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There was little that Shen Wei did not adore about the shop.

Even with an immeasurable number of centuries down the line, he was pleasantly surprised to find that those sentiments had yet to change. If anything, he had come to hold the building even more dear to his heart, which was to say that his great love and respect for the shop’s owner had only deepened in a similar fashion over the course of their time together. And rather than the shop itself, Shen Wei thought, perhaps it was Kun Lun that his heart wished to shower tenderness over instead.

Shen Wei sat obediently and let the thought hover in his mind, turning it over and over in his mind’s eye as he ruminated. The room he was in was one of the many that the shop contained, and even now he had yet to discover them all. In all his time here, Shen Wei had managed to enter a good portion of them at least once but he knew that there were still a handful that only Kun Lun could enter, and him forbidden. It had been disappointing at first to know that there were places Kun Lun could go that were so very unreachable to him. Perhaps he was not qualified enough, or perhaps Kun Lun had yet to accept him completely. Or even worse, perhaps the shop itself was expressing its rejection towards him despite Kun Lun’s decision.

There were many frightening reasons that Shen Wei had pondered over privately but he had learned to look past them through time. Regardless of it all, there was no denying his affection for the shop and its aloof owner. He doubted that there was anything about them both that he could despise at this point.

Magic imbued into it’s entire being, the shop was a quaint little machiya resting in a pocket of space and time wherein the plot of land harbouring it was safely tucked away. It had two stories and its infrastructure was supported with wooden beams, planks and many other organic materials woven into a home. The number of rooms it contained were uncountable and did not align with what its exterior seemed to suggest it could hold, but that was the way it was. The nature of its rooms also ranged from the common facilities like the kitchen, the restrooms and the bedrooms to those whose purposes were a complete mystery.

Kun Lun had told him that the land the shop sat on was set apart from the world — from reality itself. The space was completely displaced and unattached. Shen Wei had initially thought of it as a painful separation from everything and everyone else. But then he had seen the way Kun Lun’s eyes sparked with a captivating sense of pride. Free, he had said. The one thing this space would offer to all is freedom. And Shen Wei had accepted that fact without question.

The main room that he spent the most time in was arguably the most important one. There was no true name for it but it was where they tended to the customers. It was where Shen Wei would lead them all to during their visits, and it was where they would consult Kun Lun as they so desire. But most importantly, it was the room which Kun Lun chose to reside in the most. So naturally, it was where Shen Wei would spend most of his time too.

And this was where he found himself now — sitting proper in a kneeling position with his legs folded under his thighs, and his weight resting comfortably on his ankles. His long dark hair was tied back in a neat ponytail and his fringe was pinned back. Before him, there was a tea set in place and Shen Wei was in the midst of pouring the freshly brewed tea. His sleeves were pulled back and with the kyusu in hand, he pressed against the lid of it as he poured the tea into the respective yunomis to prevent any of the hot liquid from spilling out.

There was the sound of liquid sloshing as the tea steamed from the spout of the kyusu and splashed into the yunomis, filling the two that Shen Wei had placed before him. The pleasant herbal scent began to fill the room and he basked in the familiarity of it.

The room itself was spacious and had a high ceiling where the steam would waft up aimlessly. Wooden beams crossed overhead and tatami lined the floor. It was situated across the first floor and that meant that to his left, the room extended out into an engawa. Past the row of sliding doors that marked the end of the room, the tatami flooring transitioned into smooth polished wood. The engawa was an elegant stretch of wood the ran along the edge of the building and it was elevated off the ground with wooden beams, similar to a porch. It served as the ideal spot to appreciate the sky and it was where Kun Lun love to lie with his hair splayed across the wood, smoking with ease.

The way the left of the room led out into the yard and let the wind run by gave it a sense of openness that Shen Wei appreciated greatly. Over the engawa, the roof of the building extended out into a downward slope and there were a handful of windchimes tied to its edge. The coloured glass that they were fashioned out of dangled off the edge of the sloping roof and twinkled in the wind. There were three in all and each chimed with a slightly sweeter pitch than the other. The light green, the champagne brown and the baby blue glass swayed gently in the wind with the light catching in their translucency, the colours of the mountains and its rivers.

Shen Wei vaguely remembered making them when he was younger and though he still believed them to be silly creations, he secretly found it heartwarming to see Kun Lun insisting for them to be put up. He suspected that the man had only wanted to tease him with the thought of the customers possibly asking about them, but there they still hung after so many years. Lifetimes, if he really thought about it. So it wasn’t much of a stretch for Shen Wei to think that that had to mean something.

Meanwhile, to his right, there was a line of sliding paper doors that separated the room from the hallway, as well as the rest of the shop. They were all closed from end to end and the neat row almost seemed to form a wall, allowing the continuous design of rising mountains and flowing rivers at its feet to run seamlessly from wood to paper. Truly, the work of a master of the brush and in all his lives, Shen Wei had yet to see the vibrancy of the paint fade or dull. And he doubted they ever would.

The tea reached the brim of the second yunomi and Shen Wei returned his attention to the task on hand. In a well-practiced motion, he tipped the kyusu back to cut off its flow of tea. He swiftly wiped away the droplets hanging onto the cusp of the spout and set the kyusu aside. Then he returned his attention to the pair of yunomis filled comfortably with steaming, aromatic tea.

“Xiao Wei,” Kun Lun said. “Come here.”

Shen Wei lifted his gaze to the man before him. He was expecting it, but the sight of Kun Lun before him still made his heart hiccup in his chest. It was not as shocking and violent as it was in the beginning but it was still there. Fortunately, Shen Wei had spent a long enough time with the source to learn to not let it show. The days of flinching and having his whole body lock up visibly were behind him.

A fair distance away, Kun Lun laid across a chaise lounge in a lazy sprawl of cloth. He rested an elbow on the elevated armrest and had one of his legs stretched out across the body of the lounge, cocking the other leg up so that his legs would create a horizontal ‘P’ like formation.

He wore a loose white robe in that same insufferable fashion he seemed to adore greatly but Shen Wei had absolutely refused to emulate. The cloth was a smooth ivory with silvers of intricate embroidery along the edges and while there was a turquoise sash knotted around his hips, it did little to make Kun Lun look decent. Shen Wei greatly suspected that it was because the man insisted on wearing his robe open. The upper section of his robe hung agape where Kun Lun had neglected to tuck one lapel under the other, and it gave way to a full view of his chest.

Indecent was an understatement, from the way it allowed Shen Wei to trace down the sight of Kun Lun’s body — starting from his delicate and deep clavicles and down to the dips and rises of his bare chest, to the dimples of muscle across his stomach and finally ending at the base of his toned abdomen. If the sash was any lower, Shen Wei was sure that no customer in their right mind would ever wish to consult him. The shop would only be attended by those with perverse intentions and Shen Wei was sure that he would be not handle that well. Provocative was a better word to describe Kun Lun’s relationship with clothing, and it was all too clear from the way his robe laid precariously over his slim shoulders, threatening to slip off at any sudden motion. Even now, Shen Wei could see that an entire knob of his shoulder was completely bare. The cloth had slid down to pool around his upper arm instead.

Kun Lun’s favoured green robe was laid across chaise lounge like a blanket on a bed. It hung off the back of the lounge and spilled off the seat to brush against the floor. And unlike Shen Wei’s own maintenance of his hair, Kun Lun much preferred his untied and free. His long dark hair flowed like a waterfall down his shoulder and hung down the backs of the armrest. The length meant that it would flow all the way down to pool on his lap and on the tatami floor. Silvers of amusement glinted in Kun Lun’s eyes and his mouth curved into a smile of soft allure, like he had sweet secrets tucked under his tongue. Something about it him in his entirety crisped with a wild but hidden delight, and yet there was a form of easy grace to his movements.

“I’ve got something for you, don’t be shy,” Kun Lun grinned, raising a hand to curl his fingers inwards to beckon Shen Wei over. “Just trust me.”

“Alright,” Shen Wei sighed. He picked the two yunomis up carefully, followed by the matching kyusu, and placed them on a round tray. Then he moved to rise from his kneeling form and with the tray balanced out steadily before him, he walked to where Kun Lun laid.

There was a small lacquerware table set before the chaise lounge and Shen Wei had initially intended to place the tray atop it. But as he approached, he found that the table was already occupied. Atop the polished surface of the table laid a few rolls of paper, bounded together by string. The material was slightly translucent and the whiteness was tinged with a hint of yellow. And if he looked closer, the edges of the paper seemed to be fraying ever so slightly like cloth.

“Something for me,” Shen Wei echoed.

“Something just for you,” Kun Lun repeated and chuckled. “Don’t look at me like that, Xiao Wei. Put the tray aside and I’ll let you take a closer look, hm?”

Shen Wei did as suggested, bending down to set the tray onto the floor and kept his features as neutral as he could. A gift for him, from Kun Lun himself. How could he not feel a sense of curiosity and pride? He might uphold the act of slight annoyance or simple disinterest as if he was doing so to humor Kun Lun, but they both knew the truth.

Shen Wei made a move to step closer to the table when Kun Lun made a sudden noise of surprise. The sound made his body freeze, stopping him in his tracks instantly. He turned to Kun Lun with a questioning arch of his brow, only for it to be returned with an expression of mock affrontation.

“No, no! What do you think you’re doing?” Kun Lun said with feigned offense.

“I...” Shen Wei did not know quite what to say, what did he do wrong? “I was going to take a closer look…”

“You were?” Kun Lun began to smile with mischief sparking in his eyes. “Then I shall offer you the position with the best view.”

At that, Shen Wei watched with a sense of oncoming doom as Kun Lun moved to shift the hair cascading down his shoulders. He swept them back and let his hair flow down the back of the chaise lounge instead. He then tucked one foot in and left his other leg propped up, spreading his thighs to create a space on the lounge. A space for Shen Wei to sit, but it was…

It was between Kun Lun’s legs.

“Come, Xiao Wei,” Kun Lun patted the empty spot and looked up at Shen Wei with an insufferable grin like he was having fun. “Sit with me.”

“...No.” Shen Wei bit out. The sound almost came out in a growl and he could feel the heat rising up his neck, colouring his ears.

“No? Ah, I see! So you would prefer my bare lap instead?” Kun Lun laughed under his breath and moved to peel the ends of his robe back. “Oh, Xiao Wei…”

Shen Wei hissed in panic and darted forwards. Before Kun Lun could begin to pull his robe to expose any form of flesh, Shen Wei slapped his hand away and planted himself between his legs firmly. It was no doubt a terrible decision, but he knew that Kun Lun was completely serious in regards to the alternative and that left him with no other choice. Shen Wei sat between Kun Lun’s legs with his muscles locked and his body so very stiff.

He felt Kun Lun hum in satisfaction behind him as he cupped Shen Wei’s ponytail and smoothed it over his shoulder, knuckles brushing against Shen Wei’s neck as Kun Lun arranged for it to settle on Shen Wei’s chest instead of down his back. Shen Wei bit down a shiver. He was already regretting this greatly.

The feeling only intensified when Kun Lun leaned forwards to reach the rolls of paper. His bare chest pressed against Shen Wei’s clothed back, one hand on Shen Wei’s shoulder to steady him whilst the other reached past him for the lacquerware table. Shen Wei had never fallen ill in the entirety of his life, but this felt like a close substitute. After Kun Lun retrieved a roll of the paper from the table, he looped both his arms around Shen Wei’s waist and made the blush across his ears darkened. He swore he felt Kun Lun smirk as he untied the string and let the paper unfurl across Shen Wei’s lap, the ends of the roll coming undone and hitting the floor with a dull thud.

“Relax,” Kun Lun whispered and propped his chin on Shen Wei’s shoulder like it would help. He clasped his hands over Shen Wei’s that were clenched into fists and at Kun Lun’s touch, he begrudgingly loosened them. “That’s it, there we go…”

With his slim and calloused hands, Kun Lun gently guided Shen Wei’s hands down to the paper splayed across his lap, moving his hands so that the tips of Shen Wei’s fingers would trace across the ivory surface. There was a slight roughness to its texture and Shen Wei revelled at the sensation as he traced. And just like a musician with their instrument, a gale of wind blew straight into the room like a ringing note under Shen Wei’s sweeping touch. The windchimes clinked gently and the gale brought forth the scent of treetops, a bursting crisp scent of dry earth and a bite of bitter sap filling the room.

“Is that…” Shen Wei slowly lifted his head to scan the room, brow knitted in confusion and a slight hint of awe.

“The paper,” Kun Lun said in confirmation, grinning in delight. “I knew it would favour you, there was a good feeling.”

“Favour me?”

“Indeed.” Kun Lun said and Shen Wei could feel the rumble of his voice tremor down his back. “To be loved by paper is a rare thing, Xiao Wei, do you even know what this one is called?”

As Shen Wei pondered over the question, he dipped his hands down to smooth his palm across the paper experimentally. In response, the wind fluttered around the room happily. There was a low swoosh as the breeze ran past them and it lifted their hair to the side. Kun Lun’s unkempt locks rippled in the wind before settling back down as it died. Shen Wei inhaled the crisp scent that the wind left behind and exhaled with content. Yes, he decided. He would like to know it's name.

“Kun Lun-jun, what — Ungh! ” Shen Wei was in the midst of inquiring its name when Kun Lun had lifted his head to mouth it against Shen Wei’s ear, almost as if he knew Shen Wei would ask and he was just waiting to pounce.

"Washi,” Kun Lun whispered lowly, lips ghosting against his ear and at the way Shen Wei jerked between his legs, Kun Lun pulled back in laughter. “It's called washi paper. I was in Echizen a long time ago. It’s where the washi was born and the bundle fell into my lap by trade. It's quite a find to have it so pure and mint as this one, but it was never meant for me and I've never appreciated it the way it wished to be. So I shelved it aside and left it forgotten until now.”

“And now... You're passing it on to me?”

“If you desire it, there will be a price. But I'll make it cheap just for you.” Kun Lun grinned. “Xiao Wei-ah, show me something nice with it and it'll all be yours.”

At the offer, Shen Wei stared down at the stream of paper on his lap with uncertainty. He wanted it, of course. There was a growing pull between the paper and his gut that he knew was instinct. He knew that this was what affinity felt like. But he was still unsure as to how to use it. Conflicted, Shen Wei knitted his brow and tried to devise a way to show Kun Lun ‘something nice with it’.

As if it could sense his struggle, the paper began to shiver and Shen Wei felt something swelling out from his chest, dripping down his lungs and hooking onto his ribs. Water seemed to rise to his ears and the sounds began to take on a muted quality. His dark eyes glazed over and Shen Wei reached out to the washi splayed across his lap. There was a sharp slice as the paper began to split apart, and Shen Wei slid his hand underneath the translucent paper where he felt was right. He gently lifted his hand and came away with a clean square of washi paper.

Shen Wei blinked, and his senses seem to flush back into his body. He stared at the piece in his hands and with some quick consideration, he decided that it had yet to qualify as the ‘something nice’ Kun Lun deserved. So he tentatively reached out to the paper and asked with his heart. And the washi responded in kind. Shen Wei watched as the paper began to fold up in his palm, awe coursing through him as it folded and tucked into itself again and again in rapid succession — until there was an elegant paper crane standing in his palm. The wings standing tall and the long neck that folded into a sweet beak.

Shen Wei assessed it before he turned and offered it to Kun Lun, wordlessly. He hoped that it was satisfactory.

Origami, hm?” Kun Lun picked the crane up from his palm and mused aloud. “That’s quite something. And a crane...”

“Do you like it?” Shen Wei asked.

“I do,” Kun Lun admitted. “I do very much, Xiao Wei-ah. The washi is yours, you can have it. But really... You’re quite a shameless one, aren’t you?”

At Shen Wei’s blank look, Kun Lun bit down a chuckle. And instead of giving any further explanation, he leaned forwards to press a kiss to the crane’s paper wing. When he retracted, Shen Wei watched with widening eyes as the paper came to life, the folded beak jerked from side to side and translucent wings fluttering ever so slightly.

“A thousand cranes is one of the old ways to make a wish heard. It’s not something you see everyday, so humans have taken to folding them out of paper when there’s a great desire to see their hopes granted. If I recall… They call it a senbazuru.” Kun Lun flicked the origami crane into the air and it extended out its wings in flight, the paper crinkling ever so slightly. Shen Wei followed it with his wide eyes as it swooped around the room.

“It’s kind of like me, isn’t it?” Kun Lun continued, lacing his arms around Shen Wei’s waist. “I ask for something nice and anything would do fine but, oh, Xiao Wei... You just had make something whilst thinking of me from the bottom of your heart, didn’t you?”

And maybe it was the softness in his voice, or the underlying heaviness below the light, joking tone he used. But Shen Wei found a deep affection rising in his throat and the words slipped past his lips before he could stop them.

“Of course,” Shen Wei said in a low voice. “I wouldn’t have given Kun Lun-jun anything less.”

“Mm, say my name again, Xiao Wei.”

“Kun Lun-jun?

“No, not like that.”

“...Kun Lun,” Shen Wei said and tried to keep his voice steady. Kun Lun chuckled at the shaky way his lips formed the sound that was Kun Lun’s name, and it turned into a sigh of contentment. Shen Wei melted a little at the sound and he tried again, with more confidence this time  

“Kun Lun?” Shen Wei said and he heard Kun Lun laugh softly. The sound of it filled him with pride.

“I think I like it better when you call me that. And for saying it so sweetly, I think I’ll have to reward you, don’t you think?” Kun Lun retracted his arms from Shen Wei’s waist and he had to bite back the disappointment. His thin arms reached up to pluck the paper crane out of it’s flight, bringing it down to drop it in Shen Wei’s lap. “A custom just for you, Xiao Wei: Set a senbazuru into flight as you say my name just like that, and I’ll grant one of your wishes.”

“Is that allowed?” Shen Wei asked. “There should be rules against making up traditions as you wish.”

“Ah, it passes by a hair’s breadth so there would be no trouble.” Kun Lun leaned to press a smile to the base of Shen Wei’s neck, reminiscent of the gentle way he breathed life into the origami piece before. “But, Xiao Wei-ah, I’d still do it for you.”

 


 

An immeasurable number of centuries down the line, the shop remained standing even after massive losses, and certain gains.

Ye Zun stood in the middle of the room with a tray in hand. Atop the tray was a sake set, the tokkuri full of the alcohol and a couple of o-chokos sitting by it, waiting to be filled. He had brought them out intending to have an impromptu drink with his brother — Shen Wei — under the night sky but now he was unsure of how to proceed.

With night blanketing over the shop and the candles in the room unlit, the room was plunged into a milky darkness with Ye Zun standing like a statue in their midst. He stood unmoving and if it was not for the silver glints in his hair, he would have blended right into the night.

A fair distance away, Shen Wei sat along the engawa by himself. The moon was a bright maiden tonight and the soft rays were kind enough to light the porch up, allowing Ye Zun a full view of his brother’s lonely silhouette. The light framed his edges softly and made the green robe draped across Shen Wei’s shoulders seem a tad bit faded. What was a vibrant green robe during the day rested on his back and was long enough that it splayed across the wooden planks, the sleeves that Shen Wei failed to slip into trailed down his sides. Above him, Ye Zun could see the slight sway of old windchimes clinking as they dangled to the night’s slow wind.

But what drew his attention the most was the massive bundle of origami cranes resting along the engawa, the ends of the bundle resting on Shen Wei’s lap and hidden from Ye Zun’s view. It was a mix of green and white paper cranes tied along the length of a string and then knotted together with the others, creating a mass of origami that crinkled and shuffled everytime Shen Wei seemed to add on another crane.

Ye Zun watched as his brother appeared to have attached the final one and his slender hand reached to grasp the main knot that held the strings together. Shen Wei then stood up and the green robe followed his motion to drag up too. He took a few steps forward into the yard and walked out of the shadows of the roof, and into the full force of the moonlight. His long hair hung freely and fell in waves down his back, swaying slightly with every step and rippling with a moonshine cast from the sky.

And in one mighty sweep of his arm, Shen Wei tossed the senbazuru into the sky and Ye Zun could hear the loud clap of a thousand paper cranes crumpling all at once. The bundle reached the peak of its rise and before it could begin its descent, there was a massive chaotic burst of motion. All at once, the origami came to life. Each crane unravelled from the string that bound them together and began to twitch and jerk at their own volition. The conglomeration of paper wings taking to flight all at once created a crashing flutter across the night sky. Ye Zun watched as his brother released a wave of paper cranes and he could’ve sworn he heard him say something under the chaos — something with the same note as a plea.

He took an unconscious step forwards to try and hear it better, and his foot pressed down onto the tatami noiselessly. And yet, Shen Wei whipped around violently like Ye Zun had crashed the tray onto the floor. The tense anticipation building in Shen Wei’s shoulders deflated all at once at the sight of Ye Zun, and he couldn't help but feel sorry for bringing his older brother disappointment.

For the first time that night, Ye Zun could see his brother’s expression and his chest ached in a dull throb. There was a delicate pair of round-rimmed glasses perched on the bridge of his nose, and behind them Shen Wei’s eyes were red and laced with a bone-deep weariness. In the way his lips were pressed into a thin line and his jaw seemed to be clenching painfully, Ye Zun couldn't help but think that his brother looked on the verge of tears.

“Ye Zun,” Shen Wei finally said, voice coming out softly. “What are you doing here? It’s late.”

“I thought we could drink under the moon together,” Ye Zun said, lifting the tray he prepared. “See?”

Shen Wei shifted his gaze down to the tray and the sake set atop it, and then back to Ye Zun’s hopeful expression. And then he offered his little brother a tired smile that looked more painful than pleased. Ye Zun never wanted to see it again but he had thought the same thing everytime Shen Wei wore that same heart-wrenching expression. The worse part, he supposed, was that regardless of how many times Shen Wei had made the same painful smile, there would never be anything Ye Zun could do to soothe him.

And so just like every other time, Ye Zun let his heart bleed out beneath the safety of his ribs and watched as Shen Wei returned to his seat on the engawa. He swept the green robe back and arranged his hair to fall over his shoulder, letting the dark locks lie across the wooden planks and on his lap. Shen Wei turned to look back at Ye Zun and patted the empty spot beside him.

Di-di,” Shen Wei said. “Come here.”

“Coming, Ge.” Ye Zun said as he approached hesitantly. He made his way to the edge of the engawa and joined Shen Wei under the moon.

He then set the tray down between them and picked up the tokkuri, feeling the high volumes of sake slosh inside it as he lifted the flask. And then he tilted it down and filled each of the two o-chokos one by one, the short height of it meaning that it would only take a few seconds before it was filled. The sake flowed in a steady stream that twinkled in the moonlight and when he was done, Ye Zun placed the tokkuri back down to the tray and he pulled his sleeve back to serve Shen Wei.

Ge-ge, your drink.” Ye Zun said as he picked up an o-choko and held it up to his older brother.

“Thank you,” Shen Wei muttered as he accepted the drink kindly, both hands clasped around the cup as he accepted. And Ye Zun did not miss the way blood crusted all over Shen Wei’s accepting hands, paper cuts lining every finger and even the base of his palms. Some of them were old and healing over, but most of them were recent and raw. It was the result of endless lengths of time spent hunch over, fingers folding and tucking paper edges over and over until they went numb. And even then Shen Wei would still continue. If the first senbazuru did not work, if the thousandth crane failed, then he would try a thousand senbazurus without fail.

As Shen Wei turned away to drink, Ye Zun bit back his questions and took a drink of his own, deciding to let his older brother ruminate in peace.

And so the two of them sat along the engawa, enjoying the presence of the moon and each other. Each trying to find solace in the moment and grasping onto a deep sense of loss and loneliness instead. Ye Zun had known something like this might happen. It was why he had tried his best to raise his brother’s spirits with the offer of company and sake. Instead, he had encountered something tragic and important, and found that once again there was nothing that he could do.

Beside him, Shen Wei lifted the o-choko to his lips and took a sip. When he lowered it, he remembered the choking plea that had slipped past, the prayer that was a name. He remembered how seconds after his heart soared in hope only to plunge heavily at the sight of the wrong man.

Shen Wei looked to the moon where the last of the origami cranes flew and raised a hand to grasp the green robe on his shoulder, holding the fabric tight in his fist. And Shen Wei silently yearned into the quiet night for the days when paper fluttered to life with Kun Lun’s breath, rather than with the smearing of his fresh blood.

Kun Lun, Kun Lun, Kun Lun. Shen Wei pleaded and begged with all his heart until the last of the cranes disappeared from his sight. Please, for me…

But Kun Lun would never come for him again.