Huang Guanheng lives many remarkable and unremarkable days in his lifetime. Many have passed, and many are yet to come.
But none will be as remarkable as the day that Guanheng nearly dies, falls in love with the boy in the lake (the boy with the silver hair and the diamond skin) and loses his heart to the water.
It is a beautiful spring morning, and Guanheng decides to go fishing. The lake has finally thawed and the weather, while still chilly, is too good to pass up. It has been a while since they've had fresh fish, and Guanheng has had enough of pickled fish for a whole lifetime.
He ignores his mother's pleas to be careful. Even though he has turned seventeen last autumn, she still coddles him like a child. It doesn't help that his sisters treat him exactly the same, too.
Guanheng sets out into the woods, fishing rod in hand and a knapsack filled with food slung over his shoulder. He whistles as he walks, enjoying the sun on his face and the smell of spring in the air.
Guanheng keeps a brisk pace, reaching the clearing well before noon. He sets up his fishing rod, securing the lure and attaching the bait. He sits down on a fallen tree near the water. It's a perfect spot; soft and sun drenched with a good view of the entire clearing.
It's a small lake, barely more than a large pond, encompassed by trees on nearly every side. Most men chose to fish by the sea, where the water is rougher and the fish are in more ample supply but Guanheng prefers the solitude of the lake, with its green mossy shores and the clear, quiet water.
Hours pass and the fish do not bite. Guanheng starts to feel hungry and he's grateful for his mother's nagging about bringing some extra food. He unpacks a small piece of bread from his knapsack. It's fairly tasteless but incredibly dense and it quickly sates his appetite. It does however, make him very thirsty.
To quench his thirst he bends down by the lake on one knee. He cups his hands to scoop up the water, but when he reaches down to drink it his other leg slips on the moss and he tumbles forward into the lake.
The water isn't that deep near the sides but the icy cold grips his body and drags him down. He thrashes around, only to sink even faster. Soon his head submerges, the shore seemingly miles away as he struggles to come up for air. The freezing water squeezes the air from his lungs and his limbs feel impossible heavy.
He feels himself blacking out, shadowy spots dancing before his eyes and he thinks if only I had listened to Mother. He doesn't notice one of the shadows coming closer until he feels a pair of lips on his own and a burst of oxygen in his lungs. The shadow drags him up, out of the water, a sensation he semi-consciously registers before passing out completely.
Guanheng wakes up completely soaked but he doesn't feel cold at all. I must be dead, he thinks, there is no other explanation. He sits up, carefully testing his arms and legs but everything functions as it's supposed to.
A movement in the water draws his eyes upward. A boy's head emerges from the small waves, a boy with shining silver hair and pale diamond skin, a boy that takes Guanheng's breath away.
"Wh-...what...who are you?" Guanheng asks breathlessly.
The boy tilts his head, appearing to be mulling the question over. "I am Xiao Dejun." His voice is light and beautiful.
"Did you save me?" Dejun nods. He swims closer to the shore, his movement effortless and fluid as if he were gliding through the water. The closer he gets to Guanheng, the warmer he feels.
Guanheng doesn't know if it's because he's flustered or if it's something he does to him, but he's doing something to him either way. Dejun steps out of the water, revealing a slender and very, very naked body.
Beet red, Guanheng turns his head.
"Is something the matter?" Dejun asks.
"You're naked…" Guanheng stammers.
"Yes." Dejun answers matter of factly, "Does this bother you?"
Dejun moves closer, and as he does Guanheng can see his eyes are a shimmering shade of green that appear to shift and change like the water of the lake. "You are shaking, are you not warm enough?"
Guanheng, who feels like he might internally combust if he gets any warmer, shakes his head. "Yes! No! I'm alright, thank you."
Dejun appears to be emitting a soft light from up close. "Are you doing this?" Guanheng asks incredulously, as waves of light wash over him.
"Yes." Dejun answers.
Guanheng hesitates to ask the question. "You're not... human, are you?"
"I am not." Dejun smiles. "I am a naiad. This lake is my home, my life, my heart."
The boy who isn't really a boy sits by edge of the lake, legs dangling in the water. Guanheng sits next to him. "Thank you for saving my life."
"I couldn't very well let you drown in my home, now could I?"
"Well, I don't know, you don't eat humans do you?" Guanheng asks, half-joking but also suddenly feeling a little worried.
"Hmmm, you do look rather tasty." Dejun grins at Guanheng's alarmed face. "You do have humor in the human world, don't you?"
" Oh. Heh. Phew." Guanheng breathes out the breath he didn't realize he was holding. "So you live in the lake?"
"In a way I am the lake. I exist as long as the lake exists. My blood flows as long as the water flows. The lake is all that I know and all that I am."
Guanheng realizes the water doesn’t seem to be moving past Dejun but instead flow through him. "Have you never been outside of the lake?"
Dejun shakes his head. "I cannot. This lake is as much my prison as it is my home." There is a sadness in his eyes, or perhaps it's just the water moving back and forth in those stormy depths.
Guanheng, unsure of what to say, puts his hand on top of Dejun's. The gesture seems to surprise Dejun, and for a moment his magic loses its hold Guanheng, bringing in the bitter cold from his freezing, wet clothes. "Oh my lord!" Guanheng exclaims, snapping Dejun back into focus.
They sit side by side until Guanheng's clothes dry and the sun sinks slowly beneath the trees, bathing the lake in a soft orange glow. Guanheng tells him endless stories about the human world, and Dejun hangs on his every word. So focused on telling his stories, Guanheng doesn't notice Dejun slipping his fingers through his. So focused on telling his stories, Guanheng doesn't notice that the extra warmth he feels coming from within.
Darkness falls, and Guanheng knows he has to return to his village. His mother and sisters must be worried sick, and he half expects a search party to show up by the lake at any moment.
"I'll come back for you." Guanheng says. "I promise!" Dejun crosses the distance between them, pressing a kiss on his lips, setting his heart on fire.
"I'll wait for you." He says softly, before slipping under water.
Guanheng comes home to the scolding of a lifetime, but it barely registers with him. That night he dreams of swimming alongside Dejun, feeling the water embrace him as he embraces Dejun. He dreams of running his fingers through Dejun's silver hair and kissing his diamond skin. Guanheng had never been in love before, but falling in love with the boy in the lake had been so easy.
He returns the next day, and the day after, the entire week until his mother scolds him for slacking off from his duties at home. As promised, Dejun is waiting for him every day, singing softly on the mossy shores. His face lights up with a smile when he sees Guanheng. "You came back for me."
"Of course I did." They talk and they swim, and Guanheng embraces Dejun and it feels even better than his dreams. He runs his fingers through Dejun's hair, kissing every inch of his skin. Each moment they spend together feels like a dream, but just like a dream they both realize that they will have to wake up at some point.
The end of the dream comes in the shape of Guanheng's oldest sister, who follows him to the lake one day. She tells their mother what she has seen, and his mother bans him from going back, strictly watching his every move.
Only weeks later does he manage to sneak out at night. Dejun meets him with a sad smile. "It's okay." He says, cupping Guanheng's remorseful face. "It was inevitable, wasn’t it?"
For Guanheng is human; mortal, alive, and he is an ageless god (however minor) who cannot leave this place. One way or another, life must go on.
“I don’t want to leave.” Guanheng whispers, choking back the tears.
“And yet you must.” Dejun says. He lets go of Guanheng’s hands, and never have they felt so empty and useless as they do in that moment.
“I’ll come back… once a year, at least. On the day that we met. Please be here.”
Dejun smiles bitterly. “I’ll always be here.”
They kiss like it’s their last, and Dejun watches Guanheng leave. For a whole year Guanheng stays away, and he misses Dejun for every agonizing moment.
Dejun waits for him that day, and their meeting is fleeting and bittersweet and over in a heartbeat. Another year passes and Guanheng takes a wife, not because he wants to but because it is expected of him. She is a nice enough girl, and he likes her plenty, though he never loves her like he has loved Dejun.
The next year she bears him two sons, whom he loves dearly. He brings his children to the lake, and when Dejun holds his eldest son he allows himself to imagine these are their children, and this is their family. It reduces him to tears, because it is a fantasy which will never become reality.
His wife falls sick when she is pregnant with their fifth son, and he can’t come to the lake that year. Dejun waits for him, hopeful that he will still come. He does not.
Guanheng's wife dies the next year, leaving him widowed with five young kids. His world explodes into a whirlwind of chaos, and the urgent longing for Dejun become just a soft hum in the back of his mind.
Years pass. The memories of the lake soften and fade. Guanheng grows old. He forgets.
Legend has it that to this day, every year on that faithful day, spring comes with fresh water tears as a beautiful boy with silver hair and diamond skin sits by the lake, waiting for a man who will never come.
In another lifetime, perhaps.