Zhao Yunlan furrowed his eyebrows in confusion when he woke up to an empty side of the bed in the middle of the night. He saw the light open from the kitchen and followed it, hoping to get some answers.
He found Shen Wei perched over the stove, a small dark mist surrounding him.
“Shen Wei, what are you doing at this hour?” Zhao Yunlan said groggily, leaning on the counter.
At the mention of his name, Shen Wei drops the knife in his hands, a loud clang resounding on the tiled floor. He quickly tried to hide his bleeding wrist with the use of his powers but Zhou Yunlan was faster, rushing towards him and taking hold of his arm before he could disguise it. He snatched his arm back, averting his gaze from Zhao Yunlan’s scrutinizing eyes. Instead, he shifted his focus to the boiling soup behind him. For a while neither of them said anything. The gears in Shen Wei’s head were turning, his heart pounding through his chest as he waited for Zhao Yunlan to say anything.
Zhao Yunlan finally couldn’t take it anymore and turned off the stove, caging Shen Wei in between his arms. “Tell me the truth. After gaining my eyesight back, I noticed that I was getting more tired than usual. I told you about this and you started feeding me this soup every night. Does this have something to do with that?” Zhao Yunlan asked, gesturing at Shen Wei’s arm that has healed by now. If he didn’t know any better, he would’ve thought that he was hallucinating the slit on his wrist.
“I...The soup is not yet done. You should go back to bed and rest,” Shen Wei says, pushing his glasses back up.
Zhao Yunlan laughed bitterly, seeming to have put two-and-two together without Shen Wei’s confirmation. “Xiao Wei,” The nickname made Shen Wei’s heart ache, “you know that from the very start I have always trusted you. If you jumped off a cliff I would gladly follow you,” he paused, “but if you keep lying to me like this then I have no choice but to turn against you.” Shen Wei was stunned for a moment. Whatever Zhao Yunlan said did not register in his brain yet. Seeing as Shen Wei wasn’t going to respond any time soon, Zhao Yunlan sighed before walking back to the living room.
Shen Wei stayed glued on the spot for what seemed like forever. Several ways to explain ran through his brain but never really left his mouth. Only when he saw Zhao Yunlan reaching for the door with a coat haphazardly put on top of his pajamas did he finally snap out of his trance.
Zhao Yunlan stopped in his tracks, glancing back at Shen Wei.
Shen Wei walked towards him and struggled to talk, his gaze fixated on the floor. He wanted to say so many things but his tongue felt like it was suddenly tied in knots.
"If you have nothing else to say then I'll get going," Zhao Yunlan says with a cold expression, opening and then slamming the door shut.
Shen Wei clenched his fist in frustration, not even bothering to chase after him. He knew that his words alone can’t stop him.
He had really done it this time.
Having lived for thousands of years, Shen Wei has gone through several ups and downs. His journey to the top was no easy feat. Wielding one of the most powerful weapons known in The Three Realms and earning the name 'Ghost Slayer' meant that he had a big responsibility on his shoulders. He's generally regarded as someone respectable, knowledgeable, and impartial. He can easily defeat an opponent without even lifting a finger. Even in the mortal world, Shen Wei has proved to be outstanding in his profession as a teacher of Bioengineering.
Who would’ve thought that a man named Zhao Yunlan was all it took for this strong facade to crumble down.
Shen Wei flinched as the door slammed shut. He stared at it for a good 15 minutes, somehow still expecting Zhao Yunlan to come back as if nothing had happened. His mind pondered for the rest of the night. He tried focusing on cleaning Zhao Yunlan's dog lair of an apartment though his mind often drifted to where the said owner of the apartment could be at this hour. As much as Shen Wei wanted to look for him on this cold winter night, he stayed put, afraid that he might make the situation even worse.
Lately, Shen Wei wondered how he got here. He had no problem fulfilling his job before, far away from Zhao Yunlan’s knowledge. It was only through serendipity that they had met and luck that Zhao Yunlan took an interest in him of all people. Shen Wei was fine with his existence never being known. He never even planned on being such a significant person in Zhao Yunlan’s life. In his eyes, he was a filthy low-life that didn’t deserve to be spared even a glance by Zhao Yunlan. He only wanted to play his part and leave quietly.
For thousands of years, he has lived based on this principle but now, how come even spending a minute away from Zhao Yunlan left an unsettling feeling in his gut? He knows that he should be used to feeling lonely. As much as it arose a foul feeling in his chest, Shen Wei knew that there are definitely people in Zhao Yunlan’s life that he probably considered more important than him. He knows that he is no exception and that sooner or later he’ll be all alone again. The rational part of his brain told him to leave Zhao Yunlan while he still can since there is no chance he’ll ever achieve the happy ending he’s been yearning for centuries. He has accepted his cruel fate; he would rather see Zhao Yunlan be happy with someone else than risk his life just being with Shen Wei. Despite knowing this, he can’t help but hope; hope that the years that he has spent devoting his life to Zhao Yunlan would make him finally worthy.
Shen Wei sat beside the empty bed, watching the sun slowly rise from the windowsill, signaling that another day has come.
Having gotten no sleep at all, it is no surprise that Shen Wei could feel his head starting to throb. The cold winter breeze didn't help as he could already feel a sudden urge to sneeze.
He took a quick shower, grabbed some of his clothes which were starting to pile up in Zhao Yunlan's closet, and off he went.
Shen Wei realized that he had forgotten to eat breakfast when he felt his stomach rumble while he was taking the bus to work. He has gotten so used to the warm mornings he would spend with Zhao Yunlan that it completely slipped from his mind. He would like to grab a bite from a convenience store somewhere but after a glance at his wristwatch, he realized that eating the most important meal of the day isn't so important right now.
For the first time in Shen Wei's teaching history, he was late for work. While it certainly wasn't detrimental to his job, even his colleagues could tell that this was very uncharacteristic. Shen Wei reasoned that he read the bus schedule wrong which isn't entirely false. It's just that, Zhao Yunlan has taken the duty to be Shen Wei's chauffeur ever since the other started courting him. He remembers how awkward and one-sided their conversations were at first. Eventually, they had warmed up to each other, talking endlessly until they reached their destination and had to part ways.
Shen Wei found himself missing the occasional texts he'd receive in the middle of the day from Zhao Yunlan, accompanied by a string of corny jokes or an anecdote from work. He smiles at the memory.
"Professor Shen, you spelled that part wrong." A student points out, snapping Shen Wei back to reality.
"Ah, I apologize. Thank you." Shen Wei replied curtly and corrected his mistake.
"Is it just me or is Professor Shen acting weird today?" A student murmured to her seatmate.
"Yeah, he seems completely out of it."
Shen Wei cleared his throat, grabbing the attention of the two students who quickly shut their mouths, and resumed his discussion.
The next three days passed by in a blur and Zhao Yunlan has yet to return. Shen Wei spent most if not all of his time drowning in either the matters at school or the underworld. He made sure to keep himself busy to prevent his mind from wandering to places he would rather leave untouched.
His condition only got worse; he would often break into coughing fits which concerns even his co-workers. When the letters on his student's project proposal were starting to blur, that's when he realized he should probably call it a day.
Shen Wei eventually gave in to the desire of his body to rest.
After double-checking his schedule, he reluctantly cleaned up his desk and went back home.
As soon as he opened the door to Zhao Yunlan's apartment, he was once again greeted with an eerie silence. He heaved a sigh and closed the door behind him. He walked towards the bed and plopped unceremoniously on top of it, not even bothering to change his clothes.
For once, he allowed himself to succumb to deep sleep.
Meanwhile, in the Special Investigations Unit, Chief Zhao Yunlan has been doing nothing for the past couple of days but hog the office couch to himself, much to his subordinates’ dismay.
“Ow! Fat Fuq, do you want me to turn you into a fur coat?!” Zhao Yunlan yelped in pain as Daqing clawed on his arm.
"Take your stupid love quarrel somewhere else and get off my couch!” Daqing hissed back, hopping on the couch and getting into his napping position despite Zhao Yunlan’s protests.
“You want me to cut your dried fish supply for this month?” Zhao Yunlan threatened, grabbing Daqing by the collar and placing him back on the ground before hiding underneath his blanket. Daqing eventually relented, knowing that Zhao Yunlan was probably serious. He mumbled a ‘stupid humans’ under his breath before taking a nap in the library instead.
“Daqing’s right. You’re kinda bringing the work morale down.” Lin Jing chimed in jokingly, his eyes not leaving his computer.
“Wang Zheng, deduct half of his bonus for this month and transfer it to the work expenses budget,” was Zhao Yunlan’s reply, causing his co-workers to erupt in a fit of giggles. This shut Lin Jing up, making a mental note to not comment on his boss’ love life ever again to make sure he won’t starve for a month.
Zhao Yunlan grumbled in annoyance and cursed his subordinates for being so nosy. He eventually retreated to his office and took a seat on his desk. He stared at his phone as if it was going to come to life and do his work for him, his finger hovering over Shen Wei’s contact number. He clicked his tongue and finally pressed the call icon, placing his phone next to his ear. To his surprise, it rang for a while before eventually going to voicemail. Shen Wei wasn’t exactly adept at using technology but he at least knew how to answer phone calls or text messages. After a couple more failed attempts, he decided to call Shen Wei’s office telephone instead. His fingers tapped nervously on top of the desk as his ears were once again filled with the familiar dial tone. He can’t help but worry, well-aware of Shen Wei’s tendency to look out for everybody else but himself.
“Hello? This is Professor Shen’s office from Dragon City University.” A young female voice greeted him through the receiver.
“This is Chief Zhao from the SIU. Can I speak to Shen Wei really quick? It’s about a recent case,” Zhao Yunlan says, lying through his teeth.
“Oh, Chief Zhao! He’s not here right now. He called in for a sick leave today. If it’s urgent, then maybe I can just relay it to him when he gets back?” Zhao Yunlan kindly declined the offer and thanked the person from the receiver.
Since his suspicion proved to be right, he wasted no more time and rushed back to his apartment.
Now that he's stood at his doorstep, he doesn't actually know what he's supposed to say once he enters. He tightens his grip on the bag he's holding which contains flu medicine and warm porridge. Trying to muster enough courage, he took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
He hears a faint rustling behind the door before it creaked open. Shen Wei looked shocked and rubbed his eyes to see if he was still dreaming.
"Are you planning to kick me out of my apartment or something?" Zhao Yunlan chuckled and leaned on the door frame, resisting the urge to run his hands through Shen Wei's disheveled hair. Zhao Yunlan thought that Shen Wei already looked gorgeous, whether he was wearing his dress shirt and vest combo that never had any wrinkles or his dark black cloak that made his snowy white skin stand out. But, there was something about the way he looked right now, with his hair unkempt and his button-up not tucked in properly that made Zhao Yunlan's heart flutter.
Shen Wei opened the door wider, letting Zhao Yunlan come in.
“I called at your office. They said you were sick so I brought a little something to help you.” Zhao Yunlan said as if to answer the question that Shen Wei has probably been wanting to ask him. He took a moment to observe his surroundings. He noticed that throughout a couple of months, his apartment started to feel more like home. Since Shen Wei started to stay at his place more often, he started leaving things he always uses like a pair of socks or the case for his glasses. It was trivial. Nevertheless, it made Zhao Yunlan feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Shen Wei was about to take the bag from Zhao Yunlan’s hands but suddenly broke into a coughing fit. Zhao Yunlan immediately placed the bag on top of the dining table and rubbed smooth circles on Shen Wei’s back to soothe him.
“I left for only a couple of days and yet you’re already like this,” says Zhao Yunlan with a soft tsk, placing the back of his hand on Shen Wei’s forehead. “I think you have a fever. Lay down for a while. I’ll go get you something to eat.” Shen Wei’s eyes widened, his cheeks flaring up from their proximity. He only nodded in reply and did as he was told, watching Zhao Yunlan pace back and forth in the kitchen.
Zhao Yunlan eventually came back with a bowl and spoon in hand. He grabbed a stool and sat by the bed, taking a spoonful of the porridge and gently blowing it.
“Be careful. It’s a little hot.” Zhao Yunlan held the spoon next to his lips, looking at him expectantly. Shen Wei hesitated for a second before reluctantly opening his mouth. A small smile formed on Zhao Yunlan’s lips, taking another spoonful from the bowl.
Comfortable silence lingered in the air for a while. Only the sounds of the metal spoon scraping against the porcelain bowl and the wind blowing outside can be heard.
“I never would have imagined that I would one day take care of the Ghost Slayer like this,” Zhao Yunlan says, laughing fondly.
Shen Wei cursed him in his mind as he felt the butterflies swarm in his stomach at the sound of Zhao Yunlan’s laughter and the familiar sight of his eyes crinkling. He swallows the lump in his throat and suddenly takes Zhao Yunlan’s hand in his.
“Yunlan...I’m sorry.” His hands trembled as he uttered those three words.
“What are you apologizing for?” Zhao Yunlan took it upon himself to focus on the last piece of chicken floating in the bowl of porridge, purposefully avoiding Shen Wei’s gaze that was piercing through him.
Shen Wei stayed quiet for a moment, thinking of the right words to say.
“I’m sorry for never telling you,” he hesitated, “I was just afraid of...losing you. I’ll easily do anything and give up everything you ask me if it means you’ll be happy and safe.” Shen Wei finally admitted, tightening his grip on Zhao Yunlan’s hand as he tried to gauge his reaction.
For half a year, Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan's relationship status remained undetermined. It dangerously hovered between friendship and something more. Zhao Yunlan never really expected their relationship to run this deep, hanging on that familiarity he felt when he saw Shen Wei and simply relying on the will of his heart to decide everything else.
Zhao Yunlan placed the bowl on the nightstand before finally looking back at Shen Wei.
“What if I told you that all I want you to do is to take care of yourself and stay beside me?”
Shen Wei was stunned to silence again, looking down at their hands clasped together as if it was molded to stay that way. He frowned, slowly loosening his grip and slipping his hand away. Zhao Yunlan held it tighter, making Shen Wei stare back into his mesmerizing eyes.
“Shen Wei, I know that we had a past together, a past that maybe you're not ready to tell me yet and I'm okay with that. I’m willing to wait however long you need. But no matter what happened back then, I want you to know that I’m here right now and I won’t let you go even if you tell me to.”
Shen Wei felt the tears pooling in his eyes which eventually streamed down his face. Zhao Yunlan suddenly cupped both of his cheeks, kissing his tears away. This only made Shen Wei cry even more, finally letting all his pent-up emotions flow.
Zhao Yunlan continued: “From the moment I met you, I knew that I wanted to be with you for the rest of my life. You don’t have to be worried that you’ll lose me ‘cause I promise you, that I’ll follow you even in the afterlife. You don’t have to carry all the weight alone anymore; just rely on me a little. I'll willingly live in danger if it means I never have to see you get hurt again.”
Shen Wei almost fell for it. He was almost convinced that Zhao Yunlan felt the same way he did, that he was just as important to him as he was to Shen Wei. But Shen Wei knew that there were still so many stories left untold. Zhao Yunlan has yet to know the weight of the feelings he's been harboring in his heart ever since the real day they first met by the edge of the cliff. He was still naive back then, not knowing what this feeling was called nor what to do with it.
But, just this one time, he thought, he'd play the foolish man in love and indulge the idea of Zhao Yunlan loving him back.
Shen Wei sniffled, allowing himself to be vulnerable. He takes off his mask of the venerable figure that everyone respects. Tonight, he’s just Shen Wei and that’s enough. He pulled Zhao Yunlan into a tight embrace, clutching on his clothes as if someone was going to snatch him away at any moment.
As if reading his mind, Zhao Yunlan reassures him and says, “I’m not going anywhere.”