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A Kiss as a Promise

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Guo Changcheng is writing in his notebook when Chu Shuzhi arrives home. This isn't an oddity; even now he still writes the day to day happenings, from the inane to the cataclysmic. Shuzhi hadn't understood why Zhao Yunlan forced him to do it at first. At one point he'd assumed it was pure narcissism, a way for the chief to document his prowess without having to type a word. That was until he realised that Changcheng had purposely observed and assimilated more from trying to condense the days into words than he would have ever done with the chaotic teachings of the members of SID.

He's never seen Changcheng this upset when writing though, and while Shuzhi needs to destroy whatever caused the tears, he's pretty sure there's nothing physical here for him to fight.

He carefully sits on the sofa at Changcheng's side and eases the notebook from lax fingers. He flicks back a few pages and realises that he’s filling in blanks from the battle with Ye Zun, something he'd only been able to gloss over before now. He closes the notebook, moving it out of sight and wraps his arm around Changcheng's shoulders.

"Are you going to tell me what brought this on?"

Changcheng sighs, the exhale stuttered as he sniffles through it. "Director Zhao came into SID today."

Shuzhi grinds his teeth in a bid to stay silent, and forces himself to not tense, even as fingernails press deep into his palm. Zhao Xinci's reputation had already spoiled any relationship Shuzhi may have had with the man before he even met him. After knowing Zhao Yunlan, he's seen enough to know that the man's toxicity isn't just directed at those from Dixing.

"He... he said I could have stopped Chief Zhao, that I could have taken his place and lived."

Shuzhi curses silently, and wonders why he should be surprised.

"He said Chief Zhao had known it was possible before we even went to Dixing." Changcheng turns reddened eyes to Shuzhi. "Why didn't he tell me?"

Shuzhi's heart hurts just looking at the expression on Changcheng's face, and he can imagine the turmoil and self-hate writhing in Changcheng's thoughts. He turns just enough so that he can gather Changcheng into an embrace. "Do you think for one second that Chief Zhao would have let any of us suffer if he could have prevented it?"

After a long moment of silence, he feels the minute shake of Changcheng's head against his shoulder.

"Chief Zhao may have believed what he was told, he may not, we'll never know. I may not always have recognised it at the time, but he always weighed the odds of his decisions carefully. On this he wasn't willing to bet."

"I would have preferred to try," Changcheng whispers.

Shuzhi huffs softly, all too aware that he'd failed in the beginning to see the true worth of Guo Changcheng, that his heart and soul could stay so pure. While he’d like to think it would have been enough to keep Changcheng alive, he's grateful Zhao Yunlan took any decision away from them all.

"And Chief Zhao preferred to follow Professor Shen, and we should respect his choice," Shuzhi says softly. He's not sure what impact his words have, if any. Changcheng is silent, the sniffles and hitching breathing all faded away; the only sound in the room is the tick of the clock. All he can see is the top of Changcheng's head, but he feels the hand as it clenches in his robes.

"Can you promise me something?"

Shuzhi wants to say anything but he's cautious now to not promise something that he can't keep. Changcheng deserves more than his broken vows. "If it's within my power."

"That you'll let me make my own choices."

Changcheng’s voice is muffled against Shuzhi’s shoulder, and he barely catches the softly worded request. When he parses what Changcheng is asking, Shuzhi has to bite back the automatic denial that he wants to voice. In his head, Changcheng is still the naive rookie, fainting at the sight of blood and jumping at his own shadow. In his heart, Shuzhi knows Changcheng has lived through the same hell as himself, and yet can still see the best in people… sees the best in Shuzhi. It’s a simple promise he’s been asked, and for Changcheng he can at least try.

He breathes deeply, and twists and pulls them upright until they're facing each other. He cups the back of Changcheng’s neck, rubs the pad of his calloused thumb across Changcheng's cheek and presses a kiss to his forehead.

"I promise."

The wide smile on Changcheng's face makes it worth it, but he takes Shuzhi by surprise when he presses a kiss to Shuzhi's lips, almost too fast to be felt. "Thank you."

Shuzhi stares open-mouthed as Changcheng's cheeks turn as red as the tear-stained rims of his eyes, and hates himself all the more as he leans in and kisses back. He doesn't feel like he's worthy of this, but he's just promised to let Changcheng choose for himself, and he's selfish enough to take what's offered.