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you should see me in a crown

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"You don't think I look ridiculous?"

Shen Wei's expression immediately softens. "Of course not, didi," he says.

Still, Ye Zun can't help but tug self-consciously at the sweater.

Shen Wei's wardrobe is exactly as Ye Zun remembers it; full of blues and greys and comprised almost entirely of suits, slacks, and dressier sweaters. He'd found a lone pair of jeans hiding in the back of Shen Wei's closet like Shen Wei is ashamed of their existence. It had been tempting to wear them – if nothing else than to remind Shen Wei that he apparently owned a pair, but they were loose and entirely unflattering when Ye Zun put them on. It's more than possible that he's lost some weight since his reanimation, or even before that. Once upon a time, he and Shen Wei were identical. Now there's no way they can't be told apart.

In the end, Ye Zun borrows a pair of slate-grey slacks and a light-grey sweater. Neither is anything he would have gravitated towards, personally, but then his and Shen Wei's tastes have never particularly aligned.

"I feel like I'm playing dress-up," Ye Zun says, shoving his hands into his pockets.

He also feels clean  for the first time in months. It's weird. Shen Wei helped him braid his hair, though he's not sure where his brother picked up that particular skill. If he didn't feel so nervous, Ye Zun might have asked.

"You do not look it," Shen Wei says. "I promise."

Ye Zun bites back a sigh. "Then let's just get this thing over with."

Shen Wei jolts, just a little. "You may stay here until dinner if you wish," he says, and Ye Zun's gut starts churning. "If Yunlan's presence makes you uncomfortable -"

"I would feel weirder staying in your bedroom, gege," Ye Zun says. "Least of all the bedroom you share with your boyfriend."

Shen Wei's cheeks pinken ever so slightly the second Ye Zun says 'boyfriend.' It's almost adorable. "If you are certain?"

"Better the devil you know," is all Ye Zun says.

Shen Wei shakes his head ever so slightly. "This way then," he says like Ye Zun didn't walk through the same door less than an hour ago.

It surprises him, just a little, to realise that he's not the only one that's nervous. It both does and doesn't help. But if nothing else, misery loves company, right? If they're both feeling nervous then no one has the upper edge. Well, apart from the obvious one. Shen Wei has his fucking life together, and Ye Zun is...Ye Zun. And always will be.

Zhao Yunlan is doing a poor job of pretending he isn't waiting for them in the other room. He practically perks up when Shen Wei walks out, followed closely by Ye Zun. He gives Shen Wei a besotted look that Ye Zun pretends he can't see before turning his eyes on Ye Zun.

Ye Zun doesn't stiffen. He doesn't  because that would mean he's nervous around Shen Wei's boyfriend, and he's not – SID credentials or no. If anything, Zhao Yunlan  is the one that should be nervous. Ye Zun just needs to write one customer review, then Zhao Yunlan and his little team of resurrection specialists will be in trouble.

Never mind that Ye Zun could have sought them out himself. That's not the point.

Zhao Yunlan bobs his head almost lazily. "All right, now I see the family resemblance."

Ye Zun only just holds back the urge to stick his tongue out at him.

"Zhao Yunlan," Shen Wei says, and that's apparently all it takes for his boyfriend to raise his hands to show that he's backing off. Shen Wei shakes his head, but he still walks over to press a chaste kiss – ew, PDA – to his boyfriend's lips.

Zhao Yunlan looks thoroughly smitten when Shen Wei pulls back. Disgusting.

Ye Zun supposes he should be glad that Shen Wei's boyfriend obviously likes Shen Wei just as much as Shen Wei likes him. Should. He really could have gone without the show, though.

"I need to check on the oven," Shen Wei says, glancing between the two of them before his eyes land on Ye Zun. Will you be all right on your own, he doesn't ask, but the question is clear in his eyes for all to see.

Will he be fine all alone with Shen Wei's little boyfriend? No, Ye Zun will not. But Ye Zun managed to claw his way back to life all on his own. If nothing else, he could fake being fine. He has plenty of practice of that from both of his lives.

Still, Ye Zun settles for shooing at his brother rather than verbalising his answer. If he doesn't speak, then it doesn't count as lying, right?

"We got this, Bao Bei," Zhao Yunlan says as if he somehow has the authority to speak for Ye Zun too.

Shen Wei hesitates just long enough to give Zhao Yunlan an uncertain look before slipping through a doorway that Ye Zun vaguely remembers leading to the kitchen.

A lanky young man walks out of the same doorway a split second later, a piece of dried fish sticking out of his mouth. He stops walking when he notices Ye Zun. His eyes go wide, and his mouth goes just slack enough that the piece of fish falls out and lands right on the previously pristinely clean floor.

Ye Zun has to fight the urge to fuss with his hair. He doesn't know why.

"Oi, Fatty," Zhao Yunlan says, clicking his tongue, "dinner is just around the corner, what are you ruining your appetite for?"

The young man shakes his head – forcibly, almost reminding Ye Zun of a dog shaking itself – before glaring at Zhao Yunlan. "Look at what you made me do?" he says. His voice seems familiar, somehow. "I dropped my fish!"

Zhao Yunlan holds up his hands. "What did I do? He was the one that did it?" He gestures at Ye Zun.

"I'm not gonna blame Prof's guest for anything. I want to be fed tonight," the other says.

Zhao Yunlan rolls his eyes. "Kiss-ass."

It hits Ye Zun then – this is Da Qing's human form. No wonder his voice is familiar.

Da Qing is nothing at all like Ye Zun was imagining him – not, of course, that Ye Zun has taken the time to imagine much of anything where Da Qing is concerned. Until Shen Wei showed up, he wasn't sure whether he was hallucinating the talking bit part about the 'talking cat.' After all, he had already come back from the dead. Losing a good chunk of his sanity is only to be expected, right? Imagining a talking cat would have been the most benign thing his head could have thrown at him.

Still. Da Qing is nothing like  Ye Zun could have imagined him. He's lanky, for one, and wearing overalls. His hair isn't even black! The eyes, though. Those are reminiscent of the cat that Ye Zun had maybe, kind of, somewhat bared his soul to. And is that...is he wearing bells around his neck?

Well, Ye Zun is wearing his brother's cast-offs. Maybe he doesn't have too much of a leg to stand on. Maybe. Not that he would ever admit as much. He still has his pride.

"Clean up nice, do I?" Ye Zun hears himself say.

Da Qing stares at him for a long moment before he blinks and seemingly comes back to himself. "What are you fishing for compliments for?" he says dismissively, though his cheeks are slightly pink.

Curious. Very curious.

And for some reason, Zhao Yunlan is smirking as he looks at them.

Is Ye Zun...missing something here?

Da Qing bristles, not unlike a cat, and points angrily at him. "Not a word out of you!"

Zhao Yunlan throws his head back and laughs.

Oh yes, Ye Zun is definitely being kept out of the loop. He can't say he's a fan.

Da Qing takes this moment to bend down and scoop the fish off the floor. He gives it a long, mournful look before shrugging. Ye Zun can only stare as he bites into it with far sharper teeth than Ye Zun thinks he's seen on any human. Then again...Da Qing isn't human, is he? He's like Ye Zun, only not. Maybe Ye Zun could ask him more about that later – and far away from Shen Wei and his boyfriend. Ye Zun can already tell that he's not going to have the patience to be around the two of them for very long.

"What?" Da Qing says around a mouthful of fish. Considering he's looking right at Ye Zun, he must have noticed Ye Zun's stare. "Prof cleaned here last night. The floors are cleaner than any of the plates Boss used to have in his apartment."

"Hey!" Zhao Yunlan protests.

Da Qing just looks at him. "I've lived with you for years," he says dryly. "Who are you trying to fool here?"

Zhao Yunlan gestures vaguely in Ye Zun's direction.

Da Qing snorts. "Good luck with that, Boss."

"Was he trying to make me think he was a functioning adult?" Ye Zun asks, looking at Da Qing. "Because I stopped thinking that the second I saw what he was wearing."

Da Qing practically perks up. Ye Zun doesn't know what to call the feeling in his chest, only that he doesn't think he's ever felt it before.

"Oh great," Zhao Yunlan says, "there's two of you  now."

Da Qing shrugs, unabashed. "Ribbing is how I show I care."

Zhao Yunlan looks sceptical. He glances at Ye Zun, clearly looking for his input on this.

"I wouldn't tell you even if I was the same," Ye Zun says with relish.

Zhao Yunlan just narrows his eyes further.

Ye Zun doesn't blink. If Zhao Yunlan wants a staring contest, then fine, Ye Zun will give him one.

"Dinner is served," Shen Wei says then, sticking his head out of the kitchen doorway.

Zhao Yunlan abandons the staring contest, which of course means that Ye Zun wins. He pushes himself off the couch and immediately makes for Ye Zun's brother. "You're an angel in disguise, Xiao Wei," he says. "You've saved me from being ganged up on."

Shen Wei smiles. "Then you are all getting along. I am so glad to hear it."

"Didn't you hear me?" Zhao Yunlan is actually pouting  as he clings to Shen Wei's arm. Ugh. "The others are being mean to me."

Shen Wei just pats his hand. "That is simply how didi shows that he cares, A-Lan."

"Gege!"

Shen Wei smiles at him, looking happier than Ye Zun has seen him in literal years. Ye Zun can't help but deflate a little.

"You're ruining my reputation," he mutters anyway.

"I could never," Shen Wei says consolingly.

Ye Zun grimaces at him.

Shen Wei somehow manages to look even happier. It practically hurts to look at him.

Zhao Yunlan shows his first good quality of the evening by not looking jealous in the slightest. Though Ye Zun really could have done without an encore of the besotted look from before.

"Come, didi," Shen Wei says, whose love language has always been caretaking. He even holds out a hand. "The food will get cold."

Ye Zun resolutely jams his hands into the pockets of his borrowed pants. "Fine. But I'm only coming because I'm starving."

Shen Wei just smiles before turning his attention to the last person in the room. "Da Qing?"

Da Qing does them the courtesy of swallowing the last of the fish before answering. "When have I ever turned down your food, Prof?"

"I can think of several times," Zhao Yunlan says with a sharp grin.

"The times when I've come over to find you two being all post-coital and disgusting doesn't count," Da Qing hisses.

Zhao Yunlan laughs.

At least Shen Wei has the decency to look faintly abashed. "A-Lan."

"Sorry, sorry," Zhao Yunlan lies. "I'll tone it down for the in-laws."

"Keep talking like that, and I won't give you my permission to marry gege," Ye Zun says.

Zhao Yunlan gives a very satisfying squawk.

Not as satisfying as the laugh that Da Qing comes with, however. Ye Zun has to physically tear his eyes away from the upwards curl of Da Qing's mouth and the spark in his eyes. What is going on with him today?

"Yes, well," Zhao Yunlan says, clearly floundering, "you won't get my permission either!"

Ye Zun arches an eyebrow, suddenly feeling more alive than he has in months – years. "To marry my own brother? I think the law has you beat there."

Zhao Yunlan opens his mouth, but he never gets the chance to speak.

"Weren't we going to eat? We should eat. I'm starving. You don't want someone to notify the authorities that you aren't feeding your cat, now do you?" Da Qing says, practically talking a mile a minute.

"Whose cat are you," Zhao Yunlan drawls.

Da Qing transforms into the same cat that Ye Zun met – what, only a few hours ago? He widens his eyes and lets out a pitiful miao.

Zhao Yunlan only rolls his eyes. "Faker," he says as he hauls Shen Wei into the kitchen.

Da Qing bounds after them.

There's a commotion and what sounds an awful lot like Zhao Yunlan saying, "No cats allowed at the table!" before Da Qing reappears, once more in human form. "You coming or what?" he asks.

So. This is Ye Zun's life now. Somehow.

Strangely...he doesn't think he minds.

 


 

THE END