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Impermanence

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In his defense, there actually is a suspect.  Probably. They suspect there’s a suspect, is what it is, someone who may or may not be responsible for electrical surges and mysteriously bright lights and also scattered reports of temporary blindness on the campus of Dragon City University.

It doesn’t really sound like Dixing influence, when it comes right down to it.  But no one called the SID, so Zhao Yunlan doesn’t have to explain to the bureau what wasting his time means.  He does have to investigate, because if there’s a chance “temporary blindness” is more than just “people stupidly staring at faulty lighting,” well.  Maybe that hits a little too close to home.

The entire Special Investigations Department is well aware he can waste their time just fine.  He doesn’t need an actual case for that.

When the door to Shen Wei’s office opens, Zhao Yunlan doesn’t turn around.  He just takes the lollipop out of his mouth and waves it over his head in a sloppy, absent greeting that may or may not make Shen Wei smile.  

He’s betting it does, but only because he isn’t looking.

“What are you wearing?”  Shen Wei’s voice precedes the sound of the door clicking shut, because he has a fundamental inability to comprehend gossip, and maybe also because Zhao Yunlan is just that good at distracting people.

Zhao Yunlan throws one leg over the arm of the chair and tips his head back so he can tilt his entire body toward Shen Wei.  The cheap black robe draped over his frame should ruin the effect, but judging by Shen Wei’s non-expression, it definitely doesn’t.  Zhao Yunlan holds his hands out to the sides, candy in one and paper crown hanging off the other, and he beams.

“You like it?” he says.  “Look at me--I’m you!”

Shen Wei does like it, which is interesting all on its own, but the way he looks at his desk before setting his briefcase down is practically a laugh and an eyeroll from anyone else.  He also doesn’t walk around the desk to his own chair, so Zhao Yunlan carefully puts the lollipop back in his mouth and watches. It’s nice to catch him by surprise without instantly making him defensive for once.

“I assume you didn’t come here to roleplay,” Shen Wei says, and that makes Zhao Yunlan laugh out loud.

“No,” he agrees, swinging his feet down and using the lollipop to point at Shen Wei.  “But if I’d known that was an option, you’d be seeing a lot more of me!”

He gets up, leaning into Shen Wei’s space to grin at him, and Shen Wei doesn’t move.  “I don’t think that’s physically possible,” he says calmly. “But I certainly invite you to try.”

“That’s right,” Zhao Yunlan replies.  “That’s the correct answer! So. Come downstairs with me and we can have a working date.  It’s not as good as a real date, but it’s better than working, am I right?”

Shen Wei’s gaze drops to his mouth, then back to his eyes, and he doesn’t look away.  “What are we working on?” he asks.

Does he really like the robe, Zhao Yunlan wonders?  Or is he this relaxed for some other reason?

“Just looking for someone who can make people blind,” he says easily.

Just like that, Shen Wei is staring right through him, concern pouring off of him in waves.  

Zhao Yunlan sighs and rocks back, appealing to the ceiling with his eyes.  “What,” he complains. “It’s personal, okay.” He mutinously puts the lollipop back in his mouth, unwilling to say anything else if Shen Wei doesn’t even ask.

“You think someone from Dixing is responsible for the increase in reported vision problems on campus,” Shen Wei says.

Zhao Yunlan holds up his free hand, but his mouth is still full so he takes the lollipop out and holds that instead.  “No,” he says, and the sudden honesty surprises him. He didn’t mean to say that. Because if he doesn’t think that, why is here?

“Well,” he adds, eyeing Shen Wei sideways.  “Maybe?”

Shen Wei just looks at him.

“Okay, probably not,” Zhao Yunlan says, because he can bluff his way out of this.  “But maybe! There definitely might be someone from Dixing on campus. We should take a look around, see what we can turn up.”

“Of course there’s someone from Dixing on campus.”  Shen Wei hasn’t moved, and there’s no question that Zhao Yunlan is going to win this one.  “I’m standing right here.”

Zhao Yunlan raises his eyebrows, because that… that sounded like an invitation.  “Was that an invitation?” he blurts out, and wow, he is really not doing great with thoughtful conversation today.  “Because it sounded like an invitation.”

“It's a factual statement,” Shen Wei tells him, which means yes, it was an invitation.

“You never want to fool around in your office.”  Zhao Yunlan narrows his eyes at him. “Is it the robe?  It's the robe, isn't it. You like me in--” He didn’t know what he was going to say when he started the sentence, but it comes to him as he remembers the court.  “Long flowy things.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Shen Wei says, but his expression is soft and they’re definitely talking too much.

Zhao Yunlan tosses the paper crown on the desk and puts his hand on Shen Wei’s arm.  It’s a habit, touching first, holding him in place: Shen Wei comes and goes like the fucking wind, but he feels solid and real and he kisses like it’s the most important thing he’ll ever do.  

To be fair, he does everything like it’s the most important thing he’ll ever do.  Zhao Yunlan had no idea how sexy earnestness could be until he met Shen Wei.

He feels Shen Wei’s hand on his chest, fingers curling in his robe, and he smiles against that mouth.  “I knew it,” he murmurs. He puts his hand over the one between them, a fistful of cloth and a strength he’ll never match holding them together.  

“Old-fashioned,” he adds, only half joking.

He feels Shen Wei’s amusement breathe against his skin, cool and inhuman and better than smoking.  He’d never have needed candy if he’d known Shen Wei when he quit. Hell, he wouldn’t have needed cigarettes.

“Why,” Shen Wei says softly.  The hand gripping his robe tugs enough to make his point, but his mouth still finds Zhao Yunlan’s jaw and then his neck when he tips his head back.  He ignores “old-fashioned” entirely.

“Costume party,” Zhao Yunlan whispers.  He’s staring at the ceiling and he can’t see anything except dark glitter and a blue glow around the edges of his vision.  “I’m death.”

He should have thought that one through, because Shen Wei immediately pulls back.  “What?” His voice isn’t sharp, but it’s careful.

Zhao Yunlan smiles: mockingly, and only at himself.  Maybe he isn’t the most distracting person in this relationship after all.  He knew better than to say something like that, but a few kisses and apparently his brain just shuts off.

“Well,” he says, patting the hand that still hasn’t released him.  “There are only so many reasons to wear a long black cloak these days.  I was going to pretend I’m a Dixing ambassador, but that was already taken.  So I went with something more traditional.”

“You associate my robes with death?” Shen Wei asks.  It’s frustratingly hard to tell if he’s hurt, confused, or academically interested, so Zhao Yunlan does what he always does.  He guesses.

“I associate your exceptionally dramatic and impressive attire with you,” he says.  “And therefore justice. I associate me with death.”

Shen Wei doesn’t look any more or less appeased, but he’s still staring, so he must not think he’s figured it out yet.  Which is good, since Shen Wei “figuring things out” usually means Zhao Yunlan has to unconvince him of whatever he’s convinced himself of this time.

“Why?” he says again.

“Because we hold the line,” Zhao Yunlan says.  “People die if I fail. You don't.”

“Die?” Shen Wei asks, a faint line creasing his forehead, and Zhao Yunlan smiles because of course that's where his mind goes.

“Fail,” he says.

Predictably, this makes Shen Wei look away, fingers releasing his robe abruptly, but Zhao Yunlan doesn't let him go.  “Yeah, I know,” he says. “You're allowed to say I walk on water, which is true by the way, but I can't give you the smallest compliment?  Why is that?”

“To say someone doesn't fail is hardly a small thing.”  Shen Wei’s gaze is fixed on the floor, but he hasn't pulled his hand away.  “In my case, it's demonstrably untrue.”

“Hey, no one says shit like that because it's true,” Zhao Yunlan tells him.

Shen Wei lifts his head in surprise, and that’s better.  Anything is better than desolation. He looks less like his secrets are trying to drown him, at least.

“They say it because they believe it,” Zhao Yunlan tells him.  “And sometimes because they’re trying to suck up, but I obviously don’t need to, so just accept that I believe it and let’s move on.”

Shen Wei gives him a very skeptical look, as evidenced by the slight quirk of his eyebrow: like he knows he’s being tricked but he’s too polite to call it out.  “Why would you believe something that isn’t true?”

“Exactly.”  Zhao Yunlan lets go of his hand long enough to point at him, then catches it again as Shen Wei lets it fall and squeezes gently.  “Come with me to the party. It’ll be fun.”

Something about it--hand holding, insistence, lack of logic--makes Shen Wei smile, just a little, but any concession is a victory.  “I’m not going anywhere with you masquerading as death,” he says. Not like he means it.

“Oh?”  Zhao Yunlan grins at him.  “Why, are you afraid people will think you’re a ghost?  Don’t worry; I’ve got the perfect solution.”

He has to let go to grab the paper crown he tossed carelessly on the desk, but it’s worth it when Shen Wei doesn’t stop him from dropping it on his head.  “There,” Zhao Yunlan says, pleased. “Your very own crown.” Inspiration strikes, and he adds, “You can be the ghost king!”

Of all things, this stops Shen Wei cold.  Or, well, colder than usual. Zhao Yunlan can feel the Envoy’s energy gathering around him, invisible mask like a shadow over his face, and his voice is exceedingly dangerous.  “What did you say?”

Zhao Yunlan courts danger.  He loves the Black Cloaked Envoy like he loves life and lightning and Shen Wei.  “Little Ghost King?” he teases, because he’s startled Shen Wei like this before. He still doesn’t know why seemingly normal words stop him in his tracks.

He does know there’s no going back once it’s done, so he forges ahead.  “Come on,” he says. “I’ll be your gatekeeper! Your courtesan? Your consort, then.”

The air is still cold, and the sense of electricity lingers on his skin.  But Shen Wei doesn’t have a weapon when he says, “You go too far.”

Not that he needs one.  A flick of his wrist and Zhao Yunlan would be against the wall.  Or through it and into the next one.

“In reality,” Zhao Yunlan says, grinning at him, “I think I don’t go far enough.”

The electricity tingles into nothing when that familiar dark expression turns fond and exasperated with a slight curve of his lips.  “Unthinkable,” Shen Wei says.

“Your Excellence,” Zhao Yunlan says with the hint of a bow.  “Your Majesty? Your Highness the Great Scholar of Haixing?”

“That's not how you address royalty,” Shen Wei tells him.

Zhao Yunlan laughs.  “Oh, have personal experience with that, do you?”

“Yes,” Shen Wei says, like it's an actual question, like Zhao Yunlan could somehow not know.

“Good,” Zhao Yunlan tells him.  “Keep the crown, Little Ghost King.  Let's go mingle with your court.”

“Don't call me that,” Shen Wei says.  There’s something odd in his eyes that makes Zhao Yunlan want to wrap him in his arms and keep everyone else away.  But what doesn’t, these days. “I'm serious.”

“Serious?” Zhao Yunlan repeats.  “Ah, well, that's a new look for you.  I wouldn't have recognized it! You don't even need a costume if you're going to be serious, Xiao Wei.”

“Don't call me that either,” Shen Wei says, but he's definitely hiding a smile this time and the air is warm and kind.  “Not here. I have students.”

“I'm not sure you've followed this request to its logical conclusion, Professor Shen.”  Zhao Yunlan wonders if he’s fast enough to get a picture before Shen Wei takes off the crown.  “You want me to spend the evening thinking of new and outrageous names you haven't ruled out? Because I'm telling you right now, you'll never get all of them.”

Shen Wei lowers his gaze, but it's only a futile attempt to hide his widening smile.  “No,” he tells the floor, and then he gives up and glances over Zhao Yunlan’s shoulder before catching his eye again.  “I'm sure I won't.”

It's now or never.  Zhao Yunlan takes out his phone and holds it up, flipping to the camera and beaming at the image on the screen.  “Smile,” he says unnecessarily. Shen Wei’s hand doesn't get halfway to the crown before he takes three pictures and sends one to himself, just in case something tragic is about to happen to his phone.

“I have no need of a crown,” Shen Wei says, removing it as gently as if it were made of flowers.  And oh, there's probably a filter for that. Zhao Yunlan is going to edit that picture so many different ways.

“What about my lab coat,” Shen Wei is saying.  “Will that suffice?”

“It's not a costume if you wear it everyday,” Zhao Yunlan tells his phone.  There are filters for flower crowns, fairy lights, and dancing stars. He applies all of them and grins at the result.

Shen Wei’s silence finally registers and he looks up to find him holding the lab coat in one hand, arm extended as he offers it to Zhao Yunlan.  It takes another few seconds for the meaning to sink in. “What,” Zhao Yunlan says. “Me?”

Then he gets it, and he plucks the coat from Shen Wei’s hand before he can change his mind.  “Your Honor,” he says, with a grin that is very close to being a laugh, “I would be honored to swap costumes with you.”

He makes sure to put the lab coat down behind him while he shimmies out of the black robe, because he doesn't want Shen Wei getting any ideas.  Lollipop safely back in his mouth, he shakes the robe out and hands it over, delighted to see Shen Wei’s small smile when he touches it. Zhao Yunlan reaches back for the coat with one hand and shrugs into it without looking away from that expression.

Shen Wei watches him in return, inscrutable now, and when he's done he says, “I suppose, if one were to follow the death analogy… we might be the black and white guards.”

Zhao Yunlan skips over the stretch without a thought, going right for the meaning everyone else will hear in a comment like that.  “Careful, darling Wei. That's a couples’ costume.”

Shen Wei looks down, making his hands busy with Zhao Yunlan’s robe.  “Of course,” he says. “I didn't mean to suggest anything improper.”

“Shame,” Zhao Yunlan says, crunching down on the remains of his lollipop as he watches.  “I'm already writing a caption for the society pages.”

Shen Wei stops with the black fabric halfway over his shoulders, catching Zhao Yunlan's gaze with wide, unguarded eyes. There it is, Zhao Yunlan thinks, because he's incapable of returning that look with anything but a helpless smile.  That's what gives them away: everything. Including the way they look at each other.

It's not like couple's costumes are going to surprise anyone at this point.

“If you,” Shen Wei begins.  “That is… I wouldn't object.  Obviously, but if--you might prefer a more discreet--”

Zhao Yunlan laughs, and that expression is earnest and hopeful and undimmed by anything he could honestly reply.  “Discretion and I have no relationship,” he says, reaching out to settle the black fabric and run his fingers over Shen Wei’s face in passing.  “You and I, on the other hand. I will shout your name from the rooftops if you let me.”

Shen Wei’s disbelieving huff is happy and as much of a laugh as anything Zhao Yunlan could manage.  “Surely there are more efficient methods,” he says.

“Surely,” Zhao Yunlan repeats.  He glances down at the lab coat he’s wearing and catches one side, holding up the pocket with Shen Wei’s name embroidered on it.  “This is a good start.”

The oversize robe looks more adorable on Shen Wei when he smiles, like the legendary Envoy just declared a pajama day.  Zhao Yunlan is going to make sure there are so many pictures of this night.