A visit to his office at the University from Chu Shuzhi was not all that unusual. After Zhao Yunlan he was probably his most frequent visitor from the SID, either because Shen Wei had requested he drop by, so he could give him a new mission, or because Zhao Yunlan had sent him with some message or request because he knew it was the only order Chu Shuzhi would accept from him without complaint.
But those missions were fewer nowadays and Zhao Yunlan would much rather deliver any messages he had for Shen Wei in person, so Shen Wei was a little perplexed as to why Chu Shuzhi was looming in his doorway wearing a dark, serious scowl.
“Hei Pao Shi, may I speak with you?”
“Of course, please take a seat.” Setting down the files he'd been pouring over Shen Wei smiled, hoping to put the other man at ease. Chu Shuzhi had always been stern (at least for as long as Shen Wei had known him), but he had thought the other man had started to loosen up a little. Now, he seemed back to his old self.
Chu Shuzhi stepped into the room, his posture stiff and uncertain. He moved towards the desk, paused, and turned back to close the door behind him. He then moved To the far wall and took down the hanging scroll Zhao Yunlan had gifted him. He rolled it up, set it down on the sofa and finally took a seat in one of the chairs facing Shen Wei's desk.
Ignoring the odd behaviour Shen Wei turned his full attention to his guest. “Is something troubling you?” he asked, taking in the other man's stiff posture and the way his eyes continued to dart about the room like a trapped animal. If he had to guess, Shen Wei would say that he looked nervous, which was not a look he thought he'd ever seen on Chu Shuzhi.
The other man was silent for a while, but eventually, his eyes stopped darting around and finally settled on Shen Wei with a deep, regretful look, as if he had somehow failed the other man. “I'm afraid I may have been compromised,” he said.
“Pardon?” Shen Wei blinked slowly.
Chu Shuzhi sighed and shifted in his seat, his gaze moving off to the corner of the room. He looked furious, which Shen Wei took as a sign that he was very, very uncomfortable. “I have developed feelings for someone that will probably impact on my ability to serve you. If there ever came a time where I had to choose between them and you, then...I'm sorry.” he trailed off, his head bowed in shame, and Shen Wei had to bite back the urge to laugh.
So that was it. Now how best to handle this?
“If you have found something truly worth living for, then that is a wonderful thing. I'm happy for you, Chu Shuzhi,” he said, his voice full of sincerity, “there is no need to apologise.”
But of course, that wasn't enough for Chu Shuzhi. He remained in his seat, head still bowed and shoulders hunched as if he expected to be executed for his crimes.
Shen Wei sighed and sank back in his seat, taking off his glasses. If Chu Shuzhi was brave enough to come to him with the truth, even though he seemed afraid he might be punished for it, then maybe he owed the other man a little honesty himself.
“I have never wanted you to be my servant,” he said carefully. Slowly Chu Shuzhi lifted his head, his expression was guarded and unreadable.
“Do you know the reason I took you from that prison? It's not only because you were the last of the Chu clan or because of your power.”
Chu Shuzhi stared at him for a moment but eventually shook his head. He looked more confused now, and less stern, although his expression was still pretty dark.
“It's because you are a brother, a twin,” he admitted, glancing down at his desk feeling a little ashamed himself now. “I suppose I wanted someone to talk to who could understand what it was like, how it felt to have let down and lost someone you were supposed to protect. I know our circumstances were very different, but I always hoped we could maybe talk about our respective brothers, and what happened. I felt like you, at least, would understand.” He let the heavy silence hang between them for a moment.
The subject of their brothers was a delicate topic, and one he had never bought up with Chu Shuzhi directly, despite his desire to talk about it. He'd never known how, especially when the other man had been so deferential to him at the start. Once that sort of relationship had formed between them, it had been hard to try and change it.
He wasn't sure how the other man would take to him bringing up Chu Ninazhi, and after a moment of hesitancy, he risked a glance at the man sitting opposite him. His head was still bowed, but there was a mournful sag to his shoulders now. But he hadn't reacted with anger or stormed out, which was how he expected the other man to act when he didn't want to talk about something, so Shen Wei took it as an encouraging sign.
“I've always considered you an equal, Chu Shuzhi, and I hoped that we could become friends,” he said, smiling sadly.
Chu Shuzhi's head snapped up, his eyes wide and incredulous. “What?” He had never heard something so unbelievable in his life. If he didn't know any better, he would think that Ye Zun was sitting in front of him, impersonating Shen Wei and trying to fool him. But no, this was Shen Wei, Hei Pao Shi, a man he had always admired and looked up to, who apparently wanted to be his friend. At the back of his mind, he was sure, for a moment, he could hear Nianzhi laughing at him.
“I mean it,” Shen Wei said earnestly, though his smile was tinged with amusement now. “I spent a long time alone, with no one I could talk to about things. Especially my brother. I would still like that if you would be amenable?”
Chu Shuzhi continued to stare at Shen Wei as if he couldn't quite believe what he was saying. It had taken a lot to come here today. When he pledged his undying loyalty to Hei Pao Shi he never dreamed it was a vow he would break. As much as he longed for it, he never dreamed that he would find someone to love, someone who might love him back. Someone he would value more than his duty to the man who saved him.
He'd expected Shen Wei to be disappointed or maybe even angry with him. He'd been prepared even, to be given an ultimatum, and to have to choose. He had not expected this revelation.
“I...” he floundered, his mouth opening and closing a few times before he snapped it shut, taking a moment to gather his thoughts before trying again. “I would like that.” He found himself saying, surprising even himself. Talking about his brother and the past was not something he'd ever really wanted to do, but maybe it wouldn't be so bad.
“Good. And you really should tell Changcheng how you feel.”
Chu Shuzhi spluttered, choking on air. “What-what makes you think it's Changcheng?”
“I spent 10,000 years pining after one man,” Shen Wei said flatly, “You aren't all that subtle.”
Chu Shuzhi cringed and sank in his seat, looking as if he would very much like the ground to swallow him up.
Shen Wei took pity on him. “If it helps he's far too busy looking at you like you hung the moon and stars to notice.”
If anything that seemed to embarrass the other man more, and his cheeks now held a very definite red tinge.
“And if it's my permission you want then I think you both make a good couple. You are very good for each other,” Shen Wei couldn't help but tease.
“Please stop,” Chu Shuzhi groaned, covering his face with his hands. “You're worse than the Chief. He's a bad influence on you.”
They both shared a laugh at that, and slowly Chu Shuzhi dropped his hand and lifted his head. His face was still rather red, but he looked happy, and far more relaxed than he had when he arrived.
“Anyway, you really don't have to worry. You don't owe me anything, Chu Shuzhi, least of all your life, so use it to make the person you love happy instead.”
“I will,” Chu Shuzhi answered with a polite nod of his head, and although it wasn't an order he took it as one. The last order he would ever receive from Hei Pao Shi. And order to make the one he loved happy. It was one he planned to follow until his dying breath.
“But I am not agreeing to any double dates or anything like that, so don't go getting any ideas,” he added, deadpan, which had them both laughing again.