"You stopped me from going with him; you are not stopping me from going after him," Zhao Yunlan snaps.
Ma Gui's arguments had made sense at the time—Shen Wei was supposed to go on an easy recon mission with a small team; Kunlun didn't know the terrain well enough to be of any help. Shen Wei's arguments made less sense, amounting to his usual brand of I can do it on my own, but because he was taking a three-people team, Zhao Yunlan had acquiesced.
Only now it's been two days and Shen Wei still hasn't returned.
So. Zhao Yunlan is going whether Ma Gui likes it or not. But Ma Gui just nods with resignation, clearly aware that arguing is only going to lose them precious time.
(Zhao Yunlan knows Shen Wei is alive; has to be—he'd met him in the future. Somehow, that doesn't help relieve the cold manacles of worry wrapped around his heart at all. There's a marked difference between alive and all right, and who's to say that time can't be rewritten, anyway?)
They find Shen Wei a few hours ride from the main camp.
There's a squad of rebel forces there, maybe twenty of them, gathered in a circle around a black dome. Half of them are attacking it incessantly; the rest look like they're resting until it's their turn to attack.
Zhao Yunlan doesn't need any Dixing powers to know that it's Shen Wei holding that dome—shield—in place.
The alliance descends on the rebels, taking them by surprise; Zhao Yunlan starts shooting at the ones gathered around the shield. He's been practicing fighting with a sword—the gun doesn't need bullets, but he's not sure it’s ever been used quite as frequently as he uses it now and he needs to be prepared in case it gives out on him—but this is not a place to fall back on his still mediocre skills. Shen Wei needs his help fast.
Once the attacks on the shield stop, it changes its colours. The black disappears as if washed away, leaving behind a translucent shield only noticeable by the unnatural flickering of light around it.
Shen Wei is standing in the middle of it, just like Zhao Yunlan had known he would be, with his team sitting next to him. One person seems to be lying down, unconscious or too hurt to sit up. Shen Wei's hands are raised; his face is shockingly pale under his black mask.
He looks up as if feeling Zhao Yunlan's gaze on him. Their eyes meet across the battlefield, and the naked relief in Shen Wei's eyes hurts. His lips shape a word Zhao Yunlan can't hear across the distance, but he knows what Shen Wei looks like when he says his name, be it Zhao Yunlan or Kunlun.
And then Shen Wei just—falls down.
Zhao Yunlan rushes to his side, but he's not fast enough; he would have to be able to teleport to catch him. He doesn't look at the ground and almost trips for his efforts, but at least he gets to see that a woman on Shen Wei's team managed to slow down his fall so that he wouldn't hurt himself hitting the ground.
Then Zhao Yunlan is there and touches Shen Wei's neck to feel for his pulse point, anxious and frantic enough that it takes him a few horribly long moments before he finds it.
His relief is short-lived: he sees the blood on Shen Wei's face, around his mouth and nose, and frowns.
He knows Shen Wei can get hurt—has seen, will see it too many times in the ten thousand year-future—but this young Shen Wei, here, for all that he's been living in a warzone practically all his life, has never seemed as continuously exhausted as the Shen Wei Zhao Yunlan left behind in the future. Seeing him here like this, young and trusting, had been a shock for many reasons, and this contrast was one of them: a warrior living in temporary dwellings, never far away from combat, is healthier than a university professor; is in fact full of life and energy and hope. It had driven home just how clearly not all right Shen Wei has been ever since healing Zhao Yunlan's eyes.
Now, exhausted to the point of falling unconscious the moment he realised he didn't have to hold on anymore, Shen Wei looks dangerously like he will in Zhao Yunlan’s kitchen in ten thousand years, his face ashen and his lips pale.
The blood worries Zhao Yunlan, though. Is it just exhaustion? Is it something else Shen Wei kept from him in the future, the price for his power? Or is Shen Wei physically hurt, too?
Zhao Yunlan had never wanted a Dixing-like power of his own, not before Shen Wei made him wish he could heal; now that wish comes back in full force.
"We need a medic here!" he calls, because that's the most he can do. A Snake Tribe healer is with them—they weren't sure what shape they'd find Shen Wei and his people in—and Zhao Yunlan doesn't actually know why he's not next to them already.
"Was the Envoy injured?" he asks even as he starts patting down Shen Wei to feel for blood—his black robes would mask any stains.
"His left arm," one of the women says, "But he said not to worry."
Zhao Yunlan swallows the urge to shake an unconscious man. "Of course he did."
The healer, Fei Qiang, finally arrives, pushing Zhao Yunlan politely but decisively away. "I need better access to the Black-Cloaked Envoy if I'm to help, Lord Kunlun."
Zhao Yunlan nods; loathe as he is to let Shen Wei go, the healer is right, so Zhao Yunlan reluctantly stands and takes a few steps to the side. He doesn't want to stress Fei Qiang by continuing to look over his shoulder and he knows he'd do exactly that if he stayed closer.
He looks at Shen Wei's team instead: the woman who saved him from falling seems all right—pale and tired, clearly anxious about her leader, but unharmed. Behind her, a man is still on the ground; another woman next to him has her arm in a makeshift sling. It explains why Shen Wei had chosen to shield them instead of trying to fight their way out. He would've been able to make it out himself, but not with people whose safety relied on him.
Zhao Yunlan wants to sit on the ground and hold Shen Wei's hand and make sure he's all right, but he's not just Zhao Yunlan here, just as Shen Wei is not just a man, either. To these people, they're Kunlun, the famous general, and the Black-Cloaked Envoy, a beacon of hope. They’re important, more symbols than men; it is a part of why Shen Wei never admits to any injuries, why he keeps himself an arm's reach away even when he's lonely. He's hurt right now, but Zhao Yunlan knows what he'd want him to do (other than make the healer take care of the rest of his team first, which Zhao Yunlan is too selfish a man to even consider).
He's not really a general, but he does know how to lead: he can take care of them for now, distract both them and himself from worrying about the Envoy.
So he talks to them, gets their reports—falling back on their roles seems to calm them down—and tells them they did good.
They can't travel back to the main camp with two unconscious men, so the rest of the rescue squad starts setting up a temporary camp around them; Zhao Yunlan moves to help with the tents but that's when Fei Qiang calls him back.
Fei Qiang knows to give the important news first, so he says, "He'll be all right."
A wave of relief washes over Zhao Yunlan; he's amazed he keeps standing.
"He really depleted his energy. He'll be asleep for some hours, but that's all. The wound in his arm isn't dangerous; a few days of applying a poultice and taking it easy will suffice to heal it."
"You might need to knock him out to make him take it easy," Zhao Yunlan mutters.
"I'll count on you to see to it that the Envoy follows my instructions regarding his health," Fei Qiang answers smoothly.
As if Shen Wei ever listened to him when something as insignificant as his own health was at stake.
This time, Zhao Yunlan will make him listen.
Somehow. He's not sure how.
But he will.
"Thanks," he says, but Fei Qiang is already moving towards the unconscious soldier in Shen Wei's team.
Zhao Yunlan sits next to Shen Wei. After a moment of hesitation, he reaches out and takes his hand into both of his. Shen Wei's left shoulder is bared, a Snake Tribe healing poultice with a strong herbal scent secured with bandages around it.
He'll be all right, Zhao Yunlan reminds himself. Even if there are no Dixingren healers with the allied forces (and wasn't that an unwelcome surprise, that Shen Wei couldn't actually heal yet?), the Snake Tribe knows their way with medicines.
Fei Qiang had removed Shen Wei's mask and settled it carefully next to him. Zhao Yunlan picks it up and hides it in his robes, to return it once Shen Wei is better, and settles in to wait.
At some point, he's interrupted by two Dixingren soldiers who were sent to help him move the hurt Envoy to a tent. Both of them clearly anxious, they nevertheless use their powers without hesitation, lifting Shen Wei into the air and moving him like that, without any danger of aggravating his injury. Zhao Yunlan can only follow after them and then sit at his side again.
He's only seen Shen Wei sleep, really sleep and not pass out drunk after one glass of alcohol, once before, when they'd finally made it back home after Shen Wei had spent days chained to a chilly stone pillar in Dixing. He'd been exhausted enough Zhao Yunlan had had to help him shower; had fallen asleep wrapped in towels when Zhao Yunlan had only left him for a minute to grab some pyjamas for him. Zhao Yunlan hadn't woken him, just made sure to wrap him in enough blankets to keep him warm after Dixing's ever-present cold.
Shen Wei here doesn't really sleep either. He lets himself fall into shallow slumber sometimes when he's pressed against Zhao Yunlan, but otherwise he's always alert, always prepared for a fight—except now, when he's pale and hurt and fully, completely out of it.
Figures he'd only rest when he physically can't go on anymore.
Zhao Yunlan keeps looking intently at his face like he can will him to get better. He remembers how many times he woke up to Shen Wei staring at him, worry and affection clear in his eyes and morphing into an overwhelming relief the moment he saw Zhao Yunlan looking back.
He really understands Shen Wei better now, and not only because he's finally learning what their first meeting was like from his perspective.
Shen Wei twitches in his sleep, a barely there movement that Zhao Yunlan wouldn't have noticed if he weren't so focused on him. He frowns.
"Shen Wei?" he asks quietly.
Shen Wei doesn't react. After a few seconds, a shudder goes through him, a grimace appearing on his face. He tosses to the side, and Zhao Yunlan springs into action. He catches Shen Wei by his uninjured shoulder to make sure he can't move and disturb the dressing on his wound. He expects Shen Wei to try and fight him off—wherever dream he's having is clearly not a good one, and he must be pretty deep into it not to have woken up yet—but Shen Wei just stills instead, though his face is still full of pain. Zhao Yunlan moves his hand so that it's across Shen Wei's chest instead and lies down next to him in the best approximation of a hug he can offer right now when he doesn't want to jostle him.
"It's okay, Xiao Wei," he whispers. "You're okay."
Shen Wei takes in another unsteady breath—and then his face clears. He relaxes under Zhao Yunlan's touch.
Zhao Yunlan doesn't move away until the morning.
He doesn't dare sleep, but lying in near darkness at Shen Wei's side, feeling him breathe in and out, also helps him regain some strength. He moves when he sees the first rays of sunlight filtering in through the thick fabric. He sits up slowly, looking for any sort of discomfort on Shen Wei's face as he lets him go, but Shen Wei seems to be sleeping calmly now.
Shen Wei, ten thousands years in the future, always knows exactly how to take care of him, putting him to sleep and offering delicious, homemade, warm food when he wakes up. Zhao Yunlan isn't big on cooking even with all the modern appliances at his disposal, much less here, but he tries to tell himself it's the thought that counts. Feeling slightly guilty about it but not enough to actually leave Shen Wei—Zhao Yunlan wouldn't forgive himself if he weren't there for him when he wakes—he sticks his head out the tent opening and asks the young Dixingren guard outside to bring them two bowls leftover from the supper that they hadn't taken. Food is always scarce here, but whoever’s on cooking duty would've made sure to save something for the Envoy and General Kunlun. They always do.
The guard is back soon. He's holding two ceramic bowls, both of them steaming, which surprises Zhao Yunlan, but then the man—boy, really—ducks his head. "My power is fire," he explains. "I thought Lord Black-Cloaked Envoy would prefer it warm."
Zhao Yunlan smiles at him. "He certainly will. Thank you." If he wakes before it cools, but the boy doesn't need to hear that. Shen Wei should wake up soon, though; he'd slept through most of the afternoon and the whole night. Zhao Yunlan wouldn't have asked for food already if he didn't think that they'd need it soon. He just hadn't counted on the Dixing powers' equivalent of a microwave.
He moves half of one portion into the other bowl and quickly eats the remaining half; it's hot enough that he can't really taste it, but that might be for the better. Done, he reaches for Shen Wei's hand again.
Shen Wei squeezes his hand lightly in return.
"Xiao Wei!" Zhao Yunlan immediately moves closer to him. "How're you—wait, drink first—"
He helps Shen Wei sit up enough so that he can swallow a mouthful of water. Even in the shadows of the tent, he seems less pale now. He's strong. Zhao Yunlan hasn't seen him exhaust his powers enough to pass out before, but he's seen him close to that point, and he's always recovered quickly. (It's the modern-day Shen Wei who seems to get weaker and weaker no matter how little of his power he seems to be using.)
"Kunlun," Shen Wei gasps out once he can speak. "You—you came for us?"
I came for you, Zhao Yunlan thinks. "Come now, Shen Wei, you wouldn't have held that shield for so long if you didn't know we'd come."
Shen Wei looks away. "I hoped," he admits quietly, like it's a weakness.
I'll always come for you, Zhao Yunlan wants to say, but he already knows it's not a promise he'll be able to keep.
One day he'll leave this lonely, open man; one day Zhao Yunlan will meet a lonelier, secretive Shen Wei and not even realise what he already means to him; what Shen Wei will mean to him in return.
"Zhu Cheng?" Shen Wei asks quietly.
The hurt soldier, Zhao Yunlan remembers. "Fei Qiang took care of him. And the others. They'll all recover in time. You kept them safe."
Shen Wei exhales quietly in relief.
"Here," Zhao Yunlan says. "There's food."
It's tricky, with Shen Wei's shoulder, but Zhao Yunlan ends up sitting with one leg behind him, supporting him, and holding the bowl in front of him so that Shen Wei can slowly eat using one arm.
"It's a lot," he says.
Zhao Yunlan makes a non-committal noise, pushing the bowl closer to him. Shen Wei doesn't try to protest again.
"I should—" he starts to say once he's eaten, but Zhao Yunlan shushes him.
"You should stay here and rest or Fei Qiang will have my head," he tells him seriously. "We're not gonna be moving today anyway. Your team needs more rest."
It's only the last thing that makes Shen Wei reluctantly nod.
Zhao Yunlan presses a small kiss against his lips and is rewarded with a smile full of so much love it almost hurts him to see.
Two days later they're ready to travel back to the main camp, but Shen Wei is glaring at him. Zhao Yunlan can't begrudge him that: he's glad Shen Wei is feeling well enough to argue, even if he's clearly in the wrong here.
"I can ride," he says.
"Agreed," Zhao Yunlan says cheerfully. "Which is why we're returning today."
"I can ride on my own," he adds.
He probably could, if he had to escape pursuit and his life depended on it. As it is, Zhao Yunlan is not having him push himself when he's not yet completely healed. Snake Tribe medicines are near to miraculous, really, but Shen Wei's arm is still in a sling.
Zhao Yunlan casts an eye around them for the healer, but he's not anywhere nearby, doubtlessly on purpose. He knows what a stubborn patient Shen Wei can be.
Zhao Yunlan could try and appeal to Shen Wei's logical brain (and fail, because the moment Shen Wei isn't unconscious he's fine, according to himself), or he could play dirty.
"Do it for me, Xiao Wei," he intones, giving him a wide-eyed look. "I was really worried about you."
He'd meant to keep his tone teasing, but a note of real distress sneaked in; he can't actually joke about Shen Wei's health. Shen Wei startles at it, though, and after a moment he nods, so Zhao Yunlan takes his victory with only a slightly strained grin.
Riding double on a horse isn't actually comfortable (and Zhao Yunlan hates horse-riding in general; he misses his motorcycle and the jeep), but having Shen Wei in front of him, leaning against him in the slightest way makes it worth it. Zhao Yunlan holds the reins, his arms around Shen Wei's waist.
"I've heard one of the rebels can teleport," Shen Wei says. "I would like to meet him."
Zhao Yunlan lets out a startled laugh. "Who knows, you just might. But are you saying you don't like riding with me?"
Shen Wei shakes his head. His hand settles on Zhao Yunlan's knee. "I do. But you're never happy when we have to travel long distances, Kunlun."
Zhao Yunlan shakes his head at him fondly, trusting Shen Wei can feel it, if he can't see it at the moment. "I'm always happy with you, Shen Wei."
Shen Wei ducks his head in that way that means he's smiling, really smiling, and Zhao Yunlan would very much like to kiss him now, and yes, it would definitely be better if Shen Wei could teleport already, they could be back in his quarters and—
"I'm glad I met you, Kunlun," Shen Wei says.
You'll suffer because you met me, Zhao Yunlan thinks suddenly, and he wants to warn him, tell him of ten thousands years of solitude, and knows he can't.
So he gives him a truth that might make it better or might make it worse. He hopes that, ten thousand years from now, it’s obvious, but this Shen Wei might just need to hear it.
"Meeting you is the best thing that’s happened to me, Shen Wei."
They ride in an easy silence after that.