It takes Dong Hua Dijun several weeks after his return from the mortal realm to recognize the new imbalances in his life.
(This is, of course, a lie, but he was once the Ruler of All Heaven and Earth; allowances must be made.)
It starts with restlessness, of all things. The irony is not lost on him - or at least the part of his mind he allows to dwell on such inconsequential things. He, who was born of a rock and has been compared to one more often than not, has taken to...fidgeting. Not always, mind you. He has not suddenly turned into some frivolous, flittering deity who cannot sit still through a meal, nor is he some young, hot headed warlord who habitually paces while he plots and plans. Indeed, to all outward appearances, he is very much as he ever was (or has been, for as long as these children that surround him can remember, which, in their eyes, might as well be the same thing).
When he tries to sleep, however…
He finds himself falling to one side of the bed, leaving space for a body that is not there. That will never be there. That can never be there. Without fail, without fuss, he inevitably adjusts to the middle, lies flat on his back, staring at the ceiling, wills his mind to empty, and falls asleep. Without fail and with, perhaps, the slightest bit of fuss, he wakes to find his arms wrapped around a pillow. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but he is unaccustomed to such movement and the whole ordeal is undignified and...inconvenient.
The imbalance slips into other parts of his day, as well.
He lounges with his cheek perched upon his fist and listens as this lord then that one come to him for advice and council. Or, at least,they come under the premise of doing so. Many come simply to state their complaints at him, but have little interest in whatever answer he deigns to give them. Still more come primarily to simply look upon him, like some sort of creature in a mortal zoo. He spares most of them only the tiniest sliver of attention, letting his mind drift elsewhere with a bored expression that is only slightly an affectation.
That is not new. What is new, however, is what comes after.
As they walk away, he finds himself turning, witty observations sitting at the tip of his tongue, ready to provoke a giggle and the slightest squeeze of his arm. Which is absurd, of course, because there is no one there to tell it to and he has never had the time, patience, or temperament for giggles, anyway. That any part of him would waste energy on trying to elicit them is...uncomfortable, to say the least.
It is not until it begins to impact his studies, however, that he is forced to admit that there might be a problem. He begins choosing texts he knows she’d find interesting. Or at least less boring. Texts with complicated love polygons and riddles and happy endings - as if that sort of thing has anything of value to offer. Worse still, he will pause in his reading and fight the urge to go find her, to point out the silly inaccuracies and inconsistencies the author has left in the text.
He is smarter than every being in existence and has been for eons. There is no need to prove or dispute this. Whether it goes acknowledged or not has no bearing on anything.
He wonders if, perhaps, this favor of his has become more trouble than it was worth. The loss of most of his powers and the introduction of several disruptions to his daily routine - and for what? An unnecessary diversion to give the little princess what she thought she wanted and be done with it.
(This is also a lie.)
There is nothing to be done about it now, of course, and regret is a useless emotion - as most of them are, truth be told. He has chosen this path and now he must walk it. And he will master this. These imbalances are, after all, nothing more than the echoes a few short years in the mortal realm.
(This is, perhaps, the biggest lie of all.)
He dedicates his days to the task, turns the entirety of his immeasurable focus towards righting himself. He is meticulous in his meditation, unbuilds himself brick by brick. No high god alive could be so thorough.
(We will not mention the times he reaches out to stroke behind the ears of a fox that is not there.)
He places the bricks around himself in a circle. He ensures each has a place and each place is correct. Some are worn with time and others are still rough. He sinks. He sinks and yet he floats and the tension - yes, it is good. Here is where progress will be made.
He loses track of the days as he swims among his memories and the various aspects of himself. Flowers bloom and die and bloom again. Endless battles wage about him and within him. He is bathed in the birth and death and rebirth of countless stars. And, throughout it all, his breath is a steady, unwavering rhythm. Anchoring him to his task. Supporting him and keeping him afloat.
He proceeds largely unhindered until he feels warm, tiny, delicate hands pressing up along his inner thighs. He could dislodge her; it would not be difficult. He has fought hundreds of men and great beasts on his own and come out triumphant. She is stubborn and determined, but largely untrained. And so young.
(And, of course, she is nothing more than a memory. Perhaps he has forgotten.)
It would be so incredibly easy to remove her hands from his body.
He does not. Instead, he lets himself feel her thumbs rub small circles into his muscles, lets himself feel her warm, damp breath seep through the layers of his clothing and onto his skin. It is not quite right to say that he opens his eyes - eyes are neither open nor closed in this place - but he let himself look at her, lets himself see her face.
Perhaps he is lingering to more fully extract this memory and its ever-winding roots from his soul. Perhaps he just needs to see this one more time to let it go forever. There is nothing particularly special about it, after all.
(Not even he believes these half-formed lies.)
She smiles up at him, radiant and slightly disheveled. She’s kneeling before him, but it is not subservience he is accustomed to from everyone else, not entirely. Not with that flame of mischief and playfulness that burns ever-bright behind her eyes. He cups her face - did he do it then or is he choosing to do it now? He cannot tell - and she leans into his palm, biting her lip in not-quite-shyness, her eyes never leaving his.
“May I?” she asks, all earnest eagerness to please.
He nods - or at least he did then - perhaps he does now? He didn’t beg; he never had to.
But perhaps he did anyway?
(Perhaps he does now. )
She pulls him out from the folds of his robes, running her hand up and down absentmindedly as she shuffles forward into a more comfortable position. There are ways to pose while engaging in this act, ways to artfully position a woman’s body to create additional spectacle and excitement. Jiu’er - Feng Jiu, Feng Jiu - attempts none of these. Perhaps she’s not even aware of them. She would, he knows, if he asked her.
He will never ask her.
Did. He never did ask her.
She takes him into her mouth all at once without shame, but every now and then her eyes dart to his, looking for approval. He gives it without hesitation - how can he not? But he cannot bear to say what he said then. Cannot bear to even remember it.
(And this is where the foundation cracks.)
Instead, he reaches out a hand and strokes through her hair.
A small fox on his knee. Fur beneath his fingers.
And who’s to say? Perhaps he stroked her hair then as well.
She smiles around his cock and hums with pleasure.
A dazed and drunken smile as she bites into the fruit. A half-hum, half-moan as the sweetness hits her tongue. A dribble of juice escaping at the corner of her mouth.
He should leave, but even muted by the dreamscape the pleasure is blinding and her hand reaches out to intertwine her tiny fingers in his.
That same small hand reaching out to unnecessarily clasp his shoulder that first meeting.
Fingers brushing against his as she passes him his cups.
The edges of this memory are crumbling.
Trembling lips against his own.
The cracks grow larger as more and more of her seeps in.
Her smile against his ear, against his neck, as she clings to his back in playful, scandalized delight.
Over and over, the bricks break and crack and the house collapses in on itself.
Her body collapsing against his, taking an arrow meant for him.
The floor gives way beneath him.
He is pulled from his meditation with a sensation not unlike missing the last step in a long line of stairs. His breath is short and his heart is pounding in his ears and, against his wishes, his body is stirring beneath his long purple robes. He takes one shuddering breath, then another, and, finally, one long, steady inhale. He closes his eyes and attempts to slip back into meditation.
Her face is seared on the back of his eyelids.