"I'll be looking for you, Will, every moment, every single moment. And when we do find each other again, we'll cling together so tight that nothing and no one'll ever tear us apart."
"Every atom of me and every atom of you... We'll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams..."
"And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they won't just be able to take one, they'll have to take two, one of you and one of me, we'll be joined so tight..."
~ His Dark Materials Trilogy
The laws of nature crave equilibrium.
On this particular day, such a sacred balance was upset and even many are aware of it.
The physical laws of unfailing love and sacrifice were embedded in the very geometry of spacetime. Conservation laws arise and exist in the first place because of it. Even fools knew the karmic price of upsetting the gravitational orbit of planets and stars destined to orbit around each other. Even fools, burdened with great power and glorious purpose, were wise not to tamper with the orbit of binary stars fated to orbit each other in perfect harmony and peace.
Not even powerful tools such as the Hallows, can muster the power to break the laws of universal symmetry rooted in love.
So what shall happen to the fool who dares?
The cosmic hunt begins and the game continues.
Very well, then. So it shall be.
Let love and devotion of the fiercest incarnation and highest order, be the final court of appeal for all. Love is embedded into the very curvature of spacetime, after all.
The Cosmos has chosen its champion.
The last of its kind.
Arise once again, oh lonesome star, and disintegrate your oppressors to interstellar dust.
Let it course through your veins, this cosmic rage and wrath.
Let it ignite a cosmic flame that shall burn ever brighter, this wretched hate of yours.
Let it envelope the ones you love and gather them close to your bosom, this fearsome and spectacular love of yours.
The power which was denied you, is now yours.
Rip and tear, in the name of love.
Rip and tear, until nothing remains of them.
Rip and tear, and protect the angel of your heart.
The first thing he recognizes was the endless agony rending his soul apart.
The infinite rending and mending, the endless groaning and weeping, the timeless cycle of merciless repetition. He was already reduced to the barest level of his soul essence and all he knows is bottomless agony, sorrow and loneliness.
In the next moment, a thousand steel splinters twitch to life and engulf his soul essence and coils him into a spherical mass. The sudden whiplash cracks his attention for a mere second, but a mere second was all it needed. Piece by piece and crack by crack, the broken pieces of his soul are suddenly pulled together and stitched back into place. As more of himself was pieced together by this unseen force, he recognized himself being seated at the point of singularity.
As he runs his soul essence along the boundary walls, he hisses and pulls back as the primal sting of hunger and want slithered through him like sparks of electricity. He can see and not see, all the same. He can hear and not hear, all the same. Nothing and everything was in reach. In the span of that second that he sat in the middle of the singularity, it felt as though several lifetimes had passed. And all the same, it also felt like barely a second has passed. But here, even in the midst of the chaos, he cannot deny it any longer.
He wasn't in the lantern anymore. The soul-rending agony of enduring a timeless cycle of endless rebirth and death, reconstruction and decay -- it was all gone, in an instant. And he was here.
The frigidness of the Cosmos was everywhere. It surrounds him with the loving embrace of a matriarch mourning for his loss and pain. The frigidness coiled and slithered around his soul essence, tender wisps running gently across his chest where a human heart was supposed to be.
Where it used to be, before it was torn out.
He gasps as pain pulses through him. The frigid tendrils of the Cosmos twitched and slithered around him with a violence that has him flinching. But instead of the pain he was expecting, he felt only the cooling balm of its touch running across him. He looks at it with wariness, confused at its nature. It doesn't seem to hold any nefarious intent. Rather, it seems to be trying to comfort him.
The snake-like tendril stills and remains coiled around him, as if it was waiting for him to do something.
What does it want him to do?
What do you want?
He answers without hesitation.
The snake-like tendril shudders and he feels a pulse of warmth emanating from it.
I see. You want to protect him. To save him. To save them all.
Not just that. He wants the power to never be helpless or at the mercy of injustice ever again.
I sense it, right here. The place where love used to be.
The tendril adopts a more corporeal form and morphs into a serpent, which was now gently poking its snout at his sternum.
It's not fair. I know. Loving him was easy. That should've been the end of the story. It's not fair that this is how it ends.
The reminder pulses through him again like an ultimatum. He feels his heart brreaking again.
The snake hums and sings with a comforting lullaby and it quiets down his agony.
You have a choice. You can move on and enter the final rest. Or, return to where you were chained against the pillar and break free. You cannot return to an earlier point, I'm afraid.
How will it help anyone? He cannot do anything. He is a mere human being.
If you choose to return, you won't be a mere human. You'll be something greater, far surpassing any nature of your foes. You will have my blessing. You will never fear these weak pests again.
A pulse of wariness and doubt echoes through him.
My offer is sincere, little one. I am the oldest living avatar of the Cosmos. Nothing older than me remains. They have all passed away, existing as dust for all time. Nothing more powerful than me will come again. Unless you take my sacrifice.
Why offer yourself?
I am lonely and have no one else. The ones I love have entered the final rest and only I remain here. I have lived longer than I needed. I love the complexity of life, but I love even more the company of my own brethren. I was once a being like you, long ago in epochs forgotten. But now I yearn to go home.
What happens if he chooses this?
You will take my place. You will become the avatar of the Cosmos itself, just as I was. Everything is in your grasp. Every possibility, is yours. But the process is the final test. Only someone of clear purpose and mind can be a vessel. Otherwise, we both will be annihilated.
He chuckles bitterly. Of course, even at the end of his world, nothing came easy. Not even the promise of rest.
Nothing worthwhile has ever been easy, little one. But why did you think I pulled you here with what remains of my waning power if I didn't believe in your ability to do the unthinkable? Even as a human, you've done far more remarkable deeds in your lifetime than most that I've seen. The love you share and the bond you have, is of a scale I haven't witnessed in many epochs.
He descends into silence, not knowing what to say at all.
Nothing is stronger than me in the Cosmos. If even forces weaker than I am threatened to sever your love and their efforts have failed, then imagine how much more vibrant of a universe you could live in that lives and breathes because of your love and pure heart.
He grits his teeth.
You still doubt my intentions. I suppose there is nothing I can do to change that. But I tell you this, I cannot lie as an avatar. I especially cannot lie to a potential successor. If I even attempt to lie, the very universe itself will demand balance and I will be annihilated by scales even more powerful than I. To all before you that I have tried to summon, none have withstood the gravity of my presence. They entered their final rest as soon as their soul tried breathing in this chasm of space. Rest assured, I have done no harm to their souls. You are a soul. Souls cannot lie to one another. I would have you verify for yourself if you like.
He shakes his head. Even in his heart of hearts as a human, deducing motives has been his greatest gift. Only humans lie to one another. But souls see others' souls. They only see the essence. The concept of falsehood simply cannot exist. How can a soul lie about what it is when an entire tapestry of history is clearly etched on them?
He looks down at the snake still coiled around him gently like a comfortinf embrace. He cautiously reaches out to touch its ethereal body and calmly watches as epochs of knowledge and memories fly around them at the speed of light.
In the breadth of that time interval, he also understands.
He understands and he decides quickly and without hesitation.
The snake smiles fondly.
I offer you my deepest gratitude, little one. I thank you, for finally releasing me from this duty. I hope the universe you create will be more loving and peaceful than it was during my time. You deserve everything they denied you. Go and inherit my mantle and everything I am. Break the limitations of Fate and Destiny. Change everything under the stars. Protect your loved ones, and in turn, you shall protect the world as a whole.
Fare thee well, little one.
At the heart of the Cosmos, came an interstellar explosion. It was dark, and suddenly, there was light again.
When angels fall with broken wings
I can't give up, I can't give in
When all is lost and daylight ends
I'll carry you
And we will live forever
It burns. Everything burns.
But the burning he feels is not the same soul-rending agony that he has come to associate with the Guardian Lantern. Rather,this sensation of burning has a more ancient origin, preceding even the age of the very planet itself. It was the warmth one felt beside a camp fire, the warmth of a loved one's embrace, and the warmth felt in your chest when your heart skips a beat at the sight of a beloved.
It was also the soul-tempering fire of the heavens as draco meteors hail down from the cerulean nitrogen skies, a heavenly wrath to smite demons from their crusades to annihilate humanity and their capacity to love. This soul-tempering fire burns and burns greater within him until all that he sees is the endless horizon consumed by its flames.
For even as he burns, he also burns coldly.
Oh how coldly he burns!
These flames borne from the pure love in his heart of hearts, rises from the depths and cloaks his entire mortal vessel. Black and white, dark and light, chaos and order, life and death. The cosmic flames consume everything. It swallows the chains and the sends the pillar to the void.
Everything burns but he has never felt colder in his life.
With glacial wrath coursing through his veins, he looks up from where he was crouched on the ground and stares at Ye Zun's fear-stricken face.
His heart beats and for a second he forgets the glacial wrath in his veins. He looks down at the pale and weakened figure of Shen Wei, and his heart aches. His heart aches and he has to stifle a gasp as he runs over and crashes to his knees beside Shen Wei.
Without a second thought, he ignites the cosmic flames again and commands it to enshroud them in a protective dome. At the same time, the flames act as an extension of his will and immediately snaked around Ye Zun's body with the violence of a python, he who was still petrified in the purest embodiment of fear. In the same instant, the glacial hate in his veins warred with the cosmic love that wrapped itself around his heart.
He sobs as he feels these human hands raking through his beloved's soft hair once again. His fingers skittering across the smooth porcelain face, gazing into the dying ambers of life in those humane eyes. He sees all of the love in there and his heart aches. He leans his face closer and grits his teeth, overwhelmed by everything he sees in those gentle brown eyes. Those warm humane hands touch his cheeks and the dam breaks. He gently pries one hand away and presses it deeply against his chest, frantically circulating his chaotic energy into the right formula for life-giving properties.
He gasps and sobs at the time it needs to set in, so he focuses everything he has on Shen Wei, the safekeeper of the other half of his soul. He swallows the lump in his throat as he feels Shen Wei's left hand tenderly wiping his tears away, still holding that gentle smile.
My angel. Why did you have to do everything by yourself? Why? Why does all the good in the world have to come at the cost of you?
His lip trembles and he gasps again. "You can't leave me, baby. You can't. You can't. Stay with me a little longer, it's gonna be okay," he pleads hoarsely as he presses down harder on Shen Wei's other hand, the one that was lying above his beating heart. He blinks furiously a few times, checking on the growing core of energy in his heart.
Almost ready. Almost.
He blinks again to the sight of Shen Wei's thumb gently running over his nose bridge and stopping below his right eye. He swallows again and gently rests his forehead against Shen Wei's, desperately trying to make it evident that not all hope is lost. His breathing fractures and he draws on his willpower to stay strong even as he feels himself falling apart again, for the sake of his beloved.
Shen Wei smiles feebly up at him, and it never stops captivating him when he sees that solid core of adamantium resolve.
"I don't regret it, Zhao Yunlan. You are worth it. You are worth everything.," Shen Wei whispers with a resolve and certainty that breaks his heart. It breaks his heart and he crumbles again. "You are worth it."
A bolt of fear strikes his heart when he sees those eyes fluttering weakly and starting to glaze over. He swallows his nerves and breath wheezes out of him as he feels for the swirling core of life in his chest.
He swallows again and brushes his thumb over the hand still caressing his face. "I won't let you die on me, baby. I'm sorry, but I'm too selfish to let you go. I love you too much, baby."
In the next instance, he severs the newborn core of energy from the depths of his heart and screams as he feels the magnitude of that power surfacing from his heart. He feels it lancing through his sternum and feels it slithering up Shen Wei's arm with he violence of a thunderbolt. Even with his eyes shut from the pain he endured, there was no denying the sudden gasp of life that is now taking root in Shen Wei's body.
Even as his body shivers from the aftermath of the pain, he still keeps their connection alive and now uses sheer will alone to continuously circulate his own cosmic energy through Shen Wei's body, actively willing it to filter out the toxic light energy that was still sapping Shen Wei's strength. He takes all of the toxins into his own body and shivers at the small explosions of pain that wrack his body. In the distance, he feels the faint signs of increasing strength returning to Shen Wei. With a small gasp, he smiles shakily and pushes himself to work harder restore everything.
Fiber by fiber, cell by cell, he restores Shen Wei to a point that far surpasses even his earlier strength. With a level of ease only learned through the process of becoming the cosmic avatar, he slowly and gently circulates the dark energy back into peak health and peak strength.
When he unlatches his cosmic energy from Shen Wei, pain blossoms in his chest and the sudden weight of the absorbed wounds bear down heavily on his mortal vessel. Ichor erupts from his throat and he vomits black blood at the ground in waves. His lungs wheeze and he claws at his throat, a whining sound echoing around the protective dome he created.
Strong, gentle hands wrapped around him. He collapses into those strong arms and shuts his eyes. Even as he rides out the pain, he feels strong waves of dark energy and cosmic energy working in tandem to regenerate his constitution. The cosmic flames in his being roar to life and engulf his spirit in its healing fire. In the distance, he hears Shen Wei release an exclamation of surprise, but surprisingly, he doesn't feel Shen Wei flinching away. He smiles tiredly and rests as the black-white flames encircle them even tighter, bathing them both in its gentle warmth.
When he feels his full strength returning, he opens his eyes and finds himself gazing into the brown-eyed beauty looking down at him from above. He gazes into them and finds himself satisfied and at peace. He sees everything in those eyes. Every fear that he wants to assuage, every dream he wants to have a part in realizing, and every need he wants to satisfy. He sees all and then some. But most of all, he sees a beating heart that he wants to protect.
Hey there, beautiful. There you are. Hey now, don't cry. I'm here. I'll always be here.
Shen Wei is beautiful. He always was, always will be. Even when he looks scared and concerned for Zhao Yunlan's wellbeing, he thinks there was no else that was or ever could be that is perfect enough for the mess that he was. Shen Wei is perfect, even now as he was openly weeping above him in relief.
He chuckles, a bittersweet sound. "Hey there, baby," he whispers ever so sweetly as he reaches out, their hands meeting halfway.
He gently pulls that one hand down and presses it over his beating heart. With his other hand, he reaches up and gently wipes away the tear tracks running down Shen Wei's perfect face. When those tears kept falling, he hums a soft lullaby and keeps stroking the wrist of the hand pressed above his heart. A second later, he moves his other hand to Shen Wei's forehead and lovingly cards his fingers through that soft hair.
"Hey, baby. It's okay. I'm alright, Xiao Wei. I'm alright," he whispers lovingly, letting himself smile to provide more comfort.
"Zhao Yunlan," Shen Wei's voice breaks.
"Shhh, hey," he cooes back, "I'm still alive, baby. I'm here. I'm here. We're both fine. We're gonna be okay."
He feels the hand on his chest trembling, so he keeps on stroking the wrist with his thumb as a comforting gesture. "I'm alive. We'll make it out. Aiya, Xiao Wei. My baby. I'm sorry I made you worry."
He feels more of those tears dropping on his cheek and he finally gives in. He lets his palm rest on Shen Wei's cheek, and he starts singing softly, hoping it soon calms down Shen Wei.
"What would I do without your smart mouth?"
"Drawin' me in and you kickin' me out."
He brushes his thumb over the corner of Shen Wei's mouth, leaning in close enough for a quick chaste kiss. He smiles as he heard an aborted gasp from Shen Wei's lips. He lets their foreheads rest together and he feels a smile growing as he continues singing a soft melody.
"You've got my head spinnin', no kiddin'."
"I can't pin you down."
"What's goin' on in that beautiful mind?"
He smiles softly as the tears gradually start dying down, rubbing his thumb in circles over Shen Wei's temple.
"I'm on your magical mystery ride."
"And I'm so dizzy, don't know what hit me. But I'll be alright."
"My head's under water, but I'm breathing fine."
The tears were slowing down even more. He smiles and keeps going.
"You're crazy and I'm out of my mind."
"'Cause all of me, loves all of you."
He stares into those beautiful brown eyes.
"Love your curves and all your edges. All your perfect imperfections."
"Give your all to me."
"I'll give my all to you."
He shuts his eyes and swoops up to deliver a tender kiss to Shen Wei's forehead. He slowly pulls himself up to a seated position. He cards his fingers through his beloved's hair and runs one hand down his back. He huffs fondly when Shen Wei draws them closer and rests his nose against the side of his neck, where his pulse beats viciously.
"Zhao Yunlan," was all Shen Wei's vulnerable voice could say.
But it said more than enough.
A small tendril of black flame slowly coiled around Shen Wei's chest like protective armor. As expected, his lover slowly pulled away to examine the miraclous wonder wrapped around him with the air of an academic, eyes wide with wonder and curiosity as those eyes look back at him. With a flash of fondness, he grins and manipulates the tendril to wrap around Shen Wei's hand, letting the tip brush lovingly against the pale skin of his lover's palm.
"It's a long story, Xiao Wei," he gently tells him, the corners of his lip twitching in amusement as he recalls the nature of the same words he uttered several millenia past to when they first met.
Shen Wei caught on to the unintentional reference, for he too huffs out that trademark small smile of his.
You're so beautiful. How did I get lucky, huh? How did I get lucky enough to have an angel like you?
He swallows past the sudden lump in his throat and reaches out to gently caress Shen Wei's cheek. He watches, heart skipping a beat, as those eyelashes flutter in response to his touch. He sates into those beautiful brown eyes and he just lets himself spiral into those depths.
"We got all the time in the world now, baby," he whispers tenderly. Shen Wei was still gazing at him, brown eyes gleaming bare and vulnerable as that night several millenia ago. "Let me take care of you for once. You'll never be alone again. You'll always have me. Anything you want, I'll give. As long as I'm alive, nothing will ever touch you. You will never need to fear anything again. If that's enough for you, Shen Wei, then let me have you. I'll take care of you for the rest of our days."
Shen Wei's eyes gain a watery edge again. "Zhao Yunlan. Yes, yes, yes."
Never were there sweeter words than the ones he heard today.
He smiled. "You're an angel, Xiao Wei. I love you. I love you so much, my angel."
Shen Wei gives him the brightest smile he has ever seen to date, even as he sees a violent tinge of pink on those cheeks.
You deserve more. So much more, angel.
He lapses back into a contemplative silence even as he continues running his thumb over that precious face. The rolling clouds of his inner turmoil finally made it to the surface of his mind's shorebanks and it suddenly became impossible to ignore the other hostile lifeforce that was currently bound by the cosmic flames outside of their current haven. He feels his face hardening to stone as he senses the spikes of fear and rage radiating through the tendrils of black flame constricted around Ye Zun's body.
When he gazes back at Shen Wei, he is startled out of his autopilot mode when he realizes one of those angelic hands reaching out gently caress the side of his face. He carefully stays still, exhaling slowly and sinking into the moment of silence that blankets them. He sits back and watches as Shen Wei simply observes him with those sharp, austere eyes. He watches with the contentment of a resting tiger, just watching Shen Wei as the man adopts a concerned expression. He blinks again and smiles at the angel in front of him, aware as he was that the smile he is wearing is poisoned with edges of sorrow and darkness that Shen Wei would probably not comprehend right now.
You deserve better. You deserve so much more. You deserve so much more than what comes after today. I want to repay you for everything you've done for me. I'll give you a life where you will never want for anything again.
He blinks away from Shen Wei's scrutinizing gaze, feeling his eyes darkening as the embers of his rage ignited once again. "We lost a lot. Too much. We lost so much to bullshit that could've been avoided. You deserve a better life than this, Xiao Wei," he says softly, aware of Shen Wei's eyes widening at the darker tone in his words, "You deserve more than this bullshit world could ever give. I was too powerless to do anything the first time. But now? Now, after everything?"
He feels the primordial beast awakening inside his heart, the unholy child of the despairing wrath and heartbreak founded from witnessing a soulmate's brutal death. This primordial beast is a terrifying monster and he can feel its cosmic wrath coiling around him like a basilisk. The dark anger it oozes and the black rage it radiates, an intoxicating poison that pulses and beats like a heart in his chest. Pulsing and contracting like an ichorous mass of plasma and blood, its veins stretch out and slither around his human veins, a beneficial poison that twitches as a reminder of his purpose.
"Zhao Yunlan?" came the hesitant question from his angel's lips, voice soft as silk and intoxicating as the sweetest honey.
He smiles the grin of a cruel jester, a smile as frigid and unforgiving as interstellar space itself. He looks back at the angel before him and he descends further into himself as he feels the frigidness of the cosmos taking root around his core being. He feels colder even as he sees the glow of the suns and stars strengthening in his angel's gaze. He feels colder than he ever felt, even as he feels the warm humane hands of his angel clutching his face, deep brown eyes searching desperately beyond the frosty pane of his own icy gaze.
When his angel makes a noise of distress at his current state, he willingly pulls back some of the interstellar coldness and gives his angel the gentlest smile he knows to give. He silences the licking flames of cosmic rage from his own eyes and reaches out to gently grab Shen Wei's hand, then he pulls it back to himself and lets that angelic hand rest against the spherical mass of ichorous rage beating beneath his sternum.
For Shen Wei, he would let himself be human. For his angel alone, would he ever consider to submit to, wholeheartedly and purely. For his angel alone, can he ever allow himself to be gentle with. In a world dominated by interstellar darkness and soul-annihilating frigidness, Zhao Yunlan would gladly bleed to hoard the warmth of the stars and galaxies for his own selfish heart.
He allows human softness to bleed into his words and eyes, smiling gently once again as he caresses the hand against his chest. "I am now the universe, Xiao Wei. I can create a new universe for us all."
He reaches out with his other hand caresses his angel's cheek, watching as those brown eyes widen in surprise again. "I have the power to do anything now. I can do anything for you, baby. I can kill everyone who has ever hurt you," he sees the uncertainty and pure shock in those eyes but he leans closer and delivers a tender kiss to his angel's lips, shivering as he tastes the love and devotion still beating strong, "I can make sure they were never even born. I can rip apart the fabric of space and time and we could start again. I can create a whole planet just for ourselves. I can build galaxies and planets to your heart's desire. I can build empires and dynasties in your name and topple others down. I can give you world where we all live in peace. The possibilities are infinite as I am."
He leans back and gently rests his forehead against his angel's, studying the maelstrom of emotion swirling in those brown eyes. "I can give you anything your heart desires, Shen Wei. You alone are my entire universe. I can be anything you want me to be. Tell me what you want, dear heart. Tell me and I'll end this madness so we can start anew."
He watches patiently and lovingly as Shen Wei swallows, eyes red and blinking furiously at the onslaught of his promises. He waits as his angel tries to compose himself. He waits as his angel looks up at him again, eyes wide and red from emotion. He waits with a steadfastness as his angel struggles for words, struggles to give voice to desires and wants buried so deep within.
He smiles gently again, watching as Shen Wei meets his gaze for the thousandth time in this small pocket of eternity. He sees the long roots of weeds in those eyes, weeds that thrived from constant self-sacrifice and martyrdom, and he feels a pang of deep sorrow. He weeps internally for the self-sacrificing nature of his angel, for the pure selflessness of that beating heart.
"Aiya, my Xiao Wei," he croons lovingly when he sees tears accumating in those beloved eyes again. He reaches out with his thumb and brushes away the bitter tracks of tears that start breaking out again. "No one ever took care of you, did they? For as long as you lived, you've always been the caretaker. No one ever told you that it was an honor to love you, to cherish you. Not until I came along. And even then, I didn't do a good job of it. I'm so sorry, baby."
He feels his heart breaking more when those brown eyes closed and more rivers of tears flowed. "You never had the chance to voice what you wanted, did you?" he whispers, watching helplessly as he sees Shen Wei closing himself off. "Tell me what you want, baby. We got all the time in the world."
He waits for what seemed like an eternity. But eternity to a cosmic avatar like him was meaningless. Even as he waits in silence, vigilantly watching over his angel's efforts to regain composure, he reaffirms his resolve to wait for several millennia more if it means he could create the ideal world for his beloved. It was the very least he could do, for the one and only angel who stood by his side when the rest of the world failed them.
When Shen Wei slowly opens his eyes again, he feels his breath swiftly taken when he sees those beautiful browns gazing at him with the bravery of a knight and the love of a thousand suns. It was moments like this where even the tools of poetry failed to capture the infinite radiance and beauty of this moment in time. Moments such as these were often lost in the tides of time, like tears in the rain. He snapshots this moment and smiles, feeling shaken by the weight of this revelation.
"I want to go back to the start. To a time before everything was lost," Shen Wei whispers, figure trembling. He watches as Shen Wei tries to smile, but all it shows is broken glass. He leans in closer to Shen Wei and delivers a tender kiss to his angel's cheek, a silent encouragement. He feels Shen Wei nuzzling the side of his neck, and he tightens his embrace around Shen Wei. "I want a world where strength is respected but peace is revered. I am tired of war and violence, Zhao Yunlan. I'm tired of fighting. I just want peace for everyone I love."
His angel was still muffling his sobs and he feels his heart breaking further. He lets his hand rest on Shen Wei's nape and gently cards his fingers through his beloved's hair.
"I - I just want to be loved, Zhao Yunlan," Shen Wei chokes out, and even he shuts his eyes and burrows his nose into his angel's hair, feeling his heart bleed from the child-like honesty of Shen Wei's heartbreaking admission. "That's all I ever wanted. I just wanted someone to love me. I just wanted a world where we could love each other without worrying about anything else. I never asked to be strong. I just wanted to feel safe."
He exhales shakily and feels his throat constricting with pain as the sheer honesty of Shen Wei's dream collides against his heart with the force of an interstellar explosion. He feels the armors falling away, piece by piece, shard by shard. In his arms, was just Shen Wei. Not the warrior, justice enforcer, or protector. The man in his arms was just Shen Wei. A man like anyone else, who deserves love and security. The angel in his arms was just Shen Wei, and that was all he needed to be, nothing more and nothing less.
He inhales deeply and gently inclines Shen Wei's chin upwards, meeting him in the middle with a tender kiss. He feels the soft spark of surprise radiating from the angel in his arms, and he smiles. He gently turns Shen Wei's head and leans in to deliver a final kiss to his lover's graceful neck, nuzzling against the intoxicating scent of life pulsing beneath the carotid artery. He feels Shen Wei shivering in his arms and leans back, letting their gazes lock once more.
He was a universe in love with a galaxy. He was everything the Cosmos was and could ever be, but nothing could hold his heart more securely than the galaxy in his arms. His fated binary star was safe in his arms, at long last. He doesn't know what Shen Wei sees in his eyes, but he hopes the infinite depth of his love and devotion were naked as day.
Even at the end of world, I would know you by breath. I would always know you by the rhythm of your heartbeats, by the way your feet thunder across the earth. I have already known you in death before, at the end of the world. Even after all this time? Always.
He traces his thumb over Shen Wei's cheek one last time for this incarnation of the world. He lets himself take a moment and watches as those dark brown eyes just gaze back at him, one last time in this world. When Shen Wei moves to press a strong hand against his sternum, he lets it rest there, allows his angel to take his fill and memorize the rhythm of his heartbeats before the end of the world.
In the next moment, he raises his own hand and rests it on top of Shen Wei's hand, right where it rested atop his beating heart. The beating heart of the Cosmos.
It was time.
"I'll find you in the next universe, Shen Wei. I will find you and you will find me. Together, we'll build a new universe from the remains of this one."
They don't need to say another word.
In one moment, they were still orbiting each other.
In the next moment, an interstellar explosion rippled across the fabric of spacetime.
And from there, a new hope is born.
Time stretched infinitely.
He was suddenly at the heart of the inception point of this young universe. Suspended in the primordial soup of life-giving essences, he held in his cosmological hands the raw materials that will eventually form stars, galaxies, planets, and solar systems. Then he feels the sudden distortion of spacetime curvature bending to his will. Planetary masses formed and warped spacetime, rays of light suddenly split into different species of waves, gas giants and asteroid fields emerged spontaneously. Interstellar dust scattered across eons of spacetime, binary stars orbitted each other, and some stars collapse at the force of their own gravitational fields.
He turns his head to a distant corner of the known cosmos, a particular bright spot that stood out from the rest of the cosmic dark. A galaxy imaged as a spiral arm, and within it held a star system of particular allure. In one moment, he was a distant presence and in the next, he sees the pale blue dot magnified to a majestic spherical mass of blue oceans and hardened earth.
Oceans, mountains, glaciers, twilight zones, rainforests, arctic zones. Raging waterfalls and calm riverbeds. Thunderous sea waves and volcanic islands. Flat green fields and precarious wilderness steppes. Endless winter nights and long summer days.
The commanding bellows and roars of gargantuan reptilian beasts long thought extinct.
The wing beats of feathered reptiles and avians dotting the skyline.
The violent rupturing of ocean surfaces as tylosaurs speared the air, powerful reptilian bodies waging war against the laws of aerodynamics.
Towering ginkgo bilobas and formerly-extinct megafauna. Indomitable rows and columns of boreal forests in arctic tundra.
The pulsing life force of millions of species, past and present and future.
And then, he sees him.
Sleeping beneath the thick shade of a tall wisteria tree. A sleeping beauty robed in the finest black silk and linen. A primal sense of want courses through his veins.
In the next moment, he feels the solidness of the earth beneath his bare feet and the shock of fresh oxygen stirs him from his frigidness.
He walks and walks.
When he was barely a feet away, he watches as those brown eyes stirred from the depths of sleep. He kneels down and grins as he swoops down with the ferocity of a hawk and steals the breath from his angel's lips. He watches with eyes open as his lover shivers and springs to full wakefulness, those eyelashes fluttering so delicately as hands claw down his back.
He feels the primordial beast within stirring awake and he growls, intoxicated on the sheer scent of the life he finds in the dark energies swirling in his lover's core. His cosmic energy hungers with the appetite of a black hole and it wants, so much, to consume and just consume. Interstellar coldness creeps into his heart and hands, watching with tormented hunger as Shen Wei writhes and shivers beneath the icy trails left by his fingers and touches.
His ichorous core pulses with an ancient hunger that was barely satiated as he leaves trails of heated kisses down the porcelain neck of his lover. With each kiss, he feels his eyes widening and irises dilating as he tastes the softest of kisses of the life-force pulsing beneath his mouth. He drowns in the symphony of those airless gasps and breathy moans, drowns in the symphony of his own orchestration. He is a beast of infinite thirst and infinite hunger, and he wants.
When he unlatches from his assault on his lover's neck, he unleashes his next conquest on the plains of the smooth marble defined by those collarbones and pectorals. The primordial beast shudders and releases an ancient growl that washes over them. Heat pools in his groin.
His gaze burns crimson when he feels those sharp heels digging into his lower back, reeling him in. When he feels the searing pocket of warmth at the tip of his groin, he lets loose a barbaric growl that seems to echo across the world.
He feels the muscles on his shoulders bulging and twitching with a violence so unprecedented that he shivers from the effort it takes to control himself.
He growls again and his very body creaks as the primordial beast within claws for freedom. He feels sharp fingers digging into his nape and scrabbling for grip.
Lost in the haze of his want, he only growls as he feels those tempting lips panting beside his ear.
"Zhao Yunlan," his angel whispers, oh so sweetly, coy as a vixen in heat. He digs his fingers into the bone of the pelvis and relishes the gasps of arousal. "Zhao Yunlan," his lover repeats, more fervently. "Claim me."
The last of his willpower crumbles and the primordial beast of the cosmos rages with a consuming violence. He feels the full bearing of the universe drawing near to them as he leans down and stakes his claim. Time is an infinite void around them as he presses his lover against the earth. He listens to the majestic symphony of sounds they create in unison as they made love together. He listens to his angel's frantic heartbeats and restless moans.
He growls like the tiger hunting his prey, running after the wisps of dark energy that tease him turn after turn of the hunt. He feels fingers running across his cheek and holding his gaze. Flushed cheeks and dilated eyes were a delectable feast and he gorges on them all.
When they both reach the climax, the primordial beast roars at the skies and they both rise to a crescendo. Breaths hard and fast, he looks down at his lover and exhales in bliss as he stares proudly at his masterpiece. Shen Wei's eyes were completely shut, tempting lips wide and gaping as he catches breath, one arm draped above his head.
When he sees those brown eyes slowly opening, he leans down and gently nuzzles against Shen Wei's cheek, grinning as he watches the new blush taking root in those cheeks. He stills himself when Shen Wei reaches out to turn his head to face him. He lets his angel drag him to the earth with a grin. With a flourish of his hand, a nest of luxurious furs spawn to existence beneath them.
He grins when he hears the gasp of astonishment and delight. He curls around his angel's back as they lay on their sides, nuzzling into the nest of soft hair. His throat dries up with emotion when he feels Shen Wei threading their fingers together.
When he feels those angelic lips kissing his knuckles, he believes his soul suddenly evaporated to the realm of the void, leaving him boneless and paralyzed.
Shen Wei laughs softly and the sound of it was heaven. "I thought it was a myth," he whispered.
He inhaled deeply before kissing the skin of his lover's nape, smirking as he feels those tiny shivers. "What was the myth?"
He feels the contented smile on his lover's face and he feels he love in his heart growing to new heights. "The legend of the cosmic avatar. The source of all life and order. The source of life and death. The beginning and end of all things."
He caresses the fingers in his hand and is content to sit in silence as his lover continues.
"It was a myth passed on by oral tradition in several prehistoric cultures. There were no written accounts of it anywhere. Not even amongst the archaeological history of Dixing-ren and Haixing-ren," Shen Wei, the scholar, finally makes an appearance. His heart feels so full and it bursts with love. "No one really knew what it truly was because of the lack of solid history."
He doesn't stop the tide of fondness that pulses out of his cosmic core. He wraps this sensation around Shen Wei like a fur blanket. He smiles as Shen Wei turns around in his arms and pins him in place with that wide-eyed expression of naked wonder and love. In their old lives, he could barely catch glimpses of this side of Shen Wei that looked unburdened and receptive to the experiences of life. The last time he observed this side of his lover was during that brief period where he needed to masquerade as Kunlun to lead the Allied forces to victory. Such a rare sight that was. And now he craves to see it more.
Shen Wei reaches out and runs those angelic fingers down his cheek. He shudders at the tenderness behind the touch. "There is so much I don't yet understand, Zhao Yunlan. Someday, will you please tell me everything that happened to you?" he says softly. "I know something happened. Your core is strong. But your soul . . . feels heavy and scarred. The scars still hurt. Some of them haven't even healed, did they? I can feel it. In here."
He feels a gentle press on his sternum and he swallows the lump in his throat.
"I wish I could do more to heal it," Shen Wei whispers sadly.
He chuckles brokenly and presses a kiss to his angel's forehead. "For you, I'd gladly break my own heart again and again if it means you're safe and loved. That is all I want. Every pain I've felt, is worth it because you are worth everything."
Shen Wei looks at him, eyes red. "Love shouldn't have to hurt."
"It shouldn't hurt at all," he agreed gently, "but if tested and refined and it still remains strong, then enduring any suffering is easy. That kind of love is rare and beautiful when it exists."
He gently entwines his cosmic energy around Shen Wei's dark energy, letting as much love and reassurance as possible bleed across their new bond. He smiles softly as he feels Shen Wei tentatively reaching out to test the tendrils of life connecting their souls.
"Your soul is tied to mine, just as I am tied to you. We have nothing else to fear in this new world, Xiao Wei," he whispers back. "This new world we created is a place of new beginnings. It will take time, I know, but eventually we should put to rest our past and embrace the future. We have nothing else to salvage from that part of our lives. It's nothing but pain and torment."
He watches helplessly as Shen Wei's eyes fluttered close, a few tears slipping past those lovely eyelashes. "It still hurts," Shen Wei admits quietly, honest and simple. "But you're right. I'm sorry. You spent so much energy to create all this for me but here I am, crying about this."
"Time is ours to keep, Xiao Wei. Let us be kind to ourselves, alright?" He gently reaches out and wraps his lover in an embrace. "Let us live for today. I'll take care of you, I promise."
Without another word, he feels Shen Wei nodding against his chest.
After everything we've been through, the universe better damn well give us some space.
On one uneventful day that he went out hunting for wildlife, Zhao Yunlan finds an infant wailing helplessly behind the cover of tall reeds beside the riverbed.
He drops his hunting tools and near the river shore and investigates the ruckus.
When he digs through the reeds, he feels his eyes widening with surprise.
In a woven basket lay a white-haired infant. The infant wails and slowly stops as his shadow hovers above the basket.
Wide, innocent eyes looked back at him. The white-haired infant suddenly smiles and releases a cry of childish joy. The infant reaches out with his cute pudgy arms, still smiling and making happy sounds.
"Ye Zun?" he exclaims in shock, jaw dropping.
The white-haired infant blinks with wide eyes before smiling again, calling out in high-pitched giggles.
"I need to get back home," he mutters.
He gently lifts Ye Zun's infant form and settles him securely against the crook of his right arm. Without another moment to waste, he rips open a portal and steps through it.
Here I am, this is me
I come into this world so wild and free
Here I am, so young and strong
Right here in the place where I belong
It's a new world, it's a new start
It's alive with the beating of a young heart
It's a new day in a new land
And it's waiting for me
Here I am
In the next several years, their family slowly returns to them from the void.
A fresh and clean slate, no one else besides the two of them retain any memories of their past lives from before. In the grand scheme of things, this was the best outcome for them all.
A new world could not be created from the foundations of misunderstandings and regrets.
Sometimes, the foreshadowing of a new beginning starts from the birth of a wildfire that burns away everything already dead and harmful. Whatever was meant to flourish will live and whatever needed to decay will follow suit.
And so the years pass and the moon waxes and wanes.
But not everything fundamental is completely lost either.
After all, the universe loves symmetry and it could never break it.
The same old flames sparked to life and the same old loves were found again.
The same old friends were found and the same old friendships were born anew.
The same old rivalries spawned and took root, giving rise to the same banters.
But this universe, was certainly kinder than the last. In it, there was only love and peace.
Their small family grew and they were known as the first humans to have ever walked this new planet.
They watched over Ye Zun's incarnation with love and gladness, watching as he gradually grew to be his man again and decisively take strides to satisfy his fill of life in these new lands. In every milestone, they were present in Ye Zun's new life. They watched as he grew from an infant crawling after the cicadas in the grass, to the headstrong and extroverted young adult he was today. The Ye Zun of their past life scarcely knew love, so they made a fierce devoted vow to cherish the boy as their own son.
Years pass since they became a small family and Zhao Yunlan felt his heart gradually lightening when he sees Shen Wei's chronic heartaches healing at long last. Life long regrets and bitter sorrows were healed and when he sees his better half smiling and laughing spontaneously more than half the days, then Zhao Yunlan was convinced he was doing everything right by him.
When the day finally came that Ye Zun announced his dreams of seeing the vast richness of the world beyond their home, Zhao Yunlan grinned with genuine enthusiasm whereas Shen Wei frowned and descended into the behavior of a mother hen. Zhao Yunlan sat on the side and smiled as he sees father and son bickering heatedly, each side trying to gain ground but failing to hold it. Eventually, father and son reached a stalemate when Ye Zun promised to be away for only three years. And so they watched as Ye Zun set sail for the world beyond their homeland.
The first year was extremely difficult for Shen Wei. As he always expected, his angel was the one who suffered the worst brunt of empty-nest syndrome. For the first several weeks, Zhao Yunlan found himself waking up in the middle of the nights to a cold empty space beside him where Shen Wei was supposed to be. But these were normal cycles of emotion. So he would wake up and journey out of their massive hut and find his husband sitting at the top of the cliff, overlooking the ocean.
He would sit and offer his support in knowing silence, letting Shen Wei lean against his solid stature. Their time here has certainly made his angel softer and more open to the expression of emotion while he found himself becoming the bastion of strength and stability. During these nights, he does his best to simply be a solid wall of support. It was a perfect image of the reversal of their roles now.
So in the next three years of their long lives, they adapted to the silence in their massive hut and occupied themselves with creating plans for the first human village. At this point, it was just the three of them but if Zhao Yunlan's theory was correct, they should expect the sudden arrival of their old friends.
And that they did, arriving in the same manner as Ye Zun appeared to them several years ago. Some of the old SID team appeared as full grown adults already, while some appeared as an infant. Nonetheless, they took care of their family all the same. Eventually, even new faces came to join them and settled down in their young village. The adults helped manage the daily responsibilities and the rest were allowed to remain children, free to live and grow without the threat of war and unrest.
In the blink of a cosmic eye, three years have passed and they eagerly awaited Ye Zun's imminent arrival back home.
One summer evening when Zhao Yunlan took up the task of spearfishing, he caught eye of Ye Zun's boat in the horizon. He immediately grinned and waved frantically in delight, calling out in loud bellows. On that night, Ye Zun's return caused quite a ruckus and they spent the entire night partying and drinking.
Ye Zun brought back stories and trinkets, stories and sightings of majestic creatures and of other human villages in distant lands. The entire village listened for several days and nights about countless tales of his exploits. They listened and imagined the grandness of the deserts, the sweeping tundra, the towering heights of gargantuan trees, and the sheer complexity of wildlife. They listened as a village, and Zhao Yunlan watches in content silence when he sees the small sparks of curiosity that would eventually evolve into an appetite for exploration.
Over the decades, they watched as the village grew and spawned bold adventurers who went out into the vast oceans between lands. They watched as their village learned to domesticate animals and crops, watched as they developed art and writing systems for record keeping. They watched Ye Zun grow into a full adult, raising children of his own. They watched as their grandchildren grew and in turn create their families, and they too watched over these little ones.
They watched as old friends came and then in the mere blink of an eye, pass on to the void in the eternal search for the next universe to reicarnate into.
They built funeral pyres and scattered their remains over the lands and seas, hearts aching for the mere reminder of life's impermanence.
And they watched as the day they dreaded arrived with a gentle knock on their door.
Ye Zun was now a hundred twenty years old, and he was a sickly frail man, hair still as white as fresh snow since the day he was found. They gathered around the family hut as one large family, with his two eternally young fathers kneeling at his deathbed. When they looked down at Ye Zun's ashen face with tear-stricken faces, they listened with growing despair to Ye Zun's final words.
"I sometimes had these dreams, you know. Dreams of what could've possibly been my past life," Ye Zun croaked. "I always dreaded my dreams because it felt so horrifically different from what I've lived through. But I always saw you two in them. Even in the midst of these nightmares, you two were my constants."
Shen Wei was openly weeping, hands trembling as he gently holds Ye Zun's ashen hand in his own. "I'm so sorry. I didn't do enough for you. I'm so sorry you felt alone and betrayed. I'm sorry."
Ye Zun only smiled, gentle and warm. "Whatever it was, I'm certain you did your best, father. It wasn't your fault. You didn't do anything wrong. Besides, in this life, I've felt more loved and at peace than anyone else," Ye Zun feebly clenched his hand, a last reassuring gesture for Shen Wei. "If I did anything to hurt you two, then I'm sorry too. I would've never wanted that. I hope you can forgive me."
Zhao Yunlan gently grabbed Ye Zun's other hand. "There is nothing to forgive. We both love you, Ye Zun."
Ye Zun closed his eyes, smiling. "Then I'm glad. It's because of you two that I believe love will always endure. Thank you for making a world where this is possible."
And with that, Ye Zun takes his final breath and ascends to the void with the rest of their old friends. For days and nights, the village was inconsolable with grief.
But it was during those nights alone together in their massive family hut, the they built together and the same one where they raised their small family a century ago, where the true onslaught of grief strikes truer than the sharpest sword. Shen Wei suffered the brunt of the damage again and having to endure another excruciating separation from his brother's soul almost overwhelmed his lover to the realm of madness. It was nights of endless weeping and mournful silences.
It was during these nights that Zhao Yunlan, too, was nearly inconsolable with the heartache and grief he feels like spiking brambles emanating from their soul bond. He felt just as helpless as he watched Shen Wei falling back into old coping mechanisms, trying to valiantly shoulder the burdens alone as he once did in their old lives. So he lets his husband grieve as much as needed.
In the rare nights where he would find Shen Wei tucked against his chest, he would gently open his cosmic energy core and latch it on to his lover's core. He would use every bit of his strength to eat as much of that grief and feed it to the primordial beast in his bowels. Even though Shen Wei never confronted him about this in their waking hours, Zhao Yunlan knew that Shen Wei was aware of this. For the next several years, this was the most he could do to help Shen Wei cope with the realities of their long lives.
One spring's day, several decades into the future when their village is now barren, Zhao Yunlan eventually wakes up to a quietly content Shen Wei. Those heavenly brown eyes gazed down at him with clarity and gentleness, a sweet sight for a sore heart who missed its particular glint in these past harrowing decades.
Beneath the same ancient wisteria tree where they consummated their union, they again met each other halfway through in a tender loving union. Day and night fell, they were still intertwined. In their joinings and respites, time flowed past them like a raging waterfall.
When the time came to emerge from their solitude, they wandered through the family hut and the village to pay their final respects to the memories of lives that have lived before. They wandered through the barren village sidewalks, stared at the decaying roofs and structures, and ran their fingers down the cracked mud concrete that formerly housed families. They walked together to the village square and looked at each other, smiling a bittersweet smile.
"It's time for us to leave," Zhao Yunlan gently urged, watching as Shen Wei walked ahead to touch the tall pole that used to house the village banner. "Let it be a historical site for their descendants to come back home to."
"I know," Shen Wei remarked sadly with a quiet voice. "But it isn't just history is it? It's our history too. Everything here was built by our hands. By our people's hands. I never thought I would see the day..."
He walks over and encircles his arms around his angel's waist, kissing the back of his lover's neck. "Time makes us food for worms. Let's honor them by living well for them. Even as a cosmic avatar, there's nothing I can change about the cycle of death and decay."
Shen Wei shivers, exhaling violently with sorrow. "I know. But it still hurts. But I suppose this is the burden we must carry."
And indeed, it was their burden alone to carry. To be the two fixed points in every changing age, is a harrowing experience. The happiness of immortals are derived in the unchanging and constant. But to be immortals in a universe fated to decay eventually, was perhaps the worst form of heartache.
"Even the cosmic avatar had a defined expiration date, Xiao Wei," he gently reminds his husband. "Why else would it need and want a successor? Even the cosmic avatar is not immune to pain and heartache. Eventually it needs to move on where it can begin again as a newborn universe."
"It was lonely," Shen Wei agreed solemnly. "Whoever it was, must've been from the remnants of a universe long before we were even born. If we decide on a successor, I wonder how much they would see of what we lived through and what we made. I wonder what they would think and feel. Would they be alone for many eons? Would they have someone to share this burden with in the same way we do?"
He had no apt words to describe the gravity of wordless melancholy they both feel, so he stays silent and breathes in the comforting scent of his angel, just feeling the wind whistling around their figures. He fought to keep a knowing smile off his face as he closed his eyes, allowing the tendrils of his cosmic energy to wrap around Shen Wei like a warm blanket.
Despite the hardships and pains that have pricked the tender heart of Shen Wei, in it too lies the unrelenting resilience to love and keep loving, a conviction as steadfast as the brilliance of the galaxies and stars. Shen Wei's heart was the secret treasure of the cosmos, a cosmological treasure that not even Zhao Yunlan believes he could ever hope to replace.
In all the vastness of this empty cosmic dark, no one truly shines as brightly as his angel's heart does. It will always be an endless source of inspiration and strength for him, this magnanimous and gentle heart of Shen Wei. It always stood tall and stronger, towering over even the scale of gas giants and dwarf stars. It always persevered, always hopes, and never fails.
If he was the embodiment of the cosmological masses that were powerful enough to warp and bend the curvature of spacetime to his will, then Shen Wei is the very fabric of spacetime that even allows the stars and galaxies to exist and stay in their respective orbits.
They truly have reached the point where neither can live without the other. Otherwise, there can be no symmetry.
In what world can he truly exist without Shen Wei?
None, was the ringing and definitive answer that will echo infinitely through the ages.
Even long after they become dust and bones resting in the soft sands of the great desert sands for all time, this one truth will never fail to withstand the tests of time.
Even long after they become interstellar dust, this singular truth shall always remain.
This was one aspect of infinity's harrowing meaning.
The weight of this revelation was so sudden and violent, that he feels the tremors of emotion running down his body for the first time in years. Existing as immortals were quite a mind-bender. Some days exist where he barely feels human anymore. Some days also exist where he feels everything, feels too much, hears too much, and sees too much.
He doesn't realize that tears were violently streaming down his face until Shen Wei turns in his arms and viciously tugs him close to a strong embrace. He feels those strong hands gently pressing the back of his head, and he lets it guide him to crook of his angel's neck.
"Zhao Yunlan, oh my love," Shen Wei whispers with infinite gentleness, the only sweet balm that can ever tame the harsh razor edges of the primordial beast within him. "The balance of the burden as the avatar hasn't equalized yet. You still bear most of the burden. I'm so sorry."
In the same way he provided comfort to Shen Wei during the epoch of mourning Ye Zun's death, Shen Wei now willingly entwined their energy essences and began the process of circulating their emotions together. Dark and cosmic energies danced around them in perfect harmony. Once again, he allows himself to receive comfort.
In that span of eternity where they stood together in the village square, Zhao Yunlan feels the scales of the cosmos tipping ever so slightly towards a more stable equilibrium.
Not long after, they left the homeland of the first humans and ventured across the lands that their young Ye Zun told in their recent past.
Their journeys took them eastward and when they encountered a vast mountain range that seemed to stretch across the entire continent, they felt a sense of warm kinship for these mountains that go beyond memories.
"This mountain range feels familiar. Almost like I've lived here before," Zhao Yunlan whispered as he raised his hand and traced the distant contours of the mountain range with his fingers. "It almost feels like coming home. Maybe we had other lives before this. Don't you think, Xiao Wei?"
Shen Wei smiles, eyes crinkling with fondness. "What can I say? Perhaps. After all, didn't we inherit some memories from the old cosmic avatar? We saw evidence of reincarnation in there. Perhaps everything we've seen and can do are a part of something even bigger than ourselves, that we barely understand."
"But I never once saw our souls in its old memories. So that means it could've been a time from before the old cosmic avatar passed on. Or even a time before that. But I'm sure of one thing. The cosmic avatar needs a successor, always," Zhao Yunlan remarks with confidence. "As far as we know, the cosmic avatar has always existed. So what happens if it suddenly doesn't?"
Shen Wei tilts his head, eyes glazing over in introspection. "Then surely the law of conservation always applies? Souls cannot just stop existing. It always reincarnates into the next universe. The same rule should apply to us."
"Is that it? If we choose to stop, then it just stops?" he blinks, bewildered.
Shen Wei chuckles softly. "I'm confident that the universe will find a way to adjust."
He turns around, even more bewildered at the words he's hearing. "Of us both, you're more of the brains here. I thought this would bother you more than it bothers me."
But his angel only smiles at him, and it was enough to send his heart into a flustered frenzy. "I've searched for knowledge all of my life, Zhao Yunlan. I searched for knowledge and now I'm here with you. I have everything I have ever needed and will ever need."
He scratches his cheek with a sheepish smile. "Eh, Xiao Wei. You really have to stop making me blush. Your too sweet for your own good."
Shen Wei merely smiles and laughs, even though his cheeks are tinged with the slightest rouge. "You will always be worth it, Zhao Yunlan."
On the next break of dawn, they journeyed to the heights of the mountain ranges, to see glistening peaks of snow and ancient ice. They followed the snow paths and eventually encountered level ground at this outrageous elevation. Sharing knowing glances, they let their hands rise in unison as they crafted and built their ideal home together.
When they rested from their efforts, they watched from a rocky outcrop and gazed down at the vast expanse of the earth that lay before them. Swirling clouds, wind channels, and the wingbeats of new avian species dotted the majestic landscape. After drinking his fill of the awe-inspiring beauty in the scenery, he turns to Shen Wei who is quietly sitting beside him, soulful brown eyes expectantly gazing at him with gentleness. Zhao Yunlan slowly leans forward and rests their foreheads together, and he reaches in to deliver a gentle kiss to those angelic lips.
"Should we name these mountains after Kunlun? As tribute to our old lives," he suggested softly. "I can't think of a better name for our new home."
He feels his heart skipping again when that devastatingly gentle smile appears once again on Shen Wei's face. It never gets old. "For some reason, it feels right. It feels . . . right."
In the shadows cast by the warm hearth, they lay together and slumbered for weeks in mortal time. By the time they awaken once again from their rest, the fresh bite of spring was in the air and they both could feel the new stirrings of evolved life awakening in different corners of the planet.
Day and night, they consummated their love.
Day and night, they danced across the cosmic river of star-lit nights, soaring on the winds and chasing atmospheric heights.
Day and night, they tested their wills in friendly combat. In the finest robes of blacks and whites, they collided and retreated in the sequential dance of binary stars, both gaining ground and ceding ground, neither one fully dominating the other.
Day and night, they devoured their fill of a life owed to them.
Day and night, they diligently chronicled all the pertinent details of their past life, including their current one. They penned down written accounts of the cosmic avatar and the memories of various lives they inherited from the old avatar, bounded and sealed in a library guarded by a stone dragon.
Day and night, they watched as time acted on everything else, introducing decay and change.
As the epochs pass and geological periods crest and fall, Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei watched as their own peoples make first contact with each other. They watched as Dixing-ren and Haixing-ren build their first villages and towns together, under the banner of peace. They both watched as these villages slowly became towns, and watched as towns became cities.
They watched as mankind slowly pulled itself from the Stone Age and crawled across several age periods of gradually increasing technological complexity. From the time when mankind discovered fire to the time when humanity built the first rocket (again) to explore the secrets of the Cosmos, they both watched as world-weary observers sequestered in the highest heights of the Kunlun Mountains.
Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei watched as legends about them grew and proliferated amongst their peoples. They listened to the legends of the two gods that dwelled in the heart of the Kunlun mountains. They watched and listened to countless tales and adaptations of their exploits.
They listened to tales of Zhao Yunlan as the harbinger of primal chaos and order, the source of all creation. Most depicted him as the primordial beast of creation, whose true form is rumored to be from a white tiger guarding the west to the azure dragon guarding the east. With every iteration of his legend, the truth is obscured.
They also listened to the tales about Shen Wei, depicting him as an ordinary mortal who ascended to the very top of the Kunlun mountains as a desperate attempt to cultivate immortality. Some tales had him succeeding in his journey whereas others have him depicted as being driven to madness, reborn as a powerful ghost who eventually becomes the notorious Ghost King of the underworld.
But in all the tales they have gathered and recorded over the ages, they noticed that their legends had significant and consistent overlaps with one another. Even the present day scholars noticed it and a large portion of academic funding often annually goes to uncovering more archaeological evidence that corroborate their existence.
There was an abundance of stories and legends written about them together. Ancient writings and illustrations about them dated back to the Ming dynasty, but there some evidences that dated even as early as the Neolithic age.
A particularly memorable one had them depicted as a mountain god and a ghost king. Zhao Yunlan was depicted as Kunlun, the mountain god. Shen Wei was the young ghost king, coincidentally named Wei. Zhao Yunlan remembers the amusement he felt as some of the more scandalous pieces of work had the gall to survive.
He remembers the scandalized and flustered looks Shen Wei gave him over the dining table when he shamelessly read them over dinner. But moet importantly, it was the nightly activity that he looked forward to, where all of their masks were cast aside and they allowed themselves to dance around each other with passion.
Apparently, the legends of their sexual exploits didn't stop there.
In fact, they were even surprised to find that archaeologists have recently found the ancient wisteria where they first made love in the inception of this new world. Archaeologists of Dixing and Haixing alike were dumbfounded when the carbon dating sample revealed the impossible age of the wisteria tree that was still miraculously alive.
When Zhao Yunlan read this tidbit of news from his tablet while lounging on the sofa, he grinned and cackled. He ignored the puzzled expression on Shen Wei's face from where his immortal lover stood from the kitchen, diligently preparing their dinner.
Later on when Shen Wei reads the news headline, Zhao Yunlan grins rakishly as he watches morbid embarrassment dominate Shen Wei's pallor and turn him into a lovely shade of vermillion. In that same night, both portaled into the same shade and revisited that night of their distant past.
By the light of next dawn, Zhao Yunlan dutifully played his role as the shameless husband and grinned at his handiwork when Shen Wei glared at him over their breakfast table, wincing at the abuse on his poor behind.
"You reckon that tree is gonna live another three million years, eh, Xiao Wei?" Zhao Yunlan wagged his eyebrows, grinning like a stereotypical pervert. For a second, he imagines doing the same deed again after a time and he sighs in bliss. His eyes twitch when he suddenly feels blood running down his nostrils. He cackles madly again. "I can't help it, you're so sexy even after all these years."
Shen Wei is still flushed red as the day he was born, but over the epochs he is proud to say he has finally developed an antibiotic-level of resistance to his lover's unique brand of shamelessness. He pushes those glasses up his nose and quietly eats his breakfast with a frosty air. In the dark corners of his mind, a scheme was brewing and he smirked to himself.
When Zhao Yunlan saw that smirk from across the table, he stared in surprise and gulped. After they ate breakfast, they stopped discussing the joke. Their lives went back to normal.
But what followed was the most excruciating year of Zhao Yunlan's existence as an immortal.
It was the year of no-horizontal-bang-bang.
It was the year of epic blue balls.
It was the year where he learned the consequences of his shamelessness.
It was the year of blue balls and pitiful staring at perfectly round butts.
It was the year where Shen Wei had complete control over him. Coy glances and coquettish mannerisms dominated their interactions.
When their relationship threatened to enter the next year of a potential epoch of blue balls, Zhao Yunlan finally snapped and kidnapped his husband in the middle of his office doing paperwork at the university and portaled them into their bedroom.
When he corners his lover's wide-eyed profile against the headboard of their bed, he unleashes the full wrath of the primordial beast on that lean body for several days and nights. He chases his pleasure and receives in equal vicious turns.
After all, one sign of a healthy relationship is the ability to maintain healthy amounts of physical contact from both partners. In this respect, Zhao Yunlan believes he lacks for nothing.
Several excruciating days later, Shen Wei emerges as a limping mess and reluctantly takes sick leave for the next seven days. Over several days, in an act of ultimate pettiness, Shen Wei deliberately avoids Zhao Yunlan's attempts to chase him.
And so the epoch of blue balls end.
But the epoch of cat-mouse chases began.
For the next several centuries, they both played the game well. In the midst of this game, new legends rose of two immortal lovers chasing after each other in an eternal cycle of sacrifice and pleasure.
When they returned to the same shade of the wisteria tree that still confounds historians to the current century, they simply smiled and laughed, greeting each other like old friends. On that night, they penned a new chapter of the story and then they made love once more under the naked gaze of the stars.
They settled down again in their old home in the Kunlun mountains and watched with knowing eyes as humanity spread through the stars once again and built formidable civilizations founded on peace. They watched as these civilizations crested and fell and rose and repeated the timeless cycle over the eons.
They were still watching together when they saw the inevitable decline of humanity and their spacefaring civilizations across a million star systems. They were still watching as the stalwart guardians of humanity, when they watched the last remnants of their peoples return to the mother planet with a defeated air.
They watched quietly with growing despair and sorrow when they see the last villages built beside streams of dying water and dwindling life. They watched, together, when the last town only leaves behind a surviving couple.
They watched together, hearts conjoined in agony, when the last embers of humanity's fire died in the long-forgotten caves of Kunlun as the malnourished couple breathed their last. After several billion years, the tale of humanity once again concludes with a resounding crescendo.
With great gentleness, they light a pyre in honor of the last two humans and cremate their remains. On the next dawn, standing atop the cliff overseeing the raging waves of the ocean below, Zhao Yunlan watches as Shen Wei disperses the ashes of the last humans into the air and ocean. As he gazes into the distance of the stormy skies, Zhao Yunlan shuts his eyes as his heart breaks again for the complete absence of life from all depths of the ocean.
Everything was dead now, except them.
When he opens his eyes again, he finds Shen Wei walking towards him, those angelic brown eyes alight with soft understanding and sorrow. Even as the epochs waxed and waned, Zhao Yunlan only hardened as Shen Wei softened in the same breadth. As the ages passed, they both realized that the power of the cosmic avatar gradually evolved and split into two components, their yin and yang. One gives rise to the other.
Zhao Yunlan may be the backbone and body of the cosmic avatar, but Shen Wei has taken its place as the beating heart. Over the ages as death has grown to hardly faze him, Shen Wei has been the one fixed point in every changing age. Zhao Yunlan used to be the full embodiment of the cosmic avatar's power. But now, Shen Wei holds all of the power in the area of life, a perfect full circle from where they started.
Shen Wei is now the harbinger of life and love. Zhao Yunlan is now the harbinger of decay and chaos. The perfection union, the yin and yang. And eventually there will come a time again when their essences are reversed, as they have seen so repeatedly before. But in this incarnation of life, Zhao Yunlan believes that they have finally reached the end of their current life cycle.
Even as Shen Wei remains a quiet companion by his side, Zhao Yunlan stares at the stars beyond their cosmic backyard one last time and mourns the dying stars and galaxies. When he checks on the lifespan of the sun still valiantly shining for the planet they resided in, he sighs in sorrow.
The sun only had days left to breathe.
He looks back down at the dry earth beneath their feet. Cracked and grey, weathered and weary beyond measure.
He chuckles and this catches his lover's attention. He feels the same loving press of that concern and worry washing over him. "We forgot to choose the next successor," he mutters.
Shen Wei looks at him consideringly for a few seconds before tearing his gaze to glance at the dark oceans. "We have already reached the end of the life cycle for this universe. I felt it too, the life of this sun. I don't think I have enough cosmic energy to do what you did in the beginning of this timeline, to rewind time and create a new universe."
He looks at the grey skies. "I believe cosmic avatars can only do it once. Once it is done, that's it. But that's alright. We lived long and we lived well, Xiao Wei. Not bad if I say so."
Shen Wei nods once, giving him the same heart-stopping smile that always had his heart jumping in his throat. "That we did. If this is the real end of things as we know it, then I don't regret anything we did. I don't regret what we are."
He turns to his angel and returns the same tender smile. "Me neither. After all, who could say they lived through thirty billion years of history? I'm content and at peace. I've done everything I ever wanted with you. That's all I ever wanted."
Without another word, they took hold of a mutual understanding and rekindled an age-old promise to each other.
"Let's find each other in the next life, Shen Wei."
"And I shall always find you, Zhao Yunlan."
They shared gazes one last time. At long last, the true harrowing meaning of infinity dawns on them with the weight of a nuclear explosion.
With the final pull of his cosmic energy, Zhao Yunlan tugs at the core of the dying sun and watches as the decay finally consumes everything back into the void once more.
In light of their final vows, the cosmic avatar splinters and hardens to bind them together for eternity.
And so one age ends, and another one begins.
The cosmic avatar's iteration ended with Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei. Instead of a cataclysmic annihilation for the multiverse, the cosmic avatar's last essences simply lived on in the two conjoined souls. Just as Shen Wei predicted, the universe still found a way to accommodate.
In the next universe they were born into, Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei lived as mortals and walked amongst the humans of Earth. In this life, they held no recollection of their past lives.
But they are bound, indeed as the final will they made together as the last cosmic avatar, and it will always be destiny that pushes them together into a union.
Bound and permanently affected by their previous life as the embodiments of the cosmic avatar, every universe they reincarnated into led to times of unprecedented peace and love.
When all of the worlds that came after were rooted deeply in the tenets of love and peace, then let it be told that the true purpose of the cosmic avatar has been fulfilled.
Neither one can live without the other. When one dies earlier, the other follows immediately.
There never came a time again where the universe threatened the fire-forged bonds of their eternal devotion.
Infinity stretched all around them.
In every life, in every breath, they became the living embodiment of infinity's truest meaning and strength. For as long as this game of life continues, there you shall find the tale of these two told and retold with infinite variations across space and time.
The universe loves symmetry. And where there is a symmetry, there is always an associated conservation law. Love is one such example of a conservation law.
It is these kinds of physical laws that keep the fabric of our reality together.
Love has the power to bend the curvature of spacetime. Love is even embedded in the very geometry of spacetime. All of the proof you need is found in the lives of these two intertwined souls who fly across time together.
And indeed, shall they fly across time together for all of infinity.
So let us not shed tears when this story ends, for the end of one epoch heralds the beginning of another.
You taught me the courage of stars before you left.
How light carries on endlessly, even after death.
With shortness of breath, you explained the infinite.
How rare and beautiful it is to even exist.
With shortness of breath, I'll explain the infinite.
How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist.