Shen Wei knew he was staring.
He had been careless earlier and for a moment had glanced directly at Kunlun over the campfire they were all sitting at, and now he found himself completely unable to look away.
It was a rare occasion that he had been invited to sit with the soldiers – and even rarer that he had accepted, if their astonished faces had been any indication – but he had seen the general among them and his heart had just shoved his rational mind out of the way and taken control. He had nodded wordlessly and unceremoniously dropped down at the fire.
Now he was wedged uncomfortably close between two of his men, who looked at least equally wary as he felt, and disagreeably far away from Kunlun on the other side of the circle, not able to turn his gaze to something other than the other’s bright smile.
Some weeks ago Kunlun had rolled into their camp and their lives like a landslide, making the first immeasurably more enjoyable, the second definitely more interesting, and had caused Shen Wei’s heart to misbehave anytime he came near.
No one knew where exactly the famed Kunlun had come from, or why he had chosen to follow their cause, but everyone had been utterly grateful for his presence, which soon had proved to be invaluable on countless occasions. He had spoken his mind in war council, had offered smiles and reassurances to the wounded soldiers under his command – he had, in just a few days, managed to charm half the camp by simply being himself, and Shen Wei felt he was no exception.
Curiously, the only thing the general didn't excel at was, for whatever reason, any kind of weapon but his own, and Shen Wei had noticed, first apprehensive, then cautious, and finally with a kind of shy enjoyment, that whenever he went to the training field, alone or to teach a group of recruits, unfailingly, Kunlun would trail behind. He never came close, always stood a few paces away, his eyes sparkling, his lips turned up into a soft smile. Shen Wei had made a few attempts to get him to participate, first by asking politely, later by even offering a sparring match, but hadn't succeeded. Kunlun always kept his distance, while his gaze sometimes turned wistful when he thought Shen Wei wasn't paying attention.
The thing was, though, Shen Wei was always paying attention to Kunlun. If asked, he wouldn't have been able to tell when, or why, for that matter, his fascination for the older man had begun, but now he was fully, truly entangled in the other’s existence. He found himself watching Kunlun more often these days, always hidden behind his mask, drawn to the man’s inexplicable aura like a moth to a blazing flame. And like a moth, Shen Wei often thought, he would burn as soon as he came too close.
He could feel Kunlun’s heat, metaphorically and literally, whenever he sat near the other, could feel his own skin beginning to prickle with a sensation he couldn't quite name, could feel his heart thunder in his chest and his breath catch. He longed for something he didn't have a name for and was scared of the feelings he had so little control over.
He was Hei Pao Shi, the leader, the soldier, the cold and distant general who always wore a mask, always looked at, but never seen, and he wouldn't want, or know how, to change any of it. But with Kunlun close, none of this mattered. With Kunlun close, he could imagine something more, another life, another cause. He pretended not to see the other’s heavy gaze on him over the rim of his bowl when they shared a meal, pretended to be unperturbed by it, but in the stillness of his tent at night, he had no mask to hide behind. He couldn't hide from himself, and every night he lay awake, an aching in his chest, his eyes brimming as he stared into the darkness and wished for… Well, he didn't even know what he wished for, only that it had to do with Kunlun. Lately, everything had to do with Kunlun.
He watched him clean his strange weapon and imagined how those skilled fingers would feel on his skin, how the lips that were turned up in a smile so often would taste on his, how the long hair Kunlun always tried to shove out of his face would feel when he caressed it. He wondered how the other would smell when he dragged his nose along his neck, how his heartbeat would sound if Shen Wei were to lay his head on the other’s chest.
More often than not these thoughts would leave him burning with a yearning for Kunlun he couldn't voice, couldn't show, and when he touched himself in the dark of his tent he wished it was another’s hand.
Shen Wei startled from his thoughts when something lightly touched his shoulder, he was in a defensive stance almost immediately before he recognised what, or rather who, had disturbed him. Kunlun crouched beside him, a small smile on his lips, and when Shen Wei’s senses fully returned, he found that they were the only two left at the fire.
“Lost in thought?”, Kunlun asked gently, if with a slightly teasing tone.
“Hm,” Shen Wei agreed, unsure how to respond, and made to stand up. He felt the other’s warmth dangerously close and as always, it made his heart contract almost painfully.
Kunlun withdrew his hand, looking at him with a complicated expression. “Where are you going?”, he asked, rising as well, furtively moving a bit farther away as if he had sensed Shen Wei’s thoughts.
“I have the next watch,” he replied, “they will be waiting for me on the cliff.” He gestured to the towering rocks above them.
“I’ll join you,” Kunlun said quickly. Shen Wei could only nod.
Silently they made their way up the steep path, Kunlun always two steps behind him, still close enough to hear his breathing whenever he turned to walk around a boulder.
When they arrived at the plateau, the soldier posted there nodded as they passed him and turned around, eager to get back to the camp. Without glancing at the other man, Shen Wei sat in his usual spot to look over the landscape. The moon hung low over the dusty plane, tinged a familiar pale orange, so large it looked close enough to touch. On especially clear nights, he knew, when the dust settled and the clouds vanished, it was even possible to see some stars, the brightest of them piercing the veil the meteor had spread over the earth so long ago.
He heard a soft exhale behind him, then felt Kunlun’s robes brush against his hip as he settled next to him on the rock. He didn't dare to turn, afraid what the other might see in his eyes. He felt his heart beating so loudly that he was certain Kunlun could hear it. Trying to calm himself, he focussed on his breathing.
Shivering slightly with the feeling of having the other so close, he almost jumped when an arm wrapped around his shoulders. When Kunlun whispered, “Are you cold?”, he had no words to respond, could only shake his head frantically. He wanted Kunlun to move away, but also wanted him to press closer, wanted him to wrap his arm tighter around him, wanted him… Wanted. Him.
The flame burning inside him was spreading through his whole body, flaring blindingly bright everywhere they touched. Breathless and with a wildly beating heart, he turned slightly to meet Kunlun’s gaze and almost drew back from the intensity in his eyes.
“I,” he began, but had no words to follow. Words felt inadequate to express what was happening inside him, to describe how his heart was aching with desire, with want, with… With love, he suddenly realised. He had never loved anyone before, aside from his brother, and the stories others told always felt – lacking. But now, oh, now he understood, and was terrified. Love wasn't meant for soldiers, wasn't meant for war. Love was for quiet evenings and hearth fires and flower fields. Not for a battlefield, where every moment could be your last. Love was for others, for another life.
His realisation had left him frozen in Kunlun’s half embrace, and so he startled when he suddenly felt a hand on his cheek. With wide eyes he stared at the other who removed his hand as if he had burned himself.
“Are you alright,” Kunlun began, carefully withdrawing his arm from Shen Wei’s shoulders. “No,” Shen Wei blurted out and Kunlun froze half-way, looking at him questioningly. “I mean,” he inhaled shakily, “I am alright. Just…” He faltered, mouth and throat dry, unable to voice his desires. Kunlun seemed to understand anyway, because he brought his arm back to Shen Wei’s shoulders and smiled softly at him.
They sat in silence for a while, Shen Wei feeling every point of connection between them like a firework, shooting up flares through his body. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeply and tried again.
The other hummed softly, but otherwise stayed quiet.
“I… I want…” He trailed off, unsure what to say. He wanted Kunlun to tighten his grip around his shoulders, wanted to bury his face in the crook of the other’s neck, wanted to bite his shoulder and soothe it with his tongue, wanted to breathe in Kunlun’s scent and listen to his breathing. He wanted, wanted, wanted Kunlun with an intensity that scared him, and couldn't say any of it.
When he stayed miserably silent, Kunlun prompted: “What do you want?”
“You,” Shen Wei blurted out. “I want you. I… I don't know… I…” He broke off, looking helplessly at the other, expecting him to recoil, or at least draw back a little. But Kunlun looked at him with so much emotion in his eyes that his breath caught. Without another word, Kunlun leaned in and softly, gently, carefully, pressed his lips to Shen Wei’s.
Shen Wei couldn't quite suppress a low moan and let himself fall into the kiss. He hadn't done anything like this with anyone, but Kunlun carefully guided him, coaxed him into opening his mouth, licked slowly over his bottom lip, let their tongues meet. His hand came up to cup Shen Wei’s face, a thumb stroking feather-light over his cheek bone.
When they parted for breath, Kunlun regarded him for a moment, his hand still resting on his cheek.
“I,” he began, sounding slightly breathless, then swallowed. “I want you too, you know. Just… I couldn't…” He broke off, leaning in to capture Shen Wei’s lips in another hungry kiss.
Shen Wei let his eyes fall close, feeling as if something inside him had just clicked into place.