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There is a Season

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The battle with his brother was inevitable.  Shen Wei knew this the moment he had discovered Ye Zun preserved in the pillar, his consciousness a will-o-the-wisp of sanity that others had chased for years. 

He had tried to tell himself that he could find a cure, could find a counter to the tangled knot the Hallows had woven that would let him save his brother, save Zhao Yunlan, save all of Dixing and Haixing. 

Told himself he just needed more time, needed more knowledge, needed more…

But he had known.  Deep in his bones, in the very essence of his being, he had known.

Time had run out, and there was nothing more to do save to confront the man across from him who bore his face.  No, not just his face, Shen Wei thought as he watched his brother approach warily. 

Ye Zun’s eyes also carried the same grief, the same hopeless longing for something that was no longer available to him, had been denied to them both by 10,000 years of sleep. 

“We don’t have to do this!”

Shen Wei’s voice was hoarse from the dust in the air, from the effort of restraining the white energy pulsing inside of himself, from the battles he had already fought to reach this point.

Who would have thought that the end of the world would arrive on a cloudy Thursday afternoon in an abandoned children’s park?

In his peripheral he could see the flicker of light cast by the shield the Hallows had erected around the two of them, its glow the only thing keeping him from completely breaking down with worry over Zhao Yunlan’s safety. 

As always, Yunlan’s white energy called out to him as the man himself paced somewhere outside the shield’s protection, no doubt cursing Shen Wei and Ye Zun with every bit of vitriol he could muster. 

But that was fine because it meant that Yunlan was safe. Would live. 

“Oh, gege,” Ye Zun sighed, and his voice would have been gentle if not for the rage making it shake, the snarl that curled his lips.  “There’s never been any other way.”

The Hallows cut all sounds from outside their bubble, so every word was crystal clear to Shen Wei, and just as a cutting as any blade he had ever wielded.  His eyes closed despite himself for the span of a heartbeat, and when he opened them again, he was no longer Shen Wei, but the Black Cloaked Envoy.

He allowed his hair to lengthen, his clothes to morph into the black robes that had given him his name.  He stretched out his arm and his guandao came easily to his hand, its weight familiar and comforting.

“Then so be it,” he whispered.

Across from him, silver hair floated gently around white clad shoulders, the robes immaculate despite the dust and debris which littered the ground around them.  Ye Zun, despite his name, had always shone the brightest in the sun, leaving Dixing’s shadows to his brother.

The only sound was the gentle breeze that rustled their robes, the evened breaths they took as they squared off, mirrored images of what may have been, had things been different.

It was easy, then, to let all the worries of the past fall off his shoulders as he settled into the peaceful mindset before any battle.  His brother was correct – what was about to happen had been inevitable since the day the two of them had been separated on that cliff over 10,000 years ago. 

For the first time in his life, Shen Wei allowed himself to open completely to the yawning grief which was never far away. 

Grief for his brother, the other half of his soul, the one who had shared his mother’s womb, who had been as close to him as any two beings could be.  Grief for the men he had lost in endless battles, their names now not even a memory.

Grief for 10,000 years between what he had always known and what he had lost. 

Who else was going to remember the way his mother’s bread had tasted?  Who else was going to perform the Ceremony of Tears on her death-date once he was gone?  Her bones had long since turned to dust, and the only other person who could have shared this grief with him was little more than ashes himself. 

Black energy pulsed around him, blotting out the sun, even as it seemed to pulse within him as well, filling that endless void of grief with raw, unfiltered power.

No longer would there be anyone to remember Tian Xu, the soldier who had once made Fu You laugh so hard the entire camp had been filled with a moment of pure, unfettered joy. 

No longer would the Songs of Water be sung, the washerwomen’s unfailing rhythm finally silenced. 

All that had been, all that had created the two of them, was no more.  Gone were the stories once told around fires, and the arts which their people no longer practiced.  All of it, gone once this battle was ended and the two of them were dead.

Shen Wei welcomed the tears which refused to fall, welcomed the grief as it clawed its way past his throat in a cry of raw, aching sorrow.  Power surged around him even as Ye Zun began to funnel it to himself, the air filled with the sudden tang of ozone, the sharp scent of energy prickling their noses even as the hair on their arms stood on end.

The more Ye Zun pulled into himself, the more Shen Wei produced, learning his brother’s ability as easily as he had learned his own, until the two of them stood in the midst of a cyclone, a push and pull of power that had no release.

They were holding each other, though Shen Wei could not remember either of them moving.  The air flashed and rumbled with lightening, their powers still contained by the Hallows, spinning placidly above them. 

Ye Zun’s hands were around his throat, and Shen Wei’s were cupping his brother’s cheeks, looking into eyes so similar to his own, filled with pain and madness and grief.

“You will always be my didi,” Shen Wei gasped out, his lips turning up as Ye Zun’s eyes widened in surprise.  “You always have been, and always will be.  And I will always, always love you.  No matter what.”

Ye Zun’s hands, which had slackened in surprise at his words, suddenly tightened, his face contorting with rage as he denied Shen Wei’s words.

But Shen Wei could no longer hear his accusations. The power within him was finally unable to be contained, pulsing in his ears like a frantic, terrified heartbeat, ready to escape. 

Using the last of his strength, Shen Wei pulled Ye Zun against him, clasping him tightly to his breast, his arms wrapped around thin shoulders until there was no room between them.

They had shared a womb for nine months, had come into the world during a time of storm and chaos.  They would leave it together, as they should have 10,000 years ago. 

Shen Wei closed his eyes as he allowed the energy to finally escape, enclosing the both of them in a rumbling, screaming flash of white.  He thought maybe he was yelling, his throat burning with his own rage and grief, his lungs unable to contain all his sorrow. 

Exhaustion settled over him, burning into his flesh, into his bones.  Still, he clung to his little brother, held on as tightly as he could, until the world no longer existed for either of them.

&&&

He opened his eyes to silence.

Stars and universes spun at his feet, and beside him stood his brother, gazing at the world with the same awe he had once held as a child seeing daylight for the first time.

The two of them still clung tightly together, but all the rage and fear which had fueled them was gone, replaced by an almost terrifying feeling of peace.

“Didi?” Shen Wei asked, and was only slightly taken aback that his voice worked, that his vocal cords were not raw and bleeding from the screaming he had done. 

“Gege,” Ye Zun answered in wonder, and turned large, glittering eyes to him.

For the first time since they were children, they stared at each other without pain or guilt between them. 

“I want to go back,” Ye Zun finally whispered, and pressed his forehead to Shen Wei’s, as they had done so long ago when they were alone and afraid, only the two of them against the world.

“So do I,” Shen Wei admitted.

There was still so much he wanted to do. So much he wanted to learn and understand.  Professor Shen had been a mask, as effective at hiding his heart and true nature as the one that covered his face, but he wanted it to be more than that. 

For the first time since he had awakened in a strange world that he neither understood nor belonged to, he wanted to know what the future held.  Wanted to live. 

And as though his desire had opened a hole in the universe, suddenly the two of them were plummeting back to the earth, white light enveloping them once more, and Shen Wei only had a moment to pray that they would not be buried for another 10,000 years. 

&&&

“Xiao Wei!”

Strong arms were wrapped around him, holding him against a chest that smelled of sweat and gunpowder.  Trembling fingers caressed his cheeks, petted his hair, and rocked him even as that broken voice cried above him, again and again, “Xiao Wei!”

Air rushed into his lungs, and Shen Wei found himself lurching forward, gasping and coughing for breath as life flooded his aching, heavy form.

“Xiao Wei!” Yunlan cried again, this time with joy, and Shen Wie found himself blinking his eyes open, taking in his surroundings with awed wonder.

They were sitting in a crater, the rim above them blackened and jagged, rubble and debris coated with a fine layer of ash around them.  To his left, Ye Zun was slowly sitting up, a smudge of dirt smeared across his cheek, his robes no longer pristine but dusted with ash. 

“Gege!” he cried as soon as his eyes landed on Shen Wei, and heedless of Yunlan’s arms around him, he threw himself against his brother, gasping out a harsh sob as he clung to him.

The members of SID watched in shock as Shen Wei held his brother, the two of them a pile of limbs and robes in Zhao Yunlan’s arms. 

“Loa Zhao!”

Da Qing exploded over the side of the rim in his human form before transforming into a cat and barreling into Zhao Yunlan.  “Kunlun!” Da Qing yowled as he rubbed his cheeks over and over against his master’s.  “Kunlun!”

“Hush, now, fatty,” Yunlan said, though his breath hitched, and he freed one hand from around Shen Wei to pet Da Qing, making soft shushing sounds.

“Can someone, please, tell me what the hell is going on?” Lin Jing’s plaintive voice asked as he skidded down the edge of the crater and took everything in with a pained scowl. 

Shen Wei and Ye Zun looked at each other, and for the first time in either of their memories, started giggling rather hysterically.

&&&

When it was all over and the dust, literal and figurative, had settled, it was determined that Ye Zun would stay with Shen Wei in Haixing, under his protection. 

The two of them were staying in a small hotel while Zhao Yunlan finished the necessary paperwork for the house.   With his apartment unfit to live in, and Zhao Yunlan unwilling to spend more time apart than was necessary due to work, it had been the inevitable next step, especially since Shen Wei was determined to make Zhao Yunlan his husband as soon as possible. 

But in the meantime, he and Ye Zun were slowly getting reacquainted. 

There was so much history between them, so many things to untangle, but with Ye Zun’s return to sanity, it was easier than Shen Wei would have expected. The two of them fit, as perfect as pieces of a pot that had been broken and glued back together. 

It was only a few weeks later, as Shen Wei was setting up the tea for the Ceremony of Tears in their new home, that he realized exactly what he had gained in his odd new family. 

“Is it March already?” Ye Zun asked softly from the open doorway, where he’d been watching Shen Wei with an almost stricken look on his face.

“It is,” Shen Wei agreed, just as softly.  He had hoped… “You remember?” he asked, trying to keep his voice steady.

Ye Zun met his eyes, the weight of their shared history suddenly heavy between them.

“Of course,” he finally said, and made his way on bare feet into the living room, where their small alter had been set up with care. 

The two of them went about setting up the cups with practiced movements before kneeling down, knees barely touching, Ye Zun’s white trousers brushing against Shen Wei’s dark. 

Before they could begin, however, there’s a set of thumps from the stairs and Da Qing comes flying down the steps in his human form, clearly about to head out, when he froze at the sight of them. 

“Damn Cat!  I told you not to run down the stairs, you’re going to – “ Zhao Yunlan stopped when he saw them, taking in the scene with his sharp eyes, gaze going from the two brothers knelt before the family shrine to Da Qing’s sheepish grin and then back.

“Are you about to do the Ceremony of Tears?” Zhao Yunlan asked softly, his eyes turned gentle as Shen Wei’s widened in surprise. “Ah, Xiao Wei,” he sighs.  “I was there, too, remember?”

And suddenly, Shen Wei does remember.

It had been an exhausting day, unseasonably warm, and there had been a battle earlier.  But he had still asked Kunlun to accompany him to his tent to help him perform the ritual, and although he had fumbled a bit during the recitations and bows, Kunlan had helped him honor his mother, staying late into the night as they spoke of their departed family and the different traditions of their people.

“Come join us,” Ye Zun says, and smiles at Yunlan’s surprised expression.  “It’s a son-in-law’s duty to help honor his mother-in-law, after all.”

Shen Wei felt his cheeks heat up but does nothing to dispute his brother’s words, so Zhao Yunlan and Da Qing both join them at the altar.

The tea is spicy, native to Dixing and still reserved for sacred ceremonies.  It lingers on the tongue, burns the back of the throat, and tickles the nose if one takes a deep breath of its scent. 

Ye Zun and Shen Wei lead the ceremony, speaking words long forgotten to a woman who no one, even in their own time, remembered besides themselves.  By the end, both of their eyes are wet, but Shen Wei can tell by his brother’s small smile that he is as at peace with the ritual as he is. 

To his left Yunlan finishes his tea with a tiny grimace, while Da Qing, to Ye Zun’s side, takes a final sip before bowing one more time to the alter.  He doesn’t linger, heading out quickly after, but the fact that he stayed to help them remember means more than Shen Wei could ever say. 

“So,” Yunlan said after Da Qing left, wiggling around until he’s sitting cross legged and facing both brothers.  “Tell me about your mom.”

Shen Wei and Ye Zun share a long look, a lifetime’s worth of words passing between them, before turning back. 

They stay up late into the night, and for the first time since he woke in a strange new world, Shen Wei finally knows that everything is going to be all right.