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The day Yin Yu presented as an omega was warm. He was thankful for that as he had often heard that during presentation omegas were especially sensitive to the cold. He was also thankful that he had been in a meeting with his shifu at the time and therefore didn’t have to face the horror of presenting out in the open surrounded by his shidi and shimei. He had seen it happen once to one of his shixiong when he was still a young disciple. The poor boy had been piled by alphas before shifu had managed to rescue him.

 

So no, Yin Yu recognises that it could have been worse.

 

He also recognises that it could be much better.

 

“Ah Yin Yu.” Shifu’s face is awash with a kind of gentle regret, “This is not ideal.”

 

Yin Yu nods. He doesn’t know what he can conceivably say. His entire world and his position within it has upended itself.

 

His shifu patted his head where he was crouched over Yin Yu’s prone body.

 

Shifu sighs, “We will have to announce it. You need to be mated soon.”

 

Yin Yu nods and swallows heavily.

 

“You presented late which means we don’t have the luxury of waiting.” His shifu stands leaving him lying there on the floor alone. Yin Yu feels all of a sudden a thousand degrees colder despite the room’s previous warmth. He resists the urge to grab his shifu and beg him to stay. To touch him again. Not even an omega for a full shichen and already giving into instincts.

 

Although is it really giving in? He’s an omega now. He needs to act in a way befitting of his new dynamic. Yin Yu shivers.

 

“I will go make the announcement to the sect now.”

 

Yin Yu wants to beg him not to. Beg him to stay and hold him and not tell everyone. Once everyone knows it means Yin Yu’s life will change forever; bending itself around his new dynamic. His private and public dreams of ascension and being the best in the sect are no longer appropriate. He needs…. He needs….

 

Yin Yu begins to sob. It’s just him alone and he does it quietly with his fist in his mouth to muffle the noise but he can’t stop the broken sounds from spilling out and when the self-soothing purr starts he knows it’s just confirmation of how nothing will ever be the same again.

 

*

 

“Yin Yu!” Jian Yu bursts into the omega specific room in the healing pavilion with no warning or finesse. There are meant to be guards outside to make sure no unsavoury characters get close to Yin Yu but it seems they stood aside for Jian Yu easily enough. “I just heard-“ He stops just short of the bed, hands reaching out to grab Yin Yu, “Are you okay?” His voice goes more hesitant on the last part.

 

Yin Yu gives him a smile. It’s shaky.

 

Jian Yu is a beta, much like Yin Yu was assumed to be for the past nineteen years. His best friend is now looking at him like he’s something almost foreign.

 

“Jian Yu.” Yin Yu reaches forward, trying to bridge the distance. He just wants to touch someone with an awful low ache that’s rattling around in his empty chest.

 

Jian Yu doesn’t try to move closer. In fact, he moves further away.

 

“I can’t touch you anymore. You’re an omega now.” He says rather quietly.

 

Yin Yu can’t stop you from wilting visibly. He curls inward.

 

“I- Shifu said you need to be mated soon.” Jian Yu says cautiously, “I- Yin Yu. Are you-“

 

“It’s most likely to be a stranger.” Yin Yu says as blankly as he can. He needs to try and detach himself from everything swirling around his skull before he starts crying again or even shouts.

 

“Yin Yu.” And here Jian Yu’s countenance becomes very determined, “I can-“

 

Before he’s able to finish that sentence there’s a shout.

 

“SHIXIONG!” Quan Yizhen yells as he barrels right in past the guards into the room. “I heard you’ve changed!”

 

With that he charges right past Jian Yu, practically pushing him out of the way, and with no warning grabs both Yin Yu’s hands in his own. Unmated omegas aren’t meant to touch anyone apart from other omegas (and maybe older betas in some circumstances) and while Yizhen is young he is undoubtedly an alpha after having presented very young and his scent is strong.

 

Yin Yu can’t stop his gasp as their skin touches, Yizhen is hot and it feels so good to be touched by someone else. There’s only one other omega in the sect and her and Yin Yu aren’t close. He hasn’t been touched since he presented.

 

He can’t help the way his fingers clench down on Yizhen’s in shameful display. As if to prevent him from pulling away and taking that warmth with him.

 

Yizhen looks down at their clasped hands for one quizzical moment; his head cocked to the side.

 

“QUAN YIZHEN.” Jian Yu’s shout breaks the moment. He sounds furious, “How dare you! Let go of him! You’re an unmated alpha! How shameless can you be?!” And he wrestles Yizhen off him. Or at least he tries to but Yizhen is far too strong even if he’s young. He shakes Jian Yu off easily and stares down at their hands. He squeezes experimentally and Yin Yu can’t help the small whine that escapes him. Yizhen’s gold eyes fix on him at the sound and he looks as thoughtful as Yin Yu has ever seen him.

 

Jian Yu is still yelling and the guards outside have run into the room to help try and pry Yizhen off. Yizhen shakes them off far too easily like they’re nothing more than troublesome flies.

 

“What happened to Shixiong?” He asks very seriously, looking Yin Yu in the eye and not the spot right next to his head like most others have been.

 

Yin Yu doesn’t know how to answer.

 

“Is Shixiong hurt? I’ll beat up whoever hurt Shixiong!” Yizhen’s voice rises in anger.

 

Everyone around them is shouting and there are four people now grabbing Yizhen by the shoulders and threatening him with punishment if he doesn’t let go of Yin Yu.

 

“Yizhen. You should let go.” Yin Yu manages to say softly.

 

Yizhen nods immediately and lets go with no other questions.

 

Jian Yu grabs him, “You little shit! I’m going to flay the top layer of skin off your back!”

 

Yin Yu shakes his head because he’s always hated Yizhen being punished. Yizhen is still a child and if he doesn’t understand is it really his fault? Yin Yu is the one who usually explains things to him, if he doesn’t Yizhen will languish in ignorance.

 

“No. Jian Yu. Don’t please. Just leave him be.”

 

Jian Yu’s instinctive, “You’re too soft on him!” Is about to come out and Yin Yu’s gets a front row seat to the way his friend swallows it in the face of Yin Yu’s new fragility. Yin Yu feels slightly unsettled by it even if it is what he wants. He doesn’t want to have to fight with Jian Yu, he’s too tired for it.

 

“Get out.” Jian Yu ends up yelling at Quan Yizhen and with one last lingering look the boy actually leaves, followed by the guards and Jian Yu himself who is still yelling and doesn’t give Yin Yu a second look as he leaves.

 

Yin Yu is alone again and feels… awful.

 

*

 

That night he lies awake in his now unfamiliar body. His actual body hasn’t changed all that much but he can smell himself and he feels wrong. Yin Yu is just debating whether or not getting up to get some water would help when he hears an almost soundless clatter and someone in climbing in through the window.

 

He recognises it as Yizhen even before the other manages to land soundlessly on the ground. Despite Yizhen being very obviously an alpha Yin Yu doesn’t even feel a hint of anxiety at them being alone in the same room in the dead of night. Instead he feels rather exasperated (a usual feeling with Yizhen) and very slightly impressed that he managed to slip inside so soundlessly.

 

“Yizhen what are you doing here?” Yin Yu hisses as quietly as he can. He’s fairly sure the guards are gone but it wouldn’t do to be too loud anyway. It’s the middle of the night.

 

“Shixiong!” Yizhen has no such compunctions.

 

“Yizhen quiet!” Yin Yu hisses again.

 

Yizhen’s eyes widen and he nods resolutely.

 

“Everyone was talking about shixiong.” He says, now talking in an almost exaggerated whisper, coming up to the bed where Yin Yu is now sitting up on and plonking himself ungracefully down on the edge. It’s strange how Yizhen can simultaneously be so graceful and yet so rough. “I didn’t understand what they meant but don’t worry shixiong! I beat up everyone who was talking about you!”

 

Yin Yu resists the urge to groan dramatically. He really… actually he would prefer that no one be gossiping about him presenting so he can’t deny that there’s a part of him that’s unfortunately pleased at Yizhen going out and needlessly “defending his honour”.

 

There’s also a pleased omega part of him that he’s absolutely horrified by. That part that’s pleased that such a strong alpha is paying so much attention to him. Yin Yu does his best to brutally beat down ignore that part.

 

“I’m… I’ve presented now Yizhen. Do you know what that means?” He asks.

 

Yizhen frowns and then nods seriously, “Yeah. Like how I’m an alpha, right shixiong?”

 

“Yes exactly. I’ve presented as an omega.”

 

Yizhen seems to turn this over in his mind before nodding again, “Okay. And when will shixiong be able to next spar with me?” He asks, eyes wide and guileless.

 

Yin Yu wants to gape at the easy way Yizhen has just breezed past this but he realises in the next second that that would be useless. Yizhen is just Yizhen and that reaction was entirely expected.

 

He feels that small bubble of fondness that he feels whenever he looks at Yizhen grow a little.

 

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to for a long time Yizhen.” Yin Yu says with not as much delicacy as he maybe should. But this is Yizhen and Yizhen… doesn’t care if Yin Yu snaps at him. In fact Yizhen doesn’t seem to care what Yin Yu does or says at all as long as he’s paying him attention.

 

Yizhen scowls, “Why not shixiong? Do I need to beat someone up?”

 

Yin Yu can’t help reaching over then and stroking a hand over Yizhen’s fluffy hair. His shidi unashamedly leans into his touch. “You shouldn’t be getting into fights.” Yin Yu reprimands and although Yizhen scowls he doesn’t argue. It brings a rush of something Yin Yu doesn’t want to call possessive pride into his veins. Yizhen is undoubtedly half-feral with no respect for anyone but he listens to Yin Yu.

 

(And despite Yin Yu presenting as an omega he still listens to Yin Yu with just as much respect attached.)

 

“As an omega I’ll be mated as soon as possible.” Yin Yu says as gently as he can, trying his best to stave off his own nausea at the thought, “And when that happens my alpha will determine if I’m still allowed to fight.” Yin Yu feels sick. Every sect does things different and his sect is more permissive than most in that he can still train if his alpha allows. If they don’t though Yin Yu will have no choice but to listen. His stomach churns uncomfortably.

 

Yizhen scowls, “I won’t let anyone tell Shixiong they can’t fight anymore!” He then looks confused again, “What is mated?”

 

Yin Yu can’t help his flush and he hopes that the dark conceals it.

 

“It means… it’s a thing alpha and omegas can do. The alpha will bite the omega and it means that they’re bound together then. It means…” Yin Yu struggles to find an appropriate way to describe mating without talking about things like heats and ruts and sex and so on, “It means they’ll have a bond and they’ll be tuned to each other’s scents as well. The omega will smell a little like their alpha after. Mating is very serious and the bond can’t be easily broken unless one of the parties dies.”

 

Yizhen is still frowning, “So,” He starts thoughtfully, “It means that shixiong and the alpha will be together forever?”

 

Yin Yu supposes that’s true. He nods.

 

Yizhen seems to come to an internal conclusion then and he nods resolutely before grabbing Yin Yu’s hands again.

 

Yin Yu almost whimpers. It’s so warm. And maybe because he’s new to presenting and his emotions feel all over the place and no one has really touched him in so long he shuts his eyes tight and leans into Yizhen even further until his face is buried in his shidi’s neck. It’s absolutely unseemly to be acting like this and if anyone knew…. But Yin Yu knows Yizhen and is confident he won’t tell anyone and he really is weak because this feels better than anything else.

 

“Shixiong…” Yizhen’s tone is almost wondering as Yin Yu snuffles into his neck, his brain awash with a powerful alpha’s scent. Yizhen is only thirteen but he’s already one of the strongest in the sect.

 

Yin Yu’s eyes grow heavy as the scent wraps around him like a comforting blanket and he can’t help the way he begins to droop, head on Yizhen’s shoulder. The last thing he remembers before he falls asleep is Yizhen covering him with the bed’s blanket.

 

*

 

Shifu comes in the next day and tells Yin Yu (with far more sorrow in his voice than Yin Yu wants to acknowledge) that he and the sect elders have decided on traditional contest for Yin Yu. It’s a simple and very acceptable way for an omega, especially high-ranking omegas, to be mated off if there are no pre-existing contracts or agreements. Shifu must also know that Yin Yu would rather eat his own hair than be told that he needs to pick someone for himself. He can’t imagine keeping any face left after looking his martial brothers and sisters in the eye and asking one of them to be his alpha.

 

Yin Yu should even be flattered that shifu and the elders think he’s worthy of a contest but really all he feels is terrified and deeply upset in a way that he can’t seem to shake.

 

He nods blankly and thanks shifu anyway.

 

Then he’s alone once more.

 

He could have never imagined that being alone could hurt like this. He could never have imagined that not having someone touching him could feel like a constant ache but he’s feeling it now. He has a sudden sympathy for all the omegas he’s met on nighthunts or in various villages that he never fully empathised with the way he should have.

 

Not too long later Jian Yu barges in. His best friend is very obviously angry but he’s always angry to some degree so this isn’t particularly strange.

 

“Yin Yu.” He says before Yin Yu can even open his mouth, “You heard from shifu?”

 

Yin Yu nods. His mouth feels very dry in the worst way. Thankfully this turns out to be one of those situations when Jian Yu manages to still his tongue from ranting in a way that would only make Yin Yu feel worse even if it’s not directed at anything other than his unpredictable biology.

 

“Yin Yu.” Jian Yu looks very serious as he approaches where Yin Yu is sitting at the small desk in the omega room before stopping at a respectable distance, “If you’re okay with it I can enter.”

 

Yin Yu’s eyes widen, “Jian Yu…”

 

“You’re my best friend.” Jian Yu looks very resolute, “And I’m not letting you get mated to some knothead idiot. I know I’m a beta but I can still enter and if I win I’ll make sure you don’t get pushed around.”

 

Jian Yu is often caustic and there are times when it takes far too much patience from Yin Yu just to be able to be around his friend but right now he feels a sudden rush of love so deep it almost chokes him.

 

“If you’re with me you won’t be able to mate that hypothetical beta girl you keep talking about.” He says and instead of backing off Jian Yu just shrugs.

 

“Yeah so? You’re my best friend and she isn’t exactly around.”

 

Yin Yu wants to reach out for his friend although he knows that’s not appropriate. Instead he gives a (slightly wobbly) smile.

 

“Thank you.”

 

“You’re my best friend.” Jian Yu says with no little aggression and that’s all he says. It’s probably all he needs to.

 

*

 

Yin Yu sits on the dias in the place of prominence and watches everyone below him get ready to fight for the chance to mate him with a kind of strange detachment. He catches Jian Yu’s eye and his friend doesn’t smile at him but he nods and that’s good enough. Yin Yu isn’t even scared anymore (he’s terrified but ignoring it).

 

His muddled head is probably why he doesn’t even notice Yizhen until the boy has managed to fight his way to the final rounds. Yin Yu feels as though a bucket of cold water has been dumped on him. Yizhen?! Quan Yizhen is trying to win the right to mate him?!

 

Yizhen is the youngest participant but it becomes nauseatingly apparent that even at thirteen he’s monstrously strong. In fact there are only two people in the Sect who could conceivably beat him and that would be Yin Yu and shifu himself.

 

Yin Yu’s heart sinks and he feels something worse than horror wash over him as he watches Jian Yu and Quan Yizhen stand opposite each other and get into position. Jian Yu is looking at Quan Yizhen like he can’t believe his daring and wants to crush him like a bug (which to be fair is how he looks at him most of the time).

 

Yin Yu watches as the inevitable happens and though he was expecting it he still can’t quite process the way Quan Yizhen approaches him, beaming, after he wins.

 

“Shixiong! I won! You’re my mate now!” And Yin Yu is confident that Yizhen only had the barest bones knowledge of what mating and dynamics even were before he had explained it the other night but now Yizhen strides forward with completely confidence.

 

Shifu is saying something but Yin Yu can’t even hear beyond the roaring in his ears.

 

He’s not even sure how it happens and how sad is that? That Yin Yu doesn’t even remember this moment that omegas are meant to hold in their hearts for the rest of their lives?

 

Yizhen grabs him and in the breathless beat between one moment and the next he sinks his teeth into his mating gland. Yin Yu can’t even shout he’s so surprised, though by the noise he hears from beyond the bubble of Yizhen’s hands on him he knows he might be the only silent one in the whole Sect right now.

 

*

 

Yin Yu wakes and pretends to be asleep. Yizhen is curled around him. Yin Yu can’t quite remember how he got here but for a moment he’s absolutely terrified that Yizhen might have mated him while he was unconscious. He looks down at himself and finds that yes, he’s fully clothed, although his neck aches from the bite and he can feel dried blood around the puncture wound.

 

He looks around and finds that he’s in Yizhen’s room in the disciple’s quarters. That makes sense. Mated couples lived together in the alpha’s room. Yin Yu’s things will have to be moved out of the omega room in the healing pavilion where they had been taken after he had presented and into Yizhen’s rooms.

 

Yin Yu feels numb.

 

Yizhen is a child.

 

Well. No he’s not. But Yizhen is thirteen and Yin Yu is nineteen and the gap between them feels terrifyingly large and impossible to bridge. Yizhen is the child that Yin Yu helps with his sword work and treats the bruises of. Yizhen gets praise and sweets from Yin Yu when he does well. Yizhen is… Yin Yu can’t. He can’t deal with this.

 

Before he knows what’s happening he begins to cry.

 

It wakes Yizhen up.

 

“Shixiong?” Yizhen snuffles into his hair in animalistic little whuffs, “Why is Shixiong crying? Is he hurt?”

 

Yin Yu has no idea how he can answer if he can answer at all. The tears don’t stop.

 

Yizhen makes an upset noise and wraps himself even more securely around Yin Yu. “Shixiong?”

 

Yin Yu hates how his omega instincts relax in response to his alpha’s attention insultingly quickly.

 

“I’m fine.” He says despite sounding choked up and generally like he’s not at all okay.

 

Yizhen accepts it immediately.

 

“Okay.” He then moves to begin lapping at Yin Yu’s neck, “Shixiong smells so good. Shixiong always smelled good before but he smells even better now! He smells like me.”

 

Yin Yu resists the urge to either scream to wilt in despair.

 

“Yizhen.” Yin Yu tries to sound the way he did before all of this, confident and in control, “Let go of me.”

 

Yizhen makes an unhappy noise but complies and moves away off Yin Yu.

 

“Yizhen.” Yin Yu has no idea how to have this conversation. He feels like his head is going to spin off, “I didn’t know you were looking for a mate.” He starts with because he has no idea what else to say or even how to start the conversation he knows he needs to have.

 

Yizhen shrugs, “After shixiong told me about mates the other night I decided I wanted to mate shixiong. I like shixiong the best anyway.”

 

Yin Yu has no idea what to say to that so he firmly ignores it and any feeling that comes with it.

 

“I’m-“

 

“And Shixiong doesn’t have to worry about not being able to fight!” Yizhen says passionately, “I’m shixiong’s alpha now and I say he can fight whenever he wants!”

 

The shape of Yizhen’s thoughts are beginning to make sense to Yin Yu and he finds himself shocked by… how not completely terrible he finds it even in the midst of his horror.

 

He looks at Yizhen, properly looks at him, and realises that while Yizhen is wild, half-feral, rude and undoubtedly head-strong and ignorant to anything but his own feelings he’s still… he’s still Yizhen. And he still looks at Yin Yu like he has all the answers.

 

Yin Yu still feels shaky and wrong but he does his best to give Yizhen a small smile.

 

“Okay Yizhen.”

 

He can’t bring himself to call him alpha.

 

*

 

After all of that Yin Yu’s life becomes altogether rather boring in truth. Yizhen announces rather loudly to the sect that Yin Yu can do whatever he wants and then proceeds to treat him like his shixiong rather than his mate.

 

Everyone that even tries to say anything is summarily beaten up.

 

That doesn’t mean it’s all easy however. Yin Yu’s first port of call was going to Jian Yu and demanding every type of heat suppressant that he could get. Jian Yu had given them to him without question and spent his time picking fights with Yizhen whenever he could.

 

His best friend was furious in a way that Yin Yu had rarely seen before. Jian Yu was often angry but his real fury went beyond shouting and threats and into icy silence and a deep maliciousness. And that was what Yizhen was getting now. Jian Yu would be petty and refuse to treat his injuries. Sabotage his gear. Try and humiliate him in front of others.

 

Yin Yu tried to get him to stop and he made Yizhen promise not to fight him but it seemed that any power he had ended there.

 

Instead it fell on him to treat Yizhen’s injuries, gently cleaning them and smoothing medicinal pastes on when they were serious. It soothed his omega instincts and Yizhen seemed pleased enough by the attention not to try and retaliate against Jian Yu.

 

As for being an omega Yin Yu didn’t like it but he adjusted anyway. Due to Yizhen’s permission he was allowed to go on missions and continue training. His martial siblings didn’t treat him too differently (though of course it wasn’t all smooth) after a while and life went on.

 

Yizhen’s first rut post-bonding was a time of great anxiety. He could smell it coming for a little while and wondered (hysterically) if he would be expected to attend his alpha. He should. It was his duty. But the thought turned his stomach. Yizhen didn’t look all that like a child anymore, he was almost taller than Yin Yu, but he was still only thirteen with an age gap of six years. It felt wrong on so many fronts.

 

Thankfully Yizhen barely seemed to notice his approaching rut. On the day before it would have started he left the sect on a mission and returned a few days later with an impressive number of kills under his belt and his rut behind him.

 

The pattern continued like that for the next few years with Yizhen vanishing from the sect every rut and Yin Yu using a combination of herbs and spiritual energy to suppress his heats. He wondered just once what it would be like to have a heat and have an alpha there and immediately had to nix the thought because his omega brain couldn’t stomach the thought of anyone apart from Yizhen and Yizhen was… Yizhen.

 

Yin Yu was writing poetry in his and Yizhen’s shared room (another thing he’d had to adjust to, having someone constantly in his space) when Yizhen bounded in.

 

“Shixiong!” He flopped down beside Yin Yu and immediately leaned against him, wrapping his arms around his waist, “What are you doing?”

 

That was another thing. The near constant contact. Yizhen always seemed to want to be touching him or scenting him or just near him in some way. Yin Yu had told him sternly on the first day that he didn’t want him touching him in public. Yizhen had agreed and mostly managed to stick to it.

 

Yin Yu didn’t push for total non-contact because what omega could regulate the amount their alpha touched him in private? What omega could deny their alpha their right to touch them?

 

Yin Yu didn’t… hate it. But he didn’t quite like it either. Yizhen always ran hot and his hands were big and firm and he always squeezed just slightly too tight. He knew he needed to let his alpha touch him. That it was good for the both of them on a dynamics level but he wanted his own space and he didn’t have it anymore. He slept in the same bed as Yizhen. Yizhen who kicked and hogged the covers and tried to smother him every night with his mess of hair.

 

Yin Yu felt like he was wearing out slowly. A bit like a bar of soap but he couldn’t stop the slow deterioration. He couldn’t help but resent Yizhen a little and that feeling warred with his own fondness for the shidi that he had trained as well as his omega instincts that preened at how strong his alpha was.

 

It’s maybe because of that wearing down that the fateful conversation even happens.

 

Yin Yu is sitting at the desk in the room staring off into nothing when Yizhen bounds in. The alpha immediately plasters himself to his Shixiong’s side and snuggles into him. Yin Yu barely reacts. It’s one of those bad days when his instincts are screaming and entirely at war with his mind. Where he feels so out of control that he doesn’t recognise his own body anymore. Yizhen noses into his neck and at the lack of reaction he frowns and pulls back reaching for Yin Yu’s hands.

 

“Shixiong?” He asks questioningly before moving to bite down on the bond mark, a move that ensures Yin Yu pays attention no matter what.

 

Yin Yu gasps, jolted out of his headspace as the bond flares to life, driving away the cobwebs. Yizhen has been gone form the sect for a few days and Yin Yu had gotten… lost in his absence.

 

But still.

 

“Yizhen.” He tries to scold but it’s weak, “I told you not to bite me there.”

 

Yizhen frowns and doesn’t say anything else instead nosing further into Yin Yu’s shoulder.

 

His shidi isn’t anywhere near a child anymore. At seventeen he’s now fully grown and much bigger than Yin Yu. He and Yin Yu have been mated for four years but Yin Yu still often feels out of his depth within the bond. He knows what Yizhen and he are isn’t normal and it grates at him. Often he wonders if Yizhen even knows what a proper alpha-omega bond is meant to look like before reminding himself that of course he doesn’t. Yizhen doesn’t pay attention to anything unless Yin Yu is the one telling him and even then it’s a gamble as to whether or not he’ll absorb it.

 

“Shixiong wasn’t paying attention to me.” Yizhen says rather petulantly, “What is he thinking about?”

 

Yin Yu doesn’t really know what he was thinking about, his mind more blank than anything else.

 

“The gods.” He answers because he doesn’t have anything to say.

 

Yizhen frowns, “Why?”

 

“Because…” Yin Yu doesn’t have an answer to this either. Yizhen is being unexpectedly pushy. Normally he wouldn’t bother asking a follow up.

 

“Ascending.” Yin Yu finds himself saying, “Everyone thought that I would for a while.” Thought is a relatively tame way of putting it. Everyone just assumed Yin Yu would ascend before he presented. It’s another thing he’s lost.

 

“Oh. Does shixiong want to ascend?” Yizhen asks.

 

Yin Yu shakes his head, “I can’t.” There are barely any omega gods and the effort of cultivation… he can’t imagine it.

 

“Oh. Does shixiong want to see heaven?”

 

Yin Yu smiles then, “Who wouldn’t?”

 

He misses Yizhen’s thoughtful frown.

 

*

 

The day Yizhen ascends is a cloudy one. There’s no real warning. One moment Yin Yu is tending to Yizhen’s latest wounds and the next second he’s being bathed in white light and then he’s gone.

 

The sect celebrates because of course they do. One of their own has attained god hood.

 

Yin Yu sits alone in their shared room and feels… empty.

 

Jian Yu comes to find him because of course he does.

 

“They say time passes differently in heaven.” His best friend says. Tension has built between them over the years in the wake of the mating. Yin Yu doesn’t love being Yizhen’s mate, but he can’t stand the insults Jian Yu hurls towards him. It just feels wrong, grates all his instincts in the worst way like a cat being pet in the wrong direction.

 

“Oh?” Yin Yu’s not sure what point he wants to make but sits there and listens anyway.

 

Jian Yu comes and sits next to him, “It could be years before he’s back.”

 

That leaves an aching gash in Yin Yu’s heart that he curls into himself to try and heal. Or at least clutch tight enough that it doesn’t hurt too much.

 

“Yin Yu.” Jian Yu reaches forward and puts an arm around him. It’s pretty much the first time anyone’s touched him since he presented apart from Yizhen.

 

He leans into his best friend, suddenly weightless.

 

“Jian Yu.” He says thinly.

 

His best friend’s scowl is apparent even without needing to look at him.

 

“That fucking brat.” He snarls, “Fucking mating you just like that because of his own selfishness and then fucking ascending and leaving you all alone. I’ll fucking kill him with my bare hands I swear.”

 

Yin Yu shakes his head, “Don’t. Please.”

 

Jian Yu doesn’t say anything further but his arm around Yin Yu tightens, “I should have beat him that day.” Is what he says.

 

Yin Yu has nothing he can say in reply. He stays silent.

 

*

 

Yizhen comes back after less than three days. He falls from heaven, creating a huge crater in the centre of the Sect’s courtyard, and immediately runs for his shared room with Yin Yu.

 

Yin Yu is sitting at the desk when Yizhen rushes in. He’s practically glowing, awash with spiritual power and when he picks up Yin Yu and crushes him to his chest Yin Yu feels every omega instinct he has settle. It’s an unnerving feeling.

 

“Come on shixiong.” Yizhen says as he sweeps Yin Yu into his arms.

 

“Yizhen what-“

 

Before Yin Yu can finish his statement they’re gone.

 

He didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye.

 

*

 

Yin Yu hates heaven.

 

It sounds very ungrateful but it’s true. Heaven is full of petty and backstabbing people and as the only person that’s able to wrangle the new and powerful martial god he has to spend most of his time dealing with them. It had taken less than a week for Yin Yu to come to the conclusion that Yizhen had no idea what he was doing as a god and that if anything was going to be done he would have to do it.

 

In a strange way he can almost taste a flavour of gratefulness for the fact that in a roundabout way he wasn’t able to ascend. Seeing the way the middle heavenly court operates is enough for him to realise that even if he had ascended his power wouldn’t have lasted for long. He’s not Yizhen. That fact is painfully clear. Yizhen is a natural and far too powerful for anyone to face directly. Yizhen was born to be a martial god.

 

All of this just means that Yin Yu has to deal with all the boring backlash.

 

He takes the job of listening to the prayers, recording them and sorting them into categories for Yizhen to deal with. He’s the only person Yizhen will listen to anyway so if he says “Yizhen go down to the mortal plane and deal with the monster harassing the common people” Yizhen will just nod brightly and with a “Yes Shixiong!” he’ll do it.

 

Yizhen’s power grows and grows.

 

Yin Yu feels lightheaded with everything. He barely has any time to even think let alone sit down and fully comprehend what has happened to him. Since the moment Yizhen swept him up and dumped him in the Palace of Qi Ying he’s barely had a spare moment to meditate. He certainly doesn’t have any time to write poetry or sleep or even eat (which he doesn’t have to do now that he lives in the Heavens but which he still craves sometimes). Yizhen seems to have no such issues. In between his excursions to deal with prayers he spends his time sleeping or following Yin Yu around and generally getting in the way.

 

Yin Yu thinks about trying to get some heavenly officials to help him with the ever-increasing work load but it’s impossible. The moment he brings new people into the palace Yizhen will try and fight them and he always wins.

 

Yin Yu comes to the conclusion that there’s really nothing to be done but trying to do it all himself.

 

He’s so tired.

 

*

 

Yizhen has just gotten back from defeating some guai or other that was terrorising a large part of the mortal plane. As exasperated by the blood and gore that Yizhen is tracking into the palace he’s also proud. Not only in that possessive omega way but also generally. Yizhen was a street child that he picked up and brought into the sect and look at him now.

 

The fondness rises. It’s been a little absent the past few… however long they’ve been in heaven and having it back makes Yin Yu act softer and more accommodating towards Yizhen than he would normally.

 

“Yizhen.” Yin Yu reaches out with his sleeve to wipe his face, “You’re filthy, you need to take a bath. Come on.”

 

As always Yizhen follows obediently though he latches onto one of Yin Yu’s hands in both of his large ones and doesn’t seem interested in letting go.

 

“Shixiong this monster was kind of hard to deal with but I got it in the end.” Yizhen looks at him like he’s demanding praise.

 

Yin Yu can’t help himself. He smiles and reaches out with his other hand to stroke over Yizhen’s cheek.

 

“Well done.” He does mean it. If Yizhen found a monster hard to deal with it means it would have slaughtered any number of lesser gods. Yizhen is terrifying strong.

 

Yizhen preens under his attention and when they get to the bathing pool he keeps a hold of Yin Yu’s hand and loudly asks if he would help him bath.

 

Yin Yu wonders if Yizhen knows that he doesn’t have to ask. As Yizhen’s omega Yin Yu would pretty much have to obey if Yizhen demanded something. But Yizhen never does. He never demands, he only asks and when Yin Yu says yes he beams and celebrates like Yin Yu has done him a great service.

 

Yin Yu wonders as he lathers up Yizhen’s hair. He carefully wets it and begins working in the soap. Yizhen’s hair is thick and long and unruly but Yin Yu has enough practice with it over to years. There’re a thousand things he needs to be doing but for now he can sit here and wash his alpha’s hair.

 

“Shixiong.” Yizhen’s eyes are closed and he lets out a pleased rumble like a big cat, “Does Shixiong like it here in heaven?”

 

Yin Yu wonders if he’s so opaque that Yizhen really can’t tell.

 

“Yes.” He answers because what kind of ungrateful wretch would say that Heaven itself isn’t good enough.

 

“Good.” Yizhen’s pleased eyes look up at him, “I like it here. I get to spend all my time fighting or with Shixiong.”

 

Yin Yu nods and begins to ladle water over Yizhen’s hair which cuts off any further words. Yizhen’s world is so simple and it makes Yin Yu both jealous and exasperated. Yin Yu knows that technically he doesn’t have to do all the work he does. He could easily just let the prayers pile up, let the disasters become imminent enough that Yizhen has to deal with them eventually, but he can’t even imagine that. Yizhen is ignorant and hard-headed and impossible but Yizhen is also his alpha and on a more personal level Yin Yu can’t imagine letting Yizhen fail like that, even if there’s a part of him that’s sure no matter what happens Yizhen would continue to soar to greater heights because he only seems to have one trajectory and that’s up.

 

“Shixiong smells different today.” Yizhen says when his hair has been rinsed. He half climbs out of the bathing pool to sniff Yin Yu and in the process ends up soaking Yin Yu’s robes.

 

“Do I?” Yin Yu asks distractedly as he reaches to put the hair soaps and oils back where they should be.

 

“Mm.” And without warning Yizhen grabs Yin Yu and pulls him close enough to bury his nose in his throat.

 

“Yizhen!” Yin Yu slaps at his shoulder, “Stop!”

 

“Shixiong smells sweet.” Yizhen’s voice is a low rumble, “Smells good.”

 

Yin Yu is blushing as he pushes Yizhen away, “Okay okay. Let go of me Yizhen.”

 

Yizhen complies but he’s watching Yin Yu slightly differently as he helps him out of the tub and hands him a towel to dry himself. Later he drags Yin Yu into their bed and curls around him like a big cat.

 

“Shixiong shouldn’t go talk to other people when he smells so good.” Yizhen says petulantly.

 

Yin Yu can’t even laugh. As Yizhen immediately falls asleep he begins to realise what that sweet smell is.

 

Oh no.

 

*

 

Yin Yu frets for half a day before realising fretting is stupid. Yizhen has never once demanded Yin Yu serve him during his rut and to be honest Yin Yu isn’t sure Yizhen knows what a heat is.

 

Yin Yu misses Jian Yu so keenly in that moment it’s painful.

 

He goes to Yizhen that afternoon.

 

“Yizhen, I’m going into heat.”

 

“Okay.” Yizhen looks absolutely guileless.

 

Yin Yu steels himself, “I’ll need a heat room in the palace.”

 

Yizhen blinks, “Shixiong can have whatever room he wants.”

 

Yin Yu isn’t very sure if Yizhen understands anything he’s saying. And on that note it’s true that the majority of rooms in the palace stand completely empty and unused.

 

“I also won’t be around for a few days while I’m in heat.” Yin Yu adds.

 

That makes Yizhen pout but he frowns a little and nods decisively, “I’ll go and kill some monsters then.”

 

That actually isn’t a bad idea.

 

“Okay, before my heat starts I’ll make a list then of issues you need to deal with.” Yin Yu thinks it over, running through the long list of things he needs to get into position in order to basically vanish for a few days.

 

“And once I’m in the room for my heat you can’t bother me.” He tells Yizhen sternly. Yizhen doesn’t really seem to understand but he nods anyway.

 

“Okay shixiong.”

 

“Good.” Yin Yu sometimes is struck by how readily Yizhen obeys him and how utterly… strange it is. He must be the only omega in the heavens that has their alpha listen to them so easily. “I’m going to go get preparations ready.” He feels his thin face threaten to split open at his next words, “I’ll need some of your clothing and… can you scent some other things for me?”

 

Yizhen nods enthusiastically, “I’ll scent whatever Shixiong wants! Does Shixiong want my clothes now?” He asks, already reaching for his collar.

 

“No no!” Yin Yu practically leaps forward to stop Yizhen from stripping right there in the middle of his palace although there’s no one else about, “Not now! I’ll take some later.”

 

“Okay shixiong.” Yizhen says compliantly before reaching forward and drawing Yin Yu into his arms, “I’ll miss you.” He almost whines, “But if I get to fight it’ll be okay.”

 

Yin Yu sighs even as his body instinctively relaxes into Yizhen’s arms, “You always fight anyway even if you’re not allowed.”

 

Yizhen doesn’t answer that but he doesn’t need to, being in his arms this close to his heat makes Yin Yu feel jittery and sleepy at the same time. He resolutely pushes those feelings aside.

 

*

 

Yin Yu’s heat is terrible. Absolutely terrible.

 

The whole room smells like Yizhen and he vacillates wildly between hating his alpha and craving him. He spends most of the time crying and honestly, for all that Yin Yu has heard about heats he has to say there’s very little desire to have sex buried under the overwhelming loneliness. He wonders if the fact that he and Yizhen have never formally consummated the bond has anything to do with how wrong he feels.

 

Either way when the torturous days are done he drags himself out of his destroyed nest, washes his face, puts on some clean clothes and leaves the heat room.

 

The palace is utterly empty.

 

It makes him feel all the more upset and out of control. He can’t say that he necessarily wants Yizhen there hovering outside the door waiting for him to come out and he knows he sent Yizhen away but… not having him waiting is even worse. All his instincts grate and he has to bite his lip very hard to stop himself from bursting into tears right there and then.

 

His eyes feel raw from the crying but he straightens his spine and goes to his study to get started on the mountains of work that have piled up while he’s been gone.

 

It’s a long while later that he looks up and realises Yizhen still isn’t back. With a sigh he gets up to go send a message, almost the moment it’s off there’s a crash and Yizhen barrels back through the halls of the palace.

 

“Shixiong!” He sounds jubilant, “You’re back!” He sweeps Yin Yu up into his arms, snuffling into his neck and rubbing large hands over his hair and back. It’s both soothing and agitating. Yin Yu doesn’t really understand his relationship to Yizhen sometimes, ever since they bonded his body both rejects his alpha and accepts him. It makes his head ache to think too hard about.

 

“Not so tight Yizhen.” He wheezes as his alpha tries to squeeze the breath out of him.

 

Yizhen immediately loosens his grip before pulling back with a frown to stare at Yin Yu.

 

“Shixiong… are you sad?” The question is accompanied by his finger reaching out to brush over Yin Yu’s cheek which is somehow still tacky with tears.

 

Yin Yu curses everything internally, “It’s nothing Yizhen.”

 

Yizhen frowns, head cocked to the side. “If shixiong is sad he can tell me. I want to help.”

 

It may be the first time Yizhen hasn’t taken what he says at face value. It leaves Yin Yu slightly stumped because if nothing else Yizhen always always listens to him and doesn’t look deeper.

 

“I…” Yin Yu isn’t sure what prompts him to answer honestly, though even his honesty isn’t complete. He has too thin a face to admit his own contradictory desires even to himself so he settles on the easiest thing to explain, “I’m lonely.”

 

“Lonely?” Yizhen frowns.

 

“I miss the sect.” Yin Yu says and finds that’s true and all of a sudden he’s fighting tears, “I… I miss shifu and Jian Yu and I miss… home.”

 

Yizhen looks panicked for a second, hands fluttering like he doesn’t know what to do which knowing him he absolutely doesn’t.

 

“Shixiong,” He settles for pulling Yin Yu more firmly into his arms and squeezing him tight, “I’ll fix it shixiong.” He promises although Yin Yu is sure that he doesn’t know what he’s promising. Or how he’s going to fix Yin Yu being lonely for his alpha who is right there.

 

(The stupid part is that in his darkest moments Yin Yu knows that he has all the power when it comes to his relationship with Yizhen. He could finalise the bond between them, he could press closer, he could say shameless things and coax them into the next level of connection. Yizhen’s mind is familiar to him, his thoughts are never a surprise. Nothing about Yizhen is complicated or confusing to Yin Yu. He has the power to stop feeling the way he does right now. But it’s the weight of a responsibility he doesn’t want and never asked for. Yin Yu can’t say he’d be happier at another nameless alpha’s side as their omega toy but he doesn’t know that he’s happy now even with an alpha that adores him living in Heaven.)

 

“Okay Yizhen.” He allows himself to press his nose closer into his mate’s fluffy hair, “Okay.”

 

*

 

“Jian Yu?” Yin Yu’s voice is shaky and his eyes are wide, “You’re here?”

 

Jian Yu looks older. He’s hesitant but that seems to rapidly melt off him as he strides forward and drags Yin Yu into a hug, “You’re okay.” He hugs the same way he always has.

 

“What- I don’t-“

 

“You said you were lonely shixiong,” Yizhen says then, “You said you missed Jian Yu.” He looks uncertain but also like a puppy waiting for praise and a treat.

 

“He came down to the sect.” Jian Yu spits “he” like it’s a poisonous word, “And asked me to come with him to be his middle heavenly official.”

 

Yin Yu turns to Yizhen, blinking in surprise, “You did?”

 

“Shixong said he missed Jian Yu.” Yizhen repeats.

 

Yin yu swallows thickly before striding over to Yizhen and pulling him into a hug, “Thank you Yizhen.”

 

Yizhen snuffles into his neck and for the first time in a while it’s soft and sweet and inspires nothing but soft affection in Yin Yu.

 

“Shixiong said he was lonely.” He repeats and when Yin Yu pulls back it’s as though he can see the emotions spelled out in Yizhen’s eyes far too clearly.

 

I adore you. I adore you so much. Is what Yizhen’s every action spells out. Is what Yizhen is telling him every second of every moment of every day with everything he does.

 

It stops Yin Yu in his tracks and bowls him over.

 

It’s terrifying.

 

*

 

“You guys haven’t consummated the bond.” Jian Yu says slightly offhandedly as he helps Yin Yu sort through the endless prayers that afflict the Palace of Qi Ying.

 

“No.” Yin Yu doesn’t even feel embarrassed saying it. He’s too exhausted to.

 

“Hmm. It’s been years you know. Since he grabbed you and disappeared without saying goodbye.”

 

“Yes.”

 

The reminder is jarring and Yin Yu doesn’t like it. Therefore Jian Yu feels the need to bring it up all the time.

 

“He doesn’t treat you like an alpha should.” Jian Yu says caustically, “Even back at the sect he didn’t but he hasn’t improved at all the past few years! He never favours you in public, he should be taking you everywhere with him or at least around Heaven. Everyone is talking about how he doesn’t like you all that much and that’s why he keeps you locked up in his palace. He’s never even introduced you to the other gods.”

 

Yin Yu doesn’t bother to say that it’s him who would rather not have to go out and socialise, known only by the label of “General Qi Ying’s omega”.

 

“You’re a cultivator too! A strong one.” Jian Yu sniffs, “He should at least give you the face to spar with you.”

 

Yin Yu doesn’t tell Jian Yu that it’s him that refuses to spar with Yizhen. The gap in their skill burns uncomfortably. It’s his own stupid insecurity that keeps them like this. It’s his fault.

 

“And don’t get me started on-“

 

“Jian Yu. Please stop.”

 

Jian Yu must sense something in Yin Yu’s tone because he shuts up just this once. Yin Yu resists the urge to rub his eyes. Jian Yu has a way to put a voice to all of Yin Yu’s deepest insecurities, it’s painfully validating like pressing down on a bruise so it hurts. Today he doesn’t think he can take much more of it.

 

“His birthday is coming up.” Jian Yu says after a little pause.

 

“Yes.” Yin Yu starts back on some paperwork.

 

“Hmm.” Is all Jian Yu says.

 

*

 

It a lot of ways it’s Yin Yu’s fault. He should have checked the gifts. He should have done so many different things. He should have used his omega scent to calm Yizhen down. He should have done something.

 

Instead he did nothing and that’s why he and Jian Yu have been brought before the Martial Emperor Jun Wu for their “trial”. The room is jeering. It turns out Jian Yu was right, Yizhen never favouring him publicly meant that there’s no one here to speak up for him and even less people that trust him.

 

“He and that beta were obviously having an affair.” Some god whispers to the other.

 

“Conspiring.” Some of the others don’t even bother to keep their voices down.

 

Yin Yu stares down at the opulent marble of the floors and feels nothing but shame, thick and hot in his stomach.

 

Where’s Yizhen? Is he okay? Where is he? He looked bad, I don’t- I should have- I didn’t-

 

Jian Yu is stiff by his side.

 

“It was all my fault.” His best friend tries to take all the blame.

 

“No no it wasn’t.” Yin Yu takes his own share right back as Jian Yu glares at him.

 

He won’t let his best friend die like this. Not when it’s his fault Jian Yu was dragged up to heaven by Yizhen in the first place.

 

No.

 

No.

 

He’s…. he’s made so many mistakes and he’s not a good mate anyway. His bond with Yizhen isn’t even consummated… it’s not-

 

“You can’t banish General Qi Ying’s mate without even speaking to the man himself!”

 

Yin Yu looks up and recognises the detractor as Shi Qingxuan standing next to the implacable earth master. He’s glimpsed them both from afar but never spoken to them.

 

The wind master’s face is flushed slightly with righteous indignation, “This isn’t-“

 

Before they can finish whatever they were going to say Shi Wudu comes up next to them, grabbing their hand and cutting them off.

 

Yin Yu is perversely grateful for even the sliver of support.

 

“Omegas who cavort with others while their alphas are off working hard for the good of Heaven should be given no second thoughts.” Shi Wudu drawls lowly, almost carelessly.

 

Yin Yu watches almost detachedly as Shi Qingxuan’s face goes flushed with indignation. Ah… they’re an omega too, aren’t they? But before they can say anything else the Earth Master puts a hand on their arm. Shi Qingxuan looks up at them in shock at the touch, but the Earth Master is watching Yin Yu very closely. There’s an unreadable expression on their face but it’s not hostility, it’s not condemnation, it’s not even interest.

 

But still… Shi Qingxuan doesn’t say anything more.

 

They get tossed out of Heaven and Yin Yu can’t help the (shameful) relief he feels at leaving it all behind.

 

*

 

Jian Yu dies first.

 

Yin Yu is alone.

 

The worst part is he knows he could go to any of Yizhen’s temples, send up a prayer and have his alpha with him in seconds. Have Yizhen with him in seconds. Yin Yu has far too much time to think, to ruminate on entirely unwanted and painful thoughts down here on the mortal plane. He knows Yizhen. Knows Yizhen well enough that he can run every scenario through his mind, picturing the way Yizhen would respond to this or that.

 

Yizhen wouldn’t believe Yin Yu betrayed him unless Yin Yu himself told him.

 

And even if it was all true… Yizhen would forgive him. He tries to imagine Yizhen’s potential reaction to being betrayed and… can’t. Would he be jealous? What would that look like? Would he be hurt? What does Yizhen look like when Yin Yu hurts him? Yin Yu doesn’t know. Either way no matter how hurt or upset he is he would forgive Yin Yu because when it comes to Yin Yu Yizhen has no scope for hatred or upset. In Yizhen Yin Yu will always have a home. But he’s not sure it’s the one he wants. Or at least that’s what he tells himself every time the urge to contact Yizhen appears.

 

He never wanted to be Yizhen’s mate. He never wanted to be anyone’s mate. He wanted… he wanted to be a martial god but after witnessing Heaven first hand he’s not sure he even wants that in the same way anymore.

 

If he didn’t want to be Yizhen’s, didn’t want to be a god, didn’t want to return to the sect… what did he want? He wanders and turns the question over and doesn’t know.

 

He never goes to any of Yizhen’s temples.

 

He justifies it to himself; they weren’t good for each other anyway.

 

*

 

When Hua Cheng finds him he looks him up and down, hums, cocks his head and says, “Alright.” It’s more to himself than to Yin Yu.

 

He then takes him with him.

 

He’s not entirely sure how he ends up in Ghost City as Hua Chengzhu’s right hand man but either way it’s a good job. He’s free down here and respected by everyone for the authority Hua Chengzhu bestows upon him. Down here Yin Yu isn’t an omega, not really. None of the citizens of Ghost City treat him as one anyway. Dynamics are something hazier when you’re dead and Yin Yu isn’t dead but at this point he’s something close.

 

He hasn’t had a heat in centuries and the years pass in a slow drag of blood under a bruise. Clearing away painful debris until the wound is gone.

 

Yin Yu only thinks of Yizhen sometimes; when he sees curly hair or gold earrings or people fighting.

 

It sounds like a lot when he spells it out like that but he’s still an omega with a bond bite. Even if distance and a lack of spiritual energy has meant it barely throbs anymore and has faded to a slight shadow on his skin.

 

He wonders if Yizhen ever traces his bond bite and think of Yin Yu. If Yizhen is still looking for him. The worst part is he knows with certainty Yizhen is. This is Quan Yizhen they’re talking about.

 

Yin Yu has all the options in front of him. He was never abandoned by his mate. He’s not a scorned or jilted omega. He’s the one that let Yizhen go. He’s the one that left. He’s the one that technically chose Jian Yu over him. Why did he do that? It wasn’t as though Yizhen was a bad mate. Yizhen brought Jian Yu to Heaven because Yin Yu said he was lonely.

 

If Yin Yu was just honest with Yizhen he could have anything he wanted. Yizhen was insensitive, Yizhen disregarded his boundaries, Yizhen didn’t see just how much work he was doing, he didn’t appreciate Yin Yu. But Yizhen also appreciated him so much. Yin Yu doesn’t understand what he’d done to earn Yizhen’s regard to this level but he has and he… he doesn’t not want it. But what Yizhen gives him isn’t what he needs.

 

Yin Yu isn’t quite sure what he needs but… he thinks he wants to see Yizhen again.

 

He just doesn’t know how to ask.

 

*

 

“Shixiong.” Yizhen’s voice is reverent, his eyes wide and wet with tears, his smile blinding and breath-taking, “SHIXIONG!”

 

And then Yin Yu is swept up in his arms.

 

“You’re alive. You’re okay. Shixiong shixiong.” Yizhen sobs as he nuzzles into the neck where his faded bond mark still sits, “Shixiong I’m so sorry. I failed I didn’t protect you. Shixiong I’m sorry.”

 

Yin Yu chokes in the embrace, “Yizhen, don’t apologise.” It was my fault. I could have called for you. I should have called for you. I knew where you were the whole time while you knew nothing. But… you’re not even going to try and blame me for that are you?

 

“But it was my fault” Yizhen meets his eyes and he’s so serious, “When I woke up and they told me what they did I destroyed half of Heaven. I tore the martial emperor’s palace to pieces. I managed to get in a few good punches before they took me down.” Yizhen shakes his head, “I went down to the mortal world and looked for you. I haven’t been back to Heaven in a long time.”

 

Yin Yu’s head spins, “What but Yizhen-“

 

“I tried to stop being a god. If you weren’t in Heaven there was no point in me being there. I only ascended for you Shixiong, because you said you wanted to see Heaven.”

 

Yin Yu can’t stop his mouth from popping open, “What… Yizhen…”

 

“Shixiong. Yin Yu.” His name is entirely unfamiliar on Yizhen’s tongue, “Whatever you want I can give you. I don’t have to be a god anymore. I can live in Ghost City with you. I can do whatever you want.”

 

Yizhen’s big hands clench around him and Yin Yu looks up into the familiar face inches from his own. Yizhen is the only person left of Yin Yu’s (oftentimes painful and disappointment littered) past. Yin Yu has wrestled endlessly with the self-blame and memories of those brief few decades they spent together for the past few centuries. From Jian Yu to Shifu to his own presentation to Heaven to Yizhen. Yizhen who never listened but loves Yin Yu like no one else ever has and likely ever will.

 

In Yizhen he had a home but he had phrased every interaction, driven every conversation, built the foundations, so it was entirely on Yizhen’s terms. Yizhen listened to whatever Yin Yu told him and Yin Yu had barely said three honest things to him the entire time they were together. And still he had blamed Yizhen for everything because it was meant to be on Yizhen’s terms, because Yizhen was the alpha, the strong one while Yin Yu was ordinary and weak.

 

Shixiong.” Yizhen’s hold is too strong for comfort but also comforting for exactly that reason. He looks at Yin Yu like Yin Yu hung the moon. Like Yin Yu is the sun and moon and stars and sky and holds the whole of the Heavens in his dull brown eyes. “What are you thinking?”

 

Yizhen had never been the powerful one. Yin Yu had always been the one between the two that had the power to change everything or nothing and Yin Yu had built a game without telling Yizhen the rules and then blamed him for not playing right because it was easier than blaming himself, blaming biology, realising there was nothing and nowhere to put that blame, no way to bleed out all those bad feelings.

 

Yin Yu swallows thickly, “Yizhen.” He stops because he’s not sure what to say from there. Does he love Yizhen? He had struggled with that question again and again over the centuries, dissecting his own feelings until there was nothing left. He’s always been drawn to Yizhen and also always resented him in equal measure for being so much trouble.

 

But no one will ever care for him, will ever love him like this. Like Yizhen does. To Yizhen Yin Yu is special in a way Yin Yu hasn’t been since he presented. Is that enough?

 

Yizhen’s hand brushes clumsily over his cheek, his eyes are piercing in their intensity. His shidi had never learnt to pull back on his gaze; everything with Yizhen is all or nothing.

 

Yin Yu has had centuries to think of Yizhen. Time heals all wounds apparently and maybe that’s true for gods and ghosts too. When he looks at Yizhen now he doesn’t see a painful reminder of every single one of his deficiencies anymore.

 

Instead he looks at Yizhen and remembers that his alpha had bonded him to make sure no one else could stop Yin Yu from fighting. He remembers how Yizhen had never expected anything from him. He remembers how Yizhen had tried so hard to make him happy, had brought Jian Yu to Heaven for him.

 

The problem with Yizhen is that he thinks Yin Yu is special and good and the best when Yin Yu is self-aware enough to know that’s lunacy. It’s a regard that makes him uncomfortably aware of his own inadequacies. In the past he had clung desperately to the remaining vestiges of the dignity he believed had made Yizhen think that way. But Yizhen had loved Yin Yu for something deeper than that, something Yin Yu doesn’t believe is real but somehow wants desperately for it to be. That was his problem. He thought he knew Yizhen so well but he had been just as wrong about him. Yizhen doesn’t love Yin Yu because Yin Yu is his Shixiong, the once strongest in the sect who is respected by all for being able to solve every problem with an enviable calm. Yizhen loves him… for so many other reasons Yin Yu doesn’t understand and can’t comprehend.

 

Yin Yu doesn’t know why Yizhen loves him but he’s spent enough time thinking to come to the conclusion that even if he doesn’t understand it, it doesn’t mean it’s not real.

 

Yin Yu doesn’t know what to say to answer Yizhen and he knows that if he tries to explain everything to Yizhen his shidi still won’t quite understand. So he does something that he’s never done before even though maybe he should have, was at least meant to. He reaches forward and presses his lips to Yizhen’s, quieting him and letting instinct take over. Yin Yu’s only ever kissed one person before and that was Jian Yu just for fun when they were children.

 

Yizhen is warm and big and smells perfect. He feels safe. Like the one thing Yin Yu can be confident will never leave by choice, never hurt him on purpose, never think a bad thought about him. In Yizhen he can be safe. His alpha’s lips are soft but chapped because Yizhen doesn’t take care of himself without Yin Yu to nag at him. It’s closed mouthed and chaste but so warm. So so warm.

 

Yin Yu lets his eyes close.

 

“Shixiong.” Yizhen’s voice is reverent like Yin Yu is the one between them who is the venerated Martial God of the West. No one else looks at Yin Yu like that, “I… I’m never letting you go again. I’ll stay by your side for the rest of time.”

 

He doesn’t open his eyes, instead leaning in closer to his alpha and letting Yizhen take his weight, keep him safe.

 

“Are you my alpha Yizhen?” He asks, sotto voice. He’s never spoken to Yizhen like this before but (as everything) Yizhen accepts the change, accepts it, accepts him with no questions. No push back. In Yizhen Yin Yu will always be safe.

 

“If Shixiong wants me to be. If Shixiong wants to be my omega I’ll be the happiest person alive.”

 

That’s the irony. Yizhen thinks that it’s a choice when the shape of his teeth are still branded into Yin Yu’s neck. Yin Yu doesn’t know if he can refuse but either way Yizhen is still offering him a choice and unlike before when he would tell himself Yizhen never meant it he won’t lie to himself any longer. Yizhen means it. Yizhen has always been honest with him.

 

Now Yin Yu just has to prove to himself he can also be.

 

“Okay.” He says, “Okay Yizhen.” He buries his face into his neck and breathes in deep, “I want that.” He makes himself actually say the words out loud instead of letting his thin face hold him back, “I want to be your omega again.”

 

Yizhen’s happiness is a starburst. Comparable to a sun or molten gold. His shidi has always been incredible. A shooting star that Yin Yu had never been able to catch.

 

But that was never the point. Yizhen would have grounded himself all for Yin Yu’s stupid jealousy. Why was it so hard for him to realise that it wasn’t him trailing Yizhen but him and Yizhen?

 

“I’m happy you’re here with me Yizhen.” He says, very very quietly into his shidi’s neck.

 

Yizhen hears because he listens to everything Yin Yu says even if it isn’t the right thing.

 

“I love you so much Shixiong.”

 

Yin Yu keeps his eyes closed and allows himself to accept it.