Shen Wei breathed deeply and forced his eyes to re-focus on the papers in front of him. He had one more stack of paperwork to finish before the end of the night but had been interrupted by students. He was happy to help them but often found himself staying long nights at Dragon University. Luckily for him, he needed much less sleep.
As he was about half way though the stack he felt a sudden flare of dark energy on the outskirts of campus. Before he could analyze it further, a student burst through his doors. He stared at them in surprise, it being well after hours and deep into the night. The male student was out of breath and Shen Wei recognized him as xiao-Quan. He resisted a frown and quickly put his polite face on, already aware of what this was going to be about.
“Another one?” He asked. Xiao-Quan nodded frantically still trying to gather his breath. He pointed through the wall in the general direction of the dark energy flare.
“Plant control, in the recreation fields!” He gasped out, sweat beading on his face.
Shen Wei stood and straightened his vest, quickly walking around the desk to place a hand on the students shoulder. He pushed him gently down into a chair, giving him a comforting smile. “Wait here.” He said firmly. The student nodded, looking dazed. As Shen Wei quickly made his way to the fields on foot he reflected on how this all started.
He had noticed xiao-Quan joining more of his classes and hovering around in his periphery for a few weeks before he finally found the courage to approach Shen Wei in his office after hours. Much to Shen Wei's surprise, xiao-Quan revealed himself to be from Dixing and thought Shen Wei to be the same. xiao-Quan had the ability to sense other Dixing powers, however, it only worked about half the time. They way he explained it was similar to a very quiet whisper at the back of his mind that he needed multiple exposures to before he was confident in his assessment, or it had to be a particularly powerful one. Luckily for Shen Wei, xiao-Quan thought his only ability was to heal, especially since he had to use it recently after a mission. After that, Shen Wei was careful to avoid xiao-Quan if he used any of his other abilities in case he sensed them too. If he had, he did not say anything nor has his demeanor changed. It made Shen Wei slightly uneasy but xiao-Quan is an earnest, caring student who was always looking out for others and that wasn't something Shen Wei could ignore. Because of that, xiao-Quan had identified Shen Wei as some sort of safe haven every time he discovered another Dixingren. Well aware of how destructive Dixing powers could be, Shen Wei was careful to assess each student and make sure they understood that they should never use their powers for harm. After about the fourth Dixingren, the students had established a "science debate club" to gather and discuss blending in with humans as well as simply convene as Dixing. The university had no issue with the seemingly normal club and saw it as Shen Wei furthering the knowledge of his students. The irony of Dixingren students in hiding all under the wing of the Black Robe Envoy wasn’t lost on him either.
He sighed as he approached the field. The students were terrified of the infamous Black Envoy discovering them but he couldn’t assuage those fears as Professor nor as the Envoy. He had no issue with the kids, they were all harmless and he made sure to give each one a stern speech and a warning. But he worried for the day when the group became too big or when one student would have dangerous powers and choose the wrong path, exposing the innocent ones along with them. He could only hope no one from Dixing found out about this either, the political ramifications were enough to give him a headache if he could get one.
Shen Wei straightened his posture as he paused at the edge of the field, feeling dark energy rise and swirl along with an unusually loud rustling noise. He quickly used his power to scan the surrounding area for any witnesses and finding none, stepped into the clearing. At the center was a young girl on her knees and crying, her eyes closed and in obvious distress. Around her roots burst from the ground and the plants were overgrown.
Plant growing skill. He noted absently as he approached slowly, pulling up some of his power to give him strength and confidence.
“Student,” he said, knowing full well she wasn’t one, “are you alright?”
Immediately, the growth nearest to him slithered up over his legs and to his thighs, thorns growing and piercing his skin. He ignored the discomfort and used some energy to halt the growth. The girl looked up as he quelled the instinctual panic of being trapped.
“I can’t control it.” She sobbed, clutching her stomach and bending over once more.
He calmly responded, “Yes you can. Deep breaths, look inside yourself and take hold.” The plants and roots around them slowed as if time was slowing and he heard her take dramatically deep breaths. “You can do this.” He reassured her in a strong but gentle tone. He carefully sent a tendril of his energy to her to help calm her powers down.
Slowly but surely the panic and sobbing subsided, and the plant growth with it. When he felt she had enough under control he pulled his energy back, instead sending it down to his legs to free himself. He needed to hurry this along before someone saw and it got reported.
As his powers kicked in to heal his legs, he stepped carefully over to the girl, squatting down beside her and placing a hand on the small of her back. When her breathing had finally calmed she sat up and looked at him. Shen Wei felt a chord twang inside of him at the grief and loss in her eyes but he kept his gentle smile in place and moved his hand to her shoulder.
“There you go.” He said. “What is your name?”
She sniffled and wiped her face, “You’re not scared?”
“Of what? You being from Dixing?” He responded. She jerked her gaze back to his in surprise and before she could inquire he spoke gravely, “Everyone has the capacity to be good just as much as they can be evil. The true monster lies within our minds.”
She wrangled herself back under control swiftly, vaguely impressing Shen Wei with her strength. She shrugged. “Hua Yuzhu.” She stated her name brusquely in response to his earlier question. She continued, “What do you suppose I do then?” She asked.
Smiling slightly wider, he cocked his head and pulled his hand back. “Join the university, learn, live.” His smile dropped and he leaned forwards to emphasize his point, some of his power bleeding into his eyes. “But never use your powers for harm. Ever.” He didn’t release her from his intense gaze until she nodded. He leaned back onto his heels, forcing a smile once more. “Come. I’ll take you to xiao-Quan and he will get you settled.” He stood and held a hand out.
After gazing at his outstretched palm for a few moments, she made her decision with a sigh and got to her feet with his help.
As they turned to make their way back to the University, Shen Wei sent his awareness out to make sure no one had snuck up on them. Confirming they were still alone, he swiftly dropped Hua Yuzhu off with xiao-Quan so he could get her settled and ushered them out of his office. He really didn’t want to know how the paperwork necessary for the University, as well as actually getting in, was done. He did his part.
He didn't get much else done that night.
The next day passed quickly, finishing his class and fielding Professor Ouyang’s efforts once more to get him to join his research team. As he watched the car drive away he pondered about Li Qian’s behavior and hoped everything was alright. She was one of his brightest students but had seemed in a daze lately in a way she was very closed off about. He turned and headed back to his office, making a mental note to follow up with her later. As a professor he should at least reach out to see if he could help.
He wryly thought to himself that he was more hesitant in the ways of approach to help her even though she is human. He has faced much, much worse before but humans would forever elude his understanding.
He spent hours after class in his office catching up on paperwork from the night before. A knock on his door interrupted him once again. Holding back a sigh he lifted his hand to adjust his glass and affix a smile on his face. “Come in.” He called.
The door opened to reveal Hua Yuzhu. He smiled more genuinely this time at her and placed his arms on the desk to lean forwards slightly. “How are you settling in?” He asked.
She hesitantly entered the room but didn’t sit down. “I just wanted to thank you for your help.” She clutched a folder to her chest. He smiled at her, eyes warm, and nodded slightly, encouraging her to continue. She finally held the folder out, “Here is my application for the science debate club.” She bowed slightly and hurriedly left the room, leaving Shen Wei blinking after her confused. He glanced down at the folder in his hands and opened it.
Most of the form had been filled out by xiao-Quan but the last page seemed to be signed by her. He shook his head and carefully placed it to the side. The science debate club is a safe gathering place but he worried about how many more would crop up before they got noticed. He would have to think of an exit plan for this.
He still didn’t get much done that night.
Shen Wei didn’t need much sleep but with how eventful the past few days have been he still hadn’t been able to get barely any. It left him tired and with slow steps. His first classes mostly passed in a blur and he soon found himself strolling across campus, Hua Yuzhu’s application folder in hand to drop off for processing. He approved it, of course, but still had to get it into the school’s system. He wasn’t sure which was more confusing, humans or computers.
As he turned the corner he was jolted from his thoughts by a student yelling.
“Chief Zhao, I want to go home!”
Shen Wei looked up and froze mid step. A student was dangling outside of a window by a thin black cord. Below him was a female corpse with a deep red mark around her neck. He ignored it in favor of calling out to the still living student.
“What are you doing?” He asked. As the student turned to look at him the chord snapped, plummeting him to the ground, along with Shen Wei’s stomach. Shen Wei quickly assessed him for injuries using a sliver of his energy and jumped forwards a few steps towards him. The student was fine and his slight panic subsided, but he was soon distracted by a voice calling from the upstairs window. Ready to berate whatever idiot had thought of this venture he tilted his head up to look and the entire world seemed to halt as if he used his powers to stop time. Shock, grief, relief, and happiness all violently warred within him as he stared unblinkingly at the familiar face.
Kunlun. His mind whispered. 10,000 years of waiting. Could it really be him? Kunlun made eye contact with him for a brief second before ducking back through the window. Shen Wei could only stand and wait, feeling disconnected from his body.
Finally, the student crying “I’m dying, I’m dying” was enough to jolt him out of his stupor. He mechanically lowered his head to look at the boy once more and confirmed that he was physically fine. He forced himself back into gear and jogged over to the student to help him up. Before he could really scold the kid, a meow at his feet snagged his attention.
He glanced down and briefly smiled, crouching to pet the black furred cat, feeling himself settle and calm. That was until Kunlun finally exited the building and joined him. He stared at Kunlun once more, waiting for him to say something. He looked at Shen Wei like he was a stranger.
To break the awkwardness he asked, “What is the cat’s name?”
“Da Qing. Or as we call him, Damn Fatty.” Kunlun swiftly replied.
Shen Wei froze for a split second, recognizing the name instantly. Of course they were together. He pulled his hand back from the now revealed fully sentient being with a small laugh. Da Qing was ushered off and they both stood and Shen Wei wondered why Da Qing had not outted him yet.
Kunlun introduced himself as Zhao Yunlun and then asked for his name. Shen Wei quickly sealed off his rising emotions of Kunlun not recognizing him and tried to respond as evenly as possible.
Zhao Yunlun pointed a finger at him, “Shen Wei!” He exclaimed.
Shen Wei stilled once more and searched his eyes thinking that maybe he was wrong, maybe he did recognize him – “Good name!”
Shen Wei forced a brief smile, semi amused at the irony of his statement. He held up the folder as a shield, “I teach here.” Is all he said in response. All he could say at the moment, really, when the man he had been waiting so long for finally stood in front of him and didn’t know who he was. Shen Wei forced those thoughts away again and clasped hands with Kun-, no Zhao Yunlun, belatedly realizing he was holding on for longer then socially acceptable. He pulled his hand back with an awkward chuckle and accepted the business card handed to him, tucking it securely in his palm, avoiding the speculative look sent his way.
He gazed after them as they walked away before lifting the business card to examine it. Zhao Yunlan, SID Chief. The new head of SID was… Kunlun?
Still feeling the warmth of Zhao Yunlan’s palm, Shen Wei left the crime scene and dazedly made his way towards his office. He made it about halfway before being stopped by xiao-Quan. Luckily, there wasn’t a new Dixingren but instead Li Qian was being interrogated by the SID. Shen Wei thanked him for the information and made his way over to where she was being held. He would escort her to her next class, which was conveniently taught by him. Evidently, she had been a witness in Lu Roumei’s death. These recent developments surely wouldn’t help whatever she is going through and this may be a good time as any to check on her wellbeing.
When he turned to corner near the room he was arrested by the human form Da Qing. He hesitated a moment and then stepped forwards. Da Qing turned and simply stared at him confused for too long and Shen Wei wryly realized he didn’t recognize him either.
“Hello. Do we know each other?” He asked just in case.
“What?” Was his only response. Apparently not.
“Is Li Qian inside?” He asked instead. After Da Qing confirmed, Shen Wei brushed past him not ready to confront his feelings on two people he hasn’t seen in a long time both not remembering him.
Li Qian stood up in obvious relief at his arrival and he sent her a reassuring smile.
“Professor Shen! We meet again so soon.” Zhao Yunlan declared. He was lounging on a desk with a lollipop in his mouth, the student who had fallen earlier stood behind him.
Shen Wei shifted his gaze to Zhao Yunlan and forced a neutral tone, trying not to let his eyes stop on those pouty lips. “She is my student, I am here to pick her up and take her to her next class.”
“Ah.” Zhao Yunlan nodded.
He gathered Li Qian with his eye and she gladly ran over to him, both of them turning to the door. He was halted by Zhao Yunlan’s voice piping up behind him.
“Lu Ruomei was your student too, wasn’t she?” He asked in a careful tone. Shen Wei paused as he continued, “You must have seen the body, you walked right by it. But you didn’t look surprised at all.”
Well aware of what type of question it was, Shen Wei huffed out a small laugh. Of course he saw the body, he just didn’t care much for it and wasn’t shocked by it in any way. He had fought in a war and seen countless corpses, but he couldn’t say that. He supposed his lack of reaction could be a red flag to humans. He responded to Zhao Yunlan’s question in the best he way could, which was to avoid answering his question entirely.
“Because I understand that there are things in this world that can not be explained. I’m just an ordinary person and know there are things I shouldn’t ask about.” He chose to respond instead. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, that only piqued Zhao Yunlan’s interest more.
Shen Wei was hyperaware of his movement to stand and step closer behind him, his back prickling as Zhao Yunlan sauntered around to look at his face. Shen Wei carefully kept his gaze on the floor, not making eye contact as he steeled himself. He was so close.
“Care to explain that, Professor Shen?” The Chief’s tone was still playful but had an undercurrent of steely suspicion.
Shen Wei smiled disarmingly and darted his eyes up to Zhao Yunlan’s briefly before looking back down. “I’m a biology professor and I study genetic mutations.” He glanced at him again and tried very hard not to get distracted by the lollipop in his mouth. He swallowed thickly and averted his gaze once more, deciding to spout off some random line from one of his lectures without really paying attention to what he was saying and slipping into teaching mode. It was comforting and secure, falling into that familiarity and it gave him confidence turn his body and look Zhao Yunlan directly in the face.
Zhao Yunlan raised his eyebrows and, of all things, complimented him. “If you ever see this information in any books, give me a call and I will rush to your side immediately.” He said with a wink.
Shen Wei blinked at him with wide eyes unsure if whether that was meant to be as flirtatious as it sounded and huffed out an awkward laugh. He decided to deflect. “Yes,” he confirmed, “Lu Ruomei was one of my students. So, please, be sure to find the culprit soon.”
Zhao Yunlan agreed and dropped a hand onto Shen Wei’s shoulder, causing his mind to blank as he forced himself not to tense. He ducked his head to hide his smile and quickly excused himself and Li Qian.
He did not like being touched.
Zhao Yunlan gazed after Professor Shen, studiously trying to avoid dropped his eyes to his ass and focused in on the sleeve garters instead. Sleeve garters?! He rolled the lollipop in his mouth and forced his mind to re-focus. What University professor strolls past a dead body without blinking and then goes about his day as if nothing ever happened?
He quickly sent Guo ChangCheng to watch him and report back. Something wasn’t quite right with that professor.
When the boy reported back later after the incident with the Shadow Man, he was even more suspicious. Apparently, the Professor and student had vanished around a corner as if they knew they were being followed.
Zhao Yunlan also couldn’t quite shake the feeling that he knew Shen Wei from somewhere but no matter how much he wracked his brain he couldn’t figure out where. Just an odd sense, a strong sense, of familiarity.
Shen Wei (Later that afternoon)
Shen Wei smiles, a portion of it genuine as he turns away from the blackboard to face his students. Expectant faces gazed back at him, some of them a little sleepy with the warm sunlight pouring in from the windows and creating a light haze across the classroom. He could feel the joy slip into his face as he concluded his lecture. Over the course of his life he has frequently slipped into a mentor, guide, and teacher role and he found he thoroughly enjoyed helping young ones on their path of life and learning.
He clasped his hands gently in front of him as his voice trailed off, glancing at the clock on the wall to confirm that he ended precisely on time. He watched, posture completely relaxed as his students packed their things, waiting to see if anyone approached. That’s when his instincts flared and he cast a quick assessing glance around the space. He saw nothing but felt like he was being watched. Shen Wei shrugged the feeling off, keeping a small part of his awareness on it in case it decided to show, and focused on the young woman coming up to him instead.
“Professor, no matter how many times I research different theories, the formula still isn’t quite right.” The young woman was apparent in her frustration and appeared fatigued, dark purple bruises under her eyes. He frowned in concern as he took the papers from her, not even glancing at them.
“Researching theories and calculating formulas is enticing work but taking time to rest is important too.” She glanced up at him in surprise, smiling quick with her eyes lighting up briefly before it faded once more under exhaustion. She nodded to his words so he finally reviewed the document in his hands.
The student was very close to a successful formula and she was correct in it being slightly off. He would have to rewrite the chemistry lines to figure out where it went wrong.
He turned and gently picked up an eraser, quickly clearing the blackboard for a blank slate. As he wrote out each piece of the formula he could feel his mask slipping as the thrill of solving a puzzle took over; causing his lips to purse and eyebrows to scrunch. His awareness pinged again when his student stepped next to him with her mouth open as he sketched it out across the entire board in a few minutes.
Once he was done, he took a step back and gazed at it, absently adjusting his glasses and zeroing in on one branch that didn’t feel right when he wrote it.
He gestured with his chalk at the board.
“This specific branch here,” he said reaching out, “is incomplete.” He completed the missing section and turned to the student.
She clapped her hands together peering at it closely, “Of course!” She exclaimed loudly. Her whole body suddenly released its tension and she turned to him with a beaming smile, slightly jumping in place with excitement. “That’s it! Thank you so much, Professor, I know exactly how to finish it now.”
She swiped the papers out of his hand and ran out of the room, leaving him confused by the chaotic flurry. He huffed a small laugh in the silence that followed, still frozen with his hand outstretched where the papers used to be.
He loved his students.
Shaking his head, he picked up the eraser once more to clear the board. Shen Wei paused mid swipe when the feeling of being watched increased tenfold and was accompanied by a footstep. They finally showed themselves.
Aware they were most likely a shy student, he quickly returned to cleaning the board but he was also ready for any threat should there be one.
Once he finished, he reached over to the polish that makes the board shiny and completely clean. It was old fashioned but Shen Wei liked the routine and it did make the chalk slide across the surface smoothly.
His movements froze once more as the person finally decided to speak, shock zinging through his veins.
“Professor Shen is so smart and dedicated.” Chief Zhao said, a smirk evident in his voice and his words slurred slightly as he spoke around a lollipop.
Shen Wei twitched his head to the side to glance behind him, giving Zhao Yunlan a polite smile.
Resolutely finishing his routine, silence reigned once more until his hands were empty and he turned around. Zhao Yunlan lifted his gaze slowly, eyes trailing up his outfit to his face and sauntered up to him, hands in his jeans pockets. When he came to a stop, Zhao Yunlan chuckled in amusement, looking Shen Wei directly in the eyes.
Shen Wei swallowed and tilted his head slightly, still politely smiling, wondering what he found so amusing. Zhao Yunlan abruptly reached a hand to his cheek. Before his fingertips could touch, instinct and panic flared. In the moment he took to ensure his facial expression didn’t change, his body moved without him realizing it until Zhao Yunlan’s wrist was held lightly in his hand and his head twitched infinitesimally away.
Zhao Yunlan blinked at him in surprise and Shen Wei held back a grimace at his own tell. He carefully released Zhao Yunlan and took a careful step backwards, avoiding the sharp eyes evaluating him closely.
“You have some chalk on your face.” He explained quietly.
Shen Wei reached up and found the dusty powder with his fingers, forcing them to remain steady as the reflexive panic faded away. He pulled a handkerchief from his suit, ignoring Zhao Yunlan’s scoff, and briskly cleaned his face.
Slapping a quick, hopefully relaxed looking, smile on his face and ignoring what just happened he asked lightly, “How can I assist Chief Zhao today?”
Zhao Yunlan was quiet as he continued to regard him before relaxing his stance once more and allowing the avoidance.
“Lu Ruomei was your student.” He confirmed.
Shen Wei nodded, “She was.” He recalled her, she didn’t stand out much but she put a lot of effort into what she did, trying her best. He had hoped to nudge her to full potential and felt a pang of sadness at how she died so young. He glanced up at Zhao Yunlan, curious about the inquiry. He startled internally at the softened gaze when their eyes met and wondered if he was able to see through his mask.
Zhao Yunlan nodded and shuffled in place. “Do you know what she was doing out so late?”
Shen Wei cast his mind back to that day and shook his head. “She didn’t have any classes with me that day, and besides that she only attended mornings. I don’t know her schedule outside of that.”
Shen Wei pivoted to pack his things, thinking this questioning entirely irrelevant and wondering what Zhao Yunlan really wanted to know. He stayed silent until Shen Wei turned back to him, his eyes honed in on the Professor.
It made the back of his neck tingle but he shoved the feeling away. He looked up, also ignoring the twist in his stomach at so much eye contact, and informed Zhao Yunlan, “I have office hours starting soon and I need to return and prepare for my students. If there is nothing else?” He prompted.
Zhao Yunlan grinned around his lollipop stick, eyes twinkling. He responded in a friendly tone, “Professor Shen is so busy! Don’t let me hold you up then.” He threw out an arm gesturing grandly to the door.
Shen Wei smiled warmly at him, unable to resist his charm, before bowing his head and walking away. Much to his surprise, Zhao Yunlan easily fell into step next to him, their elbows brushing every couple of paces. He finally began to feel his body relax at the familiarity. Him and Kunlun had often walked together in companionable silence. He felt his smile soften into something genuine and missed the smug glance Zhao Yunlan sent him.
It didn’t take long before they reached his office where Jiajia stood patiently talking with two students who had shown up early. Shen Wei felt his smile soften even more as he watched his assistant gather information from him so he was ready when they walked through his door.
Finally accepting an assistant was one of the best decisions he has made in a long time.
Zhao Yunlan clapped his hands, drawing his gaze back to him. “Well! I’ll leave you to it then.” He promptly turned and walked off, tucking the empty lollipop stick away and whistling a cheery tune.
Shen Wei blinked after him, wondering what the purpose of his visit was and if he found what he came here for.
Shaking off those thoughts, he turned to his assistant and accepted her notes with a nod. He slipped into his office and settled at the desk, skimming the first few pages. Shen Wei adjusted his glasses and affixed his professor smile before calling out for the first student to come in.
Once his last student left for the day, Shen Wei was quick to lock his door and close the blinds to ensure privacy. Only then did he finally let his mask drop. He sat down in once of the chairs, feet flat and back straight before he removed his glasses, lightly rubbing his eyes and taking a deep breath.
He grimaced as he thought about his encounter with Zhao Yunlan and how he allowed that subtle flinch at being touched to slip through his control. As Black Robe Envoy no one dared to get close to him let alone touch, not unless they were attacking and a threat. As Professor Shen, everyone maintained distance out of decorum and proprietary. Even before working at the University he never allowed anyone close.
But the tell had been more than touch deprivation and he clenched his jaw as the memories from his time when the Hallows sealed him beneath the earth rose from the dark corner of his mind. He ruthlessly shoved them back down. He hated that he allowed that weakness to peek through, not only to Zhao Yunlan but also to Chief of the SID, someone highly trained in reading body language and analyzing behavior. Kunluns natural curiosity and propensity to dig at something until he found answers certainly wouldn't help here either.
Zhao Yunlan now had a weakness he could exploit and it made him nervous. He didn’t like to be touched for a reason, and his time with Kunlun was before it had become an issue. This was ever so rarely a problem, especially with his jobs. But Kunlun always enjoyed stepping into his personal space and it was something he always actively encouraged.
But things were different now, Zhao Yunlan had no memory of him. Also, Zhao Xinci, former SID Chief and often both judgmental and violent, is his father. Who knows how much influence he has had on Zhao Yunlan.
Shen Wei would just have to be careful in his interactions and try to keep his distance while being close enough to keep him safe. He dropped his hand into his lap and stared vacantly at it. It has been so long since Kunlun, he craved Zhao Yunlan and ached for his presence his absence hurt. So, realistically, could he keep his distance? More importantly, should he? With Shen Wei at his side, would it make him safer or put him in more danger?
If Shen Wei was human he was sure he would have a headache pulsing behind his eyes. He supposes he has had centuries to prepare for this situation but Zhao Yunlan being Chief of SID changes everything. Shen Wei would have to be so very careful moving forwards, he couldn’t lose Zhao Yunlan now that he just found him.