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I'm in the kitchen, and you're three days dead.

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“My good boy.” Shen Wei purred into Chu's ear, holding him against his chest. He couldn’t form a response, the words going straight to his groin, hardening in his lordship’s hand. His mouth was on Chu’s neck, murmuring more words of praise and he wanted more and more and-

And then the fucking morning alarm clock went off, shattering the dream into pieces. He barely kept himself from smashing the thing, painfully hard inside his boxers. He didn’t need to be like this today, not- he went for most of his life without wet dreams or morning erections, thinking about sex. Now his body was aware of what it was like to be touched, to be brought to completion and wanted it again, wanted more.

He took a cold shower and debated about what to wear to work. His wardrobe was limited, and he vaguely thought he should wear something nice. It was a Haxing holiday of some sort, he was going to go to Xiao-guo’s aunt’s home for supper to celebrate it. So maybe the newer black jeans and the shirt and boots without any blood stains.

Buy the chocolate buns for Xiao-guo, go to work. Try not to wish that his lordship would come in today, because seeing him after that dream would be as bad as not seeing him. Something aching gnawed in his belly, but it’d been there months. He could get used to anything after long enough, he’d get used to this too.

The kid smiled at the treats, made tea to share them with him. It helped, it warmed him a little, like having a little brother again.

 

The dinner was awkward, he didn’t know what to say to Haxingren. What were polite topics, how to respond to questions. The food was good at least, and there was a lot of it. Xiao-guo’s second aunt seemed happy with his appetite, filling up his plate whenever he finished something off.

It was after as they walked towards the town center, he realized what sort of holiday it was. Couples holding hands, snuggled together on blankets on the grass. Couples eating in the restaurants. A courtship holiday.

“Why did you invite me out today?” he asked after confirming it.

“Because it’s nice to do stuff with friends!” he cheerfully replied. Friends. He hadn’t had one of those in a while. He was a good kid.

“So what do Haxingren do for courtship?” he didn’t mean to ask, it was just… There were just so many couples around and he’d never tried to court anyone before, outside of trying to cook for-
He had promised himself not to think of him.

“I guess people go do stuff together? Go for walks, visit family, go out to eat? My uncle said he fell in love with his wife after she made him some really good baozi.”

What… would it be like walking with him, hand in hand? Everyone looked so happy. He tried not to imagine the warmth of his hand in his own. He didn’t deserve soft things, nice things like that.
“Thinking of the professor again?” he asked, as if he could read his thoughts.

“It looks nice.” and there, that ache in his belly that threatened to chew a hole in him. That he couldn’t have this, that /he/ was doing it with someone else tonight.

“You should tell him how you feel.” Xiao-guo said softly, his face scrunched up.

“He loves Lao-Zhao.'' The words tasted like ashes, heavy to say out loud. And he was so, so tired. “But I miss him. He’s there… and I miss him.”

The kid hugged his arms almost protectively, and that was silly to think. This stick of a haxingren, protecting him.

“It’s fine.” he reassured Xiao-guo. “I’ll be fine. Being this close… it’ll be enough.” it wasn’t enough, it’d never be enough to stop the ache. But… he was used to doing without. Crumbs of caring, of acknowledged affection. It was all he could expect from anyone, all he deserved.

“Are you cold?”

“Eh?” The kid was still clinging to his arm.

“You’re holding onto me.” The night wasn’t that cold, but he was skinny enough that maybe he felt it more. He slipped off his scarf and put it around the kid’s neck. “There. You should dress warmer.”

“Thank you, chu-ge.” he smiled brightly and something warm flickered in his chest. He was a good kid, not much use yet, but he’d grow into it. He’d keep his little brother safe this time.

He vaguely remembered pain, struggling, strange people and strange hands on him. Things flickered in and out as if in a fever-dream. His lordship bringing him food, being held in his arms with his soft voice murmuring to him. Feeling warm and safe, and maybe the last few months had been just a bad dream and they were still in his flat, in his narrow bed.

But the drugs wore off enough for him to surface. He was in the hospital, he was hurt. But things kept being slippery, dream-like. Lao-zhao stopped by at some point he was sure. Xiao-guo read to him, fed him something sweet. It hurt to move, to breath or cough. His body was so heavy and tired. Shen Wei put his cool hand on his forehead and he loved him for that blessed relief against the pounding in his head. Did that happen? It felt real, but it was hard to tell.

Something was badly wrong. When he opened his eyes everything was too bright, oddly sharp. Things moved around him as if underwater, shadows flickered and moved in ways that shouldn’t. There was a woman, a Haxingren, dressed in green scrubs. She smiled when she saw he was awake, patting his arm in a comforting way.

“Shen Wei?” he mumbled, barely above a whisper.

“Your partner? He was here earlier. I’m sure he’ll be back soon.” partner? His brain slowly reminded him that it meant a couple different things here.

“Can…” but he couldn’t think of what to say. But the woman patted his arm again and put something in the tubing leading into him and things sunk away.

 

When he finally woke up after surgery, he felt oddly clear-headed. There was a feeling that maybe his lordship had done… something. His core was warm, with that particular taste of his energy-
But Shen Wei didn’t come back. He didn’t send word, he… didn’t come back. Was he angry with him? Was he hurt? Had he actually been here or had he just dreamed it?

Xiao-guo was so happy to see him awake that he nearly cried.

“Calm down, it wasn’t that bad.” he grumbled, a little embarrassed.

“Even the chief was worried!”

“He just didn’t want to train someone new.” he swallowed, looking at the scratchy hospital blanket. “Did… professor shen stop by?”

He hated himself for asking, but he had to know.

“Yeah! Don’t you remember? He was here all the time.”

“I don’t remember much.” Xiao-guo patted his hand. “He must be busy.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing?”

“Because you…” he shook his head and sighed. “I brought you some clothes to wear home tomorrow. Do you want to spend a few days at my place?”

“I just want to go to my apartment.” where it was quiet and safe. Too many people, too much noise and the stink of illness here, and it was a little too much like-

“I can stay with you to help out.”

“Fine” the kid wasn’t going to let him be alone… and that was okay, he realized. Nianzhi would have done the same thing.

Now that Guo had made sure Chu wouldn’t have to recover alone, he chattered on about what had been going on at work. Zhu-jie learned how to spit venom, lin jing melted a hole in the floor and the repair bill was being taken out of his pay. All normal stuff and Chu tried to pay attention. But every time he blinked, his eyes stayed closed longer and longer, until Guo was tucking the blanket around his shoulders, telling him to go to sleep.

A few days later he showed up to work, half stir crazy from being idle all day long with xiao-guo.

“Lao-chu, welcome back. Glad to see you on your feet again.” Chief Zhao said, and oddly enough, smiling at him.

“Thanks.” he tried, and that seemed to be the right response.

“Has Shen Wei talked to you lately?”

“No.” and he was okay. Just… fine. His stomach ached, wanting… something.

(safe, warm, the pressure of another male body on his, the aching hollows filled with-)

“Alright then.” Zhao was avoiding eye contact as he talked, shifting on his feet. “Anyway, we have some cold cases for you to look at until you’re medically cleared.”

“Fine.” and he was just that. Fine.

---

He came back to his apartment to the scent of ozone and burned stone. Shen Wei was standing in the living room, perfectly neat, hands behind his back. He bowed respectfully, waiting to be addressed.

“Are you well?” his lordship asked softly.

“Yes.” he felt like he should add more. “I’m recovered.”

“Good.” he started to reach for him, hesitated, then put his hand on his arm. “I was worried, I…”

His warmth burned through his coat and he couldn’t take it any longer, grabbing his face and pulling him in for a kiss. He could be murdered for this, but he could not live another minute without touching him.

And he wasn’t rejected, no, Shen Wei grabbed him by the waist hard enough to bruise. Yes, this taste, the muscular body under his hands. The noises he made when he touched him, this was what he’d been so hungry for.

“Zhi’er, zhi’er.” he whispered as he pulled away, chu shivering in delight at the husky sound of his voice. “We can’t”

“I’m sorry, I’ll do- I miss you.” he said, desperate not to lose this again. He didn’t deserve anything from someone like his lordship, but- just a crumb of it, a touch, a look, a warm word. He missed him so much, the safety of being held by him. Anything, anything. He could share him, as long as he could have just a little.

“I care about you so much, but I love Yulan.” It was like a blow to the gut to be reminded of that.

“That’s okay, I just… I just need to be near you.” he sounded pathetic, but he didn’t care. As long as he could have just- “please let me care for you.”

“That’s not fair to you. You deserve someone who can love you freely.” he stepped back, putting distance between them again.

“I…” the floor was trying to drop out from under him.

“I should… I’ll go. I’ll see you at Bright Street.”

“Yes, my lord.” and once Shen Wei was out, he stumbled to the bathroom to vomit up his guts.

He’d.. never had a lover before Shen Wei. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to feel. Sadness? Grief? It was like losing Nianzhi all over again, painful enough he thought he would die.
He curled around himself on the floor.