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Soaring birds come home together

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Winter is turning into spring, and there's a low moon shining faintly through the branches overhead as Zhao Yunlan follows the flower tribe guide along the dark forest track, with Shen Wei and the rest of SID close behind him. As they get deeper into the woods it gets darker still and the feeble light of Zhao Yunlan's phone torch is no help at all. He stumbles over a rock and his feet go out from under him, but Shen Wei's strong hand catches his elbow, holding him up until he gets his balance again.

Somewhere behind him he can hear Lin Jing, the man least likely to appreciate having to be away from his electronic devices on a cool spring night, grouching, and Chu Shuzhi telling him firmly to pipe down. Further back still, Zhang Chenyu, the new Dixingren trainee, is laughing at something Guo Changcheng has said to her. It's been a hard couple of months for SID, and Zhao Yunlan hopes that the flower tribe banquet tonight, before the formal land rights talks with the tribe leadership begin tomorrow, will be a chance for them all to relax. There will be Ministry official to do the actual negotiating, Zhao Yunlan is just there to smile and look pretty.

He leans into Shen Wei's touch for an instant, cherishing the contact, but Shen Wei drops his hand away. Zhao Yunlan continues after the guide, a pang of sadness running through him. He and Shen Wei have barely seen each other in the past few weeks. Shen Wei is a leading light of the negotiations to establish better diplomatic relations and regular travel between Haixing and Dixing, and he's been spending most of his time in long talks at the Ministry, or consulting with the new Justiciar in Dixing.

Zhao Yunlan, meanwhile, has been run ragged dealing with the sudden flood of Dixingren visitors; trying to get them to understand that it's great they're excited to be above ground, but please don't suddenly sprout dark energy wings and fly low over Dragon City's main boulevard, because it's liable to cause major traffic accidents.

It began with the desperate alliance of Yashou tribes, humans and Dixingren coming together to confront Ye Zun, and Shen Wei taking the last, bloody step of killing him, because he was the only one that could. Since then, even when Shen Wei has been around, he's been quiet, distracted, sometimes speaking overly formally to Zhao Yunlan in a way that makes his heart hurt. Shen Wei has reluctantly given up his job at the university, has had no time to spend at SID, and Zhao Yunlan can see that his responsibilities as Envoy are dragging down on him.

He isn’t cold to Zhao Yunlan, exactly, but sometimes it's like he's gone somewhere far away where he can't follow. Zhao Yunlan has been trying to give him time, and hoping Shen Wei will talk to him when he’s ready, but all his usual teasing and flirting, and trying to show Shen Wei with his body just how much he loves him, has been met with an awful blankness.

They emerge from the gloomy path into a clearing at the heart of the forest. It's lit with strings of small golden lamps between the trees, and the low curved bulk of the flower people's ceremonial hall lies at one end. Zhao Yunlan goes to greet Ying Chun, who's waiting for them with her entourage outside the hall, and she ushers them inside.

Dinner is cheerful; the hall is filled with Yashouren of all tribes, junior Ministry officials, and a few Dixingren here and there, all seeming determined to have a good time. Vines filled with spring flowers entwine together to make up the roof overhead, and the table is full of food, bright candles, and jugs of honey wine. Zhao Yunlan is seated towards the head of the table, next to Shen Wei, and all he has to do is eat and drink and then go to bed without being on call for once. The hall smells of a fragrance Zhao Yunlan can't place, and tiny glowing dust-like motes are floating above the table, occasionally landing in guests’ drinks. A small cloud of them wafts into his face and he sneezes violently, almost catapulting backwards off his stool.

He takes a long swallow of wine to recover and looks around. Down the table, Lin Jing has brightened up and is gesturing wildly with his goblet as he chats with a young crow tribe woman. At his right, Shen Wei is deep in conversation with Zhu Hong, in her place of honour as the new leader of the snake tribe. Zhao Yunlan sneaks a look at Shen Wei. He's wearing a smart grey check suit that isn’t even slightly creased by their trek through the woods, with a dark silk cravat at his throat. He’s sipping water from a carved wooden beaker and nodding earnestly at whatever Zhu Hong is saying; it's noisy in the hall and all Yunlan can catch is “hatchlings,” “new roof” and “lesson planning.”

Shen Wei and he have been lovers for months now, but Zhao Yunlan still finds himself frequently dumbstruck by his beauty. This is one of those moments: the candlelight is hitting the perfect line of his cheekbones, his lashes make dark fans as he blinks, and when his throat moves as he swallows, Zhao Yunlan can't look away.

Zhu Hong catches him staring and he must look utterly besotted because she laughs and toasts him with her wine, and then whispers something in Shen Wei's ear that makes him duck his head. She turns to talk to Ying Chun and Zhao Yunlan leans in to Shen Wei's side.

“What did she say?”

Shen Wei shakes his head. “Nothing of importance.”

“Oh yeah? She didn't say that I was staring at you like a fool? Because I was. You're so beautiful I can't help it.”

Shen Wei ducks his head again. “You shouldn't say things like that here.” His tone is a little pleased though, and a spark of happiness sets off in Zhao Yunlan's heart at the sound. Colour is riding high in Shen Wei's cheeks and his eyes have gone soft.

At that moment Zhao Yunlan's attention is rudely claimed by his neighbour on his other side, a crow tribe grandee in a long cloak who wants to talk about getting Yashouren kids to join the police cadets. Zhao Yunlan nods along politely, but keeps sneaking glances at Shen Wei. Zhu Hong pours him more water and as he reaches for the glass he knocks it with his fingers before he grasps it. Zhao Yunlan hesitates before turning back to the crow woman; it's not like Shen Wei to be clumsy.

Desserts are passed around, the jugs of wine are topped up, and another wave of the bright particles flood over the table, encasing the room in a shimmering glow. Down the hall, Chu Shuzhi laughs uproariously at something and ruffles Guo Changcheng's hair. Zhao Yunlan nibbles a chestnut cake and takes another look at Shen Wei. He's sitting bolt upright, but his left hand is resting on his thigh, and it's clenched. Something is not right. Zhao Yunlan bumps him gently with his shoulder. “What's wrong?”

Shen Wei takes too long to reply and then all he says is, “It's fine,” very low.

Zhao Yunlan puts his hand over his where it's resting on his thigh. “It obviously isn't,” he whispers fiercely. “Tell me what's going on.”

Before Shen Wei can reply, Ying Chun is on her feet, calling for a toast to the new triple alliance. Zhao Yunlan drinks wine without tasting it, thinking about how much longer the dinner is going to last and how he can get Shen Wei to tell him what the matter is.

“And I'd like to call upon our distinguished guest, the Lord Envoy, to say a few words.”

Oh no.

Shen Wei pushes himself up with one hand on the table. He looks around. Usually a being of utter confidence when he's in his official role, he seems unsure of what to say. The hall is quiet, full of faces looking at him expectantly.

He swallows, and then begins to talk about the following day's talks and how he hopes Yashouren, humans and Dixingren will be able to live in harmony and respect. It's fine, if a little more platitudinous than Shen Wei usually gets, and anyone other than Zhao Yunlan wouldn't be able to tell that he's hesitant. Some more of the dust motes drop from the ceiling and settle on his hair and face.

He takes a deep breath. “And I know that we three peoples will be able to thrust together into the future!” Ying Chun’s eyebrows go up.

Shen Wei obviously realises this was a poor choice of words. “I mean, will be able to have relations together… um.”

There's a giggle from down the hall, then another. Zhao Yunlan jumps to his feet.

“A toast to the Lord Envoy!” He swallows wine and everyone follows suit. He makes them toast Ying Chun, the crow tribe representatives, the Ministry, Zhu Hong, and then applaud the alliance. Under cover of the applause, he and Shen Wei can finally sit down.

Shen Wei shoots a glance at him. “I have to leave.”

Zhao Yunlan makes their apologies to Ying Chun, telling her that Shen Wei wants to be fresh for the negotiations in the morning. He pats Zhu Hong on the shoulder when she looks at him questioningly, and then ushers Shen Wei out of the hall.

The air is cool and fresh outside and Zhao Yunlan draws great gulps of it into his lungs, as the amount of wine he’s just drunk suddenly hits him. At his side, Shen Wei is walking like an automaton, but as soon as they're away from the light spilling out of the hall windows he staggers a little and comes to a halt. Zhao Yunlan grabs him by both arms. “What is wrong with you?”

“I just, um, I need to sleep.” He's leaning heavily into Zhao Yunlan, as if about to pitch over.

Zhao Yunlan tightens his hands around his biceps. “I've never seen you like this, are you ill? Is it something to do with the dark energy?”

He must sound as stressed as hell because Shen Wei brings one hand up and starts petting at his face, nearly poking him in the eye. Zhao Yunlan gets out his phone and shines the light on Shen Wei's face. He yelps and tries to cover his eyes, knocking the phone out of Zhao Yunlan's hand in the process. It hits the ground, clattering against something hard, and the light goes out. “Sorry,” Shen Wei says sheepishly.

A suspicion begins to dawn. “Fuck, are you drunk?”

“I don't drink,” Shen Wei rebuffs him.

“No, I mean, I've seen what happens when you do. But you're not... exactly normal right now.” He steps closer, draws Shen Wei into his arms, drops his voice down low. “Just tell me you're alright,” he says. “You're making me worry and I don't like it.”

Shen Wei says, “Oh,” and then rubs his face against Zhao Yunlan's cheek. It's immensely distracting, but he isn't going to let himself enjoy it until he knows what Shen Wei's deal is. “I didn't think it would affect me,” Shen Wei says reluctantly.

“What would?”

“The pollen cloud. It's a flower tribe, um, intoxicant.”

Zhao Yunlan laughs and kisses his cheek. “You are drunk! It didn't do anything to me.” He doesn’t think it did, anyway. He feels pretty buzzed, but no more than usual from the number of toasts.

“You're human,” Shen Wei says simply. Some of the glowing motes are still caught like a halo in his dark hair. Zhao Yunlan brushes a hand through it, trying to knock them off, and Shen Wei makes a little noise and pushes his head against his hand.

“It's all over you,” Zhao Yunlan says. “No wonder you're drunk.” Shen Wei's hair is getting a little long, and Zhao Yunlan's attempts to rid of him of the pollen turn into caresses as he runs his fingers through the black silk. He kisses the corner of his mouth, clumsy in the dark, and then takes his hand. “Come on, let's get you cleaned up so you can sober up.” He pulls Shen Wei towards where he thinks he remembers the flower tribe's guest house being, but Shen Wei pulls back.

“I like it out here.” He has his head tipped back, looking at the sky. Zhao Yunlan looks up. The curve of the Great Bear is just coming into view above the trees.

“The stars don't shine properly in the city. This is better.”

“Does it remind you of being young?”

Shen Wei squeezes his hand. “The stars were different then.”

He pulls at Zhao Yunlan, dragging him under the canopy, deeper into the woods. Zhao Yunlan can't see a thing and now his phone won't turn on to light the way. He hopes the freaky booze pollen hasn't impaired Shen Wei's night vision too much. “Where are you taking me?”

“I want to walk,” is the response.

He wants to walk. Well, the night air can only be helpful in sobering him up. Zhao Yunlan lets himself be towed in Shen Wei's wake. Wherever he's going, he's serious about getting there, and Zhao Yunlan has to speed walk to keep up. Shen Wei manages to steer them through the first thicket of trees and out into another open area, dotted with the dark bulks of what must be bushes here and there. There's the tinkling sound of a river and Shen Wei looks around as if trying to locate the source of the noise and then sets off even faster, stumbling, almost yanking Zhao Yunlan's arm out of its socket.

“Please tell me you're not going to jump in the river? It's way too cold. Shen Wei!”

The name is a shout, because Shen Wei has tripped over something and crashed over sideways. Zhao Yunlan grabs for him, misses with clumsy hands because he is an utterly useless boyfriend, and sees him fall straight down into a bush.

“Are you OK?”

“This bush smells nice.” Shen Wei says below him.

Zhao Yunlan chuckles and leans down to grope around for his hand. “This is proof that you need to go to bed.” He tries to pull him to his feet but Shen Wei is a dead weight. “Help me out here?”

“OK!” says Shen Wei.

There's an unexpected tug at Zhao Yunlan's hand and he loses his balance, falls forward, and finds himself sprawling on top of Shen Wei in the middle of the leaves.

Branches tear at his jacket as he lands with his elbow jammed right into Shen Wei's chest. Shen Wei gasps and clutches at him, and Zhao Yunlan spits out a bit of bush that ended up in his mouth on the way down. He wriggles around on top of Shen Wei to try and find a position where he's not kneeing him in anything sensitive. His fingers scrabble at Shen Wei's ribs over his shirt and Shen Wei sucks in a breath and... giggles? Zhao Yunlan repeats the motion, more teasingly, and Shen Wei laughs again and squirms around under him distractingly.

“I learned a thing about you.” Zhao Yunlan says wonderingly. He flattens his hands out over Shen Wei's sides, pushing under his blazer, wishing for bare skin under his fingers. Shen Wei reacts by winding all his limbs around Zhao Yunlan like a horny octopus, pulling him in and holding him in place against his body.

There are definitely worse places to be. Zhao Yunlan isn't the outdoors type and his plans for the evening hadn't involved rolling around with Shen Wei in the shrubbery, but now he's here he isn't going to object. He shifts his head so his face isn't smothered against Shen Wei's shoulder, and wriggles experimentally, testing out Shen Wei's hold.

“OK, so you got me here, what are you going to do with me now?”

Shen Wei's hands start to move over his back, sliding downwards and burrowing under his jacket and shirt. His fingers touch bare skin at the base of Zhao Yunlan's spine and Zhao Yunlan shivers. One of Shen Wei's hands moves upwards, fingers touching each bump of his spine in turn as if he's trying to count them, and the other stays low, edging down towards the waistband of Zhao Yunlan's jeans.

They've barely touched recently - when they’ve been together they’ve mostly both been too exhausted for anything more than kissing - and right now Shen Wei's slow caresses feel like coming home, even if they are in the middle of a fucking bush. Shen Wei breathes in, drops one hand lower till he's cradling Zhao Yunlan's ass, and pulls him further in against his body.

Zhao Yunlan struggles to think through the gentle haze of wine, and the intoxicating feeling of Shen Wei’s hands on him. “You sure about this, darling? We can just go back and get some sleep.” He kisses Shen Wei’s cheek softly and rolls to one side, giving Shen Wei time to think about it, but Shen Wei grabs him and yanks him back in against his body.

His fingers dip below Zhao Yunlan’s waistband, just brushing the curve of his ass. “Very sure.”

Zhao Yunlan gives in happily. He’s weak for Shen Wei at the best of times, and right now his body is beginning to clamour for him. His cock is waking up and taking up an interest and he squirms again, getting a greedy bit of friction against Shen Wei's hip. “Feels good, baby,” Zhao Yunlan murmurs against his throat. He’s already a little fuzzy from the wine, and lazy pleasure begins to nudge at him as he shifts over so he’s on top of Shen Wei again.

The leaves overhead are cutting off even what slight moonlight there is, but touch is all he needs right now. He pushes down with his thigh and feels, oh yes, the unmistakable bulge of Shen Wei's hardening cock. Shen Wei spreads his legs so Zhao Yunlan can press closer against him, and the feeling of him under him, wanting him, goes to Zhao Yunlan's head like the sweet taste of the honey wine. Shen Wei squeezes his ass, encouraging Zhao Yunlan as he starts to move against him. It's undignified and shameless and Shen Wei is letting him do it, wanting it, pushing his hips up into the pressure of Zhao Yunlan's thigh.

Zhao Yunlan puts a hand to Shen Wei's throat, tears at his cravat so he can get his mouth where he wants it. His teeth nip at the tender skin revealed there and Shen Wei makes a choked off sound and shoves a hand into his hair. He pulls his head back, not gently, and kisses him, wide-mouthed and hot. Zhao Yunlan kisses him back, pushes his hips down into Shen Wei's body helplessly, shoves his tongue into his mouth and feels Shen Wei's hand tighten in his hair. The small twinge of pain sends sparks of fire running down his body to meet the pleasure rising from where his hard cock is snug up against Shen Wei's stomach.

The pressure is frustrating, muted through their layers of clothing but still making everything inside him turn liquid and hot. He'd like Shen Wei naked, he'd like him in a bed, but he'll take what he can get and right now that's Shen Wei kissing him filthily, pulling his hair, hard and desperate underneath him. Zhao Yunlan struggles in Shen Wei's hold, props himself up on his elbows so he can get the leverage he wants. Shen Wei spreads his legs wider and Zhao Yunlan slides right on in between them. He grinds down deliberately, and is rewarded by Shen Wei gasping and rubbing up against him, shoving his erection up against Zhao Yunlan's as wantonly as Zhao Yunlan has ever dreamed.

“Like that,” Zhao Yunlan gasps. “Fucking use me.”

Shen Wei says “Fuck”, and Zhao Yunlan didn't think he even knew the word, and now he's got both hands on Zhao Yunlan's ass, squeezing possessively, drawing him down into his body as he rolls his hips up against him. Zhao Yunlan hasn't come in his pants since he was maybe seventeen but it isn't going to take much more of this. Shen Wei is gasping beneath him, rubbing his face against Zhao Yunlan's in a way that means his beautiful skin is going to end up pink with stubble rash.

It's so dark it's like being blind again and the night air is cold at his back but Shen Wei under him - the salt taste of his skin and the press of his hands - is keeping him shuddery warm and sparking with pleasure. Shen Wei is quiet in bed normally and Zhao Yunlan prides himself on being able to tell what he likes from breathy gasps and tiny murmurs, but now when Zhao Yunlan wrestles a hand down between them and cups his hardness through his slacks, giving him a better surface to rut up against, Shen Wei makes an earthy grunt that Zhao Yunlan wants to hear over and over again. Zhao Yunlan squeezes his hand around his length, pushes his lips against his and fucks his tongue into his mouth, trying to echo the motion of his hand.

Shen Wei grunts again and then shoves his hips up and keeps them there, convulsing as he comes against Zhao Yunlan's hand. Zhao Yunlan feels him tremble, feels warm dampness spread outwards through the cloth of his trousers. He coaxes Shen Wei through it, whispering, “ that,” and panting against his mouth. Shen Wei fights for breath and Zhao Yunlan gives up trying to support himself on his arms and collapses down on top of him.

Shen Wei mashes his face into Zhao Yunlan's hair and goes very still, his arms tightening around him almost painfully. His breathing is still ragged and he makes a noise that sounds like a sob. Zhao Yunlan wriggles an arm out of Shen Wei's hold and touches his face. Shen Wei tries to turn his head away, but not before Zhao Yunlan's fingers have felt wetness. He freezes in horror. Has he completely fucked everything up?

He levers himself up carefully so he’s no longer pinning Shen Wei down. “Are you OK?” Then he winces, because the answer is obvious. “Did I, uh, do something wrong?”

Shen Wei sniffs. “It’s not you.”

Zhao Yunlan tries to breathe through the looming sense of panic. “I need some words, Xiao Wei. What’s wrong?”

“It’s just, everything has been…hard.”

Zhao Yunlan breathes out, thinks about the times he’s been drunk and everything he’s feeling has just spilled out of him. He thinks about Shen Wei’s silences, about the short time that has passed since Shen Wei had to kill his only brother, and he feels a pang of terrible guilt that Shen Wei hasn’t been able to talk to him about it. “Oh, baby.” He cups Shen Wei's face, kisses his cheek over and over, smooths a hand into his hair.

“I'm sorry,” Shen Wei says.

What? Zhao Yunlan draws in a steadying breath, hears his own voice come out uneven. “It's OK. It's OK, I've got you.” He drops his head down to the crook of Shen Wei's neck again, lets Shen Wei hold him just as tightly as he wants, tried to prove with the weight of his body and the touch of his hands in Shen Wei's hair just how much he cares.

They hold each other for a long time in the dark. Eventually Shen Wei sniffs again and wipes at his face with one hand. He splays one hand out on Zhao Yunlan's back and presses down. “You didn't?”

Zhao Yunlan's cock gives an interested twitch but he tells it firmly to quiet down. He wants to get Shen Wei somewhere warm, and in his arms in the light where he can see his face. “There's a really great bed back at the guest house. I saw a tub too, looked like it was big enough for two of us.” He skims his mouth along Shen Wei's jaw. “You want to come help me test it out?”

Shen Wei says, “yes,” a little wobbly, and his hand tightens in the leather of Zhao Yunlan's jacket. It's the only warning he gets before they're in the void. Hallucinatory colours yaw around them and Zhao Yunlan jams his eyes shut, hangs on to Shen Wei and hopes that he isn't too drunk to drive. An instant later they're dropping onto something soft and Zhao Yunlan opens his eyes to see the warm light coming from the lamp he'd left burning in their room.

“You landed us on the bed!” he says. “You can't be that drunk.”

“It feels strange,” says Shen Wei. Zhao Yunlan rolls to one side and props himself up on his elbow. He pushes Shen Wei's messy hair back off his forehead. His eyes are red, but his mouth curves upwards in a sweet, genuine smile. A couple of leaves have been added to the dots of pollen in his hair; his cravat is missing; his shirt is half untucked; and he smells wonderfully of sex.

“You've really never been drunk before?”

Shen Wei blinks big eyes at him. “I just pass out.”

Zhao Yunlan feels impossibly fond. “I bet you've never fucked someone in a bush before either,” he says, even though he knows the answer, just to see Shen Wei blush. He isn't disappointed; Shen Wei colours up and smooths a hand over his face as if he's trying to hide behind it. Zhao Yunlan moves his hand out of the way and kisses his soft mouth. “You're wonderful.”

He rolls reluctantly off the bed. “I'm going to run the bath. Don't go anywhere.”

The round wooden tub is big enough for four people, no matter two. Zhao Yunlan reaches for the faucet and hesitates, they're out in the woods, is this going to be cold and miserable? But steaming water gushes out. There's a bowl of sweet-smelling flower petals on the side and, feeling a little foolish, he scatters them over the surface of the water. He watches the tub fill for a while, hypnotised, then goes to make Shen Wei drink some water; it’s a night of firsts for him, but his first ever hangover doesn’t need to be horrendous.

Shen Wei is halfway undressed and he must be sobering up a little because he's regarding his stained slacks with a sort of fascinated horror. Zhao Yunlan chuckles. “You brought a spare pair, right? What am I saying, you probably brought three.”

Shen Wei drinks the water obediently. “Two.”

Zhao Yunlan kisses the top of his head. “Come and get in the tub.”

They settle in, Zhao Yunlan with his back against the side of the bath and Shen Wei facing him, their knees touching and legs entwined. The warm water soothes Zhao Yunlan; weeks of strain dropping away and being replaced with lax contentment. He runs wet hands through Shen Wei's hair, making it stand on end, getting rid of the leaves and the pollen. Then he soaps up a washcloth and smooths it over Shen Wei's shoulders, where his skin has gone pink from the heat of the water, across his clavicle, down his chest, further down still. His intent is just to get Shen Wei clean but it's addictive, watching Shen Wei's eyes flutter shut at the motion of his hands.

Shen Wei has his hand on Zhao Yunlan's thigh, his thumb making little unconscious movements on his skin. Unquenched arousal is building in Zhao Yunlan again, making his limbs go weak. He nudges further downwards with the cloth over Shen Wei's belly and the backs of his fingers bump velvet hardness. Shen Wei's refractory period is, as always, something to thank the heavens for.

He runs a slow finger along Shen Wei's cock. “Again?” he says teasingly.

Shen Wei is biting his lip. “Not if you don't want to.”

“I want to.” Zhao Yunlan says fervently.

Shen Wei opens his eyes, flashes him a shy smile, and then he moves his hand over Zhao Yunlan's skin with more purpose. His fingers run over the sensitive place at the crease of his hip and Zhao Yunlan breathes in convulsively as his cock starts to fill out, craving more. Shen Wei's hand continues its slow movement, his fingers stopping just short of where Zhao Yunlan wants them, carding through the curls at the base of his cock. He runs a finger over Zhao Yunlan's balls, making him ache with want.

“Please,” Zhao Yunlan whispers, and Shen Wei's erection twitches against his fingers. Zhao Yunlan gets a hand around it, desperate to touch and be touched. He squeezes gently, runs his thumb over the head and Shen Wei finally stops his teasing and echoes him, encircling Zhao Yunlan's erection in his big hand, stroking firmly. Arousal has been simmering in Zhao Yunlan all evening and the motion of Shen Wei's hand is very fast going to make him come apart.

He tries to keep up the motion of his hand on Shen Wei's length, but it feels too good and he keeps losing his rhythm like he's the drunk one. There's a stray flower petal clinging to the hollow of Shen Wei's throat, next to the orb of his pendant, and Zhao Yunlan leans closer and kisses it away, tongue lingering over the clean taste of his skin. Shen Wei makes a fierce noise and pushes him back against the side of the tub and then clambers towards him in a swirl of water.

He settles kneeling over Zhao Yunlan's lap, all his warm skin within easy reach and his erection snug up against Zhao Yunlan's. Zhao Yunlan pulls him in with one hand low on his back, kisses him, and murmurs, “This is why you're the smart one,” against his mouth. Shen Wei laughs and it turns into a gasp when Zhao Yunlan reaches down and gets a hand around both their cocks.

Shen Wei moves against him, bites at his mouth, getting sloppy and uncontrolled. His hand joins Zhao Yunlan's and squeezes, their cocks slipping against each other under the surface of the water as he rolls his hips. Zhao Yunlan's heart is racing, heat thrumming through his whole body. He drops his left hand lower, teasing at the crease of Shen Wei's ass, rubbing at his hole with one finger, and Shen Wei's hand tightens around his cock in response. He rolls his hips against Zhao Yunlan in sharp, desperate thrusts and then starts to shake as he comes. Pleasure explodes through him as Shen Wei falls apart and Zhao Yunlan lets go, gives himself over to it, and comes so hard lights burst behind his eyes.

When his head has stopped spinning, he finds that Shen Wei is loose and relaxed on top of him, sitting now in Zhao Yunlan's lap with his head propped against his shoulder. Zhao Yunlan kisses his hair again and again as lazy pleasure recedes through him, making him warm and happy. He runs more water and wets the washcloth again, lazily cleaning them both up. Shen Wei catches his wrist, brings it to his mouth to kiss

“Thank you for taking care of me.”

Zhao Yunlan's heart turns over, thinking about the many times Shen Wei has looked after him when he's been a total mess. Shen Wei continue., “I’m sorry I've been… like I've been.”

Zhao Yunlan squeezes his arms tight around him. “You know, you don't have to act in a certain way around me.” He swallows around a lump in his throat. “You don't have to handle everything yourself. I'm here.”

Shen Wei nestles his face further into the crook of his neck. “I know.”

“It's, uh, it's OK to grieve for him. Ye Zun.” Speaking his name feels like breaking a curse.

Shen Wei shakes his head, his hair tickling at Zhao Yunlan's jaw. Zhao Yunlan inhales. “It's OK not to, too.”

“I'm glad that he's dead. What he wanted to do…” Shen Wei's breath hitches. “It's just that, for so long I knew he was there. I knew I'd have to fight him eventually. Now he's gone, it's like I don't know what to do anymore.”

Zhao Yunlan's heart melts for him. “You could do so many things. We can do them together.”

“But. My responsibilities.”

Shen Wei has given up his whole self to Dixing and his duties. It's devoured him, and he still wants to give more. Zhao Yunlan reluctantly banishes the impulse to say, “fuck your responsibilities,” and kisses the side of Shen Wei's head.

“The negotiations won't last forever. Once they're over, you can think about what you want to do.” Inspiration strikes. “And once this treaty is signed it won't be so busy. You could take a break. I could take a break.”

Shen Wei makes a “hmm,” noise. “What would we do?”

“We'd go…” He thinks about Shen Wei having to spend so much time lately in the chill of Dixing. “We'd go somewhere warm! Have you ever been to the beach?”

Shen Wei shakes his head again. Zhao Yunlan thinks of Shen Wei turning his face up to the sun, no one else around but the two of them, stripping him out of his layers, seeing the weight of the last few months lift off him. He imagines trying to persuade Shen Wei into shorts, finding out if he can swim, making sure every inch of him is covered in sun lotion.

“There we are, then. I've got a friend, a friend of a friend, he's got a place he rents out on Hundred Turtles Bay. He says it's right on down the water.”

“It sounds nice,” says Shen Wei.

“We'll go there,” says Zhao Yunlan. “Not tell anyone where we've gone. And when we get back, well, you've got time to decide.”

“I’ve been thinking,” Shen Wei says tentatively. “All the Dixingren families that are moving over, their children have never been in school before. There should be something for them here to help them, before they move into Haixing schools.”

Zhao Yunlan thinks about what a great teacher Shen Wei is, how kind he'd been to that scared Dixingren kid with the knockout scream, how much he wants the people of Haixing and Dixing to be able to live together.

“You'd be perfect for that.”

The bath water is cooling and Zhao Yunlan reluctantly unwinds his limbs from Shen Wei and leads him, wrapped in a huge towel, over to the bed, then curls back around him under the quilt. They lie talking in the warm darkness, Zhao Yunlan not wanting to sleep, not wanting to let go, as they make plans for the future together.