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every time i had a problem, i turned it into a tiger, and boom! right away, i had a new problem

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“You what?”

“I turned my brother into a tiger.”

“…Why?”

The giant tiger chained to a pillar in the main hall of the Dixing palace growls at Yunlan, and Shen Wei spends endless seconds soothing and shushing it before turning back to Yunlan  

“He can’t use his powers this way.”

“I…suppose you have a point? Er. What do you plan on doing with him, though? And — I don’t know, why didn’t you do this before? Why didn’t you do it to Zhu Jiu?”

“I acquired this power days ago, by complete coincidence,” Shen Wei explains calmly, “I had a more dire plan for stopping didi, but fortunately it did not come to that. As for what I plan to do with him…” he looks thoughtfully at the tiger, which licks its lips with malice in its eyes, “didi and I have been talking. I think I can get through to him. If I do, then… I don’t know. I was hoping he could come live with us for a time, at least while his fate is up in the air.”

He looks pleadingly at Yunlan through his eyelashes. Those sad puppy eyes have convinced Yunlan to do many things, but they won’t convince him to let one of Haixing’s top predators (and Dixing’s top criminal) into his home. Also…

“Talking? You mean you can talk to animals now?”

“I’ve been able to talk to animals all along,” says Shen Wei, cocking his head in confusion, “I thought you knew.”

Yunlan massages his temple.

“Baobei. They’re going to want to put him on trial.”

The tiger’s hackles rise and he starts growling again. Shen Wei kneels and starts petting it, speaking to it quietly. Yunlan almost jumps in when the tiger snaps at Shen Wei, missing his nose by millimitres, but at Shen Wei’s stern look it cowers. After a few minutes, Shen Wei is able to more or less get it to settle down.

He walks over to Yunlan.

“We — we were separated as children,” he says, after an eternity where the swiishing of the tiger’s tail is the only sound of the room, “the rebel leader who kidnapped him convinced him that I abandoned him. He is… reluctant to accept my version of events. As much as he’s resentful for being trapped in the pillar, my failure seems to have been his main motivation. He was… very clear about that.”

Shen Wei is clearly trying to be stoic, but his shoulders are slumped and his eyes are shining.

Yunlan looks over to the tiger, who is watching them with bright amber eyes and baring its teeth in silence.

“I can imagine that,” he says, “when you spend millennia nurturing hatred and then kill multiple people for a single reason… How could you face the fact that your reason was based on a lie?

“But Shen Wei…never say you failed your brother. I was there: I know that you searched for him everywhere, that you tried to reason with him. None of this is your fault.”

Shen Wei looks away and says nothing.

Yunlan takes a deep breath.

“He’s going to need to face the music eventually, Shen Wei. You can’t protect him from that.”

Shen Wei looks wretched; Yunlan feels like an asshole, but he doesn’t regret his honesty.

“Can I — can I at least have some time with him? I really think I can get through to him, Yunlan. And…” Shen Wei takes a  moment to compose himself, smoothing down his vest, “if I do, think of everything he could do to make amends with his powers. He could undo so much of the damage he has wrought. If pity won’t buy us some time, surely practical considerations will?”

He’s asking me, Yunlan realises. Shen Wei isn’t just trying to convince himself, he’s trying to convince Yunlan because — what, he needs his help? He thinks Yunlan will try to stop him? He wants Yunlan to take the decision off his shoulders?

Probably not that last one. Shen Wei looks like someone who has very much decided what needs to be done already.

It’s wishful thinking, Yunlan knows. If  Ye Zun could bring back the dead, maybe — but that’s not one of his powers. Whatever else Ye Zun can fix, he can’t undo the worst of his crimes. Besides, he’s powerful enough that crimes or no crimes, a lot of the higher ups in both Dixing and Haixing will automatically consider him a menace.

“OK, now seriously. There’s going to be a lot of people mad at you if Ye Zun just disappears. What’s your plan?”

Shen Wei bites his lip.

“How long ago did you decide to turn your brother into a tiger, exactly?”

“I — yesterday. I didn’t imagine it would work,” Shen Wei confesses.

Yunlan thinks.

Shen Wei clearly knows how he wants the story to end, if not how to get there. Yunlan… doesn’t, not really. YZ did orchestrate the deaths of multiple people, and given his attempts to get the Hallows, he was probably planning on evil on a larger scale.

On the other hand, from what Shen Wei has said, he’s spent thousands of years in prison already and it didn’t help. And despite everything, Yunlan can’t say no to Shen Wei; he never has been able to.

He takes another look at the tiger. It stares back unblinking.

“I don’t know how long I can buy you, Shen Wei. He’s done too much damage for anyone who knows about him to forget that easily.”

Shen Wei gives him a hopeful look.

“Make sure you take him somewhere they can’t find you. That means not my flat,” he says.

He’s trying to sound playful, but his voice cracks.

“It’s probably — probably best if you don’t contact me during… however long it takes. It won’t be safe.”

“Yunlan —”

“It’s OK, Shen Wei.”

“I’m not — I’m not choosing you over him. I don’t even — I didn’t have time to plan, that’s all. The moment I can be sure it’s safe —”

“Shen Wei, really, it’s OK.”

It’s not OK, but Yunlan doesn’t know what else to do. There’s no universe in which Shen Wei gives up Ye Zun and him and Yunlan go on to have a happy relationship; the guilt would eat Shen Wei alive.

“You should go, before the guards start to get impatient and come in. I’ll come up with something, don’t worry,” Yunlan says, with a confidence he isn’t feeling.

Shen Wei nods. He takes a few steps and quickly kisses Yunlan before turning back to the tiger. He speaks to it quietly for a few moments before unchaining it and opening a portal.

 The tiger goes with him without protest, and the portal closes behind them.

“I hope I see you again,” says Yunlan to the empty air. He turns and walks out of the main hall, his footsteps echoing on granite walls.


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