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The Alliance lost the latest battle. Shen Wei saw the bodies as they were carried away, three of them this time. He wanted to do something but he wasn’t sure what, and regardless that’s not part of the Black Cloaked Envoy’s role. He’s not a general, he’s a spy. When a battle is lost he doesn’t appear to rally the troops, he melts away into the background until summoned for the next counsel.

The one raising morale is Kunlun, who has been walking around patting backs and giving words of encouragement all afternoon. In the dimming light of the evening, Shen Wei watches him look around as if to make sure no one needs his attention before heading away from the camp.

Shen Wei is halfway through dinner, so he packs it up hastily and follows. He easily tracks Kunlun to the edge of a nearby stream, then hesitates. Kunlun is slumped over, and even from behind he looks more tired than Shen Wei has ever seen him before.

After a few moments, Kunlun doesn’t seem to have noticed his presence. That, more than anything else, makes up Shen Wei’s mind: Kunlun isn’t alert enough to be on his own right now. Anyone could sneak up on him.

Kunlun at least looks up when he hears Shen Wei scrambling down the bank.

“Hey,” he says with a half-hearted smile.

Shen Wei isn’t sure whether the lack of enthusiasm means that Kunlun trusts him enough to lower the façade or that he’s too tired to keep it up. He sits in silence beside Kunlun.

They both watch the water running as the sun dips lower and lower in the horizon. The stream is close enough to camp for safety, but far enough that it’s out of earshot and no one is likely to disturb them.

“I’ve seen people die before, you know,” Kunlun says eventually, with a sardonic huff “I didn’t think it would be very different. I mean, I didn’t think at all. But if I had, I could never have imagined…”

He trails off.

Shen Wei nods.

Replies dance in his head, bumping into each other like flies. It wasn’t too bad today. We’ll get used to it. I think we’ve got the upper hand now, we’ll be able to end it soon.

Somehow he doubts any of it will be comforting.

“Have you eaten?” he says instead.

Kunlun shakes his head.

“Not much of an appetite, to be honest.”

Shen Wei exhales heavily.

“I know. I used to be like that at first. I think a lot of people are. But …” he hesitates for a moment, unsure how his concern will be received, “it doesn’t make things any better. I know this from experience, general Kunlun.”

He proffers one of the remaining buns from dinner. Kunlun stares at it as if it’s an unfathomable mystery.

“Shen Wei,” he says eventually, “how many times must I ask you to call me Kunlun?”

If Shen Wei is honest with himself, he was hoping for this reaction when he addressed Kunlun by his title. Kunlun doesn’t seem much more cheerful, but at least he’s making his usual quips.

“Kunlun, then,” Shen Wei says, offering the bun again.

Kunlun gives him a smile then: small and sad, but genuine.

“Always taking care of me, Shen Wei,” he murmurs, “what would i do without you?”

Shen Wei’s face warms. He wants to protest that he hasn’t done anything, but he’s rendered speechless when Kunlun takes the bun, his warm fingers gliding over Shen Wei’s hand.

“We need to take care of each other,” Shen Wei stutters eventually, watching Kunlun take a small bite out of the bun.

That faraway look returns to Kunlun’s eyes.

“Yes, we do. Thank you, Shen Wei.”

Shen Wei hovers until he feels more sure Kunlun is going to finish eating.

“Do you — do you want to be alone now?” he asks then.

Kunlun stares out over the water. His profile is harder to make out now, with night nearly fallen.

“No. If you don’t mind, I’d like you to stay.”

Shen Wei nods and sits back, facing the stream as well. Tomorrow will be another day; there will be another battle, more screaming, more blood, more bodies. For tonight, they get a few hours to breathe, to heal and sleep and nourish each other. It’s not enough; it will have to be enough.


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