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Keepsakes Box

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The box looked innocuous.

It was highly decorated, red lacquered with a motif inside of golden chrysanthemums flowers and decently painted birds. It was not an expensive antique and possibly only sixty to eighty years old, the edges of the rim worn a little. A chip in the bottom right corner.

It sat like boulder in the middle of a river and the man who stared at it, wondered why, if the former version of himself had known he was going to lose his memories, he hadn't provided more information. More detail, to fill the void that he had woken up with.

It had been explained that the injury he had received had been poisoned. The resulting fever saved his life as his blood dealt with it, but the price was a memory reset. Why he had been injured was never mentioned.

So many things, carefully skirted around or not said.

Zhang Qiling stared at the box and then at the meager contents that was supposed to encompass his entire life. A few documents, an abruptly written letter discussing his duty and several relevant points that was apparently enough for him to continue on in this world. A journal or manual, that explained the Zhang family, their role and his position. It explained his blood and tattoo that only appeared when one of the Zhang people poured warm water down his bare shoulder.

Two showers later and he was still mesmerized by how it appeared, gradually bleeding into existence.

Beside it on the coffee table, was an antique high quality saber. This blade felt more familiar to him than anything else he had encountered so far. He felt attachment to it and his body during all of the tests they had performed so far, had moved fluidly and with lethal grace.

At this point, he had absorbed very little of what he had been told. The details churning into a mass of similar and vaguely familiar information.

He was apparently their Patriarch, the head of their clan and the oldest surviving member of his generation

He had been born in Tibet. And he had no one beyond the Zhang.

His purpose and function was to protect their secrets and the world.

His profession was grave robbing. 

He owned a sword, which had been handed to him yesterday.

The Zhang family who had introduced themselves when he had awoken in this room, his mind and memory blank except for childhood recollections that placed a few faces in the small group, he had spoken with earlier. Instinctively, he didn't trust any of them and felt nothing....affectionate towards them. They were strangers and every interaction seemed constrained or tense, hidden by deceiving smiles he disliked or cold expressions that mirrored his own.

He came into being three days ago and one hundred and twenty two years ago. The dichotomy of this massive time difference, thanks to a poisoned wound and retrograde amnesia, left him adrift. 

An hour ago, they had left after explaining the family business, handing him this box, that he had apparently - the former him with memory - had ordered to be given to him, if he lost his memory again. Apparently, this happened from time to time, as a genetic quirk. A wound severe enough to potentially kill him, could be healed by his blood. The price was memory loss.

You would think, he mused, that there would be more involved with a lifetime spanning a century, if any of this, any of them could be trusted. Was this box randomly chosen? He didn't particular like it aesthetically speaking and for a grave robbing,  antique appraising family he knew - somehow - that it would not be worth a lot monetarily. 

The walls of the room seemed to close in on him, as the night lengthened. The quiet space reminiscent he thought of a grave, the unattached feeling returning. To discover yourself, sans memory and tethered to no one, was a fate he was struggling to accept.

The box was a distraction from these uncharted, miserable emotions he could neither suppress nor fully ignore. This was when he noticed the hidden panel.

It wasn't obvious and clearly designed to be nearly invisible, disguised as a crack in the old camphor wood. Pressing the corner by the crack where there was a cluster of flowers by some instinct, caused a distinctive click sound. It took a moment, but eventually he turned it upside down to reveal a sliding panel at the base that opened just enough for a fingernail to drag it back.

Interesting

Interesting.

The panel didn't move very far, but his elongated fingers easily pulled the contents out onto the bed, sliding the panel back when he was finished.

Now, he had seven envelopes neatly stacked in two rows, each one a precise cascade of three and four tightly fitted into the available space. Each envelope had a name carefully written on the front in the middle. There was a pencil in there too, sharpened with a knife blade to a decent point, an even smaller eighth envelope at the bottom covering the floor of the hidden compartment with the words, useful papers written on the bottom section.

Picking up the pencil, he wrote a word on the massive blank space of an envelope and discovered that all of these were written by his own hand. None of the papers he had looked at before were in his handwriting he realized, possibly because the impact of seeing his own had him reaching for all of the contents.

Leaving the coffee table where he had been sitting, he crossed to the bed. Settling back into a lotus pose, he set each envelope out on the bed sheets, the names meaning nothing to him but curiosity was strong.

Each small envelope he soon discovered contained photos of people. In the first envelope were pictures dating back some years, perhaps to the beginning of the century, faces he had seen among the Zhang family and one of his mother Baima. The misery bloomed into a rotting flower, his eyes tensing against the grief that rose, bitter and dry. 

She was gone and it hurt, that was all he knew. All he needed to know.

At least the numbness, the dead detached feeling was better that this, he thought viciously. Was it better to not remember this pain?

He re-stacked the photos and noticed there was a drawing too, done in charcoal of his mother. The message on the back read Our Mother. Wu Xie drew this for me.

Wu. Xie.

A shiver rippled up his spine, his mouth shaping the name silently and unbeknownst to him, reverently

A shiver rippled up his spine, his mouth shaping the name silently and unbeknownst to him, reverently. That reaction had him searching for the Wu Xie envelopes, his fingers tearing the seal, half numb and very lost. 

Inside was a series of photos, the envelope bulging to contain them all. Each one showed a man with large doe eyes, a handsome face that felt familiar and a lithe form often hidden by soft fuzzy sweaters and colored hiking jackets. There was something bizarrely calming about him, something that soothed this raw lost feeling, letting him relax for the first time since he awoke.

I know him. He realized.

He knew this man, this Wu Xie and an exhilaration filled him at finally recognizing someone who was not tied to those childhood fragments. There was no accompanying information to his disappointment, no details to explain who he was, but each one was labelled. Wu Xie, at home. Wu Xie, tomb. Wu Xie, peak of mountain. Wu Xie, asleep. He could identify that one on his own, he thought sardonically. Wu Xie, restaurant. 

Clearly the man was involved in same grave robbing business but he looked nothing like any of the Zhang family he had seen. Which was an unexplained relief.

To have such an assortment of photos, taken in candid moments in various environments and inside what was clearly the man's home, he must know Wu Xie well. This thought ignited a sense of hope in his heart, chasing away some of the clinging shadows.

One picture in particular had him pausing. At first he put it down, exploring all the envelopes finding the ones for Wang Pangzi, all labeled Friend, Brother. Some were labelled Fatty, some had additional information that included place names and dates.

Wang Pangzi, Wu Xie and he were in all the photos in the third envelope. The Iron Triangle  it said on the back of each one and the words felt right but it was the closeness that shocked him. In each one they were outside in various environments, inside tents or underground but it wasn't the background scenery that had him staring at them in amazement.

In each one, the other two were holding onto him.

An arm around his shoulders or back, leaning into his space, or him willingly leaning into them from the side

An arm around his shoulders or back, leaning into his space, or him willingly leaning into them from the side. Wang Pangzi was often holding something, a vase, a tablet, a fossil in one, a big grin lighting his face. Wu Xie was usually smiling, although in one he seemed to be faking unconsciousness, all three of them making some kind of gesture to the camera. On the back of the last photo, all three of them were sitting outside a tent and he had written, Iron Triangle. Family.

He tried to imagine willingly touching any of the Zhang family in this way, of having them close like in this photo, and his body tensed, spine bowing back as if he was trying to get away from the idea. Yet in these photos he wasn't just tolerating their touch but actively sharing their hug, his eyes warm, body relaxed. Clearly the other him had wanted to be there, was soaking up their affection and closeness.

In the fourth envelope were photos of people, he apparently knew but clearly didn't consider part of the Iron Triangle. Xie Yuchan was a striking man in white. Huo Xiuxiu was an attractive young woman beaming at the camera. Both were labeled, Wu Xie's friends. Hei Xiazi was listed by nothing but his name and he thought as he looked at the guy in shades, that he was likely in the same business. Pan Zi was labelled 'friend', 'soldier, Vietnam' and 'will protect Wu Xie.'

Five and six contained financial information and various identities. Seven contained a slim journal, that he quickly devoured. What he learned, sent his mind spiraling for a while.

When he came back to himself, a back story slotting into his head but still painfully missing critical information, the things he wanted to know.

He picked up the photo that had captured his attention the most and studied it. Wu Xie and he were standing together near a rock wall, sunlight at their backs. He was in his usual black and Wu Xie was wearing a red jacket. Wu Xie was looking at something off to the side, his expression warm and almost glowing. He was looking at Wu Xie. He was usually looking at Wu Xie or Pangzi or nothing at all, so this was nothing abnormal. 

But, after a long moment he realized why this photo seemed so out of place but so... right. He felt the longer he stared, that this was like a trap or puzzle box, the trigger so obvious he was looking at it and failing to comprehend.

He was smiling.

He was smiling and his own hand was tucked underneath Wu Xie's arm, holding onto him. His elongated fingers curled over Wu Xie's forearm just past his elbow. His face was turned to Wu Xie, shoulder pressed up against the younger man's...and he was smiling.

Frowning for a moment, he tried to mimic that smile

Frowning for a moment, he tried to mimic that smile. The muscles of his mouth felt strained as he pulled his lips up. It felt strange, alien. He looked at the photo again. That smile was...looked... natural. So why would he be smiling at Wu Xie like this, but not at Pangzi or anyone else? He wasn't smiling in any of the other photos, even when the other two were.

Looking at the box, the contents arranged on the bed, he couldn't help but feel something obvious was missing, hovering at the periphery of his awareness, but painfully unstated, carefully so. Holding the picture, he catalogued everything critically.

There were messages about protecting Wu Xie, clearly written signs that he considered both men his true family. Signs he tolerated the people in the fourth envelope. The journal didn't tell him anything beyond bare facts. That he had been in Bronze Gate for ten years. That Wu Xie and Wang Pangzi had been waiting for him. He had met them during a dig. That Wu Xie, this beautiful unassuming man had brought down the Wang family trying to kill them all. That Wu Xie owned a bookshop, sold antiques and was a trained architect. They robbed graves together. There was a map of Wu Xie's home in the additional papers, his address and shop phone number.

And...what?

Unscrewing the cap from the provided water bottle, he considered everything. His former self seemed determined to convey that Wu Xie was important, that he had to be protected. But there was also a desire to paint Wu Xie in a positive light. Hints that Wu Xie had done a lot for him, cared for him...

And he clearly valued these two men above and beyond anyone else.

He wouldn't care if he never saw anyone of the Zhang family again, but the idea of not seeing... meeting... these two again actually hurt.

There were seventeen photos of Wu Xie in various states, often not out in the field

There were seventeen photos of Wu Xie in various states, often not out in the field. There were only eight of Wang Pangzi. One of everyone else and nine of them as the Iron Triangle. Those photos of them together would have been enough really to prove attachment, so why the separate envelopes?

Why so many of Wu Xie, depicting him at what was clearly the man's desk surrounded by clutter, wearing a mint green sweater. Smoking at a railing high in the mountains, in a blue jacket, his expression pensive. Laughing brightly, his dimples showing at a restaurant...

...Curled up on a sofa in a striped t-shirt, his black frame glasses magnifying his doe eyes. Covered in mud, a green leaf on his hair, his face happy. Standing by a car, a handgun in his grasp, eyes focused on something. Asleep in a chair, a book on his chest. Staring out a train window, a look of sweet wonder on his expressive face. Staring up at the camera, a streak of blood on his cheek.

 

Why would he have a photo of Wu Xie bloodied? To inspire this strange sensation in his chest, that made him want to clean that streak?

He knew they were real, all of them. There were variations in lighting and locations, obvious changes marking the span of time. Each of them excepting himself had aged, at least over a decade from the earliest one to the last. Smooth skin in one photo had crow's feet in another. Wang Pangzi's weight seemed to change, his hairstyle and jewelry.

Seventeen photos but, he thought picking up the one where he was smiling, this one was different. It was a photo of the two of them, the only one of the two of them and he was smiling at Wu Xie.

His eyes skimmed over the man again

His eyes skimmed over the man again. Then again, studying him, the beauty and the puzzle of him.

Allowing himself to really look at Wu Xie, he dragged his gaze along that striking face, down his form. He thought about holding onto Wu Xie, holding him close, tucking his hand into side so he could hold his forearm like he was doing in the photo....what would that feel like?

Sinking into an almost trance like state, he found himself accepting that this was a person he wanted to smile at... and as soon as he gave himself permission to like this person, to seek out what he admired so much... other thoughts began appear in his hazy mind.

He must be so warm.

His eyes are so bright, his smile so radiant...

In the photo his own nose was close to Wu Xie's temple, almost brushing his hair. What does he smell like? He wondered suddenly without shame. His former self would know and now he wanted to know. And on the tail end of that thought, he began to think about how he could have turned his head just slightly and brushed that spiky fringe, the arch of an eyebrow..

....Wu Xie's hands were long and elegant, almost pressed to his abs with how they were standing...if he tilted himself... swiveled his foot he would be facing Wu Xie a little more...and Wu Xie could put his hands on his hips, those elegant fingers curving over bone and...

Heat seemed to fall down his back to pool at the base of his spine, radiating into his hips with electric pulses. Shocked by the sensation, he gasped almost silently, mind blank. His cock twitched and the muscles of his thighs tensed as if was about to move. Blinking, he realized his hands, both hands were cradling the photo, one finger sliding back and forth over the top edge. He was curling in over the photo, eyes on Wu Xie, his breath a little fast.

Oh.

One of the memories he has*, strangely tangible is of a bronze brazier in the middle of a courtyard. He's alone and small. The bowl of dying flames seems so large, the smell of burnt wood and cinders lingering as smoke gently rises. The heat feels like a furnace blast against his waist as he comes closer, the air around him frigid, snow gathering around his bare feet. Hunger gnaws at him and he knows there are hard boiled eggs buried at the basin of embers.

If he wants to eat, he has to retrieve the eggs. If he didn't want to be beaten again, he needed to retrieve the eggs. The longer he avoids the inevitable pain, the longer he has to live with the gnawing hunger and survive the training regime with such little energy.

The longer he performed this exercise, reaching into the coals and plucking the eggs from the burning surrounds, the less burns he receives and the fine motor control that would later save lives, began to form part of his every motion.

This life had taught him from an early age that no one cared if he was hurt, no one would come if he cried. By the age of eight he understood with knife blade clarity that he was only worth his skills and his blood. There was nothing else of value, he had no worth beyond this. Because of this and the training he survived, the only thing he had faith in was his own body, his skills and his blood. Honed like any weapon or tool, he understood his limits and believed in the honesty of his form far more than the words of someone claiming him as family.

His body didn't lie. And he let it show him its truth, without question or doubt. This absolute faith in his muscle memory, in his reactions was unshaken despite his amnesia.

And right now, it was telling him the exact thing he was looking for

And right now, it was telling him the exact thing he was looking for. The answer to the questions plaguing him.

Seventeen photos. There was no carefully drawn map of Wang Pangzi's home with entry points and exits highlighted. Messages written about protecting Wu Xie and only Wu Xie. The Bronze Gate. Smiling at him.

They were lovers...Wu Xie was...was...his...

The weight of duty, ruthless self-control, discipline and detachment. The drowning sensation he had felt before, the black tar of grief and emotions he couldn't understand dragging him down like quicksand...it all faded. The brittle stark loneliness, the hollow emptiness of realizing that he had been alive for a hundred years. A century of duty, of being alone. Now that wasn't so important, so encompassing. Not gone, but diminished in the face of this precious discovery.

Someone thought he was worth more than his skills and blood...

Two people if he counted Wang Pangzi.

But in Wu Xie...in this beautiful man, because now he knew this, he allowed himself to appreciate the full power of that face, those liquid brown eyes, that beaming grin...the soft amused smile...wistful and self-depreciating...He wanted suddenly to brush his hair from those eyes, rub his thumb along the apple of that cheek.

He had someone to share his life with. Someone to live for. Someone he would die for.

A love so strong it was etched into every bone, exhaled with every breath, washing like the tide up against the cage of his ribs.

Wu Xie.

And he had forgotten him

And he had forgotten him.

That concept slammed into him like a well aimed kick. Abruptly he sat up, eyes flashing from the closed door to the box and the scattered photos. He had lost his memory and had been here for at least three days. No one had mentioned his family and lover. No one. Which led him to wonder if that was because they didn't know, which seemed unlikely or they didn't approve of Wu Xie.

This beautiful man who had waged a war on their enemies while he had been trapped behind the Gate. Who had given him another life, sharing duty with living. Tris man who he...loves...yes. He thought holding onto this strange warm feeling, that alien smile curving his lips without conscious thought.

He loves Wu Xie. This, love...is was what this warm bright feeling means. He loves him. He loves Wu Xie....

And he had forgotten him. Left him and...was Wu Xie looking for him? He wondered in sudden panic. Was Wu Xie waiting for him? Was Wu Xie searching for him?

Guilt he presumed, filled his heart and what he knew to be worry was beginning to drown out any thought beyond getting away from here and to Wu Xie.

Methodically, he packed everything back into the box. Not into the compartment, but freely into the main level and gently shut the lid. Rising from the bed, he looked around the space, at the antique furnishings and curtains, the window that looked out onto a classic training ground and not the one that forged the person he was today.

This was all for show. But still, if he made the time to create the box, a way to hide the secondary contents without a family of grave robbers realizing the trigger mechanism...he would have prepared for the eventuality that he would work out that Wu Xie was zhiji and Pangzi was his family.

He investigated every inch of the room and found nothing, right until he stepped on a particular floorboard right below the window. The rigidity of the board felt different and he was on his knees in front of it in a breath. Feeling along the length, he reached underneath the buraeu and pressed.

The board lifted. Swinging around, he opened the gap and reached into the small cavity beneath. Leather met his fingers and he tugged a fairly large black backpack. Glancing at the door, not that he had made any noise, he opened the bag and searched the contents.

A smartphone, with a hand written manual on modern communication. Money and supplies, knives, a torch, rope and a device labelled USB. For computer. 

Pleased, he rose from the floor, reset the board and collected his box from the bed. It fitted snugly, but it was workable. Gathering his sword, Zhang Qiling considered his options, then nodded, the photo of them together tucked into his hoodie pocket.

===

Zhang Rishan blinked at the scene before him, morning sunlight streaming through the windows.

He thought this plan of Zhang Haike, was going to fail, but he hadn't expected the level of reaction their patriarch was going to have - had - definitely had. This scene was past-tense and yet far less carnage than Zuzhang usually left for the carrion crows.

Three of their youngest guards were unconscious, strewn across the courtyard. Another one was slumped under a tree and their strongest martial artist, considered one of the best of the Zhang Clan...

His arm was broken. He was lying in the middle of the floor and there was a long knife wound sliced into his cheek, from chin to just under his eye. Maybe the eye too. Another more dangerous slice had been delivered just below his neck across his shoulders. A warning that he could have beheaded him, if he had wanted to.

Whatever he had said or done to trigger the oldest Zhang and patriarch at that, must have been serious. 

Zhang Haike sighed.

"Do you want me to track him?" Zhang Rishan asked in a studiously neutral voice as other clan members tried to help the fallen.

Zhang Haike blew out a breath. "What would be the use? He has either gone north to Bannai or south to Wu Xie. This plan has failed. He must have some memory."

Fated Lovers. Reunite. Zhang Rishan thought with amusement and smothered all expression the moment Zhang Haike turned.

Because he was a Zhang and their patriarch had proven he was still perfectly capable, Zhang Rishan decided he was not going to call Wu Xie.

=======

The sky had lightened to the colors of mountain azaleas by the time he made it into the city, away from the Zhang compound. It would take hours longer to read the manual, transfer the money and get the hand of the cashless payment system, to pay for the ticket. Then he boarded the first train heading in that direction, and spent the journey trying to work out what he was going to tell Wu Xie.

By the time he eventually made it to Hangzhou, it was already nightfall and something he was loathed to call trepidation was settling into his bones. 

It didn't take long for him to find Wushanju and waiting around by the door seemed foolish, so he quickly climbed onto the roof and made his way to the central courtyard.

 

It was early evening and there was a chance Wu Xie wasn't here. He had no idea what he was going to do, if he wasn't here, having no other address to aim for and no memory to help.

A flicker of light attracted his attention and he shifted to watch as a figure moved passed a window...Wu Xie!

Scrambling off the roof, dropping lightly to the ground in a control landing, he hurried to the inner door, pausing very briefly to gain a better sense of the building. This section of the traditional courtyard home must be Wu Xie's...their...home...

There was an old stone path dividing the gravel filled courtyard and several collections of items were partially hidden below low awnings. When the path ended, it met a short flight of steps leading to a wide open door, that he could only presume led into the main living quarters of the what used to be the principal master's house.

He took the Wang family out, but Wu Xie's sense of self-preservation clearly didn't including shutting your doors....

Stepping inside, not sure what he was going to find, his gaze swept over an antique table with 40s era chairs, two long sofas and clutter that gathered on every available shelf, in every corner and..there was an oversized fake vase positioned in the adjoining hallway that was just asking for disaster. It was a complete mess, but there was no dust and it had a homely feel.

Footsteps sounded on the right and he turned quickly, just in time to see Wu Xie exiting another room and wandering around the corner.

His eyes were glued to a book, his vanilla ice cream cardigan flapping slightly as he turned the corner and he was speaking on the phone. "...No...I haven't seen him! If I had why would I call...Okay...fine...."

He had been looking for him...guilt churned again in his chest.

Wu Xie took the phone from his ear and glared at it, barely missing the tall urn that came up to his sternum, as he tucked the book under his arm. As he came closer, the golden light spilling from the living room shone on his hair and turned his honey kissed skin, a pale gold.

His heart began to throb, in a way it had not when he had trained or fought the Zhang guards. He had been mistaken too. Wu Xie was far more beautiful in person than in a photo.

Liquid brown eyes flicked up as he bumped into the urn and Wu Xie cursed before looking straight at him. And the transformation of his features was breathtaking. It was the sun gliding free from the eclipse that trapped its light. It was the first breath as you break the surface of the ocean. 

There was that wonder in those eyes behind those frames, cherry blossom lips parting in shock, then curved upwards in a beautiful smile. His entire being lit up, book falling into the urn, phone hitting the pile of books on the floor.

Somehow this just seemed so adorable to him.

"Xiao-ge!" He shouted in a rich, dulcet voice rusted slightly by smoking...and then he launched.

"Xiao-ge! You're back!" He cried zipping past the urn that tottered dangerously and into the living room

"Xiao-ge! You're back!" He cried zipping past the urn that tottered dangerously and into the living room.

Xiao-ge. That was his name. It slotted into place, the missing piece to fill another section of this vast jigsaw. This was what Wu Xie called him! It felt right, settling over him like a warm blanket.

Wu Xie stumbled slightly, bare feet on a rug, and he was moving before he even registered the motion. His own hands closed around Wu Xie's waist, steadying him and the impact was like taking a full breath. Wu Xie was suddenly right there. Right in his arms.

The living weight of him proved he was real. Warmth engulfed him as Wu Xie's arms clamped around his shoulders, a happy laugh right by his ear and he welcomed the nearly overwhelming rush of sensations. The press of bare feet against his boots. The wool felt so soft against Wu Xie's broader, strong back and the scent of him hit his nose. The oud notes of ch'en hsiang, ink, paper and a hint of fragrant cigarettes...he breathed in and it smelled of home. 

All the words that he had amassed on train platforms and staring out the window as the land rushed by...the sentences he had constructed painstakingly, explanations and apologies...it all vanished from his head. Love swamped him, want ripped through him and all he could think was that Wu Xie was right here...his connection to the world, his tether and love, was right here in his arms.

And he had forgotten him. Worried him. Left him alone, when his place was beside Wu Xie.

Wu Xie stepped back a little, some of the warmth receding and his heart lurched but his body accommodated the change without resistance. No part of him wanted to hurt or cage, the violence that lived beneath his skin dormant like an ancient volcano. But instead of anger or upset  at being abandoned, all deserved, those brown eyes were sparkling. "Xiao-ge, I..."

He was so beautiful.

He didn't know love could be fierce. He didn't know it could be tender. He didn't know that this softness, this given vulnerability could be something he wanted to give in to. 

But looking into these sweet eyes of the darkest amber, Xiao-ge wanted be everything this man could want.

Emotions raw and honest swept through him and for once he didn't try to repress or deny. For the first time since waking up devoid of knowing anything about his life beyond fragments, he felt alive. Tethered to the earth, a place of belonging.

 The need to treasure him, to make up for leaving him, the terrible unknown that had dragged him from this man's side, welled up and like the roots of a tree; love, need and simple pure affection he hadn't thought himself incapable of, sank into t...

The need to treasure him, to make up for leaving him, the terrible unknown that had dragged him from this man's side, welled up and like the roots of a tree; love, need and simple pure affection he hadn't thought himself incapable of, sank into the cold unforgiving and barren land of his heart. With it, came life. Or perhaps, like rain it brought the flowers that were always there, waiting for that single nourishing drop to rise into being..

He didn't give him the chance to say whatever Wu Xie had planned, because he swooped into the yawning space between them and finally, finally kissed Wu Xie. Soft lips opened on a gasp as his slanted over them, and he stepped closer as electric sparks lit his skin. He had no idea what he was doing, but he followed instinct and a desperate need to please Wu Xie. He was supposed to know how to please Wu Xie.

His eyes slid closed and one of his hands fisted in that soft cardigan, the other cradling the back of Wu Xie's precious skull. Wu Xie's hands found his hips and that stab of raw heat flooded him, forcing a desperate sound, small and undeniable from his throat.

Wu Xie pulled back breaking their kiss and as much as he wanted to follow, he dragged open his eyes, blinking into pools of equally dazed brown. Those eyes sharpened, that brilliant mind shrewd... but before he could do anything, Wu Xie smiled and any coherency he might have had drained away.

Long slender fingers tugged and he gladly moved closer, melting into Wu Xie as far more knowing lips met his for a devouring kiss. Wu Xie's hands curve over his hips, tug and dig in.  A groan is ripped from his throat and those hands slide up catching on his t-shirt under his hoodie.

"Xiao-ge." Wu Xie mumbles against his lips, teeth nipping his top lip.

It was heat and the joy of wings soaring on the wind. Sweet like golden honey and heady with the heavy woody scent of ch'en hsiang still in his nose. 

Being the one with more experience, he let Wu Xie pull away again, blinking against the light and the surprised happy eyes that were staring straight into his soul. A calloused thumb touched his lips and another lick of flames traced over his spine. "Xiao-ge." He said slightly hoarse. "You came back."

This he could give him. "Always. My place is here." He lifted a faintly trembling hand and fitted his palm to Wu Xie's heart.

If Wu Xie's smile before was radiant, this one was stunning. His entire being seemed to be glowing and he didn't unfortunately give Xiao-ge long to memorize either, tugging him closer and claiming his mouth in a ferocious kiss. 

Everything he was doing, everything he was letting Wu Xie do, very much went against the self-protective instincts that were ingrained in his muscles, in his awareness. Violence lived in him, bone and sinew trained to deal the hand of death and to avoid it. A body trained for survival and for murder, injury and unconsciousness a kindness he could give if he felt generous.

Yet right now, there were hands at his waist, near at least eleven potentially fatal areas. He had no idea what Wu Xie was trained to do...he had some training, he could recognize it...nothing to his level...but whatever this gorgeous scholar knew, he was holding unimaginable and indefatigable trust in this man. 

He trusted Wu Xie completely.

So showing his jugular and carotid arteries when Wu Xie kissed his cheek and ear, didn't even cause a flicker in his inbuilt self-defense, his awareness narrowing down entirely to Wu Xie and the sparking consuming pleasure he was feeling.

Then Wu Xie's body shifted and a thigh was pressing between his own and...

Want surged through him, blaze only fed when he felt an answering hardness drag and then align so sinfully against his...

Wu Xie sucked his bottom lip, annihilating all coherent thought, a guttural primal groan catching in his throat, rumbling against Wu Xie's mouth. Teeth clashing a little as Xiao-ge struggled to get closer still and stroke everywhere along Wu Xie's compact perfect body.

"Wu Xie." His voice had dropped lower, his hips held in a punishing grip.

"Xiao-ge." Wu Xie purred against his mouth and adjusted them. A clever hand cradled his face in such a gentle grasp, the invasion of Wu Xie's tongue as it licked inside his mouth had him wrapping himself even tighter around the younger man. 

"Xiao-ge." Wu Xie said a note of desperation in his voice, as he kissed along his chin, jaw and up to his ear. "What do you want?"

Another question he could answer and it felt empowering. "You."

A snicker against his mouth and that other gorgeous hand rubbed upwards on his hip, tugging his t-shirt up beneath his hoodie, pressing hot fingers into his flank. Another groan slipped past his lips, but that was okay. He belonged to Wu Xie and his man certainly seemed happy. That hand stroked along the dip of his spine, then  danced to the front to press into the tendon along his hip, sliding tantalizingly to his groin.

Want sizzled in his blood and Xiao-ge followed Wu Xie's lead and nipped that pretty mouth, his own hands hungry for skin. "Mine." He whispered and felt Wu Xie shudder, that cradling hand tightening on his cheek. "Mine." Wu Xie growled back.

Something he was sure was happiness exploded in his core. That possessiveness should be making him take a step back, both what he was feeling and hearing from Wu Xie. All it did in reality was making the want sharpen, the hunger slowly turn to fervor.

Both of the sofas were too small, the floor might be good some other time, but this was their reunion

Both of the sofas were too small, the floor might be good some other time, but this was their reunion. His amnesiac mind's first time as well, even if his body knew Wu Xie. He wanted to do this lying down...

It was hard to think with both of Wu Xie's hands caressing his back and waist, with the drugging kisses they were sharing, but with effort he dragged the map of this house from his memory. Where had the bedroom labelled Wu Xie's been in relation to this living room....?

Sliding his own hands down to Wu Xie's ass, Xiao-ge clasped a perfect globe in each hand and lifted. Wu Xie gasped and clung to his neck, legs automatically wrapped around his waist. "Xiao-ge! I can walk!"

It feels so good carrying him like this, he thought as he recaptured that flushed red mouth, letting his body navigate around all the precarious obstacles, finding the right hallway, the right turning, following that helpfully supplied map.

It was with no small amount of relief that he found the right open doorway, glancing at the photos and the clutter that surrounded the double bed, noting the curtain closed over the window and woolen blanket draped over the sheets.

Wu Xie was still kissing him as if starved for contact, licking into his mouth and sucking his tongue in a dizzying rhythm, because despite his complaints he seemed perfectly content, trusting in Zhang Qiling's arms.

His body seemed to know how to settle Wu Xie gently on the bed, who didn't go lightly, arms still locked around Xiao-ge's neck. He didn't mind. Being in Wu Xie's arms was something he's been craving since the first time he had really looked at that photo and understood...

They lived together, entered and survived tombs together. They were lovers. He must know Wu Xie's body probably better than he knows his own, but when that fuzzy cardigan hit the floor, followed by the plain t-shirt...his mind skittered sideways. Want overflowed and all he could do was stare.

His mouth went dry, just released from another devouring kiss. Wide shoulders that flowed to a lightly toned waist, miles of smooth skin tanned a little by the sun. He really wanted to sink his teeth into the soft slope of that belly. Pectorals that begged to be kissed, pebbling nipples... and he was utterly unprepared for how beautiful Wu Xie is.

How long? How many years did it take for the other him to be able to do anything, and not be struck mindless by those glorious curves, the column of his neck...those collarbones...how did he concentrate tomb raiding with this incredible vision nearby?

He made the mistake, the wonderful mistake of looking at Wu Xie's face and seeing those swollen lips, flushed cheeks and the way inky black was drowning out the brown in those eyes

He made the mistake, the wonderful mistake of looking at Wu Xie's face and seeing those swollen lips, flushed cheeks and the way inky black was drowning out the brown in those eyes...a feral heat burned down his spine.

Thankfully Wu Xie didn't seem to expect him to be functional, so maybe he still struggles not get lost in rapt staring, touching, worshiping and admiring the greatest of all the treasures in the world. Perhaps the former him also got lost in all the things he could do...

Wu Xie moved on to unzipping his hoodie, nibbling at his jaw and now with his head bent, he could see the slope of Wu Xie's gorgeous back, the wings of his shoulders and the twin globes of his ass that were just sinful...

Still spellbound, he arched his back as Wu Xie slid onto his lap, now in the middle of the bed, tugging and pulling his t-shirt up his torso. The tattoo is fading into view, helped immensely by Wu Xie's warmth, heat radiating into his skin as the other man caresses and holds.

He wants suddenly, shocking in its intensity, to show off, for Wu Xie to like this honed tool of his body. He wants Wu Xie to still - because he must have before - still find him attractive.

So he lifts his chest showing off his toned upper body and the tattoo flexes. Wu Xie groans.

It sparks something wild in Xiao-ge's heart, has him arching his lower back, contracting his abs a little and Wu Xie's kisses turn violent.  He drags his mouth downwards and Xiao-ge shivers, breathless.

"Xiao-ge?" A note of worry snapped his attention back to Wu Xie, who was grazing his fingers over the large white dressing adhered to his upper ribs on the left. "What happened?" Those eyes flashed up to his, fear and anger swirling in those depths.

"Poison wound." 

Okay letting his lust addled mind produce sound to accompany bad ideas was not his best choice, as Wu Xie's eyes went wide, the desolate fear in them shattering Xiao-ge's heart.

"Poison?!"

"There is no poison now. My blood cured it within a day." He hurried to add. "I am fine."

"You also heal crazy fast, so why do you need this?" Those eyes were still wide, vulnerable and terrifyingly powerful.

"Zhang family put it on. I left before taking it off. No wound."

Wu Xie's eyes darkened, this time not due to lust. "The Zhang? Did they hurt you?"

Laughable with his skills, but they did try to eradicate Wu Xie from his awareness, so it was possible they would have hurt him. "Lied. I left."

Wu Xie kissed him fiercely and his hands without conscious input from his head, curled around Wu Xie's body, a primal need to keep this precious man close. "You swear you're fine?" Wu Xie demanded and warmth flowed in his heart.

"Yes."

An equally fierce, threatening look and then Wu Xie was yanking him close. The sound of his heartbeat, his intoxicating scent, the feel of him underneath his hands had another chain of restraint fall away. Cradling Wu Xie on his lap, he tilted him back a little, just enough to kiss down his neck, nibble and tease those shoulders, nuzzle those clavicles.

There was a scar here. A jagged line that spoke of a knife, of blood and the shattering possibility that Wu Xie barely survived. The violence in his blood hopes the owner of that knife is dead, that he killed him, but as he presses reverent kisses to every angle of it, he's swamped in relief and love.

Back a little more, his hands supporting his spine and he sucked kisses on those incredible pectoral muscles, adoring the hitched breath, the broken moans. He ran his tongue down his sternum, listening for the breathless gasps, smiling wickedly at the jerk of Wu Xie's hips, lending him confidence.

The recently remade man felt own heart stutter, as hands caressed his hair, sliding to his neck, "Xiao-ge." He gasps. This intimacy, this powerful gorgeous man letting him into his arms, into his heart, the proof it the languid hot arch of his body - this trust and love could only be answered with devotion.

There were seventeen scars, purposefully cut deep enough to scar down one arm. Nicks and slices long healed and faded to white scattered across the canvas of his body, but Zhang Qiling refused to let darkness and memory break into this moment. When Wu Xie tensed, he gave in and shifted forward so Wu Xie's legs were still around his hips, his own body settling over him.

"Wu Xie." His voice was gravel and hope, lust and the bloodied gift of his heart.

"Xiao-ge." Wu Xie said his name like a vow. And then smiled, lopsided and mischievous, the darkness gone like smoke. "You just going to look?"

He could for another century, but the flames surrounding them had him surging forward for another deep kiss. They fall together, entwined. 

Those slender hands touch him not with reverence, but with honest want, with heat and it felt so good. As if his body was clay, molded and warmed by these skilled hands. They slid over his back, dragged along the fabric of his jeans which shouldn't have been as erotic as it felt, until he could pop the button, tugging the zipper down, releasing the tight pressure on his cock.

He realized he had no idea beyond the obvious mechanics, what actually would please Wu Xie. Letting the gorgeous man beneath him take the lead, but be a better tactical choice and it would hardly be surrender. Wu Xie didn't want him to yield, to submit. With every violent kiss and drugging touching, he knew that Wu Xie wanted to be met equally. He didn't fear Xiao-ge's strength or the violence in his blood, fearless and loving.

So he turned them, fast and hard so Wu Xie was sitting on his lap again, knees meeting his ribs, thighs caging him wonderfully. Brown eyes blinked at him in cute shock and then that wicked lopsided grin swept over his kiss bitten lips and Wu Xie flexed against him, sending a jolt of white hot heat along his spine.

What he expected, it wasn't for Wu Xie to lean forward and kiss his forehead sweetly. His mind short-circuited at that point.

Wu Xie kissed his jaw and despite the incredible vulnerability of it, perhaps because of it, this beautiful demon then began on his neck. Sucking kisses that ripped small gasps and stuttered breaths from his throat, his own hands roaming Wu Xie's back, sliding into the gap between his pants and underwear, to palm the glorious expanse of his ass, the dip of his lower back.

Teeth bit their claim on his collarbones and pectorals, and his own spine jerked, teeth clamping on a groan when Wu Xie's mouth closed around his nipple. How had the former him even thought about leaving Wu Xie?

His body was reacting with instinctive motions and it was heady to be experiencing this for the 'first time' memory-wise and yet his feel himself react so...naturally.

As if sensing his coherency, Wu Xie slid lower, tongue following every line of his tattoo in a way he was pretty sure his Zhang ancestors would neither approve of or designed it for. Nips along his ribs, a tongue on the grooves of his abs. All he could do was bury his hands in Wu Xie's dark brown hair - it truly was such a pretty shade - and control his strength as his body fell apart.

Wu Xie tapped his hip and somehow his body recognized the signal through the haze of feeling and he lifted up, fairly gracefully, for Wu Xie to pull his jeans off, followed by his underwear.

He should have felt overly exposed, it should have brought tension to his loose frame, but about a second after taking Xiao-ge's ankle from the second jeans leg, Wu Xie rose up a little and divested himself of his cargo pants. Whatever function he had clawed back, Xiao-ge lost as he looked his fill of the strong thighs, honeyed cream skin, the freckles along his hipbone...

Oh he was beautiful. He thought slightly dazed. And his. All his. It was right there, the home he existed in, right in the core of Wu Xie's heart, burning in Wu Xie's gaze....gone slightly shy and that wouldn't do.

Xiao-ge used his core strength for what his training hadn't anticipated and caught Wu Xie just as he was about to topple off the bed, his foot trapped in his pants. Caught him sideways and ran his free hand all over his back, shoulders and into his hair, as his other was cradling his waist.

He pulled gently and recaptured his mouth, still sideways, which made the kiss a little awkward and so much hotter. Wu Xie's moan was heady music. His mouth was fully slanted over Wu Xie's, his free hand skating down to pull one thigh back over his own hips where he wanted them, so they aligned completely. Wu Xie's mewling sound as their cocks slid against one another was worth fighting the entire Zhang clan bare fisted.

It was good before, but this was better. This was sweet and hot, this was them, sharing and embraced fully. He was wrapped in Wu Xie's arms and here he wanted to stay.

====

Consciousness ebbed and drifted, awareness slow but steady, the drip of water through a mountain carving a river, eons of slow travel, miles of changed land

Consciousness ebbed and drifted, awareness slow but steady, the drip of water through a mountain carving a river, eons of slow travel, miles of changed land.

The room is still dark, but there is a golden halo around the edges of the curtains. He blinks at it, warm and relaxed, only too willing to sink back into oblivion. A shift of weight against his side, the slide of bare skin and a little snuffling sound close by, has his eyes snapping open.

His body doesn't tense though, his awareness knowing already that there is no threat.

His warm pillow is rising and falling rhythmically and for a moment he's lost. The room unfamiliar but it feels safe. The dim light, the blankness warring with contentment. Then the scent surrounding him registers and the reason behind it, has him pressing in closer still.

He's lying in a bed, he realizes with his head tucked into Wu Xie's shoulder, his own arm curled around Wu Xie's ribs, his fingers tangled in the woolen blanket. The other hand is buried into Wu Xie's hair, his beautiful face tipped down into his palm, hot breath fanning the callused skin there. He's lying in the vee of Wu Xie's strong legs, plastered over him and the weight change his senses had noted, was Wu Xie's arm falling off his back.

He liked that Wu Xie was underneath him, protected.

Liked that his man knew him so completely, knew his body and his heart. Liked being held close. It made him feel wanted, part of the contentment he feels is knowing that Wu Xie is belonging, love and home. An addicting feeling. He's not letting go of him either, limbs entangled, breath mingling.

He realizes there is not much he wouldn't do to keep this. To keep Wu Xie safe.

He loves that he can feel Wu Xie's heartbeat just below his chin. Fell every breath as his chest rises and falls. 

He loves the way Wu Xie's was cradling him close, and thought how easy it would be to worship this body into wakefulness...

...But Wu Xie wasn't a morning person. Fragments of memories told him that much.

Everything he remembers, everything he learned, just made him love the man more. Adore him and it filled his heart with a protective longing, a need to treasure him.

Was this happiness?

He turned his head and kissed the skin above Wu Xie's heart and then the scar across his neck.

Yes. This is happiness. I love you, he thinks. Now and for the rest of time.

How many mornings as the former him woken like this? He feels bizarrely envious of himself.

The reminder that there is so much he doesn't know, has him moving after another twenty  minutes of soaking in Wu Xie's body heat and touch. His stunning features and basking in the faint stings and aches scattered over his body.

It takes another ten minutes to carefully extricate himself from the bed, find his jeans and hoodie, then no time at all to disappear out the door, leaving his t-shirt on the floor. Like an unwritten note that he hasn't disappeared again.

He doesn't take his boots either and wanders through the house, categorizing in his mind every room, every picture and antique. It feels safe, and he thinks like a home should. A chaotic one admittedly and most of the antiques are fake, but that just made it more...real somehow.

He finds Wu Xie's study and he drifts through the heaving space, trailing his fingers over Wu Xie's desk chair. It smells faintly of his shampoo. Right there on the shelf is a set of books that look familiar...

He takes one down and flicks to a random page.

Wu Xie's journals. Their life scrawled on paper and the answers to what he's missing.

Not yet, he thinks. Wu Xie could wake at any moment and he needs a little time to read through these.

He trains in the courtyard, notices a young man coming around the corner. Watches him gawk at him, scowl and then retreat. Wang Meng. He remembers his face from the photos. Wu Xie's shop manager.

He comes back again to glower at him about half an hour later. Just as Wu Xie exits the door, rumpled and sleepy, back in his knitwear. He looks slightly anxious and Xiao-ge's heart clenches as he remembers he had been missing until last night.

The other man starts forward towards Wu Xie, who hasn't even noticed him yet, his face transforming into a beaming smile when he sees Xiao-ge. He isn't sure what prompts him. He's apparently spent most of his life suppressing emotion, so he doesn't understand what he feels most of the time since waking up. He'll try for Wu Xie.

But either way, he executes a move that is far more showy than it needs to be and catapults in front of Wu Xie. Who is now grinning at him, his glasses crooked.

Xiao-ge smiles back and watches shock and awe rise into those beautiful features just before he swoops in for a kiss. As he breaks away, he rubs his nose against Wu Xie's.

"Hi." Wu Xie says happily, soppy and beautiful. "I missed you."

What would the former him say? He wonders but he kisses Wu Xie again and collects his hoodie. Darkest amber eyes are raking over his torso and before he can move again, Wu Xie is pressing a kiss to the center of the writhing beast, his sleep warm hand caressing his tattooed arm - possessively.

Wang Meng stops coming closer and Xiao-ge kisses Wu Xie's forehead.

He tangles his hand in Wu Xie's hair, "Breakfast

He tangles his hand in Wu Xie's hair, "Breakfast. For stamina." He tells him and Wu Xie looks torn between combustion and laughing.

==

It takes another two days for the peace and quiet to end.

He should have known the Zhang would not let him have this without a fight, without a knife flashing through the darkness.

Pangzi returns and Xiao-ge is thrilled to recognize him like he did with Wu Xie. He accepts the hug, body relaxed as he's folded into strong arms, breathing the scent of leather, osmanthus aftershave and something uniquely Wang Pangzi.

There is honest affection and brotherly love in Pangzi's gaze as it sweeps over him and Wu Xie. 

"I thought you weren't coming back until next week." Wu Xie says worriedly, "Did something happen?"

Pangzi's gaze seems to dim a little in brightness and he nods, "Let's go inside."

"The job went well, but I ended up meeting someone I wasn't expecting in Beijing." Pangzi tells them when they pile into the living room. Xiao-ge sits beside Wu Xie and takes his hand, playing with the long fingers as he listens.

Pangzi seems surprised and stares at Wu Xie, who just grins and sheepishly nods to a silent question.

"I go away for two weeks," Pangzi begins, excitement and mock offense in his voice, 'And you two!"

"I go away for two weeks," Pangzi begins, excitement and mock offense in his voice, 'And you two!"

"Who did you meet in Beijing?" Wu Xie derails, a pleading look in his eyes.

Wang Pangzi gives a look that clearly says that he going to have a big moment later and then relents. "Zhang Rishan."

He tenses immediately at the name, at the implication that the Zhang are anywhere near his family.  "What did he want?" He asks and Pangzi glances at him almost sympathetically.

"To do what, I don't really know. Nothing at first. I wanted nothing to do with him, but then he says some shit about Xiao-ge losing his memories and getting injured."

"Losing...? Xiao-ge?' Wu Xie asks, his head turning so fast, he was honestly concerned about whiplash for a second there.

"No." He tells them firmly. Its not even a lie. He remembers his childhood and fragments have floated into his awareness, helped immensely by Wu Xie's journals. They don't say when they got together as a couple, but he doubts Wu Xie would write that down for anyone to read. Pangzi blinks at him and Wu Xie stares.

At his words, Wu Xie slowly relaxes a little, holding his hand.

"Oh, well that's a relief." Pangzi says, a breath released in a pleased sigh. He leans back in his chair satisfied, 'Those Zhang lie through their damn teeth,"

"I'm missing pieces of memory."

Tension ratchets back up in Wu Xie's frame and Pangzi leans forward as if struck. "Pieces?" Wu Xie echoes. "Like what? How much?"

"I believe the Zhang intentionally caused the poisoned wound."

This causes a magnificent spark of rage in Wu Xie's eyes and Pangzi immediately starts ranting, only to be quietened after a few minutes by Wu Xie's abrupt question. "Why?"

"I chose you. Chose us." Is all he can say. He points to Pangzi and Wu Xie at the same time. "My family."

"And you remember us?" Pangzi asks almost gently.

Wu Xie's eyes are large and impossibly luminous for such a warm deep brown. He's tense like he's being threatened and that has something desperate unspool in Xiao-ge's chest. A pained and painful understanding is lurking in both of their gazes, so he must have warned them then. Which was good, but he hates the pain and helpless anger they're trying to hide. For him and having to through this he knows, because he knows them - and the pain of being forgotten. He doesn't blame them and guilt stings.

"Parts of memories." He admits.

Wu Xie relaxes and shoots Xiao-ge a reassuring expression, a sweeter smile that calms the nervous clenching of Xiao-ge's stomach.

"Okay." Wu Xie says firmly, "That's okay. Xiao-ge,"

"Wait here." He says and rises from the sofa, regretfully releasing Wu Xie's hand. He retreats to the bedroom, the one marked as his and retrieves the box. He's removed some things, not because he doesn't want them to know, but financial data really isn't the point here.

He shows them the photos, lets them pick apart the contents. It means something, something profound for Pangzi to see himself here and then again with the packet of the Iron Triangle. The upset in his gaze eases a little, as he handles proof of their place in Xiao-ge's battered heart.

"You really did it." Wu Xie breathes, "You actually made a keepsakes box."

The inspiration makes sense coming from Wu Xie. The photos, putting what really matters to him as a person inside a box, hiding the vital among the relatively important...but the idea behind it...its Wu Xie.

He pulls put the photo of them out and gives it to Wu Xie with lightly trembling hands.

"These helped me remember you both," He said pointing to the box. "Our family. But this," He touched the photo of them together loosely held in Wu Xie left hand, "Helped me to remember us."

"Remember loving you. Remember being together."

Wu Xie's eyes are stunned, and his mouth moves lost for words. Pangzi rises from his chair, "Ah Pang-ye here will just...airplane food is horrible...I'll make us something to eat? Okay. I'll...yes, I'll do that..."

Pangzi doesn't run but he does pat Wu Xie's shoulder and beetle out the door towards the kitchen. 'Take your time!"

Xiao-ge doesn't understand but Wu Xie's eyes are vivid with emotion that he cannot fully comprehend, a seal script he only partially understands. Wu Xie stares at him and then swallows, shifting closer. Their knees touch and he makes room for Wu Xie immediately, his body curving into him.

He doesn't know if Wu Xie wants or needs reassurance, wants to give it to him either way, but then Wu Xie is cradling his face between slender hands, his face earnest, eyes intent.

"Xiao-ge..." He begins and edges even closer and he parts own his legs, sliding one onto the sofa along the cushions so Wu Xie can sit as close as he wants. "I...I think I fell into love with you, the day we met. That first tomb? You just...appeared and in my heart, you stayed."

He really, really hoped he had felt the same at the time. He can't imagine not feeling this in love. All he can say past the guilt and shame clogging his throat is, "I love you now. I'm sure I loved you then." Or at least was hopelessly attracted to him.

The shocked look is replaced by a bright beaming smile that could rival the moon and the sun. He strokes his cheek and Xiao-ge tips his head down a little to nuzzle into his palm.

"But," Xiao-ge's attention snaps back to his face, something cold forming a knot in his chest. But what?

 "The other day? When you came home?" Wu Xie asks and he nods against his warm palm, the knot easing just a little at the word 'home'. He tilts his head up and kisses the base of Wu Xie's lovely fingers.

"That was the second time you've...you've ever kissed me."

All thought screeched to a halt and Xiao-ge blinked at Wu Xie's wide eyes and saw the hint of devastation lurking there, as if he was going to be repulsed by the love of his life and run for the mountains. The guilt turned to self-recriminating anger. The second time? How could he have only kissed Wu Xie once before? What kind of relationship did they have? What kind of burden was the former him? A terrible concept fell from a bitter tree, the rotten fruit of a thought so hurtful, he couldn't quite put it into words...Was he using Wu Xie?

"Xiao-ge?" Wu Xie sounded nervous and a glance back at his face, showed that the devastation was appearing full force.

"We

"We... were not... together?" He asks through a dry hurting throat. That would be better than learning he was using Wu Xie, he thinks. The Zhang seem to use people. Use then and hurt them and discard them...

Horror wars with terror and competes so strangely, so contradicting, with the love choking him.

"I...I want to be...if you want to be..." Wu Xie stammered, appearing hopeful and yearning and tragic all at once.

He thought about waking up a blank, ready to be at least partially molded by others. Pliantly accepting, until he saw those photos, until felt that rush of something warm and tender when he saw Wu Xie's face.

He thought about waking up like they had this morning; Wu Xie curled into his arms. The way they had the prior day, with this gorgeous man between his legs, a wicked grin and mischievous dark amber eyes.  The way they had the first morning, entwined, him plastered over Wu Xie's body.

He thought about catching up with the world as Wu Xie worked at his cluttered desk. Thought about eating dinner together, chopsticks clacking, Wu Xie habitually giving him all the things he liked - and he had no idea what he liked- while his own hands were pouring tea, the act second nature.

He thought about listening to Wu Xie's voice as he talked, his open expressions and the soothing feel of having him close.

He thought about the love contained in his chest, bigger than himself, the Bronze Gate and all the secrets of the Zhang. He thought about having a home and a family. A place to belong and of belonging.

"I want to spend the rest of my life with you." He told Wu Xie, whose slowly shattering expression, paused mid-car-crash to stare open mouth at Xiao-ge. "I want to live with you and beside you. I want to make new memories and find my old ones. I want you and Pangzi to be safe and happy."

Wu Xie's smile is incandescent.

"Are you two still clothed?" Pangzi calls breaking the moment.

Wu Xie looks wildly at the door, shock and outrage building, "Pangzi!"

And Xiao-ge laughs, a soft chuckle that has Wu Xie swinging back to him, just in time to catch the lithe powerful body that shifted to cover his. "No." He calls, just before capturing Wu Xie's pouting mouth. They had time, but declarations of commitment, he thinks, need something binding....