Shen Wei really likes bears.
Zhao Yunlan knows this for a fact. He knows more about them than anyone should, and he had at least a dozen ink paintings of bears, each one signed with a little “巍” character in the bottom (Zhao Yunlan suspects Shen Wei may have made them himself.)
He doesn’t think much of the whole bear thing until they’re in the mountains. He feels relaxed and is looking forward to joining the villagers in a celebration after rescuing Wang Zheng and Sang Zan and retrieving the Awl earlier. Even though they hadn’t managed to catch Zhu Jiu, the mission was a success. No one died, the ancient ghost villagers were put to rest, the youchu were taken care of, and they had a second Hallow. All in all, it was a good day. Zhao Yunlan thinks the only thing that might improve it would be if Hei Lao-Ge had stayed to join the celebration.
He smiles as he steps out of the guest house. The autumn air is crisp and cool, and the leaves on the scraggly trees are a rich red, even in the moonlight. The stars shine bright overhead and he stops to admire them for a moment.
“I miss the stars sometimes,” Shen Wei says from beside him, and Zhao Yunlan turns to look at him. The moon’s glow softens the edges of his face.
He looks lonely, Zhao Yunlun thinks. Like the romantic lead in a drama, yearning for someone he can’t have.
Shen Wei smiles slightly, eyes still scanning the sky.
“The Bear Stars are always brightest in the autumn. It’s a shame the light in Dragon City hides them.”
Before Zhao Yunlan can ask about the “Bear Stars,” Lang-ge calls them over to drink and celebrate with the village head. He means to ask Shen Wei more about the stars later, but then Shen Wei drinks the cup of wine and passes out, and his focus shifts to caring for him rather than questioning him about bears in the sky.
Zhao Yunlan forgets all about Bear Stars after that, until one night during his impromptu trip to ancient Haixing. He’s sitting next to Shen Wei, a younger and more open version of the Shen Wei he knows and loves. The night is warm, the fire is bright, and it’s just the two of them under a rare starlit sky. He has his eyes closed, his head tipped back against his bundled-up robes, when Shen Wei shifts beside him.
Zhao Yunlan opens his eyes, and grins wide at the soft smile he seems on Shen Wei’s face. He’s looking up at the sky, a look of wonder in his eyes.
“What has you so happy?” he asks, and Shen Wei turns that smile on him. It’s honest and open in a way that his Shen Wei’s smiles never are, and Zhao Yunlan’s heart aches.
“The Bear Stars,” Shen Wei answers, pointing at the cluster of stars in the sky.
“The Bear Stars?” Zhao Yunlan’s brow furrows. That name sounds familiar, but he doesn’t know of any constellations with that name. And then he remembers a night in the mountains, an older Shen Wei commenting about how bright the “Bear Stars” looked in the autumn sky, and his face smoothes out. He had forgotten about that comment, forgotten his curiosity about bears in the sky. It’s just the two of them and the “Bear Stars” are clearly important to Shen Wei, so Zhao Yunlan leans forward, and says, “Oh! The Bear Stars! I’ve heard of them before. Will you tell me about them?”
He pays careful attention to the story, nodding and gasping and asking questions. He barely notices Da Qing crawling into his lap, so intent he is on Shen Wei’s every word. As he listens, he realises: this is why Shen Wei loves bears so much. They’re more than just animals to him, they’re a connection to his past, to Dixing’s culture and his family before the meteor destroyed the world he knew. They’re a reminder of better days, before he was alone.
As the Hallows draw him back into his own time a few days later, he hopes the stars will be reminder of nights spent side by side beside the fire. He hopes the Bear Stars will remind Shen Wei that he isn’t alone.
I promise we will meet again.
(Once he has returned to modern Haixing, Zhao Yunlan broaches the subject with Shen Wei.
“Xiao Wei,” he says, “Why didn’t you tell me how important bears are to you? I didn’t understand it before, but if you’d just told me about the Bear Stars, I wouldn’t have let the team tease you about all the bear facts and bear art!”
Shen Wei, “…”
“Ah, I’m really sorry we were so inconsiderate! I’m sure we can learn to appreciate bears too if you give us a chance.”
“Zhao Yunlan.” The look on Shen Wei’s face is blank. Even his far-too-expressive eyes are empty. It reminds Zhao Yunlan a bit of the blue screen of death, if the blue screen of death were a person. He touches Shen Wei’s knee and he startles.
“Zhao Yunlan,” Shen Wei says again, this time with a touch of indignation in his voice. “I only know so much about bears because you like bears?? You were so interested in the Bear Star story; I thought it was because you liked bears?”
“What? No! I was so interested in the bears and the story because I thought you liked bears!?”
They’re both looking at each other now, confused and vaguely horrified.
Da Qing, who is apparently not asleep, laughs so hard he falls off the table.)