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through a mirror, darkly

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This is not Zhao Yunlan's usual route whenever he's stuck on a problem that he can't drink, fuck, or fight his way out of. He usually prowls around his neighbourhood, probably getting mistaken for the spooks and criminals he works tirelessly to keep off the street. Tonight, though, he's stalking a very different part of the city. Dragon City doesn't have an underbelly, so to speak, but it has its grimier spots where locals know better than to linger. For some reason, one of these spots is almost uncomfortably close to Dragon City University – almost directly between Zhao Yunlan's apartment and the campus grounds. Even though the government has tried time and time again to clean up the streets of their beloved city, that spot refuses to come out.

'Out, damned spot; out, I say,' Zhao Yunlan thinks to himself, grinning faintly. And people accused him of not paying attention in class.

His mind is still stuck on the problem that is Shen Wei. Or, no, 'problem' isn't the right word. Shen Wei is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, shrouded by mystery. Zhao Yunlan is usually good at cracking mysteries, but Shen Wei seems determined to stay unknowable. Zhao Yunlan really wishes it wasn't as attractive on him as it is. Shen Wei is already breathtakingly beautiful; he doesn't need the additional 'intrigue' to draw people to him. And yet...

And yet Zhao Yunlan can't help but be drawn to him anyway – not in spite of Shen Wei's secrecy, but because of it. Zhao Yunlan wants to unravel all of Shen Wei's secrets until there's nothing between them but honesty, as scary as the thought is. And considering Zhao Yunlan has never had a meaningful romantic relationship in his life...that's pretty damn terrifying. Shen Wei, as always, continues to be the exception to every rule.

Zhao Yunlan kicks a rock, listening more than watching it skitter across the pavement. There's a change in the sound as the rock bounces against something else – a nearby building, a trashcan, a streetlight, who knows what.

The sound that follows, however, can only mean one thing. There's a commotion down the alley to his left, signalling an encounter of the not-friendly kind.

Zhao Yunlan entertains the thought, if only for a moment, of ignoring it. It's late, after all, and while he is a cop, he's not the 'regular' kind, and his life is complicated enough without butting into other people's business. But who is he trying to kid? There's only one way this is going to end. He's too curious for his own good, is the thing. And even though he isn't a regular cop, he's still an officer of the law. He might be short a gun of the evening, not to mention his whip, but he will hopefully need neither. Most wannabe thugs – drunk or otherwise – turned tail and ran as soon as he raised his voice or flashed his badge. And the latter he does happen to have in his pocket. And Da Qing accuses him of never being prepared. Hah!

He creeps into the alleyway, glad for the soft soles of his boots muffling his footsteps. In case he's wrong about what kind of encounter this is, they'll be of great help if he needs to sneak off again.

Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear that Zhao Yunlan isn't wrong about the cause of the disturbance. The alleyway isn't brightly lit by any definition of the word, but there's just enough light that he can see three figures – and two of them are clearly putting on an intimidating act for the third. Great. Just what Zhao Yunlan needs. Hopefully, it's just a couple of kids bored out of their minds who decided to bully some poor passer-by for fun. Maybe, if Zhao Yunlan is lucky, no one has been stupid enough to bring a weapon.

Zhao Yunlan steps lightly, moving towards the wall rather than deeper into the alley. It gives him a better view of the situation. The two-bit acts look like any other muggers Zhao Yunlan has arrested over the years. Their target, however, looks about as out of place as Zhao Yunlan does whenever he visits Dragon City University. Speaking of. That back looks very familiar... But surely Shen Wei wouldn't wander down darkened alleyways? He has a better sense of self-preservation than that, doesn't he? This is just some random hapless fool in a suit.

"Hey, would you look at that?" one of the would-be muggers says then, voice tinged with greed. "What's that, jade? Agate?"

"Whatever it is, it looks expensive," the other one says.

"How about you give us that too, friend?" the first one says, and Zhao Yunlan doesn't like the way he says 'friend.'

Zhao Yunlan is getting ready to step in when everything changes. One of the would-be muggers reaches out towards the third, and the very air seems to still.

The third figure must have moved while Zhao Yunlan blinked because they now have their hand wrapped tightly around the mugger's wrist. "That is not something the likes of you may touch."

Zhao Yunlan feels his eyes widen. That is Shen Wei's voice. Unmistakably so.

Only. That is not  how Shen Wei's voice usually sounds.

That is a voice from the void, the voice of a thousand tortured souls, pulled from the deepest, darkest pit of hell and let loose upon the world. It chills him to the bone – so much so that it takes him a second to realise that the chill isn't just psychological. His breath is actually visible in the air around him, as though the temperature suddenly dropped below zero. The hairs at the back of his neck are standing on end. His goosebumps have goosebumps.

And Shen Wei has only just begun.

There is a sickly squelch – the sound of bone and flesh being rent, one Zhao Yunlan wishes he was less familiar with. Then one of the muggers is screaming.

"My hand!" he screams. "My hand! "

The mugger falls to his knees, one hand clenched tightly around his other wrist. All that remains of his right hand is now a stump. Shen Wei's form seems larger than it was a moment ago, and darker. In fact, the entire alleyway seems darker. Narrower too, like the walls are closing in around them. Zhao Yunlan feels himself trying to squint to see better, even though he knows he should be looking away.

The other mugger, understandably spooked and probably scared for his life, tries to run for it. He doesn't get very far. Shen Wei raises his hand, and a shrill shriek rings out as the mugger is lifted clean off the ground. The shriek sounds off, somehow, like it should be bouncing off the walls and echoing outwards, but that something is stopping it. Even in the low light, Zhao Yunlan can see dark tendrils wrapping themselves around the man's body and keeping him afloat.

"I would have let you walk away," Shen Wei says, his voice low and colder than the air around them. He steps – no, hovers closer. When did he start levitating? "Humanity, however, continues to disappoint. You are too greedy, too quick to hunger for what is not yours to take."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" the other mugger cries. "Just let me go, man! You can have all your stuff back!"

"I fear it is far too late for that."

The darkness grows, pressing closer – not just around Zhao Yunlan but the mugger as well. It somehow seems to take on a voice of its own, and it is loud  and hungry. The mugger screams louder, begging desperately, though Zhao Yunlan can't quite make out the words because, somehow, the darkness is louder.

There's another squelching sound and, just like that, the mugger stops screaming. The fog around him dissipates, and Zhao Yunlan almost stumbles back when the thick, cloying scent of blood hits him in the face. He can only stare in shock as body parts start dropping to the ground. Zhao Yunlan doesn't think he'll ever forget the meaty, almost slick thuds that the limbs make as they hit the ground. He's never wanted to unsee anything as badly as he does right now.

The first mugger screams something, maybe his friend's name, but Zhao Yunlan is too busy staring to listen. Shen Wei's head is turned for the first time, and Zhao Yunlan finally gets a good look at his face.

It's Shen Wei, but it doesn't look  like Shen Wei. He's cloaked in darkness itself, and he somehow seems...taller than before. Skinnier too, though maybe that's not the right word for it. Stretched thin, maybe, like his skin has been pulled tight over his bones and lost all colour. His eyes look milky – as if death has long since claimed him. Or rather, since Shen Wei can only be one entity, since he has become Death. Zhao Yunlan doesn't need to check his watch to know it's glowing red.

"My apologies," Shen Wei says. Zhao Yunlan finds himself unable to look away from his mouth as he speaks. The lips, once rosy and inviting, are bloodless, and his teeth look razor-sharp. His words belong to the quiet professor that Zhao Yunlan has been trying to coax out of his shell, but his tone does not. "I believe my temper got the better of me."

"Y-you – monster!"

"I fear it is not quite so simple," Shen Wei says. His mouth opens unnaturally wide, and Zhao Yunlan sees his tongue for the first time – as long and stretched thin as Shen Wei himself. "I am what monsters fear."

The scream that follows is cut short as the shadows enveloping Shen Wei descend on the mugger. The moment seems to take both seconds and hours. When the shadows recede, there is nothing left on the asphalt but a dark smear.

Zhao Yunlan isn't breathing. He doesn't know when he last drew air, only that it must have been some time ago. His heart is pounding so loudly it's a wonder it hasn't given him away by now.

Shen Wei slowly lowers himself back onto the ground. His hands are cupped in front of his chest, like he's cradling something in them. Shen Wei spreads his fingers just enough that a glimmer of bright light shines through. Zhao Yunlan nearly has to raise a hand to shield his eyes. He doesn't know how Shen Wei can stand looking at it directly.

"I have you, Kunlun," Shen Wei whispers, voice so low that Zhao Yunlan can barely hear him. "You are safe."

Zhao Yunlan doesn't mean to. He flinches back a step, his shoes scuffing against the asphalt of the now too–quiet alleyway.

The oppressive darkness bears down on him in an instant. He raises his arms in an instinctive desire to protect himself – though what hope does he have against something he can't touch? And then, just as quickly, the darkness is gone.

"Zhao Yunlan?"

For a moment, Zhao Yunlan doesn't dare to move. At least the scare has gotten him breathing again, however tentatively.

He's afraid to look. He can't look.

He can't not look.

It's Shen Wei, in all his usual glory. He's even wearing the same clothes he was the last time Zhao Yunlan saw him. There's not a speck of blood or viscera on him anywhere, though Zhao Yunlan can't imagine how that's even possible. Shen Wei should be covered in the stuff, shouldn't he? Maybe not from the second mugger, but the first? He'd been so close. Some of it must have  gotten onto his clothing. And yet...

"Shen Wei? Is that you?" he hears himself say. Somehow, he manages to lower his arms with some semblance of normalcy, even though he doesn't know what to do with them now. Do they look weird just hanging there? He shoves his hands into his pockets and takes a few steps away from the wall. "Wow, it sure is dark here, isn't it?" he says, looking around. He only just remembers to keep his eyes above the level of...well. The unmentionables further into the alley. "Wouldn't want to be caught alone in this here alleyway, would you?"

The pause that follows is somehow more chilling than the touch of cold that still lingers in the air. Zhao Yunlan forces his hands to stay still, to keep himself from reaching for a weapon that isn't even there, even though he's burning  with the need to move.

"No," Shen Wei finally says, and somehow his mild tone almost puts Zhao Yunlan more on edge, "I suppose not."

"Fancy meeting you here," Zhao Yunlan says, forcing himself not to react to the false cheer in his own voice. "This is a bit out of your way, isn't it, Professor?"

"A bit out of yours as well, I imagine," Shen Wei says in that familiar mild tone. Zhao Yunlan doesn't know whether to scream or cry. "I was taking a stroll."

The pause that follows is clearly for Zhao Yunlan to fill – probably with what he, himself, is doing in this place.

"Cat," Zhao Yunlan blurts, trying and failing to keep his voice even, just a little. Shen Wei hopefully doesn't notice. "I was out. Buying food for the cat."

Shen Wei just looks at him. If he knows that Zhao Yunlan is lying...well, if Shen Wei knows that Zhao Yunlan is lying, then why hasn't Zhao Yunlan been reduced to a mess all over the nearest wall? Shen Wei has demonstrated what he does to people who offend him.

"Da Qing is lucky to have you," Shen Wei says, finally.

Zhao Yunlan forces a laugh. "So I keep telling him."

The tiniest of wrinkles appears between Shen Wei's eyes. "Zhao Yunlan. Is everything all right?"

No, I just saw you kill two people because they tried to rob you, Zhao Yunlan thinks to himself. I don't think I'll ever be ok.

"Of course," he says instead, lying as easy as breathing. Or easier, perhaps. It's still a little hard to breathe. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Shen Wei doesn't answer. He just looks at Zhao Yunlan, his gaze somehow both fathomless and hungry. Zhao Yunlan's heart starts pounding in his chest, and for once...he's not quite sure what might be causing it.

"I should head back," Zhao Yunlan hears himself say. "Before Da Qing starts wondering where I am."

Shen Wei doesn't speak. There's a long, drawn-out pause before he gives a slow nod.

Zhao Yunlan doesn't let himself wonder if Shen Wei believed him or not. That is irrelevant. Shen Wei is letting him go. That's all that matters right now. He can worry about everything else later.

"Good night, Professor." He raises a hand and forces himself to give a little wave.

Are Zhao Yunlan's eyes deceiving him, or does Shen Wei's grip tighten around his bag? Zhao Yunlan hopes it's the former. "Good night, Zhao Yunlan."

As he turns around, Zhao Yunlan tells himself that he isn't running, and he doesn't care that he's lying.


He freezes. His hand moves to his holster, the one he isn't wearing. He forces himself to cross his arms in the hope of looking...somewhat normal.

"You dropped this," Shen Wei says. His footsteps seem to echo as he gets closer and closer still.

Zhao Yunlan has to turn around. That would only be polite – and in character for him. Not wanting to look at Shen Wei's beautiful face would raise far more questions than Zhao Yunlan has it in him to answer now. So Zhao Yunlan makes sure he's smiling when he turns on his heel, praying that he's not gripping his arms as tightly as he thinks he is.

Shen Wei is standing only a few steps away, holding out a hand towards him. Zhao Yunlan means to look at it, but his eyes catch on the hollow of Shen Wei's throat instead. He has never seen Shen Wei with a single button undone, let alone however many must have come undone for his necklace to be showing the way it is. Hanging from a thick black cord is a golden orb that glows with an almost unnatural light. How could the muggers mistake it for a precious stone? It's clearly something else, something otherworldly.

Zhao Yunlan tears his eyes away and forces himself to smile wider. "You're a gem, Professor," he hears himself say, reaching out blindly to take what is in Shen Wei's hand. His fingers brush against Shen Wei's skin – which has always been a little too cold to the touch, and now Zhao Yunlan knows why.

He opens his mouth to thank Shen Wei blindly but stops. Something has changed in the mere seconds Zhao Yunlan wasn't looking at his face. It dawns on him in an instant.

Shen Wei knows.

And what more? He knows that Zhao Yunlan knows.

Well. Shit.

Zhao Yunlan can't help but picture Shen Wei changing forms and dealing with him like he dealt with the muggers. Or, no, Shen Wei would make it more personal, wouldn't he? He wouldn't have his shadows strip the meat from Zhao Yunlan's bones. He would press Zhao Yunlan against something – the wall, the ground, whichever was closest. He'd get close, close enough to touch, and then he would use his tongue and teeth. And Zhao Yunlan...probably wouldn't even scream.

Shen Wei's hand drops slowly to rest against his side, fingers curled in like he's still holding on to something. "Zhao Yunlan." Shen Wei has always said his name with some emotion that Zhao Yunlan keeps struggling to identify. It seems somehow even more indecipherable now. "I would never harm you."

"What makes me so different from the other two?" Zhao Yunlan hears himself say in a fit of stupidity. Considering who Shen Wei is, he's the last person Zhao Yunlan should be pissing off! It is, in fact, a wonder that Zhao Yunlan hasn't pissed him off before, considering how he's been acting. Shen Wei must have the patience of a saint. Or maybe...just hard limits. Like his necklace. Like Kunlun.

Shen Wei's face falls. Zhao Yunlan finds himself genuinely surprised to see it. "The fact that you need to ask that question troubles me, Yunlan."

Zhao Yunlan. Troubles the Great Ghost Slayer. It's almost painful not to let himself collapse into hysterical laughter.

"Really?" he hears himself say instead. "You would say that to me? Even knowing that I know now? Even knowing what I saw?"

Shen Wei doesn't speak. Zhao Yunlan doesn't know why he's even surprised.

"Shen Wei. Why."

Something shifts across Shen Wei's face. Zhao Yunlan knows that expression. He's about to be lied to – and poorly at that.

"Please," Zhao Yunlan presses out through his teeth. "You went against the Guardian Token. Why would you do that? What would be worth that?"

"Who," Shen Wei says. And then, "You."

What? Zhao Yunlan is thoroughly confused. "Shen Wei -"

"This is not the place for this conversation," Shen Wei cuts in far too smoothly.

"Well, you've made it the place," Zhao Yunlan says, spreading his arms. He's still gripping whatever-it-is that Shen Wei handed to him. It wouldn't surprise him if it was all a ploy to get Zhao Yunlan to turn around and that he is, in fact, just holding a rock. As long as it's not a piece of the now-dead muggers, Zhao Yunlan honestly doesn't care. "Now deal with it."

Shen Wei looks away then. Zhao Yunlan doesn't know why, but he feels unmoored all of a sudden. "My home is not far," Shen Wei says after a pause that likely feels far longer than it is. "We may continue there."

"What a coincidence," Zhao Yunlan says like he doesn't know exactly where Shen Wei lives. "My place isn't far either."

There is something in Shen Wei's eyes when he looks at him again, something that looks almost...knowing? Does Shen Wei...know...that Zhao Yunlan and Da Qing broke into his place? Considering who Shen Wei wouldn't surprise Zhao Yunlan in the slightest.

"But really? You're ok with leaving all of this," Zhao Yunlan finds himself moving to gesture deeper into the alleyway and only just stops himself in time, "behind?"

Shen Wei just looks at him. "All of what, Zhao Yunlan?"

Zhao Yunlan opens his mouth and then stops. The scent of blood and death has disappeared. Not faded, or gotten less, but disappeared altogether. When did that happen? How  did that happen?

On second thought, maybe Zhao Yunlan doesn't want to know.

"Fine," he says. "Lead the way, Professor."

Shen Wei nods decisively and starts walking. It is far, far too easy to fall back into step with him, like nothing between them has changed, like the past few minutes never happened.

Zhao Yunlan finds himself struggling to keep his eyes ahead. His eyes keep drifting in Shen Wei's direction, even more so when he sees Shen Wei raising one of his hands to his throat to, undoubtedly, button his shirt up again. He has questions, far more than Shen Wei would likely ever answer, knowing him. But that doesn't stop Zhao Yunlan from wanting to ask them. Answers can be gleaned as much from nonverbal cues as spoken words. It wouldn't be difficult to get more answers than Shen Wei would probably like him to have. And therein lies the problem. Shen Wei must have been lying to him for a reason. It might even be a good reason, or several of them. It doesn't mean that Zhao Yunlan has to like it.

It's tempting to text Da Qing and let him know what's going on. Maybe without including all the details, like Shen Wei going off-book back there.

While the thought is there, his phone remains in his pocket as they walk through the gates, approach their building, and eventually make it to their floor. Zhao Yunlan glances over at the closed door opposite while Shen Wei pulls his keys out of his bag. Should he make a show of them being neighbours or continue as he has?

Shen Wei has the door open before Zhao Yunlan can make up his mind. He looks back at Zhao Yunlan before stepping inside.

Zhao Yunlan can do nothing but follow.

Inside Shen Wei's apartment is exactly as Zhao Yunlan remembers it. And why wouldn't it be? He and Da Qing were there only days before. And yet, it feels like it happened so long ago.

"Please," Shen Wei says once they've taken off their shoes and left the entryway. Zhao Yunlan tries not to think about the weapons and tools that are mere feet away, across the hallway. "Have a seat."

Zhao Yunlan walks over to the couch and plops himself down somewhere in the middle. He doesn't know how he feels when Shen Wei takes a seat in the armchair. A day ago – an hour ago, even, he would have been disappointed by the distance. Now? Now Zhao Yunlan doesn't know how he feels about, well, anything.

"So," he says, spreading his arms over the back of the couch, "how about that talk, Professor?"

"Will you ever use my name again, Zhao Yunlan?"

Zhao Yunlan feels himself blinking. not how he thought this was going to go.

"I've been using your name," he says, somehow not sounding quite as sure as he'd like.

"You have been using my title," Shen Wei says. "One of them."

Well, at least Shen Wei isn't going to lie about his double life. Or not that part of it, anyway.

"Shen Wei." Zhao Yunlan leans forward and only just stops himself from reaching out. "It was unintentional, I promise."

Or, at the very least, an unconscious decision.

Shen Wei looks more troubled than comforted by his words. Zhao Yunlan doesn't know why that bothers him. It shouldn't. He doesn't know Shen Wei, not really, not well enough that Shen Wei should have been in his every waking and sleeping thought. And yet, Shen Wei has been. But the fact that Shen Wei has been lying to him is no longer the most troubling part about him. What he's been lying about is a whole different ballgame.

"But is that really what we should be talking about?"

Shen Wei sighs and takes off his glasses. Zhao Yunlan can't look away from Shen Wei's hands as he lowers the glasses onto the coffee table. He's always liked Shen Wei's hands. He's fantasised about them more than once, and now he can't help but wonder what Shen Wei would look like while he was licking blood off his fingertips.

"I will not attempt to dissuade you from doing what you feel must be done," Shen Wei says.

It takes Zhao Yunlan a second to understand what Shen Wei is implying. "Shen Wei." He wouldn't be surprised if he was gaping, just a little. "I'm not going to report you to the Kings of Hell."

Shen Wei frowns. "Whyever not?"

"Because you're the Ghost Slayer, and they're them?" Zhao Yunlan snorts. "What do I care for them? I care about you."

Shen Wei's hands dig into his knees, skin white on the knuckles. Zhao Yunlan resists the urge to reach out and stop him.

"You should not," Shen Wei says.

"Shouldn't...?" Zhao Yunlan prompts when Shen Wei doesn't continue.

"Care. About me."

"It's a little late for that, Professor. Shen Wei," he corrects.

Shen Wei lowers his gaze. "You should not bend the rules for my sake, Zhao Yunlan, let alone break them."

"Oh, don't get me wrong, Shen Wei, I am not condoning what you did. They were thugs, lowlifes, sure, but still human. You shouldn't have. And I think you know that." Zhao Yunlan tries to catch his eyes, to no avail. "Want to elaborate more on why you did  do that?"

Somehow, Shen Wei manages to tighten the grip on his knees.

"You said that it wasn't what was worth it, but who?" Zhao Yunlan leans back a little, throwing one leg over the other. If he starts picking at a loose thread at the hem of his pants, well, he's always liked having something to do with his hands. "And you said it was me? But I don't see what I have to do with what happened back there?"

Shen Wei's grip goes slack. He sighs softly before raising his head. "You are not ready to know."

Zhao Yunlan almost chokes on air. "You've got to be kidding me."

"Zhao Yunlan -"

"I am a grown man!" Zhao Yunlan protests.

"This has nothing to do with age, Zhao Yunlan," Shen Wei says, sounding almost firm.

Zhao Yunlan can't help it. He laughs. "It's been a while since someone called me inexperienced."

Shen Wei blinks at him.

"Ah. Never mind." He sometimes forgets that Shen Wei doesn't respond to – or perhaps doesn't recognise – innuendos.

"You are," Shen Wei says, frowning ever so slightly. "In this, most everyone would be inexperienced."

"And what exactly is 'this,' Shen Wei?"

"Zhao Yunlan -"

"Convince me." Zhao Yunlan licks his lips. "Convince me that I shouldn't take this to the Kings of Hell, Shen Wei. And none of this 'experience' talk. You're not my dad."

Shen Wei's mouth purses briefly. "This is beyond me, Zhao Yunlan."

"Beyond you?" Zhao Yunlan doesn't care that he sounds as incredulous as he feels.

But Shen Wei only nods.

"Who or what would be beyond you?"

Shen Wei doesn't answer. There's something in his eyes, though, something almost desperate. Whatever is going on, he really doesn't want Zhao Yunlan to know.

"So you're not going to tell me how Kunlun and I are connected?"

Shen Wei's eyes go wide with panic.

"Oh yeah," Zhao Yunlan says with false confidence, "I heard you say his name before. I wouldn't have made the connection without you, Shen Wei."

"Do not."

Zhao Yunlan's breath catches in his chest. Shen Wei's voice isn't quite like it was in the alley, but it's close. Shen Wei must realise it too because he closes his eyes, and when he speaks next, his voice has lost that hint of deadly chill.

"This is not something you should pursue, Zhao Yunlan."

"I never pursue anything lightly, Shen Wei."

"No, Zhao Yunlan," Shen Wei says firmly. "You should not pursue it at all."

"The more you tell me not to, the more I'm going to want to, Shen Wei," Zhao Yunlan tells him.

Shen Wei stands so quickly and so smoothly that Zhao Yunlan doesn't have time to react. He stares down at Zhao Yunlan, and Zhao Yunlan tries not to get caught up in the unhindered view of his eyelashes. "You will not," he says, "pursue this."

Zhao Yunlan's heart is beating faster again, but different than before. He swallows.

Shen Wei's eyes drop briefly to his throat before going back to meet Zhao Yunlan's. Is Zhao Yunlan imagining things, or are his pupils wider than before?

"Report me if you wish," he says, "as long as you promise me you will not pursue this matter."

"Ah, Shen Wei." Zhao Yunlan pushes himself to his feet. "Didn't I already tell you? I don't care about the Kings of Hell. I care about you."

Shen Wei visibly sucks in a breath.

Zhao Yunlan wonders, briefly, how that works. For Shen Wei to be the Ghost Slayer, he can't be alive, but he certainly does a good job of faking it. He even has the autonomous breathing down pat.

It's funny. They say the more beautiful a ghost is, the deadlier it is. And Shen Wei, well, he's always been beautiful. Maybe his ghost form is not exactly what people might expect if they knew that Shen Wei is more than just a professor, but he's still Shen Wei.

"Is that really so surprising, Shen Wei?"

Shen Wei doesn't answer, but then he doesn't need to. His feelings are written all over his face.

"But I frighten you," he says before Zhao Yunlan can ask if he's somehow  been too subtle with his feelings.

"A lot of things frighten me, Shen Wei." Zhao Yunlan looks at him through lidded eyes. "Hong-jie, doing my taxes, the grocery store Auntie. You're not special in that regard."

Shen Wei looks blatantly sceptical.

"Don't worry, Xiao Wei. You're special in other ways."

The blood drains from Shen Wei's face. "What did you call me?"

Something that Shen Wei clearly didn't want to hear. "Nothing that I'll be repeating," Zhao Yunlan says. "I can read the room, Professor."

Shen Wei still looks utterly floored. Zhao Yunlan is tempted to offer to help him sit back down. He kind of looks like he needs it.

"You..." Shen Wei trails off. He shakes his head and sits down on his own. Zhao Yunlan stands around awkwardly for another minute or so before taking a seat as well.

"Maybe seeing more of you like that will desensitise me," Zhao Yunlan hears himself say in a fit of insanity.

Considering the look he sends Zhao Yunlan, Shen Wei clearly shares the sentiment. "Zhao Yunlan," he says firmly, "no."

"Yes," Zhao Yunlan hears himself say. He's not that surprised. He's always been a contrary guy. Being told he can't do something has only ever pushed him to try and find a way to do it anyway. "I've only seen that version of you when you were in the middle of..." Zhao Yunlan trails off. "I think it would help if I saw it in a controlled environment. Repeatedly."

"Zhao Yunlan."

"Shen Wei," Zhao Yunlan returns.

The look on Shen Wei's face makes it clear that he knows what Zhao Yunlan is doing. Well, that makes one of them. He knows he can't see Shen Wei like that and not start to hyperventilate. That might be why the Ghost Slayer has been shielding his face for as long as Zhao Yunlan has known him – coupled, of course, with him trying to keep his other identity a secret. But repeated exposure is a tried and tested way to get rid of fear. Zhao Yunlan knows he read that somewhere.

"You won't hurt me, right?" Zhao Yunlan challenges him. "Then you won't have a problem with proving it."

Shen Wei clenches his jaw.

The gust of cold air almost blows Zhao Yunlan into the back of the couch. Between one blink and the next, the professor has been replaced by the Ghost Slayer in all his glory. Only, his face is completely hidden by the shadows of his hood. Zhao Yunlan sighs.

"Shen Wei." He tries not to focus on how visibly taller Shen Wei is like this, even while they're sitting down. If there are any notable changes to his hands, Zhao Yunlan can't tell. Shen Wei has them neatly tucked away. "You know this isn't what I meant."

Somehow, Zhao Yunlan can feel Shen Wei's stare even through the darkness that obscures his features. It is not a particularly nice stare.

"I can take it."

"Zhao Yunlan."

Zhao Yunlan loses his breath for a second time. There it is, the voice from the deep. It's somehow different up close, though he can't explain why. It rattles through him, setting off senses that Zhao Yunlan can't even name.

Even the sigh that Shen Wei releases sounds different in this form. "This is why I did not wish to do this."

"Don't change back," Zhao Yunlan blurts out.

Shen Wei visibly stills, clearly in the middle of preparing to do just that.

"It was just a surprise," Zhao Yunlan says. "I'm fine now. See?"

"I can still smell your fear, Zhao Yunlan." Shen Wei's dry tone is different like this but still recognisable. During Zhao Yunlan's previous interactions with the Ghost Slayer, he's always sounded polite and distant, so he's never heard this much emotion in the Ghost Slayer's voice before. He would be more fascinated by that if Shen Wei's words hadn't decided to crash down on him just then.

"You can..."

Shen Wei doesn't wait for him to elaborate. "Yes, Zhao Yunlan."

He swallows. "Everyone is a little scared of the unknown, Shen Wei," he says, voice a little hoarser than it needs to be. "But we can change that, can't we?"

Zhao Yunlan doesn't have to see Shen Wei's expression to know that there are few things he'd like to do less than that. But his shoulders slump ever so slightly, and Zhao Yunlan knows that he has won.

Slowly, Zhao Yunlan starts to scoot closer until he hits the couch arm.

Shen Wei keeps staring at him all the while.

Zhao Yunlan smiles and only just resists the urge to drape himself seductively over the couch arm. There is a time and place, and this is probably neither. "There you are."

Shen Wei's sigh is almost weary.

"Can I see your hands?" he asks before Shen Wei can speak.

Zhao Yunlan cannot help but feel like he's being judged, just a little. Still, Shen Wei reluctantly stops hiding his hands in his sleeves. Zhao Yunlan would ask how a cloak of darkness works, exactly, or even if he can touch it, but something tells him that this isn't the time. Maybe he can ask another day, like when Shen Wei has stopped being so scared for him.

Shen Wei's hands are the same bloodless colour that Zhao Yunlan remembers his face being. They're bigger too, the fingers longer. The tips look pointed rather than rounded, and Zhao Yunlan can't help but picture Shen Wei sinking his fingers into someone's chest and pulling their heart out to eat it. The blood is darker near the heart. His fingers would look like they were dipped in ink instead. Would Shen Wei even need to bite into the organ, considering how far Zhao Yunlan knows he can open his mouth? Or could he just tip his head back and swallow it whole?

But those thoughts are probably best left for another day. Unless Zhao Yunlan wants to make his heart race even faster.

For something, anything, to do, Zhao Yunlan reaches out and touches the pads of his fingers to the back of Shen Wei's hand. A small shudder goes through Shen Wei. Shen Wei's skin is even colder like this. Zhao Yunlan supposes he shouldn't be surprised by that.

Something occurs to him then. "Has no one touched you like this?" Zhao Yunlan looks up, even though he knows he has no hope in meeting Shen Wei's eyes like this.

There is a long pause before Shen Wei says, "Not in a long time," voice low and hoarse.

"I'm sorry," Zhao Yunlan says. He keeps his hand where it is, though. Shen Wei hasn't asked him to remove it yet.

The hood shifts when Shen Wei moves his head ever so slightly. It's more than a little baffling to be sitting here like this – not just with the Ghost Slayer, but Shen Wei too. Zhao Yunlan had been bracing himself for a long courtship to try and get Shen Wei to come out of his shell. It feels a little like he signed up for a marathon only to realise halfway through that it was a sprint.

"You have no reason to apologise to me, Zhao Yunlan," Shen Wei says, shaking Zhao Yunlan out of his thoughts.

Considering Zhao Yunlan has broken into the man's apartment and rooted through his stuff, and that's just the tip of the iceberg, he probably owes Shen Wei more than just an apology. But that can probably be left for some other time. "Well," he says instead, "anytime you want someone to touch you, I graciously volunteer."

"Zhao Yunlan," Shen Wei says, voice full of reproach.

"What? I'm not joking."

Shen Wei pulls back his hands, tucking them back into whatever darkness he was hiding them in before. "You should not wish to touch me."

Zhao Yunlan starts tapping his fingers against his knee to give himself something else to focus on. His fingers still feel a little like they're tingling even though he isn't touching Shen Wei anymore. "I've never been good at doing what people tell me to do. And vice versa. You may have noticed."

Shen Wei's silence is the only answer Zhao Yunlan needs.

"I don't want to be scared of you, Shen Wei," he says, trying for another angle. "Will you help me?"

Considering the set of Shen Wei's shoulders under that cloak, Zhao Yunlan is actually surprised when the shadows melt away from his face. And there he is, the monster from the alleyway. Only, Shen Wei could never be something as mundane as a monster. He's Shen Wei  – and, under the glare of a modern lightbulb, not nearly as scary as he was in that alleyway.

The same features are still there in his face, just exaggerated to an almost grotesque degree. His angles are sharper, his eyes almost impossibly wide. And his mouth, well. Zhao Yunlan should probably not focus too much on that  for, ah, obvious reasons. Zhao Yunlan finds himself reaching out before he realises that he should probably ask for permission.

Surprisingly, Shen Wei doesn't stop him. Not even when Zhao Yunlan touches his fingertips to the sharp angle of his cheekbone, or when Zhao Yunlan shifts to cup his cheek.

Shen Wei is harder to read like this, with pupilless eyes and bloodless cheeks, but he's still there, underneath it all. And Zhao Yunlan has been doing his best to learn Shen Wei in the time they've known each other.

There is something vulnerable in looking at Shen Wei like this, Zhao Yunlan realises then. This is Shen Wei when his walls are down, even though he's still clinging to his secrets like a lifeline. In many ways, this is the most intimate they've been.

For a moment, because he's Zhao Yunlan, he can't help but wonder what it would be like to kiss Shen Wei like this. Would he be able to feel Shen Wei's sharp teeth? And his tongue. What would that feel like while Zhao Yunlan is kissing him? How long is it? How dexterous?

"Zhao Yunlan." Shen Wei sounds scandalized.

"Sorry." Zhao Yunlan forces the thoughts out of his head. He pulls his hand back too, just to be on the safe side. "It's you."

Shen Wei just stares at him, as if not understanding Zhao Yunlan's response.

"Yes," Zhao Yunlan elaborates. "Even like this, it's you. And you know how I am around you by now."

"I cannot." Shen Wei shifts back as he stands, already moving to walk away. Zhao Yunlan only just manages to grab his arm in time to stop him.

"I'm sorry," he says, trying not to sound like he's jamming his ribcage into the couch arm to keep Shen Wei from running away from him, no matter how true it is. "I came on too strong."

"That is not -" Shen Wei cuts himself off.

Zhao Yunlan forces himself to stay silent.

Shen Wei sighs. He turns back to face him, and Zhao Yunlan reluctantly allows himself to drop his hand. It's tempting to rub at his ribs to soothe the faint sting, but Zhao Yunlan ignores it.

"I do not trust myself around you, Zhao Yunlan."

Zhao Yunlan arches his eyebrows. "What do you call this?" He gestures between them.

"A near-disaster," Shen Wei says. Somehow, Zhao Yunlan thinks he means it.

"Hey," Zhao Yunlan protests. "It wasn't that bad."

Shen Wei's incredulous stare is better like this, if only because now Zhao Yunlan can see his large and expressive eyes properly.

"I would never intentionally harm you, Zhao Yunlan."

Zhao Yunlan tries for a smile to cover up the fact that his heart skipped another beat. "Someone's singing a different tune."

Shen Wei purses his mouth. "You have never been noticeably aroused around me in that form."

Zhao Yunlan lost his ability to feel shame somewhere around the time he lost his virginity. Or so he thought. "You -"

"Yes." Shen Wei has never looked more awkward. "I sensed that as well."

"Can you sense everything when you're like that?" Zhao Yunlan says, trying for a joke and not quite making the landing.

"Not everything," Shen Wei says, and then doesn't elaborate.

Zhao Yunlan can't say he's too thrilled that Shen Wei is still keeping his statements as vague as possible. It's definitely not going to help Zhao Yunlan in his quest to be less of an absolute fool around Shen Wei.

He licks his lips. "Can you...always sense what I'm feeling?"

"Not always," Shen Wei says and once again doesn't elaborate.

Well, Zhao Yunlan can't say he's surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised.

"Come on, Shen Wei," he says, pushing himself to his feet. "Is that the best you can do?"

Shen Wei frowns.

"This is vague even for you." Zhao Yunlan slips his hands into his pockets and rocks back on the balls of his feet, just a little. "Which, believe me, is saying something."

"Zhao Yunlan -"

"So I want to get to know you better. Sue me," he says. "And maybe, yes, how to not make an even bigger ass of myself than I already do. I am trying to get you to like me here, in case you haven't noticed."


Zhao Yunlan blinks.

"I -" Shen Wei opens and closes his mouth. He swallows.

Zhao Yunlan finds himself leaning forward without having told his body to move. "Yes?"

Judging by the sharp look Shen Wei sends him, he's noticed Zhao Yunlan's unconscious attempt at closing the distance. "Zhao Yunlan."

"What?" Zhao Yunlan blinks innocently at him. "I'm not even thinking anything too untoward right now. Promise."

"But I am."

The sudden bluntness almost has him stumbling over his own two feet, and he's standing still.

Shen Wei's eyes are glimmering – not quite unnaturally, but it's close. It sends a shiver down Zhao Yunlan's spine. Is the temperature dropping again, or is his body about to betray him again?

"It is a little difficult sometimes," Shen Wei says, speaking so slowly that Zhao Yunlan almost wants to ask him to talk faster, "to keep myself from devouring you."

Zhao Yunlan's heart kickstarts in his ribcage. He swallows and tries for a joke. "Should I be worried?"

"Yes," Shen Wei says, sounding perfectly serious.

Zhao Yunlan can only stare at him as Shen Wei moves closer. His heart is probably beating so loudly that Shen Wei can hear it, but at least he does Zhao Yunlan the courtesy of not pointing it out.

"You agreed to come to my place, even knowing who I am." Shen Wei is so close that Zhao Yunlan can smell the hint of frost and the sweet scent of decay that he's come to associate with the Ghost Slayer. "You should be worried indeed."

"Don't you know that I have a terrible sense of self-preservation, Professor?" Zhao Yunlan flashes a roguish grin.

Shen Wei's eyes flash. "That is precisely what I mean."

"And that  is why I would never be worried around you, Shen Wei. Not for long." Zhao Yunlan keeps the humour out of his voice to show how serious he is. "You care too much. Just like me."

If there is one thing he'll take away from this night, this encounter, it's that it isn't a lack of interest that's keeping Shen Wei back. Knowing him, it's one of his many, many  secrets. Zhao Yunlan can only hope to unravel them in time, or that Shen Wei will eventually feel that the time is right to let Zhao Yunlan in.

Shen Wei cuts off his train of thought once again, but very differently this time.

His mouth is just as soft as it looks, but there's nothing gentle about the way he kisses Zhao Yunlan. Zhao Yunlan is genuinely surprised when he doesn't taste blood.

"This is not how you scare me away, Shen Wei," Zhao Yunlan says when Shen Wei pulls back just enough to let him breathe. Their lips are still brushing like this. "You will have to try harder than that."

Shen Wei kisses him harder.

Zhao Yunlan cups the back of Shen Wei's neck and kisses him back.

They still have a million things to talk about. Zhao Yunlan knows that, and Shen Wei undoubtedly does as well. But words are the last thing on Zhao Yunlan's mind, and he thinks Shen Wei might feel the same.

Zhao Yunlan would be lying if he said that he hasn't spent a significant amount of time picturing what it would be like to fall into bed with Shen Wei. All of his fantasies pale in comparison to the real thing.

The truth is that Shen Wei is ruthless. He tears through Zhao Yunlan's clothes like their very presence offends him. He pushes Zhao Yunlan down onto his mattress like a wordless command that Zhao Yunlan is helpless to do anything but follow. He kisses like he's trying to devour Zhao Yunlan bit by bit. He touches Zhao Yunlan like he'd fall apart if he stopped. And later – after what is probably too little prep, but Zhao Yunlan is honestly too turned on to care – he fucks like he's trying to fuse the two of them together.

Zhao Yunlan thinks he might just be falling in love.

He clings to Shen Wei's shoulders and tries and fails not to think about Shen Wei touching him like this in his other form. Would Shen Wei's cock be bigger too? Surely it would. It would look disproportionate otherwise. Or maybe it went away? Well, Shen Wei had fingers. Sharp ones, yes, that would surely dig a lovely set of bruises into Zhao Yunlan's hips just as well as they'd fuck him. Or maybe Zhao Yunlan could ask some pointed questions about the shadow manipulation he'd witnessed earlier that night. Surely there was a fun, alternate application to those they could try out.

"Zhao Yunlan," Shen Wei says, voice strained.

"You're touching me, Shen Wei," Zhao Yunlan pants. "You're, ngh, fucking me. How are you surprised that I'm aroused?"

"That is not what I meant," Shen Wei says, digging his fingers into Zhao Yunlan's hips until it feels like they're about to break skin, "and you know it."

Zhao Yunlan laughs around the moan. "You only have yourself to blame, Shen Wei. I wasn't like this before you."

Shen Wei snarls. Zhao Yunlan loses his breath entirely when Shen Wei somehow manages to start fucking him harder.

If Zhao Yunlan were to have one complaint, it would be the fact that they aren't doing this face-to-face. Even though Shen Wei can go deeper like this – and is, fuck, Zhao Yunlan can practically taste him at the back of his throat  – he can't see Shen Wei's face. He can't touch Shen Wei apart from the one hand he's clasped desperately around Shen Wei's wrist. Next time, he vows, he's getting his hands on Shen Wei's cock first. Or his mouth. And then they're doing this facing each other, even if Zhao Yunlan has to sit down on Shen Wei's cock to make it happen. He wants to kiss Shen Wei's lovely mouth, dig his fingers into Shen Wei's broad shoulders, maybe leave a few marks of his own.

Shen Wei, perhaps sensing that Zhao Yunlan's thoughts are wandering, decides to move then. He slows his thrusts to press Zhao Yunlan further into the bed, not stopping until his front is almost moulded against Zhao Yunlan's back. The pendant – another of Shen Wei's innumerable secrets – is pressed right against him. It feels warm, almost too warm to have been heated by Shen Wei's body. If Zhao Yunlan didn't know better, he would think it was trying to burn a hole through him.

When Shen Wei resumes his brutal pace, Zhao Yunlan swears he sees stars. He's losing his breath faster than he can draw it. He still wishes he could see Shen Wei, but Shen Wei cannot be faulted for his technique. Zhao Yunlan has just enough time to feel faintly jealous of whoever taught Shen Wei to fuck like this before he loses the train of thought. Coherence is overrated anyway, especially in bed.

Zhao Yunlan is sobbing before long, seeing stars and spots at intervals. He knows he's only staying off the bed because of Shen Wei's iron-clad grip on his hips. His legs have long since given up the ghost. The only reason his hands haven't done the same is that he needs something, anything, to tie him to the world around him. In fact, it wouldn't surprise him if his hand is gripping the bedding so hard he's left holes. The pillow is damp under him, from tears, sweat or his breathing, Zhao Yunlan doesn't know and doesn't care  which. Not when he's so close, and Shen Wei is the one getting him there. Not when Shen Wei's sounds are getting more and more desperate. The end of the world could be moments away, and Zhao Yunlan wouldn't care. Some things are more important.

He's right at the edge, practically whining from the need to come, when Shen Wei sinks his teeth into his left shoulder.

Zhao Yunlan's yell is barely muffled by the pillow under him. He doesn't as much come as he stops existing, just for a few moments. When he becomes aware again, Shen Wei is laid out on top of him like he wants to protect Zhao Yunlan from all the world's evils – of which he actually might consider himself one. Maybe Zhao Yunlan can change his mind on that someday.

Shen Wei is practically demure afterwards. His cheeks are the loveliest pink when he goes to clean Zhao Yunlan up. It's a startling contrast from the animal that was fucking him only minutes before, but Zhao Yunlan doesn't mind. If anything, he likes it. And he can't wait to try and tease the animal out of Shen Wei some other time. He thinks he'll start by asking Shen Wei to see his other form in more detail, preferably with fewer clothes. Positive associations would probably do wonders for getting rid of fears!

Zhao Yunlan only just manages to rouse himself when Shen Wei makes to get up from the bed again.

Shen Wei looks down at where Zhao Yunlan's hand is wrapped around his wrist. Zhao Yunlan knows his grip is weak enough that just about anyone could shake him off now, but Shen Wei doesn't even try. He allows himself to be pulled back onto the mattress instead.

"The sheets -"

"Can wait," Zhao Yunlan says with as much decisiveness as he can muster. Considering he's moments away from falling asleep, it's not exactly much. "Stay."

There's a soft sigh before Zhao Yunlan is pulled against a warm and firm chest. So Shen Wei can  raise his temperature, even if only through external means. Noted.

Zhao Yunlan's eyes slip closed moments after one of Shen Wei's hands acquaints itself with his hair. If he purrs a little, well, whatever Shen Wei is doing feels lovely. Even though Zhao Yunlan doesn't know why Shen Wei would be trying to part his fringe. Unless he liked the look? Zhao Yunlan is always willing to try something new!

"Sleep," Shen Wei says. "I will be here when you wake."

"You'd better," Zhao Yunlan says or thinks he does. His hands fumble around for something to hold onto. One of them finds something small and round and warm, and Zhao Yunlan feels himself settling.

Shen Wei stiffens, ever so slightly, before loosening up again. Zhao Yunlan barely notices, already halfway dead to the world.

His last thought before he falls asleep properly is that some mysteries, especially those that appear frightening at first glance, are definitely the ones most worth unravelling.