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under the weaving waves

Chapter Text

“Da ren--” Chu Shuzhi pauses as he sees the robed figure crumpled against the wall, long hems trembling as the body beneath them shakes. “Da ren, what--”

The Black-Cloaked Envoy straightens with a sharp intake of breath, his glaive manifesting with its point at the base of Chu Shuzhi’s throat. The line of the weapon is perfectly still even as every part of his body past the shoulder shudders uncontrollably.

Chu Shuzhi freezes. He breathes slowly, regulating his energy according to palace guard training, and says in the most formal manner he knows: “This one greets the esteemed General, how may he serve?”

There is a long moment where the Envoy stares at him, but at last the glaive dissipates into wisps of power. The Envoy collapses against the wall, sliding down to brace himself on one knee.

Chu Shuzhi falls to his knees as well. He reaches out, hand fully in view, his energy still pulled in and flowing in the regular, even pace of an alert but calm soldier. The Envoy allows him to touch fingertips to a black-clad shoulder. His eyes are wide and glazed, pupils dilated as they follow the movement.

“Da ren, it’s me, Chu Shuzhi.” When that provokes no response, he grimaces in his heart. “Shen Wei?”

This time there is a reaction. Shen Wei blinks at him, a rapid flutter of eyelashes behind his mask, and his lips part. They move for a moment before he says, “Chu Shuzhi?”

“Yes,” Chu Shuzhi confirms. Relief loosens his control of his internal energy flow enough that it spills outward again, and Shen Wei twitches with a sharply indrawn breath. “Sorry -- what happened? What do you need?”

“Nothing.” Shen Wei’s shoulder moves under Chu Shuzhi’s hand, another suppressed shudder. “Nothing happened, I was only in a session with the -- the Hallows, and I’m a little--”

Something grasps onto Chu Shuzhi’s energy and tugs. The feeling is so similar to Ye Zun’s consumption that Chu Shuzhi manifests his puppetry strings by instinct, coiling them in the air and ready to attach to any threat. Around Shen Wei’s hands strands of dark energy flicker blue into the visible spectrum.

Completely out of Chu Shuzhi’s control, his puppet strings wind along Shen Wei’s arms and torso. Chu Shuzhi watches them with wide eyes, trying to pull the energy back under his skin, or failing that, unravel it back into the neutral waves that freely exist in the ambient world. No response. If the strings weren’t anchored within himself Chu Shuzhi would think they didn’t belong to him.

Two more strings spin out of his core, the rush of energy flooding his sinuses and swimming behind his eyes. He sways. Under his hand Shen Wei’s shoulder moves, and with a choked off groan all the energy in the area… stills. Like a dip in the smooth face of a pond when a rock has been dropped into it, before surface tension pulls back and breaks for the splash.

“My power is a bit unruly,” Shen Wei finishes, breathing hard. “I apologize.”

“Heipao-daren has no need for apologies,” Chu Shuzhi murmurs, mouth on automatic as his mind races. Clearly Shen Wei’s power isn’t actually learning so much as the much more powerful, much more unsettling reality of energy manipulation. The most basic of skills, and the most versatile.

(He’d wondered, in the very back of his mind, why Ye Zun showed such a different manifestation of power than his twin. In all of recorded history, twin powers were similar. Turns out Shen Wei and Ye Zun weren’t so different after all; directly taking someone’s energy and copying it were two outward results of the same base method.)

“What do you need?” Chu Shuzhi has always known that the Black Cloaked Envoy is the most powerful Dixingren alive. Just because he now understands a little better why doesn’t mean anything fundamental has changed. He is still loyal, still holds the Envoy in the highest esteem. “What can I do for you?”

“Hold on,” Shen Wei says, and clamps his hand over Chu Shuzhi’s before portalling them both away.

They appear in a nondescript room. Not the palace; the energy flow isn’t right, no regulated channels from the defensive arrays, but definitely still in Dixing. It looks like any normal person’s living space. There are cloth mosaics on the wall, a little moulded stone statue of the Origin ship on the mantle, three chairs around a fake wooden table, and a fireplace inset along the wall furthest from the door.

A safehouse.

Shen Wei breathes deeply, fingers clenched tight around Chu Shuzhi’s wrist. The pressure forces him to grip Shen Wei’s shoulder tighter, tight enough to whiten the tips of his fingers and knuckles. Shen Wei’s head dips. His hood falls, revealing the pale arch of his neck.

Oh. Oh.

“Drowning current?” Chu Shuzhi uses the old vernacular. Now most people just call it ‘power shock,’ the shaky nausea that comes from channeling too much dark energy. The mind strains, struggling to recover from an overuse of power, and the body fails to regulate itself. People can faint, or suffer bleeding, or become sick.

“Yes,” Shen Wei grits out. “I need--”

Chu Shuzhi is already calculating where Shen Wei can lie down comfortably. There should be a bedroom somewhere.

“Pressure or warmth?” There are two ways to ease power shock. A constant sensation brings the mind back to the body, anchoring a person’s senses back within themselves. The two most commonly accepted sensations are warmth, often induced via baths or skin-to-skin contact, or pressure, which might be achieved by tight wrappings in blankets or ropes. Pain is another way, but it’s reserved for extreme cases, and Chu Shuzhi wouldn’t be comfortable whipping the Envoy in any case so it’s a moot point.

“Pressure,” Shen Wei says. His voice is flat and empty, gaze distant. Chu Shuzhi focuses enough to see that he is channeling a frankly terrifying amount of dark energy, weaving a pattern so complex it hurts to look at. “It would be best if…”

“If?”

He focuses on Chu Shuzhi’s face. “If you could use your strings.”

Chu Shuzhi can’t hide the way his eyes widen, the flare of his nostrils or the clench of his jaw. To use puppetry on the Black Cloaked Envoy--

--But is that really so different from restraining him with ropes, or cloth? Would it be less intimate than gripping his wrists behind his back with his hands, and pressing him down against the ground with the weight of his own body?

“Yes,” Chu Shuzhi says decisively. “Are you able to stand?”

Shen Wei rises to his feet, swaying until Chu Shuzhi props him up with a shoulder. They stagger together through the door and down a short hallway that ends in a cozy bedroom, the walls smeared with artistic swirls of paint outside the normal light spectrum. The patterns feel soft and faintly ticklish against his senses, and he hopes they will help Shen Wei instead of distract him.

“Ready?” Chu Shuzhi sets Shen Wei down on the bed. If he stacks the pillows up against the headboard it ought to be comfortable enough to lean against.

In response, Shen Wei phases away his cloak and mask. It leaves him bare-faced, only in his Haixingren suit, ankles slim between the leather of his shoes and the hem of his trousers. He leans back against the pillows and brings his hands together under his chin.

Chu Shuzhi creates puppetry strings hyperaware of the energy around them: the spinning whirlpool lattice of Shen Wei’s existence, the aimless ebb and flow omnipresent around Dixing, the way he funnels energy through himself, weaving it into strands that can manifest in the physical world. Shen Wei shivers as Chu Shuzhi binds arms wrist to elbow and then around his chest, arcing up to anchor over his neck. A second set of strings tie his legs together.

“Status?”

“Yes,” Shen Wei replies. He blinks languidly, lips parted and jaw relaxed. “This is… helping.”

Chu Shuzhi squints, brow furrowed. Whatever Shen Wei is doing to the dark energy around him is… stabilizing, somehow. Or perhaps dispersing? No, the mad intricacy of the energy structure is shrinking, condensing into what a more normal Dixingren’s core looks like, dense veins under their skin radiating outward from the dantian toward the extremities. Gods above and below. Chu Shuzhi inhales as he realizes. Shen Wei’s energy network is orders of magnitudes more complex than most peoples’, a network within a network. The control it must take to maintain…

They sit in silence for a long time. A slow throb makes itself known along Chu Shuzhi’s temples; he heeds the warning and stops focusing on his dark energy sense. Eventually Shen Wei stirs, muscles flexing within his bonds, and Chu Shuzhi lets them unravel.

“Status?” he asks again.

“Recovered,” Shen Wei answers. He does not summon his cloak.

Chu Shuzhi goes to one knee.

“No.” Shen Wei places his hands on Chu Shuzhi’s shoulders, drawing him up until they stand face to face. “Thank you, Chu Shuzhi.”

Chu Shuzhi lowers his chin. Before he can do more than open his mouth, Shen Wei leans forward to press his lips to Chu Shuzhi’s forehead. His skin is warm; the energy he leaves behind is cold. Words flee from Chu Shuzhi’s tongue. All he can do is close his eyes.

“Da ren,” he murmurs, trying to pack as much feeling as he possibly can into those two words.

“Yes.” Shen Wei steps away. The wry smile is clear in his voice. “We’ve likely missed the SID team dinner. Would you like to accompany me back to Haixing?”

“Of course.” Chu Shuzhi straightens. “Lead the way.”

He falls in a respectul three steps behind. Shen Wei turns his eyes and lifts an eyebrow before Chu Shuzhi moves up to walk alongside, and he purses his lips to hide his smile.