Life settles into a rhythm almost too easily once Shen Wei and his mom have met each other, and are clearly getting along. In a way it's too easy because Zhao Yunlan can almost forget that he needs to do anything at all, other than just this; to live his life pretending to be a kid, happy to have both his mom and Shen Wei there.
He goes to school (which he still doesn't particularly like, but can manage well enough) and then he spends the rest of his time with either his mom or Shen Wei. There's nothing else Zhao Yunlan could really want from life, except maybe the presence of a black cat. He's still trying to figure out how to make that happen in a way that won't seem… weird. He might actually have to visit Zhao Xinci at work and that just seems like a disaster waiting to happen.
But it's far too easy to just enjoy what he has now.
Zhao Yunlan can't let himself fall into that trap. Memory is a fickle thing, he's far too aware of that, and he needs to figure out the differences between what Shen Wei remembers and what he himself remembers of the past sooner rather than later. It's the only way Zhao Yunlan will know what he's supposed to do whenever the Hallows decide to hurl him back in time.
Do they even have the Hallows now? Will they still need to find them? Zhao Yunlan might have some ideas where to start. (The Lantern is gone as is the Brush, Shen Wei tells him, but the Awl and the Sundial are in Dixing. And somehow that's so weird to think about, that even the Hallows situation is entirely different.)
No, this isn't the time for him to fall into complacency, no matter how tempting it is.
He talks about it with Shen Wei, of course. He's not keeping secrets from Shen Wei anymore, and besides how would he ask Shen Wei about the past otherwise? It's Shen Wei's suggestion that both of them write down what they remember. It'll be easier to compare things like that. And that way, Zhao Yunlan doesn't need to worry so much about forgetting.
"I'll ask didi, as well," Shen Wei says with a small smile, his hand stroking Zhao Yunlan's arm reassuringly. Zhao Yunlan isn't entirely sure what had made Shen Wei think he needed the reassurance, but he's not quite wrong.
Zhao Yunlan presses himself a bit closer to Shen Wei's side and thinks about climbing up into his lap instead. Zhao Yunlan needs a whole lot of reassurance these days. His emotions might have gotten a bit easier to handle now that he knows that both Shen Wei and his mom are safe, but they're still kind of… volatile at times. He's pretty sure that that really might just be the fact that he's a kid now, and trying to deal with a whole bunch of adult memories—with trauma—and his body doesn't quite know what to do with any of it.
"I should… see him. Talk to him. Your didi, I mean," Zhao Yunlan says, his voice coming out a bit faint. He meant to sound more sure than that, but he can't help the way his belly churns with anxiety at the thought.
He knows Ye Zun has done nothing now, aside from what happened during the war, but Zhao Yunlan can't really hold that against him, all things considered. It doesn't stop him from seeing the image of Ye Zun stabbing Shen Wei in the heart when he closes his eyes.
"You don't have to, Zhao Yunlan. Didi can write down everything for you," Shen Wei says, softly reassuring. But Zhao Yunlan is almost sure that he can hear sadness underneath that.
Of course, Shen Wei would be upset that Zhao Yunlan doesn't want to see his brother. He knows how much Shen Wei cares about Ye Zun. It's easy to see whenever Shen Wei talks about him now. And for all that Zhao Yunlan can remember that one horrible moment far too clearly, he can also remember a moment that might have been nothing but a hallucination; the image of Shen Wei walking away hand in hand with his younger brother.
Zhao Yunlan gasps quietly and turns his head, hiding his face against Shen Wei's side, like he might hide from his own memories. Shen Wei keeps his arm wrapped around him, his other hand moving to pet Zhao Yunlan's hair, as he waits for Zhao Yunlan to… gather himself. Shen Wei is far too used to Zhao Yunlan's mood issues by now, to Zhao Yunlan's regret.
He turns his head slightly, just enough so he can say something and actually be heard. "I want to," he says, his voice still a bit muffled against Shen Wei. "I want to get to know your brother. The way he is now, not—" His words cut off abruptly and he presses his face back against Shen Wei.
Shen Wei turns to wrap both of his arms around Zhao Yunlan. He presses a kiss against Zhao Yunlan's hair. "Thank you, Yunlan," he says softly.
Suddenly, Zhao Yunlan feels like crying again. But not because he's upset. It's just… he's just feeling too warm and cherished and Shen Wei really shouldn't be thanking him and—
Hot tears spill over, running down Zhao Yunlan's cheeks. He presses his face against Shen Wei's chest and sobs quietly. It's still ridiculous how he cries at everything.
Shen Wei keeps holding him, murmuring soft, soothing noises as he strokes Zhao Yunlan's back.
"I'm not… upset," Zhao Yunlan mumbles shakily into Shen Wei's chest. "It's just… You're perfect, you know that, right, Xiao Wei?" He's probably not making much sense, but Shen Wei is probably used to that too by now.
There's a small muffled noise from Shen Wei at his words. It makes Zhao Yunlan pull back a bit, so he can look at Shen Wei through blurry eyes. "You are," he says as firmly as he can, smiling a bit shakily at Shen Wei.
Then he lifts his hand to swipe at the tears on his cheeks. His eyes are so blurry he can't even see Shen Wei properly, and that's definitely a crime. Shen Wei's fingers press against his cheek, gently wiping away the tears. Zhao Yunlan lets his own hand fall down.
"Do you want to go to Dixing?" Shen Wei asks quietly a few moments later.
Zhao Yunlan never expected Shen Wei to be the one to suggest a trip to Dixing. In the other timeline, he'd been very much against Zhao Yunlan going to Dixing.
"What about the dark energy? Will it be harmful to me?" the question slips out before Zhao Yunlan can quite think it through. For a moment he regrets it, expecting Shen Wei to change his mind.
But, Zhao Yunlan reminds himself firmly, no secrets, and no risks that they don't need to take.
After a few moments of explaining where that question came from, of how Zhao Yunlan remembers things being, Shen Wei tells him that two of the Hallows are enough to provide Dixing with sufficient energy to regulate the energy flow and shield Dixing. Zhao Yunlan is not entirely sure what either of those things actually means, but apparently, it also means that no rampant dark energy will poison Zhao Yunlan the moment he steps foot in Dixing.
"The lack of sunlight wouldn't be good for you in the long term, but we're not going to stay that long," Shen Wei concludes.
"Oh," Zhao Yunlan says, and then smiles, the tears finally having stopped as they talked. "So, now?" he suggests. Zhao Yunlan isn't going to change his mind about going, but the longer he gives himself to think about it the more anxious he's going to get and he really doesn't need that. "I don't have to be home quite yet," he adds, in case Shen Wei needs some more convincing. Not that Shen Wei isn't perfectly aware of that fact. He's the one who's agreed with Zhao Yunlan's mom about when he needs to have Zhao Yunlan back home.
Now that's one of the things Zhao Yunlan doesn't enjoy that much; not having a say in his own schedule. Not that it's been that much of a problem, but it's the whole—principle of the thing.
"We have enough time for a brief visit then," Shen Wei agrees.
To Zhao Yunlan's complete embarrassment he actually hides behind Shen Wei when they meet Ye Zun. It's not entirely his fault, Shen Wei does sort of step in front of him and it's a bit too easy to grab Shen Wei's robe and move a bit closer. He can feel his heart beating faster, and his palms feel clammy and—
He peers out from behind Shen Wei, looking at Ye Zun. He's in white robes, too similar to the ones Zhao Yunlan remembers, his hair is still long and silver just the way he remembers. Zhao Yunlan almost wishes he was wearing a mask, so he wouldn't have to look at the familiar face. His fingers clench tighter around the fabric of Shen Wei's robe, hard enough that his fingers ache.
Ye Zun tilts his head a bit and looks back at Zhao Yunlan.
"You're Kunlun?" he asks, with a raised brow and something that sounds more like surprise than condescension in his voice.
"Sorry if I was a bit taller when you last saw me," Zhao Yunlan says, his voice trembling a little bit, despite how hard he tries to sound unbothered. Really, trying for his old insouciance in this kid body of his just doesn't work anyway. But it's instinct when suddenly, actually, faced with Ye Zun.
It makes Ye Zun snort quietly, and then his hand rises up to his mouth, his head lowering slightly as he laughs softly. Zhao Yunlan stares at him, still gripping Shen Wei's robe. Zhao Yunlan lifts his hand to his mouth, biting the base of his thumb for the lack of anything else to put into his mouth.
The laugh is soft and amused, and nothing at all like what he expects from Ye Zun.
The laughter stops very quickly though and Zhao Yunlan almost wants to tell him to do it again. Ye Zun is far less… intimidating when he's laughing like that.
Ye Zun's face settles into something solemn, and Zhao Yunlan wants to hide behind Shen Wei again. But Shen Wei's arm settles against his shoulders, solid and comforting, and Zhao Yunlan takes a small step forward. He can totally do this. This isn't the same Ye Zun he remembers, not really. There's a whole ten thousand years of difference between this one and the one Zhao Yunlan didn't quite know in his original timeline.
"Thank you, Zhao Yunlan," Ye Zun says seriously and Zhao Yunlan feels like the rug's been pulled from under his feet all of a sudden. "I would have happily killed you back then, but… I guess, if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have gege back." That admission sounds more than a bit reluctant, and somehow that makes Zhao Yunlan feel a bit steadier.
"I didn't do it for you," he answers automatically. Still, the words are softer than they might have been once, and not just because Zhao Yunlan is a kid who was still two heartbeats away from a panic attack a moment ago.
Ye Zun's lips quirk slightly, and it's still neither mocking nor angry. He looks at Shen Wei and not at Zhao Yunlan as he says, "I know."
It's just a bit of a relief to not have Ye Zun's focus on him.
"I assume you're not staying for long?" Ye Zun asks Shen Wei.
"No. Zhao Yunlan needs to be home before his mother starts to worry," Shen Wei says and Zhao Yunlan—is almost sure Shen Wei did that on purpose. He glares up at Shen Wei, who just meets Zhao Yunlan's gaze serenely, his long lashes sweeping down as he blinks innocently.
But Shen Wei isn't wrong either. They shouldn't stay for long. Zhao Yunlan takes a deep breath, and pulls his shoulders back, before looking straight at Ye Zun. He tries to ignore the way his breath wants to catch, the memories crowding at his mind.
He really wishes he had some lollipops at hand. This is definitely a lollipop kind of moment, but Shen Wei insists that excessive sugar intake isn't good for a growing body and Zhao Yunlan should refrain from forming a habit now that he can. But Zhao Yunlan really wants a lollipop right now.
"Shen Wei has told you about the time travel, right?" he starts, it's easier when he has something actually important to focus on.
They don't really talk to Ye Zun for that long, and Zhao Yunlan is grateful for that. He's pretty sure Shen Wei could tell he needed to get away. Ye Zun probably could too. He feels a bit like he should apologise, to both brothers, but right at that moment, the words refuse to come.
"Would you like to see the rest of the Palace?" Shen Wei asks and Zhao Yunlan recognises it for the distraction it is.
He takes a breath, leans in against Shen Wei's side and nods. Shen Wei hugs him closer for a moment, one arm around his shoulders, before taking a step away. His hand moves to take Zhao Yunlan's hand. For a moment the loss of contact makes Zhao Yunlan's breath catch before he shakes himself and smiles faintly at Shen Wei.
"Lead on. I never had time to look around that much… before," he says, his voice catching at the last word.
They'd bypassed the main hall entirely when they'd come in, finding Ye Zun in some side room that Zhao Yunlan had never seen before. Now, Shen Wei leads him through some curiously empty corridors, like he's either avoiding people or somehow warning them off before they get there. Zhao Yunlan wants to tell him that he's fine with meeting other people, but he kind of likes the time alone with Shen Wei, so he doesn't.
Shen Wei keeps up a quiet explanation about the Palace and its different parts, and Zhao Yunlan doesn't need to say anything at all. They stop by the kitchens, which makes Zhao Yunlan laugh and ask Shen Wei if he spends a lot of time there.
"Only when Cook lets me," Shen Wei says quietly, and then looks in the direction of said cook, who just grins at him. They don't stay long enough to talk to anyone, and Zhao Yunlan feels a bit more relieved about that than he expected to.
Maybe he's not so fine meeting more people today after all.
They also stop by the library. Of course they do. At least there it's only some guards at the door and otherwise, there's no one at all. Zhao Yunlan doesn't even manage to ask why the Palace library is so quiet before Shen Wei is already answering him.
"We moved most of the materials to a separate library, open to the public. Most things left here are… sensitive, in some way," Shen Wei tells him. There's a hint of regret in his voice, and Zhao Yunlan suspects it's at the idea of needing to hide information from people. Shen Wei always did want to reform Dixing's education.
Maybe he's had the opportunity to do that now. Zhao Yunlan really should ask him about that at some point, but perhaps not today. He's not sure he'll manage to pay as much attention today as he should.
They end up in the main hall this time. Zhao Yunlan looks around curiously, it looks very much the same as Zhao Yunlan remembers. Of course, his eyes are drawn towards the King, or more specifically, he supposes, the screen hiding the King.
Zhao Yunlan blinks and then squints at the screen. That doesn't look right. For one, he's very sure the person sitting on the throne is wearing white. And he's also pretty sure it isn't Ye Zun.
"Shen Wei?" he asks, his brows rising. Without thinking he takes a step closer, wanting to see better. He's still holding onto Shen Wei's hand and there's a small tug on his arm as Shen Wei stays where he is. Zhao Yunlan suddenly realises he's trying to walk towards the throne—which is probably not appropriate—and quickly stops.
"We can go say hello if you're curious," Shen Wei says with a fond smile. Well, he knows how curious Zhao Yunlan gets.
Zhao Yunlan hesitates for a moment, but it really will bother him if he doesn't at least take a look. So he walks forwards, Shen Wei coming with him, past the screen hiding the throne from view. And then Zhao Yunlan stops and just… stares. He can feel Shen Wei at his back, just a step behind him.
"Wang Zheng?" he blurts out, maybe a bit too loudly. The woman in the white dress, sitting on Dixing's throne looks up from her writing.
She smiles faintly at Zhao Yunlan without a hint of recognition in her eyes and carefully sets down her brush.
"I'm sorry," she says, her voice soft and barely carrying all the way to Zhao Yunlan. For a moment his eyes drop down to the marks on her throat, before he quickly looks up again. Some things haven't changed, even if this definitely isn't where he expected to find Wang Zheng. "Were you expecting someone else? My name is Ge Lan," she says, sounding like she's genuinely sorry that Zhao Yunlan didn't find whoever it might be he thought would be there.
"No, no," he says quickly. "You're definitely perfect for the job—Ge Lan." He looks around, trying to find… Maybe—if they hadn't gotten him out with the Awl… "Is Sang Zan here as well?" he asks hesitantly, not sure if he's bringing up something that he shouldn't.
But Wang Zheng's—no, Ge Lan's, he should try to remember—face brightens at the mention of her boyfriend, her lips turning up in a gentle smile. Sang Zan had always managed to do that, and Zhao Yunlan is glad that that at least hasn't changed despite the very strange circumstances.
"He's organising the scrolls," she says, gesturing lightly at the scroll she'd been writing. "I've been streamlining some of the process, but there is really quite a lot of paperwork still," she says, her tone mildly disapproving.
Zhao Yunlan can't help but smile. "There's no one better to take care of paperwork than you," he says honestly.
She looks at Zhao Yunlan and smiles. "Thank you." She looks at him for a while and then says, "I would like to know who you are, as well." She makes it sound all gentle, but Zhao Yunlan is quite familiar with—Ge Lan. He can tell she's very gently reminding him he's being rather rude.
"I'm sorry, I should have introduced you," Shen Wei says, stepping up next to Zhao Yunlan, immediately taking any blame on himself. Zhao Yunlan wants to tell him not to do that, but… He is the Black Cloaked Envoy at the moment and Zhao Yunlan isn't entirely sure how much he should contradict him here, in the Palace of all places. "Ge Lan, this is Zhao Yunlan," Shen Wei says, his hand settling on Zhao Yunlan's shoulder. Zhao Yunlan instinctively leans into the touch.
Ge Lan's eyes bore into Zhao Yunlan, a knowing smile on her lips. "Oh, so this is him," she says, a small teasing lilt to her tone. "I should have realised."
Shen Wei makes a small, almost strangled noise next to Zhao Yunlan. Zhao Yunlan grins and pats his arm. It's nice to know that there are some people around Shen Wei that aren't quite so taken with the Black Cloaked Envoy thing. Well, he's had Ye Zun at least for that, this time around, Zhao Yunlan thinks.
"This is Ge Lan," Shen Wei says, quickly recovering. "She's—"
"The King of Dixing?" Zhao Yunlan interrupts, amusement more than clear in his voice. "I really want to know how that happened."
"Another time perhaps," Shen Wei says. "We should get you back to your mother."
Ge Lan lifts her hand to her mouth, muffling a small peal of laughter. Zhao Yunlan glares at Shen Wei.
"It was a pleasure to meet you, Ge Lan. I'll come see you another time," Zhao Yunlan says, turning to smile at her. "You can tell me about how you ended up here. If you don't mind talking about it."
She smiles at him. "I'd be delighted. There are not that many people to talk to here. No offence, Heipao-daren, but it does get a bit boring sometimes."
"Some things will wait, Ge Lan, if you want to take more time to yourself. Both you and Sang Zan can spend more time in the rest of Dixing," Shen Wei tells her gently. Something in his tone tells Zhao Yunlan that this isn't quite the first time Shen Wei has told her that.
It makes Ge Lan's face fall a bit, something sad stealing over it.
"So, you're not stuck to that throne. Are you?" Zhao Yunlan asks quickly and with quite some relief.
It's Shen Wei who actually answers him, "With two of the Hallows here, no. The strain on the King is not quite the same."
"Oh," Zhao Yunlan just says. He'd never exactly looked into why being Dixing's King was the worst job ever. That the Hallows had something to do with it made a lot of sense, actually.
They're a bit later coming back than they perhaps should be. Zhao Yunlan instantly forgets any sort of annoyance about having a curfew when he sees the worried look on his mom's face that she tries to hide as she smiles at Shen Wei.
"We shouldn't have stayed so long," Shen Wei is saying apologetically. His mom waves it off.
"It's alright, I know you're taking good care of Yunlan," she says. And Zhao Yunlan can see she really means it, and that she was still worried anyway.
His mom has been worried a lot lately, mainly about Zhao Yunlan, but also about the fact that since Zhao Xinci met Shen Wei he hasn't exactly been around much. Not that he's ever around much, Zhao Yunlan thinks with an edge of bitterness, but it's definitely been more noticeable lately. The sad smile his mom has in the morning when Zhao Xinci isn't around, and Zhao Yunlan is pretty sure that he didn't show up even to sleep at home, tears at Zhao Yunlan's heart.
He really wants to be angry at Zhao Xinci about it. He is angry at Zhao Xinci about it. But Zhao Yunlan might have a better idea than his mom does about why he's staying away and the guilt of not telling her eats him up inside.
Zhao Xinci sure won't tell her the truth, Zhao Yunlan thinks, and he shouldn't be following that example. But the truth is so complicated.
"I should return to check on didi," Shen Wei is saying in answer to something his mom had said. Zhao Yunlan feels a sudden sting of guilt at that too. He'd been so concentrated on his own anxiety over… everything that he hadn't considered how meeting Ye Zun might affect—either of the brothers really.
Zhao Yunlan doesn't know what had happened ten thousand years ago—not yet, not well enough—but he knows that the separation between them is a sore subject for both Shen Wei and Ye Zun. And he hadn't even thought about the fact that he'd be reminding them about it.
He grabs Shen Wei's arm. "Yes, you should. Make sure he's alright," Zhao Yunlan says emphatically. The actual worry takes him by surprise. Maybe he just doesn't want Ye Zun to go back to what he'd been in the other timeline. And Shen Wei will be worried about him. Yes, he's just… worried about Shen Wei and—the world.
He's not quite ready to actually care about Ye Zun's well-being yet.
Shen Wei takes his leave soon after, leaving Zhao Yunlan alone with his mom. There's still a hint of worry on her face, but if Zhao Yunlan is entirely honest with himself, there usually is these days. He hates that he's making her worried just as much as Zhao Xinci is, or maybe even more.
"I'm sorry for coming home so late, mom," he says in a small voice. He feels altogether very small at the moment. "I didn't mean to worry you."
His mom reaches out to brush some hair away from his forehead. She smiles at him, and it doesn't quite reach her eyes. "It's alright, Yunlan. You're still home before your curfew, you didn't do anything wrong. Mom just thought you'd be back a bit earlier today, that's all," she says.
Zhao Yunlan knows that Shen Wei usually mentions it if there's a chance that he'll return Zhao Yunlan home later than the normal time, even if it is still well within the bounds of Zhao Yunlan's curfew. Maybe if she wasn't stressing about Zhao Xinci as well, this little deviation wouldn't have been so bad… But no, he can't blame it on anyone else.
"I'm sorry," he says again.
"Oh, Yunlan," she says, her voice a bit sad. She wraps her arms around him in a hug that Zhao Yunlan melts into gratefully. For a moment he wishes so hard that he really still was a kid.
When she lets him go, he takes a step back and does his best to look like he's not about to start crying.
"Is it okay if I just go to bed? I'm a bit tired," he says, past the lump in his throat. He's not lying, it has been a… long day.
"Of course," his mom says with a faint smile, worry still in her eyes.
Zhao Yunlan needs to tell his mom the truth. For everyone's sake. It's just not quite so easy.
He could tell her in the morning, when Zhao Xinci isn't there and it's just the two of them, like usual. But he needs to go to school soon and he can't just blurt it out and not explain things. So he doesn't say anything at all.
Shen Wei will come by once he's home from school and he can… talk to Shen Wei about it. He should talk to Shen Wei about it first, before just—blurting out the truth. It will affect Shen Wei too, or at least how his mom looks at Shen Wei.
What if his mom doesn't believe him? What if she thinks Zhao Yunlan has gone mad and Shen Wei is encouraging him somehow? What if— Zhao Yunlan cuts off the thought and tries to actually listen to what the teacher is saying, instead of only pretending to. It's not quite enough to distract him, his mind keeps wandering away even when he tries to concentrate, insisting on coming up with one scenario after another of how things could go wrong.
Maybe he should just… not tell her.
Shen Wei is there waiting for him when he gets out of school. He knows Shen Wei is kind of busy lately, what with actually having started his university studies, and keeping up with the Black Cloaked Envoy stuff (though Zhao Yunlan has realised that the latter is thankfully not quite as busy of a job as he might have thought, not in this altered timeline). Shen Wei wasn't supposed to be here now.
But Zhao Yunlan can't manage to tell him that he shouldn't have come, not when all he can feel when he sees Shen Wei is a deep sense of relief, and the deep-seated happiness he always feels when Shen Wei is around. He steps up to Shen Wei, taking his hand.
"Are you here to make sure I get home, Xiao Wei?" he asks teasingly.
"Someone should make sure you're home on time," Shen Wei answers calmly. Zhao Yunlan tries to hide the wince at that. If Shen Wei is blaming anyone for last night, it's himself, not Zhao Yunlan, but the guilt still stings.
For a moment neither of them seem to know quite what to say next. Zhao Yunlan holds onto Shen Wei's hand a bit tighter, wishing there weren't other people around at all so he could hug him instead. His hand moves almost of its own volition, brushing against Shen Wei's long hair. He winds his fingers around a strand of Shen Wei's hair and tugs just a bit.
"Is Ye Zun…" Zhao Yunlan asks, the words awkward in his mouth. He's still not quite ready to be concerned about Ye Zun, but—
"Didi is well," Shen Wei tells him and then adds, "Thank you for asking." His tone is soft and the look he gives Zhao Yunlan is so warm, like Zhao Yunlan doing the bare minimum of asking after his brother is something to be admired.
"Did you sleep well, Zhao Yunlan?" Shen Wei asks a moment later. He doesn't ask about Zhao Yunlan's school day—the same as always— or his morning, but about Zhao Yunlan's sleep. Zhao Yunlan's step falters for a moment, and that probably gives Shen Wei his answer. Zhao Yunlan wishes he could tell Shen Wei he slept fine, and not make Shen Wei worry too.
"Not really," he admits with a sigh. Before Shen Wei can say anything else, he quickly says, "I want to tell my mom the truth."
He's not entirely sure why he's expecting Shen Wei to argue. Maybe it's just because some of his night and a lot of his school day was lost to thinking of how he'd explain the reasons why he wants to do this to Shen Wei. Because his mom deserves to know the truth, because that way maybe Zhao Yunlan can tell her what the issue is with Zhao Xinci, because—
But all Shen Wei does is squeeze his hand and say, "Alright. Do you want me to be present?"
It leaves Zhao Yunlan feeling a bit off-balance, all the reasons he'd been thinking of, trying to convince himself more than anyone else, suddenly feeling entirely useless. He swallows and tries to get himself back on track, and figure out what he's supposed to say now.
"Would you be there? I… I don't want to do it alone, Xiao Wei," he says. He feels ridiculous and small again, like the little kid he looks like.
"Of course," Shen Wei says immediately, smiling warmly at Zhao Yunlan. And while Shen Wei's smile doesn't fix everything, it still makes Zhao Yunlan feel a whole lot better.
"Mom, I need to… talk to you," Zhao Yunlan says. Despite trying to think of what he's going to actually say to her, that's about as far as he really came with any kind of solid plan. "Maybe we could… go sit down?" he adds a bit awkwardly.
His mom's expression turns worried almost instantly and Zhao Yunlan wants to reassure her, to tell her it's all fine. But it's not, and he can't.
Shen Wei brushes a hand against his shoulder in reassurance and then says, "I'll make us some tea."
Zhao Yunlan can see his mom wanting to protest. It is her kitchen and while Shen Wei is allowed to help in there, and maybe doesn't quite count as a guest anymore, apparently having him be the one making the tea is still a bit much. He can also see the way she looks at Zhao Yunlan and then says nothing about it. Instead just suggesting they sit down at the dinner table.
Watching Shen Wei move around in the kitchen is oddly soothing, something Zhao Yunlan can definitely use at the moment. He watches Shen Wei for a moment before finally looking at his mom. She's being incredibly patient, waiting for Zhao Yunlan, despite the concern clearly written on her face.
"I'm not… Mom, I'm from the future," Zhao Yunlan says, his voice nearly breaking. And that's definitely not the best way to start this conversation. But how else is he going to start?
She looks at him like she doesn't quite understand what he's saying. That, and the ever-present worry.
"I lived a whole life and then… I woke up here, as a kid. Again," he tries to explain. Her expression still remains more baffled than anything. He's just waiting for her to ask if he's… feeling okay or something—to think he's gone crazy. Maybe he has, trying to tell her the truth. Who would believe it? Aside from Shen Wei.
In the silence that follows, Shen Wei quietly sets out the tea in front of them.
"Mom? Please say something," Zhao Yunlan pleads as Shen Wei sits down next to him.
"That night… You were screaming," his mom says, her voice a bit distant like she might be remembering the night in question.
Oh, Zhao Yunlan thinks. He didn't really think she'd realise when…
"Yeah… I… Things didn't end great?" he says and then immediately winces, as his mom actually blanches. He should have had a better plan of how to tell her any of this.
She looks at Shen Wei with something like pleading on her face. Zhao Yunlan isn't sure if she wants some kind of—confirmation. Someone to tell her this is or isn't real. At least, considering Zhao Xinci's job, she's already somewhat aware that there are some weird things out there. Maybe she isn't thinking Zhao Yunlan has lost his little kid mind.
"That's another long story," Zhao Yunlan says before Shen Wei is forced to say something. "Xiao Wei, I mean." He's remembered not to call Shen Wei that in front of his mom because it would have seemed weird, but now it just—slips out. Zhao Yunlan lets out a short laugh. His throat feels like it's filled with glass. He swallows. "Different time travel."
No, he's not doing very good at all, explaining anything.
"I think you might need to tell me anyway," his mom says. Her voice trembles a little, and then firms as she looks at Zhao Yunlan.
Zhao Yunlan nods slightly and then… doesn't know what to say. Shen Wei briefly rests a hand on his arm, and then looks at his mom when he says, "Time travel is possible, even if I've only encountered it twice. Both cases involved your son, and the Hallows."
"Xiao Wei…" Zhao Yunlan says, his voice coming out strangled. He didn't mean… He hadn't thought… Shen Wei doesn't need to tell his secrets, just because Zhao Yunlan is tired of lying to his mom.
Shen Wei looks at him briefly, giving him a small, soft smile, and any further protests die on Zhao Yunlan's lips. Thank you, he thinks with so much feeling he's surprised Shen Wei can't hear it.
"I'm not sure if your husband has ever mentioned the Hallows. But you know about Heipaoshi, don't you?" Shen Wei says, not entirely ungently.
His mom looks from him to Shen Wei. "Yes, I… I met…" Her words taper off and then vanish into nothing as her eyes widen and she stares at Shen Wei. "You?" she asks, her voice faint.
Shen Wei inclines his head slightly. "Yes," he agrees calmly.
His mom swallows and blinks a few times. And then she grabs her tea and seems to drain all of it before setting the cup down again.
"Now, both of you better actually explain everything," she says very firmly.