The war had made Morax miserable, and only Azhdaha could see that. Five years after it began, people started to cheer and believe that Morax would come out as one of the seven victors. They witnessed the strength of his character; the excellent dominions over his armies and the fairness that gained him more support from other weaker gods and adepti. He always pushed the notion aside by telling them not to lower their guards because the conflict was still ongoing. All the admirations, yet they failed to notice the heaviness in his heart.
In the first few months, Guizhong wasn’t the only companion that Morax had lost. Some friends turned their backs against him, some couldn’t fight their immoralities and succumbed to evil, while some fled the continent and weren’t heard anymore. Nevertheless, Morax wore his white cape, wielded his golden spear, and led every battle like he wasn’t affected by anyone’s demises. As somebody who had always laid his eyes on Morax, Azhdaha knew how hard the ever kind god pretended to be strong so his people wouldn’t be frightened.
“Morax, you do know that I’m still here, don’t you?” The night after their hundredth battle, Azhdaha walked toward Morax, who sat alone on a high mound overlooking the land where thousands of their men had set their camps. They hadn’t been home in a while, and the only news they had from across the ocean was delivered by a group of winged adepti tasked as messengers.
“Who else do I see if it isn’t you?” Morax asked.
Azhdaha chuckled and slumped down beside Morax. They glanced up to watch the stars, but Azhdaha was the first one who couldn’t help looking back at the person beside him. Even during a period of devastation, he still thought of Morax as the most beautiful being in this world. One day, he would be sick of the colorful landscapes and resplendent lights in the sky, but he swore there would never come a day when he wouldn’t want to take another glimpse at his savior’s face. Morax was the only brilliant thing left in this catastrophe.
But Morax didn’t speak much. Too many times, Azhdaha questioned if everything was all right or if he was needed for anything at all. Morax always shushed him down and gave him simple answers like an older soul trapped for centuries was too young to understand what suffering meant. There was always an inexplicable sadness in Morax’s eyes—a clear indication that he was exhausted and wanted to scream out his problems but remembered his position as a leader and thought it wasn’t reasonable to do.
You’ll be the first person who knows if I ever get hurt. The words that Morax had said a long time ago often ringed in Azhdaha’s head, but during lonely moments like this, he wondered if it was the whole truth. He gently twirled the long brown hair that touched the grass beneath them around his calloused fingers. When Morax didn’t react much, Azhdaha dared to brush the back of his hand against Morax’s chin and the thick eyelashes hiding the amber eyes. It had been forever since he could freely touch his favorite person.
After their first passionate exchange in the meeting hall, they hadn’t had another time to be alone. Morax never slept, but the war didn’t care for daylights or nights. He was always surrounded by the adepti and generals who sought his guidance. The only moment of solitude he could afford was when he had to bathe, but even then, people always lined up outside with their maps and letters. For five years, Azhdaha had to be satisfied with their hands that coincidentally brushed each other and nothing more. Tonight was rare.
“Morax,” Azhdaha called. “When I started to learn to live among humans, I found it amusing when everything caused them to cry. From getting surprised to losing an object that they could get again, I thought immortals like us would never understand it. But then it also happened to me. I cried when I laughed too hard and cried when children used their savings to buy me a present just because they liked playing with me. I think I’m so more attached to my emotions than you. Have you never shed a tear in your life?”
“I can’t remember,” Morax answered. Azhdaha didn’t frown because it was an expected answer. Lately, Morax’s favorite phrases had been “it’s okay”, “don’t think too much”, or any ambiguous variations that would make the other person stop probing into his deepest thoughts.
“Morax,” Azhdaha continued. “My chest tightens every time I see you like this.”
Morax turned his head sideways. “What do you see?”
“Like…” Azhdaha stared at their resting warriors below—the flickering lights of their oil lanterns and the swaying of the red tattered battle flags surrounding them—before meeting Morax’s eyes again. “…you wish you could do more.”
Morax opened his mouth and quickly closed it. Azhdaha waited, thinking that Morax would eventually be honest if given enough time to arrange the right words. Much to Azhdaha’s dismay, Morax smiled and looked off into the distance again, wordlessly stating that he didn’t want to confirm nor deny Azhdaha’s speculation. It made Azhdaha think if something had broken between them, perhaps caused by a mistake that he had accidentally done in the past but didn’t consider it wrong when it happened.
“I haven’t known you for that long, but after everyone left, have I not become your most trusted confidant?” Azhdaha cooed. “Morax, please…”
“You are my most trusted confidant, but our relationship has nothing to do with this war,” Morax said. “If I begin, I’m afraid that I’ll never stop. I don’t want to be that kind of ruler.”
“…please share your pain with me. Am I not good enough to be your listener?” Azhdaha’s voice almost broke.
Perhaps Azhdaha’s sincerity was what changed Morax’s mind because Morax suddenly leaned in toward Azhdaha and rested his forehead on the bigger man’s shoulder as if he wanted to cover the mournful face he was about to make. “I don’t care about winning this war,” Morax whispered. “But if we end up winning, I want to build a better place for our people. I’ll be righteous and make sure that their grandchildren won’t have to know what war feels like. I want them to live in peace and order.”
Azhdaha smiled, placing a hand on the back of Morax’s head and caressed him like a baby. “That sounds like something you’ll do.”
“And I’m tired,” Morax added.
“Celestia’s method doesn’t make any sense. They could have picked any seven gods or sent their own without having us fight each other. I don’t want to lose more innocent people.”
Morax took a deep breath. “May you live long, Azhdaha.”
“I won’t die in anyone else’s hands but yours. You’ve given me this life. You’re the only one who can take it,” Azhdaha blurted out, tightening the grip he had. “Or, perhaps not. The future is unfathomable, but from the bottom of my heart, I don’t want to die before you, Morax. My greatest fear is leaving you alone in this world. Please trust me.”
Morax let out a stifled laugh. “I’ll try to.”
“No. You must trust me,” Azhdaha insisted.
“I’m not sure. It’s becoming tougher to do,” Morax whimpered. “Don’t you realize? Everyone I trusted has either died or left my side.”
Perhaps Morax’s despair was what gave Azhdaha the courage to push him into the green field. Nobody cared about dust dirtying their clothes because there were more days when they had to march through sandstorms than days when they could sit by a lake and enjoy the spring water. A little clumsily, Azhdaha placed both of his hands next to Morax’s head and remembered how humans would press their lips together to show their deepest affection. He had imagined himself doing it to Morax probably every second of the day.
“How many times have you embraced me like this? You’ve been so brave in approaching me first,” Morax remarked after a fleeting silence.
“Because you never pushed me away,” Azhdaha grunted before collapsing on top of Morax, erasing the space between them and putting his arms under the graceful figure beneath him. He could feel the warmth of his own breath against Morax’s cheek. “I thought only lovers could do this, so who am I to you, Morax? Why don’t you tell me for once?”
It seemed like the only circumstance in which Morax would rather die than answer, so his silence didn’t hurt Azhdaha at all. Azhdaha had wondered about it as many times as he worried about Morax’s state of mind. Most days, his hands were tainted with strangers’ blood. The screams of anguish would prevent him from thinking about adoring another person, but he kept telling himself that it was different now. Not a single soul knew they were here, so he must relish in the secrecy that might not come again soon.
“How very bold of you.” Morax placed a hand on Azhdaha’s chest. “Your heart beats really fast.”
Azhdaha shivered, but he pulled away with the help of one arm and stared into Morax’s loving eyes. “Do you think it’s bad?”
“How am I supposed to know?”
“You made it like this.”
“So it’s my fault now?”
Azhdaha bit his lower lip, trying to suppress his joy. “Can I feel yours too?”
Morax nodded. “Of course.”
With his free hand that didn’t support his weight, Azhdaha touched Morax’s chest. He had never done it to anyone before, but based on his own condition, he could tell that Morax’s heartbeat was thumping heavily too. This wasn’t enough. He recalled a famous adult book that his language teacher had lent him years ago. He strips me off my robe, and I can’t stop the increasing spark inside me. I want my beloved to touch every part of my bare skin. From this moment, I believe the universe was created for us to unite, the author had written.
Azhdaha’s body tensed up when he thought of crossing the line and made the scene happen between him and Morax. Not a single man would come to bother them in the dead of night, so he shouldn’t think twice to remove their clothes. Following the description in the book, he would start by kissing Morax’s arms, shoulders, and face. Then, he would go lower and lower and force Morax to melt from his heat and cry out his name. Finally, his fingers would draw lines between the scars accumulated on Morax’s back until they both forgot about the cruelty of earth.
“Can I just hug you like this?” Instead, Azhdaha demanded something else. He yearned for more, but he knew that if he were to repeat what those fictional characters do, someone as reticent as Morax most likely would punch and kick him. One undesirable choice could destroy their magical moment, and he didn’t want to risk it. If only Morax would be the one taking the lead.
“After all this time, you’re asking for permission?” Morax teased. “You can, Azhdaha, and only because it’s you.”
Azhdaha smiled and buried his face in Morax’s neck. Time was infinite yet unforeseeable. If he was destined for tragedy, he wanted Morax to scatter his ashes around their new city. He wished to watch over Morax and his people, to remind them that the vow created between the Lord of Geo and the Dragon King of Nantianmen on that sunny spring morning was eternal. However, just like the poem that he never finished composing, he couldn’t bring himself to be forthright about his endearments.