Background: After Da Qing delivered the message of the War Declaration, our Black Cloak Envoy and Kunlun(Chief Zhao) went in search of the Hollows. This scene took place days before they finally met up with Ye Zun in battle.
Stolen glances. Wavered gazes.
Whenever he thought Zhao wouldn’t notice, Shen Wei would pause, just a minuscule second or more. His lingering gaze would give away his thoughts, which could not be voiced. The Chief couldn’t help but be drawn into a muse by this…. Even thousands of years apart, the Black Cloak Envoy was not subtle with his needs, or more accurately, his obsession?
The unapproachable, enclosed man, who chose to sever himself from worldly desire. Not surprisingly, when the Black Cloak Envoy put duties above all else, the gentle, untainted Shen Wei remained wholesome within the darkness which was his life. But to keep himself immersed in this cruel, bitter world, Black Cloak went as far as hiding behind the dark mask. However, despite his attempts to cover his light, no rose could keep admirers away from its beauty indefinitely.
Like a white feather that had drifted upon an ink stone, its purity continued to shine even more brightly against the charcoal marble.
Days passed…. Almost half a moon’s time! They had traveled in search of the Hollows, still in the possession of the secular Dixing King. Another night had fallen, forcing them to settle down for a shift camp against the backdrop of the cliffside. Shen Wei watched as Zhao made the fire, as the Chief had done many nights before. Without another soul in sight, the ambiance thickened.
Every time Zhao glanced at his bashful Black Cloak, Shen Wei would stutter, while his face blushed like a shy bride upon her wedding night.
Zhao thought he had wanted his Professor before, but this was much more than the primal needs of an impatient man. No, this was the man who waited too long to acknowledge his feelings. Zhao Yunlan had wasted so much time playing games, ignoring the obvious attraction from day one. While pivoting around their undeniable attraction, the unforgiving passage of time continued to shorten. Zhao thought he could win every battle. The Chief, foolish man that he was, had been too confident in his shielded heart. He had lost the game before it had even begun.
Since Da Qing’s news, Zhao knew it was his chance to return to his time. The longer he remained in the past, the more dire the future would become. The Chief was well aware that every action or inaction, would place a significant effect on what might come. Unfortunately, Shen Wei had never disclosed their past. Zhao was almost as blind as he was before. Thankfully, it was only figuratively this time.
However, logically speaking, if the Chief was here now, it would suggest that all these events had already happened, which meant any actions that were to take place, were necessary for their future.
But, the Guardian, Kunlun of this timeline, could not decipher the one question that remained unsolved since the day the Chief laid eyes upon his enigma.
“The life that I owe you, I will definitely return it to you.” Shen Wei had said repeatedly throughout their journey.
Why? Why would he risk so much for someone like him? A life for a life, which might be true to the world of this time. But Shen Wei had done more than enough to repay the debt, which Zhao believed was undeserved. What had the Chief done within this unbeknownst past, which garnered such devotion from the respectable Lord of Dixing, to even sacrifice his life force?
Distracted by this train of thought, Zhao realized too late that the stick in his hand had caught on fire. The searing burn was instantaneous. He dropped the flaming twig with a surprised grunt.
“What’s wrong?” Shen Wei asked anxiously, and made his way to Zhao’s side by the fire as he stood up. “Are you hurt?”
“Nothing! I was careless,” Zhao answered impassively.
“Let me take a look,” Shen responded, immediately grasping Zhao’s hand. He stared at the burn on the side of his thumb. The throbbing pain was genuinely insignificant, but his eyes twinkled with happiness as Shen assessed his thumb. For the warrior who faced deaths on a daily basis, Shen Wei shouldn’t have been worried about a slight wound such as his. However, Zhao's joy quickly vanished when he reached a startled conclusion. Was Zhao, this version of Kunlun, the man Shen Wei had waited for?
It was true that Shen Wei had never met the real Kunlun, but the man was someone Shen had admired. For days, Shen Wei had not stopped talking about the fierceness of Kunlun; from stories of his battles to his legendary powers and his noble deeds. The unsettling feeling began to grow with each word and sentence of utmost respect. Although the Kunlun, whom Shen had met upon their first meeting, was the Chief, he still felt slight jealousy towards the man who held Shen’s thoughts. If Zhao had not replaced Kunlun ten millennium ago, would Shen have admired him so?
Shen's hand rose, and his dark magic glowed. “I can...”
But Zhao snatched back his hand, ignoring Shen’s intention. Instead, the Chief grasped Shen’s earlobe with his injured thumb. Shen Wei froze, his powers dissipated, but he didn’t pull away as Zhao pressed the wound on his cold earlobe. Encouraged by the response, Zhao traced the lobe with deliberate gentleness. Eyes wide, with an expression of a mixture between confusion and embarrassment, Shen didn’t utter a word.
Smiling at Shen's growing blush, Zhao started to explain, “A technique my late mother taught me. The quickest way to cool down a burn, since the lobes of our ears are the coolest part of our body.”
“Your late mother?” His gaze lifted, alerted with curiosity.
Realizing that he had said more than he should, Zhao pulled his hand back and stepped away, wrapping his fingers over his injured thumb, painfully so. But no physical pain could compare to the memories of the forgotten past.
Finally, Zhao's bitter chuckle broke the silence. “She died when I was young. But she taught me all I needed to know, to survive a few scrapes or more. You see, I always get myself into trouble. The first thing she would do, was to drench my wounds in salt water. Whenever I winced in pain, her face will be etched with worry. Over time, I learned not to show such an expression. Luckily, I learned to deal with myself before she passed away.”
“You love her very much,” Shen said, his eyes softening, “She must have been beautiful.”
“She was,” Zhao admitted with a wistful smile. Remembering his Mother’s warmth, her image flashed before his eyes. “Not many could compare to her beauty,” Zhao found himself saying, but before his eyes would sting from the growing emotions, his gaze returned to Shen Wei. “Of course, not until I met you,” he added teasingly; an attempt to withdraw, as a harrowing ache in his chest began to clench.
But Shen Wei did not avert his eyes, or turn scarlet as Zhao had hoped. Because this time, Zhao couldn’t control the timbre of his voice, still hindered by those images of the mother who did all she could to give him a normal childhood.
“Can you tell me more about her?” Shen Wei asked. The Chief involuntarily stiffened, stepping back as Shen made his approach. They both paused. Shen’s unwavering eyes probed further, unrelenting, not like his usual timid self. This time, it was Zhao who was trapped.
Rarely would he bring up his mother, even in passing. He remained evasive, not wanting to conjure those joyful yet painful memories. However, at that moment, beside the fire by the cliffside, Shen’s pleading gaze bore into him. Zhao didn’t know why, but once the words were spoken, he couldn’t help but continue. As his childhood stories began to spill, Zhao realized he wanted Shen Wei to know his other self; not Kunlun of this time, but the Kunlun he, Zhao, had come to cherish.
Another night, another nightmare!
He seldom dreamed through a full night’s sleep without waking up in sweats. Shen Wei had previously thought that Kunlun was a man who was not touched by darkness. Even more so, when they officially met, his Savior always smiled, teased, and joked without a sign of worry for what might come. Rarely had Shen Wei met such a enlivened human being. Animated, with vigorous energy! Kunlun would easily take away other’s burdens with only a few uplifting words.
But now... this same man continued to suffer. Alone, his pain remained shielded. As he listened to Kunlun’s stories of his beloved mother, only then did he realize that he had found the real Kunlun beneath the layers. They were more alike than Shen Wei had thought. While Shen hid behind his mask, Kunlun hid behind his smile. This unlikely bond had been fostered through many nights of conversations. A pair with the same beliefs, goals, and visions for the future, which both sought to achieve. Was it because of their duties and responsibilities as leaders of their people, that made them so, or could it be more?
Shen Wei turned to his side, to face the man who continued to sweat profusely under the chilly summer’s night. “What did you dream this time?” Shen whispered to the man who lay next to him.
Unable to hold back much longer, he inched closer. Lifting the cuff of his sleeve, he intended to wipe the cool droplets on Kunlun’s forehead. However, Shen Wei had forgotten one should not touch others while they’re grip in a nightmare. A hand snatched his wrist. Kunlun's dark, hardened eyes stared back at him with a mixture of clouded fear and dread. Then the moment vanished as swiftly as it began. The corners of his mouth pulled back; an unlikely smile spread across his face.
“Xiao Wei, what are you doing?” Kunlun questioned, as he turned fully to his side.
Did Kunlun just call him Xiao Wei?
Caught red-handed, Shen stammered, “Yo-Your face...”
“I meant your sweat...”
“My sweat?” Kunlun queried, his brows arched questionably. His grin took on a devilish slant. Raising his elbow, he propped his head on his hand.
Not daring to turn away because Kunlun had locked him within his gaze, preventing all attempts of escape, Shen feebly explained, “I-I meant, the night is chilly, and you were sweating. I was afraid you'd be sick. I wanted to wipe your forehead.”
“I see…,” Kunlun nodded slightly with understanding, yet his eyes still twinkled with a slight hint of distrust. “Thank you for watching over me.”
“You should let go…,” Shen tried to pull his hand back, but Kunlun still refused to release his wrist. “Kunlun?”
“Aren’t you going to wipe my sweat?" Kunlun asked, his brows furrowed in disappointment. "I thought you were concerned about my health.”
Flabbergasted by the turn of events, Shen Wei blinked twice, followed by an unconscious swallow. Quickly gathering his thoughts, he tried again, “I-I was, but you’re awake now. You can wipe them your...”
But his words were cut off when Kunlun grabbed him and twisted their bodies. With Shen lying on top, Kunlun wrapped his arms around Shen’s waist.
“Kunlun!” Shen tried to push at his chest, but Kunlun would only hold him closer, their bodies intimately pressed together. Like the coiling of a snake, the more Shen tried to struggle, the tighter his hold. “Kunlun, what are you doing?” he gasped for breath, his struggles ceased.
“As you can see, both my hands are currently occupied. I do need your help after all,” Kunlun countered with ease, though the breathless tone betrayed his relaxed composure.
Kunlun was too close for comfort, too close for sanity. Shen Wei didn’t know if he wanted to pull him closer, or push him away. This man, his idol, the one who saved his life; the one who could always make him speechless, was making his demands like they were the most logical requests in the world. Ignoring the propriety of the situation, this time, the request was even more shocking. Even more so than when Kunlun first asked him to remove his mask and smile for him.
He must have read Shen’s thoughts, because Kunlun immediately resumed his attack. “You don’t want me to be sick, do you? Or are you not a man of your word? You only pretended to care about me?” his Savior queried, his dark brown eyes searing into Shen’s accusingly.
Shen knew there was no way he could be saved from his predicament. His Savior could easily talk his way out of any situation. He was trapped, ensnared by the twisted words of this clever man. Nor could he deny the outrageous request of the skillful manipulative man. Relenting, Shen’s eyes closed in surrender, mostly for self-preservation, unable to stare at the smoky glitter in Kunlun's gaze. He then clumsily wiped Kunlun’s forehead with his cuff.
“Why are you closing your eyes?” Shen felt the man beneath him chuckle, his body vibrating with laughter. Then a moment later, he felt Kunlun’s cold hand cup the side of his face. “You know, you’re not much safer by closing them,” he whispered in tantalizing softness, sending a rush of heat radiating through Shen’s body, followed by his devilish warning, “You only make me want you more.”