They meet like this: Kunlun is chasing after his dumb cat, who's not allowed outside anymore since the time he calmly sat in the middle of the street and groomed himself as car after car honked and swerved to avoid him. Da Qing is still a kitten, sure, but Kunlun's pretty certain that most cats naturally have more self-preservation instinct.
The black blur sneaks under a fence and into someone's yard. Kunlun swears, but only hesitates for a moment before climbing it.
He lands on a patch of wilted grass and looks around, but Da Qing has vanished again. There is, however, a child staring at him with wide eyes.
"Have you seen a kitten?" Kunlun asks him.
The kid blinks, still looking a little stunned.
"Ah...yes. I think it went under these bushes."
The bushes in question rustle. Kunlun sighs.
"Have any fish?” he asks. “I’m sure he’d come out for some food, but I forgot to bring any."
The boy shakes his head.
"Maybe...milk?" he offers after some thinking.
"Sure, that works!" Kunlun answers, and the boy skitters away, coming back a few minutes later with the promised offering.
Kunlun, meanwhile, has been unsuccessful on the luring front, but at least the little demon hasn't run off again. He thanks the boy, sets the little bowl on the grass, signals for him to be quiet with a wink, and waits.
Sure enough, it doesn't take long for Da Qing to be attracted to the smell of food and to crawl out of his hiding place, approaching them cautiously. Not cautiously enough, though, because Kunlun dashes forward and grabs him as soon as he's within reach.
"Aha!" Kunlun exclaims, and stuffs the complaining kitten into his jacket.
"What would Nüwa say if I lost you, huh?" he scolds.
"Is it okay? Can I see it?" the boy asks, brow furrowed.
"Yeah, he's fine." Da Qing's head pokes out of his collar. "Just stupid. You can pet him if you want," he says, bending down so the kitten is within reach.
The boy wipes his hands on his too-big clothes before touching the cat. He seems like a good kid, if a bit skittish. Kunlun isn’t usually in the business of talking to strange children, but there’s something endearing about this one.
"You mind if I smoke?" Kunlun asks, not waiting for an answer before digging out a cigarette from his back pocket.
"What are you doing out here by yourself?"
"Reading," he says. "It's too loud at home."
"What's your name, anyway?"
"— Wei," he mumbles. Kunlun only catches the end of it. Xiao Wei it is, then. He sticks around for the time it takes to finish his cigarette, pats the kid on the head, and hops back over the fence.
Kunlun doesn’t expect that he’ll see the boy again. Doesn’t even spare him a thought, really. But the following week, he wakes up from a nap in the park to a small silhouette standing a few steps away.
“Oh, it’s you,” he says, eyebrows raised in surprise.
“Yes,” Xiao Wei says, and keeps looking at him. From then on, the boy is everywhere, attaching himself to Kunlun like a second shadow. Kunlun doesn’t know how he manages to find him half the time, but he doesn’t mind the company. He’s quiet and inquisitive and his odd questions make Kunlun laugh.
Xiao Wei doesn’t have a normal family, he knows. He lives with "relatives" of some kind, and a twin brother he doesn't like to talk about. Kunlun can relate, a little. He doesn’t have parents either, though he does have Nüwa and Fuxi. Maybe it’s because of that sense of kinship that he lets the kid trail after him.
Kunlun doesn't have many friends. He doesn’t especially like school, or his classmates or anyone, really. It’s not that he’s an outcast. He can be charming, and he's big enough that people think twice before messing with him. He doesn't like to fight, or to get into trouble on purpose, it's just that there are a lot of rules he doesn't particularly agree with.
At least his grades are good enough that Nüwa can't complain, even if he sleeps through half his classes and the teachers like to say that he’ll never amount to anything, with that attitude.
He likes his garden, hiking, his cat (sometimes), and being left alone. He's also pretty fond of Xiao Wei, with his little serious face and straightforward way of seeing things. There are a lot of rules he doesn't understand either, though when he does, he follows them to the letter.
It's not that he doesn't care, like Kunlun. He just doesn't know. Like there’s no one to teach him. Kunlun doesn't correct him on the lack of honorifics, though. Because it's a little funny, and because he likes the feeling of closeness. Besides, he's not much for politeness, himself.
Xiao Wei has a temper, too. One evening, when they're hanging out at the park, some punk tries to mug them and Xiao Wei bites him. Kunlun intervenes before the kid gets hurt, even though it takes him a while to get his laughter under control.
Another day Kunlun finds him crying angry tears over a torn book. His brother, and some kids at school, he explains. But I fought back, he adds, teeth bared, and Kunlun wipes his face clean with the sleeves of his sweater. Then Kunlun takes him to the store and buys him a new copy with the money he was supposed to use for groceries. Xiao Wei starts looking at him like he’s just been handed the moon, then, and never quite stops.
"Are things...okay at home?" Kunlun tries, once, when he notices a ring of bruises around Xiao Wei's wrist. He brushes it off, says it's his brother, but Kunlun has doubts. He doesn’t want to ask more questions, though. Xiao Wei gets embarrassed, when Kunlun notices his torn or stained clothes or that he doesn’t know something obvious.
"It's fine," the boy says, eyes fierce. "I'm not like them. One day I'll leave."
Kunlun believes him.
Then they move, Kunlun and Nüwa and Fuxi. Nüwa's uncle is sick and aging and Kunlun doesn't even like the old man, but this is how things are. Dragon City has better hospitals, they tell him. He can have a garden there too.
Xiao Wei is inconsolable, despite Kunlun’s attempts at cheering him up.
"It's okay, I'll write to you! I can visit sometimes."
"You won't," Xiao Wei whispers into his shirt, and it hurts because deep down Kunlun knows he's right. Dragon City is so far away.
Kunlun tries, he does. They email for a while, but Xiao Wei doesn't have a phone and Kunlun decides that he wants to go to university after all. Things get so busy and he forgets to answer one time too many, and the weeks turn into months, into years.
Until one day, one of Kunlun's employees falls from a tree.
Kunlun hears the scream and swears under his breath. The University's a big client, and he really doesn't want to lose the contract because the new hire has the hand-eye coordination of a toddler. Hopefully he hasn’t fallen on his shears, though Kunlun wouldn’t put it past him.
By the time he reaches Guo Changcheng, there is a young man crouched next to him. A very, very attractive young man, Kunlun notices with interest.
"Kunlun?" the guy says, which is a surprise because he's pretty sure he would remember if he'd ever seen such a beauty.
It's the dark eyes that clue him in, wide like a child's.
"Kunlun, I… it's good to see you."
Kunlun can’t quite reconcile the image he has of his little friend with the man standing before him. He blinks.
"You're in university now?" That doesn’t sound right. Has it really been so long?
"Yes. In the literature department."
Kunlun's eyebrows rise. Dragon City University is one of the most prestigious in the country; his Xiao Wei sure has come a long way. He looks so different now, his bearing more confident. He looks more like a professor than a student, with his impeccably pressed shirt and cardigan and somewhat dorky glasses, long hair pulled into a neat ponytail.
Guo Changcheng gets to his feet carefully, and Kunlun remembers his existence.
"Nothing broken? Can you walk?" he asks, more politely than he wants to since he does have an audience.
He gets a frantic nod and a flurry of apologies.
"Good! Now go back to the office and file an incident report. Try not to die on the way."
Once he's pretty certain that the kid will be able to make it back in one piece, he turns back to his old friend, who’s been watching the whole exchange with an unreadable look.
"Xiao Wei, do you have anywhere to be? Tell me what you’ve been up to."
He gets a smile, at that. More guarded than it used to be, but familiar nonetheless. They walk, and Xiao Wei tells him about his life. He lives in the dorms, where it's a little noisy but clean. He has a full scholarship, and works as an assistant besides. He’s already in a graduate program. He would like to teach, one day.
"Why Dragon City?" Kunlun asks, even though he has a feeling he knows the answer.
Xiao Wei looks down.
"It has a renowned literature department."
It's probably true, but Kunlun doubts that's why they've coincidentally run into each other so far from their hometown.
“Tell me about you?" Xiao Wei asks.
Kunlun points to the company logo on his dirt-stained t-shirt.
"I went into landscaping! Started my own company three years ago."
Xiao Wei nods and congratulates him, but even though it’s been years Kunlun can still tell when he’s hiding something. He doesn’t quite look him in the eye anymore, shoves his hands into his pockets, walks a little too fast. Xiao Wei’s always been a terrible liar. But what is it that he’s lying about?
He knew about his job, Kunlun realizes. Has probably been keeping tabs on him for some time. Xiao Wei interrupts his thoughts with a question:
"Do you still have your cat?"
"Da Qing? Yeah, he's old and fat now, but still kicking."
Kunlun stops walking, which forces Xiao Wei to pause and turn back to look at him, eyebrows creased in confusion.
“You didn’t think to seek me out, when you moved here?”
It makes sense that he didn’t. He’d only been a child when Kunlun had left, and Kunlun had been the one to forget to write back. Their odd friendship could’ve been nothing but a fond memory, if it was remembered at all. But Xiao Wei had known about his company. He’s sure of it.
Xiao Wei looks uncomfortable.
"I've...seen you around before. But I didn't think that you would…"
"What, remember you? I’m surprised you recognized me, actually, with the beard and all. You still have a baby face though."
This time, Xiao Wei’s smile doesn't reach his eyes.
"Why would you want me to? I was nothing but a strange child following you around."
“Ah,” Kunlun sighs, then reaches over and pulls him into a hug. "I forgot you were like this.”
Xiao Wei goes completely rigid with shock.
“Kunlun, I —” His voice breaks, and he gives up on saying anything at all, but his arms slowly, carefully, come up to wrap around Kunlun. He’s so much taller now, it’s a little unsettling. But Kunlun still has some height on him, at least.
“Missed you too, Xiao Wei," Kunlun says into his hair.
He’s probably getting dirt all over his nice clothes, he thinks belatedly, and releases him. Xiao Wei makes an unhappy sound, and Kunlun smiles.
"I'm sorry I left you. I didn't mean to. But you know, we were both just weird kids back then."
Xiao Wei laughs.
"I suppose so. You seemed so old and wise, to me."
"Well, this wise old man is buying you dinner. What's good around here?"
They stay out late the way they used to, sitting together on a park bench. It's not the same, though. Not with the way Xiao Wei flusters when Kunlun leans in a little too close. But it's a good kind of different.
He gets his shadow back. A gorgeous, polite, and clever shadow, who blushes very prettily whenever Kunlun brings up his past as a feral child. He tries so hard to be grown, and he is, but he is as jealous of Kunlun’s attention as he’s ever been; his demeanour turns icy as soon as someone so much as looks at Kunlun too long. At least he hasn’t bitten anyone yet. It’s endearing, if you ask Kunlun.
Even though he’s busy enough as it is with school and work, Xiao Wei has made it his life’s mission to feed Kunlun properly, and to clean his house while he’s at it. While he’s better at any of it than Kunlun is, he’s not particularly good — luckily Kunlun will eat pretty much anything — but he improves at a frightening rate.
“Just move in, already,” Kunlun tells him one evening, as Xiao Wei has one foot out the door. “This place is as much yours as it is mine.”
Kunlun doesn’t have much to offer a brilliant young academic, if he’s honest with himself. He has a small company and a cosy house, a nice garden and a grouchy old cat. But Xiao Wei can have all of it, if he wants.
And oh, how Xiao Wei wants.
(When he comes into work covered in marks, Zhu Hong accuses him of being a cradle-robbing old man. Which is unfair, considering Xiao Wei’s the one who insists on dressing like somebody’s grandfather. A very sexy grandfather, but still.)
No, Kunlun doesn’t have much to offer him. But he can promise Xiao Wei to never leave again.