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For Science

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“I need your help.”

After a few months of consulting for the SID, Shen Wei was used to Zhao Yunlan asking for his assistance. (He was not used to Zhao Yunlan showing up at his door. This wasn’t because Zhao Yunlan rarely knocked. Hardly a night passed without Zhao Yunlan finding some excuse to visit. But after ten thousand years of uncertainty, Shen Wei knew he’d never take for granted the sight of Zhao Yunlan waiting for him when he opened the door.)

“Tell me about the case,” Shen Wei said as he ushered Zhao Yunlan inside.

“There’s not a case,” Zhao Yunlan told him. Instead of making his way to the couch as he normally did, Zhao Yunlan stood in the entryway, leaving Shen Wei just enough room to close the door but not to do much else.

“Then what did you need my help with?” Shen Wei tried to keep his voice steady, but it was difficult with Zhao Yunlan crowding his space.

“Science!” Zhao Yunlan beamed, and Shen Wei found himself torn between his devotion to his academic discipline and the general unease he felt when Zhao Yunlan got this excited.

“Perhaps you could elaborate,” Shen Wei said when it seemed no further explanation was forthcoming.

“Or we could experiment. Do you mind?”

“I… um… no.”

Shen Wei wasn’t quite sure what he was agreeing to, but Zhao Yunlan was standing so close that he could feel warm breath against his face, the sensation overriding the rational part of his brain that had the good sense to be wary of whatever Zhao Yunlan was up to.

“Great!” And with that, Zhao Yunlan closed the remaining distance between them, rubbing his cheek against Shen Wei’s.

The sound Shen Wei made was not remotely dignified, but it couldn’t be helped, not with how Zhao Yunlan was nuzzling against him, the heat from Zhao Yunlan’s flushed skin rushing from Shen Wei’s face to his toes.

Shen Wei wasn’t sure why Zhao Yunlan was doing this – perhaps it came from spending so much time with a cat.  He knew he probably should ask, but instead he shifted slightly to give Zhao Yunlan better access.

And then, just as soon as it began, it was over.

“Time to check the results,” Zhao Yunlan explained as he pulled back from Shen Wei to bolt across the apartment.

It took Shen Wei a moment to follow, the strangeness of the situation leaving him uncertain and confused. For the tiniest of seconds, he’d allowed himself to believe that maybe, just maybe, Zhao Yunlan had somehow not only noticed the feelings Shen Wei had been hiding from him, but also returned them.

But that was clearly not the case. Because if it had been, Zhao Yunlan would be kissing Shen Wei senseless, not preening in front of the bathroom mirror.

“It didn’t work,” Zhao Yunlan said. He gave Shen Wei an exaggerated pout that left Shen Wei making that same undignified noise from before.

“It didn’t?” Shen Wei asked when he was certain he could open his mouth without immediately using it to kiss the pout off Zhao Yunlan’s face.

“No. But it’s all right. We can try again.”

Before Shen Wei could protest (or agree – if he was being honest, he would have agreed), Zhao Yunlan once again invaded his personal space. Just as he had before, Zhao Yunlan ran his cheek along Shen Wei’s, the soft scratch of his beard causing Shen Wei’s body to tremor.

Maybe Zhao Yunlan felt it. Maybe he wanted to help steady Shen Wei. Because he got even closer, wrapping his arms around Shen Wei’s waist to pull their bodies flush. Shen Wei could smell a hint of Zhao Yunlan’s shampoo and without thinking, he let his arms return the embrace.

Shen Wei knew he should ask what they were doing, what it meant, what Zhao Yunlan wanted. But that might mean Zhao Yunlan would pull away and Shen Wei wasn’t ready for the experience, strange as it was, to be over.

“Hmm…” Zhao Yunlan said after a few minutes had passed. He craned his neck to look in the mirror, but kept his arms where they were. “Still hasn’t worked. Wanna keep trying?”

“I… what are we doing?” The abrupt end to their tender interlude forced Shen Wei to ask the question.

“I told you – science. It’s an experiment.”

“To determine what?”

“If cuteness can be transferred from one person to another. I would have thought some of yours would have rubbed off on me by now, but I’m not seeing any change. You’re the scientist – what do you think?”

“I’m not cute.” There were a lot of other things Shen Wei should have been saying, but those were the words that slipped out instead.

“Good point,” Zhao Yunlan said, causing Shen Wei’s heart to sink. Of course Zhao Yunlan didn’t think he was cute – Zhao Yunlan knew he was the Envoy – but to hear Zhao Yunlan actually admit it… “You’re not cute – you’re adorable!”

“That’s not what I—”

“Don’t worry. It’s fine. Transferring adorableness probably takes longer than mere cuteness.”

He said it with such conviction that Shen Wei couldn’t bring himself to explain the numerous problems with Zhao Yunlan’s experiment. Not that research methodology was at the forefront of Shen Wei’s thoughts when Zhao Yunlan was calling him adorable and resting his palm just above Shen Wei’s hip.

“Does…” Shen Wei floundered, trying to find some way to respond without drawing attention to the fact that rational thought was giving him trouble. “Does that mean you want to keep testing?”

“Yes! But only if you don’t mind. If it’s making you uncomfortable or you don’t want to, we can stop.”

Shen Wei couldn’t quite find the words to convey just how much he did not mind. Instead of saying anything, he hugged Zhao Yunlan tighter, leaning against him so their faces were again touching.

Zhao Yunlan made a contented hum and Shen Wei closed his eyes, letting himself indulge in the moment.

“You know,” Zhao Yunlan said after a few minutes had passed, “I think we might need to amend the experiment.”

“Oh?” Shen Wei asked. He opened his eyes but stayed where he was. If Zhao Yunlan stopped hugging him, he would move. Until that happened, Shen Wei saw no reason to let go.

“I know it’s bad to rush things, but… maybe we need to put our lips together instead. To see if we get better results.”

“Are you saying you want to… kiss me for science?”

“Yes! Actually, no.” Zhao Yunlan’s exuberance faded into something softer and more sincere. “I wasn’t lying when I said you’re adorable, Shen Wei. I’ve wanted to kiss you for ages, and I think you might like it if I did. But I’m not sure. That’s why I’m here.”

“So this really is an experiment?”

“Of a sort. Or maybe it’s what happens when a shameless flirt doesn’t know what to do after he develops serious feelings for the first time in his life.”

“Oh.” Shen Wei kept his hold on Zhao Yunlan as he considered his words.

It made sense, in a very Zhao Yunlan kind of way. If Shen Wei had shoved him aside, the whole thing could be written off as a joke, with no awkwardness lingering between them. It was ridiculous, of course, but also more effective than moving in across the hall and hoping things fell into place.

“I’m out of my depth, Shen Wei.” Zhao Yunlan’s voice was almost a whisper. “What should I do?”

“I think you should test your hypothesis.”

“My hypothesis?”

“You said you thought I might like it if you… kissed me.” The words caught but Shen Wei managed to say them. “I think you should see what happens when you try.”

“You… oh!”

Then neither of them said much of anything for a while.

After all, results could only be trusted if they could replicate and, much to Shen Wei’s delight, Zhao Yunlan seemed quite content to keep testing his theory for the remainder of the evening.