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A Golden Chain

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1.
Shěn Wēi sits stiffly on the chair next to Zhào Yúnlán’s bed, back straight, hands gripping his knees. Zhào Yúnlán’s hair is finally dry, fluffed out at all angles from being rubbed with a towel but not combed. Shěn Wēi’s fingers twitch with the desire to run his fingers through it to impart some order and savor the soft texture.

Instead, he forces himself to focus on the fact that Zhào Yúnlán had just gotten a soaking. At least the man is tucked under his duvet and in warm, dry clothes. Shěn Wēi tilts his head to indicate the cup in Zhào Yúnlán’s hand. “Drink while it’s hot.”

“Uh….” Zhào Yúnlán clears his throat, twisting the cup around in his hands. “Shouldn’t you drink it too?”

“No need.” Shěn Wēi doesn’t get sick. At least, not from getting rained on, or cold.

“Just now…” Zhào Yúnlán looks up at Shěn Wēi through his lashes. It is a familiar look, flirtatious, but with more depth behind it now even though his tone is teasing. “About just now...”

Shěn Wēi blinks, the memory of a few short minutes ago resurfacing viscerally. His desire to shake Zhào Yúnlán for being careless, walking home without an umbrella, soaked to the skin because he’d been chasing a suspect and was closer to home than his Jeep. Of meeting him out on the sidewalk in front of their complex, and needing to find some way, any way, to keep Zhào Yúnlán’s tormenting at bay. The man had offered to take off his jacket so Shěn Wēi could see everything encased in translucent white fabric clinging to every dip and ridge of muscle and bone.

Shěn Wēi had kissed him to shut him up, his control snapping like a rubber band pulled too tight. It had been everything he had remembered from 10,000 years ago. Zhào Yúnlán’s mouth hot and passionate under his, hands clutching tight into wet fabric.

Looking down at his hands now resting on dry pants, he flexes his fingers for a moment. Shěn Wēi decides on honesty, at least in this. He meets Zhào Yúnlán’s curious gaze. “About what I’ve said and what I’ve done, I’m always serious. I won’t break my word.”

Zhào Yúnlán’s mouth tilts into a smirk, his eyebrows twitching in amusement. “So, what’s the relationship between us now?” he coaxes, obviously wanting to drag out Shěn Wēi’s embarrassment.

Shěn Wēi hesitates. Their relationship before, when Zhào Yúnlán had been Kūnlún, had been fast and intense but so incredibly grounding that Shěn Wēi feels it still in his bones. But he doesn’t know what Zhào Yúnlán is looking for at this moment. “What relationship for ordinary people to do… that.” And possibly more.

“There are many situations,” Zhào Yúnlán almost laughs at him.

There are too many emotions roiling underneath the surface. Shěn Wēi stands abruptly. He needs to leave. “Take a good rest first.”

Zhào Yúnlán’s hand darts out, snagging Shěn Wēi’s wrist and holding on. He leans over to put the cup on the bedside table, out of harm’s way. Then Shěn Wēi is being pulled closer until he’s leaning over the other man.

“You kissed me,” Zhào Yúnlán murmurs, eyes locked on Shěn Wēi’s mouth, humor tempered with tenderness in his tone. “Finally.”

Shěn Wēi swallows convulsively, just barely holding himself apart, despite the fact that Zhào Yúnlán is pulling on his arm.

“Don’t think you just get to leave now. You were soaked through, too. Sleep with me, we can talk more in the morning,” Zhào Yúnlán orders. He turns back the covers and scoots himself toward the inside of the bed, drawing Shěn Wēi down to the mattress with him.

Shěn Wēi finds it impossible to resist.

It has been thousands of years since he’s slept alongside this man, and it takes them a few moments to find a comfortable position. Zhào Yúnlán ends up tucked against Shěn Wēi’s side, curling in around him.

His nose, pressed against Shěn Wēi’s throat, is chilled, and he hums as he snuggles closer.

Shěn Wēi smiles as Zhào Yúnlán goes lax against him.

 

2.
Shěn Wēi goes straight to Zhào Yúnlán's apartment when he gets back to town. It is far more of a home than his flat has ever been, and though it has only been a few days, Shěn Wēi is eager to see Zhào Yúnlán. Even if he likely isn’t home from work yet, Shěn Wēi can start dinner at least.

He lets himself in. Zhào Yúnlán had given him his own key, even though they both knew he didn't need it. That level of trust and invitation makes warmth rise in Shěn Wēi's chest each time he uses it. If his fingers linger on the metal, there’s no one there to notice.

The light in the apartment is dim, fading afternoon sunlight filtering through the windows. Shěn Wēi leaves his bag by the door and removes his shoes and jacket.

Shěn Wēi is padding over to the kitchen when he hears a stifled groan from the direction of the couch. He turns and immediately hurries over, one hand wrapping gently around Zhào Yúnlán's shoulder and the other brushing hair away from his face.

Zhào Yúnlán's face is scrunched up in pain, but he blinks up at Shěn Wēi with a slight smile. “You’re back,” he murmurs, voice hoarse.

“Gastritis?” Shěn Wēi asks, crouching down next to the couch and continuing to stroke Zhào Yúnlán’s head. He recognizes this fetal position, and how Zhào Yúnlán’s hands are clutching at his stomach. His forehead is also cool, indicating that he’s not running a fever.

“Mn,” Zhào Yúnlán agrees.

“When was the last time you ate?” Shěn Wēi had left the fridge stocked with food for him, but knowing Zhào Yúnlán’s habits, he bets that if he looks, not much will have been eaten.

Zhào Yúnlán shakes his head. “Dunno.”

“Have you taken your medicine?” Looking around, Shěn Wēi can’t see the bottle.

“Ran out. Dà Qìng was going to pick more up,” Zhào Yúnlán admits.

Shěn Wēi huffs. Of course. “Come on, let’s get you to bed.” He gently eases Zhào Yúnlán up and lifts him into his arms. The man is too light, bone and sinew and gaunt muscle. It is a few short strides to the bed, and Shěn Wēi is setting him down. Jacket shed, shoes removed, jeans peeled off and Shěn Wēi is tucking Zhào Yúnlán under the blankets.

“Stay?” Zhào Yúnlán asks, keeping hold of Shěn Wēi’s hand.

“I was going to make you congee to settle your stomach,” Shěn Wēi squeezes the hand in his.

Zhào Yúnlán pouts. “Later. Stay.”

Shěn Wēi can’t help the fond smile as he lays down next to Zhào Yúnlán, curling around him so that his chest presses into Zhào Yúnlán’s back. Wrapping his arms over Zhào Yúnlán’s, Shěn Wēi presses his hand to Zhào Yúnlán’s stomach, sending healing energy into him. It has to be gentle, and it will only be temporary until Zhào Yúnlán gets back onto a steady and healthy diet.

As the pain eases, Zhào Yúnlán’s muscles relax and he wiggles a bit in Shěn Wēi’s hold, pressing back suggestively. “Aiyah, you spoil me.”

“You start that and you’re in good enough shape for me to get up and make congee,” Shěn Wēi threatens, though his hold doesn’t loosen.

“So strict,” Zhào Yúnlán laughs. “Fine, fine.” He stills, quieting. Shěn Wēi feels a finger idly tracing over the back of his hand before threading their fingers together. “Missed you.”

“I missed you, too,” Shěn Wēi tells him, pressing his face into the back of Zhào Yúnlán’s neck.

 

3
Shěn Wēi adjusts his glasses before turning to the next paper. The week's stack of assignments spread out in front of him on the coffee table, and he estimates that he is almost half way through the pile. He stretches a bit, feeling the give of the couch beneath him and smiles when he hears the door of the apartment open.

"Aliyah, you're still working?" Zhào Yúnlán complains as he comes in and flops next to Shěn Wēi.

"Yes," Shěn Wēi answers, picking up his pencil.

“Hēi lǎo-gē, always so serious,” Zhào Yúnlán teases as he rearranges himself to lay down with his head on Shěn Wēi’s thigh. Shěn Wēi shifts the paper to the side so that it doesn’t get crushed. “How are they doing this week?”

“Overall, their writing has improved,” Shěn Wēi answers absentmindedly. He’s already reading the next essay, and sets the pencil down to run his fingers through Zhào Yúnlán’s hair. The weight of his head is grounding and Shěn Wēi treasures each moment of quiet that they get to share.

Zhào Yúnlán snorts. “High praise, Shěn Jiàoshòu.” He settles down further, pulling his phone out of his pocket, content to amuse himself while Shěn Wēi finishes his work.

They exist in companionable silence, Shěn Wēi reading the papers and making the occasional comment or notation. His fingers otherwise carding through Zhào Yúnlán’s unruly locks as he gives each student’s work due consideration. This is the reason why he doesn’t work late at the office as frequently these days--why would he when this is a possibility. It is more than he ever dreamed of during the war or in the years and millennia of waiting.

Shěn Wēi is just about to reach for the last paper when he realizes that Zhào Yúnlán has gone slack against him. The man’s eyes are closed and the phone rests underneath his hands on his stomach. With a bit more deliberation, Shěn Wēi brushes the bangs out of Zhào Yúnlán’s face and leans over. “You’d be more comfortable sleeping in bed.”

Zhào Yúnlán’s nose scrunches up adorably, but his eyes don’t open. “You’re here.”

“And I’d still be here,” Shěn Wēi assures him.

“I’ll stay. You finish work then we can go together,” Zhào Yúnlán decides, jaw cracking open on a yawn.

Shěn Wēi considers, then makes a counter offer. “I can read in bed just as easily.”

“I’ll be distracting,” Zhào Yúnlán warns.

Huffing in amusement, Shěn Wēi doesn’t bother responding. That is nothing new, or different, from any other time Zhào Yúnlán is nearby. Instead he pushes Zhào Yúnlán until he’s up and moving.

They go through their evening routine, changing into pajamas (or what Zhào Yúnlán claims count as such), and making ready for the night. Shěn Wēi turns on his reading light and sits, propped up against pillows, waiting until Zhào Yúnlán has made himself comfortable before picking up that last paper.

Zhào Yúnlán’s head is on his thigh again, though this time, his whole body is curled inward toward Shěn Wēi’s extended legs, one hand resting just above Shěn Wēi’s knee.

It is, as warned, distracting.

Especially when Zhào Yúnlán’s fingers start wandering.

“One paper,” Shěn Wēi says, catching that hand and holding it still. “I thought you were sleepy.”

“Hmmm,” Zhào Yúnlán hums, nudging his nose up against Shěn Wēi’s side. “Other things we can do in a bed.”

“No different than the couch,” Shěn Wēi retorts, glad that Zhào Yúnlán can’t see the redness creeping up his ears.

“More space in bed,” Zhào Yúnlán answers, rubbing with his nose now. Shěn Wēi can feel the catch of Zhào Yúnlán’s stubble against the smooth satin of his pajamas and has to force himself to focus.

“One paper,” he repeats.

Zhào Yúnlán grumbles, but moves Shěn Wēi’s hand to his hair again and stops trying to deliberately derail the evening.

If Shěn Wēi’s comments on this paper are a little less thorough than on the previous assignments, he hopes no one will notice.

 

4.
Shěn Wēi is reading over the most recent reports at SID when Dà Qìng comes skidding into the room. His cellphone is in hand and is unceremoniously shoved at Shěn Wēi.

"Lǎo Zhào," the Cat Yashou says. "Doesn't sound good."

Shěn Wēi’s brows furrow as he accepts the phone and brings it to his ear. “Zhào Yúnlán?”

“Shěn Wēi,” Zhào Yúnlán’s voice slurs. “Damn Cat got you on the phone?”

He sounds… not like himself, Shěn Wēi decides, frowning. Zhào Yúnlán had been called into a meeting at the Haixing Inspectorate, but that doesn’t fully explain that tone. “What’s wrong?” Shěn Wēi demands.

“Guy at the bar took my keys,” Zhào Yúnlán explains.

Shěn Wēi tilts his head at Dà Qìng, whom he knows is listening. Drunk the Cat Yashou mouths at him. That explained the slurring. He’d seen Zhào Yúnlán imbibe before, but not to the extent that he could no longer drive or pronounce words properly.

“Where are you? I’ll come get you.”

“Ahhhh Xiǎo Wēi, you’re the best,” Zhào Yúnlán sighs. “I’ma let the guy tell you where we’re.”

Shěn Wēi listens to the voice of an older man give him directions to a bar a few blocks away from the Haixing Inspectorate building, and makes him promise to keep the keys until he gets there. He won’t drive Zhào Yúnlán home, but he can at least make sure that the Jeep gets returned to their apartment.

He hands the phone back to Dà Qìng. “I’ll go get him.”

The Cat Yashou nods. “I’ll keep an eye on things here.”

Shěn Wēi goes into Zhào Yúnlán’s office to open a portal to an alley behind the bar, relieved when he doesn’t startle anyone there. It’s a bit early in the day for the inebriated to be wandering this direction, but given that he’s here to pick up someone incapable of driving before dinner, Shěn Wēi knows better than to make assumptions.

Zhào Yúnlán is perched on a stool and slumped over the bar, and Shěn Wēi makes his way to Zhào Yúnlán’s side immediately. He nods to the bartender, “Xièxiè nǐ”.

“Get him home and let him sleep it off,” the proprietor says, not unkindly. He passes over the keys to the Jeep.

“Zhào Yúnlán,” Shěn Wēi murmurs, leaning over him and putting a hand on his shoulder. “Time to go.”

“Shěn Wēi,” Zhào Yúnlán smiles sloppily up at him.

Wrapping an arm around Zhào Yúnlán’s back, Shěn Wēi leverages him to his feet and walks him out of the bar and back toward the alley. He’s supporting the majority of Zhào Yúnlán’s weight, but at least the man is trying to walk.

“Close your eyes,” he murmurs in Zhào Yúnlán’s ear before opening a portal and taking them back to the apartment.

Zhào Yúnlán is swaying on his feet, muscles limp and uncontrolled. Shěn Wēi perches him on the side of the bed and fetches a glass of water, forcing him to drink it all. Then he peels Zhào Yúnlán out of his clothes, fighting a bit with flailing arms as Zhào Yúnlán tries to latch on like a limpet.

“M’ father was there,” Zhào Yúnlán admits as Shěn Wēi finally gets him lying down. “T’ bastard.”

That… explained a lot. Shěn Wēi is reaching for the covers when Zhào Yúnlán successfully gets an arm up around his back and pulls. Already off balance with one arm extended out, Shěn Wēi falls forward across Zhào Yúnlán’s chest.

“Yúnlán, behave,” he chides as he tries to push himself up.

Zhào Yúnlán hums thoughtfully, eyes closed with a smile. “Mmmm…. No.” And he tightens his grip further, sliding his hand down from the small of Shěn Wēi’s back toward the curve of his butt and messily aims a kiss toward Shěn Wēi’s head.

Shěn Wēi snorts and extracts himself, distracting Zhào Yúnlán with a kiss to the forehead and a finger running down the inside of his elbow. Released, he wraps Zhào Yúnlán in the duvet to control his limbs and then settles down next to him to keep watch until he falls into a true sleep.

 

5.
Shěn Wēi portals straight back to Zhào Yúnlán’s apartment when he’s seen their prisoner into custody in Dixing. It has been a brutally long case, with most of SID working around the clock to capture a man controlling people through their dreams in order to wreak havoc. Though he has been supporting the long days with his power, Shěn Wēi can feel the slight tremors in his muscles that indicate he has over-extended himself. He needs sleep, to recharge and recover.

He expects Zhào Yúnlán to already be asleep when he arrives in the apartment, but the lights are still on. Zhào Yúnlán is sitting on the edge of the bed, already showered and dressed for sleep, but obviously waiting.

Shěn Wēi takes off his shoes and coat in the doorway, trying not to show his exhaustion.

When he turns back, Zhào Yúnlán is there, moving into his space. “All settled?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“Good. Time to sleep,” Zhào Yúnlán orders gently. He takes Shěn Wēi by the hand and leads him over toward the dresser. Then his fingers are gently toying with Shěn Wēi’s sleeve garters, tracing underneath them before undoing the clasps and setting them aside.

Shěn Wēi melts, warm to his core. He cups Zhào Yúnlán’s cheek, tracing his thumb to sooth over the dark circles under his eyes. “You didn’t have to wait up.”

Zhào Yúnlán turns his head to press a kiss into Shěn Wēi’s palm. “Of course I did. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep before you got back. Now let me--”

Watching Zhào Yúnlán’s every expression, Shěn Wēi lets this man take care of him. He knows how important it is--to unwind, to reassure, to care after a case like this.

Zhào Yúnlán unbuttons waistcoat and dress shirt, folding them over the back of a chair. He’s never so careful with his own clothes, but Shěn Wēi appreciates it. Cool air brushing over his bare arms makes Shěn Wēi even more aware of each brush of Zhào Yúnlán’s fingers. He shivers when Zhào Yúnlán leans forward to place a kiss at the dip of his clavicles, just above the jade pendant Shěn Wēi never removes.

Shěn Wēi’s belt is next, buckle undone and leather drawn slowly from the loops on his slacks. He obediently raises his arms to let Zhào Yúnlán draw his undershirt over his head, and is grateful when his pajama top is pulled around him.

They’re both too tired for more right now.

Dress pants changed for satin pajama bottoms and Shěn Wēi rests his forehead against Zhào Yúnlán’s. “Xièxiè nǐ. Go get into bed, I’ll be there shortly.” He smiles when Zhào Yúnlán kisses his nose, then heads into the washroom to finish getting ready to join him.

The lights are off when he returns, Zhào Yúnlán lying on his side, facing Shěn Wēi’s pillow. The blankets are pulled back invitingly and Shěn Wēi is grateful that he gets to come home to this. Each moment like this binds them more closely together, a mass of shining delicate threads that Shěn Wēi will never take for granted.

He slides under the blankets, feeling the last of the tension leave him as he sinks into the mattress. Shěn Wēi lays on his side, facing Zhào Yúnlán, their faces close together, sharing breath as they let go of the day and sink into sleep.

 

+1.
Shěn Wēi wakes slowly, warm and content. During the night, Zhào Yúnlán had shifted closer, his head is on Shěn Wēi’s shoulder. One of Zhào Yúnlán’s legs is thrown over both of Shěn Wēi’s, and an arm wraps around his waist.

Shěn Wēi lets himself smile and memorize each breath he feels Zhào Yúnlán take, reveling in the press of his chest, the weight of his limbs. Even the little bit of drool that has darkened the shoulder of Shěn Wēi’s pajamas is endearing.

The light filtering through the drapes indicates that it is already mid-morning. Shěn Wēi should make breakfast so that it is ready when Zhào Yúnlán wakes and begin preparing for the day.

Gently, slowly, he tries to ease himself out from under Zhào Yúnlán without waking him, first moving the arm, then reaching to shift Zhào Yúnlán’s head down onto the pillow.

Zhào Yúnlán grumbles, and his leg shifts, sliding up and clamping down around Shěn Wēi’s thighs. Then his head is back on Shěn Wēi’s shoulder. “No.”

Biting back a chuckle, Shěn Wēi runs his fingers through Zhào Yúnlán’s hair. It had finished drying while they slept, so there’s one section that wants to stick out at an odd angle. He tries to smooth it down, entertained when it doesn’t work. “I’ll go make breakfast. You can go back to sleep.”

Zhào Yúnlán attempts to shake his head. “No,” he says again, eyes still closed.

“You need to eat,” Shěn Wēi explains. He knows Zhào Yúnlán hasn’t been eating regular meals the last few days because of the case, though Shěn Wēi had tried to keep passing him snacks and small dishes whenever there was a moment.

Huffing, Zhào Yúnlán cracks open his eyes and glares up at Shěn Wēi. Whatever he reads in Shěn Wēi’s face has him moving, sliding on top of Shěn Wēi so that they’re lying chest to chest with Zhào Yúnlán’s full weight pressing him into the mattress. Zhào Yúnlán crosses his arms just below Shěn Wēi’s collarbones and rests his chin on them. “This is more important. There’s no where we need to be today.”

“I have--”

Zhào Yúnlán leans down and stops Shěn Wēi’s protest by gently biting his lower lip, then soothing it with his tongue. “No. You do not have class today. I had Wāng Zhēng call the University and tell them that you were sick. All you have to do today is stay here with me and rest. We’ve had more and tougher cases recently, so we should take our breaks while we can.”

Shěn Wēi’s hands have found themselves holding Zhào Yúnlán’s waist, just above the jut of his hipbones, skin to skin where Zhào Yúnlán’s tshirt has rucked up. He studies Zhào Yúnlán’ face, sees that even a full night’s rest hasn’t relieved the strain or dark circles under his eyes entirely.

There is also nowhere that he would rather be than here with this man.

“Of course, if you were just going to the bathroom and coming right back, I can let you up,” Zhào Yúnlán teases. “You’d have to not make breakfast yet, though.”

Smiling, Shěn Wēi acquiesces, leaning up for a slow, exploratory kiss. Time spent with Zhào Yúnlán is better for him, body and soul, than any healing he could do while alone.

Spending time in bed, not sleeping, not recovering, but just being together was not a gift that they’d had 10,000 years ago. Shěn Wēi savors it. Zhào Yúnlán seems to catch his mood, rolling them to their sides. There’s no heat yet, no hurry, just connection--lips and fingers against skin with no particular aim in mind.