Shen Wei tired more easily after exchanging his energy to cure Zhao Yunlan. His power, always limited in Haixing, was definitely compromised and he found he needed to sleep more often than he was used to. Then there was the ache, an always-there ball of discomfort in the centre of his chest, the light energy that would eventually poison him.
He didn't have any regrets. Zhao Yunlan was worth it, was worth everything. And if they didn't find all the Hallows in time—if Shen Wei ended up having to use these injuries . . . At least he had an alternative plan.
One regret, maybe: that he had more things to hide from Zhao Yunlan. More lies. But it was better this way. His reaction that night when he'd caught Shen Wei with the knife—it'd have been so much worse, if he'd known the extent of what Shen Wei was doing to himself. Zhao Yunlan would worry; would feel guilty when none of it was his fault. So he couldn't know.
But Shen Wei was tired. He finished his evening classes while Zhao Yunlan was still at the SID, so he went home first and sat on the sofa, giving himself just a moment to rest. Any moment now, he'd get up and start preparing the food: roast duck for him and Zhao Yunlan, tuna snacks for Da Qing.
He didn't hear the door opening, but suddenly there was a familiar voice coming from the hallway. "What, you didn't miss me?"
Always, Shen Wei thought fondly, getting on his feet to greet Zhao Yunlan.
It wasn't Zhao Yunlan standing there. Or it was, but—
"Because I definitely missed you, Shen Wei," Kunlun said. He sauntered to Shen Wei, gathered him in his arms and kissed him, exactly the way Shen Wei had been dreaming of during his centuries-long wait.
For a moment, Shen Wei let himself melt into him, relish the warmth of his body, the easy comfort of belonging, the breathless moment of relief when he realised that Kunlun had made it back to him. He felt exactly as Shen Wei remembered; smelt as he remembered. His long hair was in disarray; his robes were rough to the touch, a product of a pre-industrial creation. It was as if he'd never been gone.
Meeting Zhao Yunlan—having him say Shen Wei's name without recognition when he was the one to give it to him in the first place—Shen Wei wouldn't change his later moments with him for anything, but that first reunion had hurt. It hurt more when he slowly, reluctantly had to admit to himself that Zhao Yunlan would only go on to become the Kunlun of his memories; that he'd leave him once again; that maybe—maybe he wouldn't come back.
But now he was here. Back, like he'd promised.
Shen Wei didn't sense the Hallows activating, so it meant that Zhao Yunlan, the one belonging in this time, was also still here. If the two of them met—but it was impossible that they wouldn't, with both of them in the same city at the same time.
Did it mean that Zhao Yunlan had been forewarned by his own future self? That back in the past, he'd known what to do?
The idea sat heavily in Shen Wei's chest. A bittersweet reunion, once again, and he felt guilty for even thinking like this, but suddenly he was scared: of the timeline unravelling, of it all being a rehearsed act in the past.
"I missed you so much," Shen Wei finally replied, his mind still reeling, but he had to say that much. Reassure Kunlun—Zhao Yunlan—and not one of the past anymore but of the future.
"Really?" Kunlun asked, and suddenly his voice was as cold as Shen Wei had only ever heard it aimed at criminals. "Because you did nothing to keep me at your side, away from the Hallows."
Shen Wei staggered back, but Kunlun was still holding him close.
"It was suffocating—dark—like being buried alive," Kunlun continued, his fingers digging bruises into Shen Wei's arms as Shen Wei just stared at him, horrified.
"That's why no one was your friend," Kunlun continued. "They knew they couldn't rely on you."
Shen Wei couldn't move. His eyes were burning. His heart was beating wildly in his chest. Kunlun—Kunlun wouldn't—
But he was right. Even now, other Dixingren called him a traitor. If Kunlun had been lost in time for however long—and Shen Wei hadn't even tried to look for him, had just waited and done nothing.
He let his head hang down in shame.
Kunlun pushed him away. Shen Wei wasn't prepared for it. He stumbled; his back hit the wall.
This wasn't what it was supposed to be like. This wasn't what Shen Wei imagined, in the selfish moments of weakness when he'd let himself hope Zhao Yunlan would come back to him after leaving him in the past.
Something sharp pressed against his stomach.
With a jolt, Shen Wei realised that Kunlun was holding him at a sword's point.
Kunlun didn't know how to use a sword. He'd used a gun. And he would never do this. Shen Wei knew as much, and still, he could never fight him. He just couldn't.
The blade piercing his body was agonizing. He felt blood at the back of his throat. Breathing seemed like an impossible effort. The shock of the stab wound wasn't a new experience, but that it was Kunlun holding the blade . . .
(It wasn't, it could never be, but he looked just the same and he knew things no one else would and there was no dark energy around him and Shen Wei didn't understand.)
His energy was a mess, unable to heal him even if he wanted it to.
Distantly, muffled by his heartbeat too strong in his ears, he heard the door opening. With a great effort, he made himself look.
Zhao Yunlan. Zhao Yunlan, dropping a bag of groceries to the floor. Zhao Yunlan, horrified. Zhao Yunlan—
Kunlun yanked the sword out. Shen Wei fell to his knees, coughing up blood. He watched as Kunlun turned his blade on Zhao Yunlan. How Zhao Yunlan was too slow to reach for his gun. How—
Shen Wei couldn't fight him, but more than that, he couldn't let him hurt Zhao Yunlan.
He pushed himself up. He summoned his glaive. He didn't let himself think; just thrusted it straight through Kunlun's back. Saw him fall; pale and bloody; like all of Shen Wei's nightmares brought to life.
Didn't see his features morph into someone he didn't know at all, but he didn't have to. He knew it wasn't Kunlun—and yet—
Shen Wei swayed on his feet; started falling again when Zhao Yunlan caught him and lowered him gently to the floor for all that he looked terrified. "Shen Wei?"
Shen Wei tried to smile at him, but Zhao Yunlan only turned more frantic. "Shen Wei—xiao-Wei, come on, don't do this to me, heal yourself."
Shen Wei didn't think he could.
Zhao Yunlan grabbed his hands and pressed them to the wound in his stomach, against the hot blood. "Shen Wei," he said, his voice breaking. "You have to."
Shen Wei was so very tired. The light energy inside him burnt, a counterpoint to the coldness of the blood loss. Zhao Yunlan was right next to him, and Shen Wei could only see his glaive piercing Kunlun's back.
(It wasn't him and Shen Wei should've known immediately and he couldn't—he couldn't—)
"Xiao-Wei," Zhao Yunlan said, crying now.
Shen Wei couldn't bear to see him like this.
He tried to focus. His energy was still there. He hadn't used a lot. It was just so hard to get hold of it, make it do what he wanted, while still ascertaining that enough of it was keeping the light energy contained, especially now that Zhao Yunlan was right next to him.
Finally, it flew from his fingers right back into his body. He shivered. Healing himself always hurt, and it was so much worse now when there was so much to heal and so little energy to spare. But Zhao Yunlan wanted him to do it, and so Shen Wei pressed on; continued until he couldn't do it anymore, until darkness crept into his vision and there was—
Waking up hurt, a deep ache that came with a complete energy exhaustion. Zhao Yunlan was next to him, the warmth of his body comforting and the sound of his regular breathing calming. Shen Wei relaxed fractionally. Then he remembered.
He couldn't quite suppress a full body shiver at the memory.
Next to him, Zhao Yunlan lifted himself up. "Shen Wei? How're you—"
"Fine," Shen Wei said curtly, hoping his face didn't show just how much of a lie that was.
Zhao Yunlan was okay and that was what counted.
(The blade of his glaive thrusted into Kunlun's back, the length of it vibrating with the force of the hit.)
Shen Wei only just managed to turn on his side, away from the bed and he threw up, violently sick at the memory.
For a long moment, his world was just that: the taste of bile and the horror of what had happened.
When he came to, Zhao Yunlan was rubbing soothing circles into his back, a strong arm across Shen Wei's chest stopping him from falling down the side of the bed. Shen Wei could only collapse back against him and gulp down air for a few long moments.
"Sorry," he said when he thought like he could speak. His voice was hoarse and his throat hurt. "I'll clean up."
"Yeah, no." Zhao Yunlan pushed him back down. "I'll do it. Just wait here, okay?"
Shen Wei very much did not like the idea of losing sight of Zhao Yunlan.
"I'll be right back," Zhao Yunlan said.
Right. He would. Shen Wei shouldn't be so needy. But then something weird registered, and he latched on to it to push away other thoughts. "This is my flat," he said with surprise.
"Yeah." Zhao Yunlan fidgeted next to him. "I had to call the team to—" He paused. "Take care of it," he finished, quieter.
Right. Take care of it. Of all the blood and the dead body. For a moment Shen Wei thought he'd be sick again. He was dizzy. More out of it than he'd been in centuries.
He wanted to wash his mouth. He wanted to make sure this was all real. He tried to push himself up, but Zhao Yunlan could keep him down with just one hand.
"I can't even use the bathroom?" Shen Wei asked.
"Only if you accept help walking there," Zhao Yunlan told him.
Shen Wei could walk. He was pretty sure. He wasn't physically hurt anymore, at least, so there was no reason why he couldn't. He moved to Zhao Yunlan's side of the bed, but even rolling over seemed exhausting, and when he sat up he needed to lean on Zhao Yunlan. After a moment, he got used to being in a vertical position again and slowly got to his feet, supported by Zhao Yunlan.
"I'll be okay now," he said when they walked into the bathroom.
"Call if you need me," Zhao Yunlan said and left him.
Shen Wei stomped down on the urge to call him immediately. He brushed his teeth and slowly drank a glass of water.
He avoided his reflection.
He summoned what little of his dark energy had managed to regenerate while he was unconscious. He sent it outwards, to test the edges of the world around him. It seemed real enough, but if Ye Zun (because who else would've known about Kunlun and not Zhao Yunlan?) had sent someone to pretend to be Kunlun, what else could he have done?
Shen Wei strained his senses. It did seem real.
It was real.
Zhao Yunlan was shaking him.
Shen Wei blinked at him. He must've blacked out. He didn't remember falling, but he was curled uncomfortably on the floor and his side hurt. He tasted blood in his mouth again; forced himself to swallow it down.
"I'm okay," he gasped out.
"Once you're actually okay," Zhao Yunlan said, "we're going to have a long talk. And then I'm going to present you with some dictionaries and the definitions of all right, okay, and fine."
Shen Wei looked away. Zhao Yunlan touched his cheek gently. "Can you move?"
"Yes." That much he could do, albeit with Zhao Yunlan's support again; one of his arms around Shen Wei's waist as he helped him stand.
"The sofa?" Shen Wei asked when Zhao Yunlan turned toward the bedroom. He didn't want to lie down again now.
Zhao Yunlan nodded and changed direction. He put Shen Wei on the sofa carefully, as if he were fragile.
Shen Wei didn't like to face the fact that at the moment, he rather might be.
He grabbed Zhao Yunlan's wrist when he started to move away. "Stay with me," he said.
"I just want to grab some blankets," Zhao Yunlan explained, but Shen Wei didn't let him go. He wasn't cold. He only needed Zhao Yunlan to be near him; a constant proof that he was alive.
Zhao Yunlan sat next to him, and Shen Wei couldn't help the way he immediately leant into him, like Zhao Yunlan was the Sun to Shen Wei's Earth; his pull inseparable. Zhao Yunlan didn't seem to mind, though; he embraced Shen Wei and held him tight.
"I was so scared," he whispered against Shen Wei's neck. "When I saw you . . ."
Shen Wei couldn't answer.
"I saw his face. I know he was a shapeshifter." Zhao Yunlan pulled Shen Wei even closer to himself. "Did he catch you by surprise? Is that how he managed to hurt you?"
Shen Wei shuddered. He saw Kunlun's pale, bloody face again. He couldn't—Zhao Yunlan was talking next to him, and Shen Wei couldn't let him know the truth, couldn't let him know just what had happened—he fought to keep himself under control, but he couldn't. It hadn't been Kunlun; Shen Wei should accept it and move on, but it wasn't so simple.
"Shen Wei? Fuck, I'm sorry—"
Zhao Yunlan shouldn't apologise to him, not for anything. Shen Wei tried to say as much, but the words wouldn't form; he was shaking all over, tears running down his face.
For a moment, he had believed Kunlun had returned to him. For a moment, he had believed his accusing words. For a few seconds, he had even believed it had been Kunlun, twisted by the Hallows, holding the sword against him.
He should've known the truth immediately. The fact that he'd betrayed Kunlun's memory like that was almost as bad as the visceral memory of killing someone wearing his face.
And now he was putting the burden of his emotions on Zhao Yunlan, but he couldn't stop.
And Zhao Yunlan, always too good to him, stayed with him. Held him close. His arms around Shen Wei were the only thing that kept him together even as he fell apart. He kissed his hair and whispered soothing words that Shen Wei couldn't even understand.
He kept it up until Shen Wei calmed down, and he still didn't let him go after. He was just there, quiet and loving and patient like Kunlun had been with him in the past.
How could Shen Wei ever mistake someone for him? And . . . "He kissed me," Shen Wei blurted out.
Zhao Yunlan went rigid against him.
"I wish I'd killed him myself," he growled. "I'm so sorry, xiao-Wei."
"I should've known," Shen Wei whispered, mostly to himself. He should've. He'd used to know someone who could assume someone's full form and identity, down to the memories, if he'd come in touch with that person's blood. It was centuries ago, but powers carried in the bloodline sometimes. Just because he hadn't sensed dark energy—with his own in disarray, he should've expected it. He was supposed to be a warrior and a scientist, able to think logically under pressure. He should've known.
"Shen Wei." Zhao Yunlan sounded serious. "I hate that someone used me to hurt you, but it's not your fault."
Shen Wei wanted to believe him so badly. He opened his mouth.
"Nuh-uh." Zhao Yunlan shook his head to underline his words. "No arguments, xiao-Wei."
Shen Wei closed his mouth. In the safe enclosure of Zhao Yunlan's arms, it was easy to believe him. It was easy to hope that they would be okay now. Ye Zun wouldn't try the same thing twice. He wouldn't have to, though—one day, Zhao Yunlan was going to leave through a wormhole, and Shen Wei didn't know if he'd ever get him back. He'd cherish every moment with him until then, but he was painfully aware there was a set ending for them.
But for now, Zhao Yunlan was here. He wasn't going anywhere, not yet. They had this, a stolen moment of time, an indulgence Shen Wei wouldn't normally allow himself, but which seemed necessary to survive, now.
Leaning against Zhao Yunlan's chest like he was, Shen Wei could hear his steady heartbeat. He focused on it and slowly, so very slowly, finally calmed down.