The Advance of the Mountain Wind – Six

Yunlan calls bullshit, at the very end, and everything changes, including himself. The SID can probably cope, but the Ministry may never be the same, to say nothing of Dixing. Romance, Drama, Porn, I-4

The next morning found Yunlan standing in a rather alarmingly torn-up field, miles outside the city. At Li Qian’s intermittent direction, through his earpiece, he’d been lifting and deflecting and (cautiously, very cautiously) destroying rocks and bits of rusted metal, working his way up from pebbles to boulders until he’d drawn out so much of his power that green and gray roiled in clouds around him. They’d been at it for over an hour, and he was sweating but nothing he’d done had been all that much effort.

He was starting to understand, all the way up in his head, what xiao-Wei meant when he talked about the weight of gods in the world. He could feel the ground singing under his feet, feel the sky like it was something he could reach up and touch, feel the attention of the city’s river like it was alive and listening for his word and would rise if he just spoke.

Given that dizzying awareness of just what he could do, if he chose to, it wasn’t hard to lean convincingly with his hands on his knees, as if to catch his breath. “We done yet?”

“If you’re getting tired, then yes,” Li Qian answered, voice as steady as if she hadn’t just watched him crack a boulder into shards. He’d have to tease xiao-Wei, later, about how he raised such fearless students. “Can you retrieve or dismiss the visible manifestation?”

“That is a very good question.” Yunlan straightened up and flexed his fingers, looking thoughtfully around. “Hm.”

Li Qian’s startled, “Professor?” warned him ahead of time, so he wasn’t too surprised to see xiao-Wei, a minute later, walking calmly through the swirl and flow of green. He was a little surprised that he could feel xiao-Wei’s presence before he saw it, as if xiao-Wei was walking close enough for their shoulders to brush. But that was right, older feelings told him a moment later—xiao-Wei was walking through an extension of Yunlan’s being.

And xiao-Wei’s own being was reaching out to trace the edges between them.

Yunlan’s breath caught at the feel of it, and xiao-Wei smiled at him, even as Li Qian’s voice asked sharply if everything was all right. “Yeah, fine,” Yunlan answered, distracted. Whatever xiao-Wei was doing (touching, his memory said, just touching) it was subtle. Even looking for them, Yunlan could barely spot the glints of blue around the edges of green. He felt it, though, like xiao-Wei’s hands on his shoulders. When he refocused on the man in front of him, xiao-Wei looked warmly amused, lips curved softly. Yunlan reached up to cup a muffling hand over his earpiece. “This feels kind of familiar. Have we done this before?”

“Yes,” xiao-Wei said, low. “I’ve stood in the heart of your power many times, before.”

“Thought so.” And the touch of xiao-Wei’s power did help him find the edges of his own again. Slowly, reaching out his hands to make it feel a bit less odd, he drew those edges in. A little reluctantly, he admitted, because it felt really nice, to touch like that.

When the last slow curl of his energy unwound from around xiao-Wei and they stood in clear air again, xiao-Wei lifted a hand to curve around Yunlan’s cheek. “Later,” he promised, eyes dark and intent in a way that made hot anticipation coil in Yunlan’s stomach.

The chorus of groans in his earpiece reminded Yunlan that they had video pickups trained on them, and he cleared his throat. “So! Are we done?”

Li Qian sounded like she was stifling laughter. “Yes, Chief Zhao. You can come back to the observation building. Professor Shen, too.”

Back inside the low, concrete building at the edge of what Yunlan frankly suspected was a weapons testing, field Lin Jing was busy with whatever the impressive rack of instruments was telling them. Zhu Hong and Da Qing, on the other hand, were both free to give him unimpressed looks. Yunlan could feel xiao-Wei laughing silently, behind his shoulder. “I’ve put up with all of your nonsense,” he reminded his team. “And why aren’t you scolding Shen Wei, too?”

At that, Lin Jing turned around to join Zhu Hong and Da Qing in staring at him, utterly disbelieving, and xiao-Wei’s laughter escaped him for a breath. He cleared his throat and composed himself again while Yunlan rolled his eyes; even godhood wasn’t enough to get some respect around here, obviously.

“What do the results look like, Director Li?”

Li Qian blushed prettily, the way she’d been doing every time xiao-Wei called her Director, and Yunlan once again resisted the urge to pat her on the head. Why couldn’t he have such adorable underlings?

“We still haven’t completed a sensor specific to this type of energy, but we can, at least, observe the effects.” She picked up a sheaf of paper just finishing printing and handed it over. To xiao-Wei, of course. Yunlan sighed and read over his shoulder. “The magnitude of Chief Zhao’s power is impressive, as is the flexibility with which he uses it.” She nodded respectfully to Yunlan. “The type does seem to be limited to physical manipulation of matter on the macro scale, though, which falls in line with our existing model.”

Yunlan felt xiao-Wei’s shoulders fall a little, where his arm was draped over them. It had been important that they convince Li Qian of that, at least for now. “So where are you at on creating direct measurement?” he asked, to distract her from xiao-Wei’s relief.

She made a frustrated face. “We’re having to work backwards from the manifestation to the mechanism, since the mechanism doesn’t seem to overlap with the source of dark energy at all. We have a few ideas, but I expect simply testing them will take months, if not years to complete.”

Yunlan gave her his best encouraging smile and spread his hands. “No worries as long as the catalyst isn’t in circulation, right?”

She gave him a thoughtful look. “Not immediate ones, no. I would like us to be prepared, though, in case there are further changes in the symptoms you or Guo Changcheng have experienced.” She hesitated, glancing back and forth between him and xiao-Wei, and added, slowly, “I feel care for the integrity of those affected must be of primary concern, in our research, especially given the weaknesses demonstrated by Professor Ouyang’s methodology.”

Yunlan beamed at her and patted xiao-Wei on the shoulder, congratulatory. He raised such smart students. “I can hardly argue with that.”

It was, of course, xiao-Wei’s quiet smile and small, meaningful nod that made Li Qian settle back on her heels with a faint, determined glint lighting her eye. “Then I think we’re done for the day. Thank you again, Chief Zhao.”

A few parting civilities got them all out the door and back into the cars, where Yunlan could finally sag back against the seat with a faint groan and rub at his cheeks, which were aching a little from all that grinning.

“It may not be necessary to play the fool with all of the rest of the Ministry,” xiao-Wei noted, settling beside him.

“I know she’s an ally,” Yunlan sighed, reaching over to rest a hand on xiao-Wei’s knee for a moment before turning the key. “But this is a heavy secret to ask someone to carry, and it’s you she knows and believes in, not me.”

“Perhaps we should start with my secrets, then.”

Yunlan looked around quickly, at that, hands stilling on the wheel. Xiao-Wei just raised his brows a bit, as if he didn’t see what was strange in the Black-cloaked Envoy of Dixing, let alone the god of ghosts, casually offering to reveal himself to the human Ministry’s foremost researcher. After a moment, Yunlan bent his head, laughing a little; maybe someday he’d stop being surprised by xiao-Wei’s care. Xiao-Wei’s hand settled on the back of his neck, cool and steady, and he let himself lean into it, let his muscles unwind a little further.

“I wish for you to be happy, as well,” xiao-Wei said quietly. “Concealing yourself doesn’t please you.”

“Mm. You know, I don’t think I can conceal myself from you.” Not even if he tried. It was a novel feeling, a little thrilling, a little uncertain.

“Do you need to?”

The question crystalized thoughts and plans and memory into a single shape, so clear it struck Yunlan breathless. “No,” he whispered, feeling a genuine smile tug at his mouth. “I don’t.” He lifted his head to look over at xiao-Wei and the brightness in his eyes, warm and open and just for Yunlan. It made the entire world feel so much easier, that Shen Wei was beside him.

The thought made him smile all the way back to the Division headquarters.

They arrived just as the team was setting out the last bottles and dishes.

“What’s this?” Yunlan asked, giving the whole team a mock-stern look. “More excuses to loaf around in the middle of the work day?”

“It isn’t an excuse at all,” Zhu Hong claimed with a sniff. “This is vital team-building activity, to welcome Li Huiliang and to welcome Professor Shen back, of course.”

Yunlan spread his arms. “Oh, of course.” A gust of laughter ran through the group, including He Niu and Xu Jian, and joined by the tiniest flicker of amusement over lao-Chu’s face. Yunlan shook a finger at him. “This was the ‘job’ you said you and xiao-Guo had to do instead of today’s testing, wasn’t it?”

Lao-Chu just looked back, perfectly poker-faced, but xiao-Guo was nearly bouncing beside him with pleasure and excitement. It was as good as a neon sign. Yunlan threw up his hands with a laugh. “All right, all right.”

Everyone promptly grabbed for drinks and food.

“So, aren’t you going to make a welcome speech or anything?” Da Qing prodded Yunlan. Yunlan grumbled under his breath but lifted his glass.

“Today we welcome a new teammate,” he declared, and added, “sort of.” Xiao-Wei promptly elbowed him in the side. “I’ll explain that part in a bit,” Yunlan told He Niu and Xu Jian. “Li Huiliang, the SID is pleased to have you join us.”

Zhang Shi’s smile was only a little wry. “Thank you, Chief Zhao.”

Lin Jing lifted his glass toward her. “To new teammates.”

“To old teammates, who apparently can’t hold down a job anywhere else,” Zhu Hong lifted her glass mockingly to him, in turn.

“To new beginnings,” xiao-Wei offered smoothly, before Lin Jing could answer back.

“To finding out exactly what’s going on,” He Niu added on, with a narrow look at Yunlan.

“To better data,” Xu Jian added, sliding a sidelong glance at Lin Jing.

“To the bosses being way more relaxed,” Da Qing chipped in with a wicked grin and ducked when Yunlan swatted at him.

“To new hopes,” Zhang Shi kindly deflected, though there was distinct amusement in the tiny crimp at the corners of her mouth.

“To gifts given,” lao-Chu said quietly, looking down at his glass.

In the moment of silent surprise that lao-Chu had actually spoken, xiao-Guo looked up from his own glass with a bright smile and said, softly, “To protecting people.”

Yunlan watched his team exchange glances and smiles and tiny nods, watched the edges of bickering and plotting and worrying blunt for a moment, and smiled. “Yeah,” he said, quietly. “We can drink to that.” Little clinks skittered around the table as everyone tapped their glasses together and drank.

As the group broke into smaller conversations, xiao-Wei set his glass down and leaned against Yunlan’s shoulder. “Will you tell the new ones everything?” he asked, softly.

“I think we need to.” Yunlan glanced at him, glad to find him looking calm, without the tightness around his eyes that spoke of real concern. “Now we have the cover stories in place, and the Ministry at least a little in hand, that’s the next step, isn’t it?”

“To start gathering allies and the numbers to handle a change in the way most people think the world is.” Xiao-Wei nodded, and Yunlan took a moment to simply enjoy the familiar flow of shared thought and the deeper familiarity of xiao-Wei’s power, curled in potential around the two of them. For one breath it felt strange to know that, to feel a potential presence and his own twining around it, but the moment Yunlan focused on the feeling it was familiar again.

Xiao-Wei smiled sidelong at him, as Yunlan relaxed against his shoulder. “Is it well?” Yunlan smiled back and took another sip from his glass. It was the taste of his own answer that he savored on his tongue, though.

“You know, I really think it is.”