Getting a call from Da Qing late in the evening asking him to come over in a tone bordering on urgent is unusual enough that Shen Wei’s hand clenches around air and he only just stops himself from summoning his guandao. He takes a deep breath, forces calm through his body.
“Da Qing, what’s wrong?”
“Lao Zhao has a bit of a fever – ok, maybe it’s a high fever, I don’t think humans are supposed to be this warm? – and he keeps asking for you and he isn’t listening to me, ten-thousand-year-old king of the cats – ”
“You’re both at home?” Shen Wei interrupts, concern mounting. Da Qing doesn’t sound spooked as such, but he has never asked Shen Wei to come to their apartment before, and for all that he has taken to Shen Wei quicker than any of the other SID members – more likely than not due to the fish Shen Wei reliably keeps in stock – he wouldn’t have expected Da Qing to reach out to him in an emergency. Heipaoshi, perhaps, but Professor Shen? Who they think is an ordinary human? Then again, neither Da Qing nor Zhao Yunlan give the impression that they would know how to sensibly deal with a fever.
As soon as Da Qing affirms, Shen Wei says, “I’m coming over,” and hangs up the landline. He only takes the time to dig out his medical aid kit because he has cleaned Zhao Yunlan’s apartment and not found anything near as well-stocked as Shen Wei’s own, then makes his way across the hall with a swiftness that might’ve embarrassed him if his mind weren’t so occupied with worry for Zhao Yunlan.
The door springs open just as he’s raising his free hand to knock, revealing a distinctly frazzled-looking Da Qing.
“You deal with him,” he growls, eyes a little wild.
“What happened?” Shen Wei asks, stepping through the door. The door bangs shut behind him, but he barely pays it any attention. The air inside the apartment smells strange, flowery in a way that tickles a distant memory.
Da Qing briefly blurs as he takes on cat shape, voice modulating into more of a rasp. “We got some candy from a grateful Flower Tribe Yashou. They seemed fine, but when he ate one – ”
Before he can finish the sentence, the man in question sits up from a languid sprawl on the bed. “Is that Shen Wei’s voice I hear?”
“Zhao Yunlan,” Shen Wei starts, eyes immediately cataloguing Zhao Yunlan’s physical state, tightening grip around the medical aid kit making the box creak.
Zhao Yunlan’s hair is mussed with sweat, face flushed, lips bitten, eyes dilated.
He looks like the textbook picture of debauchery. Shen Wei swallows past his suddenly dry throat, momentarily distracted from his worry by the vision crowding into his brain.
Then it comes rushing back in a torrent when Zhao Yunlan starts towards him, all loose-limbed grace and prowling intensity. “Shen Wei,” he purrs, voice somewhere between lust-roughened and sweet, “you’re finally here.”
Shen Wei blinks, feeling his own cheeks flush. In the time it takes him to unglue his tongue, Zhao Yunlan has made it to within an arm’s length, clearly not intent on stopping there.
“Zhao Yunlan, what – ” Shen Wei’s voice disappears in a bitten-off gasp when hands find his hips, brushing perilously close to –
He steps back, belatedly, horribly aware that for the briefest of moments he leaned into that touch, even though there’s clearly something wrong here, this isn’t Zhao Yunlan’s normal behaviour –
Zhao Yunlan whines, following Shen Wei’s movement, body crowding in close again, but his eyes are blank with fever, not focusing on Shen Wei at all.
The medical kit crashes to the floor, unheeded.
“No,” Shen Wei says, as steady as he can make himself, and catches Zhao Yunlan’s wrists when his hands reach for Shen Wei again. “Not like this.”
His body yearns for Zhao Yunlan’s touch – Zhao Yunlan, who Shen Wei is almost certain now will one day be Kunlun – his heart cries at denying Zhao Yunlan anything, but his mind? His mind rebels.
Something is clearly wrong with Zhao Yunlan, his mind altered, and if Shen Wei gave in to this for the sake of his millennia-old, damning longing, he might break something in Zhao Yunlan beyond repair. Yes, Zhao Yunlan looks at him with interest sometimes, flirts more often than not, but he has never, not once, followed through on what the veiled glances promise, and Shen Wei doesn’t know whether that’s because Shen Wei is doing his best to keep his distance lest his secrets throttle them both, or because Zhao Yunlan is like that with everyone. He doesn’t know. And whatever his body may crave, fundamentally what he wants from Zhao Yunlan is not sex but much, much more.
Giving in right now would be a betrayal of them both, no matter the desperate look on Zhao Yunlan’s face, the desperate noises he makes as he strains against Shen Wei’s hold, trying to get closer.
But oh does Shen Wei want, the heat from Zhao Yunlan’s body melting into his skin, radiating into his chest.
“No,” he repeats, barely a whisper, and in desperation, reaches out with his powers to diagnose what is wrong with Zhao Yunlan.
Dark energy sparks, visible enough that Shen Wei flinches – Da Qing is still in the room, watching over his master, even if Zhao Yunlan is too out of it to notice this undeniable bit of proof that Professor Shen Wei isn’t nearly as human as he pretends to be – but he pushes through the imbalance roiling under Zhao Yunlan’s skin, recognising threads of Yashou power tangled in Zhao Yunlan’s stomach. Relief floods through him. He can neutralise the effect, but the fine control required poses a problem when he can’t use his hands to gesture without letting go of Zhao Yunlan’s hands, and Shen Wei’s eyes keep getting distracted by the flush on Zhao Yunlan’s cheeks, that pink tongue swiping over reddened lips –
Shen Wei closes his eyes, diving deep into his own power and unmakes, unweaves what is foreign in Zhao Yunlan’s system, and when at last the bright white of Zhao Yunlan’s energy shines unsullied again, burning against the touch of Shen Wei’s dark, he sends a last wave of power.
“Sleep, Zhao Yunlan,” he whispers, and catches Zhao Yunlan’s slack body. Already the flush is fading, the heat of Zhao Yunlan’s skin receding to human base levels, though he still feels unbearably hot in Shen Wei’s arms.
Carefully cradling Zhao Yunlan against his chest, Shen Wei steps over to the bed and reluctantly releases his hold again. Fusses with the blankets for several moments longer than necessary in a futile bid to regain his own composure.
He came too close to something unforgiveable. Too close.
Zhao Yunlan wakes to a brief moment of blissful ignorance. Then, recollection knocks down the wall of pleasant unawareness with the force of a dragon’s tail shaking a mountain, and Zhao Yunlan groans. Even if he didn’t recall eating the Yashou candy, he would still know immediately that he hadn’t been normal drunk yesterday – no lingering hangover headache, his memory of last night crystal-clear.
Shen Wei’s anguished expression burned into his mind.
Of the many, many scenarios that had crossed his mind since meeting Professor Shen for the first time, this is absolutely not how he had imagined he would try to get the man into bed. Because he had known it wouldn’t work, for one thing.
A soft thump heralds Da Qing’s arrival on the bed. Whiskers twitch over Zhao Yunlan’s face. He doesn’t bother trying to bat the cat away.
“You’re finally awake,” Da Qing observes, an uneasy undercurrent in his voice.
Zhao Yunlan cracks open one eye. Still no stab of pain. He’d give it to the Flower Tribe – their mind-altering substances are superb. “No thanks to you.”
Da Qing blurs into his human shape – which might’ve taken up the rest of the space on the bed, except for how he chooses to lounge on Zhao Yunlan instead.
“I didn’t know the effects would be this bad for you,” Da Qing says sulkily, propping up his elbows on Zhao Yunlan’s chest and making him wheeze. “Humans are weird. Yashou just get mellow from those things and you need to relax.”
Zhao Yunlan can’t really fault him for that opinion. He has been wound tight. And anyway, he ate the candy himself, no one forced him. They didn’t exactly come with a warning label.
That’s not really the issue.
“Why did you call Shen Wei?” he asks pitifully, heroically ignoring the way Da Qing’s elbows are starting to dig into his chest.
Da Qing pokes a finger at Zhao Yunlan’s cheek. “You kept asking for him! And anyway, you smell like you want to mark him every time you’re in the same room, I was trying to do you a favour.”
An image of Shen Wei’s twisting expression swims to the surface of his thoughts: No. Not like this.
Ignoring the prickle of ice down his back, Zhao Yunlan narrows his eyes at Da Qing. “Even though I was clearly not in my right mind?”
“He likes you, too! If you two could just – ”
“I know that,” Zhao Yunlan interrupts the outburst, voice hardening, “but don’t you think there’s a reason why he hasn’t acknowledged my advances?”
With a jolt, he realises that yesterday’s misadventure has confirmed his theory as to why without a doubt. He had seen the sparks of dark energy around Shen Wei’s hands before Shen Wei fixed whatever the Yashou candy had messed up in his gut and sent him to sleep.
Shen Wei is Dixingren.
A few months ago that would’ve been a shock, and not a pleasant one. Now, it’s mostly a relief to know, and, frankly, whatever healing ability Shen Wei seems to have is pretty damn useful. In fact, Professor Shen Wei of Dragon City University could easily be the poster child of peaceful Dixingren living in Haixing, not causing any trouble.
Well, not causing any trouble that isn’t already knocking on their doors anyway.
He’s getting side-tracked. Even if they’ve finally got this secret out of the way, he basically groped Shen Wei against his will, and Shen Wei isn’t the type of person to laugh something like that off the way Zhao Yunlan might. It may not have been on purpose, but it still warrants an apology, possibly some grovelling on top of that, if Shen Wei is willing to hear him out.
(Anything to make sure to never see that expression of anguished heartbreak on Shen Wei’s face again.)
And then, maybe, he can test the waters a little bit, see if Shen Wei would be receptive to repeating last night’s dance. Without the mind-altering candy.
Step 1: find Shen Wei.
Step 2: apologise.
Step 3: go fishing.
Two days later, Zhao Yunlan still hasn’t even made it through step 1. Shen Wei has disappeared so thoroughly that anyone might mistake him for a consummate professional in the art of avoiding Zhao Yunlan. Before, they usually ran into each other at least once a day now that Shen Wei lives in the apartment opposite – clearly that had been engineered on purpose, if it’s so easy for Shen Wei to slip in and out without being observed by anyone.
Zhao Yunlan spends a few fruitless hours trying to figure out if Shen Wei is mad at him, or now feels uncomfortable in Zhao Yunlan’s presence, or simply wants to give him time to regroup. Hoping for the latter doesn’t stop him from worrying about it being the former.
Da Qing is no help at all, clearly amused at the way Zhao Yunlan is struggling now after years of not getting entangled in romantic feelings. He did, at least, promise to keep Shen Wei’s secret to himself, citing the Professor’s cooking as too delicious to lose to Heipaoshi’s mercies.
Three days in, Zhao Yunlan decides Shen Wei is clearly not going to make a move. Tired of waiting, he stops himself from picking the lock to Shen Wei’s apartment with an effort of will and instead pushes a piece of paper under the door.
In his best penmanship – admittedly, still not good but a step up from his usual barely legible scrawl – he has written: at least let me apologise.
A little manipulative, maybe, but he’s getting desperate and with how stubborn Shen Wei is there’s a distinct possibility that they’ll never cross paths again if Zhao Yunlan doesn’t take action.
If this doesn’t work, he can always go with picking the lock after all.
It’s late enough in the day Shen Wei should be home, so Zhao Yunlan leans against the wall opposite in his best casual pose and waits.
As slow as time seems to trickle, it really only takes a couple of minutes for the door to open, Shen Wei standing in the gap with a stricken expression.
Overblown sense of responsibility, check. Good thing Zhao Yunlan has never been above taking advantage of such things. He pushes off the wall and steps close enough that Shen Wei either has to let him in or physically stop him from entering. Or that’s the plan anyway – what Shen Wei actually does is flinch backwards as if afraid to come into contact with him and Zhao Yunlan’s heart twists.
“Entirely clear-headed,” he says, voice forcibly cheerful as he gestures down his own body.
Shen Wei closes the door behind him, then turns a gaze filled with a quiet hurt Zhao Yunlan suspects he isn’t supposed to be able to recognise.
“You have nothing to apologise for,” Shen Wei says, quietly intense. “If anything, it should be me asking for forgiveness. I should’ve exhibited better control.”
Zhao Yunlan blinks at him, mouth a little open. So, Shen Wei isn’t disgusted by him or by what happened yesterday, as the flinch made Zhao Yunlan fear, he’s… blaming himself?
“What?” Zhao Yunlan asks, probably sounding as confused as he feels because this makes no sense at all. “How could this possibly be your fault?”
On the other hand, if Shen Wei has been avoiding him because he feels guilty, then Zhao Yunlan will happily strike most of the more catastrophic options off his mental list.
Shen Wei’s mouth tightens, throwing his already unfair cheekbones into further relief. “I should not have let it go so far. It was clear you were not in your right mind.”
“Uh, Shen Wei,” Zhao Yunlan starts, scratching at the back of his neck to give his hand something to do because Shen Wei may not blame him, but that doesn’t mean his behaviour had been anywhere near acceptable, “I basically attacked you. If you’d waited a second longer to grab my wrists my hand would’ve been on your cock.”
Under any other circumstance, the light blush that flares to light on Shen Wei’s cheeks – apparently at the mere mention of ‘cock’, which is unexpectedly adorable – would’ve delighted Zhao Yunlan to no end.
Shen Wei doesn’t meet his gaze. “I should have reacted more decisively.”
Zhao Yunlan blinks. Well, now. That statement certainly implies some things. Shen Wei isn’t an indecisive person, that much Zhao Yunlan already knows. Coupled with the fact that he’s still doing a good impression of someone deeply affected by what happened, Zhao Yunlan can’t help but think that perhaps step 3 of his plan is in fact somewhat superfluous. And if what’s been keeping Shen Wei back is the secret of his identity…
But he’s getting ahead of himself. First they need to deal with all this guilt thickening the air.
“If you hesitated at all, it couldn’t have been more than a micro-second,” Zhao Yunlan points out, raising a brow.
Shen Wei remains stubbornly silent. He’s still looking at a spot somewhere above Zhao Yunlan’s left shoulder.
“All right, all right, let’s come at this from a different angle.” Zhao Yunlan twirls his hand. He should’ve brought a lollipop. “Imagine you were the one who accidentally ingested some kind of Yashou aphrodisiac and threw yourself at me. Would you feel the need to apologise?”
The way Shen Wei’s eyes go wide and dark with horror is as telling as the silence that follows.
Zhao Yunlan very maturely doesn’t crow in victory.
“Shen Wei. I basically groped you without your consent, and whether I did it on purpose or not, that’s something that warrants an apology. Not to mention,” he adds pointedly, “that it revealed a secret you didn’t want me to know.”
Shen Wei’s gaze sharpens. “You’ve wanted to know for as long as we’ve known each other.”
“Sure,” Zhao Yunlan agrees, because he couldn’t say anything else without appearing like the world’s biggest hypocrite, “but I would’ve preferred figuring it out through my own investigative brilliance! Or by being trusted by you.”
Shen Wei’s face does that peculiar thing where he seems to flinch without moving a muscle. “And you don’t… mind?”
Zhao Yunlan almost winces. There are a lot of words Shen Wei could’ve used instead of ‘mind’, none any kinder. How exactly should he explain that a lifetime of warring influences – his father’s mistrust bordering on hatred of Dixingren, his own stubbornly held optimism in the world – had left him with at best an ambivalence towards Shen Wei’s people for far too long? Until Shen Wei himself had come along and upset his comfortable niche with his kindness, his luminous smile, his obvious good intentions despite being suspicious as hell?
“No, I don’t mind,” he says, a little helplessly, trying to hold himself open to Shen Wei’s scrutiny.
By some minor miracle, it seems to be enough, the worried slant of Shen Wei’s eyebrows easing and his lips curling into the tiniest of smiles.
“I forgive you,” he says, voice quietly warm, and it takes Zhao Yunlan a moment to catch up. “I don’t blame you for what you did while not in your right mind, but I forgive you.”
Zhao Yunlan hadn’t consciously realised how much he needed to hear those words, spoken aloud by Shen Wei. Not implicit, not brushed under the carpet, but baldly out in the open. A weight in his chest that he had barely recognised dissolves away in the space of a heartbeat.
“Good!” Zhao Yunlan says, a little inanely, and he’s smiling now – widely, helplessly. How does Shen Wei make him feel so good, with just a few words? The sheer, overwhelming sincerity in Shen Wei’s voice, perhaps, that leaves no room for doubt that he really doesn’t hold Zhao Yunlan’s behaviour against him.
The possibility of something blossoming between them, now that apologies and secrets are out of the way, comes rushing back into his mind. But maybe more reassurance is in order first, given Shen Wei is basically an illegal immigrant of the kind Zhao Yunlan is supposed to be in charge of deporting. Once, this might’ve caused him an ethical headache. Where Shen Wei is concerned, however, his course of action has never truly been in doubt – as long as the decision rests in his own hands.
“Da Qing promised he wouldn’t tell anyone about you being Dixingren, and I won’t either,” he says. “You haven’t done anything wrong, anyway.”
Shen Wei is staring at him, wide-eyed enough he looks like a deer caught in the headlights of Zhao Yunlan’s truck.
Zhao Yunlan feels compelled to add, “Hei-laoge is a bit more approachable lately, but I really don’t want to risk it.”
“Ah,” Shen Wei says, and then he stops, as if unsure what to say next. His expression goes through a complicated series of minute changes, too fast for Zhao Yunlan to track, until it eventually settles on… embarrassment? Resignation?
Shen Wei holds a hand out to his side, palm open.
With a dull thunk, the butt of a glaive slams into the immaculate floorboards.
Zhao Yunlan blinks.
His eyes travel from Shen Wei’s fingers, grasping the pole with easy familiarity, up to the wickedly large blade. His mouth dries. There’s no mistaking that weapon.
Resisting the urge to pinch himself just to make sure he hasn’t accidentally wandered into some alternate reality, Zhao Yunlan opens his mouth. “Are you telling me I molested the Dixing Ambassador?”
Shen Wei looks back at him, the picture of guilelessness, and then says in the blandest tone imaginable, “Not yet, you haven’t.”