The Advance of the Mountain Wind – Four

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

They both went in to work the next morning.

(“Are you sure about that?” Da Qing had asked when he stopped by at dinner-time to drop off more of xiao-Wei’s boxed up belongings. “Anyone would think you were in heat, the way you’ve been acting, are you sure you’ll be able to keep your hands off each other for a whole day?”

Yulan had swatted him across the back of the head and shoved a bag of fish treats at him to keep his grin from becoming any further commentary.)

He dropped Shen Wei off at the university, even though it meant circling back to the SID headquarters, and took away with him the tiny, wicked curl to xiao-Wei’s lips when Yunlan wished him a good day. The thought of xiao-Wei walking through his campus, greeting colleagues and students with a polite smile and trailing shock and disruption in his wake like a more entertaining version of his black cloak got Yunlan through the morning without giving in to the urge to sneak up behind his dreadfully earnest new office staff to see who was paying attention.

Much.

Really, anyone who worked for the SID should have better situational awareness than that.

“Oh, he used to be like this all the time,” he caught Lin Jing telling He Niu, their new archivist. “He’s been grieving this last year, you know. Now Professor Shen is back, I’m sure the Boss’ heart has started to mend…” Yunlan clapped a heavy hand on Lin Jing’s shoulder, cutting off his increasingly melodramatic explanation. Lin Jing flashed him a split-second smirk before assuming a suitably daunted expression.

“And what are you still doing here, anyway?” Yunlan asked. “Don’t you have work enough at the Institute?”

“I resigned today,” Lin Jing told him brightly. “Since Professor Shen is back, things will be getting fun again, won’t they?”

“Oh, so you think you can get your job here back, just like that?” Yunlan raised his brows, carefully not answering the question. Lin Jing obviously noticed, going by the alarming way his eyes lit up. “Three month probation at base pay only.”

“Oh come on, I’m more useful than that!”

Which was true enough, not least in helping maintain Yunlan’s cover until they decided what to do about the whole ‘back to being a god’ thing. “Oh fine, one month,” Yunlan offered. “Bonuses contingent on producing better data or tools than our new analyst does.”

Lin Jing whined and moaned dramatically, but finally accepted.

“And he’s always been like that,” Yunlan told He Niu, on his way back down the stairs. Which was not strictly true, but he’d leave it up to Lin Jing how much of his mask he wanted to keep.

Or to make real.

By the end of a day of subtle, sideways testing, Yunlan had a fairly good sense of his new staff, and Zhang Shi had been regrettably on target—a lot of them had hired on out of hero-worship and been put to work indexing all the old reports for lack of anything else to do with them. The exceptions so far were He Niu, who was the one actually directing the re-indexing efforts, and seemed like a capable archivist if not exactly field agent material, and Xu Jian, the data analyst who had been more or less filling Lin Jing’s place. More in that there was suddenly a lot more supporting data tucked into those old reports, and less in that there were far fewer mostly-working, possibly-explosive tools tucked around the lab room.

Though what was in there still included the Holy Tools, requiring Yunlan to conceal several minutes of mild panic over whether they would start responding to him the way they would presumably not have ever responded to Zhang Shi.

“They really left all four of the Holy Tools with us?” he asked Zhu Hong as soon as they’d managed to shoo the new kids out for the day. She only shrugged, sliding bonelessly down into her favored chair, opposite lao-Chu and xiao-Guo, who was perched on the arm of the couch beside his partner.

“The Lamp couldn’t be moved, and this is the most strongly shielded building in the whole city. Besides, the Ministry was falling all over themselves to pretend they never tried to make us their scapegoat.”

Yunlan frowned as memory prodded at the back of his mind. Something about the Lamp, and why he wasn’t surprised that it couldn’t be moved. “The Lamp… is only part here?” he murmured. “No, that’s not quite it.” He wondered, exasperated, if thumping on the side of his head would improve his reception on that huge, dense weight of memory deep inside.

“Close, though.” Lin Jing hopped up onto the long table, swinging his feet cheerfully. Yunlan had heard the argument he’d had with Xu Jian about the amplitude of dark energy output by the Holy Tools, earlier; the whole building had heard. At least they both seemed to have enjoyed themselves. Lin Jing waved at where the Lamp hung over everyone’s heads, looking for all the world like a third ceiling lamp except that it was suspended from nothing. “It’s actually more that it’s in two places at once. I have a theory that it would have to be moved in both places simultaneously, to move it at all.”

“So much for my plans to ask for a bigger headquarters building. Maybe I can just get an auxiliary building to put the reports and new staff in.” Yunlan squinted up at the Lamp, thoughtfully, wondering whether he and xiao-Wei together could move it.

The Lamp wobbled in midair.

It was reflex more than reason that shot his hand out to catch the Lamp. He’d forgotten, though, that his reflexes now went a little further than most people’s. Green and gray flowed out from his hand, green like pine needles, gray like sheered rock, green like the icy heart of springwater welling up from stone. It curled out and up and around the Lamp, and Yunlan clenched his teeth on a surge of real panic, because he didn’t know what he was doing or about to do. The Lamp wobbled again, in his hold.

And then it steadied.

Yunlan took a deep breath, feeling the solid support of Shen Wei’s body behind him and the shadowy coolness of Shen Wei’s power running under his, pressed against his, rising from the hand suddenly outstretched under his own.

“It’s a good thing I didn’t stay late, talking to my students, it seems,” xiao-Wei murmured against his ear. Yunlan laughed, perhaps just a little shakier than usual. Xiao-Wei’s other hand tightened on his shoulder. “Easy. You know this.” Yunlan could hear the smile in his voice. “This was how you taught me to truly control my power, after all—to shape it rather than simply hone it sharper.” The cool of his power curled around the edges of Yunlan’s own, a light touch that coaxed him to ease his grip, a steadiness that assured him nothing could go to wrong.

Yunlan leaned back against xiao-Wei, relaxing into the easy support of his power, and had to close his eyes for a moment at how good it felt. “Was I trying to get you into bed?”

Pressed together like this, he could feel xiao-Wei’s silent laugh. “Not at the time.”

The more Yunlan calmed from the first shock of power rising from his hands, the more memory rose. This was right. This was his, was him. Once he gingerly let that thought settle in, it got a lot easier to draw back and let green wisp away from the Lamp.

Which sat innocently in midair as if it had never wobbled at all.

Yunlan finally looked down again, to see his staff staring at him.

“Kunlun,” lao-Chu said quietly, eyes dark as he studied Yunlan.

“God of mountains,” Zhu Hong whispered. “Yashou legends say so, still, the oldest ones.”

“Huh.” Lin Jing was eyeing the Lamp like a stray data point. “Okay, maybe I was wrong. Or maybe it really was made out of you, though how that’s supposed to work…”

Da Qing put his feet up on the table, unimpressed as only a cat could be. “I told you you wouldn’t be able to go a whole day.”

Yunlan realized he was still leaning half in xiao-Wei’s arms and straightened up, rolling his eyes. “Shut up, Damn Cat.”

The stifled grins that flashed around the group suggested Da Qing had shared his prediction with the rest of the team. So, business as usual, really. Yunlan ignored them all loftily and pulled out a chair, slinging it around to sit backwards. Xiao-Wei pulled a second chair up to sit neatly beside him, and everyone settled down again.

“We need to make some plans.” Yunlan ticked points off on his fingers. “What are we telling the Ministry? What are we doing about the new kids? What are we doing about the whole contagious souls thing?” Xiao-Wei gave him an exasperated look and Yunlan amended, “Fine, the communicable, stable, generative energy form thing.”

Lin Jing sat bolt upright. “Ah!”

“Science later, planning now,” Yunlan admonished, not that he thought it would do much good.

“For the good of both ghosts and humans, I will return to my people as soon as possible, to ensure this change,” xiao-Wei touched a hand to his chest, “is spread. But that will mean the seal between realms won’t bar them from crossing, any more.”

Lao-Chu crossed his arms over his chest. “The danger of consuming human life just by being near will be erased, but those of great power will still be more than humans can easily handle.”

“Job security for us,” Da Qing pointed out, popping another fish snack into his mouth.

“So we tell the Ministry about the results, but not the reason,” Yunlan concluded, and then glanced over at xiao-Wei. “Unless you want to reveal yourself?”

“Not unless you choose to.” Xiao-Wei’s voice was level. “They would reasonably fear my influence over you, otherwise.”

“Even if they know about the Chief’s power?” xiao-Guo asked, hesitant and looking sad enough to remind Yunlan he was asking the kid to lie to his family. Yunlan sighed, leaning his arms over the back of his chair.

“Even then. They’d just wonder how much of it was the Envoy’s doing, and what he was up to, giving the head of the SID power like that.”

Xiao-Guo nodded, drooping where he sat until lao-Chu slid a hand up to the back of his neck and shook him, gently. “I understand, Chief.” Then he perked back up a little. “So maybe the new staff should be the ones to talk most to the Ministry? Since they won’t look too closely at the Chief and the Professor.” The whole team turned to stare at him until he fidgeted. “Um? They’re very impressed with both of you, you know?”

“That’s actually a good plan,” Zhu Hong marveled.

“All right, then. Step one, I’ll escort our good friend the Envoy to his people. Step two, we’ll come back and tell about two thirds of the truth to the Ministry. Step three, we sort out who’s on call for field work and who gets to be liaisons and file clerks.” Yunlan planted his hands on the back of his chair and pushed up onto his feet.

Xiao-Wei stood as well, brushing his jacket straight. “Tomorrow, you can escort me to my people.”

Yunlan waved a hand at the still-bright sky outside the office windows. “We have plenty of time to get a start now…”

“Tomorrow,” xiao-Wei repeated, immovably, wearing an exceedingly calm smile.

After a testing pause, during which xiao-Wei failed to show the tiniest amount of the irritated acquiescence that usually met Yunlan’s insistence on something, Yunlan spread his hands wide, magnanimously. “Tomorrow, then.”

Lao-Chu held out a palm to Zhu Hong, who glared at him for a long, fulminating moment before finally pulling out her pocketbook and slapping a bill into his hand. Lao-Chu smirked as he tucked it away.

With the wisdom of years of leadership, Yunlan didn’t ask what the bet had been, and ignored Lin Jing and Da Qing’s snickering as he led the way out the doors.


“Why tomorrow?” Yunlan asked, as he closed the apartment door behind them.

“Because,” xiao-Wei answered, shrugging out of his suit jacket and sitting on the bed to pull his shoes off, “I am not taking you back down there until you have some kind of control over your power.” He scooted back to sit with his legs crossed and held out a hand to Yunlan.

Memory echoed up again, echoes that said xiao-Wei was a lot more tense than he appeared. Yunlan sighed and gave in, yanking his own boots off and sitting knee to knee with xiao-Wei. “Okay,” he said, gentler than he’d first intended. “What do I need to do? Because I don’t actually remember much of this, not where I can get at it easily.”

The straight line of xiao-Wei’s shoulders eased a little, and he smiled at Yunlan, so warm and relieved Yunlan could feel the last of his annoyance melting under it. “Just feel and listen.” Xiao-Wei took Yunlan’s hands in his. “Feel how it happens.”

Slowly, nearly as slowly as when xiao-Wei was testing the new balance of his own power, cool blue spread against Yunlan’s palms, soft and beckoning, somehow tender, the way xiao-Wei’s hands on his body were. “Are you sure I wasn’t trying to get you into bed, when we did this?” Yunlan asked, a bit husky.

“Fairly sure,” xiao-Wei murmured, though a corner of his mouth curled up. “Reach back to me.”

Put that way, suddenly, it made sense, and Yunlan reached out at once with the part of himself that felt most like xiao-Wei’s twilight blue action-in-potential, twining through that waiting coolness like lacing their finger together. Xiao-Wei’s breath caught.

“Oh.” His eyes were wide and unguarded as they met Yunlan’s. Slowly, his power tightened around Yunlan’s.

“This is new?” Yunlan asked, soft. Xiao-Wei nodded, and took in a quick breath as Yunlan stroked experimentally against the edges of him.

“I hadn’t noticed earlier. It feels different, now. I can feel more… texture, I suppose; it used to be just the heat of life.” He swallowed. “Well. I suppose I don’t need to worry whether you’ll be able to catch someone trying to strike at you this way, at least.” His voice was a little husky, and Yunlan had to wrestle with himself for a long moment before he sighed and drew back. Xiao-Wei really did have a point, here.

“Let me try.” Yunlan drew himself all the way back to… well, to the rest of himself, he supposed, trying to keep a mental hold on the memory-and-echo of how this worked. “Slowly?”

Xiao-Wei smiled. “Of course.” He gathered his own power into a tight sphere in his hand, and just looking at it made Yunlan want to duck aside enough that he didn’t have to think at all before reaching out, and further out, and pushing a wall of green up between them. Xiao-Wei nodded and flicked the sharp knot of his power out to burst against that stone-solid wall with a flash of blue and silver that filled the whole apartment before fading.

“Excellent.” Xiao-Wei looked very pleased, when Yunlan gathered the wall of immovable intent back into himself. “I’d hoped it would come back quickly once you tried it.”

Yunlan looked down at his hands, flexing them thoughtfully, though it hadn’t been his physical hands that had been involved, exactly. “I think I understand better, now, what you meant when you said gods are potentiality.”

“Immense potentiality,” xiao-Wei agreed, low, “and every part of your being is available to be actualized into the path you choose.”

Yunlan clenched a fist. “The Institute. If a way to force development of that gets out…” Xiao-Wei’s hand folded around his fist, cool and gentle. When Yunlan looked up, xiao-Wei was smiling, small but also happy, like there was a light burning inside him.

“Then I’m glad that there will be two of us.”

It took a minute for Yunlan to get his breath back, shaken again by the bone-deep knowledge that it was him, his presence, his company, that made someone like Shen Wei happy like this. “Yeah.” He turned his hand over to grip xiao-Wei’s. “So am I.” The soft stroke of xiao-Wei’s thumb over his knuckles made Yunlan have to clear his throat, glancing aside. “So. Does it work mostly the same way when it’s a thing people are throwing at me, instead of just power?”

A spark of mischief danced in xiao-Wei’s eyes and the curve of his mouth. “Why don’t we see?”

Yunlan spent all of dinner reflecting that he really needed to remember about xiao-Wei’s sense of humor, as he deflected napkins and chopsticks and the occasional book, if xiao-Wei though he wasn’t paying enough attention.

It wasn’t until they were in bed, that evening, that Yunlan finally voiced something that had been nagging at the back of his mind. “If what I am can take any path of actuality that I choose, what does this ‘god of mountains’ thing mean?”

Xiao-Wei turned on his side, sliding a hand up to rest over Yunlan’s heart. “It’s just a description. The best way people found to describe the shapes that your being and power most easily fall into.” His voice softened, in the darkness. “The stone that rises to meet the sky. The life that blooms fiercely in the unyielding places, sufficient to itself. The rivers that flow down from stone—the source of danger and the source of life.”

Yunlan’s breath shook in his chest as those words rang through him, feeling the weight of how deeply xiao-Wei had known him. He reached out blindly to xiao-Wei and didn’t stop until they were wrapped tight around each other, until he’d reached out with the green at the heart of him, now, to twine with xiao-Wei’s cool, shifting blue strength and could taste xiao-Wei against every part of him. Xiao-Wei pressed close with a soft, pleased sound.

“What about you?” Yunlan asked, when he could speak again, fingers running slowly up and down xiao-Wei’s spine. “I feel like I know this, but… it feels complicated.”

Xiao-Wei stirred against him, sounding surprised. “Not especially. It’s…” he hesitated, but when Yunlan just waited, finished reluctantly, “it’s death. Death and ice. If I reached out with all my strength, with no binding on my power… cities would die. That’s always been the core of my nature—to consume life.” He pressed a little closer, adding against Yunlan’s shoulder, “It was you who showed me how to gentle that into other forms, and changed my nature enough to learn new forms from other people.”

“It was you who wished to be able to,” Yunlan answered, absolutely certain. That wasn’t all of the complication sitting at the back of his head, though, and he poked at the feeling some more. “It will be different, now,” he finally said, slowly. “When I think about it like that, about the shape of you…” he thought of the changeable blue of xiao-Wei’s power and buried his nose in xiao-Wei’s hair, smiling, “I think of the sky after sunset.”

Xiao-Wei went very still for a long moment. “You used to say that,” he whispered, finally.

“Well, you said it yourself, just now, didn’t you?” Yunlan pointed out. “The stone that rises to meet the sky.” He held xiao-Wei close, as his breath hitched. “I think Kunlun wanted, very much, to give you that sky and see that become the whole truth of you.”

Xiao-Wei laughed, leaning up on an elbow to look down at him in the apartment’s darkness. “Then it will be.” He laid a hand along Yunlan’s cheek. “It’s always been you who gave me the shape of a future.

Yunlan turned his head to press a kiss to xiao-Wei’s palm. “Then let’s go see what it will look like.” He smiled against cool skin and added, “Tomorrow.”

Xiao-Wei settled back down against him. “Tomorrow,” he agreed.

Yunlan was still smiling as he closed his eyes to sleep.