Were Shen Wei prone to such things, he would have cursed. Or kicked a wall. Or tipped his head back and yelled at the heavens to inquire what he had done to deserve such punishment. But Shen Wei was not prone to such things, and so all he did was calmly unlock the door to his apartment, step out of his shoes and neatly arrange them next to the coat rack. Then he (slowly and casually and not at all panicked) strolled into the bathroom and washed his hands. Looked at himself in the mirror and smiled.
“My name is Shen Wei, I am Hei Pao Shi, and I am wholeheartedly in love with Zhao Yunlan.”
The next thing he knew there was a sharp pain in his knuckles because Shen Wei, the ten-thousand-year-old venerable Hei Pao Shi, had punched his mirror, shattering it into a million little shards. Fantastic. He glared down at his bleeding knuckles. Alright, one more try. He took a deep breath and focussed as hard as he could.
“I got this injury because I punched a mirror when I realised that I cannot lie anymore.”
He groaned and buried his hands in his hair, probably making them sticky with blood, but he couldn’t muster the energy to care. Just for once he honestly regretted going after that Dixingren. It wasn’t even like the young girl’s powers were particularly dangerous. They led to social disaster, that was for sure, but they didn’t endanger anyone’s life.
It had been this afternoon, when Shen Wei felt a sudden spike in dark energy in one of the classrooms of the university and, of course, went to investigate. He was Hei Pao Shi; it was all in the job description (if only he had ignored it this one time. If only…). What he found was a scene straight out of a romance drama, where a girl stood in front of a boy and cried her eyes out, makeup running down her cheeks.
“But-but you said you loved me! You said we’d always be together!” the girl, who was surrounded by an aura of dark energy, sobbed.
“Well, I lied. I just finally wanted a girlfriend; it didn’t really matter who it was. You were conveniently interested,” the boy replied, clearly horrified by his own words. “I totally mean what I’m saying right now, this is probably the first time I’m being honest with you.” He clasped his hands in front of his mouth and shook his head. “I’m not even really sorry, but it’s kind of pitiful how you’re crying.”
The girl’s sobs turned into wails and she buried her face in her hands. “Why are you saying this? I don’t understand! I love you!”
Shen Wei couldn’t stand to watch it any longer. He audibly rattled the doorknob and entered the room. The boy looked at him and Shen Wei gave him his very best deadly Hei Pao Shi-Glare, the one that made Dixing criminals grovel before him. He turned pale as a sheet and fled the room without another look back. The girl didn’t even seem to notice his sudden disappearance – she was too busy drowning in her tears. Shen Wei felt a bit helpless.
“There, there…” he said because that was what one was supposed to say in a situation like this, right? “It’s all–“
As soon as he stepped closer to the girl, she let out another loud sob and clutched at his vest without restraint. Shen Wei stood stock-still and let her soak the expensive cloth with salty tears. He meant to clean it, anyway.
“Would you like to tell me what happened?” he asked carefully, trying to feel for the source and the form of her dark energy.
“Y-yes,” the girl sobbed and continued to not tell anything. It took her the better part of a minute and several gasped breaths to finally collect enough air into her lungs to speak. “We-we were a couple for 2 months and h-he always said he loved me s-so much. And then suddenly today he said…said…” Shen Wei waited patiently for a few more choked sobs, “said these horrible things that he didn’t really love me! Why?! We w-were so h-happy!”
While she told her tragic tale, Shen Wei had made out her energy structure. It was wound tightly around her core – inherited, then – and judging from its make-up, it manifested in a psychic rather than a physical way.
“Has this happened before? That people suddenly told cruel truths?”
“N-no! Never!” The girl’s hands tightened on his vest. “Well, when my father left us, he…but that has nothing to do with this!”
Shen Wei nodded and raised a hand to carefully pat the girl’s head, even though he had no idea if he did that right. “Could I ask you something quite personal?”
She slowly extracted herself from him. Her eyes were red and puffy, and the makeup streaks that covered her face were surely mirrored on Shen Wei’s vest now. “What?”
“Does your mother happen to be Dixingren?”
The girl went from fiercely red to deadly pale in a heartbeat.
Of course the mother had been from Dixing, and of course her daughter’s powers had manifested on that very day. Shen Wei had told her to go back home and ask her mother to teach her how to control them. Then he had told her very sternly and in a very exaggerated manner that she must absolutely never use those powers for evil because the horribly cruel Dixing enforcer known as Hei Pao Shi had no mercy at all for those who abused their abilities. She had looked terrified enough for Shen Wei to be certain that she’d stay out of trouble. He had also told her that she could ask him for help if her mother couldn’t teach her.
And that had been it.
Shen Wei made his way home and thought that of course her powers would have no effect on him. He was the most powerful Dixingren in existence, after all. It hadn’t been until he reached the apartment complex that he felt something strange, a sudden numb feeling in the back of his head. His steps faltered and he rubbed his temples. The kind old lady from upstairs had seen him and asked whether everything was alright.
Of course, Shen Wei had meant to reply. I’m perfectly fine.
“Not really,” was what had come out of his mouth. “I seem to have a headache.”
And that was when he had gotten a terrifying sense of foreboding. It had cemented itself when he had answered the old lady’s question whether he needed help with “No thank you, I never accept anyone’s help and prefer to suffer on my own.”
And now, staring at the empty space where the mirror used to be, he was one hundred percent, horribly certain. He couldn’t lie anymore. The girl’s aura had affected him after all.
He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. Dustpan. Yes. He should clean up the glass shards. Everything was alright. He hurried out of the bathroom and towards the cleaning cupboard. This needn’t be the disaster he was making of it. He knew from years and years of experience that those kinds of powers wore off after a while of being exceedingly bothersome, so all he had to do was wait. That was a good thing – Shen Wei was great at waiting! (He wondered if somewhere out there existed a Dixingren with the power to make one unable to wait as well.) There was only one thing that was important now – to stay away from
“Shen Wei?” came a voice from behind the apartment door. “Shen Wei, I heard something shatter, are you okay?”
“No, Zhao Yunlan, not at all,” Shen Wei replied and clasped his hands in front of his mouth.
“What? What’s wrong?”
Shen Wei said nothing. Maybe if he didn’t react, Zhao Yunlan would simply leave.
“Shen Wei? Hey, Shen Wei, are you okay? Are you unconscious? Shen Wei?” He hammered against the door so hard that Shen Wei wondered for how long the wood could withstand the assault.
Shen Wei tried to find words that weren’t a lie but also concealed so much of the truth that he wouldn’t admit his condition to Zhao Yunlan. The SID Chief slash love of Shen Wei’s life had been prying with increasing valour into Shen Wei’s secrets, and Shen Wei really couldn’t afford to expose them.
“I am not unconscious, Zhao Yunlan. I broke glass. I will clean it up now.” He quickly forced all the healing energy he possessed into his bleeding hand. “I am not injured – anymore.” That last word forced its way past his lips before he could stop it. Shen Wei resisted the urge to kick the table.
“Anymore? So you were injured? Shen Wei, you took care of me last time, so let me return the favour now!”
“I am not okay, but I also do not want you to help me. I want you to stay away from me.”
Shen Wei groaned. The words I’m fine and any variation thereof had been ingrained so deeply into his very core that he said them automatically. And of course now they turned into the truth somewhere on the way from his throat to his tongue.
“Oh,” said Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei could hear the hurt dejection in his tone. “Oh, okay. Well, if you need anything, you know where to find me.”
Shen Wei stared at the door, behind which he could almost see Zhao Yunlan trudge with hanging shoulders and lowered head back to his own apartment. This was the worst day of his modern life.
Shen Wei sat in his office and looked down at the paper he was grading. This student’s approach to academic writing was slightly problematic and Shen Wei had meant to gently convey that sentiment in his commentary. What he had written was: This is utter and unfounded nonsense that has been put on paper with spectacularly bad sentence structure, and is an insult to the very topic it tries to discuss.
Shen Wei was mortified. He had thought that at least his job would be unimpeded by the truth curse (yes, this was what he would be calling it going forward), but apparently even white lies were not allowed. He considered pretending to have lost the paper, instead of handing it back with such a crushing comment.
“Uhm…Professor Shen?” came a thin voice from the door, accompanied by a weak knock.
“Yes, please come in,” Shen Wei said and steeled himself. He could do this. No matter what the student wanted, it certainly wouldn’t require Shen Wei to lie. And if it had actually been a student who came in, that would have been true. But in shuffled Guo Changcheng of all people, looking as horrified as Shen Wei was feeling.
“Guo Changcheng, what an unpleasant surprise,” (fantastic start), “How can I help you?”
Guo Changcheng looked startled for a moment, but then seemed to think he had misheard (Shen Wei was grateful for his own good reputation).
“Uhm…Chief Zhao is very worried about you, but he said you didn’t want to see him, so he sent me to check up on you.”
Shen Wei’s heart broke into tiny little pieces. “Oh. Is Zhao Yunlan alright?”
“Mmmhhhh…” Guo Changcheng said as if he, too, was having trouble telling a lie. “He wouldn’t want me to say this, but I…I think he’s not alright. Well, physically he is, but I think he’s sad because you haven’t talked to him in almost a week…”
The tiny little pieces of Shen Wei’s heart splintered further. “I did not mean to hurt him.”
“I know!” Guo Changcheng said hurriedly. “I didn’t mean to imply that, but…but you kind of did, Professor Shen. Why don’t you at least tell him why you don’t want to talk?”
Shen Wei swallowed. It wasn’t like he hadn’t thought about that, but what was he supposed to say? Sorry I’ve been avoiding you, but I’ve been afflicted by a Dixing power that makes it impossible for me to lie, and I’m hiding too many things from you to safely talk to you right now. He had thought the power would go away on its own after a day or two, but it was still at large. Shen Wei had had plenty of horrible encounters where he accidentally told a truth he hadn’t meant to. Most of them didn’t have much of an impact, but some were rather…precarious.
Like the time his colleague had asked him if he would be bringing a significant other to the yearly staff celebration, and Shen Wei had said “I would love to, but he doesn’t know he’s my significant other yet.” The colleague had looked at Shen Wei like a person looked at someone who had just revealed stalker-tendencies, and all Shen Wei had been able to do was laugh awkwardly in an attempt to turn the truth into a joke.
Or like that other time, when his student had asked him if he’d had a good week so far and Shen Wei had answered “I’ve had the worst week since that time my lover was torn away from me and I’m considering another ten-thousand-year sleep.” The student had stared at him with horror in her eyes, and the next day Shen Wei had found three cakes and five bouquets on his office table.
So it was safe to say that Shen Wei was currently a bit…compromised where his emotional state was concerned.
“I am afraid to talk to Zhao Yunlan,” he said. He’d become so used to admitting embarrassing things that this one seemed surprisingly tame. And it was probably the one truth he needed to admit as much to himself as to Guo Changcheng. Zhao Yunlan was so dear to him and he was scared, no, petrified at the prospect of ruining their friendship with a truth Zhao Yunlan wasn’t ready to handle yet. Of course Shen Wei intended to tell him that he was Hei Pao Shi at some point. Just…not right now.
“You don’t need to be!” Guo Changcheng said eagerly. “I’m sure as soon as you show up, Chief Zhao will be happy again! It’s just so unusual to see him this sad and dejected.”
Shen Wei crumpled the disastrous paper in his fist. If this was how he were to meet his end, then so be it. He’d rather disintegrate into nothingness than be the cause for Zhao Yunlan’s sadness for a second longer.
Crossing the door to the SID felt like entering the final layer of Diyu. The usual warm and homely atmosphere was replaced by a looming dread not unlike the one Shen Wei had felt after waking up and realising the world had moved on ten thousand years without him. The bullpen was largely empty with the exception of Da Qing, who lounged on the sofa and played with his phone.
“Oh, hey Xiao Guo. You’re back,” he said without looking up. “Did you bring the prof?”
“I am here,” Shen Wei confirmed.
“Ah. Good. Everyone else has fled because the only case we have right now is that of Lao Zhao’s abysmal mood. If you wanna talk to him, he’s sulking in his office.”
“I really do not want to, but I’d rather talk to him than be the cause of his suffering. He is very dear to me,” Shen Wei said before he could stop himself, as if the truth now demanded to be said.
Da Qing went still. From his phone came a sad jingle of defeat. “Uh…what?”
Nothing, Shen Wei wanted to say, but of course that would have been a lie. So instead it became “I said that I do not wish to be the cause of Zhao Yunlan’s suffering since he is very dear to me.”
“Dear to you,” Da Qing echoed. “You’ve known him for what, a month? Two? And you’ve only experienced his insufferable side. What part of him exactly is dear to you?” He snorted and looked at Shen Wei with a raised eyebrow, probably expecting Shen Wei to spread his arms and say “Sike”, or whatever people did today to indicate they made a joke. Alas, Shen Wei did not say “Sike”.
“Every part of him is perfect. There is not a single thing about Zhao Yunlan I do not cherish beyond my own life.”
Great. This was just. Great.
Da Qing gawked at him. “What – the – fu–“
“Da Qing!” The door to Zhao Yunlan’s office burst open. “We just got a call, there has been a ca- Shen Wei? What are you doing here?”
“I am here to console you.”
That made Zhao Yunlan pause in the middle of shrugging on his jacket. Then he laughed, so obviously fake that it grated against Shen Wei’s ears. “Did Xiao Guo put you up to this? I just had him check up on you to…well. Whatever. We just got a case, so no need to waste your time here, Shen Wei.”
“My time is never wasted when I am with you, Zhao Yunlan.” Shen Wei’s tone matched the reverence of the words and there was little leeway left for misinterpretation. “I will accompany you,” he added in an attempt to take the weight off the words. Judging by Zhao Yunlan’s expression, it didn’t help.
“I can’t take you to apprehend a dangerous Dixingren. You’re a civilian, Shen Wei, and a professor at that. The risk of you getting hurt is too high.”
This time, Shen Wei wasn’t even sure anymore what he had meant to say originally, but what came out of his mouth was, “I am a lot stronger than you, Zhao Yunlan. I can protect you.”
Silence settled in the SID in which everyone present looked at Shen Wei. Shen Wei also looked at himself, and the life choices that led him to this point. With each lie he wanted to say, the curse that had befallen him seemed to grow stronger and force the truth out more violently.
“I mean,” Da Qing drawled and broke the silence, “You do have very obvious noodle arms, Lao Zhao. And Professor Shen’s sleeve-garters are rather tight.”
“I – it doesn’t – you don’t – that’s not the point here! I’m a trained officer! I’m very capable of protecting myself, thank you very much!”
“Please let me come with you, Zhao Yunlan. I worry about you constantly and this would put me at ease.”
“You…worry about me?” For a second Zhao Yunlan looked surprised, then his eyes narrowed. “Well, I worry about you as well, but you wouldn’t even open the door for me. So, no, Shen Wei. You can’t come.”
Shen Wei was too afraid to open his mouth because he could feel the words But I am Hei Pao Shi and I want to protect you take shape on his tongue. And so he could only watch helplessly as Zhao Yunlan strode out of the SID and into danger.
Then he got an idea.
You shouldn’t, his rationality immediately said. I absolutely should, replied that part of him that lived for Zhao Yunlan. Which was a lot larger and more vocal than rationality.
“Ah? Hei Lao Ge? What are you doing here?”
Shen Wei didn’t reply, using Hei Pao Shi’s aloof reservedness as an excuse to be rude (and not say the truth). But Zhao Yunlan continued to look at him expectantly, showing no indication of backing off.
“I worried about you. I do not want you to get hurt.”
Zhao Yunlan looked like he couldn’t quite decide whether he wanted to be annoyed or baffled, and so he settled on a slightly confused smirk.
“How sweet of you. Careful, or I might get ideas. And I wouldn’t want to make Dixing’s respected Envoy uncomfortable with flirtation.” There was a very obvious challenge in Zhao Yunlan’s words. Shen Wei’s stupid, truth-telling mouth wasn’t able to ignore it.
“You wouldn’t. I secretly enjoy it.”
Da Qing made a noise that sounded like a cat that had its tail stepped on. Zhao Yunlan’s eyebrows rose so high that they vanished behind his bangs. Shen Wei wondered if he could stage the Envoy’s death and come up with a new persona. Maybe switch up the colour scheme for a change. The Navy-Robed Ambassador.
But for now there were more pressing things than his image change. “Do you know which powers the Dixingren has?”
Zhao Yunlan cleared his throat. “I, uh. Yes. Ice powers.”
“Oh. I see.”
“Why do you sound so disappointed?” Zhao Yunlan asked carefully. Maybe he, too, was afraid of the truths Shen Wei was forced to say. Well, Shen Wei didn’t want to disappoint.
“I already know ice powers. I hoped to learn something new.”
Now it was Zhao Yunlan’s turn to say, “Oh. I see.” As if Dixing’s enforcer of justice hadn’t just said something incredibly inconsiderate. They stood around for another heartbeat or two, really taking in that awkwardness, before Da Qing clapped his hands.
“Alright! We’ve got a criminal to catch!”
“Well said, fat cat. Is his lordship going to accompany us?”
Zhao Yunlan nodded and gestured to his Jeep. “Then get in! I’m sure Da Qing is willing to sit in the back.”
Shen Wei swallowed. This might have been his worst idea. Yet.
This had been his worst idea. Yet. Contrary to Shen Wei’s expectations that he’d be more subdued in the presence of the Envoy, Zhao Yunlan was constantly talking. And not in the good “I tell you insignificant and yet infinitely interesting details about my day” way, but in the “I’m back at it again with the prying questions” way. Shen Wei had spent the first five minutes of the ride feigning deafness, until Zhao Yunlan’s hand had landed on his thigh, which was when Shen Wei decided that a few truths were a small price to pay for modesty.
“So, Hei Lao Ge, you still haven’t answered my question! How are you doing these days?”
By now Shen Wei knew that a direct lie wouldn’t work, and so he settled for the least damaging truth. “I’m facing quite severe problems, but I have confidence that I can work it out somehow.”
“Oh? Don’t you have anyone to ask for help?”
“I do not wish to burden anyone with my troubles. It is better I take care of them myself.”
“That sounds awfully familiar. You don’t happen to be acquainted with a certain Professor Shen? Hah.” Zhao Yunlan turned his head and grinned at him, and Shen Wei quickly averted his gaze, hoping the hood would cover his face.
“And how are you, Chief Zhao?”
“I’m good! How else could I be?”
“He’s a liar, is what he is!” came Da Qing’s voice from the back.
“Hey! I’m no liar! I’m perfectly fine!”
Shen Wei felt something tap his arm and found that Da Qing had leaned forward and was sort-of-hugging the seat from behind. “You’re being lied to, Your Excellency! Lao Zhao was rejec–“ Zhao Yunlan slapped his head and Da Qing recoiled with a jowl. Shen Wei was kind of stunned at how easily they both acted in his presence, considering at least Da Qing was still afraid of him a few weeks back. Zhao Yunlan, of course, had never had much patience for respecting authority.
“Hei Lao Ge, do you also have ungrateful and impertinent friends like these back in Dixing?”
“I’ve never had any friends,” Shen Wei said.
There it was again. Awkward silence, his old friend. In an attempt to alleviate that silence, Shen Wei wanted to say that it didn’t matter, that he didn’t need friends. Because it was the truth!
“But I’ve always longed for a real friend. Someone who just feels like home.”
If Zhao Yunlan looked stunned at that confession, it was nothing compared to what Shen Wei was feeling. This wasn’t right. He was supposed to always tell the truth, wasn’t he? But this wasn’t the truth. He didn’t want…didn’t need…
“Wow. That is the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.” Da Qing commented.
“Hei Lao Ge…” Zhao Yunlan looked at him like it was ten thousand years ago and Shen Wei had just thanked him for being interested in his story. It was a bit too much.
“But it is okay. I have–“
Shen Wei had never been so grateful for the loud sound of screeching tires that completely drowned out the you he added. Zhao Yunlan cursed as the Jeep skittered over a thick layer of ice that covered the ground. They came to a halt just before crashing into a wall, which may have been thanks to Zhao Yunlan’s impeccable driving skills, or the fact that Shen Wei teleported out of the car and stopped it with his bare hands. Zhao Yunlan stumbled out of the door and stared at Shen Wei while gesturing wildly.
“Hei Lao Ge! Holy fucking shit, did you just throw yourself in between the car and the wall?”
“And stop the car with your bare hands?”
“What the fuck, you could have been crushed!”
Zhao Yunlan’s concern for Dixing’s all-powerful Envoy was very sweet, but Shen Wei didn’t want him to worry needlessly. “It is nothing. I barely used any power.” Well. Apparently, the truth turned him into a show-off.
“Barely used…shit!” And then he muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “I’d be a lot angrier if it wasn’t so hot”, but Da Qing picked this moment to point to a running figure a little way further down the road. “Hey, is that him?”
Shen Wei sent a wave of dark energy down the street and yes, that was definitely a Dixingren. “Stay here, Chief Zhao. I will take care of it.”
Shen Wei teleported straight in front of the fleeing person, who turned out to be a boy barely older than 18. He trembled slightly, his arms encrusted in ice up to his shoulders. “D-Don’t come closer!” He raised his hand and pointed at Shen Wei. “Let me go! I haven’t done anything wrong! I’m not going back.”
Zhao Yunlan, ever insistent on ignoring Shen Wei’s attempts at keeping him safe, gingerly stepped forward on the slippery ice. “Hey, young friend, don’t you know who you’re talking to? Your powers won’t do much against Hei Pao Shi.”
The Dixingren whirled around, his outstretched hand now pointed at Zhao Yunlan. “Stay back!” A frigid wind blew through the street and Zhao Yunlan reflexively flinched back.
That was all the distraction Shen Wei needed. He summoned up his own ice powers and encased the young Dixingren’s body in it. The other’s powers were clearly still very new, and he didn’t have any control over it, so he didn’t manage to counter Shen Wei’s ice with his own. Well, at least the cold wouldn’t hurt him.
“T-told you,” Zhao Yunlan said with clattering teeth. “N-Nice move, H-Hei Lao Ge.”
“Chief Zhao!” Shen Wei walked past the ice encrusted Dixingren, noticing and ignoring the disbelieving glance he got, and reached for Zhao Yunlan’s hands to send a surge of warmth through him. “You shouldn’t have put yourself in danger!”
“I didn’t. You’re here, aren’t you? Hei Lao Ge wouldn’t let me come to harm.” He fluttered his lashes exaggeratedly. It was a joke and Shen Wei knew it, but he couldn’t help answering with a bit too much of the truth.
“I will never let any harm come to you, Zhao Yunlan. No matter what it takes, I will protect you.”
That, combined with the fact that Shen Wei was still holding on to Zhao Yunlan’s hands, made the situation a lot more intense than Shen Wei had intended. Zhao Yunlan looked at him with his mouth hanging open, clearly at a loss for words. Shen Wei wanted the earth to swallow him whole. Wait, he could make the earth swallow him whole!
“I have to salvage my dignity,” he said abruptly (it was meant to be I have to take the Dixingren back, but clearly the world hated Shen Wei) and turned around. The boy was equally stunned as Zhao Yunlan and didn’t even protest when Shen Wei took him and opened a portal. Taking another ten-thousand-year nap sounded more and more inviting.
One day later, just after Shen Wei had returned from teaching the young Dixingren to control his powers, there was a knock at his door. Shen Wei dreaded human interaction these days, without the comfortable securities lies always provided.
“Professor? Do you have cold medicine?”
Shen Wei yanked the door open, making Da Qing knock on his chest instead.
“Oh. Hello, Professor. Lao Zhao has a cold, do you have–“
“Is Zhao Yunlan alright? Does he need anything else?” Shen Wei was already rummaging through the medicine cabinet.
“Uhh…I don’t think so?” Da Qing stared as Shen Wei piled various kinds of traditional and modern medicine into his arms while explaining their use. “Professor? I can’t possibly remember all this.”
“I can write it down for you,” Shen Wei offered immediately.
“I can’t read, suddenly,” Da Qing said. Shen Wei stared at him. Da Qing stared back defiantly. Then he deflated. “Okay, that was a lie” (lucky him) “but why don’t you come over and take care of him? His suffering is so loud, and I could really use a break. Please, Professor?”
“There is nothing I would rather do. But I doubt he would want to see me.”
“Bullshit! He’s just being petty! Pretty please, Professor.”
“I’m not sure–“
“Oh? Oh, I just got a message from Lin Jing! I need to get back to the SID immediately.”
“But you didn’t even look at your phone?”
“I have a…chip in my ear.” Da Qing said unconvincingly (the ability to lie was really wasted on him, Shen Wei thought pettily) and pushed the medicine back into Shen Wei’s arms. “See you around, Prof! Please take care of Lao Zhao!”
And with that, he was off. Shen Wei looked after him wistfully. He wanted his lies back. But more importantly, he wanted Zhao Yunlan to be okay. And so he quickly gathered what one might need to take care of a sick friend and walked across the hallway. The door was left open (Draft, Shen Wei thought and shook his head) and from the inside he heard the groans of an obviously suffering sick person. Shen Wei gently knocked on the doorframe.
“Zhao Yunlan? May I come in?”
“If you want me to infect you then sure, do as you please.”
“Okay.” Shen Wei closed the door behind him and strode over to Zhao Yunlan, who was buried underneath the covers of his bed.
“Shen Wei! It was sarcastic, I don’t need you to take care of me.”
“Yes, you do. Look, you don’t even have water on your nightstand. You should stay hydrated. And you should eat a light meal. And take medicine. Why are you even awake, you should be sleeping. There is–“
“Okay, okay, okay, please stop demonstrating how bad I am at adulting. I get it. You’re the perfect professor who has his life under control and I’m the human disaster. Whatever.”
“Zhao Yunlan. Are you still mad at me?”
“Mad? I’m not mad. Never was. Disappointed? Maybe. Hurt that you didn’t trust me to take care of you? Possibly. But mad? Nah.”
Shen Wei stood forlornly in front of the bed, hands full of medicine, and looked down at the mountain of blankets that was Zhao Yunlan.
“I’m so sorry, Zhao Yunlan. I know what I did was wrong. I did not intend to hurt you, please, you must believe me. For once, I’m telling the truth!”
Zhao Yunlan abruptly pushed back the covers and stared up at Shen Wei. His red nose stood out prominently in his pale face. “For once? So you’ve been lying to me?”
“All the time.”
Oh no. No, no, no. This was bad. Shen Wei tried to find words to salvage it, but there were only lies. He tried anyway. “I’ve been lying to you so much, Zhao Yunlan, you don’t even know.” Well, that didn’t work.
Zhao Yunlan was speechless for a moment. Then he laughed, a raspy sound that made Shen Wei look around for a glass to fill. “You’re fucking with me, aren’t you?”
If Shen Wei had paid more attention to Zhao Yunlan’s words instead of to the sink that was piled with dirty glasses, he might not have answered. But alas.
“I would like to.”
“Did you just…Shen Wei, I think I have a fever. I’m hearing things now.”
“I will make you medicinal tea.” Shen Wei fled to the kitchen and bustled unnecessarily noisily with the kettle. This entire situation was a disaster just waiting to happen and there was nothing Shen Wei could do about it. Leaving was as much out of the question as lying.
“Shen Wei…” came Zhao Yunlan’s voice from the bed. If Shen Wei only ignored him, then maybe he could prevent some further embarrassments. He poured boiling water over the tea leaves and put a lid on the cup.
“Yes, Zhao Yunlan?” (Ignoring Zhao Yunlan? Also out of the question.)
Shen Wei paused a few steps away from the bed. “What could you possibly be sorry for? You’ve done nothing wrong ever in your life.”
Zhao Yunlan snorted – not the best idea considering his runny nose. Shen Wei quickly placed the tablet with the teacup on the nightstand and dug out a handkerchief. Zhao Yunlan took it and blew his nose. “I’ve done plenty of dumb stuff. But right now, I’m sorry for being so childish. I should respect your boundaries, and if you don’t want my help then I should accept that.”
“Zhao Yunlan, no, I…I should be the one to apologise. I was in a very bad place when you came over. I had just realised that I couldn’t lie anymore and talking to you in that situation is very dangerous.”
“You don’t owe me an explanation, I completely under- wait, what?” He sat up and stared at Shen Wei out of wide eyes. “What?!”
Shen Wei stared back, eyes probably equally wide.
“I did not mean to say that,” Shen Wei said truthfully. “If you could please ignore it, that would be very much appreciated. Here. Tea.”
But tea seemed to be Zhao Yunlan’s smallest worry now. “What do you mean you can’t lie anymore?”
“That a Dixing power is forcing me to tell the truth. To be honest, not that I could be anything but, this is the exact reason I tried to avoid you as Shen Wei.”
Truth by truth, Shen Wei dug his own grave. He groaned loudly and buried his face in his hands, hoping that maybe if he hid from the world, it would stop being mean to him. Maybe he should have covered his ears instead.
“Wait, what do you mean you tried to avoid me as Shen Wei?”
Shen Wei shook his head and bit the inside of his lip to keep the admission from escaping. Not like this, he thought. Please, not like this.
For a moment, all was quiet. Then, Shen Wei felt a hand pat his head. “It’s okay. I won’t ask anymore. Sorry, I didn’t mean to take advantage of you.”
Shen Wei lifted his head. “But this is your chance to get the information you want.”
“Yeah,” Zhao Yunlan said and leaned back. “I don’t want it like this, though. I’m smart. I’ll figure it out without some weird Dixing powers aiding me. Also, you’re so kindly taking care of me. I don’t want to be ungrateful.”
“Thank you,” Shen Wei breathed, relief flooding his entire body.
“Do you know how to get rid of it?”
“I thought that it would wear off over time, but it has been a week and so far, it is only getting worse.”
“Hey, I know someone who might be able to help you. If you’re not averse to some more Dixing powers. My good friend is a powerful official from Dixing and could certainly do something for you.” Zhao Yunlan grinned at him, obviously proud to be offering such a grand service. Shen Wei was stunned for a moment as the words My good friend echoed through his head. Friend. Zhao Yunlan considered the Envoy his friend. Even more so: his good friend!
Then Shen Wei realised what that actually meant.
“Ah,” he said. What else to say when one offered to get you help…from yourself? “You should recuperate first. Your health is the most vital thing.”
“Oh…Wow, this kind of hits different when I know you’re telling the truth,” Zhao Yunlan laughed a bit awkwardly and scratched his neck. “If you already treat me like this, then the people who are actually important to you are really lucky.”
“You are the most important person in my life. You always were, and you always will be.”
This time, Shen Wei hadn’t even tried to lie. He had seen that strangely insecure expression on Zhao Yunlan’s face, so completely different from anything else he had seen there before and wanted to reassure him. In hindsight, maybe it had been a bit much because now that insecurity made way to shock.
“Shen Wei, I… I’m sorry. But I have to ask. Did we meet before? You don’t have to say anything else. Just yes or no.”
Shen Wei gave him a long look. What did he have to lose? “Yes.”
“Will I understand? One day?”
“Yes. We were-”
A hand clasped over his mouth. “No need to say anything more. I trust you. Well. Not that there is any doubt that you were telling the truth just there.” Zhao Yunlan smiled. “Just for the record, you’re also very important to me. I might not understand all there is, but…I don’t know. It’s just you, Shen Wei. There is this, I don’t know, this connection or something. It’s good to know I wasn’t imagining it.”
“You weren’t! Definitely not!” Shen Wei said. Or would have said, if Zhao Yunlan’s hand weren’t still covering his mouth.
“Oops,” Zhao Yunlan said and quickly removed it to pick up the tea that had steeped for far too long by now, evidenced by the face Zhao Yunlan made when he drank it.
Then he gave Shen Wei a thoughtful and very, very dangerous look. “But this is an opportunity…And there are some things I just need to know.”
Shen Wei swallowed heavily.
“What do you say? A round or two of truth or truth until I fall asleep?” Zhao Yunlan grinned widely. “My first question.” He pointed to Shen Wei’s feet. “Do you iron your socks? You seem like a person who irons their socks.”
Shen Wei sighed. This would be a very, very long night.
The next morning Shen Wei woke up with a crick in his neck, his shoulder, and his lower spine. Probably because he had fallen asleep in the chair in front of Zhao Yunlan’s bed (a small price to pay for the first sight of the day being a sleeping Zhao Yunlan).
Shen Wei noticed the change immediately. He only now realised that he had been living with a constant pain in the back of his head because his head suddenly felt strangely light and free. He looked intently at Zhao Yunlan, and when he was sure that his breath was still slow with sleep, he quietly muttered to himself, “I am Shen Wei, an ordinary professor from Longcheng University who is definitely not a powerful envoy from Dixing.” The lies tasted like liberation and strawberry. He couldn’t help but smile widely.
Maybe it had been the countless truths that had been forced out of him yesterday. Maybe the curse had a limited amount of lies it could block. After all, Shen Wei had admitted to ironing his socks, really liking strawberry-flavoured milk tea, and having fallen asleep during a teacher’s conference once. Among many other things. But now the world was right again, and Shen Wei could lie to his heart’s content.
He looked at Zhao Yunlan’s sleeping form and felt a soft smile tugging at his lips. But this man…this man could have some truths. As a treat.