Xiao Guo has only had one drink, but he’s acting more like he’s had three, his cheeks splotched red and his head loose at the end of his long neck. He’s laughing too loud at Lin Jing’s wise-cracks. Chu Shuzhi suspects someone punched his drink up a little when he wasn’t looking. If he gets much drunker, Chu Shuzhi will have some choice words for them, but for now, Xiao Guo is tipsy but smiling and he’s content to leave it alone.
They’re celebrating the end of a long and arduous case, one that had pushed them all to their limits and had nearly taken Zhao Yunlan from them again. The thought makes Chu Shuzhi’s stomach feel cold and he quickly swallows a mouthful of beer, glancing over to remind himself that their foolish leader is still with them.
Zhao Yunlan is sitting on the corner of the far end of the table with his feet on the sofa and his lordship—Shen Wei—sitting between them, one hand curled discreetly around his ankle. Not that anything about their relationship is discreet. Shen Wei is smiling, soft, blatant adoration that Chu Shuzhi has finally started getting comfortable with seeing on his face. It’s a little strange, discovering just how ordinary the legendary Black-Cloaked Envoy is, but it’s good, too. He’s just a man and Chu Shuzhi thinks maybe he respects him more than ever knowing that.
Zhao Yunlan is yammering animatedly about something or other, laughing uproariously when Shen Wei says something Chu Shuzhi can’t hear amidst all the other boisterous conversation taking place between them. There’s still a mark, something between a bruise and a birthmark that cuts across his left eye, which droops in a sleepy sort of expression.
The injury, inflicted by a Dixing power had been far more horrifying before the Envoy had used his own healing power on it. It had worked, but it had still left this mark and the effect on his eye, though they seemed to improve day by day.
It’s only been six months since the final confrontation with Ye Zun and having another near-miss—it had rattled them all. Zhao Yunlan was reckless and shameless, to be sure, but he had given them this home, defended them with his all, and he was one of the kindest, bravest men Chu Shuzhi had ever met. The idea of losing him opens something hollow and consuming in his belly.
“Chu-ge!” Guo Changcheng exclaims and falls more than sits down next to Chu Shuzhi. He grins widely, leaning in a little too close. Chu Shuzhi bites back his own smile in response.
“Xiao Guo.” He catches Guo Changcheng’s chin between his knuckle and thumb and tilts his chin up a little. “How are you feeling?”
Guo Changcheng laughs, swaying a little into his grip. “Very good. I feel a little bit drunk,” he says conspiratorially, his doe-eyes wide.
Chu Shuzhi snorts. “You are drunk.” He gives Guo Changcheng a once-over. “Are you all right?”
Guo Changcheng nods so rapidly he must make himself dizzy because he lists sideways. “I am , Chu-ge. We’re all together and everyone’s okay!”
Chu Shuzhi lets himself smile a little at that. “Yes, they are.”
He releases Guo Changcheng’s chin and he immediately goes boneless, slumping down to lay his head on Chu Shuzhi’s shoulder.
“Chuuuu-ge,” he sing-songs, and Chu Shuzhi waits, but nothing more follows. He huffs, watching with amusement as Guo Changcheng stares, riveted, at Da Qing and Lin Jing across the table, arguing about food from the sound of it.
Guo Changcheng is warm against his shoulder and it strikes Chu Shuzhi suddenly that he’d never had this chance with his brother. To share drinks and have the world go soft and a little unsteady around them. His chest aches, but he looks down at Guo Changcheng again and the ache sharpens and grows into such gratitude it feels like his chest can hardly contain it. He’s been lucky enough to have two little brothers in his life and he won’t make the same mistakes he made with Nianzhi.
This new family found him against all odds and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep them safe.