Shen Wei wasn’t sure when he had picked up this particular power. It was definitely one of his earlier ones, learnt before he even knew how to heal himself. He hypothesised he had learned it from a family member, could vaguely recall the shape of a smile of a cheeky ayi or a genial yeye, before… well. Before.
He watched the little kitten skitter across the desk, its tiny form near-identical to that of Da Qing’s, and remembered walking under the baking sun with Didi, his attempts to keep both of their spirits up taking the form of the tiny animals he would conjure, all of them gambolling around their feet as they walked.
Ye Zun — though he hadn’t been known as Ye Zun, then — had rarely been able to call forth more than a weak smile in response to the animals, though he did show a particular fondness for gibbons, letting them clamber up his legs and swing from his arms. Shen Wei could remember on occasion looking over to see one nestled in his long hair, arms wound through the strands, quietly hooting to him.
After Ye Zun was stolen from him and Shen Wei began working with the Alliance, he found he had no time nor use for that particular power, all frivolous powers pushed aside in favour of utility, and it fell to disuse in the back of his brain. He had wanted to show Kunlun, had wanted to see if there was a particular animal that would light up his face with a dazzling smile, but had never found the opportunity. Besides, Shen Wei mused wryly, watching the kitten trip over its own feet, Da Qing had filled that niche pretty thoroughly by himself.
It was only after he awoke from his time asleep (his “dirt nap”, as Zhao Yunlan insisted on calling it ever since he had noticed Shen Wei unable to suppress his amused smile at the phrase), that he remembered his original use for this power — namely, to keep him company through the interminable quiet.
Like during marking.
He moved onto the next essay, sighing slightly at the disjointed scrawl, and flicked his fingers out. A small Tibetan brown bear appeared next to the kitten, and the corner of Shen Wei’s mouth ticked up in a smirk at the memory of the strained patience on Zhao Yunlan’s face. His ‘innocent Professor Shen’ act had barely fooled Zhao Yunlan for a second, but he couldn’t lie and say he hadn’t had some fun with it.
The bear ambled over the desk, flumping down on its side next to Shen Wei’s hand with a heavy sigh too loud for its little body. Shen Wei raised his hand to pat it, essay all but forgotten in front of him.
“Woah, where did the mini-me come from?” Da Qing asked from the door, fish snack nearly falling from his mouth. He hurried across the room and crouched in front of the desk, his eyes huge.
“He is only a temporary guest, I’m afraid,” Shen Wei said apologetically.
As if hearing his words, the kitten made a bid for freedom, sprinting towards the edge of the desk. It was prevented from falling only by Da Qing’s quick reflexes, catching the kitten and cradling it to his chest protectively.
“He won’t be going anywhere until I bid him to leave, so if you wish to play together whilst I finish my marking you are free to do so,” Shen Wei said, quietly conjuring another, smaller bear to curl up with the first one, smiling as they huddled in the crook of his left elbow.
Da Qing cuddled the kitten, stroking over its head and cooing indistinctly to it as he curled up on the couch, legs tucked under him. The kitten sniffed at his fingertips, licking the fishy remnants off them and making Da Qing giggle.
Shen Wei smiled again, ducking his head as he forced himself to return to his work, allowing the noise of Da Qing’s joy to wash over him as a gentle accompaniment.
It was as if having Da Qing witness that power had reminded Shen Wei that it could exist outside of a solitary context, and he soon found himself accompanied by small animals whenever he let his guard down.
He enjoyed tailoring them to his audience, seeing which ones in particular would cause them to light up or gasp quietly to themselves, unable to resist reaching out to hold them. Da Qing, Zhu Hong and Guo Changcheng were easy to figure out, and the sight of cats, snakes, and puppies wrestling in the middle of the SID table became as common a sight as not. Lao Li, similarly, was often seen with a tiny barn owl perched on his shoulder, quietly hooting when its face was not tucked under a wing.
Wang Zheng had taken a moment, but the small brown bunny curled up on her keyboard had caused her to melt, her sweet brown eyes going impossibly softer as she cradled it in her hand, stroking over it with one delicate finger.
Shen Wei had stumbled across the animal for Lin Jing by accident, the small white rat scurrying across the table towards him with almost no conscious input on Shen Wei’s part. He had frozen, worried at causing offence, but Lin Jing had just beamed, scooping it up in his hands. He gave Shen Wei a knowing look, one scientist to another, and part of Shen Wei that had coiled up in anxiety gradually released.
Sang Zan and Chu Shuzhi had been a little harder to work out. Sang Zan had liked Wang Zheng’s bunnies, but had not had the same love for them, still seeing them as more of a food source than anything else. Shen Wei eventually figured it out thanks to some trial and error, and watched with pleasure as the iteration of a fox long since lost to evolution caused a blinding smile to break out across Sang Zan’s face.
He had stumbled across the animal for Chu Shuzhi mostly by accident, having summoned a small assortment of dogs for Guo Changcheng after a particularly rough case had left him wilting across the table, still gamely plastering a smile on his face even as his head rested on his arms. The small pomeranian pup had wriggled its way onto Guo Changcheng’s head, a puff of white fluff amongst his dark hair, and Shen Wei had gotten to watch with awe as Chu Shuzhi absolutely melted, eyes wide and soft. His hand, which had been resting comfortingly on Guo Changcheng’s nape, slowly worked its way up into his hair so he was able to pat both the dog and Guo Changcheng at the same time.
It was a great source of pride for Shen Wei that he had managed to discover all of their favourites, the team’s delight at the creatures skittering around the table warming him down to his core. Before long, Shen Wei’s visits to the SID were marked by a menagerie of small animals, all carefully tailored to who was present.
But always, without fail, no matter what else he conjured, there was always a bear or two, always somehow in contact with Shen Wei, the tempo of their breathing a soothing reminder for him to keep himself measured.
It had not escaped Shen Wei’s notice that he did not have a specific animal to conjure for Zhao Yunlan, but when he had tried asking Zhao Yunlan for his favourite animals, Zhao Yunlan had given him a faintly puzzled look and said, “What do you mean? You already make my favourites every time.”
Shen Wei had tried pressing the issue, but that was as much as he could ever get out of him. Eventually he gave up on trying to get a clear answer out of Zhao Yunlan, resolving instead to keep a close eye on him when the animals were present and see which ones he gravitated to the most.
Only, Zhao Yunlan seemed to play with them all mostly equally, scruffing the puppies on the table, running one finger down the snake’s long spines, stroking over bunnies and kittens and fox kits alike, and feeding the owls with an indulgent smile. Even when Shen Wei experimented with conjuring different types of animals, whether it be squirming ferrets, proud horses or clumsy pandas, Zhao Yunlan greeted them all with the same broad grin and gentle hands.
Shen Wei sat on their couch, Zhao Yunlan dozing with his head in his lap, and tried not to feel frustrated. He just wanted to find the animal Zhao Yunlan liked best, to have something he could summon that would guarantee a smile even if he was feeling sad, something to comfort him during the difficult moments.
As if sensing his agitation, the bears appeared from between the couch cushions, padding their way across the couch towards him. To be able to reach his hands they had to clamber across Zhao Yunlan, and one nearly slipped as Zhao Yunlan sighed, shifting his legs around as he settled more deeply into Shen Wei’s lap. Zhao Yunlan stirred softly as its little claws dug slightly into his hip, scrambling to regain its footing.
“Da Qing…?” he murmured, hand coming up to rub some of the sleep out of his eyes. He cracked open one eye just long enough to see the bears crawling over him, before closing it again, turning his head to muffle his yawn into Shen Wei’s leg. “Ah. Hello, bears.”
Shen Wei smiled down at him, scratching gently at his scalp. Zhao Yunlan hummed, nuzzling up into his hand and properly opening his eyes to smile beatifically at him.
“I wish you would tell me your favourite animals,” Shen Wei said quietly, brushing some of Zhao Yunlan’s hair out of his eyes.
Zhao Yunlan’s brow furrowed and he slowly sat up, careful not to dislodge the bears from where they had reached his shoulders. “What do you mean?” he asked. “You already know them.”
“I do not,” Shen Wei said, his mouth turning down at the corners. He fought to regulate his expression back to neutral, but knew from how Zhao Yunlan’s frown deepened that he had failed.
“But you’ve been conjuring them from the beginning,” Zhao Yunlan said slowly. “Da Qing told me. Bears and little black cats, right on your desk.”
Shen Wei blinked. Then blinked again.
“I did not—I conjured those because they are my favourites,” Shen Wei stumbled out.
Zhao Yunlan paused, a fond smile breaking out over his face. “Ahh, Xiao Wei,” he sighed, shaking his head. “You were really worried about this, weren’t you?”
Shen Wei ducked his head, feeling his ears burn. “I just. I want to know everything about you,” he mumbled to his hands. “I didn’t wish for you to feel left out.”
Zhao Yunlan’s face softened, and he reached up to gently pull the bears off his shoulders, depositing them neatly on Shen Wei’s lap with a quick pat each. He caught Shen Wei’s face between his hands, dragging him in for a long, slow kiss that made Shen Wei’s toes curl. With barely a thought, Shen Wei dismissed the bears to free up his lap so that he could haul Zhao Yunlan into it, swallowing his breathless laugh of surprise with his own mouth, his hands clenching on Zhao Yunlan’s hips.
“Xiao Wei, ah, Xiao Wei,” Zhao Yunlan panted out around a broad grin when they finally separated. His lips were dark red and swollen, his shirt was slightly rucked up around his hips, and his eyes were heavy-lidded with desire. “You could never make me feel left out, you know that.”
Shen Wei’s heart felt like it had expanded to fill his entire chest, and he was helpless to do anything but pull Zhao Yunlan back down into another deep kiss.
They lost themselves in each other for a long moment, until Zhao Yunlan pulled away long enough to grin cheekily and say, “Of course, a dragon would never go astray—”
He was cut off by Shen Wei’s mouth again as Shen Wei fit his hands under his thighs, carrying him over to the bed, where his laughter became gasping moans that eventually gave way to soft sighs.
If the next day there was a dragon amongst the menagerie and a dark hickey decorating Zhao Yunlan’s neck, the rest of the SID were tactful enough not to mention it.