The sun sets the sky aflame through the curtains of the hotel suite, the crawling vines of the metal window frame nearly black against the deep orange of the day’s end. It’s still bright enough to draw shadows in the room, leaving deep gashes of light where they slip through onto the carpet, the blankets, bare skin.
Shen Wei lies with his head half-buried in the pillows, hair clinging to his forehead in messy swirls as he catches his breath. The bed sheets cling to his still fevered skin with the sweat and come that remains all too tacky on his skin. Vaguely, he feels fingers dance across the line of his hips, tracing a path of bruises as they make their way up his side, before fluttering along the skin of Shen Wei’s shoulder. The hand finally settles gently on Shen Wei’s face, swiping lightly at the tear tracks shining where his face meets the light.
In the glow of the fading sun, Shen Wei looks at Kunlun.
Kunlun, who wipes the tears gently from his face and chases the pain away with tender kisses in the dark. Who takes Shen Wei by the hand and walks with him along desolate garden paths that give way only for them. Who fucks Shen Wei until he's crying and begging as he claws into the sheets, draws angry lines across Kunlun's back, screams himself hoarse into the space where no one else can hear. Who would put a bullet through Shen Wei's skull if he found out that Shen Wei wasn't who he said he was. Who Shen Wei knew he would have to watch die before his own eyes if he valued his life, his cause.
"Xiao Wei." Kunlun's voice is much too soft. His fingers caress Shen Wei's cheek like he’s a delicate flower, as if the pain suffusing Shen Wei's body wasn't his doing, as if he didn't have the power to tear him apart without even having to lift a finger. His eyes crinkle around the edges, reflecting the light from Shen Wei's face as their breaths mingle in the space between them. There's a tinge of concern in the lines of his face as his gaze draws up and down Shen Wei's features. It's much too vulnerable. Much too human.
"Xiao Wei." Kunlun repeats, moves the hand to rest on Shen Wei's neck, fingers curling around his nape to pull him closer. For a moment, Shen Wei wonders what it would feel like to have Kunlun's hands around his neck entirely, what it would be like to have Kunlun wrench his pathetic life away with his fingers squeezing the air out of him. If Kunlun's rage would be like falling into a frozen river or if it would burn him alive. If that would be a greater mercy, a crueler fate.
Shen Wei doesn't know if Kunlun would even get his hands dirty like that. Not even for him.
Shen Wei rests a hand on the crook of Kunlun's arm, giving a light squeeze in lieu of an answer. The thought of Kunlun's rage makes his skin crawl, sends a jolt down his spine, has heat traveling down to his belly even now. He reaches out, trailing his fingers down Kunlun's chest, feeling every breath. Wonders how it would feel to put an end to it himself, to feel Kunlun’s breath stutter as Shen Wei is covered in blood from a bullet, a knife.
"What are you thinking about, hm?" Kunlun stops Shen Wei's hand, right over his heart. "What's bothering you?"
Shen Wei shakes his head. "I'm just thinking about you."
Kunlun sighs, a light chuckle against the weight of Shen Wei’s imagination. He lifts Shen Wei's hands to his lips, kissing his knuckles, turning over to press his lips against his palm. It shouldn't make Shen Wei's heart flutter. It does. "I'm right here."
"I know." Shen Wei's eyes trace Kunlun's features. Every inch of him already etched into Shen Wei's memory. Carved into every crevice of Shen Wei's skin. He knows there’s no way he’ll be able to forget him. No matter how their story ends.
"But?" Kunlun entwines their fingers, his other hand still caressing the side of Shen Wei’s neck. He could fall asleep here. In Kunlun's arms.
"I missed you." Shen Wei exhales, looking down for a moment. “You left me alone for so long.”
"I'm sorry." Kunlun gives his hand a squeeze. It sounds so genuine. As if he was even capable of feeling remorse. Kunlun has never cared about the blood on his hands, and yet he can seek Shen Wei’s forgiveness. "How can I make it up to you?"
"I don't want anything except you." Shen Wei clutches at his arm. The words ring in the cavity of his head. Sting his eyes. He looks up, meeting Kunlun's gaze. "Don't leave me again."
Kunlun's lips quirk. He pulls his hand away from Shen Wei's neck, brushing the hair out of Shen Wei’s eyes as he leans in to press his lips against Shen Wei's forehead. Then catches Shen Wei's lips with his own, languid as he pushes in his tongue, Shen Wei melting against his lips even at the softest touch.
And yet, Shen Wei still wants more.
Shen Wei surges forward, chasing Kunlun's lips between breaths, throwing his arms around Kunlun's neck to pull them even closer together. He feels Kunlun’s hands slide down his body, grasping at his ass, bruising his hips, enveloping his waist. In the next moment, he’s forced onto his back, knocking the breath out of him, his arms falling to his sides, Kunlun slotting himself in the space between Shen Wei’s legs in the moment it takes for Shen Wei to regain his bearings.
“What do you want, xiao Wei?” Kunlun’s eyes glimmer in the dim light. Sharp. Lethal. Already, Kunlun is half hard again. Already, his hands are gripping Shen Wei's thighs, bending him in almost in half, leaving him open and vulnerable to whatever Kunlun wants to give and take.
This is just an act. Shen Wei tells himself. This is just an elaborate role he has to play. Someday, the curtains will come down, and he can walk off the stage for good.
"Tell me, xiao Wei. I can't give it to you if you don't ask."
But he knows. He knows that when his cock jolts at Kunlun's touch, when his chest heaves as he chases Kunlun's lips, when his heart threatens to burst through his chest when Kunlun calls him his xiao Wei – it's his own heart that betrays him. He knows that when the curtain falls alongside Kunlun, it might as well take him with it.
"I want you." The words burn in the back of Shen Wei's throat as the tears sting his eyes. He brings his hands up to hold Kunlun's face between them, before sliding them down to wrap them around Kunlun's neck. "Take me. Please. I want you inside me."
Kunlun chuckles, somehow. Leans into Shen Wei, kiss impossibly tender even as Shen Wei feels his legs starting to ache at the angle. But Kunlun doesn't give in immediately. Never does. Goes excruciatingly slow as he sucks on Shen Wei's already marked skin, adding to the trail of bruised skin already leading down from his neck. His teeth catch on each of Shen Wei's nipples in turn, taking his time to pull them taut and raise the skin with a swirl of his tongue. At the same time, Kunlun's hands knead at his thighs, dipping lower to his ass as he immediately pushes three fingers inside.
Shen Wei moans, clenching down on his fingers. It stings, a little, even as Shen Wei has lost count of how many times Kunlun had already been inside him. But as Kunlun's fingers curl inside and his back arches in response, he knows he still wants more. "Kunlun – please –"
"Shh." Kunlun presses a kiss to the bottom of Shen Wei's sternum. Soft. Dangerous. "I'll give you what you want. I promise." He trails the kisses back up to Shen Wei's neck before he pulls back to meet his gaze. "But first, be good for me?"
Shen Wei can only swallow and nod, breathing a sigh as Kunlun catches his lips again, perhaps only wanting to devour him whole.
We can kill him.
The words still ring in the hollow of Shen Wei's skull, the dread sinking deeper into his bones as he surveys himself in the tiny mirror of their dingy bathroom. On instinct, he hides his worry behind his glasses, his right hand coming up to push at the hinges with his finger tips. His palm covers his eyes, gives him time to settle down before he gives too much away. He returns his gaze to the mirror as he smooths the front of his clothes, his hands settling over the last two buttons.
Killing is easy. Just think about what kind of monster he is. You won't want to stop with just him.
Shen Wei tries to smile. Shy. Gentle. A little on the serious side. Unassuming. His face coupled with the simple gray suit paints a perfect portrait of a meek and articulate academic at Dragon City University. Perfect for his role. Though of course, that wasn’t the lie.
One of us can go undercover – gain his trust, find an opening to kill him ourselves. He’ll never see us coming.
“Gege, are you done?” Ye Zun’s voice knocks on the bathroom door. Less venomous than the voice in Shen Wei’s head, but still impatient as always. “Hurry up, we still have to move you into the faculty dorm.”
“I’m coming.” Shen Wei adjusts his sleeve garters, takes one more look at himself in the mirror. It would be a while before he gets to return here, to the little apartment he and his brother had managed to wrangle for themselves just over a year ago. He turns to leave, opening the door to come face to face with another mirror of himself – but the expressions are all wrong.
“Took you long enough.” Ye Zun is irritated. He always is. It shows on his face much too easily, compared to Shen Wei. No matter how bitter Ye Zun is about it, that’s the entire reason Shen Wei is better for this task than he is, the reason why he insisted against all Ye Zun’s arguments, the reason they eventually picked Shen Wei. Ye Zun could act, sure, but against someone he wanted to kill? He would never be able to hide the malice in his eyes.
“I just wanted to make sure everything was in order.” Shen Wei walks past his twin, to the tiny dining table by the window. He picks up the blazer he had draped over the back of the chair, sneaking a peek outside for a moment – the broken up brick of the adjacent building, the damp and desolate alleyway below, a smattering of broken glass likely from a fight gone awry –before turning back to Ye Zun. “Shall we go?”
Ye Zun barely contains his eye roll. “Not chickening out?”
More than anything, Shen Wei wants to give up on this entire endeavor of theirs. Live quiet and unassuming lives in their dingy apartment on the fringes of Dragon City. Leave the memories of their old lives in the rubble of their homeland. Carry on as if their lives had always looked like this. More than anything, Shen Wei wishes that were enough for his brother.
But he’s not stupid. He has no illusions as to what Ye Zun would do if he backs out now. Ye Zun would still go ahead with his dangerous plan and likely get himself killed. And that’s the last thing Shen Wei wants.
So Shen Wei only smiles placidly, stretching it across his face until it just barely tugs at the corner of his eyes. Convincing. “I’m not changing my mind.”
The drive to Dragon City University is quiet. Ye Zun had been able to borrow a car from one of his friends, to give them a greater air of dignity in case anyone could be watching. Not that Shen Wei is particularly worried about that yet. Nobody would take an interest in them – just a pair of young men living in a rundown part of town, only existing as migrants then students then workers in the busy tableau of the city.
Somebody like this Kunlun they were trying to ensnare would never look twice in their direction. Not yet. That was the whole point.
It had already been more than a year since Haixing took over the governance of Dixing and Yashou, the result of a war that had dragged on for years in Shen Wei’s memory. It had been that very same war that sent the twins fleeing their hometown, swept along by the flood of refugees into more stable territory, eventually landing them in Dragon City.
But resistance remained from the Dixing and Yashou underground, undaunted by the treaties that safeguard the false peace in the land. Even as Shen Wei used to hear whispers about them, he never took them to heart, tried not to think about them too hard when all he could do for the last few years was throw himself into finishing school and trying to build a life for him and Ye Zun. But Ye Zun could always find trouble when he sought it, and when Ye Zun signed up and presented himself (and by extension, Shen Wei) for scrutiny to the underground resistance, they found the perfect opportunity to make use of them: get close to a man named Kunlun, and find an opportunity to assassinate him.
If he were to be honest, there were a lot of things Shen Wei didn't know about this Kunlun. That he’s a shadow in Haixing’s leadership, infamous for his strategies that crushed the Dixing and Yashou forces years ago; that he has refused to be in the public eye in any capacity; that he moved to Dragon City at the beginning of the summer at the behest of the government, but has since been assigned to Dragon City University; that he’s notoriously difficult to predict, leading to the handful of assassination attempts by the underground to fail – that's where Shen Wei's knowledge of him begins and ends.
So what Shen Wei is, is another desperate attempt.
What makes Shen Wei different is that his story is real. Already, he’s a graduate student at Dragon City University, with a fairly good reputation among the faculty of his department. Already, he had applied to be a graduate assistant to the department for the new semester. With just a few more recommendations, it would be possible for him to take on more tasks, get closer to the director’s office – and naturally, to Kunlun.
But Shen Wei expects that to take time. Which is perfect for him. He’s in no hurry to bare his neck to a man who could just as easily slit his throat. Not yet.
“I shouldn’t have come.” Ye Zun scowls, his arms crossed as he leans against the receptionist’s table when Shen Wei emerges from the hallway into the dormitory proper. Next to him, the remainder of Shen Wei’s things sit precariously like a crumbling tower. “They won’t let me in. I’m practically just decor right now.”
“Sorry, didi.” Shen Wei frowns, squatting down to pick up two boxes in one go. “You can go home now. If you want –”
“That eager to get rid of me, huh.” Ye Zun’s expression only sours further. He straightens up and turns away, “Fine. I’ll leave.”
“Didi–” Shen Wei has to drop the boxes just to run after him, with how fast Ye Zun marches out of the lobby, down the steps, and back to the car parked in front of the faculty dorm. “Didi, wait–”
“You don’t need me for this.” Ye Zun immediately swoops down to sit in the driver’s seat as soon as he unlocks the car. Shen Wei has to wedge himself in the door just so Ye Zun can’t slam it closed. It only pisses him off further. “What? What do you want?”
Shen Wei grits his teeth, knows that telling Ye Zun off would only make him more upset. There’s nothing he can really do to fix what Ye Zun wants right now, no way to give in without jeopardizing what his brother wants to achieve in the end. Instead, he keeps his expression soft, understanding. “I’ll go home on Fridays. We can still spend the weekends together – and I can still cook your meals for the week so you don’t have to worry.”
This is obviously not what Ye Zun wants to hear. They both know it. Ye Zun clutches the door handle tighter, looking like he wants nothing more than to slam the door on Shen Wei’s fingers still clutching the top of the window. He huffs, twisting in his seat to shove his legs in the car properly and avert his gaze from his brother. “Whatever. Do what you like.”
“I’m sorry, didi.” Shen Wei says for the last time. He straightens up and steps away from the car. "Have a safe trip home."
The car door slams, loud in the silence of the university streets still devoid of the bustle of the semester. Shen Wei imagines the screeching of tires as Ye Zun drives away.
Ye Zun can be angry with him, even if this is his reckless idea. As long as he can be safe – safer, further from the line of fire, hidden at least in the shadows.
“Are you okay?” A voice interrupts his worries. Shen Wei looks up, meeting the gaze of a man standing across the narrow avenue.
The man is handsome, dark eyes and full lips bracketed by a chiseled face. His hair is somewhat messy, swept to the side away from his forehead, and there's a light beard defining his features. His clothes are a little more laid back than anyone Shen Wei's seen on campus, the man only wearing a plain button down tucked loosely into dark slacks, his sleeves haphazardly rolled up to his elbows, a cigarette held lightly between his fingers. Still, he gave off the air of someone friendly and respectable – albeit too much at home.
When Shen Wei doesn't respond immediately, the man knits his brows together, a small smile breaking on his lips. "I didn't mean to overhear."
Shen Wei blinks. "No, it's alright." He mirrors the smile. "I'm sorry you had to see that. Did I disturb you?"
"Don't worry about it." The man drops his cigarette onto the concrete, crushes it under leather dress shoes as he shoves his hands into his pockets. Shen Wei elects to ignore the cigarette butts on the ground, watching the man come closer. "Your brother seemed upset."
"Just a bit of separation anxiety." Shen Wei sighs, conjuring up an excuse with ease. Perhaps it's half true. "This is the first time I'll be away. He's just not used to me not being there all the time."
"You must really care for him… I’m sure he’ll come around soon." The man's eyes sparkle in the light of the afternoon. Shen Wei turns as the man stops on the sidewalk next to Shen Wei, keeping a personable distance. His hands are still tucked comfortably in his pockets, his posture at ease. “What brings you here, by the way? Are you a new instructor?”
"Graduate assistant." Shen Wei smiles, just a little wider. Establishing rapport with other people in the university would make him more credible. He doesn’t quite have any friends outside his department. “Under biology. I’m just settling in before the new semester starts.”
“You must be the one starting under Professor Zhou.” The man remarks. “He’s been talking about his new graduate assistant.”
“Oh, you’re familiar with Professor Zhou?” Shen Wei tilts his head slightly. He is sure he has never seen this man before. “Are you also joining the department?”
“Ah, no, I was just in a meeting with him the other day. I work with the administration.” The man lowers his head, glancing down for a moment before his gaze flickers back up to meet Shen Wei’s. “Though now that the biology department has you… maybe I should pay more attention.” The light catches on his eyes, giving it a mischievous glint. His words carry the same. “I’d love to see more of you.”
“Oh, I…” Shen Wei blinks, his thoughts catching on the words in turn. This man works in administration, closer to where Shen Wei needs to be. Seems to know enough about the biology department to have heard about Shen Wei, which might help him get into the good graces he needs to get closer to Kunlun. Is interested in Shen Wei. That last bit… Shen Wei doesn’t quite know what to do with that yet.
“Sorry, too fast?” The man laughs to fill the silence. He extends his hand, “I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Zhao Yunlan.”
Shen Wei looks down, pauses for a brief moment, before returning his gaze and taking his hand. “Shen Wei. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Shen Wei.” Zhao Yunlan repeats with a light nod, as if weighing Shen Wei’s name on his tongue. His face breaks into a smile. “That’s a good name. Suits a beauty like you.”
“Ah.” Shen Wei only averts his eyes again. Only comes back to himself when he feels Zhao Yunlan try to gently tug his hand away, Shen Wei’s own fingers unconsciously holding on. He looks up, meeting Zhao Yunlan’s bemused gaze. Immediately, he drops his hand and clears his throat. “… Sorry, I should get back to moving my things into my room.”
“Of course.” Zhao Yunlan chuckles. He takes a few steps toward the dormitory building, but keeps himself facing Shen Wei. “Would you need any help?”
“Do you live here in the faculty dorm as well?” Shen Wei asks, following his lead. They walk up the steps together, and Shen Wei wonders what kind of luck he must have today, of all days.
“I don’t.” Zhao Yunlan only smirks, putting both hands in his pockets as they stop in the lobby. His posture is much too relaxed for someone working in administration. Before Shen Wei can decline with the very rules that ticked Ye Zun off earlier, he adds, “but I can convince them to let me in anyway.”
Shen Wei stops, feels his lips curl up slightly at the thought. He swallows. “It’s alright. I don’t want to get you into any trouble.”
“No trouble at all. Anything for you.” Zhao Yunlan winks.
“I really couldn’t impose.” Shen Wei shakes his head gently. Offers a genuine smile in return. It wouldn’t do him any good to be distracted so easily. Not when he isn’t sure what to do with this man just yet. “I appreciate the offer though.”
“Fine, I’ll let you go this time.” Zhao Yunlan looks down with a sigh, sounding more amused than disappointed. This time. Shen Wei isn’t sure what he would hoping for in a next time. “We’ll definitely see more of each other.”
“Of course.” Shen Wei dips his head in courtesy. Waits for him to leave before he can turn to his pile of things still standing by the reception.
"Before I go…" Instead, Zhao Yunlan walks past him to the reception desk. Shen Wei looks on in confusion as he asks the guard for a pen and paper, scribbles something down, and walks back to Shen Wei with the note in hand. "Here. If you need any help, don't hesitate to call, okay?"
“I shouldn’t bother you…” Shen Wei blinks, shaking his head despite the note being pushed into his hand. He feels one of Zhao Yunlan's hands curl gently around his wrist, the other joining his fingers to curl around the piece of paper, lingering for a moment before he lets him go completely.
“Oh no, please bother me. I’d love to be bothered.” Zhao Yunlan grins. He pulls out a folded up wristwatch from his pocket, gold watch face and a dark leather strap, glances at it before returning it and clapping his hands. "Anyway, I suppose I should leave you to it. So you have time to get some rest."
“Thank you.” Shen Wei gives a small smile, watches as Zhao Yunlan leaves the lobby with a last wave of his hand in his direction. As he turns back to his abandoned stack of things, he glances at the note in his hand. Freezes.
In quick, altogether wild script, a phone number. Beneath it, presumably the office where he could find Zhao Yunlan – and a name that makes Shen Wei’s breath catch in his throat.
xxx-xxxx loc. 08
Dragon City University Director’s Office
Ask for Kunlun ;)
Shen Wei hesitates, looks up to check if anyone else is watching. The guard at the reception desk doesn’t seem to notice anything amiss, his eyes cast towards the little electric fan on his desk as a reprieve from the summer heat. The lobby remains deserted. Zhao Yunlan has long walked outside. Nothing amiss, except for the sound of Shen Wei’s heart thundering in his ears.
Shen Wei swallows his doubt, shoves the note in his pocket, and walks over to his things. Picks up the box he discarded earlier in his haste to chase Ye Zun. Smiles at the guard when he looks up as Shen Wei passes.
When he reaches his room on the third floor, he places the box on his desk by the window, leaning over to peer at the avenue below.
There, beneath the shadow of the trees, Zhao Yunlan leans against the stone railing of the entrance to the faculty building, another cigarette in his mouth. He has one hand in his pocket, the other coming up to take the cigarette between long fingers as he exhales a stream of smoke and leans his head back almost lazily. It’s a perfect portrait of nonchalance, unassuming and nowhere near threatening. Almost delinquent.
At that moment, Zhao Yunlan meets his gaze, a bright smile breaking through the haze of smoke. He waves with the cigarette tucked neatly between two of his fingers and gives Shen Wei a wink. It makes the dread in Shen Wei’s chest sink down to his stomach. Makes him wonder not for the first time what kind of mess he’s truly getting himself into. Makes him doubt that this Zhao Yunlan could be anything but a friendly stranger, too good-natured and playful to be anything malignant.
All Shen Wei can do for now is smile placidly and give a little wave in return. It wouldn’t bode well for him if this alone would crack his facade. Meeting the man they were planning to kill was only the first part – it would only get more complicated from here.