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Shen Wei touched the iron lightly with the tip of a gloved hand. Not quite the right temperature. He pressed a little harder, and the metal warmed beneath his touch.

Perfect. He ran the iron over the newspaper on the ironing board, until its crease was satisfactorily sharp. Then he set it on the silver tray and went to prepare the tea.

Zhao Yunlan was still asleep when Shen Wei brought his tray in. He groaned and rolled over as Shen Wei slid the curtains open, letting in a flood of early morning sunlight. Dew gleamed on the gardens, with their neat arrangement of box trees and rose beds. Shen Wei noticed, with disapproval, that someone—Da Qing, most likely— had left a rake leaning against the summerhouse. He would have to have a word with him at breakfast. He also noted, when he trained his eyes on the woods surrounding the estate, that some of their uninvited yet anticipated guests were already in place.

“My lord,” he said, setting the tray on the bedside table. “It is past eight o’clock.”

Zhao Yunlan groaned again, and started to heave himself up. Shen Wei reached for the pillows, arranging them so that Zhao Yunlan could prop himself up against them. This close, he could smell Zhao Yunlan’s skin, his sweat, the traces of what they’d done the night before. His nostrils flared, and he pulled back. Zhao Yunlan had a meeting at nine, he reminded himself. He made a mental note to return to the bedroom and change the linens at 9:05 precisely.

Zhao Yunlan leaned back into the pillows, his eyes on Shen Wei. He turned his left arm over, as if casually, so that the mark branded on it was visible. The answering mark on the back of Shen Wei’s right hand flared, a little.

“You wore me out last night, Shen Wei,” Zhao Yunlan said, his voice thick with sleep. “You wrecked me.” He stretched, yawning.

Shen Wei felt a curl of satisfaction at Zhao Yunlan’s words. Nothing like the bone-deep satisfaction that would come from consuming his soul utterly, some future day, but the lesser yet still pleasurable satisfaction of having possessed him, of seeing him give himself over willingly into Shen Wei’s hands.

Zhao Yunlan was still watching him. His mouth had turned up in a knowing smirk.

“We could do it again, now,” he said.

“Your first meeting is at nine sharp,” Shen Wei said. “And then you have correspondence to complete, meetings at eleven and two, dance tuition at four, and preparation for tonight’s dinner with Mr Fawcett. As have I.” He glanced briefly towards the window, and passed over the tea-tray, settling it on Zhao Yunlan’s lap. Zhao Yunlan grimaced, and sipped his tea.

“The new shipment from Huangshan?” he said, after two sips, his eyebrows raised.

Shen Wei nodded. “It came in to the London docks last night. I procured a supply.”

Zhao Yunlan snorted. “Of course you did. For a moment, I almost asked how you had the energy to run to London, after our…activities. But naturally, you never tire, do you?”

Shen Wei allowed himself to smile properly in reply, the edges of his teeth showing. “No, my lord,” he said.

By the time Zhao Yunlan had bathed, Shen Wei was starting to be concerned about lateness. None of the other servants could be trusted to welcome a delegation from one of London’s leading steel companies, but he could not leave the task of dressing his master to them either. In his current guise as a butler, it was one of his most significant duties. Not to mention what Zhao Yunlan might end up wearing if he were allowed to choose for himself.

Sometimes, ever since Zhao Yunlan had drawn him into his bed, they would stretch out the performance of dressing him, pleasurably. Sometimes, after Shen Wei’s gloved hands had slid over his skin, fastening Zhao Yunlan into his layers of impeccable clothing, Shen Wei would leave him hard and wanting, and Zhao Yunlan would let him. On rare occasions, Shen Wei would give in to the desire to push Zhao Yunlan back down onto the bed, rumpling the clothes he had put on so carefully.

Despite the heated looks Zhao Yunlan was giving him, today was not one of those occasions. Shen Wei buttoned him into his shirt and tied his tie, frowning over it, then helped him into a waistcoat and jacket.

“I will have your evening clothes ready after your final afternoon meeting, my lord,” he said.

“Mmm,” said Zhao Yunlan. He sighed. “I take it you are prepared for this evening.”

Shen Wei let the corner of his mouth edge up a fraction, and Zhao Yunlan’s lips quirked.

“My apologies, Shen Wei. You know I never doubt your, ah, skills.”

Rolling his eyes would have been beneath his dignity both as a butler and as an enormously powerful demonic being, so Shen Wei did not deign to answer this.

“A carriage is approaching,” he said. It wouldn’t be audible to humans yet. They still had ten minutes.

Zhao Yunlan yawned again. “It’s going to be a very dull meeting. Bring in some cakes after an hour, yes?”

“Certainly. And I trust I do not need to remind you to call for me, should there be any difficulties.”

One of the greatest problems in keeping his master safe, Shen Wei had found over the years, was his irritating tendency to take action without consulting his butler. Generally the kind of action that involved exposing himself to violence, torture, kidnapping, and more.

Of course, Zhao Yunlan’s semi-official and top secret employment as the Queen’s investigator did tend to add an element of risk to his activities as the head of the Zhao businesses. At this morning’s meeting, for instance, there was at least a 50% likelihood of violence, if the delegation realised that their illicit shipments of steel to Britain’s imperial rivals had been noted, and that their company was unlikely to last out the year.

Shen Wei would have liked to be present, to discourage Zhao Yunlan from making any pointed remarks along these lines. But the prospects for that evening’s dinner…well. No-one would ever say that the Zhao estate did things by halves; he would make sure of it, and for that he needed the day to work.

The other staff were, as usual, idling around the kitchen table and blatantly neglecting their duties. Shen Wei’s gaze swept over Lin Jing, who had already acquired quantities of soot about his person; Zhu Hong, who was supposed to be cleaning silver and was cleaning one of her guns instead; Chu Shuzhi, glowering in the corner and turning his strings over in his hands, and Da Qing, who was eating a large slice of bread with fish paste in a highly undignified manner.

Shen Wei wrinkled his nose. He cleared his throat.

Everyone jumped to attention. Da Qing, abandoning the fish, slid off the table in cat form and wound round Shen Wei’s legs, purring.

Shen Wei sighed, and picked him up, scratching his ears. Da Qing purred loudly.

“Shameless,” he told him, setting him carefully down on the table, and attempting to brush the black fur from his gloves. “I already saw the rake in the garden. A disgrace to the neatness of your kind.”

Da Qing turned himself back into a human, and gave Shen Wei a beseeching look.

“There are strangers in the grounds!” he said. “I didn’t know whether to bite them, so I came to fetch you. I was in a hurry!”

Shen Wei raised an eyebrow.

“We didn’t want to interrupt you,” Lin Jing said. “Since you were, ah…with our master. But we are preparing to deal with them, look!” He gestured at Zhu Hong, who didn’t look up from her work, and waved a hand towards Chu Shuzhi. “I thought I could test my new explosives…”

“Certainly not,” said Shen Wei. He pushed his glasses firmly up his nose, and glared at his insubordinate colleagues. “I am aware of all intruders onto the estate, and who sent them. They can wait. What is of the utmost importance is that our master’s morning proceeds without interruption.” He met Lin Jing’s eyes, and Lin Jing visibly quailed under his gaze. “And that the dinner and entertainment for this evening are of a standard that befits Lord Zhao.”

“It hardly matters, does it, if the only guest is, uh….” Da Qing made an elegant throat-slitting gesture.

Shen Wei smiled, and Da Qing hissed.

“No-one,” Shen Wei said, “who enters this mansion, will ever find that their last entertainment was not their most splendid. Now, if you could stop what you are doing and listen to your duties, I would be most grateful.”

All went smoothly with Zhao Yunlan’s first meeting, though the tray of sweets that Shen Wei had provided was largely finished, which was a sign of his master’s boredom.

Things went less smoothly with Da Qing’s efforts to assist with the flower arrangements for dinner. The disaster that had befallen the garden roses meant that Shen Wei had to detour into the woods to the wild rose thicket. Luckily, he had the second-best cutlery set about his person, and he was able to take out his irritation about revising his plans on the ten men who had conveniently located themselves near it.

None of the blood got onto the wild roses, either: it had been a concern. And Da Qing could at least be useful in removing the knives and forks from the bodies, and disposing of them.

After that debacle, and with the centrepieces arranged to his satisfaction and Zhao Yunlan grumbling over his letters, Shen Wei turned his attention to the linen. Here, he should perhaps have predicted that Zhu Hong would consider that she had better things to do than pay attention to laundry instructions. While she was lurking outside Zhao Yunlan’s study, gun at the ready and glaring into the shrubbery fifty yards away, something had gone horribly wrong with the washing.

Shen Wei considered Zhu Hong’s demeanour, narrowed his eyes at the shrubbery, and then instructed her to engage in target practice while he rolled up his sleeves and tackled the mess. It was a pity that her precision with weapons, and undoubted devotion to Zhao Yunlan, never quite translated into a willingness to do housework correctly.

Still, laundry was on the list of things that Shen Wei rather enjoyed, in his butler guise. There had been so much darkness, gloom and dirt in his long life, and so many people who had thought that the demon who served their will should be confined to them. Shen Wei had seen no particular reason to disabuse them.

But it had turned out, of late, that he had definite preferences, for crisp white shirts and artfully folded napkins, and the scent of flowers and wax. For perfectly tailored outfits that were designed to allow him to wield his weapons, and that would cause his master’s eyes to linger, every time. For clean human skin, smelling of finely-milled, imported sandalwood soap.

All of it was an indulgence. And seldom—never—had he been so abetted in indulging himself as by his current master. From the moment when he’d answered Zhao Yunlan’s call, and found a young man in the middle of his enemies, bloodied, hideously injured and on the verge of death, his family murdered and his home in ruins; and yet shining with determination and fierceness, he had sensed that this might be an intriguingly different contract.

How different, he could not have predicted. Never had he experienced such a connection, such understanding of his nature from a human. Never had he known such enjoyment, in fulfilling the duties a demonic contract required. It was dangerous, perhaps, to become so dependent on something as fragile as a human, especially when he would one day destroy him. And yet it gave him such tremendous satisfaction.

He had finished wringing out the sheets and tablecloths. He took them out to hang on the line, noting as he did that Zhu Hong and Da Qing were dragging the bodies of the men in the shrubbery into the edge of the forest, to join their companions. He cocked his head, neatly pegging the sheets in a row, and considered the back of the mansion. Zhu Hong had used a silencer: the minions there seemed unaware of the state of affairs.

There was no hurry. Chu Shuzhi, the most trustworthy of the house servants, was serving Zhao Yunlan his cold luncheon and supervising his next meetings, which were routine Zhao firm business and unlikely to cause any trouble. All Shen Wei had to do now was prepare the food, and lay the tables.

He was interrupted in a consideration of hors d’oeuvres by an explosion from the house. It came from the kitchen, not Zhao Yunlan’s study, but he sped there anyway. Lin Jing, visible through a large hole blown in the kitchen wall, was standing amid the smoking ruin of what had been half of the pantry. He jumped as Shen Wei appeared in front of him.

“I was, ah…checking my new equipment?” he said.

Shen Wei swept his gaze over the wreckage, his frown deepening as he realised that the mess encompassed the venison he had left marinating for that evening.

“In what way does this constitute preparing the vegetables?” he asked.

Lin Jing swallowed. “I, ah. Enemies on the grounds! I was ensuring our master’s, ah, safety….”

He trailed off. Shen Wei sighed.

“Give me that…device,” he said. “And you will repair this immediately.” He could hear a muffled commotion in the trees, where the last set of men were doubtless discussing what the explosion had been. He knew they had been instructed by their master to wait until late evening for their attack, but he did not wish to risk it interrupting Zhao Yunlan earlier.

Lin Jing passed over his flame-throwing equipment, looking suitably chastened, and started lifting bricks back into place. Shen Wei would, of course, have to finalize these repairs using his powers. He was irritated now, though, and Lin Jing’s creation would allow him to let off steam.

Quite literally, as it happened. The men behind the house had not expected fire and wrath to descend upon them from the trees: they were suitably terrified before their untimely deaths. Shen Wei brushed the soot from his clothes as he landed among their remains. None of their bullets had even touched him. Really, it was ridiculously dramatic to have sent over thirty men to assassinate one aristocrat. Still, if this Mr Fawcett wanted drama, Shen Wei would be sure to provide it.

A brace of quails had been caught in the crossfire and were lying at his feet. He picked them up and considered them, and then stooped to pick up a stray bullet and place it in his pocket. The universe was assisting him, it seemed. He started planning stuffings as he walked back to the house.

The afternoon was more peaceful, until Shen Wei, alerted by the sound of a raised voice, found Zhao Yunlan’s dance teacher storming out of the house and into her carriage. He adjusted his glasses, and went to investigate.

Zhao Yunlan was lounging in one of the wing chairs in the library, pretending to read a book, rather than perfecting his waltz. Shen Wei contemplated him. He could tell from the tilt of Zhao Yunlan’s lips that he knew Shen Wei was watching.

“Was there a problem with the lesson, my lord?” Shen Wei said.

Zhao Yunlan gave a very fake start. “Ah, Shen Wei!” he said. “No problem at all. Madame Dubonnet simply had to leave early today.”

Shen Wei allowed the silence to lengthen. For all his many skills at lying to others, Zhao Yunlan seldom tried, and never succeeded, in lying to his butler.

Zhao Yunlan sighed, in a put-upon way, and slid down in the chair. He gave Shen Wei a beseeching look.

“You know I always refused to learn to dance, in my youth. No-one made me learn then. And I’m very tired today. So many meetings, Shen Wei! And Madame Dubonnet…well. I’m sure she knows what she’s doing. But her style of teaching is more suited for children, than for someone of my advanced years.”

“You have been invited to the Duke of Northumberland’s London ball next week,” Shen Wei observed. “A significant public occasion. And at what you describe as your advanced years, you might reasonably be expected to know some simple dance-steps.”

Zhao Yunlan shut his eyes and sighed again. “We can say I’m indisposed. Or that I’ve gone back into mourning.”

“That,” said Shen Wei, crossing to stand above him, “would be impolite. I employed Madame Dubonnet because it is my job as your butler to remedy any deficiencies in your previous education. So that you can represent the Zhao family name with honour.”

Zhao Yunlan opened his eyes to glare at him. “If it’s so important, you teach me.”

“It seems I shall have to, my lord..” Shen Wei reached out a gloved hand, and easily pulled Zhao Yunlan to his feet, the book falling away, unregarded. Zhao Yunlan’s eyes had widened. He wet his lips.

“Well,” he said. “I do trust your expertise when it comes to…physical activity, Shen Wei. I would be happy to put myself into your hands.”

Ignoring these attempts at innuendo, Shen Wei stepped backwards, taking Zhao Yunlan with him, into the clearer space in the centre of the room. He slipped an arm round Zhao Yunlan’s waist, and arranged him into position.

“I will lead to start with, my lord,” he said. “Try to follow.”

“As always,” Zhao Yunlan murmured, and then yelped as Shen Wei swung them around with practiced ease.

Surprisingly, given his flexibility in other circumstances, Zhao Yunlan was not a good formal dancer. After nearly an hour’s efforts, however, Shen Wei could at least say that he knew the steps, more or less, and would not be a total embarrassment on the dancefloor.

He had been trying to teach, not to tease, but it was also true that Zhao Yunlan was being very easily distracted. His heartrate was considerably more elevated than some fairly sedate dancing should imply, his breath caught when Shen Wei turned him and held him just so, and there was a slight flush on his face. Shen Wei could sense his growing arousal.

“I believe you have the basics now, my lord,” Shen Wei said, stopping them. “Though you seem a little lacking in concentration, if I may say so.”

“With you so close,” Zhao Yunlan said, swaying into him with very clear intent, his eyes dark, “who could hope to concentrate? Imagine what havoc you could wreak on a dancefloor, Shen Wei.” He reached up a hand and brushed Shen Wei’s hair back, fearless.

Such casual intimacy, for which Shen Wei would have instantly slaughtered any other mortal, never ceased to be a surprise.

Zhao Yunlan’s bare hand caressed the side of Shen Wei’s face. “I have a pressing, ah, issue which you could help me with,” he said, fitting his body into Shen Wei’s, his eyes fluttering at the contact.

Shen Wei huffed out a laugh. He was not unmoved himself. His master was charming, and infuriating, and desirable; and Shen Wei wanted to see him undone and begging for mercy.

Besides, Zhao Yunlan would have to change out of these clothes anyway, and they had at least half an hour free, possibly more. Some things might have to wait for later, but plenty could be done in that time. He bent to kiss Zhao Yunlan, carefully, and then less carefully, feeling him groan into his mouth.

“Bedroom,” he suggested, breaking off. He took half a step back, and started slowly pulling off his gloves. Zhao Yunlan tracked the movement, biting his lip.

“Or you could bend me over that table, right there,” he said, his voice lowered. “Though I am still sore from last night. You might hurt me.” He met Shen Wei’s eyes, like a challenge.

“Is that what you’re asking for, my lord?” Shen Wei heard how his own voice was sliding into inhuman registers, and saw Zhao Yunlan remarking it. But rather than the terror with which humans had always traditionally greeted any hint of his true nature, Zhao Yunlan only made a small sound of desire.

“Do your worst,” he said. “I’m asking.”

A few short hours later, Shen Wei drew a chair out for Zhao Yunlan, noting his slight discomfort as he seated himself, with an internal hum of satisfaction. Zhao Yunlan glanced once at him, as he retired to fetch the first course, with a glint of humour that said that he knew exactly what Shen Wei was thinking.

Shen Wei himself felt pleasantly relaxed and sated, though the irritations of the evening were starting to seep through his contentment at the arrangements of the past day.

Their guest observed none of this by-play between his host and the butler. Mr Fawcett was a self-made man who, on paper, had the most extensive silk import business in Britain: a business starting to expand into other fields, and even to encroach on the Zhao family’s interests in luxury goods. In practice, Fawcett & Co. was overextended, heavily in debt, and his use of child slavery had drawn the attention of her Majesty. The very unfavourable attention.

The subsequent, ignored, warning from Zhao Yunlan, and the consequent collapse of most of the Fawcett factories in India, had brought them to this dinner today.

Ostensibly, Fawcett was here to swear he had changed his practices, suggest a merger of some of the Zhao and Fawcett business, and conclude the evening with the first steps towards a mutually profitable agreement.

In reality…well. His intentions had hardly been subtle. Revenge, as both Shen Wei and his master knew, was a long game. Showing up to dinner with a barely concealed gun about one’s person, not to mention the barely concealed Fawcett minions on the estate, was simply poor taste. The man was so boorish that Shen Wei was even starting to regret saving him from Zhu Hong’s efforts to collide with him while holding a tray of champagne glasses, earlier. Though the business information Fawcett was, quite inadvertently, revealing through his boasting was, sadly, useful for future endeavours. Otherwise this charade could have ended shortly after his arrival, with his swift dispatch.

Zhao Yunlan, whose near-perfect table manners had been drilled into him by a cunning system of rewards dreamed up by Shen Wei, was eating his consommé with grace, and occasionally contributing to Fawcett’s ill-bred monologue. There were flecks of soup in Fawcett’s moustache, Shen Wei noted with still more distaste. And he suspected that Fawcett was letting his eyes wander over Zhao Yunlan with more than simple professional interest in the cost of his suit. Shen Wei held himself still, and flexed his fingers rather than curling them into fists.

The courses succeeded one another, Fawcett’s calls for more wine became more and more impolite, and the time drew nigh.

“I am afraid it is a little out of season,” Zhao Yunlan said, eventually, watching Shen Wei set a slice of cake in front of their guest. “But I have a sweet tooth, and a fondness for this particular cake. Shen Wei is an excellent pastry chef, among his other skills, and he does indulge me.”

His eyes flicked to Shen Wei, and then to the clock. It was two minutes to nine. Shen Wei nodded, imperceptibly.

“Galette des Rois,” he said. “A traditional French cake, made with almond cream. Luck comes to the one who finds the favour in his slice.”

“Does it now? Ha!” said Fawcett, downing his very expensive Sauternes and pulling the plate towards him. “Well, it’s a lucky night for one of us at this table, eh?” His gaze fixed on the clock, and then swivelled to Zhao Yunlan. He took a deep breath, and grinned. “Enjoy your last moments, Lord Zhao!”

The clock started striking nine. Nothing happened. Fawcett, his grin rapidly fading, gazed round wildly at the unbroken windows, and the empty doorway. He looked past Shen Wei as though the butler was another piece of furniture, and then stared at Zhao Yunlan, his mouth dropping open, and his face turning red.

“You! What….”

Zhao Yunlan ate a piece of his cake, and then wiped his mouth with his napkin.

“I’m sorry, Fawcett, I think I misheard you,” he said, his face the picture of innocent confusion. “Do try your cake.”

Fawcett gave the cake a dazed look, for a moment. He was visibly trying to readjust his thinking. It was a painful sight. He stuck a fork into his cake, ungraciously, and then froze. He picked at the slice with his fingers, and pulled out a bullet. He stared at it.

“You found the favour!” Zhao Yunlan said. “Of course, we never said what kind of luck accompanied it.”

“You…” said Fawcett, starting to rise from his seat. Shen Wei unobtrusively set a hand on his shoulder, and pushed him back down.

“Are you wondering where your would-be assassins are?” Zhao Yunlan asked, leaning over the table. “They have been, ah, taken care of. Did you really think the Zhao heir would be so naïve, or that Her Majesty employed any less than the best?”

There was a second or two when Fawcett stared at Zhao Yunlan in shock, then he started scrabbling for his gun.

“You bastard! – I’ll—” He pulled the trigger, pointing straight at Zhao Yunlan’s head.

There was a ringing silence after the gunshot. Zhao Yunlan sat back in his chair, and sighed. Fawcett, his eyes bulging, looked at where Shen Wei had materialized, one hand in front of his master. Shen Wei opened his hand, and the bullet fell onto the table.

Fawcett made a kind of choking noise. He stood up, knocking over his chair, and started backing away from the table.

“My butler is really quite extraordinary,” Zhao Yunlan said. “Never forget to pay attention to the servants, Mr Fawcett.”

Shen Wei smiled at Fawcett, with all his teeth, and Fawcett turned and ran for the door, clawing it open and fleeing into the house.

“I thought that meal would never end,” Zhao Yunlan said. “Do you want to let him get far?”

Shen Wei shrugged. “I would prefer he did not distract the staff. Though I note that they were most willing to assist.”

“No need to scare them with the full display, though,” Zhao Yunlan said. “And I can tell you are longing to show him.”

Shen Wei bowed his head. “If you will enable it, my lord.”

Zhao Yunlan shrugged out of his jacket, and rolled up his sleeve. Shen Wei slipped off his glove. The mark on Zhao Yunlan’s arm glowed, bright and compelling.

“Shen Wei,” Zhao Yunlan said. “I command you to kill him.”

The matching mark on Shen Wei’s arm flared into life. He sank into a neat bow, his hand on his heart.

“Yes, my lord,” he said.

“Go,” said Zhao Yunlan. “I’ll catch up.”

Shen Wei nodded his thanks, and went.

Fawcett had only made it to the rotunda, where he was pathetically trying to open one of the locked bedroom doors, and whimpering. If only he’d had more sense, he could have thrown himself out of a window or down to the marbled entrance hall below: he would still have been dead, but it would have been easier on him.

Shen Wei let his true form materialize, stalking through the corridors with shadows trailing behind him. He sent them running round the walls, like black flame.

Fawcett cowered before him. “I’m sorry!” he said. “Lord Zhao, please, help me, I swear I’ll never…”

“No, you won’t,” said Zhao Yunlan, coming up behind Shen Wei. He leaned against the doorway, perfectly at ease.

“If you let me go, I’ll never tell, I’ll repent, I didn’t know, I didn’t—"

“No-one knows,” Zhao Yunlan said. “And no-one tells. Because when they find out, well…Goodnight and goodbye, Fawcett.” He pushed himself off the doorway and started walking down the hall. “Shen Wei, make it quick. I’ll take my coffee in the study.”

Shen Wei hissed his agreement. A little pain and torture wouldn’t have gone amiss, but it was true that the man was deeply boring. He let the shadows grow sharper and deeper, take on substance and edge, dissolving himself into them, and whirling them into a cyclone. Fawcett’s incoherent sounds rose in pitch, and then, eventually, stopped.

“Da Qing and Lin Jing are cleaning the blood out of the carpet,” Shen Wei observed, as he added two lumps of sugar to Zhao Yunlan’s coffee. The carpet might have to be replaced anyway, but it was the effort that counted.

Zhao Yunlan was standing by the bay window, looking out at the night, and fiddling with a cigar.

“And the men in the grounds?” he asked. He took the coffee from Shen Wei, drank it in a couple of swallows, and passed the cup back.

“Already taken care of, my lord.”

“Good, good.” Zhao Yunlan stretched. “I should thank the staff. You all did a fine job today.”

“Hmm.” Shen Wei turned back to his trolley, carefully re-ordering it.

Zhao Yunlan cleared his throat. “You especially, of course, Shen Wei. You were…extraordinary back there. I find it very compelling, when you, ah. When you can let go.”

A rush went through Shen Wei, not of human emotion, but of something not entirely unlike it. One day, Zhao Yunlan would experience what it meant when Shen Wei unleashed himself fully. One day, his beautiful eyes would widen in shock, and fear, and perhaps, Shen Wei was starting to think, in want. And Shen Wei would take his soul, and make him his, forever lost to all else.

For now, though, and for the immediate future...there was also pleasure in anticipation. And revenge was a concept loose enough that it could be endlessly deferred. He straightened. They held each other’s gaze.

“Kiss me,” said Zhao Yunlan. “That’s an order.”

Shen Wei took off his glasses, and set them on the tea tray. He took a step closer. “Yes, my lord,” he said.