictably—notices that something is off. Somehow, and Zhao Yunlan can't really figure out how, that leads to them visiting the SID and Zhao Xinci in particular.
It's only when he hears the beginnings of that argument between his parents that he realises when this is. Maybe it's the unusual environment, but for some reason, this argument, in particular, has been burned vividly into Zhao Yunlan's mind.
Of course, he knows what date it is now—and he remembers one fast approaching date better than any other in his life—but that doesn't help him place past events, from a lifetime ago, into the right order. It's all a jumble of unconnected memories that could have happened at any point in his childhood. It's simply been too long. But surely, he thinks, something else must have led to this argument last time, because Zhao Yunlan had been different last time. Not this crying mess causing his mom to worry. Or does the last time even exist anywhere but in Zhao Yunlan's mind?
Maybe things will just keep happening the same no matter how different Zhao Yunlan is this time around, no matter what he does. Maybe he's just doomed to live through all the same things over again. Zhao Yunlan bites the base of his thumb to keep the desperate noise inside and breathes. He's gotten some handle on his emotions by now, thankfully, but some things just sort of cause them to spill over.
But there's no point in dwelling on things he has no way of knowing the answer to, he reminds himself. He'll just have to face things as they come. He's at the SID now, and he really needs to take advantage of the opportunity. Not stand here and have a breakdown. He ignores his parents' arguing voices as he concentrates on what he needs to do.
He walks away from his parents and into his father's office. He doesn't really try to hide what he's doing, because that would seem far more suspicious. A few people look at him sympathetically, no doubt thinking he just wants to escape the argument between his parents. He doesn't meet anyone's eyes.
He recognises Da Qing and has to forcefully remind himself that this isn't the time. Da Qing doesn't know him yet, not really. Some part of him insists that if he just goes over there and picks Da Qing up and holds him, Da Qing will somehow recognise him, despite everything. But Da Qing doesn't remember and Zhao Yunlan hardly looks like he did when Da Qing saw him last.
Later, he promises himself. He has all the time in the world to get to know Da Qing again. Getting the help to save his mom is more urgent. Seeing Shen Wei is more urgent, making sure that Shen Wei is— He cuts off that train of thought before it gets too far. This isn't the time for that either.
Once he's in his father's office it doesn't take very long to find the incense, in many ways, his father is very predictable. He pockets one cone, it'll have to be enough, any more might be noticed. Even one might be a risk, his dad is—meticulous. But he will hardly suspect Zhao Yunlan for it, so it should be fine.
Then all Zhao Yunlan has to do is sit down and wait for his parents to finish their arguing, and for his mom to come get him, so they can go back home. Without his father. Some things will hopefully go differently this time around, but Zhao Yunlan has no doubt that Zhao Xinci will still be Zhao Xinci.
Zhao Yunlan's eyes widen. Except when he isn't. When did Zhang Shi show up?
Zhao Yunlan sneaks out of the house that same night. Trying to summon the Black Cloaked Envoy at home, where his parents are, is a horrible idea. So out at night in a closeby park it is. It's not like Zhao Yunlan has that many choices. He makes very sure he's alone before he lights the incense and waits.
There's a crackle of electricity before the portal twists into reality. Zhao Yunlan's heart starts beating faster. A cold fog rises from nowhere and at least Shen Wei still has his sense of drama. Then Shen Wei is there in all his masked and robed glory and every plan Zhao Yunlan had for this moment flies out the window. All he can do is sob out, "Shen Wei," before tears start streaming down his face and he's crying uncontrollably.
The fog dissipates into nothing and Shen Wei just stares at him. He seems vaguely distressed, and Zhao Yunlan kind of wants to laugh, even as he's still crying. "Take off that mask and smile at me, Shen Wei, please," he somehow manages to get out, not really thinking about what he's saying. He wants—he needs to look at Shen Wei.
There's a sort of stunned silence and Zhao Yunlan even manages to stop his sobs for a moment. "Kunlun?" Shen Wei asks, his voice barely above a whisper.
Zhao Yunlan can only nod in answer and then Shen Wei is pulling his mask off and smiling that radiant smile that always leaves Zhao Yunlan breathless. Now, it makes Zhao Yunlan sob again, and Shen Wei crouches down in front of him and pulls Zhao Yunlan into his arms. Zhao Yunlan buries his face into Shen Wei's robes holding on to Shen Wei like his life depends on it, the familiar scent of incense and Shen Wei surrounding him.
Shen Wei should be asking questions. He shouldn't just believe some random kid. But Zhao Yunlan doesn't think he could stand it if Shen Wei didn't believe him, not right now. It takes a while before Zhao Yunlan feels able to speak. "I'm never losing you again, Xiao Wei," he tells Shen Wei as firmly as he can, even when his voice still wavers from all the crying.
Shen Wei's arms tighten around him. "Or I you, Kunlun," Shen Wei answers with the fierceness that Zhao Yunlan loves so much.
"Zhao Yunlan," he says, against Shen Wei's shoulder. "My name is Zhao Yunlan."
"Zhao Yunlan," Shen Wei repeats reverently and Zhao Yunlan bites his lip and tries very hard not to start crying again.
"I'm sorry for being such a mess," Zhao Yunlan half sobs into Shen Wei's shoulder. The crying is getting ridiculous, but Shen Wei is here and for the first time in weeks Zhao Yunlan doesn't need to pretend he's something he isn't. Even if Shen Wei has no clue what's going on, even if Shen Wei hasn't seen him in ten thousand years, Zhao Yunlan knows that Shen Wei won't hesitate to be there for him.
Zhao Yunlan lifts his head a bit, wanting to look at Shen Wei. He's still the most beautiful thing Zhao Yunlan has ever seen. Shen Wei's eyes are damp and red-rimmed, even if he isn't full-on crying like some people. The hood of Shen Wei's robe has fallen back and Zhao Yunlan's eyes are caught by the long hair.
"Oh," he says, managing to pry one hand away from his death grip on Shen Wei. He reaches out to run his fingers through Shen Wei's hair. "I love your hair, you know. I'm glad you haven't cut it yet," he says, feeling a bit stupid as soon as the words are out. That's hardly the most relevant thing right now.
Shen Wei ducks his head, smiling a bit, his ears growing ever so slightly pink. Zhao Yunlan takes a few breaths and doesn't immediately burst out crying again.
"I should explain," he says, tangling his hand into Shen Wei's hair. "Can you, I don't know, take us somewhere more private first?" It's not like there's anyone else in the nighttime park, but it feels like—it feels like they might be interrupted, and Zhao Yunlan is aware enough to realise that the image they present is—well, people might have questions and he's not in the mood for those explanations.
"Of course," Shen Wei says, and takes a small moment to think, before summoning a portal with a small gesture.
Zhao Yunlan looks up at the stars twinkling in the sky. He's holding on to Shen Wei's hand, unwilling to entirely let go of him. Now that they're through the portal he moves closer again, pressing himself against Shen Wei's side. Shen Wei wraps an arm around his shoulders and holds him close. It's weird being this much smaller than Shen Wei, but this is—nice. Zhao Yunlan's heart seems to be so much calmer when he can just be close to Shen Wei.
"Where are we?" Zhao Yunlan asks.
"It's somewhere close to where we used to—talk," Shen Wei answers. Zhao Yunlan takes another look, but ten thousand years have left everything unrecognisable, and it's probably not the precise location anyway. "It seemed fitting."
"Such a romantic, Xiao Wei," Zhao Yunlan teases lightly, and it feels so good to be able to do that. Because everything is fine. Everything will be fine. Shen Wei gives out a little huff.
The bright stars leave the night lighter than Zhao Yunlan would have expected, but Shen Wei can still definitely see a lot better than him in the darkness and Zhao Yunlan lets himself be led over to a rock to sit on. Well, for Shen Wei to sit on while he climbs into Shen Wei's lap. If he's going to be stuck as a kid for the foreseeable future, he's going to take what advantage he can of it.
Then Zhao Yunlan proceeds to actually attempt an explanation. The time travel is confusing, especially since he seems to have done it at least twice now, if in entirely different ways.
"I don't know," Zhao Yunlan says. "It must have been the Hallows, but after I died I didn't have a body—" Shen Wei breathes in sharply at the mention of Zhao Yunlan dying, he'd explained about both of them dying already, which is why right now he's being held very tightly against Shen Wei's chest like Shen Wei can prevent anything like that happening if he just holds on hard enough. Zhao Yunlan—sympathises. He doesn't plan on letting go of Shen Wei anytime soon either.
He knows his explanation is more than a bit lacking in details, but they have time for more detailed explanations later. He just needs to tell Shen Wei the rough outline of things right now, because secrets are bad. There will be no secrets between them because that way lay sacrifices and death. And Zhao Yunlan will not have that. Again. So it's best to just start how he means to go on, and he'll make sure Shen Wei will have no reason to hide things either.
For a while after he's done explaining Zhao Yunlan is happy to just sit there with his head pressed against Shen Wei's shoulder, Shen Wei's arms around him, his fingers tangled in Shen Wei's long hair. Shen Wei doesn't remember half of their shared history, and unlike before he might never remember it. There's a faint ache in Zhao Yunlan's heart for all that they've lost. But still, Shen Wei is here and Zhao Yunlan will take that over the alternative any day.
Zhao Yunlan sighs into Shen Wei's shoulder and then lifts his head to look at Shen Wei. "Shen Wei, I need your help," he says. He doesn't want to think about the details of his mom's death, every time he does he's thrown into a near panic attack, but it's not like he has any choices here. He sure as fuck won't let anything happen to his mom again.
"Of course, Zhao Yunlan. Whatever you need," Shen Wei offers promptly. Zhao Yunlan smiles a bit sadly, because yeah, that's his Shen Wei alright.
"My mom's going to be killed by a Dixingren," he says quickly. Zhao Yunlan's breath hitches and he has to fight to manage to draw in a somewhat steady breath. Shen Wei's eyes flare wider, but then his hands are framing Zhao Yunlan's face, his thumbs wiping away the tears Zhao Yunlan suddenly realises are falling from his eyes again.
"Tell me what happened," Shen Wei says gently. And Zhao Yunlan can't see a single doubt in him that what Zhao Yunlan said isn't the simple truth. He draws in a breath, and it's a bit easier than he expects. He takes another breath and starts talking, Shen Wei's arms falling to loosely circle his waist.
"There's a lot of details I don't remember," Zhao Yunlan says. Because yeah, trauma is a funny thing like that. Some images he can never get rid of, but some things just aren't there. He'd never thought he'd need those details one day. "But I know what his power is, and I know my father—Zhao Xinci was trying to catch him."
He sees how Shen Wei's eyes widen at his father's name, Zhao Yunlan hadn't quite gotten around to mentioning that yet either. There's only so much information he can cram into a relatively short explanation after all. It hadn't quite been that important at the moment.
"What do you remember, Zhao Yunlan?" Shen Wei asks, instead of saying anything about Zhao Xinci.
It feels like if he closes his eyes he could see that same scene play out before him again. He's dreamt it enough times that maybe he can. But how much of that memory is even accurate? He keeps his eyes on Shen Wei instead and tells him about his mom's death. How Zhao Yunlan hadn't been able to do anything but watch.
By the end of it, Zhao Yunlan's face is pressed against Shen Wei's shoulder again, while Shen Wei strokes his back, making small soothing noises at him. It helps.
"It's enough, isn't it? You can—" Zhao Yunlan asks, his voice shaky.
"I'll find him," Shen Wei promises. "Nothing will happen to your mother, Zhao Yunlan."
The relief of someone else—of Shen Wei telling him that feels like a weight lifted off his chest. He heaves in a gulp of air. He might be shaking a bit. This is a promise from Shen Wei that Zhao Yunlan finds himself having no trouble believing.
"Thank you, Xiao Wei," Zhao Yunlan whispers. He feels exhausted. "I hate being a kid," he sighs tiredly into Shen Wei's shoulder.
Shen Wei lets out an amused huff and strokes Zhao Yunlan's hair. "I admit, it will take some getting used to."
"Try living it," Zhao Yunlan mumbles.
Eventually, Zhao Yunlan has to go back home, if nothing else he really needs to get some actual sleep before the next day of school. And Shen Wei needs to go back to Dixing and get on with tracking down that Dixingren before he ever gets a chance to do anything. Zhao Yunlan doesn't ask what Shen Wei plans to do about him.
Zhao Yunlan doesn't particularly want to think about the fact that maybe that man isn't guilty of anything at all yet, because even then he suspects that part of him still wouldn't mind if Shen Wei decided that beheading was the most efficient solution. Of course, by the time Zhao Yunlan is alone, he can't quite make the thought go away. He'll have to ask the next night when he sees Shen Wei again. They'd agreed to meet up again, neither of them willing to stay apart any longer than necessary.
Zhao Yunlan is exhausted and irritable the whole day, which doesn't in any way at all help deal with a bunch of kids. Damn, but it turns out that kids really do need all of that sleep, and whatever else Zhao Yunlan might be his body is very much that of a child.
That night, Zhao Yunlan ends up excusing himself to go to bed early. His mom looks at him worriedly and asks him if he's feeling okay. Zhao Yunlan makes an excuse about not sleeping well last night. He regrets it almost immediately when he sees the worried furrow between her brows deepen. Belatedly he realises that she'll definitely think he's having more nightmares—it's not like she's wrong, there's a lot of things for Zhao Yunlan to have nightmares about and apparently that's the way his mind has decided to deal with things stuck in a kids body as it is. He just doesn't want his mom worrying about it. He's managed not to wake her up again after that first night at least.
He naps restlessly for a while, worried about falling too deeply into sleep, before dragging himself up from his bed to go meet Shen Wei again. Getting up feels like a struggle, but sleep will never be more important than Shen Wei so he shakes off the lethargy as best he can and quietly sneaks out. It's only the second night and Zhao Yunlan can tell already that this solution is hardly sustainable. Especially since he can only hope that his mom doesn't get the urge to check up on him during the night, what with the nightmares she thinks he's having.
They'll have to figure out something else. Maybe he can introduce Shen Wei to his mom. For a moment that thought feels absurd, and then he wonders—why not? He can do that now, can't he? He'd always thought his mom would have liked Shen Wei.
Shen Wei is waiting for him. This time there are no robes, and Shen Wei is wearing a pair of dark trousers and a light sweater, Zhao Yunlan can't tell the exact colour of any of it in the dark. His hair is pulled back in a loose ponytail and Zhao Yunlan's fingers itch with the urge to wrap around the long hair, to just touch any part of Shen Wei really.
He doesn't even think before he tiredly walks straight at Shen Wei and wraps his arms around Shen Wei's waist, pressing his face against Shen Wei. Shen Wei lets out a soft noise and hugs Zhao Yunlan close.
"Zhao Yunlan? Is everything alright?" Shen Wei asks after a moment of quiet, keeping Zhao Yunlan pressed close to himself.
"Mmm," Zhao Yunlan mumbles, muffled against Shen Wei's shirt. "Missed you."
Shen Wei huffs softly, lifting a hand to pet Zhao Yunlan's hair. Zhao Yunlan makes a tired, content noise. It feels nice. Touching Shen Wei feels nice, the warm safety of Shen Wei close to him seeping into his bones and making him feel even more drowsy.
"Kids need a lot of sleep," he mumbles into Shen Wei's shirt. Not quite sure if it's an explanation or an apology. Maybe it'll work as both. Both would be good. Zhao Yunlan closes his eyes. He thinks he could fall asleep here, leaning against Shen Wei. "I should introduce you to my mom."
Shen Wei's hand that had been petting his hair, stops. "Zhao Yunlan?"
Zhao Yunlan has to take a moment to drag himself back from the edge of sleep and rewind what he just said. Right, yeah, that. "I need to see you Shen Wei, and I can't keep sneaking out of the house every night," he explains. Before Shen Wei can respond he adds, "Missing sleep isn't good for me."
Ah, blatant emotional manipulation, how I've missed you, Zhao Yunlan thinks dryly. It's probably unfair that he knows Shen Wei so well by now, and knows that Shen Wei will definitely not want to do anything that has the remote chance of being harmful to Zhao Yunlan. But Zhao Yunlan didn't even try to be subtle about it, maybe somehow that makes it okay.
"I'm not sure it's a good idea," Shen Wei says hesitantly, but at least goes back to stroking Zhao Yunlan's hair.
"I always wanted you to meet my mom," Zhao Yunlan tells him because it's true. The thought that he can actually take Shen Wei to see his mom now hits him again suddenly, sharper now, and for a moment the world turns sideways and everything feels unreal. Zhao Yunlan grasps at Shen Wei's sweater and tries to calm his shaky breathing.
"Zhao Yunlan?" Shen Wei asks, sounding worried. Zhao Yunlan squeezes his eyes shut tighter, breathes in Shen Wei's familiar scent, fists his hand in Shen Wei's sweater.
"Please, just—keep talking to me, Xiao Wei," Zhao Yunlan says shakily.
"Of course," Shen Wei says and then hesitates for a moment. "I think I found the right man," he says, petting Zhao Yunlan's hair gently. "He's still living in Dixing. Didi will give him a job at the palace, that way we can keep an eye on him and make sure he never leaves Dixing."
Zhao Yunlan is so relieved at the news that his mom will be alright that it takes him a moment to process the rest of what Shen Wei just said. When he does he's so surprised that he forgets about everything else. Zhao Yunlan pulls his head away from Shen Wei and leans back enough to stare up at Shen Wei's face. Shen Wei meets his gaze, startled at Zhao Yunlan's abrupt movement.
"Ye Zun?" Zhao Yunlan asks, and it comes out as a faint, shocked whisper. "Ye Zun?" He tries again, this time with a bit more force. "The rebel leader, trapped in a pillar, crazy younger brother?"
Shen Wei frowns. "He's—better now," he says slowly, and the conviction there isn't exactly bowling Zhao Yunlan over. "He's not trapped in the pillar anymore," Shen Wei adds.
Zhao Yunlan takes a deep breath and doesn't yell at Shen Wei for keeping this a secret. Because clearly, Shen Wei isn't keeping it a secret. He's talking about it right now.
Zhao Yunlan's mind is reeling with the new information because this is different. He hadn't thought about things being different from what he remembered, not like this. Not things that Zhao Yunlan hasn't—couldn't have—changed.
Maybe he should have—of course, he should have at least thought of it. Zhao Yunlan being here will change things, but somehow it hasn't occurred to him that things might already be different. This was something that must have happened before Zhao Yunlan arrived here. How is that even possible? Does that mean—this isn't Zhao Yunlan's world at all? Maybe— Zhao Yunlan cuts off his spiralling thoughts, letting his head fall against Shen Wei again. Breathe, Zhao Yunlan, he tells himself, just breathe.
"Shen Wei, I think I really need you to tell me about your brother—and Dixing," he says, once he feels a bit steadier. His voice still shakes. "Because some things are definitely different than what I remember, and I need to—" His voice stutters to a halt, and he concentrates on breathing again while Shen Wei holds him.
This is getting ridiculous, Zhao Yunlan thinks, annoyed at himself. How is he going to do anything if he keeps falling into hysterics every time he even thinks about something mildly upsetting?
He almost expects Shen Wei to refuse to tell him. Those are topics that Shen Wei has never been exactly forthcoming on. Hell, he'd never actually told Zhao Yunlan he had a brother! Instead Shen Wei strokes his back soothingly and says, "We should figure out where the differences are then."
He has to wonder if this is something that's changed too. Maybe Shen Wei just thinks Zhao Yunlan already knows all of his secrets, but then again being caught out had never stopped Shen Wei from continuing with his lies, like he just didn't know how to stop. Maybe being told that the lies would end up with both of them dead had made Shen Wei think. Maybe Shen Wei just hasn't grown into the lying yet— Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Zhao Yunlan's mind is spinning and it feels like everything is slipping out of control.
Shen Wei's arms are still tight around him, holding him in place. Zhao Yunlan breathes and nods. "Yeah. Yeah, that would be good."
Shen Wei takes them away from the park again, and Zhao Yunlan curls up against Shen Wei's side, winding his hand into Shen Wei's ponytail. Shen Wei puts his arm around Zhao Yunlan, holding him again, and it makes things a bit better. Zhao Yunlan listens to Shen Wei give a brief summary of the current situation in Dixing. It's about as detailed as Zhao Yunlan's own tale last night, which is to say not at all, and he can't really blame Shen Wei for the lack of detail.
It sounds like things are better than what Zhao Yunlan would expect and that's something he should be happy about. But anxiety gnaws away at his insides, and he can't seem to make it stop. That feeling mixes with the guilt of wanting things to be worse for people just so it would be something that Zhao Yunlan knows from before, and leaves Zhao Yunlan struggling to concentrate on what Shen Wei is actually telling him.
"He didn't believe me the first time we talked, of course," Shen Wei says when Zhao Yunlan asks about Ye Zun's—well, mental state. "But I think—being trapped in that pillar was not something I would have wished for—" Shen Wei's words cut off, and Zhao Yunlan can hear the pain in them. "But it gave didi time to—think." Zhao Yunlan is pretty sure that hadn't been a good thing last time around, whatever Ye Zun had been thinking about stuck in that pillar had only made him worse.
Zhao Yunlan tries to think about what Shen Wei is saying. He isn't entirely sure what Ye Zun wouldn't have believed Shen Wei about. He knows very little about the relationship between the brothers, apart from the fact that neither of them has ever quite been able to let go of each other.
Wait— What had Shen Wei just said? The hollow of anxiety burrowed in his chest keeps trying to pull in all his thoughts, and Zhao Yunlan frowns as he tries to concentrate on whatever it was that had caught his attention. Then, Zhao Yunlan pulls away from Shen Wei and looks at him with wide eyes. "You talked to Ye Zun before he got stuck in that pillar?"
"Yes, of course," Shen Wei says like it's obvious. Like Zhao Yunlan should know this.
Fuck. That's—that's it, isn't it? Zhao Yunlan huffs out a laugh. The sudden giddy relief sweeping through him leaves him reeling. "Xiao Wei—was I there for it? Did it happen when I—when Kunlun—" Zhao Yunlan runs out of words and just waves a hand in the air instead.
"You helped me find him," Shen Wei says, frowning a little. More laughter bubbles out of Zhao Yunlan, and it might be a bit hysterical. "Zhao Yunlan, is everything—?" Shen Wei starts to ask worriedly.
Zhao Yunlan waves his hand at him, and then falls back against Shen Wei's side, wrapping his arms around Shen Wei and giggling into his side. "I'm fine," he manages to say eventually because he's probably freaking the hell out of Shen Wei. He takes a moment to calm down a bit more before saying anything else. "It's just—I was planning on changing things, Shen Wei," he says, and then can't help letting out another relieved huff of laughter. "But I think—I already did."
It doesn't take Shen Wei very long to catch on to what Zhao Yunlan is saying. "You remember things differently," Shen Wei says, and there's a sad note to his voice. Zhao Yunlan's giddy relief fizzles out a bit.
"I'm sorry, Xiao Wei," he whispers because he is. He's not sure if there ever can be a day where both of them catch up to the same point in their relationship anymore. He's pretty sure Shen Wei has just been hit with that fact too. Shen Wei's arms tighten around him.
"I'm not who you remember either," Shen Wei says quietly. Zhao Yunlan can't see his face, but he can sense the guilt coming off him all the same. Zhao Yunlan pulls away to look at Shen Wei again.
"My treasure, you—" Zhao Yunlan stops and takes a moment to think about what he wants to say. "Our relationship has been a tangle of secrets and lies and history that one of us doesn't remember. None of it has ever—will ever change how I feel about you." He grasps Shen Wei's hand. "And now you have to live with me being—" He looks down at himself and huffs, tears stinging at his eyes. "Like this. And we still don't remember the same things. But Xiao Wei, I love you. I'll always love you." Zhao Yunlan tries to blink the tears away, but they spill over anyway, and he feels the quiet tears roll down his cheeks.
Shen Wei's eyes are brimming with tears as well, and he watches with blurry eyes as they start falling from Shen Wei's eyes. Zhao Yunlan smiles a bit unsteadily. "And this time—at least we're already doing a lot better about the lies and secrets. Even if we can't do much about all the memories we can't share."
Shen Wei makes a wet, teary huff. Zhao Yunlan hesitates for a second, and then climbs up into Shen Wei's lap, hugging Shen Wei for all that he's worth. Shen Wei wraps his arms around him, and hugs back just as hard.
Zhao Yunlan really doesn't get enough sleep that night either, and the whole day is an absolute nightmare. The kids at school are annoying and loud and Zhao Yunlan almost ends up arguing with the teacher before he remembers that he's supposed to just stay quiet and keep to himself and get through with minimal notice.
At least he thinks he manages not to worry his mom any more than usual. Maybe that's a low bar, but he'll consider it an accomplishment anyway. He made Shen Wei promise to meet him in the park after Zhao Yunlan gets home from school, and he just keeps concentrating on the thought of seeing Shen Wei and somehow manages to get through the day. His mom is a bit surprised when he decides to go outside, and Zhao Yunlan suddenly realises that he's been spending a lot of time alone in his room, and he's not sure if he did that when he was actually this age. He can't really blame his mom for worrying, can he? He must be acting out of character, and he isn't even sure how.
Zhao Yunlan is pretty sure he feels Shen Wei before he sees him, and yeah, they've always had a connection but that's probably a bit more than usual. That's probably something to look into at some point, but considering all the sharing of energy and dying and—Zhao Yunlan takes a shaky breath and makes himself not focus on it too much—maybe some side-effects are to be expected. Then he's hugging Shen Wei again, and none of the rest really matters.
There are other people in the park now to look at them strangely, it is daytime after all, and it's not like Zhao Yunlan cares, but— He takes a step back, reluctantly letting go off Shen Wei, and then quickly takes Shen Wei's hand instead. It's only then that he really has time to take in Shen Wei's appearance. He's in a nice blue suit, and his hair is in a braid of all things. The suit is different from the one Zhao Yunlan remembers, but it's the same blue, and he smiles, feeling nostalgic suddenly.
He reaches out to tug at the braid, and Shen Wei smiles down at him with a fond, indulgent look in his eyes. "I like the suit," Zhao Yunlan tells him. "You look good, Xiao Wei." Shen Wei ducks his head a bit, but since Zhao Yunlan is shorter than him now, it does nothing to hide the little pleased smile.
Zhao Yunlan feels a soft warmth slowly spread through him. He squeezes Shen Wei's hands tighter with his own too small one. As long as Shen Wei is here, Zhao Yunlan can figure out all the rest. After all, he should have more than enough time now.
"So, let's go see my mom," Zhao Yunlan says.