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(alone) for the sake of a sincere heart

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In the days following their… admittedly unexpected survival, Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan find themselves exhausted, and entirely unwilling to separate. They rest beside each other, well within each other’s space.

One morning, in the soft light of dawn, Shen Wei presses a faintly desperate, yet chaste kiss to Zhao Yunlan’s lips. He is cautious in his movement, mindful of the constellations of bruises still marking them both.

He trembles as he pulls back, the enormity of his actions pressing upon him—the sheer impulsivity.

Zhao Yunlan’s eyes flutter back open, his tongue tracing over his bottom lip. He’s a touch dazed, processing the soft, barely-there brush of Shen Wei’s lips on his.

Shen Wei swallows roughly, head ducked. “I apologize… I should’ve asked—shouldn’t have—”

“Xiao Wei? Kiss me again? Please?”

Time passes, and the physical evidence of their brush with death fades. The trauma of nearly losing each other lingers, urging them to devote their attention to the relationship—proof that they are both alive—blooming between them.

It is all they have ever wanted—the close, near-effortless intimacy they share, finally allowed to flourish under their earnest, if inexperienced, hands.

And yet…

Doubts gnaw at Zhao Yunlan’s heart. He loves Shen Wei—an immutable fact, startling in its intensity—and he knows Shen Wei loves him. His devotion is single-minded, focused.

The thought of losing that, of losing Shen Wei, terrifies him to no end, and his mind whispers upsetting things in the dark hours of the night.

Shen Wei will realize that you are... unworthy of his attentions, his affection. He is the most powerful being on the planet, after all... and you are naught but a foolish, impulsive human who can do so little for him.

Shen Wei will regret.

And Shen Wei… will leave.

Zhao Yunlan shoves the doubt down, drowning it in Shen Wei's affection. He can still feel the whisper of its teeth, snapping at his ear, undeterred.  

Days turn to weeks, to months, and Zhao Yunlan shuts down, pulling away, guarding the fragile thing that is his heart. All of his claims of being black-hearted are just bluster—a layer of armour hiding the soft, vulnerable parts of himself. Shen Wei is the only one to worm their way behind it, to touch him there, and now... it'll be his undoing. He's waiting for the other boot to drop—for Shen Wei to come to his senses.

He refuses to give voice to his fears, as though it would make them a true reality, instead of a simple inevitability.

Shen Wei worries, afraid now that Zhao Yunlan is having second thoughts about their relationship—that he is going to leave him once more, this time with no promise to find him.

The cascade begins on a perfectly ordinary day, face to face with one Zhao Xinci.

The interaction is hostile, antagonistic—their usual.

Already under the pressing weight of his anxiety, Zhao Yunlan staggers. His self-esteem crumbles under his father’s disdain, leaving a crack in his armoured shell.

The doubt, the fear, the despair flood into his mind, forcing him to walk away from his father—to concede defeat as he escapes.

In the upheaval, Zhao Yunlan buries himself in the bottle, in hopes of drowning either his emotions or himself.

Shen Wei finds him that night, well on his way to alcohol poisoning, dull-eyed and depressed.

"Yunlan? Dearheart?" His voice is soft, cautious.

Dull eyes roll to rest on him, embers of anger and resentment threatening to catch within. "D-don't. You don't—don't have to pretend. Not anymore."

"Pretend? What do you—"

"Stop playing a-at being stupid, Shen Wei. It doesn't suit you."

Shen Wei takes an instinctive step back at the venom in his beloved's voice. The anger catches, blazing bright as the hurt rolls off of Zhao Yunlan.

"I knew it. You—you finally realized."

"Realized what? Yunlan, please, I don't understand? I know you've been unhappy lately, and I don't know what I did to cause that. I will do anything in my power to make it right, if you'll let me."

"Even if it makes you unhappy, too?" Zhao Yunlan makes a concerted effort to speak clearly, to be understood. Tears gather on his lashes, falling under their own weight.


"If I asked you to stay, even though you've realized that I'm not worth your attention—would you? Would you stay with a petty, broken man?"

Shen Wei is stunned, reeling from the heartbroken defeat in Zhao Yunlan's voice.

His silence stretches a heartbeat too long. The fight drains out of Zhao Yunlan, leaving behind a terrible resignation. Shen Wei’s reticence all but confirms his suspicions, though the refusal to put it into words—to what, spare him?—grates on his temper.

The last flare of fury dies as soon as it appears. His temper of late is yet another reason why Shen Wei deserves so much better. The nightmares, leading to a lack of sleep, have had him off balance since…

"I guess not. It would be cruel to ask, anyway. You..." His jaw clenches, the muscles bulging faintly as he grinds his teeth together. "You deserve the best and... I know I'm not it. I—in the morning, I'll get my affairs in order and—"

Shen Wei finally breaks out of his stupor, his voice cracking, "Zhao Yunlan, no! I—who..." He shakes his head, forcing himself to focus. "Did I make you feel like this? What did I do? Please, tell me so that I never do it again! I love you... I always have. Please, believe me. I wouldn't lie about this—never this."

Zhao Yunlan, despite his inebriation and heartache, finds himself searching Shen Wei's facial expressions, his body language.

He finds heartbreak in the tears making their way down his cheeks, disbelief in the set of his jaw, self-recrimination in those fathomless eyes. Above all, he finds love, etched into every other line of his body; Shen Wei's posture is open, unguarded.

Zhao Yunlan recognizes the effort it takes him to do that, to leave himself undefended.

The stillness drags on too long, and Shen Wei wavers. Falls to his knees, head bowed.

Shen Wei, ancient, eternal, unyielding... submits to Zhao Yunlan.

Before Zhao Yunlan realizes what he's doing, he too is on his knees before Shen Wei, hands on his shoulders, preventing him from bending further.

"Shen Wei, why? You don't—I..."

"Zhao Yunlan, you are the light of my life. I would give you my still-beating heart, if it would please you." His voice drops into the lower, somber register of the Envoy. "I love you, and my pride is a small price to pay to have you believe it."

Helpless, Zhao Yunlan kneels beside him, trying, ineffectually, to tug him to his feet. Shen Wei stubbornly continues kneeling, and only removes his glasses, revealing his eyes, wide and wet. Kneeling, unmasked, pride cast aside, vulnerable, all for... for him?

Zhao Yunlan laughs wetly. "Shen Wei, ah, Shen Wei... You deserve nothing but the best. And me?" He gestures loosely at himself, "...I'm not it. Don't you see? I want to give you the world, but… I can't. All I can give you is a washed-up cop who can't even boil water. I want so much better for you than... Me." His voice cracks on the last word, and he realizes Shen Wei is blurring in his vision, until he blinks rapidly and dashes his arm across his eyes.

Shen Wei's fingers tremble as he traces Zhao Yunlan's cheek, gently brushing the tear tracks away. "My love, don't you understand? I love you for who you are. When I see you, even if we've only been apart for five minutes, my heart sings," he says, voice softened from the Envoy's darker tones, vulnerable. "I don't need the world, when I have you by my side."

Zhao Yunlan just gapes, unable to form a response, save for the hand tightening around Shen Wei's without his even noticing as Shen Wei continues, "And without you? The world and all its riches would only be a thousand knives to endure."

He pauses, swallowing hard, and his voice is rougher than Zhao Yunlan has ever heard it when he continues again. "Zhao Yunlan... I would never wish you to feel obligated to me. If you wish to be free of me, I—I would... leave you..." Those last words are torn from him with more pain than Zhao Yunlan had heard from him in his kitchen, pale-faced and wrist bleeding dark energy, or even in a dark Dixing alleyway, bleeding from a hundred wounds and unable to stand.

"NO!!" Zhao Yunlan cries insistently, unable to tolerate Shen Wei's torment. His heart lurches painfully at the very thought that Shen Wei could think, even for a moment, that Zhao Yunlan didn't want him with every fiber of his being. "Shen Wei, how could you think... Of course I want you, I always—Shen Wei!"

Shen Wei's wet eyes warm, and his lips edge upwards as his hand reverently grazes Zhao Yunlan's cheek to the edge of his lips. "Then won't you answer both our prayers then, Zhao Yunlan? Let me stay with you. My heart is yours no matter where in the world you go, but I would love nothing more than to be by your side."

Zhao Yunlan nods, his beard brushing against Shen Wei's hand. "Yes, I… that is all I want—to come home to you, or with you, as the case may be. To wake up beside you. To be with you."

Shen Wei's eyes glitter with more welling tears as a radiant smile lights up his face. "Thank you."

The alcohol in Zhao Yunlan's system has abated under the adrenaline and heartache of the evening, leaving him with a darkly pounding headache—a deserved consequence for his foolishness, he thinks. He ignores it in favour of studying his love's face for a moment before turning his head to press a kiss to Shen Wei's palm.

"Shen Wei, ah... please forgive me for," he gestures vaguely with one hand. "All of this. I want to be with you, for as long as you'll have me, and my fears nearly fucked it all up. I'm so sorry for doubting you, baobei."

He nuzzles against Shen Wei's hand, emotions tangling messily in his chest. "I don't say it as often as I should, but I love you, Shen Wei. I do hope you know that."

Shen Wei draws his head to his chest, holding him close, gentle but firm. He murmurs into Zhao Yunlan's hair, "There is nothing to forgive, my love. And I do know. I know your heart, and it is true to the ends of the earth. I just hope you know that I love you, too. There is no world in which my entire heart is not in your keeping, Zhao Yunlan, if you will have it."

Zhao Yunlan relaxes into Shen Wei's embrace, listening to the steady beat of his heart, the soft rumble of his voice. It lulls him as exhaustion works to pull him under. His tight restraint on certain lines of thought slacken, his tired mind drifting to the root of his behaviour.

He's come so close to losing Shen Wei so many times—to Ye Zun, to Shen Wei's self-sacrificial streak, to his own stupidity—far too many times, yet fortune has granted him this lingering stay of execution. It is far more than he deserves, but he is grateful nonetheless. Without Shen Wei... Zhao Yunlan can't bear to think about it, tries to push the thought back into the box it came screaming out of to no avail.

He buries his face in Shen Wei's chest, abrupt, fighting the fresh bout of tears threatening to fall.

Long fingers brush through his hair, and he fractures, a rough, gasping sob tearing from him. His hands twist in the soft cloth of Shen Wei's shirt, a desperate attempt to ground himself, to pull himself back together.


"Let it out, Yunlan. I have you. There is no shame in this release of emotion—I know you've been holding on to everything since... then. I should've helped you long before now. I'm sorry."

Soft lips brush the crown of his head, and any semblance of control Zhao Yunlan has evaporates.

His tears soak Shen Wei's chest as he shakes apart, repressed grief and terror finally finding their way out.

And Shen Wei simply continues to hold him, strong and gentle, in the embrace of his enduring love.