Shen Wei stumbled slightly and Zhao Yunlan had to fight not to grip his arm tighter, not to put an arm around him and take his weight, because he knew that would earn him a glare and a twitch away.
Not one of the fond glares that made his heart stutter and his chest tighten. No, it would be one of Shen Wei’s genuinely annoyed glares and that was something he preferred to avoid, thank you very much. Throughout the slow, careful journey from the SID building to the hallway leading to their apartments, Shen Wei had maintained his pride and dignity no matter how close to a shuffle his walk became.
Zhao Yunlan understood. It wasn’t the way he would have done this, but the world would be boring if everyone did things the same way.
That wasn’t going to stop him trying to take care of Shen Wei, of course. The man could barely put one foot in front of the other. His lips were bloodless. Zhao Yunlan wasn’t leaving him alone until he was sure Shen Wei would actually rest.
“Not much further,” he said. “You must be looking forward to some sleep.”
“I don’t sleep much,” Shen Wei said. “I’ll be fine if I can just rest a little.”
Zhao Yunlan snorted and shot him an incredulous look. “I don’t know what you usually tell yourself, but you definitely need a bed and at least two days of sleep.”
“A few hours of rest. I’ve got a lot of work to catch up on.”
“Your idea of rest is sitting at your desk with a stack of lecture notes?” Shen Wei opened his mouth but Zhao Yunlan talked straight over him. “I was going to leave you at your door, but now I’m going in to make sure you don’t do that.”
He’d never been going to leave Shen Wei at the door, but it was a good pretence.
“Zhao Yunlan, I can—“
“You can rest in bed. Rest works better if you’re horizontal.” Zhao Yunlan felt his face heat but he covered it with a grin and smirk. “Trust me, I’m an expert.”
Shen Wei looked like he wanted to say something, probably something unflattering about Zhao Yunlan’s bad habits, but his lips went tight and he didn’t. If Zhao Yunlan needed any more evidence that Shen Wei needed rest and care, that was the final proof.
He steered them towards Shen Wei’s door and was grateful that there was no protest.
“Can I have your key?”
Shen Wei finally sent him one of those fondly exasperated looks he’d missed. “I can open my own door.”
Except his hands were shaking and he couldn’t, so Zhao Yunlan propped him against the wall and opened the door, poking his head through to make sure nobody there hadn't been a repeat of Sha Ya's destruction while they were away. Nope, perfectly clean and tidy. Zhao Yunlan forced away the twinge of disappointment that he didn’t have an excuse to insist Shen Wei rested in his apartment instead.
“Come on, almost there,” he said, as he took Shen Wei’s arm and pretended not to notice how heavily Shen Wei leaned on him. Their pace was slow but they finally reached the bedroom, and Zhao Yunlan breathed a sigh of relief to see the bed was made up. He’d been half-worried that it would be a bare mattress.
The only time he’d been in Shen Wei’s bedroom, he’d been too worried about being caught spying to notice any details, and wasn’t that a shame?
Three steps to the bed took six, but they got there and somehow he got Shen Wei turned around and then Shen Wei just...sank.
It was like watching a puppet’s strings cut. Thankfully the bed was behind him to catch him. Somehow, Shen Wei managed to stay sitting upright, but Zhao Yunlan was willing to bet that it was taking as much effort to manage that as most of the previous journey.
Shen Wei’s face was grey with exhaustion now and there were faint lines around his eyes and mouth that hadn’t been there a few days ago.
Zhao Yunlan knelt and began untying his laces.
Shen Wei frowned at him. “I can do that.”
“Without falling on your face as soon as you lean over?” Zhao Yunlan forced himself to laugh. “I’d like to see you try.”
And of course Shen Wei started to lean forward, because he was a stubborn ass, but Zhao Yunlan caught him before he fell, pushed him upright again, and went back to untying the laces without saying a word.
“Tea,” Shen Wei said quietly.
Zhao Yunlan finished easing off his second shoe—this wasn’t the time to think about Shen Wei’s ankles or how much he wanted to slide his hands upwards, except it always was—and tilted his head. “Tea?”
“It can be soothing.”
It was the closest Shen Wei would ever get to asking for help. Zhao Yunlan was tempted for a moment to play clueless and force him to ask. Except it would be cruel and although he had many faults, deliberate cruelty wasn’t one of them. He smiled and patted Shen Wei’s knee. “I’ll make you some tea.”
The smile he received made his insides do a slow somersault and he felt almost as wobbly as Shen Wei for a moment.
“Do you promise not to fall over or do anything else foolish if I leave you alone for a few minutes?” he said.
Somehow Shen Wei managed to roll his eyes without moving them, a rare gift, but his expression was fond. “I promise. I’ll be right here.”
That was enough, and Zhao Yunlan went to make tea. By the time he’d finished and everything was neatly on a tray, Shen Wei had somehow managed to change into pyjamas and get into bed without ending up sprawled on his face. Crumpled clothes on the floor were testimony to his exhaustion, though, and Zhao Yunlan set about folding and hanging them while Shen Wei drank his tea.
If Da Qing could see him tidying up, the damn cat would laugh himself sick. Zhao Yunlan vowed to make sure he never found out.
When Shen Wei finished his tea, Zhao Yunlan took the tray back to the kitchen so the untidiness of seeing dirty dishes wouldn’t distress him, but he didn’t wash up. He could do it tomorrow, and he needed to make sure Shen Wei actually slept.
Shen Wei had taken his glasses off when Zhao Yunlan returned. He looked pale and tired, and heartbreakingly vulnerable in a way that Zhao Yunlan wasn’t used to. The glasses were part of his armour, just as much as his suits or his Black Robed Envoy mask and robes, and without them he was too exposed tonight, almost fragile.
Zhao Yunlan swallowed uncomfortably and felt his face warm when Shen Wei smiled at him. Nobody should look that beautiful when they were exhausted to the point of having white lips and moving like an old man.
“Thank you,” Shen Wei said.
“It’s just tea,” Zhao Yunlan said, forcing himself to sound bright and care-free.
Shen Wei nodded his understanding and shifted in the bed until he was lying flat, staring up at the ceiling. “You should get some rest yourself.”
“Not until I’m sure you’re sleeping.”
“I’m serious. You need it more than me.”
“I’m feeling better already.”
It was a blatant lie. Zhao Yunlan shook his head and carefully sat down on the edge of the bed. Everything always felt better and sleep came easier when Shen Wei did this for him. Hopefully it would work in reverse.
Shen Wei blinked but stayed silent for a long time, staring up at the ceiling.
Zhao Yunlan leaned forward and narrowed his eyes. “You’re not sleeping.”
Shen Wei’s eyes started to slide closed, but he opened them wide. He was fighting sleep even though it was clearly calling him.
“Sleep,” Zhao Yunlan said. “That’s an order.”
“You have no authority over me.”
“Then, please sleep.” He tried to flutter his eyelashes. “For me.”
A faint chuckle made him grin with triumph, but Shen Wei still showed no sign of letting his eyes close.
“You asked me to guard your sleep,” Shen Wei said.
“And you’re going to stay awake so I can get a peaceful sleep? That’s not how this works. I’ll be fine.” Shen Wei shot him a sharp look and Zhao Yunlan shrugged. “I’m not sleeping until you do. Seems like we’re at an impasse here.”
“You could sleep here.” Shen Wei’s gaze was fixed on the ceiling. “Nobody will dare to invade your dreams in my home." A moment's pause. "In my bed.”
Despite his pallor, there was a hint of pink at the tips of Shen Wei's ears and it was a sign of how exhausted Zhao Yunlan was that he filed that away for later rather than chasing it.
He eyed the bed. It was wider than he’d expected. Wide enough for two with ease and he was very tired. So tired that the thought of sharing a bed with Shen Wei didn’t even make his heart beat faster for once.
“I can turn into an octopus in bed,” he said, but he was already reaching down to unlace his boots. “Are you sure?”
A faint smile curved Shen Wei’s pale lips. “I'm sure you’ll be fine. There are spare pyjamas in the drawer.”
He changed in the bathroom, because that seemed like the polite thing to do. Shen Wei was still staring at the ceiling when he padded back into the room in his own t-shirt and a borrowed pair of loose cotton pyjama pants. There was a faint line between Shen Wei’s eyebrows, as if he was frowning with the effort of staying awake, and Zhao Yunlan didn’t hesitate before sliding into the other side of the bed.
They were silent for a while.
Shen Wei’s soft “Thank you” sounded drowsy and relieved, and Zhao Yunlan smiled to himself. He ordered his arms and legs to stay where they were, no octopuses, and drifted into sleep.
It turned out that Zhao Yunlan was not the octopus in the bed.
He woke up in a dark room that could have been two hours later or twelve, with Shen Wei’s leg thrown over his thighs, Shen Wei’s arm wrapped around his waist, and Shen Wei’s head tucked against his neck so that warm air drifted over his collar bone with every breath. He thought about moving, but he suspected Shen Wei wouldn’t let go easily. That was fine by him.
He put his hand over Shen Wei’s where it rested just above his hip and fell asleep again.
Daylight came and Shen Wei was still octopused around him, now plastered against his back, and the cold nose against the nape of Zhao Yunlan’s neck provided an interesting contrast to the warm breath skating across the top of his spine.
Leaving the lovely comfortable bed and its occupant sounded like a terrible idea, but Zhao Yunlan’s bladder insisted. It was easier said than done, though, because Shen Wei was determined not to let go, and every time he thought he’d moved an arm or a leg, Shen Wei reached out and fastened on again. He even made soft protesting sounds that did things to Zhao Yunlan’s gut that he couldn’t think about with such a full bladder.
Zhao Yunlan ended up wriggling and half-rolling out of the bed and almost running to the bathroom.
He picked up a bottle of water on his way back to the bedroom and spent a long moment leaning on the doorframe, contemplating the bed and having an internal debate with himself.
If he were a respectable man, he’d gather up his things, walk over to his own apartment and sprawl out on his own couch until he had to go back to the SIU.
Shen Wei had an arm flung across the bed as if he was searching for something, frowning in his sleep. Throwing caution to the wind, Zhao Yunlan set the water down and slid under the covers, grinning as Shen Wei immediately stretched out, grabbed his arm and tried to pull him closer. A moment later, Shen Wei was tight against his side again, one leg draped over his, and this was something he’d only allowed to himself to dream very rarely. Zhao Yunlan was not a respectable sort of man.
At least the Dixingren's powers hadn't touched those dreams.
This time, he didn’t sleep. He couldn’t. He was aware of every breath Shen Wei took, every place they touched, and he was wide awake in the best way possible. Worst way, too, but as long as Shen Wei was asleep that didn’t matter. He rubbed a hand slowly, soothingly, up and down Shen Wei’s arm.
Time passed, and Zhao Yunlan slowly became aware that Shen Wei’s breathing had changed. Might have changed a while ago, but he hadn’t been paying attention.
He lifted his head to peer down at Shen Wei’s hair.
Shen Wei didn’t move.
“Hello,” he said. “Feeling better?”
There was a pause and Shen Wei’s head rose. The tips of his ears were pink and he didn’t meet Zhao Yunlan’s eyes. He seemed to be staring at his chin. “Ah.”
“I slept.” Shen Wei nodded, eyes still focused on Zhao Yunlan’s chin.
No, not his chin. Maybe an inch above. His eyes flickered up to meet Zhao Yunlan’s for a fraction of a moment before dropping again.
Zhao Yunlan’s heart sped up. Shen Wei was staring at his lips and okay, that happened a lot and he could usually pretend it wasn’t intentional, but there was a look in Shen Wei’s eyes that was unmistakable.
His throat was dry and his pulse was hammering in his ears. He could ignore the moment, pretend he hadn’t noticed anything and didn’t want anything, and Shen Wei would let him. They'd done it before, so many times.
It felt like jumping into an abyss. Like leaping towards starlight with nothing to catch him if he missed.
Zhao Yulan stretched up and brushed his lips across Shen Wei’s.
There was a moment of stillness. He’d barely pulled more than an inch back. He could see every tiny change in Shen Wei’s eyes, every flicker of his eyelashes and the way his pupils dilated fractionally as he focused intently on Zhao Yunlan’s gaze.
They hung there, suspended in a world too fragile for Zhao Yunlan to do anything except wait, afraid that if he moved or blinked or laughed it would all fall apart.
And then Shen Wei kissed him and, damn, it was not a cautious thing at all. It was heat and need, perfect in its intensity, and Zhao Yunlan closed his eyes and tried not to burn up. Shen Wei pressed him back into the bed, kissed him as if he’d been waiting for it forever. When he slid a hand under Shen Wei’s shirt, the sound Shen Wei made at the back of his throat was intoxicating.
He wanted everything at once, Shen Wei’s mouth and hands and warm skin, and somehow he knew that this was it. Nothing else—no one else—would ever compare to the feeling of kissing Shen Wei until they were both gasping for breath and a heartbeat away from more.
Shen Wei’s gaze was unfocused when he pulled back for air, and Zhao Yunlan couldn’t have stopped himself grinning if he’d tried.
“A great idea,” Zhao Yunlan said.
“It’s too soo—“
“Good to turn back.”
Shen Wei’s fond-slash-exasperated look sent heat curling low in Zhao Yunlan’s gut. The look slowly melted into a smile, warm and lovely. Zhao Yunlan knew he’d won, although he wasn’t entirely sure what he’d won or why he’d needed to win something.
“One day, you’ll understand why this is much too soon,” Shen Wei said, but there was no determination in his voice.
Zhao Yunlan weighed up the words, though. Shen Wei’s lips were still too pale even though they’d been thoroughly kissed, and he looked tired in a way that sleep alone probably couldn’t fix.
“Maybe,” he said, trying to sound sensible and mature. “You should probably sleep some more. Recover. This can wait.”
“That’s not what I—“ Shen Wei cut himself off and this time he seemed to make a decision. Or perhaps he finally became comfortable with a decision he’d made when he kissed Zhao Yunlan back. “I don’t want to wait any more.”
This time when they kissed, the heat and need was still there, but Zhao Yunlan could sense a purpose and impatience that he was definitely on board with. He’d be on board with anything Shen Wei wanted, if he was honest with himself.
He could have stayed there forever, but Zhao Yunlan was a man with duties and commitments, and he was in love with a man who regarded those as a sacred purpose in life. Any other lover might have tried to talk him into staying just a few minutes longer, but Shen Wei wouldn’t, and that was why Zhao Yunlan got out of bed a couple of hours later and got dressed without complaining about his difficult life more than a dozen times.
Shen Wei followed him into the living area looking rumpled and tired, but a healthier kind of tired than he had been a day ago. Somehow his pyjamas looked as neat as his suits usually did, but he hadn’t put his glasses on and there was the faint pinkness of a bite peeking out from under his collar, already mostly faded.
“That’s a good look on you,” Zhao Yunlan said, grinning wide and happy.
Shen Wei’s ears went pink and his smile was oddly shy, but his eyes sparkled. “I’ll keep that in mind, but I think my students will appreciate me better fully dressed.”
“I really doubt that.” Zhao Yunlan had met Shen Wei’s students. “You’ll rest some more, though, right?”
“I will try,” Shen Wei said. It wasn’t a promise, but maybe it was an intention.
“Thank you,” Zhao Yunlan said.
Zhao Yunlan shrugged. “A lot of things.”
Somehow, Shen Wei seemed to understand all the things he hadn’t worked out how to say yet, understand and appreciate. Shen Wei’s kiss was firm and sweet at the same time, and Zhao Yunlan was smiling as he set off to find out how much trouble his people had found while he was distracted.