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Chromatic Aberration

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No speck of dust was safe from Shen Wei’s keen eye as he cleaned and prepared each camera lens and arrayed them carefully on the table set up for the photo shoot. He meticulously wiped each piece clean, nodding only once they had reached his expected level of cleanliness. He could easily pass this task off to one of the many interns or assistants milling around the room, but the task helped to organize his thoughts. Besides, after delegating the task had led to him re-cleaning them anyway, he decided that it was best that he just take care of the equipment himself. 

One of the newer assistants sidled up to him as he finished with the last lens. She was clutching a clipboard to her chest and smiling at him broadly with an expectant excitement coming off of her in waves. 

“Are you excited, sir?” she asked, her voice reaching an alarming octave. “Such a big celebrity will be here soon!”

Shen Wei raised an eyebrow in question, but before he could respond, his head assistant, Li Qian materialized. She gave the new assistant a patient smile and deftly plucked the clipboard from her grasp. 

“Shen Wei is a consummate professional,” Li Qian explained, flipping the pages absently. “He is not some amateur that fanboys over the celebrities he photographs.” 

“Oh, that’s right!” She said, snapping her fingers. “That’s why they call him the Lone Dragon! Because he’s so cold!” The moment the words left her mouth, Shen Wei watched the blood drain rapidly from her face as she slapped her lips. She bent in half in a deep bow and spoke to the floor. “I am so sorry! I don’t know why I said that.”

“That’s alright,” Shen Wei cut in before Li Qian could verbally eviscerate the young woman. “I know the reputation I have built up.” He helped the young woman straighten up and gave her his most charming smile. “I just see the clients I work with for what they are - people. At the end of the day they are just people with unique jobs.” He shrugged one shoulder. 

“There’s really nobody that would excite you to meet?” She asked in shock. 

Shen Wei had a brief image of a perfect cupid’s bow mouth pulled into a knowing smile flash before his eyes. He twisted the thick silver ring that circled his left index finger then blinked rapidly to dispel the thought and chuckled out a ‘no’ as his smooth mask slipped back into place. This was not the time to indulge in fantasies. 

“If the BTS shoot we did last month didn’t elicit a response, nothing will.” Li Qian said teasingly. 

“They were all quite lovely people,” Shen Wei said, turning back to the table to check the lenses one last time. 

“Yeah,” Li Qian said in a dreamy tone then visibly shook herself before dragging the new assistant away explaining that they still had much to do for the shoot. 

Shen Wei smiled to himself and shook his head. Li Qian had been quite taken with the boys that day, spilling several drinks and dropping props when she ended up openly staring at one of them. He’d never seen her so flustered before and it was a source of light teasing for weeks afterward. 

Today was a simple product endorsement for Lancome’s newest skin cream. These were often more about beautiful shots of the spokesperson holding a box and giving bedroom eyes to the camera than about taking good shots of the product itself. Shen Wei had worked with this actor in the past and Deng Lun had never disappointed before. He was polite and knew how to use his looks to his advantage in each pose - more than he could say for some of the celebrities he had worked with in the past. 

Once everything was prepped and ready, Shen Wei found that he still had a few minutes before Deng Lun was due to arrive so he sat at his laptop and opened his emails. His stomach dropped when his eyes landed on a message from that morning. 

“Li Qian!” He called, standing immediately to go find his assistant. 

“Laoshi, what is it?” She asked when she appeared at his side holding a water bottle in each hand. 

“Deng Lun is sick and can’t make it today?” Pointing at his offending laptop, she scanned her eyes across the screen. 

“Why was I not included in this email?” She wondered aloud as she scrolled through the message once more. “I’m so sorry. It says that he found a replacement, so at least we didn’t set up for nothing.” She offered. 

Shen Wei clenched his jaw. He had been prepared to work with Deng Lun today and all the layouts he had planned were geared towards his strengths. 

“It doesn’t say who he got to replace him.” Shen Wei sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Nothing to be done about it now, whoever it is will be arriving shortly.” 

As if summoned, at that moment the doors to the studio opened and in walked an entourage of people that Shen Wei didn’t recognize. An imposing man dressed all in black was leading the group, trailed by a young man who looked terrified to be there and another man with his nose buried in a cell phone. Behind them was a beautiful woman with blood red lips and wearing high heels thinner than an ice pick and higher than looked safe. She had her head bent and was pointing out something on a tablet to the man walking beside her. 

The moment Shen Wei’s eyes landed on the man, the entire room tilted on its axis and Shen Wei reached out to grab Li Qian’s arm. Zhao Yunlan. 

He was dressed in tight jeans that were artfully ripped at the knee and thigh, a green military style jacket over a white shirt, and a pair of tan boots. Shen Wei had to fight to swallow with his suddenly arid mouth. 

He had to play this cool. He couldn’t let this chance encounter with his celebrity crush nullify everything he just explained to the new assistant. No matter how much he wanted to, he would not fanboy over the actor/model that just walked into his studio. 

Shen Wei wiped suddenly sweaty palms down the sides of his black dress pants and approached, Li Qian following close behind. Noticing his approach, the woman elbowed Zhao Yunlan in the side and nodded towards Shen Wei. He looked up and the smile that spread across his features made Shen Wei’s heart give a hard thud before stopping for a moment.

“Ah, Mr. Shen. So good to meet you. I’ve heard great things.” Zhao Yunlan kept that easy smile in place as he held out his hand to Shen Wei. A nudge from Li Qian reminded Shen Wei that he needed to say something rather than just openly gawk at the man. He clasped his hand around Zhao Yunlan’s and definitely did not think about the small calluses he felt on the slender digits or the way their hands fit so nicely together. 

“Mr. Zhao, I have also heard great things. About you that is. Thank you for filling in at the last moment.” Shen Wei realized a beat too late that he was still holding the actor’s hand while he babbled like an idiot. Zhao Yunlan looked down at their joined hands and back to Shen Wei with a smirk just as Shen Wei snatched his hand away. 

“Happy to help. Just point me in the right direction. My assistant, Zhu Hong, can answer any questions your team may have while I get ready.” He gestured towards the woman at his side who was looking at Shen Wei with calculating eyes. 

“Great, let’s get started then.” Shen Wei said a little too quickly then turned to check the equipment for a third time. He took a deep breath and blew it out in a thin stream as he fought to get his emotions under control. 

When Shen Wei turned to his assistant, Li Qian was staring at him open mouthed. She looked from him to Zhao Yunlan who was being led towards the dressing rooms to get changed. 

“Okay, what the actual fuck was that?” She said bluntly and Shen Wei winced. So much for playing it cool and hoping to keep this a secret from everyone. He should have known that Li Qian would notice something was off. 

“I don’t know what you mean.” Shen Wei said, removing an imaginary piece of dust from the lens he picked up. 

“Uh huh, sure.” She scrutinized the side of his face for a few more moments then shook her head and walked off. Shen Wei let out a sigh of relief and went to speak with the lighting team to make a few adjustments for Zhao Yunlan. He was discussing the warmth of the lights to accentuate Zhao Yunlan’s skin tone when he heard the dressing room door open and his heart stopped. 

The makeup and design team had outdone themselves. Zhao Yunlan was dressed all in white from the dress shoes and jeans to the white button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal slender forearms. The shirt was unbuttoned low enough to get a glimpse of the white undershirt he wore below and highlighted the thin gold chain that laid perfectly against his throat, barely grazing the bit of collar bone that was peeking out. He was also wearing a matching gold bracelet with a small gold hoop earring. The stylists had tousled his hair in an artful fashion and Shen Wei was having a hard time concentrating on more than the way his body moved with a smooth confidence most often displayed in big cats. 

He was so lost in his musings that Zhao Yunlan was standing toe to toe with him before he realized that someone was calling his name. He jolted back into awareness so hard that he would have stumbled backwards if a steadying hand didn’t reach out to wrap around his arm. Shen Wei blinked down at Zhao Yunlan’s hand and cleared his throat, the move carrying an aching familiarity. 

“Thank you.” He said quietly, feeling heat rise to his cheeks and ears. “Let’s get started. If you could go sit in the chair?” Shen Wei gestured at the red chair sitting in front of the dark red backdrop then turned to fiddle with the camera. Glancing around at his team, he was unsurprised to see many of them with their heads bent together murmuring to each other. He clenched his jaw and straightened his back. He was a professional, he could control himself. 

When he turned back around he almost lost the composure he had just regained when he saw Zhao Yunlan draped over the chair - his elbows resting on the seat and the back of the chair supporting his torso, highlighting the long lines of his back and displaying his ass in the air. His head was propped up on one fist and he sent a smirk to Shen Wei. 

It’s going to be a long day.

Shen Wei was not the type to talk much while he worked. Instead, he allowed the clients to listen to music of their preference while he only spoke to direct a movement. He had hoped that Zhao Yunlan would allow him to cling to this one piece of professionalism he still had left. Unfortunately, that was not what Zhao Yunlan had planned. 

Shen Wei had barely taken three pictures when Zhao Yunlan began talking to him. 

“So how did you earn the Lone Dragon nickname?” Zhao Yunlan asked where he sat in the chair like a normal person - only after Zhu Hong had glared at him so hard even Shen Wei felt it. 

The camera slipped out of Shen Wei’s fingers in surprise, but he managed to keep it from meeting an untimely death on the floor. He wrapped the camera strap around his wrist, playing off the movement as intentional while he steadied his hands. 

“Lao Zhao!” Came a hissed warning from Zhu Hong, but Zhao Yunlan was unrepentant. 

“What? I’m just curious.” He turned back to Shen Wei with an open expression. “Deng Lun mentioned that you were an amazing photographer, just aloof and intense. Is that where the name comes from?”

Shen Wei clenched his jaw and went back to snapping photos. “Possibly.” He responded then pointed to the product in Zhao Yunlan’s hand. “Raise the box higher.” 

“Like this?” Zhao Yunlan raised the hand holding the box until his knuckles rested against his lower lip and lowered his eyelids at the camera. That look shot straight to Shen Wei’s heart through the viewfinder and he swallowed hard. 

He found his eyes following the way Zhao Yunlan’s fingers wrapped around the box and the drag of his knuckle across his lip. He zoomed in to get a better look at that plush mouth and the flash went off. Shen Wei blinked- he hadn’t meant to take that picture. Sending a quick glance over his shoulder, he looked back to see Li Qian staring at the monitors that display the photos as Shen Wei takes them. Her eyebrows met her hairline and Shen Wei turned quickly before she could send that questioning look his way. 

“So how long have you been doing this? I didn’t have a chance to check out your full bio before we got here.” Zhao Yunlan asked, shifting back in the chair and crossing his legs neatly. 

“Cross your arms and lean forward. Make sure the box is still up close to your face.” Shen Wei said from behind the camera. He snapped a few pictures of this pose without making a fool of himself then finally answered Zhao Yunlan’s question while looking through the shots. “Almost five years now.” 

“Wow, such a short amount of time. You are quite the hot photographer.” Zhao Yunlan said with the mischievous smirk that seemed to be a permanent fixture on his face. 

Shen Wei completely missed the next shot, producing a blurry misshapen image of the other man. He snapped his eyes to Zhao Yunlan’s and drew down his eyebrows. He knew that Zhao Yunlan had a reputation as a playboy, but he never thought that he would openly flirt with someone he just met while he was working. Shen Wei decided that he must be misinterpreting his actions. 

A groan pulled Shen Wei’s attention to Zhao Yunlan’s group and he was surprised to see that several of the team were rubbing their faces or rolling their eyes. Following Shen Wei’s gaze, Zhao Yunlan snapped at his team. 

“What? I was just complimenting his skills. Obviously, he is a popular, talented photographer if so many brands are scrambling to use his services.” Zhao Yunlan explained and Shen Wei was not disappointed by the clear explanation. Definitely not flirting then.  

“Just a few more poses and we will be done.” Shen Wei informed them and went to swap out his lens. “Sit on the floor please.” He called over his shoulder. He took a deep breath while he let the muscle memory of equipment sooth his stinging heart. 

Zhao Yunlan was sitting on the floor with his head propped on the seat of the chair when Shen Wei returned. He was turned to give the camera his profile and his chin was resting on the product box. He turned just slightly when Shen Wei approached, giving him some of his face without turning completely. 

Shen Wei swept the camera up and snapped a few rapid shots before the other man could move. He ignored the startled look that briefly crossed Zhao Yunlan’s face before the actor slipped back into character for the shoot. Shen Wei stepped closer, adjusting the angle and focus as he moved. 

Zhao Yunlan leaned back from the chair and propped himself up with his hands behind his back, pulling his shirt open just a little more. Tilting his head slightly, Shen Wei took a few shots with the product in focus with the actor slightly blurry behind. Then his eyes trailed over the way Zhao Yunlan’s narrow chest rose and fell with each breath and his camera was snapping a few shots before he could stop himself. A choked sound from behind him, made his ears flush red and he shook his head lightly. 

When Shen Wei met Zhao Yunlan’s eyes once more there was a curiosity there that Shen Wei did not want to analyze too deeply. Slowly, without breaking eye contact, Zhao Yunlan leaned forward once more and placed his stacked fists on the seat of the chair then he rested his chin there and looked at Shen Wei expectantly. 

Shen Wei swallowed hard and snapped a few more pictures before declaring that they were done. 

“So soon?” Zhao Yunlan asked with what felt like genuine disappointment and Shen Wei turned his back to the actor. He did not need to see the artificial sadness the actor was so good at. 

“Yes, I have all we need.” Shen Wei said, forcing his hands to stop trembling. He pointedly ignored the muttered ‘and then some’ comment that came from his assistant. 

“Oh, alright then.” Zhao Yunlan said as he got back to his feet and brushed himself off. “I’ll go get changed then.” 

Shen Wei hummed in response, still not turning, not trusting himself to look at the other man without revealing how much he didn’t want the session to end. He longed for a more complex shoot with multiple different locations and outfits to fill up an entire day with Zhao Yunlan, but it was not the fate’s design. 

He was packing up the last of the camera lenses and discussing how many shots were needed for the final product when someone cleared their throat behind him. Shen Wei turned to see Zhao Yunlan back in his street clothes. He had decided not to change the styled hair or remove the makeup and the stylized yet relaxed look really worked well on the other man. Shen Wei’s fingers itched for his camera once more, but he simply shoved his hands in his trouser pockets. 

“I hope we get to work together again soon.” Zhao Yunlan said with a wink. “I had a great time.” Behind him, Zhao Yunlan’s team all wore various tortured expressions. All except the man in black and the young, skittish assistant. One looked like he couldn’t care less while the other looked too frightened to express any feelings on his boss’ behavior.

Shen Wei smiled shyly and glanced at the floor. He had gone this long without working with Zhao Yunlan before, and Shen Wei understood how rare it was to work with the same celebrities over and over again- Deng Lun being the exception rather than the rule. 

“I’d like that. You are very easy to photograph.” Shen Wei fervently wished that the floor would open up and swallow him whole just to escape this conversation. Zhao Yunlan just chuckled and watched him thoughtfully before taking a step closer. Shen Wei went still as a statue at the other man’s close proximity. 

“You know, I don’t think the Lone Dragon fits you.” Zhao Yunlan said, amusement dancing in his tone. “I’ll have to come up with something else.” He sent Shen Wei a roguish smile and turned to make his way out of the studio. 

Shen Wei watched him go and just barely managed to stay standing where he was rather than running as far away as possible. He was proud that he only startled slightly when Li Qian appeared at his side. 

“Smooth.” She said simply then turned back towards the table that held the monitors. 

 

Shen Wei personally reviewed the pictures from the shoot rather than allowing the team to do the initial review to weed out the less desirable ones first. He swallowed thickly as he scrolled through several shots that did nothing for the product and everything for Zhao Yunlan. This was just embarrassing - he had never lost himself in a subject like this before. He twisted the ring that never left his finger absently. Ultimately, he knew why Zhao Yunlan was the exception to all his rules, but dwelling on it wouldn’t change things. 

His eyes lingered on one shot of the actor’s eyes looking hungrily at the camera and Shen Wei felt his face heat up. He was instantly transported back to a night when those eyes held that same heat, though partially obscured by a mask. He could almost smell the cheap beer mingled with sweat and mental exhaustion just looking at the picture. Shen Wei closed his eyes and breathed slowly through his nose, bringing himself back to the present. 

Rubbing his temples, he sighed and opened the next image. He would get through this edit and go back to his normal life. He was booked solid for almost a year with engagements, it’s not like he would see Zhao Yunlan again anytime soon. It was with that justification that he dragged a few of the files to the folder marked ‘Personal Collection.’ 

 

“Keep your chin up, Wang Yibo.” Shen Wei called, not pulling the camera away from his face. The view finder bumped against his glasses for the hundredth time in the last hour and Shen Wei growled before pushing them on top of his head. 

The framing of the picture was perfect, but the expression on Wang Yibo’s face wasn’t quite matching up with what he needed for the advertisement. 

“Look like you want the product.” Shen Wei said, lowering the camera. This was not the first time Shen Wei had said this today and both he and Yibo were growing frustrated. 

Wang Yibo stretched his shoulder after a few moments and shifted away from the table where various fast food offerings were artfully laid out - none of it edible, but they looked beautiful. 

“Can we take a break?” Wang Yibo asked, stifling a yawn. “Maybe eating real food will entice my appetite.” 

Shen Wei nodded and turned to grab his water bottle from the floor while Wang Yibo wandered over to the catering area. 

It was always interesting working with the celebrities that knew exactly how to use their beauty to their advantage and Wang Yibo certainly knew what he was doing, but he was having some trouble finding his inspiration. Shen Wei flicked through the pictures on his camera’s tiny screen, but his brow furrowed when he came to the last image. Still not exactly what he was looking for. 

He pulled his phone out to do a search and after a few minutes, a smile pulled at his lips. That’ll work.

Shen Wei called everyone back to places and Wang Yibo sat heavily in his seat once more. 

“Okay. Now, think about riding your favorite motorcycle.” Shen Wei found that research on the celebrities that he worked with helped shine light on what motivated them. Wang Yibo instantly relaxed and his entire face lit up in ecstasy. Shen Wei grinned and snapped a few shots of his dreamy expression from various angles. 

The rest of the shoot went smoothly after that. He called the end of the session once he was satisfied that they had enough options to offer the client and turned to pack up. As soon as he turned all the air dissipated from his lungs. There, sitting in Shen Wei’s chair with his boot-clad feet propped up on the equipment table, was Zhao Yunlan. 

He was only accompanied by the skittish young man who kept glancing around and wringing his hands like he knew he wasn’t supposed to be there. Shen Wei carefully laid his camera down on the table between them and pulled his glasses off the top of his head. When he put them on, he noticed a large smudge on one lens and immediately pulled them off once more to wipe it away, but luck was not on his side and the arm of his glasses caught his hair making him wince. 

The sound of chair legs scraping on the floor was followed by gentle fingers in Shen Wei’s hair, carefully freeing his glasses from the long strands that had escaped his ponytail. A blush lit up Shen Wei’s cheeks as the fingers gently massaged his scalp before he pulled away from the actor. 

“Are you okay?” Zhao Yunlan asked while Shen Wei retreated as far as he could without being impolite. 

“I’m fine, thank you.” Shen Wei said, quickly cleaning his glasses and returning them to his face. “What are you doing here? Are you following me?” He winced inwardly at the accusatory tone, but Zhao Yunlan merely grinned. 

“We were in the area so I thought I’d poke my head in and say ‘hello.’” Zhao Yunlan shoved his hands in the back pockets of his light denim jeans and smirked. “Hello!” 

“Hello,” Shen Wei replied carefully, eyes darting around for his head assistant who was suspiciously absent. “I’m sorry, but this is a closed set.” He fiddled with the sleeve garters he always wore while he was working and didn’t miss the way Zhao Yunlan followed the movement with interest.

“Aw, don’t be like that. I wanted to come see you work. I’d seen a few videos and I noticed that the documentary painted a very different picture from what I saw when I worked with you a few weeks ago.” Zhao Yunlan pulled out a lollipop from his jacket pocket and popped it into his mouth. All of Shen Wei’s focus narrowed on how Zhao Yunlan’s lips looked wrapped around that stick and he had to force his breathing to remain steady. 

Shen Wei knew of only one documentary that he was featured in, but surely the obscure video was several years old now and not easy to obtain. It was one of the reasons that he had been dubbed the Lone Dragon after the director included clips of him being ruthless with some of the less talented celebrities he’d worked with. There were also references to his life as a determined bachelor which had angered Shen Wei more than the parts of him working. His personal life was his own and nobody else needed to know how he spent his nights- even if they were lonely. 

“I’m flattered that you were so determined to research me that you found a copy of such an uncommon documentary.” Shen Wei said at length, finally tearing his gaze from Zhao Yunlan’s mouth and the filthy way he was hollowing his cheeks as he pulled the lollipop between his lips. 

Zhao Yunlan opened his mouth to respond just as the doors to the studio were slammed open, making the entire crew jump. In stormed Zhu Hong with murder blazing in her eyes, her heels clicking sharply on the floor. 

“Ah hell.” Zhao Yunlan said petulantly under his breath then turned back to Shen Wei. “Looks like we have to cut this short. Until next time.” He sent a wink to Shen Wei and met Zhu Hong half-way across the room before she could bowl over a startled looking Wang Yibo who was coming out of his dressing room. 

Shen Wei watched them go then caught sight of Li Qian for just an instant. She locked eyes with him then bolted back into the hallway she had just emerged from. He pinched the bridge of his nose then turned to the monitors to review the photos, he would ask his wayward assistant how exactly Zhao Yunlan gained entrance to the set later.