When Yue Qi was young, he received a little mark on his left shoulder.
It was from the Martial God of Southern Continent. He had cultivated beyond immortality into godhood and happened to be passing in the sky. The winds deferred to him as he descended, and he drew a mark on the sleeping child’s arm. It was to peer into the child’s fate.
“You are destined for great success,” The Martial God said, and his brow furrowed, “But you are destined for great tragedy as well.”
He saw the boy’s future.
There would be slavery, imprisonment, and maltreatment. But the boy would become a man, and he would rise to become a pristine cultivator. A man of righteous morality; a Sect Leader. There was a darker blot attached to his fate, though. This other boy was vicious and cruel and prideful, but he was also sensitive and loyal. The boy, 'Shen Jiu', drew a strong distinction between love and hate, but when Yue Qi left him and never came back, those lines blurred between them.
The Martial God dropped his hand when he read Yue Qi’s ultimate demise.
The man was destined to be in agony as he received each of Shen Qingqiu’s butchered body parts, ridden with guilt over the never-repaired relationship, until he sacrificed himself and died. How unfortunate!
So the Martial God shook his head and left, his curiosity sated.
But his mark was still there, and that mark said two words: 沈九.
The god had inadvertently left a symbol of the boy’s fate when reading his future and forgotten to remove it.
And so, Yue Qi would grow up. The mark was small and since everyone wore robes, no one ever saw the mark except him. It was strange, growing up with a name on his arm, and he poked rather frequently at it in curiosity.
Once he met Shen Jiu, everything began to make sense. Was it a message? A sign from the gods? Yue Qi didn’t know, but he did know that he liked Xiao Jiu. A lot. Indeed, the boy was prickly and mean; yet, he was also playful and snarky and lovely.
But fate was fate, and eventually they were separated. The next time Yue Qi saw Xiao Jiu, it wasn’t as Yue Qi, but as Yue Qingyuan. The guilt was crippling, as was the imminent sense of failure, and Yue Qingyuan struggled to think of ways to make amends. How could he? As Peak Lords, Yue Qingyuan was overly indulgent and forgiving of any of Shen Qingqiu's transgressions. Because he felt guilty, but also because he loved Shen Jiu. The time under the Qiu’s had changed him – Yue Qingyuan was unclear of the details, and he almost didn’t want to know. He had a feeling that once he knew the suffering Xiao Jiu endured, he would be unable to forgive himself even more.
One day, Shen Qingqiu fell victim to a high fever.
He collapsed, unconscious. Mu Qingfang arrived and shook his head in confusion after a medical evaluation. It wasn’t a Qi deviation, nor an illness. Just a sudden, strange fever. The other Peak Lords tiptoed tentatively around Yue Qingyuan, who hovered at Shen Qingqiu’s bedside like a ghost. They each had their own suppositions around why Yue Qingyuan was so fond of the (honestly, quite awful) man, but they kept quiet. Except Liu Qingge, who hated Xiao Jiu.
Yue Qingyuan sighed and drew Xiao Jiu’s wrist into his hand. He checked Xiao Jiu’s pulse for a moment, before setting the arm down against the bedside. Gently, he ran a thumb over Xiao Jiu’s knuckles.
He sighed again.
Then, Xiao Jiu began to stir. He opened his eyes.
Yue Qingyuan felt lightheaded with relief. He had to bite back the ‘Xiao-Jiu’ that wanted to spill forth, and settled with a more proper greeting. Xiao Jiu had long since hated that name coming from Yue Qingyuan’s mouth - as usual, the thought made Yue Qingyuan depressed, but in the moment, he was too elated to care.
“Qingqiu-shidi? Shidi, can you hear me?”
Shen Qingqiu roused, eyes fluttering open. His gaze was lucid, and he immediately reached for his fan. The worry that had been building for days finally dissipated, and Yue Qingyuan finally felt at ease. Just looking at Xiao Jiu, safe and in front of him, was enough to settle his nerves.
“You’re finally awake,” Yue Qingyuan tried not to reach over, “Do you feel uncomfortable at all?”
“I’m fine.” Shen Qingqiu said, before pausing slightly. “I – where am I?”
So it seemed like the residual effect of the fever was confusion. Was Mu Qingfang sure it wasn't a Qi deviation? Yue Qingyuan patiently explained the entire situation to Xiao Jiu, and even comforted him over his hated disciple Luo Binghe, before leaving to deal with more sect duties. The entire situation was a little unnerving – the look in Xiao Jiu’s eyes was clearly polite and unassuming. It was respectful, and maybe a little distant.
To anyone else, that would be a wonderful occurrence considering Shen Qingqiu’s usual demeanor, but to Yue Qingyuan, it was one centimeter shy of ‘deeply uncomfortable’.
Xiao Jiu had never looked at him like that before. Usually, there was disdain, anger, or a forced coolness in his eyes, but Yue Qingyuan knew all those emotions were borne because Xiao Jiu cared about him, even though he always said he didn’t. And now…
Yue Qingyuan folded his hands under his robes and flew back to his sect.
It took until night for him to realize something was amiss.
He was disrobing after the strenuous day when his sword caught in the fine silk of his outer robe. It pulled on his left sleeve, and Yue Qingyuan recalled warmly of the mark there, reminding him of Xiao Jiu.
Yue Qingyuan lifted the sleeve and froze. Dread filled into the pit of his stomach, and he forced himself to calm down. He rubbed a hand over the place where the mark should have been. Then he gave a cursory glance at his other arm, pulling the sleeve up. Nothing there as well.
There was nothing on either arm. It was as if the mark had been a multi-year hallucination.
His skin was clear, unblemished, where the mark was supposed to be.