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Blessed Beginnings, Blessed End

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⊱─────〔✧〕─────⊰

 

Shi Qing Xuan can’t sleep.

He’s tired of tossing and turning, watching as the shadows creep across the marble floor to lick at the foot of his bed. It’s been several hours since he’d first settled onto the soft silk sheets, yet the seductive call of slumber is but a wisp of smoke, as elusive as ever.

Stretching, Shi Qing Xuan slips out of bed, pulling on his outer robes as he makes his way outside. A paper fan hangs from his waist, delicate spokes clasped together, as if waiting to unfurl.

Outside is …quiet. Mirroring a motionless lake, the only signs of movement are the flickering lantern lights as they sway in tandem to the rhythm of the wind. Shi Qing Xuan huffs lightly as it nips and tugs at his clothes, footsteps quickening as he hurries over to his favourite resting place.

As he draws nearer, his pace slows down. There’s someone else on the bridge, staring up at the cloudless night sky. The full moon’s silvery rays catch on the other man’s earrings, setting them alight as they sway with Qing Xuan’s heartbeat. It feels rather pensive, the way the black-clad man makes no move to acknowledge his existence.

Toying with the hem of his sleeve, Qing Xuan steps forward first.

“The moon is beautiful tonight.”

The other man turns at Qing Xuan’s voice. Expression cold, his amber eyes flicker in the moonlight, surprised at the unexpected company.

“It is.”

The other man’s voice is… soothing. Like the grassy scent of freshly fallen rain, it washes over Qing Xuan, setting his heart at ease.

The two of them stand together, side by side. Admiring the countless celestial beings as they sparkle, priceless jewels sewn into the inky navy blanket of the sky.

After a while, it’s Qing Xuan that breaks the silence once more.

“Oh! How rude of me, I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m Shi Qing Xuan, the Wind Master. What’s your name?”

The other man stares at Qing Xuan’s clasped hands and bowed figure, as if conflicted. After a while, he responds, “My name is He Xuan.”

 

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Shi Qing Xuan loves to celebrate. Birthdays, ascensions, weddings, promotions. If there’s good food and entertainment, he’s the first to mingle and chat with the other heavenly officials. He remembers when he’d first ascended as a junior official, riding his brother’s coattails to the middle court as his fellow officials spat and sneered behind his back. The voiceless nights, curled up alone in his brother’s palace, with nothing but his measured breaths for company.

Only now, he’s ascended as the Wind Master. He goes to extra lengths to talk and to please, to curry favour with other heavenly officials over glasses of highest-quality wine. He tries his hardest, stretches himself thin to accommodate others’ tastes, keeping up with topics he’d researched beforehand, to keep the conversation flowing as smoothly as the alcohol that slips down his throat. Qing Xuan smiles until his cheeks hurt, laughs and jokes and sings until his throat stings from overuse. His brother watches him from across the hall, eyes dark with disapproval as he takes in Qing Xuan’s pearl earrings and jade bracelets, gold-embroidered treasures hanging from head to toe, a walking display of opulence and wealth. Not that it matters. Qing Xuan can hold his own now, entertain the crowds as he showers them with merits and promises of more wine.

Socialising with the other heavenly officials is his self-appointed job. He continues to entertain even as the conversation dwindles, chattering on until the other officials retire for the night.

When everyone else has departed, Qing Xuan finds himself alone in a too-large palace, filled with displays of wealth far beyond what he is comfortable with.

“Wind Master?”

No, there’s one person left.

He Xuan makes his way over, brushing aside the silk curtains to stand at Qing Xuan’s side. “Take this,” he offers up a glass of water, and Qing Xuan shivers at the other man’s cool touch.

“Thank you.”

He Xuan seems to hesitate. “Why do you do this?” he asks, settling beside the exhausted man.

“What do you mean?” Qing Xuan doesn’t understand. What is he talking about?

“You don’t look like you’re enjoying yourself, with all these parties and gatherings. Why do you do it?”

At that, Qing Xuan hesitates. The answer stays on the tip of his tongue, and for a moment, he considers letting his inner thoughts free. But before he can respond, He Xuan continues.

“You don’t have to put on an act when you’re with me.”

Shi Qing Xuan opens his mouth, a litany of retorts at the ready. ‘I’m perfectly fine’ - ‘This is what I’m normally like’ - ‘Haha, what are you talking about? Don’t be silly,’ – but he swallows it all down, in the end.

Toying with the now-empty glass, it’s a while before Qing Xuan finally responds.

“Okay.”

 

⊱─────〔✧〕─────⊰

 

Being with He Xuan is like resurfacing after an unending dream. It’s refreshing, having someone beside him as he strolls through the streets, a taciturn companion who sticks around even as Qing Xuan talks his ear off about the most mundane and illogical of things. Someone to share his favourite hideouts, to have fun and explore all the microcosms the mortal world has to offer.

Qing Xuan gulps down a mouthful of fresh air as he breaks through the lake surface, scattering thousands of ripples through the liquid mirror.

“He-Xiong, over here!” Grinning, Qing Xuan waves a waterlogged sleeve, laughing as it flicks droplets at the other man’s impassive face. The water is freezing, shards of ice prickling Qing Xuan’s skin like a baby porcupine, nuzzling his thighs.

It’s so different to the weather in the South.

There’s no chirping cicadas. No teleporting dragonflies, zapping around in their short-lived frenzy, no blurs darting between brown-fuzzed cattails in an unending game of hide and seek.

Instead, there’s a swarm of fish nosing between his toes, nipping at this unexpected warmth floating in their humble abode.

He loves it.

“He-Xiong, come join me!” he twirls around, eyes bright. “It’s so invigorating, come closer, no, closer, so I can drag you in—”

He Xuan stays a safe distance away, unmoving in the face of Qing Xuan’s puppy eyes. “I’m fine over here.”

A pout. “He-Xiongg…” After splashing around a bit more, Qing Xuan drags himself out of the lake. Fanning himself, he whips up a flurry of wind, drying his soaked robes in the blink of an eye.

He Xuan cocks an eyebrow.

“Hehe, impressed?” Qing Xuan latches onto the other man’s arm, and after another heartbeat, he’s transformed into his female form. “If you want, I’ll let you have a turn. It’s pretty fun, I’ll even —oh!” Tugging at his companion’s arm, Qing Xuan’s eyes sparkle. “He-Xiong, take me further north! The higher, the better!”

“…what are you planning?” He Xuan asks, crouching down to draw a distance shortening array.

Qing Xuan presses a finger to her lips. “It’s a secret~”

 

When they step through, arm in arm, the scenery changes into a formless wall of white. It’s a blank canvas, a fresh start, an opportunity to craft an experience together, hand in hand.

Regulating her spiritual energy, Shi Qing Xuan chatters out, “P-p-perfect!”

He Xuan frowns. “What are you doing?”

Shi Qing Xuan threads their fingers together, drawing out her spiritual device with a flick of her wrist. Closing her eyes, she twirls around, dragging He Xuan along, one step at a time. With every pirouette, the flurry of snow climbs higher. Ascending skyward in a feverish frenzy.

Shi Qing Xuan sends pulses of spiritual energy through their connected hands, warming He Xuan’s core as the temperatures plummet to sub-zero degrees. Blinking away the snowflakes caught in her lashes, she laughs, bright and loud. “He-Xiong, what do you think?”

The other man doesn’t respond. Ignoring the snowstorm swirling around them, his gaze never strays from Qing Xuan’s flushed face.

Qing Xuan blows puffs of air into his face, giggling at the other man’s dazed expression. “Amazing, isn’t it?”

He Xuan cracks a rare smile. “It is.”

Settling down at the mountain precipice, Qing Xuan snaps the fan shut. “He-Xiong, lend me your hand,” she smiles, soft and secretive. Tracing the character of “wind” onto the other man’s palm, she brings it his hand to her lips.

She feels the other man tense in her grip.

“A kiss for good luck,” she winks, before pressing something into the other man’s palm.

He Xuan’s trembling fingers curl around the familiar handle of lacquered wood. “It’s your spiritual device,” He Xuan frowns.

“I’m letting you try it out! I’ll teach you how to use it, step by step.” Shi Qing Xuan grins, brushing powdery pockets of snow off her robes.

“It’s not that hard, once you get used to it,” Qing Xuan explains, “it’s just a fwoosh and a pah!, and you twirl, just like this—” she spins around again for good measure, “and there it is! Your own personal snowstorm. Seems easy enough, doesn’t it?”

He Xuan’s hand clenches around the wooden handle. “Alright.”

When He Xuan tries the fan, he wields it like it’s an extension of himself. Like he’s had centuries to practice, to perfect the way the wind insignia flashes in the sky as he circles around, again and again. Shi Qing Xuan watches as snowflakes dance under the washed-out winter sun, hands clasped in admiration.

“How was that?” He Xuan quirks an eyebrow.

“That was perfect!” Shi Qing Xuan praises, “You’re such a fast learner. It’s almost as if you’ve done this hundreds of times before.”

The other man refuses to meet her eyes. “Is that so? Wind Master, there’s no need to flatter me like this.”

A quiet huff. “Of course it’s true! Maybe next time I’ll even put you in charge of filling the sailor’s winds as they travel across the seas…”

He Xuan shakes his head. “Dumping jobs onto others already, are we?” he remarks, voice wry.

Shi Qing Xuan huffs, “Don’t put it like that! I just like watching you use the fan. Besides, it’s a valuable skill! Maybe one day, you’ll find some use for it. It’s better to be safe, than sorry.”

At this, He Xuan kicks up another flurry of snow. When it settles, there’s no black-robed man in sight.

Shi Qing Xuan calls out, “Hey— He-Xiong, don’t run away!” Chasing after him, her voice carries across the silver-lined, snow-filled clouds.

Decades later, a legend will surface. A story of two heavenly officials, playing hide and seek in the skies.

But for now, the heavens are filled with tinkling laughter, like wind chimes swaying in the breeze.

 

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Shi Qing Xuan loves festivals. Walking through the brightly-lit stalls, he soaks it all in – the restless energy of travellers, the heady scent of chargrilled pork, the eager shouts of little children as they run around, snacks in hand. Peering over his paper fan, he scans each stall with a curious excitement.

“He-Xiong, He-Xiong, look at this!” Shi Qing Xuan chirps, dragging him over to the nearest stall. “Ohh, these masks are pretty scary. Wanna try one on?”

“Not interested.”

“Aww, don’t be like that! Here, I’ll buy two, one for me and one for you! That way, we’ll match,” Shi Qing Xuan continues, undiscouraged. He picks out two ceramic masks, grinning at the eye-catching Chinese character scrawled in a blood red ink. He secures it on the other man’s unimpressed face. Qing Xuan manages to hold his expression steady for two seconds, before giggles bubble out like an overflowing pitcher.

“…”

“Is this one not good enough? There’s lots more, let’s try them on, one by one—” Qing Xuan teases.

Something grabs his wrist, before he’s hauled off into the crowds again. “Let’s go.”

Shi Qing Xuan blinks twice. “Okay!”

 

On the outskirts of the town, there’s a sky full of flickering lights.

“He-Xiong, let’s go there next!” Qing Xuan announces, boisterous and loud. His grin widens at the other man’s huff of resignation. “Hey, don’t be like that…” he pouts, “it’ll be fun, I promise.”

As they drift away from the town’s epicentre, the crowds start to thin. He spots a lantern vendor in the corner of his eye.

Against the backdrop of running water, Qing Xuan asks, “Have you flown a lantern before?”

“It’s been a long time.”

“Really?” Qing Xuan perks up, “I haven’t flown one in decades! He-Xiong, come quick, let’s buy some to fly together, okay?”

Chatting to the store vendor, Qing Xuan returns with two unmarked lanterns in hand. Handing one over to his partner in crime, he pauses. “He-Xiong?”

“Mm?”

“Why don’t we change it up a little?” Qing Xuan tilts his head to one side. “Light one for me, and I’ll light one for you too!”

“Okay.” He Xuan pauses, “Do you have a brush?”

Qing Xuan rifles through his robes, before procuring a calligraphy brush from gods-know-where. It’s a spiritual device, some priceless heavenly treasure crafted by some renowned scholar on Mount CangQiong.

Peering over the other man’s shoulder, Qing Xuan ooh’s and aah’s at the delicate brush strokes. “Were you a scholar too, once upon a time?” he jokes, “because your penmanship is beautiful!”

He Xuan blows on the drying ink, returning the brush for Qing Xuan to stow away. “All done.”

Reading the phrase aloud, Qing Xuan feels a strange feeling settle in his chest. “Blessed beginnings, blessed end? He-Xiong, our time together isn’t ending anytime soon!”

Humming, He Xuan rolls his wrist. Hooking an arm around Qing Xuan’s elbow, he states, “It’s almost dark, let’s find a good place to float our lanterns before it gets too late.”

 

“The truth is, there’s a specific stall I wanted to go to.” Shi Qing Xuan admits as they make their way back into town. At He Xuan’s questioning glance, he continues, “And it’s really good! I was super lucky to stumble across this hidden gem.”

He Xuan humours him, “Is it a restaurant? What do they serve?”

Qing Xuan presses a finger to his lips, “It’s a surprise~”

When they finally arrive, Qing Xuan calls out to the store owner. “Old man, give me two bowls of your finest yuanxiao!”

He Xuan is uncharacteristically silent.

Qing Xuan smiles, warm and soft. “I know this isn’t what you’re used to eating, but they’re really good, I promise!” He pushes the bowl closer to the other man, propping his chin up with the palm of his hand.

He watches as the other man makes his way through the rice dumplings, grinning all the while.

“See? They’re good, aren’t they? And there’s so many flavours! Which one do you like more? Red bean? Sesame? Wait, I’ll order some more, you’re always eating enough to feed a family of five— Old man, I’d like another 3 bowls!”

Underneath the dying embers of the setting sun, Qing Xuan feels …content. The low chatter from nearby tables turns muffled as the night grows dark, as the strings of lanterns flicker to life, one by one. Amidst it all, his companion munches away, making good progress through the rice dumpling soup. ‘It seems like he’s enjoying it,’ Qing Xuan notes, satisfied. It’s strangely domestic, the way the other man sweeps his hair behind his ear as he brings the spoon to his mouth. The way the golden firelight catches on He Xuan’s lips makes his stomach tighten in response.

‘What was that…?’ He dismisses it with a shake of his head.

Toying around with the clouds of steam above the piping hot bowls of yuanxiao, Qing Xuan tells He Xuan about how he’d stumbled across this place, decades ago.

“—back then, there was a family of three caring for the stall – I watched them offer a bowl to a nameless beggar, and saw how the man’s face lit up at the first bite – brighter than the lanterns swaying above him. And when I tried it myself, I was absolutely amazed at how soft the dumplings were. When the fillings burst on my tongue…” Qing Xuan licks his lips, as He Xuan’s gaze drops lower. “Oh! I’ve been rambling for so long, the food’s gonna get cold. Here, take some more! You like sesame, right? I’ll pick them out for you, make sure to eat your fill!”

‘He-Xiong, if you liked it this much, we’ll definitely come back again next year!’

Qing Xuan’s lips curve upwards at the thought.

 

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The air is filled with the sweeping brush of straw against stone, as tendrils of incense smoke curl in the fragrance-filled air. Everyone is busy, cleaning and tending to their loved ones as the sun climbs higher in the sky.

QingMing Festival has arrived.

Grave-sweeping is a foreign concept for Shi Qing Xuan. Since his parents’ untimely death, his brother had never bothered with these frivolous, unnecessary tasks. Whenever Qing Xuan brought it up, he’d be met with glaring disapproval, and a gruff, “they weren’t the parents we needed. Why waste time paying respect to useless scum?” He’d never had the opportunity to go.

“He-Xiong, are you headed anywhere today?” Qing Xuan asks through their private communication array. “If you are, let me know, if you’re okay with it, can I come?”

A few seconds later, he receives a response. “I’m going to Fugu later today.” A longer pause. “You can come along, if you’d like.”

The other man sounds sombre, like the murky depths of a sinking swamp. He feels …different, more melancholy, like the bone-shaking toll of a bell. Qing Xuan isn’t sure of what to make of this new side of He Xuan. But…

…he really wants to see him.

“Okay, I’m coming over!” and with this, Qing Xuan disconnects from the communication array.

 

Fugu is an unusual town. Stepping down from the heavens, Qing Xuan peers around, mindful of the shuttered windows and locked doors. There are deep gashes— forming small trenches in the ground, ripping out chunks of wooden flesh ripped from trees, scarring the environment like a fanged beast gone wild.

“He-Xiong…” Qing Xuan trails after the other man, eyes darting around.

“Those marks have been around for decades. Be careful not to trip,” he warns, as he walks along the empty streets.

‘This place… did He-Xiong grow up here?’ Qing Xuan can’t help but wonder, as the other man strides forward. ‘It’s …eerie. Like a ghost town, filled with lost memories of happier times.’

Up ahead are four grave markers, stone tablets worn smooth from decades of weathering the elements. ‘These people are…’ His parents. His sister. His …fiancée. Qing Xuan steps back, and bows his head in prayer.

He Xuan crouches down, fingers tracing the engraved characters. He pulls out a cloth and a broom, and gets to work clearing out barb-leaved weeds and silvery spider webs as they cling stubbornly to the tombstones. It’s not difficult labour, but Qing Xuan feels his heart sink at the sight.

‘They must have been very precious to him,’ he muses, watching as the other man dips the cloth in a basin of water, washing each tombstone with slow, gentle wipes.

Afterwards, he lights several sticks of incense, bowing to each grave marker as pungent fumes of agarwood waft over to scratch at Qing Xuan’s delicate nose.

Qing Xuan’s starting to have second thoughts. Being here, wasn’t it a violation of He Xuan’s privacy? He feels like a voyeur, intruding on this private moment between He Xuan and his family. His leg begins to tingle, and he takes a step back, and another.

Someone stops him. “Qing Xuan, come here.”

He Xuan’s still kneeling before the gravestones. There’s a hand stretched out towards him, an olive branch suspended in the air. The smile directed to him seems tired, fatigued beyond his years. Yet he waits, for Qing Xuan to make his way over.

When Qing Xuan holds his hand, he feels the other man’s grip tighten. “My name is Shi Qing Xuan, and I’m He Xuan’s friend. Thank you for taking care of him.”

His hand squeezes the other man back.

 

Under the watery half-moon, Qing Xuan watches as He Xuan skips stones across the lake’s mirrored surface. The expanding criss-cross of silver-tipped ripples. The muffled clunk of a stone shattering through the glass-like water, sinking into the murky depths.

He Xuan breaks the silence, “What would you do, if you lost everything you’ve ever loved? If you had the chance to take revenge, to destroy the lives of those who wronged you?”

Qing Xuan tilts his head to the side. Laughing lightly behind his paper fan, “What kind of question is that? There’s so much to love in this world, from the glowing fireflies waltzing in the summer, to the ever-present beauty of the celestial sky. If I lost everything I’d ever loved, I’m not sure just how much of the world would still remain.” Smiling softly, he reaches out, as if cradling the stars in his hands.

He Xuan presses on. “What about if you lost the people most precious to you?”

“Precious people…” Qing Xuan bites his lip. He can see his brother’s disgruntled expression, as he tucks Qing Xuan in, lullaby falling from his scowling mien as calloused fingers card through his hair. He Xuan’s golden gaze doesn’t waver when he holds Qing Xuan’s hand, specks of firelight twinkling in the night.

He imagines losing it all.

Qing Xuan takes a while to respond. “It sounds like it would be painful. To be honest, I’m not sure how I’d be able to live on. But I’m stubborn as you said. Bull-headed, I’d forge a way ahead. The world is just so rich, you know? It’d be a shame if it all ended there.”

“And revenge?”

“I don’t think I’m the type of person to seek vengeance. It really wouldn’t suit me!” Qing Xuan cracks a smile, “This is all just hypothetical anyway, why do you look so serious?”

He Xuan doesn’t reply.

A lone figure kneeling before the grave markers.

Something stabs into his chest, and twists. Shi Qing Xuan comes closer, places a hand on the other man’s shoulder. “If anyone has wronged you, I’ll stand by your side to right their wrongdoings, I promise you. He-Xiong, if anything happens, I’ll support you, no matter what!”

He Xuan shakes his head, “Never mind that. Like you said, it was all hypothetical anyway.”

It’s getting late. As heavenly officials, the concept of “curfew” seems foreign. But as a younger brother, Qing Xuan knows there’s someone waiting for his return.

“He-Xiong,” Shi Qing Xuan loops their arms together. “Let’s go home?”

Pressed against the other man, Shi Qing Xuan feels warm and fluffy, like freshly-steamed mantou tucked away in a bamboo hut, hidden from the world.

Truly, there’s no other place in the world he’d rather be.

And like a blossoming sunflower meeting the sun for the first time, a bright smile blooms.

 

⊱─────〔✧〕─────⊰

 

This place hasn’t changed much since the last time he’s visited.

Perched upon the terrace balcony, Shi Qing Xuan hiccups, “He-Xiong, He-Xionggg!!” Giggling, he saunters over, a half-empty wine jar dangling from his outstretched hand. As he stumbles around, it sloshes onto the wooden floorboards. “He-Xiong, drink with me!”

He Xuan takes another sip from his porcelain cup. He seems more relaxed than before, reclining on the redwood armchair as he takes in the lovely view.

Qing Xuan makes his way over with some effort. Leaning into the other man, he exclaims, “Isn’t it beautiful? I love the scenery here – the sprawling forests; the rivers, clearer than crystal; and the mountain ranges stretching as far as the eye can see…” He hiccups again. “You know, I ascended here. A few couple’a years ago.” He holds a hand up to his face. “How many years was it…? Bah, it doesn’t matter.”

He can feel the heat blossoming on his face. The rapid drum of his heartbeat echoes in his ears, as he drapes himself over his best friend. The other man is so close, he thinks to himself, as his free hand pokes He Xuan’s cheek, pinching it lightly.

“Hahaha,” laughing at himself, he curls into the other man’s warmth. “He-Xiong, I really like you,” he mumbles, hiding his face in the other man’s robes.

He feels the other man stiffen at the touch. “He-Xiong…?” What’s wrong? Is it the alcohol? You haven’t had enough yet, have you? I’ll pour some for you in a second—

“I think you’ve had more than enough for tonight,” He Xuan replies, and oh, he’s said it aloud.

“He-Xiong, you’re so cold,” laughing, Qing Xuan pulls the other man’s hands to rest on his cheeks, “Look! I’m super warm, I’ll help warm you up.” He has a special trick for warming people up. Where did it go? He faintly registers the sound of breaking ceramic. “Oops…”

He Xuan just shakes his head. “What am I going to do with you…”

Shi Qing Xuan merely hums in response.

“Hey, He-Xiong…?”

“Mm?”

“Can I tell you a secret?”

“Sure.”

Shi Qing Xuan leans in, lips brushing against the other man’s dangling earrings. “The truth is… I think you’re really great. Really really great.” He leans back, satisfied.

He Xuan huffs.

Qing Xuan squirms in the other man’s lap. “No!” He slaps his hands onto the other man’s cheeks. “No laughing. It’s true! You’re my best friend. The words you told me all those years ago, I never forgot them, you know?”

Something brushes his cheek. “What are you referring to?”

Pouting, he sulks. “Don’t tell me you forgot! It happened after the banquet, back when you first ascended. You, hic!, you said to me, ‘You don’t have to put on an act, when you’re with me’, and that’s, that’s what I did!”

He Xuan, “A passing remark managed to leave an impression on you?”

“Of course it did! When I’m with you, I feel most comfortable. I don’t need to hide anything, I can just be myself, and that’s enough.” He grins, self-satisfied.

He Xuan coughs, “is that so?”

A firm nod. “Yeah!” Qing Xuan stares up at the other man, eyes wide.

“…what is it?”

He gasps. “Woww…. You’re really pretty! I love your eyes, and your nose, and your mouth, and your eyebrows, I like -hic!- everything about you!”

“…Qing Xuan, you’re drunk.”

He shakes his head. “Nuh-uh! I’m just a bittttt woozy, not drunk! Even if I was a lot drunk, what I’m saying is true!”

He Xuan smiles, soft and secretive. “Is that so.”

Curled in the other man’s lap, Qing Xuan responds with a sleepy hum.

 

The night is in its deepest hours when Qing Xuan rouses.

Blinking sleep from his eyes, he turns his head to marvel at his best friend’s resting face. It’s pretty rare to catch He Xuan in such a vulnerable state. Tracing the other man’s long lashes, Qing Xuan’s gaze follows a sculpted nose to settle on a pair of parted lips.

The memories from earlier tonight seem fuzzy, Shi Qing Xuan realises with a pause. He’s pretty sure he’s said something stupid again — he knows better than anyone just how honest he gets when he’s inebriated.

The full moon seems as bright as the sun, silvery light catching on He Xuan’s golden earrings as they scatter like crystals across his inky robes. He’s so handsome, the way his features soften in his sleep.

Thu-thump.

Qing Xuan pauses. It’s been happening more and more often, over these last few months. Just seeing the other man is enough to make him flush a deep red. Every time Qing Xuan calls out ‘He-Xiong!’, he feels it — a fuzzy warmth blossoming inside him.

A hand rests against the other man’s cheek. ‘How did it get there?’ Qing Xuan ignores the voice inside his head, focussing on appreciating the beautiful man before him. He leans in, mindful of the warm gusts of breath fanning across his face. Parting his lips, he presses them against the other man’s mouth.

It’s electric, the shuddering thrill of doing something forbidden. ‘Of stealing something you’ve always wanted,’ the voice inside him murmurs, smug. Qing Xuan ignores it, pressing his lips against the other man again, and again, and again. His eyes slide shut, as his arms wind around the other man’s neck.

“I like you,” he whispers against the other man’s lips.

 

Something shifts beneath him.

‘Is he awake already—?’ Qing Xuan’s heart rate spikes. He pulls away, tries to untangle his fingers from the other man’s nape, but it’s too late, He Xuan’s opening his eyes, and—

he’s kissing him back.

Qing Xuan’s brain short-circuits. It’s gone, fizzled out. Cognitive functions ceased. All he can register is the sharp taste of hour-old alcohol, the heady scent of grassy fields after freshly fallen rain, the steady pressure of a matching pair of lips, asking for entry. He lets the other man in with a groan, eyes screwed shut even as he tries to match He Xuan’s skilled manoeuvres, eager to please.

“H-He-Xiong…” Qing Xuan moans as clammy hands slip inside the slit between his robes. He’s on fire, every nerve ending sparking lines of liquid courage as he buries his hands in the other man’s hair. “Please, just, nngh…. more—”

And just as suddenly as it started, everything stops.

“I can’t do this.” He Xuan chokes out, tearing himself away. They’re both dishevelled and breathless, all swollen lips and mussed up hair.

Those four words stab deeper than any knife could ever hope to reach. Shi Qing Xuan trembles, “What do you mean, you can’t? He-Xiong, I know you had a fiancée, is that why…? It’s— it’s fine, I understand, I’ll just–,” he chokes on his words, unable to continue.

“Qing Xuan… I’m not who you think I am.”

What is he saying? It doesn’t make sense. “What do you mean? You’re He Xuan, right?”

He Xuan breathes out loudly, fist pressed against his forehead. “Well yes, I am He Xuan, but I’m not– this isn’t– all of this, none of it is real.”

Shi Qing Xuan, “Slow down. What do you mean, none of this is real? You and I, we’re both here, we’re both alive, aren’t we?”

He Xuan sighs. “…yes and no. Maybe it’s better if I just show you.” He pauses. “Are you sure you want to do this? It’ll be difficult, and painful, but you’ll understand.”

Qing Xuan can barely see through the thick film of unshed tears. “I want to know.”

He Xuan watches him, expression solemn. “Very well. One last thing before we start — Qing Xuan, do you trust me?”

It’s too late. The tears are dripping down his cheeks, even as he swipes at them with his dampened sleeves. Staring up at the other man, Qing Xuan croaks out, “I do.”

He feels a pair of lips press against his forehead, as He Xuan’s arms hold him cradled to a sturdy chest, in a lover’s embrace.

The last thing he sees…

Is darkness.

 

⊱─────〔✧〕─────⊰

 

“Ge!” Qing Xuan calls out, running after the taller man. “Did you hear? There’s a new heavenly official that ascended earlier today!”

Brows furrowed, Shi Wu Du turns around. “The Earth Master? I’m not interested.” Heavenly officials would ascend every few years. Whether or not they stayed in the heavenly realm, only time could tell.

Qing Xuan grins, “I’m gonna say hi to him, want to come with?”

“No.”

A shrug. “Alright, then I’ll see you later tonight!”

Without waiting for his brother’s reply, Qing Xuan drifts off to find the rumoured man.

 

Shi Wu Du seems more pissed off than usual. “There’s a new Supreme? He hasn’t made much of a name for himself.”

Ling Wen, “It’s best if you keep an eye out. They’re calling him Ship-Sinking Black Water, so you might run into him, out at sea.”

Pei Ming laughs, “Our dear brother here is the Water Tyrant. Who would dare to challenge him?”

Qing Xuan nods in agreement. His brother’s like a rising tsunami, ready to devour anything in his path. But even so… “Ge, stay safe!”

“Shut up,” Shi Wu Du grouches, “If he challenges me, I’ll crush him.”

Pei Ming nods, stroking his chin. “Well said! There’s no room for two rulers of the seas.”

 

Qing Xuan loves watching Ming Yi eat. It’s cute, the way the other man powers through bowl after bowl of dragon boat noodles, slurps away with chipmunk cheeks as towers of empty crockery tilt dangerously to one side.

When Ming Yi eats, he does so with a single-minded focus. Qing Xuan finds it adorable, the way the other man’s taciturn remarks devolve into non-committal grunts as soon as a plate of fried rice is placed before him. The other man eats everything placed in front of him, unlike Qing Xuan, who is a bit more selective with his food.

“Ming-Xiong,” he calls out, chuckling at the other man’s stuffed cheeks, “next time, let’s try some northern-style hotpot!”

 

He feels it. The mind-numbing dread weighing him down, barbed vines curling around inside his chest. He’s mortal now, and his century-long companion is now a useless scrap of paper and wood.

The bitter medicine clings to his tongue like a second film, and he swallows, throat dry.

‘—SAVE ME!! YOUR HIGHNESS, MING-XIONG, HELP—'

‘— YOU CAN’T DO THIS, LEAVE ME ALONE—'

It’s useless. Completely pointless. There’s no use in trying to keep him here.

‘Haven’t you done enough? Please, let me go…’

He was never meant to be here in the first place.

 

The smell is unbearable. Rotting flesh, festering sores, even flies and maggots are repelled by the putrid stench of decomposing faeces in overflowing buckets, fermenting as it spills onto the muddy ground.

Qing Xuan dry heaves, wiping his mouth against a grimy sleeve.

He’s alone in here. Chained to the walls, his wrists chafe against the stinging bite of frozen metal trailing on the ground. He doesn’t know how long has passed. His stomach growls in protest. The golden locket on his chest starts to silently trill.

He hears voices.

Someone’s here?

“Ge—!” he croaks out, voice hoarse.

I want to see you one last time.

 

In this world, there are those who are born fortunate, and those who die scorned.

Observing Ming Yi’s transformation is like watching a moulting snake. His skin turns a translucent off-white, like rice water, as his plain black robes morph and change, delicate silver embroidery licking at the seams. When he’s done, it’s like looking through a cracked mirror. He feels familiar, yet not.

“Prostrate.” The other man’s voice is chillingly cold.

Qing Xuan feels like the breath’s been punched out of his lungs.

Ming-Xiong… he stops himself from calling out, even as his brother spits and curses at the other man. The Earth Master? His best friend? No, was any of it ever real to begin with?

Something inside him crumbles into a thousand sharp-edged shards. It bites deep into his skin, as he struggles to holds on, fingers clenched as his hands start to bleed. “MING-XIONG, I’M SORRY, I’M SORRY, I’M SORRY—”

Everything stops.

“You’ve called the wrong person.”

 

I’ll never call you by the wrong name ever again.

 

It takes some time to process his brother’s death.

Someone’s treated his wounds, brushed his hair. There’s the sharp sting of medical balm against his peeling wrists, the healing salve cool to the touch. He faintly registers a low voice murmuring, “swallow”, as more medicine trickles down his throat, watered down and tasteless.

His Wind Master robes are gone.

What Wind Master? He cackles, eyes bloodshot. There’s no Wind Master here. Not anymore.

His mad ramblings have mellowed out through the weeks he’s been here. Dragging his leg through the palace gates, he shakes off his shattered pride, leaves his neck bare even as dusty winds nip at his exposed skin.

The longevity locket is missing.

What’s the point? The other half has already gone ahead.

Curled against fallen rubble, Qing Xuan calls out in his transient lucidity.

“Ge… I miss you. And I’m sorry.”

 

It’s been several months since the heavens transformed into a giant flaming statue.

Qing Xuan’s settled into his new life in the slums. It’s not as bad as it sounds – the residents are mostly nice, and the nights are growing warmer. He’s enjoying himself, chatting and making friends with people from all walks of life. Befriending both beggars and heavenly officials alike, who would’ve thought?

“Qing Xuan,” a proud warrior stands in the doorway, “won’t you reconsider? Your brother left you in my care, I’ve got a vacancy in my junior court, at the very least, can I bring someone heal your wounds?”

He shakes his head, “General Pei, I appreciate your generosity. But the place I wish to be, isn’t there.” After all, there’s no one waiting for him anymore.

Pei Ming frowns, “I’ll be back again next month.” He’s never been one to give up easily.

Qing Xuan shrugs helplessly. “You’re welcome to visit. My door is always open!” Glancing at the tattered cloth divider, he laughs lightly, “Well, what’s left of it, at least.”

He smiles and waves until the war general is gone.

 

Lost voices, ringing in the darkness.

“I’ve given you chances.”

“You chose him, every single time.”

The chilling figure, stiff and still. Painted in an unfamiliar red. The rough smack of a lost treasure, landing in his outstretched hands. When Qing Xuan calls up howling winds, his lip trembles with his heart as he wields something he was never destined to use.

Afterwards, when the borrowed spiritual energy runs drier than the crumbling dirt beneath his feet, Qing Xuan feels his heart tremble at the realisation.

“Every time I chose to stand by Ge, there was one other person… who chose to stand by me.”

‘He-Xiong,’ Shi Qing Xuan thinks about the other man through the rest of his mortal life. ‘I’d like to talk to you, again.’

Qing Xuan bites his lip. He has so much to say to his once-best friend, from the ridiculous bank robbery story Old Man Xian told the kids last night, to how much his sewing and embroidery skills have improved—

Snippets of his life. Questions about the past. Hopes for the future… their future.

‘He-Xiong,’ Qing Xuan stares at his own reflection, rippling in the night-stained lake. ‘Where are you now? Have you finally escaped from the shackles of the past?’ Clasping his hands together in prayer, Qing Xuan releases a single blessings lantern, his handwriting impeccably precise.

‘He-Xiong,’ watching the single glowing light drift towards the heavens, Qing Xuan holds his arms out, as if waiting to fall into an embrace. ‘I hope you’ve moved on to a better place.’

 

Shi Qing Xuan never sees the other man again.

 

⊱─────〔✧〕─────⊰

 

“Qing Xuan?” Everything seems muffled, like lotus petals drowning underwater.

Someone’s calling him. A voice he hasn’t heard in decades, a voice he’ll never forget.

Someone he’s been waiting for, all this time.

“He-Xiong,” he breathes out, and it feels so right.

There’s a light pressure on his back, as he’s coaxed into a sitting position. “Are you alright?” He Xuan’s eyes seem to glow amber in the pastel wash of dawn. His expression is impossibly soft, yearning, afraid.

“Mm,” a light sigh spills from his lips, “I remember everything.”

He Xuan flinches at the words. He clenches his fists, steels himself, as if waiting to be hit with half a century’s worth of anger and resentment.

Instead, he’s met with a gentle smile. Qing Xuan reaches up, cradling the other man’s cheek like he’s made of the finest of china. “I’ve missed you.”

He’s trembling.

After several shuddered breaths, He Xuan whispers back, “I’ve missed you too.”

Qing Xuan huffs at the response. “It’s weird. I finally get the chance to tell you everything I’ve been waiting to say for decades, but my mind’s literally blank right now.” Shaking his head, he laughs at himself, before glancing up at the cloudless sky. “I just— it feels like it’s been so long since I’ve last seen you. But also, not at all?”

He Xuan doesn’t reply.

Qing Xuan continues to ramble. “Are you here with me? Am I dreaming? Is this real? All these memories, even though I know what’s real and fake, it all feels so surreal—”

“I’m here.” He Xuan brings his hand over to tangle their fingers together. Squeezing tightly, Qing Xuan’s grin brightens at the twinge of discomfort.

It’s real.

Qing Xuan’s still reorienting himself. Even with the influx of his past memories, there’s not much that can dampen his mood. He knows there’s a lot to unpack between them, but it’s like he’s received half a century’s worth of mail in one sitting— it’s going to take some time to sort through it all again. The broken fan, the blood-stained nightmare, the years of silence, as Qing Xuan lives the rest of his mortal days unimpeded. Swapping fates? Qing Xuan shakes his head. I’ve lived a good life. One he never deserved to have.

He Xuan breaks the silence. “Do you hate me?” Like an unsheathed dagger, he aims straight for the heart.

Qing Xuan shakes his head. “I can’t hate you.”

“I killed your brother.”

“I… I know.” His hands tremble at the thought. But you spared me.

“I forced you out of heaven.”

“You didn’t.” Qing Xuan averts his eyes. “It was never my place to be there.” It was yours.

This debt of life and death, of hundreds of years of pain and torment, how does one even start collecting their dues? The past will always haunt them both, but Qing Xuan feels he’s wisened up since becoming a mortal. Living day to day, experiencing the challenges of ageing— humans have their own brand of wisdom, refined by the burning wick of their dying breaths.

“Do you still want to see me?” The other man’s voice wavers.

Qing Xuan nods. “Mm. I do.”

He Xuan breathes out one last word. “Why?”

Why, indeed.

It’s difficult, trying to piece it all together. Qing Xuan’s had decades to make sense of it, whether it was at the bottom of a liquor jar, or telling stories to little ones around the fireplace. Living his days with naught but his shadow at his side, it’s really too difficult trying to readjust all the habits he’s built up over the centuries he’s been alive.

He still finds himself turning around, two fresh bowls of tangyuan in his hands, with the whisper of another man’s name on his lips.

“He-Xiong,” Qing Xuan smiles, eyes soft. “I’ve had decades to think about what happened. How everything turned out like this, why you did what you did, all the conflict and internal turmoil which burned bright long after you were gone. I’m sorry, for everything. Your family, your fiancée, everything you’ve gone through. And how I lived, ignorant and blessed, unaware of what had been done. For years after I descended, I thought about you. I was scared, angry, lost, confused— what was I to you? Our friendship, was it real? Why did you spare me? Why did you repair my fan? And where did you go afterwards?

“In another life, we could’ve met under different circumstances. A junior official with Scholar He, roaming through the streets of the Heavenly Capital. We could’ve been friends, brought together by a different form of fate.

“I… enjoyed our time together. The experiences we shared, they weren’t a lie— at least, not for me. Even if my mind remembers what happened at Nether Manor, my heart just won’t listen. It kept searching for you, after all these years. Searching, searching… it’s kinda pathetic, isn’t it?” Qing Xuan laughs at himself. “Even after all this, I just wanted to see you one last time.”

Silence.

“He-Xiong?” He glances up, drinking in the raw emotions so rarely seen on the other man’s face.

There’s still traces from before— fear, yearning, pain, sadness. It’s a tapestry of emotions, tightly interwoven as they manifest in the other man’s visage.  

But above all, he sees… relief.

“Qing Xuan,” the other man finally replies. “Thank you.”

And like that, a switch flips in Qing Xuan’s mind.

Pulling himself closer, Qing Xuan teases, “He-Xiong! Are you sure this isn’t some sort of fantasy of yours? Under the blanket of the fast-fading stars, Scholar He holds the Wind Master in his arms.” Giggling lightly, he continues, “Wanna share another jar of alcohol?”

He Xuan looks confused. It’s devastatingly endearing, the way his nose scrunches up at the other man’s words.

“I’m just joking, silly,” Qing Xuan laughs, looping an arm around the other man’s neck. “But… that moment on the terraces, I was telling the truth, you know?”

He Xuan’s grip tightens.

Qing Xuan tugs the other man down until they’re millimetres apart. Like the gentle brush of autumn leaves dancing in the wind, his murmurs caress the other man’s lips, “I like you.”

Under the fast-fading hues of dawn, Shi Qing Xuan finally kisses the other man. It starts off chaste. Despite his teasing bravado, Qing Xuan is mildly terrified. It’s been decades since his revelation, but kissing He Xuan is like rediscovering his feelings for the first time. It’s like toeing the mountain precipice, snow flurrying in a raging hurricane as you breathe in. Breathe out. And fall.

Scrunching his eyes shut, he squeezes the other man’s hand even as his lips part in admission. He Xuan tastes like icy winters, of mint-scented winds with a dash of honey. Feeling the other man’s pulse mirror his own, Qing Xuan gasps and groans even as the other man presses him down onto the marble tiles. It’s hot and cold, the scorching heat in his chest licking lines of passionate fire even as He Xuan pulls at his robes, exposing him to the early morning chill. Qing Xuan throws his head back at the sharp sting of teeth on his neck. At icy fingers tracing nonsense on his chest as they’re chased by a familiar warmth.

H-He-Xiong—” he chokes out as he feels the other man’s lips brush against his bare thighs. Over the years, he’s had his fair share of exciting dreams, but even the wildest of fantasies pale in comparison to He Xuan’s head between his legs.

Tugging his hands upwards (when did they get there, buried in He Xuan’s hair?) Qing Xuan keens at the other man’s ministrations. It’s like he’s in an echo chamber, trapped in an air bubble with only He Xuan as company. Every gasp and moan is amplified in his ears as the other man makes it his mission to mark every square inch of Shi Qing Xuan’s skin.

“Please, just, nngh…. don't—” Was speaking always so difficult? Qing Xuan can barely even think, let alone formulate words as they stumble over his tongue. “S-stop teasing me, h-hurry—” He Xuan doesn’t relent from his spot between his lover’s legs, content to nip and suck and nuzzle at Qing Xuan’s tender thighs. 

He can’t take it anymore. It’s simultaneously too much and not enough, raging flames scorching his nerve endings and stoking the growling hunger in his gut. Scrunching his eyes shut, he bites out, “n-no, I… He-Xiong, inside me, hu-rry…” before he winces at a particularly sharp bite.

The pace slows down. Like the ebb and flow of the tide, He Xuan’s grip loosens as he makes his way back up to meet Qing Xuan’s cloudy gaze. Pressing his lips against the other man, he murmurs, “Are you sure?”

Qing Xuan’s been waiting for over half a century for this moment. Other than He-Xiong, there’s no one else he’d share this with.

“…oh,” He Xuan gazes down at him, eyes full.

Breaking through the haze of arousal, Qing Xuan chuckles weakly. “I guess alcohol isn’t the only thing that destroys my brain-to-mouth filter.”

He Xuan kisses him.

Unlike previously, where their shared connection sets his nerves alight, this kiss is… soft. Sweet. It tastes like sesame-filled tangyuan, a subtle burst of warmth as it blossoms in his chest. Each gentle press coaxes low moans from the former god. He’s loving it, the way the supreme melds their bodies together, pressed close, with nothing but skin on skin and a matching hardness down below.

Pulling apart, He Xuan mumbles one last time. “Are you sure?”

“En.” Nodding jerkily, Qing Xuan drags him in to slot their lips together.

It’s a few heartbeats later when he registers the pop of a vial being uncorked. There’s a cold, slippery feeling between his legs, and a steady pressure at his entrance. Qing Xuan jolts at the sensation. It’s foreign, but not unwelcome, as the single digit slowly but surely presses in. It’s uncomfortable but not unbearable, he thinks to himself, winding his arms tighter around the other man. It’s alright.

When He Xuan slides in, it’s tight. Qing Xuan quivers at the intrusion. He feels like he’s being stretched taut, it’s unbelievable how full he is, and he cries out softly when he feels the other man shift.

“—you okay?” a low voice murmurs in his ear.

A shiver runs down his spine. Qing Xuan’s eyes screw shut as he bites his lip and nods – just once.

“H-He-Xiong… ah!

When He Xuan draws back and presses in, it’s slow and measured. His arms seem tense, bracketed around Qing Xuan’s pliant body. His breaths are coming out in short, cool puffs, and it’s refreshing how it brushes over his oversensitive skin. After a few heartbeats, he draws back and presses in again, almost as if he’s testing the waters. He’s controlling himself, Qing Xuan realises, he’s checking to make sure I’m okay.

The discovery brings him up short. Like the changing of winds, he feels a different emotion bubble up inside him. “He-Xiong,” he whispers, brushing back the other man’s bangs. “It’s alright. Don’t hold back.” Being treated like this by the person he loves, Qing Xuan could die a happy man.

He Xuan presses their foreheads together. He noses the other man’s flushed cheeks, peppering the other man’s face with light pecks, soft like snowflakes, before leaning down to capture warm lips in a deep kiss.

They set up a steady rhythm. Moving together as one, Qing Xuan tries his best to control himself. Despite that, it still happens— small sighs and hitched breaths as He Xuan drives his hips forward with each heavy thrust. He feels something nipping at his jawline, the other man’s arms looping around to cradle Qing Xuan’s shoulders as he holds them close together.

“—don’t hold back either. Just let it all out.” He Xuan murmurs in his lover’s ear.

Qing Xuan barely has time to register the words before he throws his head back in surprise. It’s overwhelming. There’s sensations everywhere— how He Xuan marks his neck with rings of purple, how his head’s yanked back further by the tight grip in his hair. Qing Xuan can barely gasp for breath under the onslaught of sensations; moments later, he’s smothered by the biting tang of mint and sweat.

It’s messy, and everywhere. Qing Xuan scrabbles for purchase, toes curling even as his hips creak in protest, each punishing thrust nailing him so hard he sees stars. He rakes his fingers down the other man’s back, marking his lover with scratch marks as he digs his heels in to press the other man deeper.

He can feel it. Through the keening sighs escaping from his kiss-swollen lips, he knows he’s close. He Xuan’s pace seems less steady than before, slight twitches disrupting the other man’s otherwise-relentless rhythm. There’s a ball of something condensing in his chest, white hot and startlingly bright, even as he calls out to the other man.

“...I’m—!”

Shi Qing Xuan comes with He Xuan’s name on his lips.

He feels the other man speed up, chasing his own release as Qing Xuan’s mind blanks to a pure, endless white.

When Qing Xuan comes down from his high, he faintly registers something pulling out of him. Scrunching his nose, he wriggles at the sensation.

“Hold still.” The other man kisses his temple. “I’ll get us cleaned up.”

When He Xuan attempts to stand up, he’s stopped by a steady grip around his wrist. “Stay,” Qing Xuan whispers, heartbeat quickening. “Stay with me.”

The other man crinkles his brow, but settles down anyway.

“He-Xiong?” Qing Xuan calls out, like he’s lost in the woods. “He-Xiong, are you there?”

“I’m here.” He Xuan presses his lips to the other man’s forehead.

Qing Xuan continues, “You know, I was thinking… why are we in this dream? What do you think trapped us both here?”

“I’m still not sure.” He Xuan pauses. “But it doesn’t matter, as long as I’m with you.”

“Just being together is like a dream to me.” Qing Xuan smiles like dawn’s fading starlight. “He Xuan, I want… to spend eternity with you.”

Something’s not right. He Xuan grips the other man’s hand. “What are you saying? Of course, I…” He swallows. “I love you, you know that, right, Qing Xuan?”

Qing Xuan brushes away He Xuan’s bangs with a wobbly smile. “Mm, I know.” When he laughs, it’s like the gentle tinkle of windchimes as it cascades over them both. “I love you too.”

“Hey, what— Qing Xuan? Hey! Wind Master? Ol’ Feng! Shi Qing Xuan!!” He Xuan’s voice fades, carried away by a sea-scented breeze.

His vision’s blurring. It fades into soft pastels, like water-coloured paintings as they bleed through drying parchment. He-Xiong…

Qing Xuan mouths a short phrase, but these seven words never reach the recipient, snatched up by the wind.

 

Shi Qing Xuan closes his eyes, never to open them again.

 

⊱─────〔✧〕─────⊰

 

Shi Qing Xuan’s eyes blink open.

“What am I…?” He brings a hand to his face. He feels refreshed, like he’s woken up from a very long dream. “It feels like I’m forgetting something.”

Glancing left and right, he brightens at the familiar sight. The demure droop of sun-speckled willow leaves, the mesmerising swirl of glass-like water, the satisfying curve of brick and lacquered wood, arching over the soundless river.

He makes his way over to his favourite resting place, fingers trailing over the railings. It’s been a lifetime since he’s last visited this place, yet it’s exactly as he remembers — unchanged, suspended in time.

—There’s someone else on the bridge.

“Oh! How rude of me, I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m Shi Qing Xuan, the Wind Master. What’s your name?”

A warm baritone washes over him, gentle like the sea-salted breeze. The other man opens his mouth to respond, “My name is—”

“He Xuan,” the name escapes his lips like a whispered promise.

‘That’s right.’ Shi Qing Xuan toys with the Wind Master fan at his waist, counting the unsnapped wooden spokes one by one. ‘After all, I…’

Qing Xuan settles down at the foot of the bridge. He watches as the golden sun and silvery moon trade places, as countless celestial bodies blink awake and fade, night after night.

He listens to the snippets of conversations stolen from the mortal world to pass the time. He keeps himself entertained— composing songs from humming tunes, and pointing out constellations as they shift across the boundless sky.

 

One day, he hears it.

Unhurried footsteps, growing louder with each stride.

A familiar figure dressed in black, gold earrings catching in the dazzling sun. Qing Xuan’s soundless heart flickers at the sight.

‘He’s here.’

Waving his arm in greeting, Qing Xuan calls out. “He-Xiong! He-Xiong!”

The other man stops. Golden eyes light up in recognition. “Qing Xuan.”

Hurrying over, the man in question grins, hooking an arm around his best friend’s elbow. “You finally made it! Did you get lost on the way over?” Qing Xuan teases, voice light.  

The other man shakes his head. “Qing Xuan, I…”

“It’s alright,” Qing Xuan winks. “There’s no need to be ashamed! I know your sense of direction can be terrible at times—”

“I’m not—” He Xuan protests weakly, “this place was just a bit hard to find, that’s all.”

Qing Xuan’s laughter rings out, bright and clear. Pressing close, he sneaks in a quick peck on the cheek, grin widening at the other man’s flustered expression. “Don’t look so unhappy,” he giggles, “you’re here now, and that’s the most important thing!”

“…if you say so.”

“He-Xiong?”

“Mm?”

Qing Xuan gazes over at their shared destination. “I think they’re waiting for us,” he chirps. “Everyone.”

He Xuan nods.

“Are you ready?”

He Xuan’s lips pull up into a rare smile. “I am.”

“Then let’s go!”

And so, two figures, one dressed in subtle greens and dazzling white, the other in ebony lined with silver, cross over to the world beyond.

 

Hand in hand.

 

Together.

 

⊱─────〔✧〕─────⊰

 

I’ll see you on the other side.

 

 ⌜ » FIN « ⌟