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grow into a greater want

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When Zhao Yunlan was 22 years old, he fell in love for the first time.

He was prepared, of course. It was bound to happen eventually, sooner or later, and he knew what to do.

He spent the night with her, made love to her, kissed every part of her body that he knew he would miss, and then he went to take a shower with her flowery soap. When he emerged from the bathroom, he told her she was very lovely, but he wouldn't be seeing her anymore. He figured they couldn't get into a serious argument about relationship expectations while he was still wearing a towel around his hips.

He was right, more or less. She seemed disappointed, but she didn't make a scene. They had barely been dating for a few weeks.

He slipped out of her apartment and out of her life, relief mingling with sadness, with regret. By the time he arrived at his own place, it was mostly relief.

He had seen what love could do to a person. Lost love, especially. The absence of the thing bigger than the thing itself, like a black hole swallowing up all light.

Not worth it.

It wasn't worth it, and so he stayed far away from love, always honest about his intentions, always leaving with a kiss and a smile, sometimes coming back for more if he was sure the other person felt the same way.

It served him well, all his life.

He was having fun, and he wasn't hurting anyone, and even the damn cat, the most judgmental of creatures, couldn't find any fault with his dating habits.

And then he met Professor Shen.

 

*

 

"I'm going to break up with him," he tells Da Qing in the morning, mostly to say the words out loud. To see what they feel like on his tongue.

Da Qing briefly stops grooming himself to give him a questioning look.

"He hasn't been honest with me," Zhao Yunlan says. It's a good enough reason, anyway.

"Have you been honest with him?" Da Qing asks, then raises a leg to lick one of the harder to reach spots.

Zhao Yunlan thinks about that.

He didn't start the relationship with his usual spiel about just having fun, mostly because the professor didn't seem the "having fun" kind of person. Zhao Yunlan just kissed him one day, because Shen Wei was beautiful and enigmatic and fucking everywhere. He was either the most perplexing criminal Zhao Yunlan had ever met, or he had been sent to him, and him specifically, by a higher power. There was no other explanation for how much he kept running into the guy.

The way Shen Wei kept looking at him, he was content to take his chances with "gift from the heavens" and go for it.

Shen Wei had kissed him back so tentatively at first, and then with an intensity so breathtaking, all Zhao Yunlan could do was wrap his arms around him and hold on, all coherent thought wiped from his mind.

They got interrupted by some kind of emergency before anything else could happen, which he assumes was just the higher power having some fun at his expense.

"You did plant a camera in his office," Da Qing reminds him.

"That was before--" Zhao Yunlan protests, although it all kind of blurs together in his memory. He hadn't completely ruled out the "baffling murder suspect" option when he kissed Shen Wei the second time.

"Do what you must," Da Qing says, jumping off the bed.

He never really cared all that much about Zhao Yunlan's dates.

"Unhelpful," Zhao Yunlan calls after him.

In any case, it's the obvious thing to do. They've made out a few times, nothing more. Plus, Zhao Yunlan suspected him first of several crimes and then of being an all-powerful Dixing leader who could kill his enemies with a wave of his hand if he wanted to. The fact that the latter turned out to be true, and that Zhao Yunlan gave him several chances to come clean and never got anything more than preposterous lies, shouldn't sting as much as it does. Surely the former would have been worse, objectively speaking.

He still remembers the smell of Xiao Fei's soap, and what it felt like to step out of her shower and-- be done with her. Because the alternative, the prospect of falling in love, of confessing, of losing her eventually, was worse in a hundred ways.

But when Shen Wei looks at him, an entire world of hope and want in his eyes, he doesn't think about Xiao Fei or her soap or the long drive home, shedding regret like pieces of clothing along the way. He doesn't think about anything. He just wants.

"I'm going to break up with him," he says again, to the empty room.

It still feels strange in his mouth.

 

*

 

It occurs to him, about half a second after knocking on Shen Wei's door, that it might be considered weird to tell someone, right to their excessively handsome face, that you won't be making out with them anymore.

You could just-- stop kissing them.

The guy's a professor, he'd get the hint.

The door opens and Shen Wei is standing before him, his dress shirt just flapping loosely over a white tank top, as if he had tried to make himself decent before answering. He's not wearing his glasses either.

For some reason, it looks more indecent than just the undershirt by itself. Like Zhao Yunlan caught him in the act of undressing and is now getting a private show. He's openly staring, part of him is aware, but Shen Wei isn't saying anything, just raising his eyebrows ever so slightly. He probably knows he's got no leg to stand on. He's just as weird as Zhao Yunlan is.

Differently weird.

Alien.

"Good morning," Shen Wei says finally, half greeting, half question.

"Hi!" Zhao Yunlan says, a little too loudly. "You ready? I mean, I guess not." He gestures at the open shirt. "Unless you'd like to give people at the Inspectorate an eyeful. It's all right, I can wait. We have plenty of time. Well, maybe not plenty. I'll wait."

What the fuck.

Shen Wei blinks at him. "You can come in. I'm almost done."

"No tie?"

"The tie won't take long."

"Oh right, I guess you can just--" He tries to mime the use of dark energy to tie a Half Windsor, which as it turns out is not a particularly intuitive thing to mime.

"I suppose I could," Shen Wei says, a small smile on his lips. "I enjoy the act, though."

"You do, huh?"

"It took me a few tries to figure it out." The smile turns a little rueful, as if he's remembering his first misshapen attempts. "But I think I've gotten pretty good at it."

"I'll say." There is no reason for Zhao Yunlan to drag his eyes slowly up Shen Wei's body, which is not currently adorned with a tie, but he can't help himself. Which, actually, reminds him of the reason he wanted to talk to Shen Wei. "Listen," he says, trying to find some kind of equilibrium again. "I think we should--"

Shen Wei kisses him.

Zhao Yunlan kisses back automatically, one of his hands coming up to grip Shen Wei's undershirt, right over his flat belly, mainly to find out if he feels as toned there as his arms look.

He does.

Shen Wei pushes him backwards, lips barely leaving his, until he has Zhao Yunlan pressed against the closed door, which is really doing it for him.

"Shen Wei," he murmurs between kisses, his fingers now gripping the waistband of Shen Wei's pants, thumbs restless over the zipper. He's aware that he should follow that up with-- a question, maybe. Or some kind of confirmation. Theoretically, he could also say no to all of this. Save himself.

From what, he couldn't say right now.

Shen Wei slides his lips over his cheek to the side of his neck, dropping hot, lingering kisses below his ear, and Zhao Yunlan puts both of his hands on his incredible ass and pulls him closer, grinding their cocks together. "Fuck."

"Zhao Yunlan," Shen Wei gasps against his skin, and if they continue like this, they'll just be saying each other's names back and forth until one of them comes first.

"Hold me down," Zhao Yunlan says, from somewhere deep within his lizard brain, and Shen Wei pulls away to stare at him, his eyes dark and his lips sinfully red. Zhao Yunlan raises his hands over his head, crossed at the wrists and pressed against the door. "Like this," he says, but then shakes his head when Shen Wei raises his hands too. "You have other ways, don't you."

Shen Wei's eyes get impossibly darker, the depth of his powers tinting the warm brown an inky black, and then Zhao Yunlan's wrists are glued to the door, held there by nothing but Shen Wei's will.

"Fuck," he whispers again, tugging against the hold, which doesn't budge even a millimeter.

A minute ago, he was coming to collect a mostly dressed colleague for an awkward work appointment.

Now the Black-Cloaked Envoy won't stop staring at him.

"Take that off," Zhao Yunlan blurts out, nodding at the shirt, and then sways forward to kiss Shen Wei again, pressing their bodies together as Shen Wei slides the shirt off his shoulders and lets it fall to the floor. For a moment, he wonders if Shen Wei might be distracted enough to have lost his grip on Zhao Yunlan's hands, just a little bit, but he still can't move them at all, and he's now painfully hard in his jeans.

"I can feel that," Shen Wei whispers against his neck as he unzips Zhao Yunlan. "When you try to move."

Oh, god.

His hand presses against Zhao Yunlan's cock, and then he's pulling him out, pushing the jeans down just far enough to wrap his fingers around the length and start stroking him.

"God," Zhao Yunlan gets out, trapped between Shen Wei's invisible hold on his wrists and the grip he has on his cock. Shen Wei's relentless gaze. The heat of his body seeping into his own. "Make me come," he pants, leaning in to run his tongue over Shen Wei's neck and then kiss his bare shoulder. "Professor."

Shen Wei lets out a huff of laughter and quickens his strokes, spreading precome over the length. "I was afraid you wouldn't--" he starts, a note of quiet wonder in his voice, and it's too much right now, it's too real, so Zhao Yunlan bites at his shoulder and then captures his mouth again, muffling his own moans against Shen Wei's lips.

He sags into the restraints when he feels himself getting close, held up by the boundless energy that created a hard point out of nothing because he told Shen Wei to, and he finally lets himself crash over the edge, Shen Wei's hands and mouth and powers on him, teeth digging harder into his neck when he moans. "Don't stop," he gets out, "don't stop," and then he's falling.

Shen Wei's face is still buried against his neck a long, breathless moment later, Shen Wei's bulge unmistakeably pressing against his hip.

"Let me--" Zhao Yunlan says, tugging harder this time, and the restraints dissolve, allowing him to push his hands between them and unzip Shen Wei's pants. He barely feels the blood rushing back into his fingers, he's so focused on getting to Shen Wei's cock. "Let me," he says again, more softly.

"I won't last very long," Shen Wei says, sounding a little sheepish, and something entirely too fond washes over Zhao Yunlan, threatening to settle into all his soft parts.

"That's all right," he says, nipping at Shen Wei's neck. "We're not looking to set any records." He holds Shen Wei close as he jerks him off, not going for finesse, only listening for cues that he's getting it right, that this is fast enough, tight enough. "Maybe next time," he murmurs against Shen Wei's ear. "You can show me how long--"

Shen Wei comes with a gasp, a series of broken little noises as he shudders against him, spurts of come leaving wet smears on Zhao Yunlan's hand and clothes.

He presses a kiss against Shen Wei's shoulder, lightly running his clean hand over his back as he comes down. "I think I'll have to get changed," he says, reality crashing into his nice, hazy bliss.

Shen Wei pulls away just enough to wave a hand vaguely at the space between them, dark energy briefly visible as the white streaks vanish from their clothing and exposed skin. His face remains rather firmly lodged into the crook of Zhao Yunlan's shoulder.

"Huh," Zhao Yunlan says. "Convenient." He strokes his hand down Shen Wei's spine again, patting the small of his back a few times. "We have to go," he says quietly.

Shen Wei makes a muffled noise against his shirt collar and then sways away, finally. "Right. Of course." He clears his throat, which is endearingly--

"I'll get the car keys." Zhao Yunlan grins brightly. "You can pick the music."

"Can't wait," Shen Wei lies, a small smile on his lips again. It's different from his earlier one.

Zhao Yunlan slips out of his apartment and back into his own, which is the absolutely shortest stride of pride he's ever had. Talk about convenience.

"How did the breakup go," Da Qing calls over from the couch, not looking up from his phone.

Zhao Yunlan cuffs him over the head as he walks past. "You're late for work."

"You're late for work," Da Qing shoots back automatically.

Today it might actually be true.

"I'll drive faster," Zhao Yunlan says, unconcerned. He's not that worried about making Minister Gao wait a bit.

"I don't think the professor is ready for your faster."

"He'll be fine."

There's a pause, so Zhao Yunlan turns to look at Da Qing, who cocks his head at him. "You sure about that?"

"Oh, shut up." Damn cat.

He goes into the bathroom to wash his hands and splash water in his face, and by the time he grabs the car keys and gives Da Qing a lazy wave, his mind has already cleared.

He's good at rolling with things.

He can roll with this too.

He'll tell Shen Wei about his relationship policy, now that he knows Shen Wei is actually the "having fun" kind of person, and nobody will get hurt.

It'll be fine.

 

*

 

He doesn't quite get to broach the topic on their way to the Inspectorate, and then a hundred other things come up that are way more important and/or upsetting than his sex life. In any case, he can just try again tomorrow. Maybe wait for a good moment to bring it up naturally. He's never really had to slip it into a conversation before, come to think of it.

He also has no idea how much sleep Dixingren need. He kind of figured all that power would come with some perks, but it could just mean Shen Wei needs to be extra diligent about recharging his energy. Maybe he was simply tired when he said goodnight, ignoring all the hints Zhao Yunlan was dropping. Maybe he is bad at hints after all.

Although he certainly didn't need a formal invitation to casual sex this morning. Quite the contrary.

Zhao Yunlan will try again tomorrow. Try something, anyway. Roll with things.

He's ready to fall into bed when there's a light knock on the door, so light it almost doesn't want to be heard.

Zhao Yunlan grins.

Not so bad at hints after all.

He opens the door and takes in the sight of Shen Wei, carefully composed face and immaculate suit and all. He hasn't even loosened his tie yet.

"You need anything?" Zhao Yunlan asks him, not really trying to hide his smirk.

"Can't sleep," Shen Wei says quietly.

"Too excited, huh?"

"Something like that."

He steps aside to let Shen Wei in, and when the lock clicks into place and he turns around, Shen Wei is right there.

Zhao Yunlan kisses him, in the dim light of his messy apartment, his hand coming up to cradle Shen Wei's cheek. It's a softer, slower affair than this morning. Less frantic. Hazier around the edges.

It has been a rather long day.

"You need anything?" Zhao Yunlan asks again, softer this time, running his fingers down Shen Wei's front as he presses a kiss against his jaw.

"You don't need me to spell it out, do you," Shen Wei says, lifting his head to give Zhao Yunlan better access.

Touché.

He's always preferred the quieter types, anyway. He can provide the entertainment himself.

"You don't like talking, I get it." He starts undoing the buttons of Shen Wei's suit jacket, glancing up to find Shen Wei watching his face. "Let me know if there's anything else you don't like."

"Not so far," Shen Wei says, a disarming honesty in his voice.

Zhao Yunlan kisses him again, his hands sliding over Shen Wei's shirt like they're looking for a way in. When he starts tugging at the knot of the tie, Shen Wei's own hands come up to nudge him away, presumably in an attempt to help.

"No no," Zhao Yu murmurs, and then pulls away to give Shen Wei a bright smile. "I might not look like it, but I have quite a bit of experience with these." He winks. "At least from this side."

Something flickers over Shen Wei's face, too quickly for Zhao Yunlan to read, and then Shen Wei's tie and shirt and jacket are gone, leaving him in his undershirt and pants, much like the last time they crashed into each other, mere hours ago. A hint of a smirk pulls up the corner of Shen Wei's mouth when Zhao Yunlan just blinks at him. It's unbearably hot.

"Oh, it's like that," Zhao Yunlan says, lightly pulling at the collar of Shen Wei's undershirt. "What else you got?" He's leering, he can't help it. He's trying not to. A tiny part of his lizard brain is telling him to show more respect to the Black-Cloaked Envoy, but it's easily drowned out by the entire rest of it wanting him to show less.

Shen Wei looks at him, his face almost expressionless, the heat back in his eyes. He briefly drops his gaze to the floor and then drags it up again. "Earn it."

Zhao Yunlan almost swallows his tongue.

Shen Wei's chin lifts just a fraction and his eyes clear up a little, as if he's going to check in with him, so Zhao Yunlan takes him by his admirable biceps and pushes him toward the door. No need. They're on the same page here. His dick is already very interested in all of this.

"You're such an enigma," he tells Shen Wei as he sinks to his knees, glad he went with the sweatpants tonight. The huff of laughter from Shen Wei only highlights how tense he had been before.

Maybe next time they can do this on the sofa. The bed, even. Somewhere more inviting than-- the entrance of their respective apartments.

He mentally shakes himself. He hasn't even gotten his mouth on Shen Wei's cock yet and he's already thinking about next time. "I almost want to make a mess to watch you work your magic again," he says, looking up from under his eyelashes. "But I'll swallow if you're good."

Shen Wei briefly closes his eyes and shakes his head, even though he should really be used to Zhao Yunlan at this point, and then puts his hand on his head to lightly stroke over his hair.

That's probably a yes, so Zhao Yunlan pulls down his zipper and drags the pants down just far enough to free Shen Wei's cock. Next time, in addition to the softer surface, they definitely need to lose more clothing.

He finally gets his hand on Shen Wei and gives his half-hard cock a few gentle licks to say hello, then starts experimenting with lips and tongue and hands to gauge Shen Wei's reactions. He seems to like everything, which is flattering. When Zhao Yunlan looks up to take in his face, his eyes are closed, which is so jarring Zhao Yunlan almost loses his rhythm for a moment.

Shen Wei usually doesn't stop looking at him.

"Will this be good enough for a reward?" Zhao Yunlan says sweetly, licking up the underside of Shen Wei's cock.

There's a shivering intake of breath, and then Shen Wei looks down at him, his hand coming up to tangle into Zhao Yunlan's hair. He's been nothing but gentle so far, almost tentative, and Zhao Yunlan wishes he would just grab a fistful of hair and pull. "I usually don't give out marks for unfinished assignments," he says instead, voice almost entirely even, and for a moment the hot professor fantasy and the dark Envoy fantasy collide inside Zhao Yunlan's head, the sudden heat of it forcing an involuntary breathy noise out of him.

He wraps his lips around Shen Wei's cock and starts sucking in earnest, head bobbing as he relaxes his throat. Shen Wei will give him that A in fucking writing.

He drags Shen Wei's orgasm out of him with an almost vicious satisfaction, Shen Wei's fingers finally tightening in his hair as he swallows around him.

He carefully pulls away to gulp in air, and then rests his forehead against Shen Wei's hips to catch his breath and muffle a cough, a gentle hand cupping his head. He gasps when he feels his sweatpants being pushed down, and when he looks up, Shen Wei's eyes are huge and dark and glued to his face.

"Tell me if you don't like it," Shen Wei says, the first words he's spoken in a while, and then something like a hand, or a feeling, or an invisible touch, carefully pulls his cock free and wraps around it, light as air. Entirely unlike air.

It feels amazing.

"Holy shit," he breathes against Shen Wei's hip, moving into the touch, his eyes squeezed shut. "Don't stop."

"Why would I?" he hears Shen Wei say, hand sliding down to gently curl around his nape. "You've earned it."

"Oh god." He's never felt anything like this before. There's nothing to see when he opens his eyes, barely a wisp of dark energy, but it feels like he's fucking into a hot, tight, soft space, and he's curling closer towards Shen Wei as he thrusts into it. "I'm close. I can't--" His hand grips Shen Wei's undershirt, gathering up a fistful of fabric to hold on to. "More."

"No," he hears, strong fingers wrapping around his fist, "this is all you'll get," and shit, shit, he's coming, he's fucking loud, he's flying.

Shen Wei's hands are still curled around his nape and his fist when he can form a semi-coherent thought and use his senses again. "I need you to know that I don't mean right now," he says scratchily, slowly relaxing his hands and arms and shoulders, "but you'll have to show me what else you can do."

He doesn't get a response, but he'll take Shen Wei's soft hand in his hair as affirmation.

His knees are killing him.

He didn't notice before, but now he really, really does.

He carefully tucks Shen Wei back in, because he still has some manners, and then pulls up his sweatpants. "Ugh," he says, getting up. "Seriously, the sofa is right there."

Shen Wei is smiling at him, one of the more tentative ones, and Zhao Yunlan presses a kiss to the crook of his shoulder, usually so well-hidden under neat sweaters and stiff shirt collars. He can certainly see the appeal of just parking his face here for a while.

"Think you can sleep now?" he murmurs, brushing his lips over creamy skin.

He can hear a soft exhale, and then Shen Wei gently pushes him away, not quite meeting his eyes. The shirt and suit jacket reappear, hiding Shen Wei's body in stages, but quickly enough that Zhao Yunlan couldn't quite tell how they materialized, exactly.

How does he do that?

"No tie?" he asks Shen Wei, itching to reach out and tear that stupid suit right off of him again.

"It's a very short walk."

"I know, right?" he exclaims, but shuts up when Shen Wei frowns at him. "I'll see you tomorrow," he says instead, feeling a gentleness inside him that he needs to deal with on his own. He doesn't want Shen Wei to go, which is why he needs him to leave.

"Tomorrow," Shen Wei says, just as soft, and then Zhao Yunlan is alone.

He turns off all the lights, and goes to bed. He hears Da Qing come in and settle down, and he lies in the dark and waits to feel relief.

 

*

 

Predictably, there's another emergency getting in the way of everything.

He probably should have removed that hidden camera at some point. Or at least have the feed killed. He'll dock Lin Jing's pay for this oversight. Spying on their shiny new special consultant, really now. What was Lin Jing thinking.

Fuck.

"What's done is done," he tells Shen Wei, who seems remarkably calm about this particular revelation. Contrite even. Maybe he's aware of how preposterous his charade had been, back then. Zhao Yunlan had all reason to be suspicious. Planting a bug in Shen Wei's office was only--

Ah fuck, it was fucking stupid.

"I think we can use his skills and his need to feel important to our advantage," he says, mostly to make himself believe it. "A little research, a little intimidation, boom, crisis averted."

Shen Wei gives him a look.

"We'll start with the research and take it from there," he amends.

They get to work.

 

*

 

The thing is, they work together so well. Given that one of them is an omnipotent Dixing leader who's daylighting as a biology professor and the other is-- Zhao Yunlan, they really shouldn't click to this extent. But they do, and they end up cornering Cong Bo together and get him to see the error of his ways, as if they'd never done anything else.

Shouldn't they be able to continue like that and also-- do whatever it was that happened yesterday? Twice? Zhao Yunlan is certainly amenable.

But then he thinks about the way Shen Wei looks at him, the way Shen Wei touches him, at once tentative and starved for connection, the way his voice goes so soft sometimes. He thinks about losing all of that. He thinks about Shen Wei taking it away.

The thought fills him with the kind of unsettling dread he's been carefully avoiding all his life.

When did he give that power to Shen Wei, who already has so much.

If he loses his grip on the last shred of control he still has, if he lets himself fall-- he'll get swallowed up by the big fucking billowing robe and the sad little smiles, and he has no idea what happens then.

What happens then?

And what comes after?

So he tells the Black-Cloaked Envoy to tidy up his apartment, and the Black-Cloaked Envoy gets up and straightens his sweater vest and starts fussing around.

Maybe he's even a little bit relieved himself.

They can do this. It'll be fine.

 

*

 

"I'm going to take him out to dinner," he tells Da Qing the next morning. "As friends."

Da Qing's ear twitches, which is all the acknowledgment Zhao Yunlan is going to get, probably.

"You're late for work," he says, just out of habit, watching Da Qing nestle deeper into his tire bed. "Anyway, I think we could be friends. It's just more--" He casts around for the right word, not like Da Qing is listening. "--sustainable, I guess."

"You want to be friends with him?"

Damn cat. "Yes! Obviously!"

Da Qing finally lifts his head to shoot Zhao Yunlan a look. "How is that obvious?"

"You just don't understand how humans work," he shoots back.

Da Qing yawns wide. "Do humans usually mate with their friends?"

Zhao Yunlan has no answer to that, so he finally pushes back the comforter and gets out of bed. "Sometimes we do," he mutters. "Nothing wrong with that."

Da Qing doesn't reply.

"I'll just introduce him to some more street food. He'll pretend to like it. We'll have a great time!"

"As friends."

"Exactly."

 

*

 

Look, he tried.

He really, really tried.

He had a serious conversation about the Hallows with Shen Wei, they hatched a plan of attack which Zhao Yunlan very convincingly agreed to, he extended the dinner invitation, he told Shen Wei there was no need to consume alcohol. They would be just two friends slash colleagues slash neighbors enjoying some good food together.

And then they were walking down the hallway back to their apartments, and Zhao Yunlan reminded Shen Wei about the Dixing history books they'd talked about over their dumplings, so Shen Wei invited him in to see if the books in his collection were any useful after all. Then they stood a little too close for a little too long, and Zhao Yunlan got a little too lost in Shen Wei's big, hopeful eyes, and--

Well.

"We're not doing this against a wall again," he tells Shen Wei between kisses, already unbuttoning his blazer to drag it off his shoulders. His own coat is-- on the floor somewhere.

"What did you have in mind?" Shen Wei murmurs, his hand rucking up Zhao Yunlan's shirt to get to bare skin.

Zhao Yunlan glances to the closed door behind Shen Wei. "The bed not an option?"

The look of surprise on Shen Wei's face is-- unexpected, and not in a good way.

"What, you thought I only do this standing up?" Zhao Yunlan says, feeling oddly defensive.

"No, I--" Shen Wei starts, but then he presses his mouth shut and takes Zhao Yunlan's hand to drag him to the bedroom. "I wasn't sure about your preferences."

And what is that supposed to mean.

He'd ask, but then Shen Wei turns around and kisses him again, right there in his very neat bedroom, only stopping to pull Zhao Yunlan's shirt over his head and drop it on the floor. Then he goes for his fly.

"You're still wearing two layers, come on," Zhao Yunlan complains, swatting Shen Wei's hand away, and Shen Wei laughs a little, finally getting started on his own damn buttons. Zhao Yunlan presses his face into Shen Wei's neck as soon as the shirt is gone, licks at the warm skin there, rasps his beard against the junction of shoulder and neck.

"You want this layer off or not," Shen Wei murmurs, then inhales sharply when Zhao Yunlan bites his neck, barely enough to leave a mark.

"I want everything off," he says, pulling away enough to give Shen Wei room to take off his undershirt. "But this has been a priority for a while." He runs his hands down Shen Wei's bare chest, then up his back, kissing a bit of skin that was covered by fabric the previous times. "Worth the wait."

"Listen to you," Shen Wei mutters.

Zhao Yunlan's fingertips dip under the waistband of his pants, pulling Shen Wei closer as he drops more kisses on his shoulder. "Take those off."

"I was getting there," Shen Wei says.

"Oh well, excuse me."

They do end up naked, eventually. It just takes them a while. Zhao Yunlan pulls Shen Wei towards the bed, sitting down first and grinning up as he gets comfortable, counting on Shen Wei to follow him. To straddle him. To lean down and kiss him again, their skin touching in all the best ways.

"Ah, Brother Black," Zhao Yunlan says, bringing out the puppy eyes. They usually work best when he's on his back, looking up at his target. Go figure. "Weren't you going to show me another trick?"

"No more tricks," Shen Wei says, rather icily. It's like the Black-Cloaked Envoy personally showed up just to remind Zhao Yunlan of the principle of the thing. The most beautiful killjoy Zhao Yunlan's ever seen. The only thing that could make this whole situation any hotter would be the full robe and hood.

Zhao Yunlan makes a small mental note.

"I can still hold you down," Shen Wei says softly, taking Zhao Yunlan's wrists in his hands and pressing them into the pillow. "How's that?"

Zhao Yunlan's hips give an involuntary twitch. "Harder."

Shen Wei tightens his grip and Zhao Yunlan arches up against him, baring his throat, which Shen Wei leans down to lick. "Wish I could do this when you try to activate the Hallows again."

"Can't lie," Zhao Yunlan says, turning his head so Shen Wei can kiss another spot. "It might actually work."

"I'll keep that in mind."

His lips and his tongue and his teeth are so gentle, exploring Zhao Yunlan's neck and the hollow between his collarbones. The stretch of skin over his sternum. Time seems to slow down, Zhao Yunlan's hips getting restless, his cock searching for friction, for any kind of relief, as Shen Wei lightly licks over a nipple.

His hands are still gripping Zhao Yunlan's wrists tightly.

He might have told Zhao Yunlan he's not omnipotent, with that bashful little smile and everything, but his power is so vast. He could do anything, right now. He chooses to be maddeningly careful with Zhao Yunlan, because he considers his life precious.

Dammit.

"I won't move," Zhao Yunlan says in a rush. "If you tell me not to move. I won't."

Shen Wei looks up at him, his lips parted, and Zhao Yunlan licks his own, waiting. Shen Wei kisses him again, a gentle nudge of his lips, and then pulls away to say, "Don't move," enough of the Envoy in his voice to make Zhao Yunlan listen. "Show me you can do this."

He starts kissing his way down again, but he's looking at Zhao Yunlan now. At his face. At his hands on the pillow. He presses a kiss beside Zhao Yunlan's navel, and finally, finally, he curls his hand around Zhao Yunlan's cock.

"You can move your hands again." In the quiet of the room, there's an almost tangible softness to his voice. A caress Zhao Yunlan can hear rather than feel. "Here," Shen Wei says, running his fingertips over his cock, making him shiver. "Show me. How you like to be touched."

Zhao Yunlan blinks up at him.

Shen Wei tilts his head, watching Zhao Yunlan's face. "Is that not something I can ask you to do?"

Zhao Yunlan's brain comes back to life with a jolt. He can't look away from Shen Wei as he wraps his fingers around his cock, sucking in air at the sensation. "Are you using your powers?" he says, gathering precome with his thumb and spreading it along the length.

"I told you--"

"You're learning." He pushes out a breath, starting to stroke himself slowly enough to keep going for a while. "Cheat."

A small smile lifts up the corners of Shen Wei's mouth. "I'm merely gathering data through observation and then applying my newfound knowledge. That doesn't require the use of dark energy."

The hot professor fantasy slams back into Zhao Yunlan's brain with some force. "Cheat," he insists, and then he closes his eyes, determined to give Shen Wei a proper show.

"All for your benefit," he hears, Shen Wei's lips so soft against the corner of his mouth. He's lying down beside Zhao Yunlan, giving him room to plant a foot on the mattress for leverage. "I'm just trying to learn some new tricks."

When Zhao Yunlan turns his head, Shen Wei kisses him, slipping his tongue into his mouth as Zhao Yunlan quickens his strokes. Shen Wei's fingers are warm against his cheek. "Watch this," Zhao Yunlan whispers, safely shameless in the darkness behind his eyelids. "I'll only do this once."

He can feel Shen Wei's smile against his shoulder, and then he forgets everything for a while, his entire world narrowing down to his hands on his body and Shen Wei's soft lips and fingers and whispers.

"You're amazing," is kissed into his skin, and suddenly he's close, his muscles tightening, a louder moan swallowed up by Shen Wei's lips on his. "Let me?"

A hand joins his own, fingers tangling, and Shen Wei's lips are on his neck again, his ear, his mouth. He's surrounded by Shen Wei, and he comes like that, feeling it spatter over his belly and chest, moaning as he thinks about Shen Wei telling him to clean that up, now that he's not using his powers anymore.

God.

He might have gotten a little carried away towards the end there.

"Yunlan," he hears, and he cracks an eye open as he's catching his breath. Shen Wei is staring at him, so close Zhao Yunlan can feel his breath against his shoulder.

"Did some of it get on your hand," Zhao Yunlan whispers into the small pocket of space between them, watching Shen Wei nod, flushed and wide-eyed, the slippery sounds of flesh on flesh and the movement of his arm unmistakable. "Don't close your eyes," he tells Shen Wei softly, which is probably unfair, but he's feeling languid and gentle and he needs to make the most of it before he turns back into himself again. "Let me see."

Shen Wei swallows, nothing but need in his eyes, the softest noises escaping his open mouth. Everything stripped away, revealing the man underneath the black robes, the want simmering underneath the pale skin. Nobody else gets to see this. Nobody else knows.

"You're beautiful," Zhao Yunlan whispers, and Shen Wei presses his face against his shoulder, breathing hotly against his skin as he trembles, adding to the mess between them.

Zhao Yunlan kisses his hair as he comes down, letting the quietness take over for a bit. He only opens his eyes when he feels the mattress dip, and then he watches Shen Wei leave and return with a wet cloth, which is so much less convenient, come on, but does have the benefit of a very naked Shen Wei moving about. For someone habitually wrapped up in four layers or more, he seems to be quite unbothered about his own nakedness.

He cleans them both up, glancing at Zhao Yunlan with a soft little smile as he runs the cloth over his skin, and then he lies back down, arranging the comforter to cover them both.

He looks at Zhao Yunlan for a long moment, some of the sadness back in his eyes. He opens his mouth, but then closes it again.

"What?" Zhao Yunlan says, tiredness finally taking over.

"Don't go."

It's said so softly, Zhao Yunlan opens his eyes again to make sure he heard it right. Shen Wei is watching him, a subtle tension in his features, and Zhao Yunlan reaches out to run his fingertips over a perfect cheekbone. "All right."

He usually would, wouldn't he. He'd get dressed and go home and fall asleep in his own bed, at least for an hour or two.

He just wants to sleep.

He closes his eyes and listens to Shen Wei's breathing and can't bring himself to feel dread.

 

*

 

Shen Wei is up before him, which Zhao Yunlan had expected. Not like he had expected to stay the night, but if he had, he would have assumed Shen Wei was the type to get up early and make breakfast or-- does he actually work out? Does he need to work out? Does he go running because he "enjoys the act" or is it just something to do while pretending to be a very fit, very human professor.

He should probably get up, too. Say good morning to Shen Wei. See if there is indeed breakfast. Maybe ask him about any gym memberships.

Alternatively, what if he pretends to be asleep until Shen Wei has to leave for work? His other work. The one Zhao Yunlan kind of kidnapped him from.

The door opens and Shen Wei steps inside, his face as carefully composed as ever, every part of him perfectly put together. "I made breakfast," he says. "Please help yourself."

Zhao Yunlan sits up, which seems the polite thing to do. He feels sticky with sleep, rumpled and bare in the face of his favorite sweater vest.

He probably shouldn't have a favorite already.

"Thank you," he says, scratching at his neck. "You're leaving?"

Shen Wei's gaze briefly drops to Zhao Yunlan's collarbones. "Class at 9," he says, catching himself.

"Ah yes, of course." Zhao Yunlan smiles, some of the gentleness from last night wanting out. "You'll stop by the SID afterwards?"

"Of course."

He snorts softly. "Well, I appreciate it."

Shen Wei looks like he wants to say something, but then he just nods and turns around, leaving the door open on the way out.

Huh.

Didn't even have to feign sleep.

He does help himself to breakfast, just because he doesn't want another lecture about his eating habits, then puts the leftovers in the fridge. He briefly thinks about taking some home for Da Qing, but then realizes he doesn't actually want to have that conversation. His clothes are stacked in a neat pile by the bed and he puts them on just to make it back to his own place right across the hall, then immediately takes them off to take a shower and get dressed.

This was all wildly more convenient last time.

By the time he arrives at work, he feels much more like himself again. He sticks a lollipop into his mouth and welcomes the Regent, and when Shen Wei strides in, all softness gone from his face, he barely thinks about last night. He just laughs and plays the jovial boss and pats the Regent on the back, and he watches Shen Wei turn angry and unyielding.

He knows it's part of the job description, a consequence of the great responsibility Shen Wei understands so deeply, and yet it feels different than before. He couldn't even say why.

However, his treacherous lizard brain seems to have decided that he absolutely needs to test, right now, how far he can go before Shen Wei turns that anger on him. Before the Black-Cloaked Envoy finally decides that this has been one friendly shoulder pat too many, one outrageous show of disrespect too inexcusable.

So far, Shen Wei hasn't told him to keep his hands to himself in front of Dixing leadership, which is both gratifying and unsettling. Surely at some point it should be too much for Shen Wei to tolerate.

The yelling doesn't count. That was just hot.

And probably warranted.

In any case, Shen Wei is still very bad at telling him no and making it stick, so that part hasn't changed.

They go to Dixing together.

 

*

 

Well.

That could have gone smoother.

He thinks about a lot of things on the drive home, trying to sort through the personal and the urgent, any clues related to the threat of war at hand, and all the things he learned about Dixing and its incredibly suspicious government.

He thinks about his mother, most of all.

Whatever higher power sent Shen Wei to him must have decided it wasn't quite his time to join her yet.

Would have been cruel to introduce him to Shen Wei first, if this had been his last day in this world. Although who knows about the gods. Some might be cruel enough.

Shen Wei opens the door before he even has a chance to knock, and barely waits for it to close before he's hugging him, arms wrapped tightly around his back.

"Hey now," Zhao Yunlan says softly, "I'm fine."

Shen Wei takes a deep breath and then steps away to raise an angry finger at him. "I told you this would happen! I begged you to let me go alone."

Whoa.

"Let's hug again," Zhao Yunlan tries, holding out his arms. "I liked that better."

Shen Wei just glares at him.

He drops his arms. "I'm sorry I worried you."

"That's not the point and you know it."

"Well, I'm still sorry."

They are absolutely not going to discuss the actual "point" and Shen Wei knows it.

"You're reckless," he tries anyway, which Zhao Yunlan respects. "You're careless about your--"

"Shen Wei."

"I'm nowhere near done."

"I'd like you to meet my mother."

It's certainly an effective way to end this fight, and a rather dirty one at that, he'll be the first to acknowledge that. But he does. He does want Shen Wei to meet his mother.

Shen Wei is staring at him, quite clearly reluctant to let this go, but what is he going to do? Not accompany Zhao Yunlan to the cemetery?

"We're going to get flowers first."

"All right," Shen Wei says softly.

"I'm really sorry." He takes a step forward and kisses Shen Wei, just a light press of lips, his hand coming to rest on the soft fabric of his favorite. "Come on."

"Reckless," Shen Wei says, traces of his anger still laced through his voice, but then he kisses Zhao Yunlan, lingering for a long moment. He sighs when he pulls away. "Let's go."

 

*

 

He has dinner with Da Qing to catch up on all the "snap inspection" bullshit that went down at the SID in his absence. Da Qing is trying his best not to stir up bad memories, biting back the f-word whenever he catches himself, until Zhao Yunlan puts a hand on his arm and tells him to relax.

"You can say father. It's not your fault he's in charge of us."

Da Qing eyes him suspiciously.

"Technically in charge of us," Zhao Yunlan adds blithely.

"I think he's literally in charge of us."

"Eh. Good luck to him creating a whole new department if he doesn't like what we're doing."

"He definitely doesn't like what we're doing."

Zhao Yunlan shrugs. They've got bigger fish to fry than his old man's ego. Doesn't matter what he thinks about Zhao Yunlan's methods or leadership style. They're trying to prevent an entire war on Haixing here.

He rummages through the takeout containers, going through the clues again in his mind.

He hasn't told Shen Wei about the conversation he had with that rather large piece of Dixing masonry, although he feels he probably should. It might be important. He just isn't quite sure how to bring it up, and he's reluctant to share its insights with Shen Wei.

Of course he could just laugh it off, but--

You live in a sea of humans, but don't let anyone know you.

Look, that's not even true.

The other stuff, maybe. He wishes he was more certain about some things, and he wishes he didn't resent his father so much, because then he could maybe think about what's right or wrong without wanting to punch things.

But he's not alone. He's got friends.

A friend.

Subordinates he's friendly with.

People he chats with when he runs into them. People he can call if he doesn't feel like drinking alone. People who would probably be happy to hear from him again, if he felt like it.

Although he tried that once and the guy turned out to be married now, so he's gotten a bit more hesitant about that.

He's got friends, anyway.

He doesn't feel lonely.

He's not going to let a creepy voice inside a creepy pillar in the middle of a creepy gravel field tell him how to live his life.

His own mother, though--

"Do you think I have trouble forming meaningful relationships with people," he asks Da Qing, who looks up from his container of shrimp and rice.

"Did the professor say that?"

"What? No!"

"All right, all right," Da Qing mutters, picking up another piece of shrimp and popping it into his mouth. "Just sounded like something he would say."

Zhao Yunlan stares at him.

"Maybe not quite that bluntly," Da Qing amends. "He's too polite for that."

"He has no reason to complain," Zhao Yunlan says stiffly.

Da Qing raises his eyebrows at him.

"He doesn't," Zhao Yunlan insists. He told Shen Wei about his mother's favorite flowers, which was less painful than he'd feared, and then they were both quiet on the ride back from the cemetery, and that was good, too. He didn't feel the need to break the silence with a joke, not even once.

He's trying. He's trying really hard not to mess this up, even though a small part of him keeps telling him to run while he still can.

Fucking pillar.

"Invite him over, then," Da Qing says, his mouth full. "There's enough food."

"He prefers to cook dinner himself."

Da Qing gives him a look. "I assume he'll make breakfast," he says slowly, nodding his head at Zhao Yunlan, clearly waiting for him to get--

"Oh."

"I'm sleeping elsewhere tonight."

"Right."

"Why are humans like this?"

"Shut up."

He shouldn't allow Shen Wei and Da Qing to become friends. There's no version of events where they wouldn't band together against him, one way or another.

And yet.

 

*

 

"I'm not here to make out with you," is the first thing he says when Shen Wei opens the door, which he realizes is a terrible opening line the second the words are out of his mouth. "Let me start over."

Shen Wei is staring at him.

"What I meant was--" A door a little down the hallway opens and Zhao Yunlan winces. "Can I come in?"

There's a terrible resigned expression on Shen Wei's face, which Zhao Yunlan put there, fuck, so he grabs Shen Wei's face as soon as the lock clicks shut and kisses him, hard enough to make a point.

"You're being very confusing," Shen Wei says quietly when Zhao Yunlan pulls away.

"I'm sorry," he says, still holding Shen Wei's face in his hands. "I'm really bad at this."

"At what?"

"Well, impulse control, for one." He kisses Shen Wei again, more softly this time. "I wanted you to come over for dinner, and I didn't want to get distracted before I could ask you."

There's still some caution in Shen Wei's eyes, some holding back that Zhao Yunlan can't really fault him for. He'd be wary too.

"I'd like you to have dinner with me and Da Qing. Although I'm afraid most of the food is cold now. And we already ate like half of it, sorry. Da Qing has terrible table manners. I'd like you to stay the night. Maybe bring a change of clothes. And the fridge is empty, so I'm not sure about breakfast. Sorry."

There's a pause.

"You're serious."

"Yes."

Shen Wei gives him a long look, and Zhao Yunlan resists the urge to flash him a winning smile or crack a joke or-- kiss him again. The easiest way out.

"I'll come," Shen Wei says quietly. "Thank you for the invitation."

It was Da Qing's idea, Zhao Yunlan manages not to blurt out. He mentally pats himself on the back. Baby steps. "I'm still reckless and untidy and I can't really promise--"

"It's fine." The smallest smile appears on Shen Wei's face, finally. "Well, not the recklessness. We'll have to work on that."

"Sure, sure," Zhao Yunlan says, grabbing Shen Wei's hand. "Come on, or there'll be no food left at all."

"I don't really care about the food."

"Brother Black."

Shen Wei's smile is wide and unguarded and happy, and Zhao Yunlan put that there too.

Baby steps.

They'll start here, in the hallway between their apartments, Shen Wei's hand in his, and they'll take it from there.