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Ye Zun knows it's still a few years before the next time Shen Wei will be able to make it through to Dixing. His visits are the one thing that truly marks any kind of passage of time for Ye Zun. Sometimes, he finds himself so angry at gege for leaving him here, alone while he goes around in Haixing, free and chasing after that lover of his. At times, he lets himself wallow in that rage. It makes the time pass faster. Well, when it doesn't feel like that burning rage drags time to a standstill.

Eventually, one way or another, Ye Zun pulls himself out of it and reminds himself that Shen Wei doesn't have much choice.

That's not quite true though. He knows that too. There's a choice. There are always choices. It's just that even Ye Zun agrees that gege staying in Dixing is not worth the price they'd have to pay. It shouldn't be Shen Wei's job to fix the world, and it sure as hell shouldn't come at the cost of Ye Zun being stuck here, imprisoned for millennia, but that's just how things are. Ye Zun can scheme and plot as much as he wants, but that won't change the facts.

Ye Zun is stuck in this damned pillar and there's little he can do about anything. Shen Wei on the other hand is in a unique position of actually being able to do something about the mess Haixing has created for all of them. In the beginning Ye Zun had doubted the truth of what Shen Wei told him about it—had doubted everything Shen Wei told him—but over the years he's come to see the truth for what it is.

And before the last of the Hallows is gone from Dixing there's simply no way out for Ye Zun. The Guardian Lantern is proving to be stubborn, refusing to budge from its place in Dixing. Before it does, neither Shen Wei nor Ye Zun can pull him out of this accursed pillar, no matter how hard they try.

So, all gege can do is visit him when the portal lets him through, which is once every sixteen years. Then they have a long talk, before Shen Wei leaves again.

Ye Zun isn't entirely sure at what point he actually started believing Shen Wei. Sixteen years is not such a long time when your time is otherwise measured in millennia and there have been many visits by now. When did he stop believing that gege had abandoned him back then? When did he believe that Shen Wei really can't stay with him now?

He does know the truth now, but every time gege leaves him again it still feels like an echo of that first time.

Maybe, when he's finally free again, Ye Zun will finally let go of the anger that still lingers with him.

Shen Wei disapproves of the way Ye Zun tries to coax one impressionable Dixingren after another to steal the Guardian Lantern, even though he knows that things don't just happen the way they want them to without some interference. Shen Wei knows that better than most, considering how he's trying to very specifically change certain things.

But Shen Wei isn't here. Shen Wei isn't trapped inside a pillar, helpless to do anything else than try to manipulate others to do his bidding. Shen Wei has no idea how far Ye Zun would go just to get free. But then, on the other hand, Shen Wei has never tried to stop him either. They both know that it's inevitable that one day one of the people Ye Zun sends for the Guardian Lantern will succeed, even if none of them has come even close so far.

Ye Zun feels the moment something changes, the energy keeping him imprisoned fluctuates wildly before stabilising again, jolting Ye Zun out of his thoughts. There have been so many failures before that he hadn't truly expected anything to go differently this time. He had tried not to think about it, sending someone for the Guardian Lantern and then doing his best to forget about it, because Ye Zun has learned that hope is the worst kind of pain.

Carefully, he pushes some of his awareness out of the pillar, wriggling through the cracks, past his bindings, the way he's learned to do with so much practice. It's easier than it's ever been before, and if Ye Zun had a body, he'd be grinning.

He notices the panicking people before anything else. There's screaming and chaos and people rushing into each other like they've forgotten how to move in the dark. And it is dark, he realises suddenly. It's not really something Ye Zun pays attention to usually, as he doesn't have eyes to see with.

Well, it's been a while since Dixing was this dark, maybe they really have forgotten, Ye Zun thinks and turns his attention up toward the place the Guardian Lantern has hung for so long. He starts laughing, even as he lets the pillar draw him back in. The pillar pulses with his laughter as he settles in, feeling almost giddy.

He'll just need to wait for a while longer. Gege will be back soon, now that there's nothing keeping the portals closed anymore.

His latest case makes no sense at all, Zhao Xinci thinks, not for the first time. Ever since he'd been called to the scene of the attack things had felt—off somehow. But he knows better than to trust a vague feeling like that. Follow the evidence, and it'll lead you to the right conclusion sooner or later. But right now, Zhao Xinci doesn't know what the evidence is telling him.

Or, more accurately, the evidence is telling him something entirely impossible. And that's not… Zhao Xinci doesn't believe in the impossible. He shakes his head and looks at his partner, dismissing the useless musings.

"This should be it," Gao Jingfeng says, as he pulls the car over.

Zhao Xinci doesn't bother to ask if he's sure before he opens the door and steps out of the car. Gao Jingfeng doesn't usually make mistakes like that and it would be insulting to ask. It's just that lately Zhao Xinci is feeling a little like questioning everything.

The tip they'd gotten hadn't been too detailed, but someone had seen what might be the same guy from the attack around this area. Maybe they'll get lucky this time, Zhao Xinci thinks and then wants to scoff at himself. But the truth of the matter is that by this point they really do need luck on their side if they want to catch this guy, because there are no concrete leads to follow at all, which is ridiculous seeing how out in the open the attack had been, someone should have seen something useful. And someone definitely should have seen what the guy had used to attack those people, except every person Zhao Xinci has talked to tells him that there was nothing at all he could have been using.

There are two people in the hospital and one already dead and Zhao Xinci is determined to catch this guy before it gets any worse.

Instead of saying anything out loud, Zhao Xinci gestures for Gao Jingfeng to follow him.

He takes a harsh breath as he dives for cover, glancing over at Gao Jingfeng to see if he's still okay. He's holding onto his arm, shaking his head. He might not be badly injured, but that probably means Gao Jingfeng can't shoot his gun at the moment, which leaves Zhao Xinci pretty much alone in the situation, because there's no way they can get close to that.

What the hell was that? Zhao Xinci wants to yell out the question, but he keeps himself quiet. People don't… They don't shoot things out of their hands for fuck's sake. That's just not possible. Maybe he had some kind of weapon and Zhao Xinci just hadn't—

Zhao Xinci shakes his head. Focus, he tells himself wordlessly, clutching his gun a bit tighter as he tries to listen for the other guy. They can try to figure things out once they survive this first.

His heart is thundering in his ears loudly enough that he's having trouble hearing anything else. Zhao Xinci takes a quiet breath, forcing it to be steady. Maybe he'll get lucky and the guy will have fled, part of him thinks. He shouldn't want that, because that means other people will be in danger and Zhao Xinci failed to stop the guy right here and now when he had the chance. But he's—scared. He doesn't exactly want to die here. He has a wife and son waiting for him.

Very carefully, he peers around the corner he's hiding behind. And then has to duck down as another blast of—something comes towards him. He shoots before he's really even thinking about it, squeezing the trigger before he can even aim properly. And then again and again.

Suddenly, there's an echoing silence inside the old rundown building. All Zhao Xinci can hear are his own harsh breaths.

"Is it… Did you…?" Gao Jingfeng's voice asks. Zhao Xinci doesn't dare to look his way, just in case. But he's pretty sure he's run out of bullets.

"I think so," he says, still pointing his gun towards where he can just about see an arm lying against the ground. His voice is shaking, but at least his hands are still steady. He waits for a few moments more, before getting himself up off the floor. And then very carefully advancing.

He can hear Gao Jingfeng moving behind him, but he still can't look.

When he gets closer it's very obvious that the guy is dead. For a heartbeat Zhao Xinci can't move, nausea welling up inside him. He swallows quickly, tasting bile in his mouth. He's never… He's never had to kill anyone before.

Then he shakes himself out of it, cursing himself quietly. He bends down next to the guy, checking for his pulse, even if it is clear that he's not among the living anymore. He avoids looking at the bullet wounds. Instead, his eyes fall on the antique-looking lantern the man is clutching in one hand.

"Do you think that's what he was yelling about? That we can't take it from him?" Gao Jingfeng asks from behind him.

Zhao Xinci startles at the voice. Then he shrugs, feeling kind of grateful for something else to focus on. "Probably. Not that I have any idea why it would be so important to anyone. Well, maybe we'll get some answers once we find out what it is and who it belongs to," he says briskly.

And Zhao Xinci really wants some answers. He needs to know if something like— If someone else will be able to do what this guy did.

"At least we got him," Gao Jingfeng says.

Zhao Xinci pushes his hands against his thighs and stands up. "Yeah," he agrees and quickly has to swallow the taste of bile in his mouth again. "We did that."

Zhao Yunlan stares at the papers in front of him on the table. He's pretty sure there's a work contract in there. Among other things. Most of the other things are telling him that he's not allowed to talk to anyone about his work and so on and so forth.

He fingers a corner of the papers. The noise of it sounds surprisingly loud in the expectant silence. He looks up at the man standing there, seemingly never having taken his eyes off Zhao Yunlan. He doesn't know the man, but he has that look of a government official about him; boring suit, dour face, the whole package.

If they wanted Zhao Yunlan to actually be interested they could at least have had someone a bit more exciting come talk to him. After they dragged him to this featureless room, to sit at a boring table and read papers.

He'd been busy doing things far more interesting than this. Like lounging on his couch in his boxers doing nothing, while his cat napped on his chest. That had definitely been far more exciting than this.

He leans back in the chair as best he can; he's pretty sure they've found the most uncomfortable chair possible for this. It goes with the rest of the decor, he supposes. He grins insolently at the man; he might as well get what fun he can out of this.

"So, did I get this right? You want me to agree to work for… whoever you are, before you actually tell me what any of this is about?" he drawls out, raising an eyebrow at the man.

"Yes," the man agrees calmly.

Really, couldn't they have sent him someone marginally more interesting? Maybe they want him so bored that he'll agree just for something to actually happen.

"Because the government needs me and my entirely useless history degree for…" Zhao Yunlan waves a hand in the air and looks questioningly at the man, maybe he'd actually feel compelled to finish the sentence for him.

He doesn't, just looks impassively at Zhao Yunlan and says, "You have the exact qualifications the project needs."

The most boring person ever. Where did they even find someone like that? Did they have to train to be this boring?

Zhao Yunlan fingers his pack of smokes. He's been seriously thinking of quitting, they're not good for him or something along those lines. And he has enough trouble with his gastritis as it is, he doesn't need any more health issues. He's been trying to cut down at least, but situations like this… He bites back a sigh. He wonders if it'd reveal too much about his own frame of mind, or maybe actually make that guy react somehow if he started smoking right now.

Probably not worth it though, he thinks. He still pulls the pack out, tapping out one cigarette slightly, before pushing it back down. And then doing it again. And again.

He thinks maybe the guy is starting to actually look a little bit annoyed. Zhao Yunlan is not good with boredom.

Why are they asking Zhao Yunlan? If the guy wasn't lying about Zhao Yunlan having the qualifications they want—and Zhao Yunlan doesn't think he was—then what would they need someone with a history degree for of all things? Because other than that all Zhao Yunlan has going for him is a dad he doesn't get along with who might have some influence and a knowledge of the existence of Dixing because of said dad. (And he also knows about Yashou because of his cat, but he doesn't think the government, whatever branch of it he's dealing with here, would know about that).

Yeah, so there's that, it seems a bit more likely to be the reason. And also there's the little fact that his dad had been the one wanting Zhao Yunlan to study history, of all things. And like the dutiful son that Zhao Yunlan had never quite managed to be, he'd done what his dad wanted.

He's suddenly having more than a few suspicions that his dad might have known something. Because what are the chances of Zhao Yunlan's qualifications ever being of any use to the government, they're barely of any use to Zhao Yunlan.

He smiles again, and it tastes bitter. So here he is, apparently still doing what his dad wants, even when they haven't even spoken in… however long it's been again. Maybe this is his dad's way of telling Zhao Yunlan that he should get off his ass and do something with his life. He wouldn't put it past Zhao Xinci.

He should get up right now and walk the fuck out of here and never look back.

But Zhao Yunlan has this little fatal flaw of being ridiculously curious. It's a trait he really should try to get rid of one of these days. Because, now he really does want to know what the hell they might need a historian for. A historian that hasn't exactly put that degree into much use either, so it's not like they couldn't find someone better in that regard.

He taps out the cigarette again, this time pulling it out and tapping the end against the table a couple of times before sticking it between his lips. He fishes out his lighter and flicks it on, bringing it to the end of the cigarette. Fuck quitting, he thinks as he takes a drag of the cigarette. If he's doing this he at least deserves a damned smoke.

He looks at the man, who's actually frowning slightly—look; an actual expression, Zhao Yunlan thinks dryly. He takes the cigarette out of his mouth, holding the smoke in his lungs for a moment before exhaling. He tilts his head a bit. "You don't mind, do you?" he asks with a lazy grin.

"Of course not," the man says, his eye twitching slightly in a way that says he very much does.

"Good," Zhao Yunlan says, and then pulls the papers a bit closer. "Let me just read these through first," he says. Sure, he might have decided to sign them, but he still wants to actually know what he's signing. That way, at least he'll know what's about to bite him in the ass later.

It seems like the moment Zhao Yunlan signs the papers someone else walks into the room. Look at that, at least they've managed to be slightly less boring by wearing a lab coat like that's just what you wear for casual everyday wear. Or maybe there's a lab just next door, it's not like Zhao Yunlan would know.

He stares at the older-looking man with a raised eyebrow. He kind of wishes he hadn't managed to smoke the cigarette already. He really is trying to cut back and pulling out another one is not something he's about to do now. He definitely needs to figure out something to replace them with, or at least have something else to fiddle with, if he actually wants to quit.

His fingers twitch nervously, which at least is hidden by the table.

"I'm Doctor Ouyang," the man says, like that should mean something to Zhao Yunlan.

Zhao Yunlan huffs, shrugs and says, "I'm sure you already know who I am."

For a moment something that might be disappointment, or maybe just annoyance passes over Doctor Ouyang's face. Maybe he really wanted to be recognised, but unless he's a doctor of history there's a very small chance Zhao Yunlan has ever heard of him.

Now, Zhao Yunlan might not exactly have made a name for himself in his own field, but that doesn't mean he doesn't follow it. Call it professional curiosity or whatever.

He's not going to ask what this is all about. Sure, curiosity is burning at him, but he's pretty sure he's due a whole introductory spiel any moment now. Asking would just be admitting that he actually wants to know.

"Yes, I do," Doctor Ouyang says, looking at him like he could think of about a dozen people better suited for whatever job they want Zhao Yunlan to do. Zhao Yunlan would be insulted, but he's pretty sure he could too, and he doesn't even know what the job is yet.

He taps his thigh quietly under the table and smiles indolently, leaning back in the chair again, exuding an air of being entirely happy to lounge right here for the rest of the day. The chair is still ridiculously uncomfortable and Zhao Yunlan would be happy to just get up and walk. Just walk. In circles, if that's what it takes, but preferably right out of this bland little room.

"Have you heard of the Hallows?" Doctor Ouyang asks.

Zhao Yunlan blinks at the question. Well, that came out of left-field. Most people wouldn't have heard of them, but appearances aside, Zhao Yunlan actually is interested in his field and has done research on Dixing-related history. After all, most historians don't know about Dixing and he's in a unique position to recognise that some things that are thought of as mere legends are actually based on a whole lot more fact than is generally assumed.

Too bad that that's research that Zhao Yunlan can't exactly publish anywhere if he doesn't want to get laughed right out of academia. Well, not that he's exactly highly regarded as it is, that would actually require him to publish anything at all.

The Hallows are one of those legends, but there are very few mentions of them and all of them are… vague at best. Even Zhao Yunlan doesn't know if he should believe they're actually real.

He cocks his head slightly. "No. Should I have?" he asks casually.

He still can't decide if that look on Doctor Ouyang's face is disappointment or annoyance. Zhao Yunlan thinks this is quite possibly a record for how quickly he can make someone regret hiring him.

Doctor Ouyang smiles tightly, trying very much to look like the answer doesn't bother him.

"No, I suppose most people wouldn't know about them," he says and then frowns. "Well, you do know about Dixing at least?" he fairly snaps out, and it sounds more like he's telling Zhao Yunlan he better know.

Zhao Yunlan blinks innocently and doesn't say anything for a moment. He can see Doctor Ouyang's expression tightening. Zhao Yunlan can already tell they're going to have such a wonderful working relationship.

"Yes, I suppose I've heard of it," Zhao Yunlan agrees since they already know he knows. He's pretty sure his dad has made sure of that.

"Good," Doctor Ouyang says irritably. "At least I don't have to explain everything."

Well, now he really does have Zhao Yunlan curious. He raises an eyebrow at the doctor.

Zhao Yunlan gets a whole explanation about the Hallows, which really sounds like a lot of speculation and guesswork more than solid knowledge. But it sure is a whole hell of a lot more than what Zhao Yunlan knew before.

Apparently, they were made roughly ten thousand years ago, around the same time that technology, in general, made a whole huge jump forward. There are not exactly a lot of records surviving from that time, and there are a lot of differing theories. Zhao Yunlan has his own theories of course, rather different from the prevailing ones, since, you know, there's that whole thing about Dixingren and Yashouren existing and a lot of things make more sense if you know that, like the whole war that happened back then.

And then there are a lot of science terms out of Doctor Ouyang that Zhao Yunlan is a bit iffy about. Physics is not his field, thank fuck. But he does get what 'temporal effects' and 'temporal manipulation' means. Because against all appearances, Zhao Yunlan is not actually an idiot.

He stares at the Guardian Lantern that Doctor Ouyang has taken him to see. It's behind an observation window, all on its own in a small white room. Because of course they actually have one of the Hallows. Why wouldn't they?

"You're talking about time travel," Zhao Yunlan says as he keeps staring at the Lantern. He's not entirely sure how to feel about seeing it, right there. It changes some of the assumptions he'd made in his research earlier, he's just not entirely sure how much yet. He should go through—

"Yes," Doctor Ouyang says, surprised enough that he only gives a one-word answer. Instead of his usual condescending verbosity. Right, yes, well… Zhao Yunlan hasn't given him the best of impressions so far, he supposes showing some brains would be surprising.

Zhao Yunlan turns to look at Doctor Ouyang. There are a few other people walking about, entirely ignoring the two of them and looking a lot like they're busy doing their actual jobs, whatever their jobs are. Noticeably no one else is wearing a lab coat.

"Maybe explain it in words that I'll understand," Zhao Yunlan suggests dryly.

Doctor Ouyang sighs, like that request is a huge imposition and then says, "This way," before turning around and walking in the other direction and then opens a door to a… well, it looks kind of like a hangar of some sort. Big open hall, all industrial looking, and with noticeably very lab coat-less people scurrying about.

There are a few desks and computers and a whole lot of wires running around and then there's a… Well, the thing dominating the whole space. This whole ugly-looking huge metal ball in the middle of everything. Somehow, it reminds Zhao Yunlan of the Lantern he'd seen. Except the Lantern was a whole lot smaller, less ugly and very much doesn't have an open person-sized hatch with stairs leading up to it. Or a bunch of thick wires leading inside.

"So… time machine?" Zhao Yunlan says faintly.

How is it not… rolling away? It's not like it has legs, or supports. Why haven't they given it supports of some kind? Zhao Yunlan's brain might be breaking less if something was actually holding it in place.

As he watches there's a sudden and rather alarming bang from inside the… thing. And then someone is cursing loud enough for Zhao Yunlan to hear from all the way over here, as the cursing someone backs out of the hatch, hair standing on end.

Someone calls out to the frazzled-looking guy and he waves a hand and calls out, "Just a small short circuit. It should be fine." He shakes his head, and runs a hand through his hair, managing to make it look even worse. "I'm fine. Let's just run another diagnostic to be sure."

For a moment Zhao Yunlan's slightly frizzed out brain wonders if he means they need to run a diagnostic on him. Doctor Ouyang's briefly smug look at Zhao Yunlan's stunned reaction to the time machine, is dimmed by that whole display.

"Yes. We've made some very successful… jumps by now," Doctor Ouyang says, pausing slightly before the word jump like he really wants to use some other word. Maybe he really is trying to dumb things down for Zhao Yunlan's benefit.

Zhao Yunlan blinks a few times. He glances at Doctor Ouyang and then back at the time machine. A fucking time machine!

"Huh, so you really do need an actual historian?" Zhao Yunlan asks. That wasn't what he'd expected. Oh, fuck, does he actually want the government to have the power to go back in time and… Do they change things? Can they change things?

Zhao Yunlan still doesn't have a physics degree and he thinks he's already getting a headache.

"We need someone to travel with our pilot. You were recommended," Doctor Ouyang says.

Oh, Zhao Yunlan thinks. That's… Okay. Sure, seeing actual history would be… interesting. He keeps staring at the time machine.

It feels like no time at all before Zhao Yunlan is sitting strapped to a seat inside the rather cramped time machine. It's been weeks actually. Enough time for Zhao Yunlan to get more details about the project itself, and perhaps more importantly to do his research on the time he's being sent to.

The actual period of history Zhao Yunlan is travelling to.

He tugs at his robes a bit self-consciously. There'd been enough time to get the details right, but somehow he still feels like people are going to take one look at him and know he's a fake. Maybe they should have tried going to some time where he could wear a suit maybe.

Not that Zhao Yunlan is particularly comfortable in suits either.

No one's going to be looking at you, Zhao Yunlan tells himself. His robes are plain and are probably going to blend right in with everyone else.

He doesn't even know exactly why they chose the time he's going to. Well, apart from the fact that it's when the precursor to what is today's Dragon City University was established. And, oh, Zhao Yunlan would love to have an opportunity to talk to some of the scholars that… But no, Zhao Yunlan is there to observe, nothing else.

There should be a ceremony. He's supposed to be there to observe that, and nothing more. He takes a deep breath. That's plenty exciting enough. Zhao Yunlan doesn't need to get involved with anything and screw things up. He doesn't want to actually change anything, Lin Jing keeps saying that they still aren't entirely sure what will happen in the present if they do change something.

And then he usually spins off into a whole thing about how they're probably changing things just by travelling into the past, and who knows how many butterflies he's landed on so far. Zhao Yunlan usually tunes him out at that point, because if he thinks about it too much he's going to end up having anxiety about it. Or possibly sounding like Lin Jing.

Mostly, what Zhao Yunlan has gotten out of Lin Jing's rambling explanations is that changing small things really shouldn't do much to the present, and he's probably going to be fine. Time is apparently surprisingly durable and flexible. Who would have thought?

Zhao Yunlan swallows again, his mouth feeling dry. The pre-jump check could really be a bit shorter because he'd appreciate not having this much time to think.

"Are you sure you're not going to explode anything?" Zhao Yunlan asks dryly.

Lin Jing taps on something on the console in front of him, strapped to his own chair, and doesn't even turn to look at Zhao Yunlan. All the instruments have a sort of quaint old-time-y feel to them. Apparently, for some reason or other, touch screens and whatnot really don't work for the time machine.

Honestly, Lin Jing had explained some of that too. But Zhao Yunlan isn't even sure if it's the Lantern's energy or something about the time travel itself that makes certain things just… break. Really, Zhao Yunlan is entirely fine not knowing the details, because apparently it needs someone who pretty much knows how to build a time machine to be able to figure out how to pilot one. So, that's definitely not something Zhao Yunlan will ever be able to do.

"Don't worry, boss. I've done this before. It'll be fine. You might feel a bit queasy though," Lin Jing says with this slightly manic cheerfulness. Zhao Yunlan wants to ask him when exactly he slept last, but maybe that's information he doesn't actually need right now. It might just make him more nervous.

A heartbeat later, and after flicking a few more switches, Lin Jing turns his head to actually look at Zhao Yunlan. "Ready, boss?" he asks with a raised eyebrow.

Zhao Yunlan takes a quick breath. "Sure, why not?" he says with a grimace.

"Hold on," Lin Jing says as he turns back to all his instruments, and the next thing Zhao Yunlan knows the whole time machine is shaking and there's a loud hum in his ears.

Lin Jing wasn't wrong about the nausea. Zhao Yunlan feels like he's been thoroughly shaken, his bones still feeling like they might be rattling against each other as he shakily pops open the hatch and clambers out of the time machine, trying to hold the contents of his stomach inside at least long enough to get outside. Obviously, there are no convenient stairs here, and he sort of maybe falls out a little, his knees jarring against the ground. He groans and then swallows, at least the nausea seems to be receding. He's probably not going to throw up after all, which is good, because he's not entirely sure how his stomach will take to food in the past.

Stupid stomach problems. And that's definitely not something he bothered to tell anyone, even the doctor they made him see before he was cleared for actual time travel. He'll deal with it the way he always has—which is mostly by ignoring it until he can't. It's probably not good for him, but that's just how things are.

He pats the ground before pushing himself up and taking a deep breath. The air does smell different in the past, he thinks. Probably the lack of pollution, he supposes.

"You okay?" Lin Jing asks, poking his head out of the time machine.

Zhao Yunlan waves a hand vaguely in his direction and takes a few deep breaths before saying, "Yeah, fine."

"You get used to it," Lin Jing tells him, a bit too cheerily, if you ask Zhao Yunlan. Then he hesitates for a moment and shrugs. "Sort of," he amends.

"Right. I'll look forward to that then," Zhao Yunlan mutters mostly to himself, dusting off his knees. Then he raises his voice a bit as he looks back up at Lin Jing. "I guess I'll just leave you here then?"

"Yup," Lin Jing agrees. "I'll make sure this baby is ready to go back," he says, patting the side of the opening he's looking through.

"Alright," Zhao Yunlan says. And then hesitates for a moment, looking around himself. There are trees and that's about it. It's preferable that they land a bit away from people if possible since the whole huge metal ball appearing out of nowhere thing might be a bit noticeable otherwise.

He pulls out the damned compass someone had told him to take with him, even if he shouldn't, and stares down at it. So right, the plan was for them to land to the north of Dragon City… if that still holds true, then… Zhao Yunlan looks at the compass and turns a few steps to the right.

That way. Maybe.

Zhao Yunlan has decided that one thing he doesn't like about the past so far is all the walking. But at least he manages to find Dragon City without a problem. He stares at the actual walls around the city. He knew they'd be there, but it's still odd to actually see them. There's not all that much left in modern days.

He walks up behind the queue of people waiting to get inside. Hopefully, they're not checking people too closely. There's no reason why Zhao Yunlan shouldn't blend in with everyone else, but it's still a bit nerve-wracking. At least people are moving relatively fast through the gates, which probably means they're not looking at anyone in too much detail.

The closer he gets, the more Zhao Yunlan feels like the guards are specifically looking at him, even though that's ridiculous.

And then the guards are right there in front of him, looking straight at him, telling him to stop. He doesn't exactly have much choice but to do as he's told. He would prefer not to be skewered over some kind of misunderstanding. Well, not that the people in this time are known for being particularly quick to violence, but standards are definitely different than in modern times. And… Zhao Yunlan is just a bit too nervous. He tries to take a slow breath and tells himself to calm down as he answers the guards.

"Me? Of course," he says, trying to match their speech as best he can. He just hopes his modern accent won't stand out too much.

"Zhao Yunlan," someone calls out before the guards can say anything more, and a man walks toward them. He's in far fancier robes than Zhao Yunlan, who'd tried to go for something common that would blend in. But it's his ridiculously beautiful face that Zhao Yunlan really can't tear his eyes away from.

It's distracting enough that for a second Zhao Yunlan doesn't even register the fact that someone knowing his actual name should be impossible.

"I've been waiting for you," the beautiful man says with a small smile as he stops a few steps away. Then he looks at the guards, "There's no problem, I trust?" he says, in a way that makes it clear that there better not be any problems.

Whoever he is, Zhao Yunlan gets the feeling the guards recognise him, or possibly the way he dresses or something, because their demeanour suddenly turns a whole lot more polite as they assure the man that there's no problem at all.

"That's good," the man tells them pleasantly and then turns his gaze to Zhao Yunlan. "Come, we'll be late for the ceremony if we don't hurry," he says.

Zhao Yunlan hesitates for a split second, but he really doesn't have much choice but to go with the man. Not if he doesn't want to raise more suspicion, which he really, really doesn't want. He's saying something about the ceremony for the opening of the university, and even though that's what Zhao Yunlan is here for he can hardly pay attention, his thoughts churning over the fact that this stranger knows his name.

When they're finally far enough away from the guards and walking on streets that Zhao Yunlan should be fascinated by, but is too worried to actually pay enough attention to, Zhao Yunlan stops, forcing the other man to do the same or lose track of Zhao Yunlan.

"I'm sorry, but who are you?" Zhao Yunlan demands as the man turns to look at him with a faintly questioning look on his pretty face.

The question makes him visibly falter, his face crumpling for a second before a bland, pleasant little smile appears on his lips, his entire expression smoothing out. What? Did he expect Zhao Yunlan to know him?

Zhao Yunlan tries to twist his mind around that idea. Is it somehow possible that he'll… time travel again to some earlier time and meet this man then? Even the thought is giving Zhao Yunlan a faint headache.

"Of course, I knew you wouldn't…" the man says quietly like he's speaking to himself more than Zhao Yunlan. Then he stops himself mid-sentence and says, "I'm Shen Wei. And we will be late for the ceremony if we don't continue. That's why you're here, isn't it?" Shen Wei says, obviously trying to prompt Zhao Yunlan into starting to move again.

Zhao Yunlan stays exactly where he is, staring at the man. Sure yeah, he doesn't want to miss the whole reason why he came here, even if he isn't completely sure what good it'll actually do anyone, aside from fulfilling some of Zhao Yunlan's own curiosity about history. But right now, he's a bit more concerned with the problem staring him right in the face, looking a bit too attractive for Zhao Yunlan's peace of mind. It's hard to stay too suspicious of someone that beautiful. His libido would sure be happy to ignore any and all suspicions.

Zhao Yunlan shakes himself a bit. Concentrate, he tells himself.

"Yes. I wanted to see the founding ceremony. But it's not the end of the world if I miss it," Zhao Yunlan says blandly.

Shen Wei gives him a slightly odd look at that. For a moment he looks like he's about to say something, before subsiding and then just waiting for Zhao Yunlan.

"How do you know me?" Zhao Yunlan just comes straight out and asks. Maybe it's stupid, but well… This is an entirely ridiculous situation to start with.

There's a flicker of something in Shen Wei's eyes that makes Zhao Yunlan almost feel guilty for asking.

"I've met you before. You told me to meet you at the gates today, Zhao Yunlan," Shen Wei says earnestly. Zhao Yunlan squints at him like he might be able to tell Shen Wei's intentions just by looking.

Shen Wei seems like he's being honest, but how would Zhao Yunlan know? He's never met the man before. And some part of him still instinctively wants to trust Shen Wei, but he's pretty sure that might just be his somewhat neglected libido speaking.

He closes his eyes for a second and sighs. "Alright, fine. I guess we should go," he says. It's not like Shen Wei seems dangerous and Zhao Yunlan really can't think of any other explanation for why he'd be here, knowing Zhao Yunlan's name, than the one Shen Wei had given. Knowing his name is a pretty big hint that he must have met someone from the future, right? And Zhao Yunlan doesn't exactly know anyone else except him and Lin Jing travelling in time.

Not that there might not be others in the future, he supposes. Shen Wei might be one.

This shit is really going to give Zhao Yunlan a headache.

Shen Wei smiles, and it seems a bit more real than that bland smile from earlier. Zhao Yunlan should try to make him smile more.

"This way," Shen Wei says and starts walking again. Zhao Yunlan hesitates for another heartbeat and then follows him.

They watch the entire ceremony, which takes quite a while. Zhao Yunlan vaguely wishes that he could take his phone or just a camera into the past so he could record all of this. But of course, that's a bit too much of a risk or so he's told. He's not supposed to take anything with him that doesn't belong here. But it's all so fascinating, and he's just not sure how many details he's actually going to be able to remember.

Even as they watch, part of Zhao Yunlan's mind can't quite ignore the presence at his side. Part of him is busy trying to figure out who Shen Wei is and what he might want.

When it's finally over Zhao Yunlan finds himself following Shen Wei again when what he really should be doing is getting back to Lin Jing for a trip back. He's done what he came here for after all, and there's absolutely no reason to stay for longer. Except his curiosity is killing him.

There are too many thoughts about the ceremony he just watched swimming around in his head and instead of asking about where they're going, Zhao Yunlan finds himself asking questions about what he'd seen. Shen Wei answers him calmly, a small smile playing on his lips when he glances at Zhao Yunlan every now and then.

At some point, Zhao Yunlan realises he's slipped into talking about the historical significance of some things, like Shen Wei was actually from his own time. He bites off the words coming from his mouth and squints at the side of Shen Wei's face as they walk. He hasn't reacted to Zhao Yunlan's words like he'd noticed anything strange, it's like he thinks whatever Zhao Yunlan is saying is perfectly normal.

"I should leave," Zhao Yunlan says abruptly, stopping in his tracks. He's being stupid, following this complete stranger around.

"We're almost there," Shen Wei says. He's stopped too and has turned to look at Zhao Yunlan.

"Where?" Zhao Yunlan asks, frustration ringing in his voice.

"My home," Shen Wei says easily, apparently not bothered too much by Zhao Yunlan's tone. "There's someone I want you to meet, Zhao Yunlan."

Zhao Yunlan blinks and hesitates. Logically that probably means he has all the more reason to turn around and just leave right now. But it's like Shen Wei knows him well enough to know that saying something like that means Zhao Yunlan really wants to know who the hell they're talking about.

"It's just over there," Shen Wei says, pointing towards a building. It doesn't look like a place just anyone from the street would live in. In fact, this whole area seems pretty affluent.

Zhao Yunlan looks towards the building. Well, he's come all the way over here. It'll never stop bothering him if he doesn't find out who Shen Wei is talking about.

He pulls his lips into a smile that feels more like a grimace. "Lead the way," he says, gesturing for Shen Wei to go on.

The gates open easily at Shen Wei's hand, making hardly any noise at all. Zhao Yunlan feels his stomach tightening with anticipation or dread. Being alone in an unfamiliar place is possibly making him a tiny bit paranoid.

He takes a quick breath and walks in after Shen Wei, not entirely sure what to expect. He looks around in the courtyard he's walked into and is somehow surprised that he can't see any servants. For some reason, he was really expecting servants.

The courtyard looks very nice, but it's not quite enough to hold Zhao Yunlan's attention. Not when his eyes suddenly focus on a black cat rushing towards him. Zhao Yunlan is pretty sure it's instinct for him to crouch down and open his arms and hug the cat that basically throws itself into his arms.

The cat isn't as heavy as he's used to, and honestly, it really could be any black cat, but a part of him is entirely convinced that this cat is exactly who Zhao Yunlan thinks it is.

"Da Qing?" Zhao Yunlan whispers in shock, still holding the cat close.

"Master. It's been so long I've almost forgotten you," the cat whines against his chest.

Zhao Yunlan feels a bit faint. He should sit down. Except he's already crouching down. Well, that's good then, he thinks and plants his ass on the ground, before his legs give out anyway.

"How…?" Zhao Yunlan croaks out. Da Qing just snuggles closer to him, pushing his head against Zhao Yunlan's chin in a very aggressive show of affection. Zhao Yunlan pats him as best he can and tries not to breathe in too much cat hair.

He looks helplessly up at Shen Wei, who's looking down at them with a mixture of fondness and amusement.

"Da Qing hasn't seen you in years. His memory…" Shen Wei says quietly, letting his words trail off, his expression suddenly tinged with sadness.

Oh, Zhao Yunlan thinks, a sort of cold pit opening in his belly. He hugs the cat just a bit tighter. That's not what he was trying to ask about, but at least it explains what Da Qing meant about forgetting him. Zhao Yunlan knows Da Qing's forgotten most of his past, but he'd always thought it was something that only happened recently.

"I'm sorry. I can't stay," Zhao Yunlan whispers against Da Qing's fur. Da Qing doesn't say anything at all, just purrs loudly and bumps his head against Zhao Yunlan's chin again.

Zhao Yunlan gives Shen Wei a pleading look, not entirely sure what he's even asking for.

"We know," Shen Wei says softly, giving Zhao Yunlan the most heartbreaking little smile Zhao Yunlan has ever seen. It makes Zhao Yunlan want to tell them that he'll just stay here with them, however long they want.

He takes a shaky breath and then has to wipe his face to try to get some of the cat hair away. It's a stupid thought, he knows it's a stupid thought. And since when did he suddenly want to stay with Shen Wei, anyway? When did he decide to believe him?

But that's an easy enough answer. He's been telling himself to be suspicious of Shen Wei even though he keeps wanting to trust him, but with Da Qing here, clearly together with Shen Wei, all of his suspicions suddenly don't matter at all. Even if none of this makes any sense, there's just no way Zhao Yunlan wouldn't trust Da Qing.

Zhao Yunlan nods wordlessly, pressing his face against Da Qing's fur. "I should probably go now," he mumbles and doesn't move at all. His eyes sting with tears.

"If you don't want your pilot to think something's gone wrong. Yes, you shouldn't linger too long," Shen Wei agrees quietly. He doesn't sound like that's what he wants to say.

Zhao Yunlan tilts his head back, to look up at him again. "Are you just going to agree with everything I say, because I'm feeling sad?"

Shen Wei lets out a small laugh, it sounds just a bit wet. "As long as you keep saying things that make sense, I can't really help it," Shen Wei tells him, a faint smile playing on his lips. But Zhao Yunlan can see that he looks kind of upset too.

How well does he know Shen Wei? Or well, he supposes what he should ask is, how well does Shen Wei know him? He has a distinct feeling like Shen Wei knows about the time travel, what with mentioning his pilot. Either that or he thinks Zhao Yunlan is his weird amnesiac friend who apparently wanders off for years, and still knows to show up at whatever time they arranged beforehand, and just doesn't want to upset him by disagreeing about his delusions.

Yeah, time travel actually sounds like the more plausible explanation. But other than that, how close exactly are they? Zhao Yunlan doesn't think he'd go telling just anyone about being from the future.

"Are we…?" Zhao Yunlan starts to ask but then cuts himself off. Maybe he's not supposed to know beforehand. He still doesn't know exactly how all this time travel stuff works.

Shen Wei suddenly crouches down next to him, his hand reaching out like he's about to touch Zhao Yunlan, but then he settles it against Da Qing instead, petting the purring cat in Zhao Yunlan's arms.

"Do you really want to know?" Shen Wei asks him seriously.

Zhao Yunlan has to actually think about his answer for a moment. Then he smiles slightly, it doesn't even feel that forced. "Ah… maybe I prefer being surprised," he says and then winks at Shen Wei. "What's the fun in trying to woo you if I already know what happens."

Well, that's definitely a leap in logic, but Shen Wei is really very attractive and Zhao Yunlan knows himself. Shen Wei swallows, a small blush creeping up to his cheeks before he turns his head away. Oh, well, maybe Zhao Yunlan has some idea how that's going to go.

"Seriously?" Da Qing mutters from Zhao Yunlan's lap. "You're actually like this from the first meeting?"

Zhao Yunlan scratches him behind the ears, a small laugh falling from his lips. Laughing feels like a bit of a relief after everything today.

Shen Wei walks him back to the city gates, Da Qing staying behind at his home. Zhao Yunlan doesn't ask for the reason why the cat stays behind. He's not entirely sure his head has room for too many more explanations today, and for all he knows Da Qing just doesn't want to make the walk.

Shen Wei bids him farewell with a sad little smile, looking at him in a way that makes Zhao Yunlan's heart ache just a little. He's pretty sure Shen Wei doesn't want to let him go. It's a weird thing to know that Shen Wei has so much more history with him than Zhao Yunlan has with him. To be so obviously confronted with the fact that Shen Wei cares for him quite deeply.

Zhao Yunlan doesn't quite have those same feelings, not yet anyway. How could he? He's only met Shen Wei today. Sure if he was in his own time he'd definitely be trying to ask Shen Wei out right now, but that doesn't mean he's quite where Shen Wei is in regards to their… relationship? Is it a relationship when only one of them has lived through it so far? But Zhao Yunlan finds that he minds the thought of falling for Shen Wei far less than he thought he might.

He hesitates for a heartbeat and then steps closer to Shen Wei, wrapping his arms around him. For a moment Shen Wei goes very still, and then he kind of… melts into Zhao Yunlan's arms, wrapping his own arms around Zhao Yunlan and hugging him tightly.

"I'll look forward to seeing you again," Zhao Yunlan whispers before letting go and taking a step back. He smiles a bit at Shen Wei and then asks the thing that has been churning around in his mind for their entire walk here, "Just tell me… I shouldn't be telling anyone about you, should I?"

He's not sure about that conclusion. It's not like he has any reason to distrust the people he works for, but also… Maybe it's just that this job is a little too conveniently tailor-made for Zhao Yunlan. Maybe it's the fact that his dad is the one who wanted him to study history. Maybe it's… Well, Zhao Yunlan is starting to realise that he really doesn't believe in that much coincidence. Looking at Shen Wei, proof of someone who already knows what's going to happen in Zhao Yunlan's future, at least some of his suspicions seem warranted.

Zhao Yunlan suddenly isn't entirely sure how much choice he has in anything at all.

"It's safer for you if you don't," Shen Wei agrees. He takes a quick shaky breath, reaching out to grasp Zhao Yunlan's arm. "Don't take any unnecessary risks, Zhao Yunlan," he says, his voice suddenly very serious and intense.

Zhao Yunlan huffs a bit shakily. Right, then. So, maybe he does need to be suspicious of people. He was kind of hoping Shen Wei would tell him he's being ridiculous. But how much can Shen Wei actually know? He's not from Zhao Yunlan's time, and anything he knows would have to be something Zhao Yunlan has told him, right?

"Alright. I'll be fine, won't I?" he says with a little smile. He doesn't mean to actually ask Shen Wei about it, but he would know, wouldn't he?

Zhao Yunlan seriously needs time to sit down and just try to think through all of this. But that will have to wait until he's back home.

"You'll be fine," Shen Wei repeats, and he sounds like he's trying to convince Zhao Yunlan as much as himself. He's really not very good at lying, is he?

Finding his way back to the time machine is actually harder than it was finding Dragon City. You'd think it'd be easier to backtrack his own steps, but Zhao Yunlan is not that used to woods, even if he does go camping sometimes. Usually, because Da Qing prods him into it, and then just lies miserably on top of Zhao Yunlan's backpack and complains about everything.

With what Zhao Yunlan knows now, he really has to wonder if Da Qing was actually trying to—teach him how to manage in the wilds or something. Because Da Qing sure as hell didn't seem to actually like camping.

Anyway, at least it means he's not stumbling over the terrain constantly. But it still takes him longer than he'd like to actually find Lin Jing and the whole damned time machine. Maybe he should suggest Lin Jing makes some kind of tracker thing just so Zhao Yunlan can find him more easily. Except maybe that wouldn't work in the past, seeing as there are no satellites or anything.

Maybe Zhao Yunlan isn't entirely sure of the details of how something like that would work. And someone would probably tell him that having any kind of modern contraption on him would be a bad idea and liable to get him noticed in the past.

Well, they haven't been in the past and Zhao Yunlan got noticed just fine without having anything on him at all. He probably shouldn't tell them that.

Zhao Yunlan sighs, rubs his hand down his face and looks up at Lin Jing who's peering out from the hatch, happily chewing on some kind of snack. Zhao Yunlan's stomach growls quietly. Maybe he should have tried finding something to eat in the past, after all. It'd probably be less bad than going hungry. But then again, he wouldn't necessarily want to eat just before a jump in time.

"Have you even set foot outside that thing?" Zhao Yunlan asks, feeling unreasonably annoyed suddenly.

It's just… been a long day.

Lin Jing shrugs. "That's your job, boss," he says with a small grin. Then he looks a bit more carefully at Zhao Yunlan and for a moment Zhao Yunlan feels like everything he's done today is somehow visible on him. "You were gone for a while. I was starting to wonder if I should come look for you," Lin Jing says. It sounds like a joke, but he looks like he might actually have been worried.

Zhao Yunlan sighs again. "Yeah, finding this thing took a while. It's not like I had a handy GPS to tell me where to go," he grumbles half-heartedly.

"Ah, I never thought about that," Lin Jing answers, rubbing the back of his head. "It would suck to get stranded because you got lost." Lin Jing laughs shortly, like that was an actual joke.

Zhao Yunlan grimaces and doesn't bother to answer. "So, are we good for the trip back?" he asks instead.

"Sure, boss. As soon as you get inside," Lin Jing tells him, taking a step back and vanishing inside the time machine.

After they get back to the present, and Zhao Yunlan stumbles out of the time machine—and for the record, he'd just like to say that time travel still doesn't feel any better—he gets hustled away for a checkup with the doctor almost immediately. He'd sort of assumed it was coming since they'd been sure to check him over thoroughly before they'd let him in the time machine in the first place.

He still looks a bit jealously at Lin Jing who isn't being herded off to get himself poked and prodded. Zhao Yunlan is pretty sure that quite possibly the only person who can actually pilot the damned time machine is a bit more important than he is. They can replace Zhao Yunlan pretty easily, it's not like they can't pull out another historian from somewhere and brief them on the whole Dixing and Hallows and whatnot situation, it's not like that part is all that important for the actual time travel.

Zhao Yunlan wishes he could see the expressions of those potential colleagues when they get told about that, and have the rug pulled out from under them regarding certain convictions about history. So, maybe sometimes, Zhao Yunlan is a bit bitter about the fact that there's some research he just can't share with anyone.

By the time Zhao Yunlan is lying on a bed with electrodes stuck to his head, he's starting to feel just a little bit frustrated. It feels like someone is stabbing him in the belly with a dull knife, and that's usually a sign that he should have eaten a good while ago.

Then finally, as he sits back up the doctor tells him they're done. Zhao Yunlan sighs audibly with relief and she actually smiles a little at that. Zhao Yunlan gives her a small lopsided grin. It's not really her fault that he's stuck here, she's just doing her job.

"Do I have to do this after every time?" Zhao Yunlan asks, pretty sure that the answer is going to be no. After all, they don't seem to bother with examining Lin Jing anymore.

"Only after we're sure that the jumps aren't having any adverse effect on you," she tells him.

"And how long will that be?" Zhao Yunlan asks a bit suspiciously.

She gives him a smile he really doesn't trust, not with the way her eyes twinkle. "Oh, well, so far so good?" she says.

"Right," Zhao Yunlan answers with a huff and jumps off the exam table. "I'm just going now before you decide to poke me some more," he adds once he's standing and then doesn't hesitate to put words into action.

"I'll see you next time," she calls after him, a hint of laughter in her voice.

Of course, Zhao Yunlan doesn't quite get to go home after that. There's apparently still a post-mission debriefing to attend. At least Zhao Yunlan doesn't need to go through every minute detail of what happened, as much as just talk through the main points. They're giving him a few days to put everything down in writing and then they'll have another meeting once everyone who needs to read through it has had the opportunity to do so.

Zhao Yunlan isn't entirely sure what could be so fascinating about what he'd seen for people who aren't even historians. But he doesn't really mind talking about it. Fuck, part of him is actually kind of happy about it, seeing as he never has any audience for his work usually.

He never mentions Shen Wei or Da Qing at all. He can always change his mind about that later, but until he's had some time to think about all of it it's just better if he doesn't say anything.

So, by the time Zhao Yunlan actually gets out, his stomach is aching badly enough that he can barely manage to stand up straight, one arm pressed against his abdomen, like that might help somehow. He clambers inside his car, vaguely grateful that he didn't take the bike here. Then he just sits there hunched over for a moment trying to breathe steadily and waiting for the pain to subside enough for him to drive.

Slowly, the worst of it passes. He hesitates for a moment. He knows there'll be nothing to eat at home, but he's not sure he's really up to stopping somewhere to buy something to eat either. Or figuring out what to eat in the first place. What he really wants is to get home and crawl straight into bed.

He pulls out his phone and calls Da Qing. It takes a few rings before Da Qing picks up with a sleepy sounding, "Hello?"

A few different responses fly through Zhao Yunlan's mind, and his heart thuds heavily in his chest a few times before he gets over it and manages to actually say something. "Would you mind ordering something to eat? I should be home soon."

There are a few heartbeats of silence, and Zhao Yunlan almost expects Da Qing to tell him to get his own damned food. But then all that he says is, "You forgot to eat again, didn't you? Fine, I'll take care of it. Just get home safe." There's something very close to worry in Da Qing's voice.

Zhao Yunlan is not up to deciphering any sort of nuances right now, so he just hangs up, throwing the phone on the seat next to him before starting the car.

He didn't tell Da Qing what his new job was, he'd just told him it was something that was supposed to be secret and Da Qing hadn't asked any questions. But all things considered, maybe Da Qing hadn't needed to ask.

Zhao Yunlan kicks off his shoes and stumbles over the mess of his apartment to fall into his bed. He wraps his arms around his belly and just groans into his pillow.

"Well, hello to you too," Da Qing says in an annoyed voice. Zhao Yunlan feels the mattress dip under him as Da Qing sits down on the side of the bed, but he can't be bothered to lift his head or open his eyes to actually look at him. "I guess it's a good thing I ordered porridge for you," he adds, still sounding annoyed even as his fingers run through Zhao Yunlan's hair soothingly.

"Come on then, you need to sit up," Da Qing tells him, but still doesn't stop petting Zhao Yunlan's hair. It feels nice, and Zhao Yunlan doesn't want to move. But he already knows his stomach will just get worse if he doesn't eat something.

With quite a bit of effort, he pushes himself up to sit. He looks at Da Qing for a moment and then leans against him, his head falling against Da Qing's shoulder. Da Qing wraps an arm around his shoulders, huffing quietly.

"This is nice and all, but you can't eat like this," he says, exasperated.

"I don't want to," Zhao Yunlan whines quietly.

Da Qing grumbles under his breath and then resolutely pushes Zhao Yunlan's head away, before reaching out for something that turns out to be Zhao Yunlan's porridge. With a deep sigh, Zhao Yunlan takes it and very slowly starts to spoon some of it into his mouth. Part of him really wants to eat something more substantial, while at the same time even getting this down feels like a struggle.

Slowly, he finishes all of it, under Da Qing's watchful eye. He tries not to think about how worried Da Qing actually must be since he hasn't started in on his own food at all. When Zhao Yunlan is done, Da Qing takes the bowl away from him and puts it away somewhere.

"Do you need any of your medicine?" he asks quietly. This time Zhao Yunlan can see the blatant worry in his eyes. Something that feels a bit like guilt makes his belly twist.

"No. I'm… fine," Zhao Yunlan says, feeling a bit uncertain. He thinks he feels better after eating, but at this point, even he can't tell for sure. "Da Qing…" he says slowly, looking at Da Qing with a whole bunch of conflicting feelings swirling around inside him.

He still hasn't had any opportunity to actually think about everything that's happened.

Da Qing looks back at him and then blinks slowly. "You should sleep," he tells Zhao Yunlan. "That usually makes you feel better."

"Yeah," Zhao Yunlan says, before falling back down into bed. He fumbles for the blanket, lying in a heap over on the other side of the bed where Zhao Yunlan had probably pushed it whenever he'd gotten up. Da Qing reaches out to pull it over him.

Zhao Yunlan looks up at him for a moment. "Just… don't leave, fatty," he says quietly. Da Qing swats his thigh through the blanket, but it's so gentle that it's really more like he's petting Zhao Yunlan than anything else.

"Where would I go, kitten?" Da Qing says so quietly that Zhao Yunlan barely hears it.

When Zhao Yunlan wakes up he feels a whole lot better. There's also a cat lying on his chest and for a moment he's rather reluctant to move Da Qing. He pets the cat lightly, and Da Qing gives out a half-hearted purr, probably meaning that he's not actually asleep. Then Zhao Yunlan's bladder starts really insisting that he get up as soon as possible, and he has no choice but to push Da Qing away.

Da Qing gives a small mew of protest, his claws snagging on the blanket, which conveniently protects Zhao Yunlan's chest.

"Sorry. I really need the bathroom," Zhao Yunlan mumbles, his mouth sticking together slightly. He licks his lips and pushes at Da Qing again. This time the cat actually moves and Zhao Yunlan flings the blanket away from him and hurries up. He swears loudly as he manages to step on something painful in his hurried rush toward the bathroom. He steps on his aching foot with his other foot, like that would somehow help. Tears sting at his eyes and he mouths a few more curses.

But he really very urgently needs to move, so he somehow hops the rest of the way into the bathroom on one and a half legs.

He takes care of the most urgent business first, before lifting his foot up and grabbing it to look if there's any actual damage. Thankfully it looks fine, even if it still kind of hurts. He sighs and then takes a moment to splash some cold water into his face before finally leaving the bathroom.

"Is there any food left?" he asks Da Qing once he's out. Da Qing is lying on the bed with his feet in the air, looking fat and ridiculous. Zhao Yunlan snorts quietly at the sight, and then walks over to the bed because he can't resist the opportunity to rub Da Qing's belly.

Da Qing sputters and then rolls over with some effort. "Yeah. The food is over there," he says, inclining his head in the general direction of the couch, and probably the coffee table. It's quite possibly a better place to keep the food than his fridge, so it's probably just as well Da Qing just left it there. If there's still food left over, he must have expected Zhao Yunlan to want to eat again later and ordered more than usual.

Zhao Yunlan moves his hand to scratch behind Da Qing's ears as he asks, "How long was I sleeping?"

He hasn't actually even bothered to look at the time yet. Besides, he has no idea when he'd gotten home anyway. Who would have guessed that time travel really makes you lose track of time, Zhao Yunlan thinks with a small snort. He's pretty sure it had been dark when he'd driven home, but honestly, he hadn't really been paying that much attention at that point, and it's all a bit of a blur.

"I don't know. Half a day?" Da Qing answers him carelessly. But Zhao Yunlan thinks he can still hear a bit of worry under that nonchalant tone. Da Qing doesn't exactly like it when Zhao Yunlan gets himself into the state he'd been in… last night, probably.

Zhao Yunlan rubs his hand down his face and sighs. "Alright, I guess I needed the sleep," he says before standing up and picking his way through the clutter to get to the couch.

He has to push some stuff out of the way to manage to sit down. And then he starts poking around at the food containers Da Qing has left on the table. He wonders if he should try warming something or not.

When Zhao Yunlan has found something that's not likely to make his stomach rebel and has started eating, Da Qing wanders over to the couch. He squeezes down right next to Zhao Yunlan, the other side of the couch is filled with the crap Zhao Yunlan just shoved there to make room for himself, and then lets his head fall against Zhao Yunlan's shoulder.

"I'm not sure I like this new job of yours," Da Qing says quietly.

Zhao Yunlan huffs and then quickly chews and swallows before asking, "What do you mean?"

"You're stupid enough on your own, you don't need a job that makes it worse," Da Qing mutters.

Ah, so he's still talking about the whole forgetting to eat thing. Yeah, Zhao Yunlan has managed to do that more than a few times. If he's honest with himself, it's probably mostly that he just doesn't care enough. He's perfectly aware that he has stomach issues and he knows he should be watching what and when he eats, and at the very least make sure he doesn't skip meals entirely. But somehow, he just never really bothers to do any of that.

He'd tried at first. He really had. After he was actually diagnosed with gastritis. But somehow that just hadn't lasted very long. Besides the meds and a bit of sleep usually does the trick well enough. And then he just needs to be a bit careful what he puts in his mouth afterwards and it's all fine.

Zhao Yunlan just huffs and takes another bite of food. There's no point in having that argument with Da Qing. Actually, Da Qing doesn't really bother with having that argument anymore either. Da Qing is stubborn as hell when he wants to be, but maybe he's too much of a cat to try changing something that can't be changed.

Zhao Yunlan continues eating quietly, while trying to think of what he actually wants to say to Da Qing. His head might be clearer now, after the sleep, but it hasn't magically made anything make sense.

Clearly, at some point in the future, he'll meet Shen Wei and past Da Qing again. But what he can't figure out is why he'd told Shen Wei to come to meet him on this trip. Did he really just want himself to meet Shen Wei? Or did he do it because it already happened and he doesn't want to change things?

Lin Jing had explained something about how time isn't really so fragile that killing the wrong bug or something will cause some catastrophic changes to the future. Time wants to settle down into the same pattern, or something like that. It had been a long explanation. But Zhao Yunlan can't help but wonder if they'd even notice if something changed.

He lifts his hand to rub at his temple, jostling Da Qing in the process. He's going to give himself a headache thinking about any of it.

Maybe he should have said no to the job offer after all. But would he really want someone else in his place? From what Shen Wei had said he gets the feeling future Zhao Yunlan doesn't trust his employers too much and at least now Zhao Yunlan can try to keep an eye on things.

And what the fuck can you do about any of it, if things do go to shit? He asks himself angrily.

He huffs in disgust and then dumps the rest of the food back on the coffee table. He suddenly doesn't have much of an appetite anymore. Then he leans back in the couch, letting his head fall back and staring up at the ceiling. Da Qing shifts with him, snuggling a bit closer.

At least Da Qing hasn't changed.

"I met you," Zhao Yunlan says suddenly.

Da Qing shifts and then actually pulls away from him. Zhao Yunlan tilts his head to look at him. Da Qing is frowning at him.

"On the secret, can't tell you about it, government job. I met you," Zhao Yunlan says slowly. He keeps looking at Da Qing, trying to see what his reaction will be.

Da Qing blinks, tilts his head a bit and says, "Huh."

"That's all you have to say about it?" Zhao Yunlan asks, a sudden surge of anger taking him by surprise. He hadn't been angry at Da Qing. He's pretty sure he hadn't been angry at Da Qing.

But maybe, if he really had met Da Qing in the past—if he hasn't actually gone insane and all of this is just happening in his head—then Da Qing would have known about this time travel shit. He would have known since he bumped into Zhao Yunlan when Zhao Yunlan was a kid.

Maybe that hadn't been quite the accident Zhao Yunlan had always thought.

Okay, so maybe he is a little bit annoyed at Da Qing.

"Well, I don't remember, do I?" Da Qing snaps back with some annoyance.

For a moment that answer leaves Zhao Yunlan entirely without anything to say. He's never actually doubted Da Qing's memory issues. He's sort of, maybe, doubted the ten-thousand-year-old cat part. If Da Qing doesn't remember most of his past, how does he know that? But there's also the fact that Da Qing hasn't aged a day since Zhao Yunlan met him when he was a kid. And now he met him in the past! Which granted, had been nowhere close to ten thousand years ago, but still, sort of points to the fact that Da Qing might not be quite so wrong about it as Zhao Yunlan had thought.

"I notice you didn't ask what the fuck I'm talking about," Zhao Yunlan says, surprising himself with how calm he sounds.

Da Qing shrugs one shoulder. "I know I've met you before. You know…" Da Qing gestures behind him with one hand. "...a while ago."

"And you just decided to never tell me that fact?" Zhao Yunlan asks. He's not sure anymore if he's angry or hurt. "Time travel, Da Qing! Maybe I would have liked to know," he says, flinging one arm out in a frustrated gesture and almost manages to accidentally hit Da Qing. Then he thinks about that for a whole second and then shoves at Da Qing anyway, his hand landing against Da Qing's chest.

Da Qing makes a soft noise, and then grabs his wrist, trying to shove it away from him. And suddenly, without Zhao Yunlan quite realising how it happens, they're shoving at each other back and fort, until somehow they manage to roll down to the floor. There's a sharp crack and Zhao Yunlan swears as he definitely lands on something that hurts.

Da Qing pushes himself up, straddling Zhao Yunlan's waist. "Are you okay, Xiao Zhao?"

"No. Fuck," Zhao Yunlan says and digs under him for whatever is digging into his back. And then swears again as he cuts his finger on something sharp. "Get off," he tells Da Qing a bit sharply. "I'm pretty sure I broke something."

Da Qing's eyes widen with shock and Zhao Yunlan quickly amends that to, "Like a cup or something, I mean." He pulls his hand away from under him, showing Da Qing the cut on his finger, peering at it himself. Well, that's a bit more blood than he expected.

Da Qing hisses at him and then scrambles off him. "Come on, sit up," he says, reaching out for Zhao Yunlan.

Zhao Yunlan complies with a groan, Da Qing's hands there to help him. He turns his head to look at the floor and the shattered cup. Well, look at that, he was right. Da Qing brushes at his back and then lifts his shirt to inspect him for damage. Zhao Yunlan waits patiently and then squirms a bit as Da Qing's fingers brush a bit too lightly against his skin. It tickles.

"You're fine. The shirt was enough to keep anything from cutting into you," Da Qing says, letting his shirt fall back down.

"Ah, good," Zhao Yunlan says. "I wouldn't want to die from a misplaced cup." He sticks his bleeding finger into his mouth, sucking lightly.

Da Qing swats him on the shoulder. "Well, maybe if you cleaned this place sometimes, it wouldn't be a problem."

"You live here too," Zhao Yunlan mutters around his finger.

"At least go actually clean that, Xiao Zhao. Honestly. You're supposed to be an adult," Da Qing admonishes him, sounding annoyed.

Zhao Yunlan shrugs and then gets himself off the floor. "Fine," he says, pulling the finger out of his mouth so he can actually talk properly. "But then you're telling me why you didn't tell me about time travel being a thing."

Da Qing transforms into a cat, his tail swishing irritably. "What did you want me to say? Hey, kid, grown-up you is definitely my master, I know because you smell the same?"

Zhao Yunlan doesn't really have a retort to that. Yeah, he really wouldn't have believed it.

"Did you know that's what the job I was offered was about?" Zhao Yunlan asks, narrowing his eyes.

"I didn't know until you just told me!" Da Qing says irritably. His whole body screams out his indignation as he stalks away from Zhao Yunlan.

Well, that could have gone better, Zhao Yunlan thinks with a sigh and heads over to the bathroom to rinse the blood from his finger.

Maybe after that, he's just going to go out and allow himself a smoke. He's pretty sure he deserves it.