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what the weave tells you

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Zhao Yunlan can’t fucking believe that he first hears about this from Lao Chu of all people. A Dixingren tradition so important literally everyone knows about it? One relevant to intimate relationships of all kinds, including the kind where two (or more) people have bought a house together, saved the world together, have lots of really astoundingly good sex together? Naturally, Shen Wei has never mentioned it.

“Sooo,” Zhao Yunlan says over dinner, drawing the word out in a way that has Shen Wei’s relaxed slouch – or rather his version of a relaxed slouch, which involves a posture only slightly less straight than usual – firming into something more alert, “why didn’t you tell me about dark energy bonding?”

Shen Wei’s chopsticks freeze in the air, a piece of grilled tofu halfway between the bowl and his mouth. Then he very deliberately resumes the motion, chewing the piece of tofu thoroughly while Zhao Yunlan watches, eyes dark.

Once his mouth is empty, Shen Wei says, voice entirely even, “It wasn’t relevant.”

“It wasn’t relevant,” Zhao Yunlan repeats, eyebrows rising towards his hairline. Shen Wei can’t possibly fail to pick up on the dubious note in his voice. “Is or is it not something that romantic partners do?”

Shen Wei’s lips purse as he sets his chopsticks down with a gentle click. There’s something unbearably gentle in his expression when he says, “You are Haixingren.”

Zhao Yunlan hopes that he managed to conceal the little stab of pain at the bald statement. It’s not Shen Wei’s fault, furthest thing from it – one of the reasons they’ve never really talked about the fact that theirs is, technically speaking, an interspecies relationship is that Zhao Yunlan doesn’t want to make Shen Wei feel bad or self-conscious, like there’s something he can’t give Zhao Yunlan because he isn’t Haixingren. Or, more likely, to not remind Shen Wei of all the things Zhao Yunlan can’t do because he isn’t Dixingren.

And yet, after Lao Chu had set a slim black book on his desk with no further comment, how could he not have raised the topic? If it’s a big enough thing Lao Chu is stooping to giving Zhao Yunlan implicit relationship advice, then this is absolutely something he needs to acknowledge. Even if the book told him in excruciating detail what exactly he’s failing to give Shen Wei.

So he acknowledges Shen Wei’s point with a nod, pretends not to see the way Shen Wei’s eyes have gone a little shiny with worry. “Yes. I know I can’t do this for you, though we could talk about Haixingren alternatives. But you could.”

Shen Wei’s eyes darken, passing from worried straight to what other people might term ‘scarily intense’ and Zhao Yunlan never fails to find thrilling in all the best ways. But Shen Wei is still holding himself back, no matter how clear it is that he wants this.

Chu Shuzhi obviously had had a point. Not that Zhao Yunlan is ever going to tell him that.

“It wouldn’t feel the same to you,” Shen Wei warns, fingertips curling against the smooth wood of the table. “You can’t sense dark energy– ”

“– the way Dixingren do, I know,” Zhao Yunlan cuts in because he does know this, does realise that this won’t be the same experience for him as it would be for Shen Wei in the reverse, but there’s banked excitement bubbling just under his skin, fed by rampant curiosity about anything and everything Shen Wei that Zhao Yunlan has only ever done a bad job of hiding. “Xiao Wei… this is you. I’ll know that it’s you, even if I can’t quite feel the difference.”

He can see the moment Shen Wei gives in to both of their wishes, but when he goes to push the dishes together, Shen Wei’s hand darts out, quicker than Zhao Yunlan’s eyes can follow, and clamps around his wrist.

He stills. Meets Shen Wei’s gaze, and tries not to drown in the emotion he finds there.

“This is not just for me? You want…”

Zhao Yunlan finds himself smiling, softer than the atmosphere seems to imply, still – always – terribly besotted with the man in front of him, who worries so much about Zhao Yunlan’s wants and so little about his own. “Ah Shen Wei. Of course I do, when it’s you.”

“All right,” Shen Wei says, softness once again warring with intensity. “Get ready while I clear the dishes.”

Grinning in victory, Zhao Yunlan gets up from the table – only to realise that in this context, he doesn’t actually know what ‘get ready’ should entail. Figuring better safe than sorry, he goes to the toilet, but then just sort of ends up hovering in the kitchen while Shen Wei washes dishes with both his usual thoroughness and a certain edge of impatience Zhao Yunlan doesn’t often see him exhibit where housework is concerned.

Eventually he decides to distract himself by texting Da Qing to not expect them around this evening and keep out of their bedroom if he doesn’t want to See Things. The Damn Cat already complains enough about that one time they didn’t quite make it to the bedroom and Da Qing walked in on them. Zhao Yunlan knows this isn’t sex, but suspects it’ll be so excruciatingly intimate instead that Da Qing may well consider it worse.

Da Qing sends him back a string of winking faces, which Zhao Yunlan really should’ve seen coming.

“Ready?” Shen Wei asks quietly and Zhao Yunlan startles a little to find him so close, apparently already done with the dishes. He puts the phone away with a nod, trailing Shen Wei’s long strides to their bedroom on the first floor.

Shen Wei sets down a glass of water, a box of tissues, a couple of lollipops and a trail bar on the nightstand with precise care. Zhao Yunlan stares at the assortment for a moment, nervous excitement churning in his belly. This is starting to feel more like an expedition than a cosy night at home.

He clears his throat. “Uh, do I keep my clothes on or…?”

Shen Wei pauses in unbuttoning his shirt cuffs. “Either is acceptable,” he says, still sounding very calm. “The feeling is more… intense on naked skin, so some prefer to remain clothed.”

Well, that hardly sounds like a choice at all. By the time Shen Wei has taken off his second sleeve garter, Zhao Yunlan is entirely naked, sitting on the edge of the bed.

He grins at Shen Wei, who always looks gratifyingly heated when Zhao Yunlan shows his eagerness. “How do you want me?”

Zhao Yunlan blinks and suddenly Shen Wei is standing close enough that their legs are almost touching.

“Lie down on your back,” Shen Wei instructs, cool hands guiding Zhao Yunlan’s torso backwards. Goosebumps shiver across his skin as he lets himself be moved, Shen Wei tucking a thin pillow comfortably under his head. The sheets, fancier ones than he’s ever owned in his life, suddenly feel scratchy in comparison to Shen Wei’s fingers.

“Do I need to do anything?” Zhao Yunlan asks, caught between instinctive laziness now that he’s lying so comfortably and the excitement still scraping along his nerves.

Shen Wei smiles, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “Relax.” Is it just Zhao Yunlan or is Shen Wei’s voice becoming smoother, almost hypnotising? “I’ve got you.”

Zhao Yunlan is indeed very got, melting into the mattress just under Shen Wei’s gaze, let alone any dark energy Shen Wei hasn’t yet reached for.

Shen Wei traces a finger along Zhao Yunlan’s cheek, feather light, and Zhao Yunlan sighs a little, muscles relaxing further.

“If you want to stop, tell me,” Shen Wei murmurs, voice lower than usual, and when Zhao Yunlan blinks his eyes open – when had he closed those again? – there are sparks of dark energy dancing in his eyes, mesmerising.

Shen Wei seems to be waiting for a response even though he hadn’t actually asked a question, and Zhao Yunlan groups his scattered brain together enough to say, embarrassingly husky, “Yes, Xiao Wei.”

Shen Wei’s smile widens for an all too brief moment, before a familiar look of concentration steals across his features. It’s never been directed at Zhao Yunlan in quite this context before.

A tendril of dark energy finds its way from Shen Wei’s palm to Zhao Yunlan’s skin, so thin and fine he can barely see it. It curls around his ankle, a prickling band of warmth, and Zhao Yunlan can only watch in fascination as more and more tendrils follow, starting to weave a lattice as fine as the cloth his mother used to embroider. It continues weaving itself upward to and over his knee. Zhao Yunlan would have boggled at the level of control displayed, if he weren’t so busy breathing through the tide of warmth tingling through his veins. It doesn’t hurt in the least, isn’t even uncomfortable – not that he had thought it would be; Shen Wei would never agree to do anything that has even an outside chance of causing Zhao Yunlan serious pain. But there’s a growing pressure, an awareness that his leg is perfectly encased by something he has no control over. So he follows the flow of energy back to Shen Wei, and he may not be Dixingren, may not be able to feel an origin in the dark energy itself, but something in his brain clicks when he sees the unbroken line of energy running from Shen Wei’s eyes to Shen Wei’s hand to Zhao Yunlan’s hip. He relaxes into it, letting himself be cradled by the energy, held securely in this extension of Shen Wei’s self.

Shen Wei’s eyes, still glimmering with flecks of energy, snap to Zhao Yunlan’s face. He wouldn’t have the words to describe the expression on Shen Wei’s face even if he lived a million years, and suddenly the net of energy still weaving itself around his limbs electrifies.

He doesn’t have the words for that either. Doubts any Haixingren would.

“Talk to me,” Zhao Yunlan gasps, because the energy is there, surrounding him, overwhelming in every sense of the word and his mind is scrambling for a counterpoint.

“It’s a tradition as old as I am,” Shen Wei says, voice crackling with power, the same electricity that’s running through his dark energy touching every single syllable. “A demonstration of control, yes. The finer the weave, the harder it is to keep the energy stable and present.”

The second leg is encased, and Zhao Yunlan doesn’t even feel a shred of apprehension as the energy flows over his nether regions and up his hips. The impossibility of the energy passing below him where his skin meets the sheets and there should be no room at all doesn’t even register. He’s floating, held between Shen Wei’s voice and Shen Wei’s energy.

“Control and strength of power in how long it can be sustained,” Shen Wei murmurs, lightning wrapped in velvet, “but above all a demonstration of trust. Limitless trust is the source of this intimacy and you – ”

He breaks off, and for a moment all Zhao Yunlan can hear is Shen Wei’s breathing and a crackle he is almost certain isn’t truly audible.

“You trust so entirely,” Shen Wei whispers and the lattice moves up his chest, past his nipples, along his arms, until it ends in thin bands around Zhao Yunlan’s throat.

Zhao Yunlan’s vision has gone hazy, dark sparks dancing in the air. “Shen Wei.”

It’s barely more than a whisper, but Shen Wei answers, Shen Wei puts his hand on the weave of energy covering Zhao Yunlan’s chest and a pulse thrums through the entire network, setting every single nerve alight.

For an eternal, glorious moment his perception flares – he can feel Shen Wei in the dark energy, as intrinsically him as the fall of his hair, his scent of frost and pine and honey, the sword callouses on his palm. And then it fades away again, leaving everything a little duller but also more manageable.

Zhao Yunlan breathes out, becomes aware of the way one of Shen Wei’s hands lingers on his cheek now, a worried frown about to form between his brows. As soon as Zhao Yunlan smiles, it smooths out and the hand retreats to draw along the weave around his torso again.

Shivers race along under his touch.

“You are so beautiful,” Shen Wei murmurs, nothing but naked truth in his voice, and Zhao Yunlan – inveterate self-promoter Zhao Yunlan – actually feels himself blushing. Shen Wei is just too unfair sometimes. “I didn’t know it would be like this.”

He sounds a little breathless himself under the electric tension still sparking in his eyes and voice.

Zhao Yunlan blinks, half his mind on the feeling of those myriad dark energy strings on his skin, half his mind wondering at what Shen Wei just said.

“You’ve never done this before?”

Shen Wei’s eyelashes flutter down. “Who would I have done it with?” he asks evenly. So evenly Zhao Yunlan might’ve worried about killing the mood entirely if Shen Wei’s hands weren’t still busy caressing energy and skin alike.

He still wishes he’d bitten his tongue. He knows how alone Shen Wei has been for most of his life – also knows that Kunlun’s time in the past had been too limited to ever reach this stage because he lived it – and Ye Zun… With a start he remembers what Shen Wei had told him – reluctantly, after a lot of pestering and a manipulative guilt trip that Zhao Yunlan would’ve regretted more if Shen Wei wasn’t clearly tearing himself apart over it – about the time he’d spent in Ye Zun’s hands. Bound to a pillar by his brother’s dark energy. It shudders through him, the realisation of what that perversion of this beautiful tradition must’ve done to Shen Wei. The brother he’d longed to be close to, throwing the intimacy of family members back in his face, hurting him with it.

He brings his instinctive reaction under control too late.

Shen Wei’s brows have drawn together, voice urgent, “Zhao Yunlan, what’s wrong?”

His hand is moving as if to start recalling his energy and Zhao Yunlan gasps out, “No, leave it!”

Shen Wei pauses, but doesn’t look convinced.

“It’s nothing,” Zhao Yunlan insists. He isn’t ready to let this go yet, and certainly not because of Ye Zun of all people.

“It’s clearly not nothing,” Shen Wei points out, a little sharp.

Zhao Yunlan blows out a breath through his nose. The longer they talk the more the floaty, secure feeling drains away. “All right, it’s not anything to do with this. Shen Wei, this is good.”

That at least manages to relax Shen Wei a little, but Zhao Yunlan can tell from his expression that he won’t stop pursuing the point. Shen Wei gets implacable at the drop of a hat, often inconveniently so for his long-suffering partner. Then again, if their places were reversed, Zhao Yunlan probably wouldn’t let it go either.

Shen Wei sets both his hands just above Zhao Yunlan’s navel and somehow warmth starts radiating outwards, running along the weave. Muscles he hadn’t even noticed tensing relax again.

Zhao Yunlan closes his eyes. “I don’t want to ruin the moment.”

“It distressed you,” Shen Wei says, as if that’s the end of the discussion. Implacable, all right. Then his tone softens a little. “Zhao Yunlan, you’ve already given me a great gift. It’s not recommended to do this for too long and it’s been half an hour.”

Zhao Yunlan’s eyes fly open again. Half an hour? It had felt simultaneously much longer and much shorter, a breath and an infinity in one. But now that he focuses properly, he can see the sweat dampening Shen Wei’s hairline – to have held this complicated a dark energy working for this long… it may well be that Shen Wei is the only Dixingren alive who could even attempt it, much less successfully so.

He sighs a little, sinking back into the energy’s embrace. Shen Wei’s embrace. “All right. We can always do this again another day.”

It’s worth it to see the way Shen Wei’s eyes brighten, the smile on his lips. “You would want to?”

Zhao Yunlan gives him his best ‘don’t ask stupid questions’ look – more Shen Wei’s specialty than his own – and Shen Wei ducks his head in acknowledgement.

Then he makes a familiar gesture with his hand and even as band after band of energy disappears, Zhao Yunlan tries to commit the feeling of Shen Wei’s energy all around him to memory, already knowing it’ll pale in his mind.

He’d hardly been aware of his nakedness the entire time, but now he feels bare, shivering in the cool air. It takes another heartbeat for the dark energy to leech from Shen Wei’s hands and eyes, leaving him looking a little pale but also at peace in a way Zhao Yunlan rarely gets to see so openly. He really doesn’t look forward to ruining that by answering Shen Wei’s question.

Shen Wei goes to draw the duvet over Zhao Yunlan, but he reaches out to catch Shen Wei’s forearm instead.

“Come here and warm me up yourself,” he says, and Shen Wei must sense his very real need to have Shen Wei near now that his energy isn’t anymore, for he nods and starts taking off his shirt.

“Drink something first,” he instructs, shrugging out of the sleeves in a motion that literally no one else could make look effortlessly sinuous. “And eat the trail bar.”

It’s as if Shen Wei’s words reconnect some signal from body to mind, for Zhao Yunlan suddenly becomes aware of how dry his throat is. Come to think of it, his stomach also seems to demand feeding.

Correctly interpreting his look, Shen Wei hands him the glass and says, “It’s more exhausting than you realise in the moment.”

The glass is almost empty already. Zhao Yunlan narrows his eyes at him. “You should drink something too.”

Shen Wei throws him an indulgent look, but does move to the adjoining bathroom to fill himself a glass. Too late, Zhao Yunlan realises that this means Shen Wei is going further away and he only just bites down on the whine that wants to escape his mouth.

Except he blinks and then Shen Wei is back, trouser-less now, and before Zhao Yunlan can even reach out, Shen Wei has already slid into the bed next to him and thrown the duvet over both of their legs. He has also somehow managed to snag the trail bar while Zhao Yunlan was distracted. Or at least Zhao Yunlan finds it pointedly waving in front of his nose.

Zhao Yunlan makes a big production out of unwrapping the bar and chewing properly. Maybe if it takes him long enough to get through it, Shen Wei will forget that he wanted Zhao Yunlan to spill any beans at all.

Also, bless him, Shen Wei seems to have realised that Zhao Yunlan wants to be touched, have him near, be held.

Shen Wei’s smile curves against Zhao Yunlan’s shoulder.

Zhao Yunlan is almost certain that Shen Wei has raised his body temperature because he’s never usually this warm, radiating heat into Zhao Yunlan’s skin.

Eventually, the last morsel is gone – and he hasn’t even dropped more than a couple tiny little crumbs onto the bed – creeping lassitude threatening to send him to sleep.

“Yunlan?” Shen Wei finally prompts.

He shifts onto his side, hides his face in Shen Wei’s chest. It’s an excellent chest, only marred by the presence of the singlet. His voice comes out muffled. “Do I have to?”

Shen Wei’s clever fingers card through his hair, soothing.

“It upset you,” he says again, as if he doesn’t routinely keep all his own upsets to himself.

Zhao Yunlan is too wrung out – in good ways, but still – to keep dissembling. It never works on Shen Wei anyway.

“I just remembered what you told me,” he says, not bothering to hide his reluctance, but Shen Wei only hums encouragingly. “About Ye Zun, about him tying you to the pillar with his dark energy.”

He isn’t at all surprised that Shen Wei stiffens against him, muscles freezing into absolute stillness. He still hates it.

Better to just get it over with.

“I hadn’t realised the context. What it meant.”

Shen Wei isn’t even breathing. Were it not for the heart still beating under Zhao Yunlan’s cheek, it would be like lying in bed with a statue.

“Breathe, Xiao Wei,” he says, unheeding of the pleading note that enters his voice. The sole mercy is that he can’t see Shen Wei’s face – there are already too many gut-wrenching expressions of Shen Wei’s burned into his memory, indelible.  “It’s in the past, isn’t it?”

Shen Wei’s chest shudders through an inhale. His voice is raw. “It was the closest we ever came.”

Zhao Yunlan snakes an arm around Shen Wei’s waist, drawing him impossibly closer. He doesn’t say I’m here. Your brother is gone, but I’m here.

Shen Wei’s voice drops to an agonised whisper. “I still don’t know whether he meant it as a mercy or a cruelty.”

Zhao Yunlan has definite views on that subject, but voicing them wouldn’t be kind. Instead, he presses a kiss to Shen Wei’s throat, lingers there until he can feel the pulse underneath his lips skip.

“I’ve only ever seen you do good things with your power,” he says, “very much including that time you portalled to the shops to get me ice cream in the middle of the night.”

Shen Wei huffs an almost-laugh into Zhao Yunlan’s hair. He knows what Zhao Yunlan is doing, of course. But these days he’s more willing to let himself be distracted, comforted, without feeling guilty about it.

Including,” Zhao Yunlan continues, “what we just did. It was beautiful. Overwhelming, too, but you know I like that sometimes.”

There’s no fixing what Ye Zun did in the past. Or what Shen Wei didn’t do, which is possibly the sorer point. That just doesn’t make Zhao Yunlan any less determined to preserve this evening as a good experience in both their minds. Getting to see that rapture on Shen Wei’s face would be enough to make him want to repeat it, never mind how pleasurable it had been for him.

Shen Wei finally moves, tilting Zhao Yunlan’s head up until he can press a kiss to Zhao Yunlan’s lips and whisper “Thank you” into the air between their mouths. In return, Zhao Yunlan reaches up to wipe away the wetness in the corner of Shen Wei’s eye.

Shen Wei smiles. There’s still an undertone of something painful in his expression, but joy too. Another small step taken.

“Rest now,” Shen Wei murmurs and Zhao Yunlan rolls back to his side of the bed obediently while Shen Wei draws up the duvet. He doesn’t let go of Shen Wei’s hand though, not yet.

Shen Wei doesn’t seem to mind, thumb stroking over Zhao Yunlan’s knuckles. Zhao Yunlan’s mind flashes to those hands effortlessly directing dark energy threads with a grace that’s almost hard to watch.

“You should tie me up for sex some time,” Zhao Yunlan opines sleepily and Shen Wei’s fingers briefly tighten around his.

Yunlan,” he says, sounding terribly fond.

Zhao Yunlan grins into the pillow. That definitely wasn’t a no.