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The Trouble With the Truth

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Shen Xi is not expecting her son to come back from the park after just half an hour dragging a young, but definitely fully grown man with him. Almost literally, since Yunlan is holding onto the man's hand and the man is clearly, if not exactly reluctant to follow him inside, then at least not very eager about it either.

Because she has eyes, she takes a quick moment to appreciate the fact that this stranger her son has dragged home is a very beautiful looking man. She's a married woman, and far beyond the age to be looking at anyone as young as he is, but there's no harm in just looking, she reminds herself.

Before she can ask Yunlan anything, he looks up at her and declares solemnly, "This is Shen Wei, he's my friend."

Shen Xi knows her son, and he might be sensitive and soft-hearted, but he can also be as stubborn as his father once he makes his mind up about something. Right now, she can see that headstrong glint in his eyes, and the firm set of his mouth and she knows this isn't something she'll be able to change his mind about.

"I'm so sorry about this—" Shen Wei starts to say, ducking his head.

"You have nothing to apologise for," Yunlan interrupts him almost immediately, turning to look at Shen Wei, tugging at his hand. "I'm the one dragging you home with me, aren't I?"

She feels just a tiny bit proud about the way Yunlan clearly cares enough to want to reassure someone in distress. But maybe he could have found a puppy or something to take home instead? Shen Xi definitely doesn't sigh in exasperation before introducing herself and then offering Shen Wei tea.

Her son has made up his mind and she needs to make sure that this person he's decided to make friends with doesn't have bad intentions. After all, what kind of adult just befriends children like that? She's not going to let anyone inappropriate close to her son, no matter how stubborn Yunlan is about it. She's more than capable of out-stubborning both of the men in her life.

If nothing else it's immediately clear that Shen Wei is very polite at least. He accepts the tea with a gentle, "Thank you," sitting on his chair so very rigidly that it can't be comfortable. If he does have ill intentions—well, he's not very good at it, is he? Shen Xi can't remember the last time anyone seemed this nervous talking to her.

"So, how did you meet my son?" Shen Xi asks once everyone is sitting down with their tea. Yunlan chooses to sit down just a touch away from Shen Wei, and that already tells Shen Xi something.

It's Yunlan that answers before Shen Wei has a chance to say anything. "I found him," he says, sounding quite satisfied with himself. "He's mine now," he adds with a grin that Shen Xi is pretty sure will be devastating one day, once he grows up a bit. She's not quite used to her Yunlan looking so carefree these days, and if this is Shen Wei's doing—well, she might like him a bit already.

She really should scold Yunlan for saying things like that, like Shen Wei really is some stray animal he picked up and decided to keep. But before she can say anything about it she's distracted by the smile that's suddenly gracing Shen Wei's features. She might be a married woman, but that smile still makes her want to blush and giggle like the teenager she once was. Neither of them is looking at her though, and she firmly stuffs that reaction away before anyone can notice. Shen Wei is looking indulgently at Yunlan, that smile directed solely at him. After a small moment, Shen Wei turns to look at her, his face quickly smoothing out into neutral politeness.

She finds herself missing the smile.

"I found Zhao Yunlan in the park," Shen Wei says, carefully. "He was—" Shen Wei's eyes flare a bit, and he hesitates for a moment. He glances over at Zhao Yunlan before continuing, "—upset. I couldn't just—" He lifts his hand a bit, like he wants to reach over to Yunlan, and then lets it fall into his lap instead.

Oh, she thinks quietly. She doesn't need Shen Wei to tell her he'd found her son crying. An awkward silence spreads out between them, and she tries to think about what she's supposed to say now that won't embarrass her son too much. She's his mom and it's her prerogative to embarrass him about some things, but not this, not when she doesn't even know what's made him upset lately. Not when there are moments when Yunlan looks at her like he's afraid that she'll leave him if he looks away.

Yunlan fidgets, and Shen Wei looks down into his lap. She feels a bit bad for making both of them feel awkward, but she does need to know these things. She watches as Yunlan reaches across the gap between them and wraps his hand around Shen Wei's long braided hair—the long hair is the one thing that seems incongruous with the rest of his look. To her, it seems like Yunlan might not even be quite aware of what he's doing.

She really should tell Yunlan that it isn't appropriate, but she wants to know what Shen Wei will do. "So, what is it that you do, Shen Wei?" Shen Xi asks, taking a sip of her tea, acting like she hasn't noticed anything at all. Shen Wei looks up at her, with some small amount of surprise on his face, she thinks, like he wasn't expecting that obvious question. It's almost like he hasn't noticed the hand wrapped around his braid either.

"Research?" Shen Wei says, almost like it's a question. She watches as her son looks at the braid he's holding onto, his eyes widening a bit before he shrugs slightly and then starts to deliberately unravel it. That finally makes Shen Wei pay attention to what Yunlan is doing, and he turns to look at her son with some wordless question on his face.

Yunlan raises an eyebrow at him in answer and Shen Xi knows she misses some of what passes between them because Shen Wei simply turns back to her and lets Yunlan go on with what he's doing. Something cold twists at her belly, and she has to wonder how long it's been exactly since they met if they're that familiar with each other. Maybe she should just be glad Yunlan decided to drag Shen Wei home for her to meet at all. Maybe she should be glad that it's someone that seems as gentle as Shen Wei that Yunlan has stumbled into.

Shen Xi takes another sip of her tea to hide her reaction, hoping that the warmth of the tea might drive away the lingering cold in her belly. Wordlessly, Shen Wei takes out an antique-looking comb from a pocket handing it over to Yunlan who takes it from him like he's expecting it.

That interlude seems to have been enough for Shen Wei to gather his thoughts. "I have thought about going to university," Shen Wei tells her, seeming a bit bashful, but there's a hint of real excitement in his voice.

She wonders if that makes him even younger than she had assumed. Or maybe, going by his wording, he just hasn't had the opportunity for whatever reason. She doesn't miss the fact that he hasn't quite answered her question, but maybe if he's lacking in education he's embarrassed by whatever his work is. There's no reason for her to be so suspicious she tells herself, maybe her husband's work has had more of an effect on her own disposition than she'd thought.

"You should," Yunlan says quietly while running the comb through Shen Wei's hair. Clearly, both of them are much calmer for it and it's—kind of cute, Shen Xi has to admit, even if it is a bit strange.

"Oh," Shen Xi says. "Do you know what you want to study?"

She watches her son twisting small intricate braids into Shen Wei's hair, while Shen Wei keeps answering her questions, a small blush staining his cheeks. Yunlan's fingers are going through the motions like he's done this dozens of times before, and once again Shen Xi is struck with the fact that they must have known each other for a good while already. It doesn't seem quite as upsetting anymore, but it is a reminder that she should be keeping more of an eye on her son and what he gets up to.

When he's done Yunlan sits back down at the table like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Shen Wei glances over at him, with a smile that makes his face light up, even as his blush grows a bit deeper. "Thank you," he says quietly to Yunlan.

She knows she should be worried, but she can't help but like this shy, earnest young man that for whatever reason has decided to let her son make friends with him. Maybe, she thinks, it's not a bad thing. Yunlan could probably use an older brother, with how little time his father has for them these days.

When Yunlan declares that he wants to see Shen Wei the next day, she doesn't quite protest, just reminds her son that he has school.

"And I have work," Shen Wei says, with an apologetic smile. "But I'll make time after you're done with school." He looks at Shen Xi with a questioning look, like he's asking her if this is okay. He is a sensible young man, after all.

"You'll come here, after work," Shen Xi tells him firmly. She might not be against Yunlan spending time with him, but it's going to happen under her eyes for now.

Shen Wei bows his head slightly. "Thank you, that's very kind of you," he says with a smile that seems genuine. To her shame, having that smile directed at her makes her heartbeat just a fraction faster. She wants to laugh at herself.


The next day Shen Wei is there before Yunlan gets home from school. Shen Xi wonders about the kind of work he has that he'd be done so early. Or maybe she's just too used to her husband being at work at practically all hours. Perhaps, she thinks, Shen Wei made the time to see her alone before Yunlan gets home. In that case, Shen Xi appreciates the effort. There are things that they should make clear, adult to adult.

Shen Wei is still a bit awkward like he doesn't quite know what to say to her. Since she's in the middle of preparing dinner—it's easier to arrange dinner times to her and Yunlan's schedule, since there's no telling when Zhao Xinci will be home anyway—she asks him to join her in the kitchen. That makes him smile, with something that looks like relief.

She's not quite sure how he ends up helping her—he's a guest, and she wouldn't ask him to work. But somehow she can't quite say no to his very earnest offers of help. It seems to make him relax at least.

"It looks like you're not new to cooking," she says after a while. It's not really something she expected from a young man like him.

"I enjoy it," he admits, with a small smile, not quite looking at her. "I didn't think I would, but there are so many ingredients to choose from now and—" he cuts himself off suddenly. She sees the way his expression tightens slightly. Was that something he hadn't meant to say?

She lets the quiet sit for a moment, concentrating on her own work. "There weren't things to choose from when you were—younger?" Shen Xi asks quietly, after a time.

He's quiet for long enough that she thinks he won't answer. She can't blame him, it's an intrusive question, she knows. But she—finds herself oddly worried about him, about things that are clearly in the past by now.

"No," Shen Wei says, and it almost startles her. She looks up at him. He's deftly slicing vegetables and not looking at her at all. The way he handles a knife makes her think he might have been born with it in his hands. "When we were young, there wasn't much choice at all."

She hesitates, it doesn't seem like those are very happy memories and she really shouldn't pry. "We?" Shen Xi asks anyway.

"Didi and I," Shen Wei says, and now he does stop and looks up to meet her gaze. There's a painful little smile on his lips, and maybe she shouldn't have asked. "There were just the two of us. Until—" Shen Wei looks down and slowly continues with his food preparation. "Well, things are different now."

She doesn't quite know what to say. Asking for more would be— It's not for her to ask about. But maybe it's not so surprising after all, she thinks, that Shen Wei would befriend Yunlan. She lets the silence stretch out for a while, both of them working in silence, broken only by Shen Xi's occasional instructions about the food.

The quiet is surprisingly comfortable, and for a moment Shen Xi is loath to break it. But there really are things that should be said before Yunlan gets home.

"I know that you didn't just meet my son yesterday," she says gravely, stopping what she's doing so that she can look at Shen Wei. Shen Wei stiffens at her words, his head lifting to meet her eyes. "I can also tell that he already has you wrapped around his little finger, which makes me a little less worried at least," she continues letting her tone soften a bit, seeing the serious look on his face. "But I'm his mother and I still worry," she adds meaningfully. "I'm sure you understand." She thinks he does understand that she'll be keeping an eye on him.

There's a solemn look on Shen Wei's face that had seemed so shy and friendly before. He nods slightly, his gaze never straying away from her. His eyes suddenly seem bottomless and unyielding, and Shen Xi feels a shiver of something she can't quite name run down her spine. "Of course, I understand. Rest assured, I will never let anything harm Zhao Yunlan."

She shivers again. The weight of his words seem to have settled against her heart, and she's not sure what to make of it. She opens her mouth to answer—but can't quite think of what to say. She takes a breath and then all she says is, "Good."

Shen Wei ducks his head, that shy young man suddenly back in front of her. And whatever that feeling was that had nestled inside Shen Xi seems to dissipate a bit. Maybe she'd just imagined that sudden oppressive feeling.

But she finds that she doesn't doubt Shen Wei's sincerity.

When Yunlan comes home not too much later, to find Shen Wei in the kitchen with her, he takes one look at them and bursts out laughing. Shen Xi feels her own heart grow lighter at the sound, she's been so worried about her son and she hadn't quite realised how much she'd missed the sound of his laughter. Helplessly, Shen Xi finds herself laughing too, not quite sure what she's laughing at.

Shen Wei looks from her to Yunlan and smiles, and then reaches out to ruffle Yunlan's hair. Yunlan steps into the touch, still laughing quietly. Maybe Shen Wei is a better choice than a puppy, she thinks, and then lifts her hand to her mouth to try to stem some of her laughter.