When Shen Wei came home from work that day, he knew immediately there was an intruder in his home. He hesitated with his hand hovering over the light switch, eyes scanning the darkness for clues. Dixingren had better eyesight in low light than Haixingren, an advantage should this turn out to be an ordinary robber.
If it was a fellow Dixingren, however, sent by Zhu Jiu and laying in wait for Heipaoshi…
As it turned out, the intruder was neither: yellow eyes reflected the low light from the window back at him, black fur blending in with the darkness of the room. Shen Wei exhaled softly, lips quirking up at the corners. It reminded him of the time he’d caught Zhao Yunlan and Da Qing breaking into his apartment, shortly after he’d moved in across from them. Back then, he’d pretended to be busy in the bathroom for long enough they felt safe to sneak past him.
This time, however, Da Qing was waiting for him out in the open, loafing on top of his desk. His tail was swishing lightly behind him as he stared at the door, clearly waiting for Shen Wei, his gaze having fixated on him the moment Shen Wei stepped into his apartment and setting of Shen Wei’s battle-ready instincts.
Following through on his halted movement, Shen Wei flicked the lights on.
“Da Qing,” he greeted, setting his briefcase next to the writing desk before moving over to the kitchen. “Would you like something to eat? I’m afraid I don’t have much that’s ready, but if you have some time, dinner will be done in an hour.”
Shen Wei hung his suit jacket over the back of his desk chair, rolling up his sleeves and washing his hands before getting started on the veggies. Hallway through rinsing, however, he realized that Da Qing hadn’t answered. That was unusual. Normally, the cat preferred to ‘supervise’ from the counter, safely out of the way but close enough to catch a scent and possibly beg for scraps. Not that he would call it anything so undignified as ‘begging’, of course.
Shen Wei turned off the tap and dried his hands before turning around. Da Qing had sat up primly with his paws in front of him, tail still lashing in what finally registered as restrained agitation to Shen Wei. He frowned, abandoning dinner prep to give Da Qing his full attention.
“Shen-laoshi,” the cat intoned with the full gravitas of one knowing they sat at the top of the food chain. “This is an intervention.”
Da Qing nodded majestically, his nose and whiskers twitching. Shen Wei stared at him, meeting his gaze unflinchingly.
“Apologies,” he said slowly, when Da Qing failed to elaborate. “I’m uncertain what I’ve done to offend, however, I’m willing to work out an alternative?” Remembering nights spent around campfires trading stories between the three of them, Kunlun, Da Qing and him, Shen Wei added teasingly, “Unless it’s about your fanclub.”
“Fanclub?” Da Qing took the bait, nose wrinkling. “I mean, obviously I have a fanclub. I have dozens. I’m the king of cats after all.” A short pause, then Da Qing gave in to his curiosity, “What fanclub are you talking about, Shen-laoshi?”
A smile teased at Shen Wei’s mouth, tugging at the corners. “Ah, I’m afraid I don’t get involved in the students’ affairs as it relates to extracurriculars. Unless it impacts their studies, of course.”
“Huh.” Da Qing took a moment to preen, before he shook himself. “No, it’s not about the fanclub. Obviously, Shen-laoshi’s students have good tastes, why would I ask him to dissuade them?”
Pointing his paw at Shen Wei, Da Qing accused him with the full affront of a cat who had its tail stepped on, “You have been cleaning our apartment.”
Shen Wei blinked, reaching up to adjust his glasses, baffled. “I… yes?”
Da Qing sniffed. “I realise that lao-Zhao is not the tidiest of humans, and that humans regard this as something of a flaw in a mate.”
“I… suppose so?”
The cat nodded, as if Shen Wei had confirmed a theory of his.
“While I appreciate your… attempts at courtship,” Da Qing continued in a magnamious tone, and Shen Wei felt his ears heat up at the blunt statement of his intent, “I am afraid that I cannot allow you to continue on like this.”
Fear was an icy shock that washed over the embarrassment and left Shen Wei feeling cold. “Am I… have I done something inappropriate?”
He could think of several things, he was aware that there was nothing proper about watching over Zhao Yunlan as he slept, nor snooping about his apartment despite the knowledge that Zhao Yunlan had done the same. He had overstepped that boundary when he’d rented this apartment because it was across from Zhao Yunlan’s. No, propriety had nothing to do with his behaviour, and Shen Wei was keenly aware of that fact.
But… Zhao Yunlan had always fallen into step with him as they danced around their mutual attraction, following each of Shen Wei’s transgressions with encouragement and prodding of his own.
Had he miscalculated? Zhao Yunlan hadn’t said anything, however, Da Qing was nothing if not protective of his chosen human. What if Shen Wei had pushed too far, inadvertently ruining—
“There are no stray clothes anywhere anymore,” Da Qing complained, stopping Shen Wei’s spiralling thoughts in their tracks.
Da Qing’s tail lashed to show his displeasure. “I appreciate the cleaning, especially the lack of stink in the kitchen. However” —Da Qing’s fur stood on end, his tone turning into a hiss— “it is now far too tidy. Not a single discarded shirt is lying around, everything is properly folded and put away. Shen-laoshi, this has to stop.”
“You… want Zhao Yunlan’s clothes?” Shen Wei paused, a blush creeping up his neck as he thought about it. Cats were all about scent, it made sense that Da Qing wanted something of Zhao Yunlan’s to call his own. Shen Wei wouldn’t mind having something of Zhao Yunlan’s to smell, either. “To, uh, to sleep on I suppose?”
“Duh.” Da Qing’s eyes pierced through Shen Wei, judging him. Raising one paw to lick, Da Qing paused long enough to add, “I expect there to be at least five articles of clothing.”
Exhaling in amusement, Shen Wei gave in. “Would it suffice if I left them on the window sill?”
“Acceptable,” Da Qing agreed, sniffing haughtily. He leaped off the desk and twisted around Shen Wei’s legs, making his way towards the counter. “I will accept dinner as an apology.”
Shen Wei ducked his head, hiding his smile. “Of course. Will braised fish be sufficient?”
“It’ll have to do,” Da Qing accepted magnanimously, the excitement in the twist of his tail giving him away. Shen Wei shook his head and set about preparing for dinner, fondness warming his chest.
Da Qing might not remember him, but they’d come to a new balance. Different from the old days, perhaps, but just as good.