Shen Wei from the mountains. He’d never given much thought to the name before. It was good enough, it described him perfectly. Once, Dixingren would have spent ages on choosing their children’s name, making sure the characters were unique, that the meaning resonated. One day, that name would be imprinted on someone’s soul after all. But like most luxuries, the meteor had taken this away from them too.
So. Shen Wei, from the mountains. Perfectly serviceable for the lost child that had appeared before the Alliance soldiers, determined to find his brother. The Black-Cloaked Envoy. Even more appropriate for the dark, mythic figure, the Alliance’s awe and fear in equal measure.
He’d wondered idly sometimes, which one would appear on his soulmate. Shen Wei? Or Hei Pao Shi?
And then of course, Kunlun dropped into his life.
“You see, the world is made up of water and mountains, and the towering mountains stretch endlessly. Just like life, shouldering heavy burdens and striving forward without rest.…How about Shen Wēi ?”
And Shen Wei’s soul had throbbed with anticipation, thrilled at finally being seen .
Over the next few weeks, Kunlun paid attention to Shen Wei, sat next to him at the camp and during meals, accompanied him to the night watches even when he should have been resting, and cared for him, like no one else in Shen Wei’s life ever had.
On the battlefield, they moved in sync, as if they had been fighting together for years. Kunlun covered Shen Wei from a distance, creating opportunities for him to close in and strike down the Rebels; and Shen Wei refused to let anyone get close enough to harm Kunlun..
It was exhilarating. Every time, it sent a thrill down his spine. He felt so blessed but also so incredibly greedy. He wanted more . More of Kunlun’s time, Kunlun’s attention, his touch—
Shen Wei wanted .
It all came to a head one day, after a grueling fight by a riverside, where Kunlun had gotten injured. The healers rolled up his sleeve and pinned it to his shoulder while Shen Wei hovered impatiently, still not as proficient with healing as he would like to be but he would change that soon enough and—
It was so faint that Shen Wei could have almost missed it. But as the healer gently dabbed the blood away, Shen Wei noticed the mark bloom into view.
Unlike a Haixingren name, it was in white, making it even less noticeable against Kunlun’s skin.To a Haixingren, the spiraling, intricate pattern could have been mistaken for some ritualistic tattoo. But Shen Wei recognized the script from his childhood for what it was.
The sharp tingle ran down his spine again. Something warm unfurled inside Shen Wei’s chest. Maybe hope, maybe love, maybe belonging.
He opened his mouth to say something but—
Shen Wei didn’t have a soulmark yet. At least, not one he had seen. And until he was, until he could be sure , Kunlun was so good and he deserved so much—
Shen Wei waited until he was sure Kunlun would be alright. Then he returned to his own room in the Alliance caverns. He had an inkling of where the soulmark would be.
Shen Wei disrobed, kneeling in front of the circle of polished bronze that he used as a mirror and then craned his neck to look.
His heart dropped.
Haixingren script, in stark black, across his skin read—
Shen Wei couldn’t bear to face Kunlun after that. Though it killed him, he avoided Kunlun at meals, changed his watch routine unpredictably. The few moments Kunlun did find him were awkward and stilted, shadowed by the poisonous secret in Shen Wei’s heart.
Did Kunlun know? Could he read the Dixingren script? Surely, at some point, he must have found someone to translate the writing on his skin for him.
And if Kunlun did know then…why had he never said anything? Did he not want Shen Wei? Or was it that Kunlun had somehow known about the cruelty of the fates from the start: that the universe had made Kunlun for Shen Wei but had not given him the same honor in turn.
Zhao Yunlan. Zhao Yunlan. Zhao Yunlan.
Shen Wei didn’t want a Zhao Yunlan. Only Kunlun. His Kunlun.
But of course, Kunlun was as stubborn as Shen Wei. The more Shen Wei tried to distance himself, the more stubbornly Kunlun followed him until he tracked Shen Wei down at night.
“Xiao Wei,” Kunlun said his name so softly, as if Shen Wei hadn’t spent the last few days throwing all of Kunlun’s kindness in his face. “You know you can tell me anything, right?”
Shen Wei swallowed. “Yes,” he agreed, even though he didn’t believe it. If Kunlun didn’t already know, then Shen Wei couldn’t reveal this to him.
Kunlun regarded Shen Wei with a steady gaze, as if he could read all the things Shen Wei had left unsaid right off his face. Before it had made Shen Wei feel cherished. Now it just made him nauseous, the weight of Kunlun’s unearned devotion sitting heavy in his stomach.
Kunlun let out a sigh, a strange expression passing over his face: a mixture of fondness and exasperation and disappointment. He made to move, as if to shift away and Shen Wei—
Even after trying so hard to push Kunlun away, Shen Wei couldn’t bear to let him walk away.
“Kunlun,” he started, just as Kunlun was beginning to rise from his seat. His heart was thundering in his chest. “Do you believe in fate?”
Kunlun blinked at him. Another set of conflicting emotions traced his features, this time passing too quickly for Shen Wei to parse. “Aiya, Xiao Wei,” he huffed as he collapsed back onto his seat beside Shen Wei. “What a loaded question.”
Loaded? Shen Wei blinked.
“Do I believe in fate? Hmm…I wonder,” Kunlun chuckled wistfully.
Shen Wei waited for him to gather his thoughts.
“Yes and no,” Kunlun said at last. “Some things…some things were probably fate. Being here, meeting you. The Alliance. And after the war is over, when we meet again, that’ll be fate too.”
Shen Wei tilted his head, turning Kunlun’s odd phrasing over in his head.
“But Shen Wei,” Kunlun gently reached out, taking Shen Wei’s hand in a gentle hold, and bringing it up to his lips. His breath caught, taken aback by the soft pressure on his knuckles.
“Loving you has always been my choice. Isn’t it the same for you?”
10,000 years and a lifetime later, Shen Wei finally understands.
“My surname is Zhao, I’m here for the case. What’s yours sir?”