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tangled up in you

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He wakes up, slowly blinking his eyes open once he's decided there's no point in trying for a little more sleep.

From his side of the bed, he can see which suit Shen Wei has laid out for today, as careful and meticulous as always, and he's looking forward to watching him put it on later, layer by layer.

Shen Wei has a class later in the morning, but he likes to be in his office before that, catching up on research and carefully getting used to his new computer.

Yunlan smiles, finding a cooler spot on his pillow to watch Shen Wei sleep, his breathing deep and even. "Professor Shen," he whispers, "your students are waiting," and when Shen Wei opens his eyes, it's better than any sunrise.

 

+

 

It might be hard to believe, just going by his own sense of style, but he had actually paid attention to what Shen Wei was wearing, back when they first met. For obvious reasons, and also because the suits seemed such a deliberate choice, it was like deciphering code.

The first time Shen Wei watched over Yunlan's sleep, acting unnecessarily pissy at him for "not taking care of himself", he was wearing a beautiful three-piece affair, with blue garters around his biceps, and a cravat neatly tucked into his collar: a man so desperately in need of a hug, he had wrapped himself up in expensive fabric and then added all sorts of accessories that nestled tightly against his body and dug into his skin.

Maybe Yunlan was bad at sorting out his apartment and his health and his love life, but he could recognize a cry for help when he saw one.

So now he keeps touching him. Hugging him. Aggressively making up for lost time until Shen Wei gently pushes him away, his cheeks a little pink, or pulls him closer, or rocks up against him and whispers his name, depending on where they are and how many clothes they're still wearing.

It feels like it'll never be enough, so he watches him slip on the sleeve garters in the morning, and tie silky fabric into knots over his throat, and put on the tailored blazers that fit him like a second skin. They'll do the job until Yunlan can take it all off again in the evening, and do it right.

 

+

 

He usually takes the car for a drive when Shen Wei is at work, either stopping by the SID headquarters for a quick visit, or meeting up with Zhu Hong to see how it's going with the snake tribe, or buying things for dinner. Shen Wei made him a little shopping list over breakfast, which is the most domestic thing Yunlan can think of, now that he's not allowed to blow Shen Wei in the kitchen anymore.

His loss.

He spends a while picking out the freshest produce and filling up the cart with snacks, which he'll tell Shen Wei are all for Da Qing, if he asks. Or mostly for Da Qing. Some of it is definitely for Da Qing. Whatever, he's allowed to have snacks.

He puts a few bags back on the shelves.

Then he puts one back into the cart.

"Just take them all," a woman pipes up behind him, laughter in her voice. "Life's too short to deprive yourself of sweets."

"Ah, so true, auntie," he says, grinning at her. "So true."

He buys them all.

Da Qing is curled up on the bench in their usual meeting spot, because apparently he needs at least twenty naps a day or he'll die.

"Damn cat," Yunlan mutters as he sits down, his hand already stroking over Da Qing's fur. "Good to see you too."

Da Qing just raises his head for chin scritches, so Yunlan complies.

"You're a spoiled kitten," he tells Da Qing, who clearly doesn't care. "I brought you fish snacks."

That gets his attention. A human hand reaches for the bag and a human mouth mumbles a thank you around the first bite. Probably because a human stomach is bigger than a cat's.

Yunlan pops a lollipop into his mouth while Da Qing eats, enjoying the quiet for a bit before he starts asking questions.

"No news," Da Qing volunteers first. "Nothing exciting since your last visit."

"Mm," Yunlan says around the lollipop. "Lao Chu runs a tight ship."

"I think Su Mei from HR has a crush on him."

Yunlan looks at him. "How is that not news? Tell me everything."

Da Qing grins. "I'll keep you updated."

"Poor girl," Yunlan says, pushing the lollipop to his other cheek. "And the new guy?" He carefully doesn't look at Da Qing, who carefully swallows before answering.

"Nothing new. Doing pretty good, considering. Shows up when needed. Bought food for everyone the other day." He pauses. "It wasn't poisoned or anything."

Yunlan snorts. "Nice of him."

"He doesn't talk much," Da Qing says quietly.

Probably for the best, Yunlan doesn't say. He just shrugs instead.

"And at home?" Da Qing asks, not very subtly changing the topic. "Any news?"

"Shen Wei just finished grading his last stack of papers," he says, a small smile on his lips. "He was very pleased with everyone's grades."

Da Qing lets out a whoop, his mouth still full. "This should be celebrated!"

"Of course you'd say that." Yunlan rolls his eyes. "We expect you for dinner on Saturday. Wear something nice. Bring cake."

"Professor Shen doesn't like cake."

"So?"

Da Qing grins at him, grabbing the bag of snacks before he gets up. "I'll be there."

"Tell Lao Chu. Ah, just bring the whole team. There's enough food."

"You got it," Da Qing says, throwing him a lazy salute. "Five cakes."

"Off with you," Yunlan huffs at him. "Damn cat."

He briefly thinks about paying his father a visit, once Da Qing has strolled off, but then mentally pencils it in for tomorrow. He'll call him first.

It feels nice, having friends and acquaintances and family members he's newly on speaking terms with, all scattered around Dragon City. Like his world needed to shrink down to a blinding, painful flicker of light before it could expand and breathe and grow beyond the SID.

He stays on the bench for a while, soaking up the sun.

 

+

 

There's a guy he met in one of Shen Wei's lectures, the ones that are open to the public and always attract way more people than the auditorium can hold. The recordings are available online now, but people still want to see Shen Wei in person, which Yunlan finds very understandable.

Shen Wei finds it all terribly embarrassing, but he loves the talks, and Yunlan barely even teases him about his popularity anymore. Definitely not as often as he could.

He sat next to the man in the inaugural lecture about the basic concepts of genetics, and watched him take careful notes in a small notebook with colorful stickies peeking out at the top.

"There won't be a test at the end," Yunlan whispered, and then popped the lollipop back into his mouth, grinning as the man looked up at him.

"Oh, I know," he said in a low voice. "This is for me."

He let Yunlan have a look at his notebook after the lecture, while Shen Wei was still answering individual questions at the front. "You could cobble together three and a half degrees from this," Yunlan joked, turning page after page of neat handwriting.

"It keeps the mind busy," the man smiled at him.

He had lost his wife a few years ago, their only daughter lived far away, and he had learned to fill his days once the first terrible grief had become a softer, quieter thing.

"Come look," he greeted Yunlan on his last visit, when Yunlan was still toeing off his shoes at the entrance. "I'm refurbishing old furniture now. You can find so many instructions online."

"Oh, that looks like new, Han Laoshi!" Yunlan exclaimed, carefully running his fingers over the deep red wood of a beautiful cabinet. "What do you think, could the Internet teach me how to cook, too?"

"The Internet can teach you anything, young man," Mr. Han laughed, and then served tea and steamed buns, enough to take some home for Shen Wei.

Yunlan still finds that a bold claim, but he wouldn't contradict Mr. Han to his face.

 

+

 

He wanders the university hallways for a while before he turns his steps towards Shen Wei's office. There's posters on the walls, some announcing events or showing off successful faculty and alumni, others presenting recent research results.

Yunlan likes to try and follow the succinct blocks of text and aggressively labeled charts from the introduction to the conclusions, sometimes recognizing a word or a concept that Shen Wei has mentioned before. Most of it is incomprehensible to him. However, he's usually left with something he can ask Shen Wei about over dinner. He'd look at a thousand of these damn posters just to see that soft smile every day.

He knocks on the door before he enters, just in case Shen Wei is talking to a student or has a colleague over. Might pay to pretend he has manners in front of faculty.

Shen Wei has already cleared the desk for their lunch, looking up from the plastic containers as Yunlan steps inside. "Perfectly on time," he smiles, which is pretty much the least Yunlan can do. He didn't prepare the food and he can merely watch in fascination as Shen Wei uses a gentle swirl of energy to heat it up, so all he's contributing to the meal is his presence.

It seems to be enough for Shen Wei.

"All done for today?" Yunlan asks, dragging his chair closer to the desk.

"Office hours at three," Shen Wei says, putting bowls and chopsticks in front of him. "But done with lectures, yes."

"You need anything deleted or undeleted?"

Shen Wei clears his throat. "If you don't mind."

"I don't mind," Yunlan grins. He starts helping himself, adding pieces of beef and cabbage to his bowl. "Still no TA?"

"Still looking," Shen Wei mumbles, not quite meeting Yunlan's eyes as he ladles some soup into a second bowl for him.

"It's all right," Yunlan says gently, and then they're both silent for a while. He picks up his spoon to try the soup, which is, of course, as delicious as the rest. "Everything's quiet at the SID," he says into his bowl.

Shen Wei looks up at him, a subtle tightness to his features if you know to look for it.

"Everything's fine," Yunlan repeats. "It seems to be working out, just as you said."

"I still feel I should have--"

"No," Yunlan says. "Everyone agreed to this."

The tightness dissolves, replaced by a tentative smile. "Because you were yelling at them."

"Because I was right."

The smile deepens, although there's something wistful about it. Like he might still have regrets.

"You didn't want to do it anymore," Yunlan says stubbornly, before Shen Wei can attempt a pretty little speech about duty and responsibility. "And I wanted you here," he adds more softly, meaning this office and this world and the home they share in it.

"I know," Shen Wei says, sounding fond. "It was still a risk."

"They trusted your judgment," Yunlan reminds him. "I trusted you."

It hadn't been easy, either.

"You've done enough," he says with feeling. "Now eat your damn soup. It's very good."

 

+

 

Shen Wei doesn't like talking about the time he spent in the afterlife, sorting through the weak echoes of energy inside him and slowly, stubbornly rehabilitating his brother.

He wouldn't call it that, either.

Sometimes at night, when they're wrapped around each other, he'll tell Yunlan what it was like in the big empty halls of his death, with only Ye Zun and the Hallows' steady shimmer for company.

"And then I left him in a safe place and came to find you in the lantern," he likes to say to end the conversation, like the favorite part of a fairytale.

Yunlan likes to vary his responses.

"You really should have told me, I would have put on some clothes," when he wants to make Shen Wei laugh.

"I always knew you'd come," when he's feeling warm and tender inside.

"You finally made the pain stop," when he's tired and a little too broken open to have this conversation.

He always kisses Shen Wei before he can say anything back.

Shen Wei always allows it.

He also doesn't like when Yunlan refers to Ye Zun as Ye Zun, even though he's understanding of the fact that Yunlan didn't know the boy Ye Zun was before.

Yunlan doesn't like to see Shen Wei's face go quiet and unhappy, so he tries.

Your little brother.

Xiao shu.

That one.

The new Envoy.

 

+

 

He's halfway through the second apple when he hears Shen Wei coming home.

"I'm in the kitchen," he calls out, and then he adds, "I'm not cooking!" because he doesn't want to alarm him more than absolutely necessary.

Pristine white shirt sleeves wind around his middle, and Shen Wei's breath is warm against his neck as he says, "What are you doing?"

"Apple bunnies," Yunlan replies, nodding at the phone propped up against the rice cooker. "I found a video online." He carefully carves another slice and then cuts out the ear shape. Maybe this time it'll look right. "So I'm making a fruit platter." Ah well, good enough.

"There are crackers and cookies on your fruit platter."

"To make it a balanced meal."

Shen Wei lays his forehead against Yunlan's shoulder. "I see."

Yunlan inclines his head to softly bump it against Shen Wei's, then tries another slice.

"Still not getting bored?" Shen Wei asks quietly.

Are you going to return to work at some point, is what he doesn't say. It's a fair question, Yunlan supposes. He didn't really have any hobbies outside of his career before.

Before.

He can't quite find the words to explain what appeals to him about this aimlessness, what he feels when he drives through the city with nowhere to be and nobody to hunt down and absolutely nothing to prove to anyone.

"I like this," he says finally. "I want to live like this for a while."

Thirty-odd years in this world, and he had never truly felt those words, not even once: I want to live. He always thought the most noble thing, the bravest thing, the selfless thing to do would be giving his life to save someone else's.

Then he fell in love, and then he died.

It didn't feel noble.

Shen Wei presses his lips against his shoulder. "I like it too," he says softly. "I like coming home to you."

"You still have to do all the cleaning," Yunlan says, laughing a little as he ducks his head.

"I don't mind the cleaning," Shen Wei says, kissing the back of his neck.

Yunlan carefully puts the knife away.

"Let's skip dinner," Shen Wei murmurs, then nuzzles into the short hair at his nape. "I'm not that hungry." The glasses are placed on the counter next to the knife with a little clinking noise. Then Shen Wei's lips are on his neck, slow and gentle.

"You just don't like the bunnies," Yunlan mutters, his breath just a little uneven.

"Yunlan," Shen Wei says, tugging at him so he turns around in the tight bracket of his arms. "The bunnies are perfect."

"You're such an awful liar," Yunlan says, and then he kisses him.

They end up eating half the bunnies and some of the tasty garnish and then take the plate to the bedroom with them, as a compromise. Yunlan washes the sticky apple residue off his hands before he comes anywhere near the suit.

His life is full of little joys these days, both the loud and the very quiet ones, but slowly stripping Shen Wei down to his beautiful skin is one of his very favorite things.

Sometimes he doesn't go all that slow.

Shen Wei has already taken the blazer off, which leaves him with the tie, and the garters, and finally the shirt. He presses a kiss against Shen Wei's lips for every button he carefully slides out of its hole, then runs his fingers over the strip of exposed skin, looking up to find Shen Wei watching him.

"Should I hurry up?" he asks, his head cocked to the side.

"No," Shen Wei says, his eyes so dark. "This is good."

Yunlan kisses him again, sliding his hands down Shen Wei's arms, pausing briefly at his biceps, where the garters were holding the sleeves in place just a minute ago. He presses his fingertips into the smooth fabric and the skin underneath, then lets his palms move further down.

The cuffs are next.

By the time Shen Wei is standing naked before him, practically glowing in the low light of the bedroom, Yunlan has exhausted the last of his patience and just pushes Shen Wei towards the bed, hands all over him. He sits him down on the edge, then yanks his own t-shirt off and lets it fall to the floor, already unbuttoning his jeans with the other hand.

"Next time," Shen Wei says, pulling him close to press a kiss against his belly, "let me do that."

Yunlan slides his fingers into Shen Wei's hair, the air pushed out of his lungs. "Only takes two seconds," he says between breaths.

"I don't know about that," Shen Wei says, laying a series of slow kisses along the curve of his waist. He's so beautiful, it still makes Yunlan's heart stop to even look at him. "I think I could take my time."

"Baby," Yunlan says, hand tightening in Shen Wei's hair. "Let me--" He bends down to kiss Shen Wei, which buys him enough time to finish the job at hand, and then he's finally, finally crawling onto the bed with Shen Wei, letting out a breathy noise as he straddles him and their cocks slide together.

"Do you have any plans?" Shen Wei says, the flush giving away what his calm voice conceals.

"Nope," Yunlan replies. He slowly slides his palms up Shen Wei's chest, to his arms, all the way to his wrists, lifting his hands to push them into the pillow and hold them there. "But this is a good start."

Shen Wei smiles up at him, easily lifting his hands, but then letting them fall down to the pillow again to humor Yunlan.

"Play fair," Yunlan chides. "I've been working out. Sweet Professor Shen wouldn't stand a chance."

Shen Wei smirks, tensing almost imperceptibly beneath Yunlan to ready himself for a very unfair attack.

Yunlan bends down to kiss his shoulder, nuzzling against his neck with a soft sigh. "The boy I kissed under the stars," he murmurs. "He would have let me win."

Shen Wei exhales. "Of course," he says, a smile in his voice. Yunlan can feel him swallow as he turns his head, the taut line of his neck on display. "You can't make your benefactor yield to you."

"Smart boy."

There's a tiny mole under Shen Wei's ear, not bigger than the head of a pin. Yunlan kisses it. His fingers slide into the spaces between Shen Wei's and curl around, brushing over his knuckles. Shen Wei strains up towards him, so Yunlan settles more of his own weight against Shen Wei's arms and chest and hips.

A small lick over the delicate skin of his clavicle.

"Shěn."

A gentle kiss at the dip of it.

"Wēi."

A kiss, and a kiss, and a kiss.

"You get to have this," Yunlan whispers. "All of it." He strokes his thumb over Shen Wei's, feeling him tense just a fraction. "The office. The students. The books. This," he murmurs, kissing the side of his neck, the shell of his ear. "The shopping lists. Your new suit that's ready for your second fitting that I forgot to tell you about."

Shen Wei huffs out a laugh, all tension draining away.

"Tenure," Yunlan adds in a breathy whisper, turning to kiss Shen Wei when he laughs again. "It's all yours," he mumbles against his lips. "It's yours. Please just take it."

"Yunlan," Shen Wei says thickly. His hands twitch up against Yunlan's hold. "Let me touch you. Please."

"Cheating," he says, then releases Shen Wei's hands. He'd say more, but Shen Wei is kissing the air out of his lungs, his hands in Yunlan's hair and his hips rocking up, making Yunlan moan against his mouth.

Then Yunlan is on his back and Shen Wei is looking down at him, flushed and panting and radiant.

"Cheater," Yunlan says again, breathlessly.

"A-Lan," Shen Wei replies. He takes Yunlan's hands, pulls them to his mouth for a kiss. "Let me take care of you."

"But I was going to--"

Shen Wei shushes him with a shake of his head, his hands still clasped around Yunlan's. He only lets go to lean down and kiss Yunlan, careful fingers on his cheek. "I'm taking this," he says, trailing his hand down Yunlan's neck and over his chest, down his side. "It's mine."

And Yunlan closes his eyes, and breathes Shen Wei in, and is alive.