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quiet, still

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For just a moment after waking, Zhao Yunlan doesn't know where he is.

His body aches; he's lying on something hard, head pillowed on one arm, and his face and hands are cold, although the rest of him is – if not warm, at least not uncomfortable. And it's so different to what he's used to, the soft give of his mattress and pillow, the warmth of his sheets and duvet – is that dirt he can smell? Is he outside? – that it takes him a long moment to remember-

Ye Zun, the Hallows, the wormhole – travelling ten thousand years into the past, meeting Ma Gui and Fu You-

Meeting Shen Wei-

Zhao Yunlan's eyes spring open; he remembers talking with Shen Wei on the cliff overlooking Alliance Headquarters – talking and sharing, lives and concerns and lollipops, and all the while the moon and stars had wheeled overhead until-


Zhao Yunlan must have fallen asleep; and he's grateful, now, for the fur vest Ma Gui had provided as part of Kunlun's era-appropriate robes, given he hasn't frozen to death.

He rubs his eyes, bleary in the dim grey light; he hasn't been awake at this hour for years – his days of drinking and dancing until the dawn are long behind him, even before he met Shen Wei-

Shen Wei-

Zhao Yunlan doesn't remember when, exactly, he fell asleep; he can only hope that it wasn't in the middle of anything – delicate, that Shen Wei wasn't offended-

He pushes up onto his elbow; something loose slides into his lap, and he plucks at it, blinking – it's black, soft and almost slick between his fingers, still draped completely over his lower half. Zhao Yunlan doesn't have anything like this in his outfit; Ma Gui had provided him with a cloak, thick and trimmed with fur – but it'd been a warm day, and a warmer night; Zhao Yunlan had left it behind.

He looks up-

Shen Wei is right there, and Zhao Yunlan aborts his flinch into a twitch; he should be used to the way Shen Wei gravitates towards him, is always silently there, even if he hadn't quite expected it from this younger version of Shen Wei who doesn't yet know him.

Shen Wei is sitting with his legs folded in, hands palm up on his knees; he's breathing slowly, steadily – is he meditating? – and his eyes are closed. His hood is down, mask in his lap; he's flawless, a statue carved from jade.

Zhao Yunlan sits up properly, fumbles in his robes for his phone. He wants to remember this: the quiet before the sunrise, waking beneath Shen Wei's cloak, the way it feels like it's just the two of them, living and breathing in all the world-

Even if Shen Wei felt he couldn't leave Zhao Yunlan to sleep alone, he could have chosen anywhere to meditate; instead, he's bare inches from Zhao Yunlan's hip, like he, too, hadn't wished them to be parted.

His phone turns on quietly: 60% battery, no signal. Zhao Yunlan thumbs open the camera, raises the phone-

And the first light of dawn breaks over the horizon, painting Shen Wei in streaks of gold.

Zhao Yunlan feels his breath catch; Shen Wei was already beautiful, but now with golden light kissing his cheekbones, feathering glossy across his braids, he's incandescent, blinding.

Zhao Yunlan takes a photo; he feels-

Shen Wei's lashes flutter; slowly, his eyes open. He blinks once, twice, in the newly birthed light – and then the corner of his mouth curls up as he smiles, the same innocent joy in the sunrise as he'd had looking at the stars through the eyes of his mask last night, and Zhao Yunlan-


He doesn't know how he feels – doesn't know how to reconcile this almost childlike wonder with the war-weary warlord he'd seen last night; both different again to the Shen Wei he's used to. But then that Shen Wei has complexity all of his own; Heipaoshi's power and control contrasting with Professor Shen's polite restraint, even as Shen Wei's own emotions run deep beneath the surface. Perhaps, in the end, this Shen Wei isn't so different; less guarded, certainly, more open – more willing to share-

He takes another photo in a daze, powers down his phone and slides it securely back into the folds of his robes.

Zhao Yunlan doesn't know how he feels, because he feels too much – he loves Shen Wei, of course, has loved him for months, and now seeing him here, so young and worn down by war, but still able to smile-

"Kunlun," Shen Wei says, and Zhao Yunlan blinks; Shen Wei is looking at him, face still open, unguarded – still smiling. "Good morning."

"Shen Wei ah," Zhao Yunlan says, mouth pulling helplessly into a smile of his own. "Did you sleep at all?"

"I need little enough sleep," Shen Wei says. "With you in such need of rest, my time was better spent guarding your dreams," and Zhao Yunlan-

He doesn't think he'll ever get used to the way Shen Wei will just come out and say such things; they could be jokes from anyone else, but from Shen Wei they're always devastatingly sincere.

"I'm honoured," he says; every time Shen Wei does it, it leaves Zhao Yunlan feeling a little unsteady, something warm blooming in the centre of his chest.

Shen Wei's smile gets a little smaller, but not in a bad way; before it had been a general smile, pleasure in the sunrise, and now it's something just between the two of them – something just for Zhao Yunlan.

"The honour is mine," Shen Wei says, and his voice is low, quiet. "I hope your rest was peaceful," and Zhao Yunlan might be feeling like he slept outside on dirt and rocks in an uncomfortable sprawl, because he did, but peaceful – that he can agree with as absolute truth.

He's never happier than when Shen Wei is looking after him – or looking at him.

"It was," Zhao Yunlan says, and his own voice has dropped, too; hoarse, almost a whisper.

"Would you-" Shen Wei starts, and visibly checks himself; it's the kind of tell he's trained himself out of, ten thousand years later – Shen Wei in the present is much better at denying himself things he wants without ever breathing a word. "I'm sure you have things to do-"

"Nothing more important than this," Zhao Yunlan says, rough, and means it with everything he has; he might have been brought here to help retrieve the Hallows, but be that as it may, this is his true purpose – being here with Shen Wei, for Shen Wei, a friend and confidante in the midst of his loneliness.

Shen Wei's eyes widen; he ducks his head, pink dusting his cheeks, and when he looks up he's back to looking at the sunrise.

Ah, this young Shen Wei is so shy; but Zhao Yunlan has seen the remnants of that ten thousand years in the future, the uncertainty beneath Heipaoshi's steel and Professor Shen's reserve – Shen Wei still, somehow, unsure of his welcome.

Zhao Yunlan will simply have to try harder.

"Beautiful," Zhao Yunlan says, very clearly not looking at the sunrise; watches Shen Wei flush darker, and smiles.

"Ah, Xiao Wei, let's watch it together," he says, shuffling around under the surprising warmth of the black cloak, and slumps against Shen Wei's side. "Here."

He spreads the cloak across Shen Wei's legs, brushing over Shen Wei's hands, and sucks in a breath; he's ice cold. "Shen Wei, your hands-"

Shen Wei just blinks at him, like this is normal, and he's already given up his cloak to keep Zhao Yunlan warm – Zhao Yunlan isn't going to let him freeze his fingers off.

"Let me-" Zhao Yunlan says, and takes hold of Shen Wei's hands; it's Shen Wei's turn to suck in a breath as Zhao Yunlan gently chafes his hands around Shen Wei's chilled fingers before tucking them, tangled together, beneath the cloak. "There," he says, and snuggles in against Shen Wei's shoulder.

"I-" Shen Wei says, and swallows; he's stiff against Zhao Yunlan, tense, and Zhao Yunlan has just a moment to contemplate how badly he's clearly just fucked up-

And then Shen Wei relaxes against him, fingers curling around Zhao Yunlan's, intertwined, and Zhao Yunlan breathes out. Not uncomfortable, then; surprised, maybe, uncertain-

Perhaps it's a futile effort; Zhao Yunlan has, after all, met Shen Wei ten thousand years from now. But that's not going to stop him from trying; from doing his best to show, with his words and actions, that Shen Wei is always welcome.

"Now it's a good morning," Zhao Yunlan murmurs, leaning a little more into Shen Wei; feels Shen Wei take a slow breath in-

Feels the gentle, delicate press of Shen Wei's head, tipped against his.

"Kunlun," Shen Wei murmurs, and Zhao Yunlan can hear the smile in his voice.

"I'm here," Zhao Yunlan murmurs back. Everything is quiet, still, bathed in the golden light of dawn – they could be the only two people in the world, their responsibilities, the war, set aside for just this moment together-

And together, breathing in the golden quiet of dawn, they watch the sun rise.