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Just This Once

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“Qi-ge,” Shen Jiu starts, a laugh light in his breath.

Just this once, he tells himself, he won’t care if anyone happens to overhear him calling so familiarly to his shixiong. And just this once, he won’t hold back the slight smile that pulls at his lips as his mouth wraps around the name he hasn’t said in years. The image of Yue Qingyuan’s dumbstruck look, before it slowly turns into a smile of his own, plays a bit of a part in the bittersweet expression Shen Jiu wears as well.

“Xiao-Jiu,” a voice like a whisper replies. So soft, Shen Jiu doesn’t think anyone else can hear it. Not that it matters. The call wasn’t meant for anyone but him anyways.

It sends an ache throughout his chest and he can’t help the redness colors the rims of his eyes. He would never say it out loud, but he misses it. He misses the way Yue Qingyuan would helplessly huff out his name when they were kids and Shen Jiu would stir up trouble with the other kids. He misses the gentle way he’d call him when trying to coax him into being kinder or relenting. He just misses this, and wishes to hear Yue Qingyuan call his name again.

But Yue Qingyuan doesn’t say anything more, and Shen Jiu would imagine it’s because he was patiently waiting for him to say what he needs to say. Shen Jiu huffs out another laugh. Always so patient, even when Shen Jiu has done nothing to deserve his patience, and everything to earn his anger.

“Just this once, I’ll admit something to you,” Shen Jiu says heavily. He closes his eyes, unable to look at Yue Qingyuan. The words were already bundling up as a lump in his throat as it is. Closing his eyes just made it easier to say what he wants to say. To pretend...

“I was wrong, Qi-ge,” he confesses, ignoring the shakiness in his voice. Shen Jiu isn’t one to ever admit when he’s wrong, but he makes an exception this time. If it’s for Yue Qingyuan, he wouldn’t just stop there either.

“I’m sorry,” Shen Jiu says, unable to stop the tear that slips out and rolls off his face onto the ground. He doesn’t care to swallow back these sobs that rise in his throat because this is his Qi-ge. Who despite the distance he enforced between them all these years, still knew him best and still stood by his side and risked everything for him even when Shen Jiu tried his best to chase him away. If after everything he put himself through for Shen Jiu, Yue Qingyuan didn’t hate him, a couple of tears wouldn’t suddenly change that, right?

“But why didn’t you say anything? Why did you let me believe you abandoned me? Did you want to spare me the guilt? Because you pushed yourself too hard to fulfill your promise to me???”

These questions fall from Shen Jiu’s mouth one after the other between sobs, his anger and grief rising which each one which, in turn, gave life to more questions.

“Because you’re such a saint that you could bear to throw everything for me, and earn nothing but my scorn?? What did you get out of it, Qi-ge?? Just what exactly did you want from me?? You couldn’t have done all of this for me!” he shouts. His eyes shut tighter, refusing to see what’s in front of him so he can feel the warmth of the other man around him.

How was any of this fair? He finds he asks himself, like a child throwing a tantrum. How was it fair to Yue Qingyuan? How was it fair to him? It was his fault Yue Qingyuan ended up this way but he wasn’t even given the chance to make up for it somehow? Instead he spent so much time adding onto the burden Yue Qingyuan carried, making things harder, and hating him for something that wasn’t even true.

Shen Jiu could barely find it in his heart to feel surprised all things considered. Yue Qingyuan was always like this. Protecting everyone, but himself. Especially going out of his way to protect Shen Jiu, who was the last person that deserves anything more from him. And who was still selfishly thinking about what was fair for himself, feeling wronged over some else’s suffering. Suffering that he himself played a big part in.

Shen Jiu just didn’t understand. How could Yue Qingyuan go so long hiding this truth in his heart, accepting all of Shen Jiu’s hate with a smile? Even when Shen Jiu committed such terrible deeds. When he hurt so many people.

“Is this person really who you wanted to protect, Qi-ge?” Shen Jiu whispers his final question, opening his eyes and finally staring down at the shattered remains of Xuan Su.

Yue Qingyuan’s sword.

His soul.

Shen Jiu isn’t in the warm embrace of his old friend. Instead he’s cold and alone in a dimly lit cell, barely hanging onto his own pitiful life.

No one hears his apologies or questions, so no one answers.