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Muddied Waters

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There had been a tradition, ages and ages ago, where a common-law marriage was sealed by sharing three things; a meal, a bed and a hearth. Simple things in turbulent times.

Shen Wei doubted anyone nowadays remembered such a thing. Even as little as a hundred years was enough to forget such traditions. He didn't know why he was thinking about it, here in Shuzhi’s arms, only the vague thought that if the bed was bigger, he wouldn’t have to leave. His limbs were loose, that pleasant sort of fatigue that came with a good orgasm. And Shuzhi was running his hand up and down his back, and he didn’t want to move. It felt so very good in the afterglow of sex. This bed was too narrow to be comfortable, but the one in his flat was wider, with good sheets. Next time, maybe they should try-

“Are you hungry?” Shuzhi asked, voice drowsy and full of affection. “I could cook something.”

A meal, a bed and a hearth.

It was not the question that made him run away, it was the warmth he felt in return for it, that he wanted to say yes.

This was supposed to be about sex, pure and simple. A distraction, a way to burn off stress and tension. Something to help them stop thinking for a little while, forget what they had lost. Shen Wei had forgotten how nice it was to touch someone, to be touched-

(that worry that he might have been hurt-)

So he fled, terrified and embarrassed. Because he had wanted to say yes.

 

It was an inappropriate relationship. It could be considered an abuse of his position, really. It was more than time to put an end to it, it was only proper to put an end to this affair.

(it hadn’t been about sex, it had never been about the sex.)

He couldn’t think about this now. There was the new semester to plan for and new graduate students to work with. There was Chief Zhao and the new appearance of the Hallows to consider. Work was the best way to blunt the edge of loneliness.

(even if a few hours in Shuzhi’s arms had been so-)

 

It was hard deceiving Zhao Yulan when he looked so much like Kunlun- it was harder to deceive Shuzhi when he was right there. So close.

(he should stop calling him that inside his head. But he wanted to cradle that intimacy they had for a little longer)

(he really should stop thinking about him, it was making it harder to let go. He should let it go. Pretend it never happened.)

He could feel the other Dixingren’s puzzled gaze follow him, as if he recognized something about him. The way he moved? No, not under all those robes, and he was naked with him in the dark. Not his voice, he made sure to speak differently in those two identities. Maybe something in Shuzhi recognized Shen Wei, just as his own heart had recognized Kunlun.

(when he had touched his bare skin to see if he had been hurt, Shuzhi’s dark energy responded to his and welled up-)

He tried to stay away from Chief Zhao and the curious eyes of his team when he was the professor.

 

He left Yulan as soon as he could, taking himself straight into Shuzhi’s flat. The other Dixingren was sprawled face down on his couch, still fully clothed.

“Shuzhi?” he touched his back, feeling the warm pulse of his dark energy responding to his own. Shuzhi grunted at him, burying his face into the ugly cushion.

“Don’t sleep in your clothes.” he said, almost laughing in relief. Shuzhi had been pale and unsteady on his feet after finally bringing down the fugitive Dixingren. And while he was very skilled, something in Shen Wei’s chest had been tight with concern-

He shook his head, wrestling him out of his coat and boots. And when he couldn’t convince him to wake up enough to go to bed, grumbling and burying his head in the cushion, he tucked a blanket around him. It only made that fond bubble in his chest grow and he found himself straightening up the flat. Shuzhi didn’t have much, and the flat was very neat, but it helped a little, the guilt he carried.

A bed, a meal, a hearth.

He and Kunlun had shared them, so long ago. A bedroll, a bowl of stew and a campfire, rather than the hearth of a home- it had been the happiest day of his life.

He ran his hand over Shuzhi’s hair, the guilt back. He shouldn’t be here, betraying Kunlun’s memory. But…

He made sure to leave a glass of water by the couch, along with the Dixing medicine he had brought along. A tonic to help him recover from the overuse of his dark energy.

He… he still wanted to care. He could still care for him, and not-

---

It was worse when Shuzhi figured it out. Because… how could he miss him when he had Yulan, had his Kunlun back? The one he’d waited for for so long and now- a constant current of missed touches, not quite brushing against one another. Where hands might have touched, but pulled away at the last moment. Close enough to feel the warmth of the other. To avoid their eyes, but checking to see if they were looking anyway. And that jump in the chest when their eyes met-

The body in his arms was wrong. It was male, but smaller, more wiry than what he was expecting as he woke up.

“Shuzhi? He murmured, opening his eyes. No, it was Yulan’s apartment, he was sleeping with him. Yulan sleepily nuzzled against him, settling in with a happy sigh. This was good, this was perfect. But- he’d wanted this so badly, waited so long and now he was thinking of someone else.

He pushed away jealousy when he noticed that Xiao-guo was hanging around Shuzhi so closely. And he was rather protective of the young man in turn. No, this was a good thing. He would have Xiao-guo to care for and Shen Wei would have Yulan. He wouldn’t feel this guilt if Shuzhi had someone too.

(but Xiao-guo was too young, too- no, he was not jealous. He would not be jealous of him looking at someone else.)

Shuzhi set a plate by his elbow with a cup of tea, without a word, avoiding his eyes. A stuffed bun, slightly lopsided and homemade. There was an odd feeling in his stomach, a lump in his throat as he took a bite.

It tasted like Dixing, the earthy taste of the dried fungi seasoning coating his tongue before changing into something sweet as it hit the back of his throat. He tried to eat it slowly, to savor it because… it tasted like home, like warmth and comfort and his eyes wanted to well up.

Shuzhi was staring hard at his desk, but flicked his gaze up- their eyes locked for a moment and his heart jolted into a faster rhythm. The other man’s face turned faintly red and soft, watching him finish the bun. This was wrong, he shouldn’t have accepted it. But how long had it been since someone made him food like this, made with so much care?

(Yulan’s terrifying attempts at instant noodles notwithstanding.)

A meal, a bed and a hearth.

Shen Wei was a monster.

---

“Oh, babe, remind me to pick up something for the team for sweetest day.” Yulan asked, patting down his pockets as he tried to make sure he had everything.

“I could make something.”

“It doesn’t have to be fancy, they’ll eat anything that stands still long enough. You’d think I don’t pay them the way they inhale free food.” he grumbled pleasantly as he looked for his keys. Shen Wei found them on the counter and handed them to him.

“Miniature custard tarts?”

“Thanks babe!” he leaned over for a kiss. “You’re the best.”

He was rather proud of himself that he did not ask himself if Shuzhi liked sweets, or what sort he might like. Nor did he think of him as he arranged fruit on the tops of the tarts after they cooled, covering them with a shiny sugar glaze. He was making them for the team, because Yulan asked. He did not think of the bun Shuzhi had made for him that day, that quiet declaration of care and love, or the face he might make when he ate one of these tarts.

(eyes closed, a delicate bite. Or he might pick off the fruit to eat first before biting into-)

He was making them for everyone, and Yulan was sure to eat three or four before they left the house. None of them were made especially for him in mind.

He passed them out, Shuzhi again glaring at his desk as if it had insulted his ancestors. He pushed the little dessert towards him and he looked up, expression melting into something soft and something in his chest hurt so bad, so happy to see that rare expression on his face aimed towards him.

(oh no, he missed Shuzhi, he missed him so much.)

“Are you doing anything for the holiday, Lao-chu?” he found himself asking, merely polite small talk. Not to make sure he wouldn’t be alone tonight.

“Dinner with Xiao-guo’s second aunt.” Shuzhi said softly.

“Good. I hope you have a nice time.”

“And… you?”

“Yulan’s taking us to a restaurant. He says it’s a very nice place.”

“Good.” his gaze dropped to the desk again, as if hiding his own jealousy. Or maybe that was Shen Wei's wishful thinking. “That… sounds nice.”

“I… please take care.” it was the most words they had exchanged in months, they had done such a good job at avoiding each other. And it made his chest ache to touch him, to… he thanked Xiao-guo for taking him with him and meant it.

(he was happy that Shuzhi would not be alone on this Haxingren holiday, happy that someone was taking care of him. He did not quietly wish...)

---

Shuzhi’s face was pale and covered in sweat, leaning against the abandoned concert stage as he clutched his belly.

“Lao-chu.” he looked up at Shen Wei, breath coming in short gasps. “Where are you hurt, let me see-”

The Dixingren looked at him in confusion, as if he couldn’t parse his words. He pulled Shuzhi's hand away from his stomach, revealing the heavily bleeding wound.

Shuzhi dropped into his arms and there was so much blood, panic welling in the back of his throat. His breathing had a wheezing, bubbling noise and he was looking up at Shen Wei like… like he was seeing his god. That dying here in his arms was the most blissful ending he could imagine. He was slipping away, bleeding to death.

No.

No, it couldn’t end like this.

He was exhausted, but he gathered every scrap of dark energy he had left, and forced it into Shuzhi. He forced his body to stop the bleeding, his heart to keep breathing. He didn’t have enough left to heal him all the way, but enough to keep his life from slipping away.

Blood was filling his mouth, dripping from his nose and there was nothing left to give him. But Shuzhi was breathing, irregular and weak, but breathing.

“Zhi’er…” he murmured, cradling his head, hot tears finally falling. “Please wake up.”

“Professor?” Xiao was next to him, touching his shoulder.

“He’s… I stopped the bleeding, but the blood loss…”

“Why don’t you go get help? I’ll stay with him.” the young man said gently. He was wearing Shuzhi’s scarf and he wanted to laugh a little hysterically at that. But he was right, he needed medical treatment.

Shuzhi was starting to shiver from shock, so he slipped his jacket off and put it over him as best he could. It wasn’t much but…

He was lightheaded and unsteady, but he found an EMT and pointed him towards Shuzhi and Xiao-guo. Another took one look at Shen Wei, dusty and bleeding from the nose and made him sit down despite his protests. Sitting… felt rather good. Laying down on the bench felt much better. Just for a moment to gather his strength and then he’d go back and…

“Babe?” he blinked at the voice. He’d just closed his eyes for a moment- “damn babe, what happened?”

Yulan was sitting on the edge of the bench, rubbing his shoulder. Someone had put a foil blanket over him and it disturbed him that he hadn’t noticed when it happened. Yulan reached up and wiped his face with his thumb.

“How bad?” His voice was rough.

“No one’s dead, but a few were hurt pretty badly when the speakers blew up.”

“Chu Shuzhi, he was hurt, I- where is he?” something flickered across Yulan’s pretty face.

“Xiao-guo went with him to the hospital.”

“I need to go see him.” He didn't care right now who knew what, he just needed to see that he was okay. “Please, Yulan.”

He hesitated for a moment before giving in, helping him up. He was unsteady, dizziness threatening to drop him back onto the bench, but he fought through it. He’d hurt himself with that last effort, to heal Shuzhi- but he made himself walk to the jeep despite the pain.

Chu Shuzhi was in surgery by the time they got there, so they had to wait. A nurse took one look at Shen Wei and made him sit down, convinced he needed to see a doctor too.

“Maybe you should let someone look at you.” Yulan sat next to him, wrapping an arm around him.

“It’s busy here. I promise I’ll rest at home once I see Shuzhi.” he didn’t mean to let it come out that way. He felt dizzy, slightly out of breath, everything somewhat unreal. He just had to make sure he was okay, then he’d rest.

“Xiao-wei, what-”

“He doesn’t have any family, I’m all he has.”

(a lie, a terrible lie and as true as anything else.)

“It’s alright babe, we’ll see him.” he glanced at his buzzing phone. “It’s uncle Guo, I have to take this.”

“Of course.” and he huddled in his uncomfortable chair, waiting. Hoping for good news.