The happy tumult of the wedding is done - a day of Shen Wei’s hand clasped tight in Zhao Yunlan’s and the grinning faces of their friends surrounding them and the pop of firecrackers and the toasting. (Zhao Yunlan toasts with water just like Shen Wei because, "Gotta drive my hubby safely to our honeymoon!" and Shen Wei hears him say husband and smiles until his cheeks hurt, unable to stop smiling.) Then everyone floods outside to see them off, hands waving wildly as the jeep drives away. In the mirror Shen Wei sees Da Qing laughing and making an enthusiastic and presumably rude arm gesture and Zhu Hong swatting him around the head.
After all that it's just the two of them, the jeep purring as Zhao Yunlan accelerates down the quiet highway. From the position of the sun, Shen Wei sees they’re heading south.
Zhao Yunlan is exhilarated, bubbling with energy, almost bouncing in the driving seat. It makes Shen Wei think of a morning when Zhao Yunlan had been equally exuberant, teasing him and singing at the wheel. It feels like long ago and his heart clenches at the thought of how much they've come through together since then. He realises he's lost the thread of Zhao Yunlan's words.
"...speech was so good! You'd never believe he only spoke Hanga a year ago. And Sha Ya and Hua Yuzhu looked so happy, we need to remember to write and thank Hua-jie for the flowers, they were beautiful - don't you think they were beautiful?"
He shoots a glance at Shen Wei when he doesn't respond straight away. "I'm talking too much, I know I'm talking too much. I'm just happy I guess, I can't believe…"
"I love you," Shen Wei says softly.
There's a screech of tires and the jeep swerves to a halt at the side of the highway.
"Is something wrong?" His words are cut off as Zhao Yunlan releases his seatbelt and tugs Shen Wei forward into a possessive kiss. Shen Wei luxuriates in Zhao Yunlan's warm lips against his, the slight rasp of his beard, his hand squeezing his thigh.
Zhao Yunlan pulls back, smiling. "Sorry. Couldn't help myself."
He doesn’t look apologetic, but Shen Wei grabs his hand and presses his lips to it. "Yunlan. Never apologise for kissing me."
Zhao Yunlan kisses his ear sloppily, making Shen Wei laugh into his palm. "Anything you say, baobei."
They drive on and Shen Wei relaxes into the passenger seat, a happy lassitude spreading through him. Zhao Yunlan is quieter now but he sneaks a glance at Shen Wei every so often, eyes crinkling as he smiles, and it makes Shen Wei smile back every time.
Shen Wei doesn't know where they're going - Zhao Yunlan has planned it all. Zhao Yunlan had asked him if there was anywhere he'd like to travel to after the wedding and Shen Wei hadn't known what to say. For him, just being alive under Haixing's sun and knowing himself held in Zhao Yunlan's heart was enough. But then Zhao Yunlan whispered in his ear about how nice it would be to spend some time alone, just the two of them, while his body pressed warm against Shen Wei’s side and his fingers traced shivery-hot patterns on his naked thigh, and Shen Wei had started to come around to his way of thinking. He'd told Zhao Yunlan their destination could be a surprise, though, and at Zhao Yunlan's bright grin he knew he'd said the right thing.
After a couple of hours of driving, the jeep emerges from a wide green belt of trees and the road sweeps around a wide bend. Shen Wei forgets to breathe as he sees something he's never seen before. The ocean.
"Yunlan!" His voice is hoarse. "Stop, please?"
Zhao Yunlan parks on a promontory and Shen Wei jumps out even before the jeep has stopped moving. He looks down at the blue immensity below and draws the faint salt tang into his lungs. The full heat of summer is past and he basks in the gentle warmth of the sun on his face. An arm snakes around his waist.
"How did you know?"
"That you hadn't been to the coast before?" Zhao Yunlan kisses his cheek. "I never reveal my sources."
Shen Wei knows about oceans of course - he's a scientist. He knows about tidal currents and coastal erosion and water salinity. But he's never allowed himself the luxury of a visit - there have always been so many other things that need his attention.
He stands transfixed at the view below, the ocean breeze wafting his hair. Zhao Yunlan's voice is warm when he asks, "Would you like to see it a bit closer?"
They drop their things at the villa Zhao Yunlan has rented and head straight out into the warm evening light for dinner. The flavour of the fish they eat at a beach-front restaurant bursts on Shen Wei's tongue and he holds hands with Zhao Yunlan over the table and drinks cool, sweet loquat juice and he still can't stop smiling.
They walk out of the restaurant and Zhao Yunlan pauses. "What now?"
His voice is teasing and he's beautifully promising with his white dress shirt tucked in at his lean hips and his red bow tie now loose and dangling and Shen Wei very much wants to pin him down on the comfortable-looking bed at their villa and enjoy all of him, and yet… And yet, there's a whole beach in front of them waiting to be explored and white birds are crying overhead and Shen Wei finds himself reluctant to be inside just yet. "Can we go for a walk?"
Zhao Yunlan chuckles fondly. "Let's go."
Shen Wei wobbles a little as they drop from the promenade down onto the sand - he hadn't expected it to be so giving under his feet. Zhao Yunlan tugs at his hand. "Down here, it's easier to walk."
Nearer the sea the sand is firmer and they leave footprints side by side. The beach is quiet - only a few families out enjoying the last of the sun. A small girl chases her little brother with a crab, squealing with delight, and their father calls them back up the beach, laughing.
Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan walk on together. After a while they leave the beach cafes and the sun loungers and the last few people behind and it's just them, walking hand in hand under the falling sun. Shen Wei's heart is so full he can't speak. Even if he lives for another ten thousand years he knows this moment will forever be emblazoned in his memory.
Then a wave splashes at his ankles, wetting his trouser cuffs and he jumps in a way unbefitting Dixing's Envoy. Zhao Yunlan giggles. "Waves are sneaky like that." He waves one hand towards a pile of rocks higher up the beach. "How about we go sit up there?"
They sink down together at the base of a boulder. Shen Wei digs his fingers into the white sand, fascinated by its graininess under his fingernails. The breeze is cooler now the sun is dropping and Zhao Yunlan shivers a little. Shen Wei loops an arm over his shoulders and Zhao Yunlan makes a happy little murmuring sound and melts into his side.
"Do you remember…?" he begins, and Shen Wei knows exactly what he's thinking. A world and an age away they'd sat like this - he and Kunlun sharing warmth on a cold night in the mountains. Kunlun had turned his face up to Shen Wei’s with his eyes bright and kind and Shen Wei had dared to kiss him because how could he not?
They've kissed scores of times since then and each time is as sweet to Shen Wei as the first. He ducks his head and finds Zhao Yunlan's mouth eager and warm. Shen Wei sinks into the kiss, happy heat pooling in his belly.
Zhao Yunlan's lips linger at the corner of his mouth as he whispers, "My beloved" against his skin. Shen Wei winds his other arm around him, holding him tight. They sit, wrapped around each other, as the shadows lengthen. Zhao Yunlan rests his head on Shen Wei's shoulder and nuzzles at his throat. "What are you thinking?"
Any attempt Shen Wei could ever make at eloquence is always stolen from him by Zhao Yunlan's hands and mouth and warm heart. "I...I'm happy."
"Yeah." Zhao Yunlan's voice is thick. "Me too."
Shen Wei breathes in the clean scent of his husband's hair, treasuring his presence in his arms. The subdued blaze of the sun touches the sea, marking a trail across the waves, wedding-red; a path for them to follow into the future together.