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décalcomanie (you are the april of this world)

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He almost runs back to her.

It never should've worked out this way; the cool mountain breeze stagnant and the smell of burnt flesh poignant in the air. The two of them frozen still after separating, tears long gone with the words unsaid. Married under the audience of Masters and disciples flanking her. His own army waits to be returned home, ready to be back in a realm prosperous thanks to her intervention. Cautious in the face of their enemy but placated by the presence of their newly crowned King. The disciples of Shu Mountain wait with bated breath.

Theirs is the last string holding Longyou and Xiaoman in place.

Duty bound they pull away from the other's aching embrace. Swallowing down words and tears knowing that if one breaks, the other would upturn the prosperity of either world just so the only tear shed would not have to be theirs.

In that moment, he longs to run his fingers through her carefully woven braids once again. Feel the aged fabric of her dress and watch as the bells chime with every bounce to her step. He wants to make his wish to take her away to Jianghu come true. There is a part of him that longs for her promise to meet him once again as a mature woman to be some kind of premonition. A stone fate set for their future. He crushes those unbidden desires down, paves out the fantasies and stares at this girl standing before him. Standing strong with words of her own swallowed down into the pits of her stomach.

With each second, she inhales a piece of him that will never return back to the Netherworld.

He knows it's silly to entertain these pointless thoughts.

Knows that it's too late to romanticize every second of this moment. She's too young to fully grasp why he's frozen in place as he feels the magic slowly creep up his being. Her heart trembles and knees shake, screaming at him not to forget her when he's already missing the thought of being by her side once more.

Duty is the only thing keeping them in place and as mature as any young girl exploring the ramifications of love potions, she understands that Longyou and Xiaoman can never be.

She's a child barely scratching the surface of what it means to love. A child loved by a man who would promise her the world but could give her nothing. A child who knows that in this very moment, any promise he could utter now would very well be a lie in the eyes of Nüwa.

Xiaoman freezes in place just as Longyou refuses to break eye contact with her even when she's blinking back tears and screaming at him, turning a blind eye to the people surrounding them. Love, she might never understand but she knows what they had and knows that love is what they'll always have.

She knows that he knows this too.

It is why she remains long after he disappears and the Masters seal the gate.

It is why he breaks down long after the army is dismissed and he's left standing alone in a prospering desert drizzling with light rain; remembering her first attempt and how the water turned red with her blood.

He almost runs back to Xiaoman.

But Longyou is the King of the Netherworld as she is the newly named tribe leader of the Nüwa clan.

Duty to not just their people but to the journey is what holds them back from resettling into each other's arms and pretending the rest of the world doesn't exist.

Their future might not be but a duty to their written roles powers them through the daunting years. Distracting them from the what ifs and haunts them at every twist and turn.

When he sees purple, he thinks of the rainbow splash of her outfit as she showed off her skills as a warrior. The bells he attaches to his belt now ring like hers do wherever she went; tricking him to think he's once again in her presence and relaxing whenever one chimed randomly. Xiaoman becomes an icon he immortalizes wherever he goes. At the gates to the entrance of the waterways, her image lingers like a welcome ghost.

Longyou's years continue in much of the same pattern. Missing the only thing that made him falter on this wretched path.

For her, it's the blue of the sky that gives her strength. No longer is he on this plane but she feels with each passing day, that nothing has changed. As the months turn to years and then to decades, she tricks herself into believing just that. His eyes are the ocean tinted stretch encompassing over her as she trained and trained and trained. Watching over her just like he always did. Comforting her whenever the memory of his departure returned, summoning rain just so the clanspeople don't see the tears running down her face. The storm clouds are him sharing in her sobs. Synchronizing with her in a sick twist of that day she summoned the same thing just for him in his world.

Xiaoman ends up going to Jianghu in the end. To their promised paradise. But it isn't with the man who'll remain at the center of her heart.

Her life passes with one happiness being exchanged for another. Uplifting and twisting. She matures into the woman she promised she would be. But the one person she wanted to show the most she no longer could see. So she continues to mature, growing more beautiful as the years pass by. She learns what it means to love, to be loved- she gets married, has kids and watches as those kids have kids.

Her husband says nothing on the days she goes out and stares at the sky. Says nothing on the way she gives pause whenever they pass by a traveler clothed in deep sea. While he knows that she loves him as much as he loves her, that space at the center of her heart was occupied by somebody else and so the man Xiaoman weds says nothing the day she passes away whispering a name long gone.

Her soul joins the Cycle. And her incarnations thereafter, blessed by Nüwa herself to learn love the same way Xiaoman does. Through tragedy breeds the truest. None, however, have it as true as the tale of Xiaoman and Longyou.

Soon the ways of Mt. Shu begin to dissipate, the sacred arts branching off into different crafts thanks to Yunfan's habit of making trouble. History begins to write new courses and the Old Ways are lost to a sea of flames. Lingying and the rest of the Seven Mages fade away from mortality. In their absence breeds the Xiaolin and the Heylin.

Longyou, long removed from the workings of the mortal realm, enters the Cycle a short time after the Heylin fall to depravity.

At first, he isn't sure what to think when the Earth Goddess herself visits him in his afterlife, showing scenes of Xiaoman (but not his Xiaoman) cycling through lives learning love from the first step. He watches her big heart being built time and time again; watching as her incarnations compensate for something they shouldn't need to negotiate, compromise for less than what they deserve, sacrifice more just to be loved, and settle when they think that what they found was love. Some of her incarnations find matches with other souls. Some found it so fast and so strongly before it got ripped away. Some don't even find love.

Rage boils up inside of him.

His hate for Nüwa for what she's done to his people returns, having grown dormant as he too compromised. Xiaoman had ensured water to his realm and thus his rule thereafter was the most prosperous the Netherworld has ever seen. He married. He fathered children. He watched as his children grew to be generals, musicians, artists, kings, and queens. He lived and witnessed the birth of his own grandchildren. The chronology of his life was at its heart wholesome and fulfilling and one he was not ashamed of.

But he was a demon and demons lived long.

The thought that he would outlive Xiaoman had always been present in his mind, sitting like a leaf floating over a still pond as concerns of his realm and the impending war raged to its forefronts. He promised so many things- that he would always be by her side, that he'd take her away one day, that he'll come back if she ever were to cry his name... Watching as she cycles through reincarnation without him brings it all back to him and it's with a dull note that he remembers that for all the benevolence her followers liked to preach, Nüwa never cared for his kind.

It had to be some kind of twisted power play that she was showing this to him now. A compensation for her descendant lifting her drought upon his land.

Longyou, with centuries of diplomatic application under his belt, reigns it all in and keeps to himself as the latest scene begins its denouement. Ignoring the crushing pain he shouldn't be able to feel deep in his chest. He wonders briefly if she's going to trap him here; cursed forever to watch Xiaoman's soul cycle through the course of human history with no way of escaping his fate.

She must have seen it as an act of benign benevolence, he thinks bitterly. He wasn't stupid to realize that it wasn't just the Human World the Netherworld was cut off from now... The gates had been sealed both ways; ensuring nothing could get in or out. Not even their dead.

It's why he lived as long as he did.

In some kind of desperate attempt to prolong his suffering- not wanting to reincarnate into a being that didn't know the existence of the bell child with the braided black hair. She would always be his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. Reincarnating made the memory of losing her seem final. It made dying seem so fresh and so cowardly in comparison. It made every moment shared with her seem insurmountable. Like his promise to return to her was a job that could easily be passed on to his next incarnation. Uncaring of the shattering heart that made those words. Like he didn't love her enough to try to circumvent the seals. Dismissive of the way his love for her was what drained him of his days in the end.

He was tired.

So so tired.

The pretend politics had long grown dry. Playing pretend to an Emperor Child lost its initial pitch. Being the loving Elder Ruler was exhausting after the same routine was repeated and disarranged and then repeated again. Existing like a false god weighed too heavily on his shoulders. He was tired of it all. Of pretending like he didn't lose more than he gained. Tired of seeing someone else in his wife's eyes. Tired of holding in tears and missing a part of his soul. Tired of being disloyal, of being unreliable, of being incomplete.

When Nüwa promises an out and shows him the way to the Wheel of Life, he takes it with no hesitation.

Longyou, in those last seconds before floating into Rebirth, ignores the politics and the circumstances. Forgetting that demon souls are the most susceptible to Temptation. Forgetting that this was Nüwa- the same Earth Goddess that brought a century-long drought to his people because of the actions of their ancestors before them. Forgetting that he'd forget the name of the girl in purple and spend the rest of his mortal life yearning for something he wasn't quite sure of.

He enters into Rebirth and the only thing he sees in the white light is that rainy afternoon and a yellow umbrella. A bridge and Xiaoman smiling cheekily beside him.

"Be wise, King Longyou. Your friends await." Are the parting words Nüwa leaves him with and he falls into a deep slumber.

The dream starts simply in the same way one wakes up from a nightmare.

Chase Young is a Xiaolin Dragon.

A noble and a man with powers still in the midst of development.

That is where his existence starts. The basis of his whole being before fate decides to play a hand in this twisted fairy tale.

Introspectively, Chase supposes its dramatic irony on the goddess' part and a bit of pity revenge.

Blue like the robes he was buried in, Chase is quick to fit into his niche as the Dragon Apprentice of Water. The mountain had always smelt lightly of sweets to him, the shine of his element welcoming as if ever. He is the first to befriend his element and the feat is not missed. He masters it just as quickly. As if it were just second nature to him.

There was something about the deep blue that always entranced him; when he let himself be pulled into the stream's lull he'd find himself wandering off into the Mountain and passing into the ruins of a civilization lost. There he'd spend hours examining what he could gather from the scrolls that were still legible in the great Hall like library, overlooking the mountains by the grassy pagoda, training on the steps where Guan would often find him and they'll relax and enjoy the douhua he had an affinity for. He loved those ruins as much as he loved being a Xiaolin Apprentice.

It was only the overbearing feeling of loss that would drive Chase away in the end.

When he finally comes into the knowledge of his previous life as the Netherworld King Longyou, fifteen hundred years had come and passed.

Temptation like he first expected turned out to be his biggest downfall. A temptation offered by the last remaining essences of Kumu nonetheless- how embarrassing and how fittingly symbolic. It seemed like Nüwa just loved to surround his mortal self with reminders of his first life.

At first, Chase was too enamored with the idea of ruling that it consumed any other sense. The dark corrupted Heylin energy seeped reasoning out of his head and turned him into a being who's only reason to live was to wreak havoc upon the mortal realm. Power was his seductress and every night he let himself be pulled into her gravitation.

Always wanting to fill up that empty space, he'd throw himself into raising an army. Thinking foolishly that power will fill the void.

And force the old memories away.

The day the dreams returned were the years leading up to the eventual banishing of Hannibal Bean from existence.

The dreams had been simple enough. Yet they haunted him even in his Xiaolin days.

They all started out the same.

With the soft chiming of bells. In those ruins up on the Mountain. Looking out into the vast night sky, staring at the full moon in the pure air of divinity like the gods themselves were watching over him. Chase would always feel the haunting sensation of a cool breeze brushing his knuckles, a bubbling of energy unbidden inside him, before a single figure would join him in his musing. A girl decorated in purples and creams. One he knew, though he wasn't sure how, would always be searching for some kind of semblance of belonging in the company she kept. One he knew should've had his blood boiling yet his heart would ache all the same.

The scene would play on.

Sometimes changing to a day's stroll in the rain, through a forest, down a mountain path, by waterfalls...

Other times he'd dream of a conversation without words. Just the two of them laying against the other. Sometimes with the lightness of sleep and sometimes with the grim weight of sickness. Chase would dream of muffled noises, long pauses and choked breaths. Fingertips slipping from his, a limp body crashing into his arms and he'd wake up in cold sweat.

He'd forgotten just how enthralling these dreams were. Having a lifetime of restless nights and a constant weight in his chest, its no wonder power looked so seductive to him as it does now.

Until now.

"Chase Young."

Never has the sound of his own name sounded so welcoming yet so foreign to his ears. The undercurrent of anger, of scorching flame and malice, is both exhilarating and at best soul-crushing. A part of him matches her voice with the girl in his dreams, clicking one onto the other and he almost loses sight of the girl standing just a ways away from him.

Kimiko Tohomiko is the first female Xiaolin dragon in temple history.

It's a position that in itself curries his interests, the darker all-knowing aspect of his personality whispers how the two energies didn't always use to be this way. How before the Xiaolin-Heylin war, the energies were concentrated into geographically contrasting masses.

The magic soon fated to become Xiaolin had been the holiest, the one he felt quiver through his very soul before the loss overwhelmed him when he was still a monk exploring ruins. The one tied to the highest peak of the mountain, to balance and to tragedy.

The rise of mercantilism seemed to shift not just the economy but changed the dominant ideology as well.

While this generation may possess some very curious (his innate acknowledgment of Jack Spicer was something entirely different and bittersweet) additions, none of the monks had really stood out in their beginning years. His involvement with them come their Shen Gong Wu treasure hunting days has only been an act out of boredom; he could care less for them to be honest.

This is a lie that he constructs the moment the memories of his past life reawaken.

At the start, this new generation of dragons was just that- a new round of kids who were destined to be as insignificant as the last. Omi had been an exception. Anyone, no matter the ignorance, would've been an exception too if they were born from the last vestiges of that bloodline. Chase had sniffed it out the moment he laid eyes on the boy; he had lost touch with his own bloodline over a few centuries ago but he knew the feeling of blood calling for blood. His Heylin side latched onto it like a dying man to an oasis. The innate desire to corrupt, to write history two times over took over, and he didn't look back.

He didn't regret it either.

Longyou slowly awakens amidst this cloud of gray morality. After the dreams had started making sense, after the mouth started being coupled with voices, after his eyes finally trailed up to examine faces and remember names (but never her's) and recall details and feel the addicting magic curl in his veins, a familiar comfort that licked and danced in tandem to his heart beat. Chase makes no comment on it at first, the extra presence in his head keeps the Dragon at bay and to the Man- the essence of the man that soon to be known as Longyou- was anything but intrusive.

He doesn't leave his palace during those first few days.

Longyou doesn't stir.

Always in the back of his consciousness, cycling through awareness and curious probing. Never wanting control, never taking possession of his limbs, never sending phantom chills down his spine.

Chase doesn't care.

Kimiko Tohomiko is just twenty years old when the Monks expel Bean into oblivion.

At this point, Chase is just beginning to make peace with the extra voice in his head. Accepting that in another verse that this deeper consonance used to be his own just as he accepted the dreams (he snarled angrily when Longyou whispered that they were his own memories- he did not stir for the next month) were just something he'd have to live with as a monk. The awakening of Longyou means a long battle against his dragon half but with the obliteration of Hannibal Bean (Ku Mu, Longyou calls him. Mu Ya...), the ancient contract signing his soul over to the demon is terminated and Longyou moves into the space the Dragon used to fill as his soul's other half.

Now he knows it's all a lie.

Hannibal Bean never had any kind of authority over his soul. His soul hadn't even been full to begin with. Perhaps that was why it was so easy to tempt him from the Xiaolin.

Nonetheless, the feeling of Longyou finally reuniting with his soul in its entirety feels nearly religious. The unnatural union is almost uncanny, a feeling that the both of them are familiar with, and the discourse between what is Chase and what is Longyou becomes more and more ambiguous. For the most part, Chase is the one in control- Longyou having relinquished dominance a long time ago, having said that he lived his time and he had no intention of living it again, is welcome to sit back.

Complete is one word to describe the feeling garnered by the union.

Like a finished puzzle after years of stuffing the missing parts with an imitation piece.

Powerful is the other.

The raw and untamed intensity is every kind of addiction. Not even the seductive lure of his Dragon personality conjured by the Soup could come close to promising the amount of power that only grows following the amalgam of their collective consciousness. The Water Dragon in him stirs, the leftover vestiges of his Dragon half roars, his skin heats in anticipation, every step inspires an adrenaline rush.

Pain becomes mistaken for pleasure. The feeling of his bones cracking with every twitch of his muscles is forgotten during the days preceding the gruesome process.

It transgresses into the realm of the Divine.

A voice speaks to him. Too bright to make out the words. But he feels it in his soul that he knows this presence. The displeased feeling lingers long after he wakes up and the voice he knows is Longyou fixes the bond before retreating with the excuse that he was not ready to be bound just yet.

Such a response should have inspired anger, a demand to try again.

Instead, Chase accepts it with grace not his own and lives with the perpetual tear in his chest.

Longyou retreats far into the back of his consciousness, not even coming out to brush against Chase for nearly a year. Long after Hannibal (Kumu) is gone and after Chase goes back to terrorizing the monks for sport. He says nothing when he is active, doesn't even flinch as slowly the darker parts of Chase Young begins to resurface, does nothing when the nights spent contemplating the legalities of his soul with a dead entity become shorter in their duration before those nights become sleepless. Chase Young bites. Longyou does nothing to reign him in.

The souls fill the empty space, mask the tremors from the absence of power flowing through his veins with distractions that worked before Longyou reawakened.

Not until now that is.

Kimiko Tohomiko arches a brow, crossing her thin arms across her chest and stares at him unimpressed.

Inside his head, Longyou screams and cries and recites one single name like a mad prayer.

"Leave." He isn't even sure if she heard him bite out the word before he turned and retreated further into his castle. The image burns into his eyes- her image burns through his eyes. Longyou howls a single name as images of the dragon of fire continue to overlay one over the other with the girl in his dreams. Every step away feels just as sacrilegious.

The Jungle Warriors cast wary looks. Longyou continues to tunnel into his chest, his screaming raking down on him like hellfire. Each rise hurling down on him in a new bout of pain.

He sees red and an endless flow of scenes.

Xiaoman. Xiaoman. Xiaoman. The man recites in the recesses of his mind. Deep heart wrenching sobs raking through every corporeal breath. Chase loses sight of where he ends and where Longyou's intangibility begins. The nights spent avoiding the same dream comes back to haunt him. Her face paints itself into a single name and existence. Xiaoman. Xiaoman. Xiaoman.

Chase knows that they are not one and the same.

After years of coexisting with the King of the Netherworld, he'd put a lot of thought into the lines separating the last essences of his first life. With the Wheel of Life, as he'd come to learn, there was no guarantee that the beings he'd come to be in the company with were the same beings he had the pleasure to meet in his first life. Souls cycled through. Endlessly, always being recycled.

With Jack Spicer, it was easier. He'd come to know the teenager long before Longyou had revealed him to be a descendant and the holder of the soul carrying Jiang Yunfan's memory. Chase had long made peace with the albino's existence in his life, having already tolerated him for years and entertained the thought of potentially training him. Spicer was excusable because he had been a constant.

Spicer had always been interested in embedding himself into Chase's life. With him, it was a constant plea for attention and approval. As he matured, those pleas morphed into something akin to friendship.

Though, he'd loathe to admit it.

Longyou always gave a somewhat smiling impression whenever the boy was around and he was awake in Chase's consciousness. Never would the man say a thing while Spicer flitted about messing with one thing or another. A calm whisper and a few memory-dreams that he'd accidentally slip his way were all the immortal needed to infer that Longyou looked to his brethren's reincarnation fondly.

The separation for Jack and Yunfan was never questioned.

The same couldn't be said about Kimiko Tohomiko and the girl named Xiaoman.

Longyou knows that they are not one and the same.

Knows with all his being. Knows from the moment he came to be after being shown her cycle through reincarnation. Knows that this life wasn't his own to dictate his feelings and fulfill broken promises.

Knows that Jianghu no longer exists. Knows that he isn't the one she'd call for when tears spring down her eyes. Knows that the bond failed because just as he held on to his life in the Netherworld, so is he holding on to the memory of the girl who held his heart.

Chase Young, reincarnation to a King who spited the Earth Goddess herself, suffers by virtue of the being that resides in his head refusing to move on.

The tranquility and balance brought by Longyou's distress at Xiaoman's new existence inspires a new kind of temptation to move in.

There is a war being fought within Chase's head the next time Kimiko Tohomiko appears before them.

"Chase Young." His eyes snap open, staring wearingly at the young woman currently stretching out from her spot from in between the trees. "Are you stalking me now?"

"That would imply I was interested in the first place, Dragon of Fire." The words flow out on their own volition. He isn't sure if it's Longyou's influence that has him feeling immediately embarrassed at the retort. The dissatisfied growling reverberating off the edges of his consciousness does not answer much either.

He isn't sure how or why he got here. He hadn't left the fortress in days while trying to meditate off the mental stress Tohomiko's first visit inspired. Longyou had calmed down, not retreating back to nonexistence, but awake and influencing only what wasn't of immediate importance.

He'd long made peace with Longyou's close to divine powers. The energy itself setting onto the course of the Xiaolin after the monks eliminated Bean and thus the Heylin influence over his chi. The thought had come more with a restrained acceptance rather than an angry backlash. He'd figure it was because of Longyou as was everything else.

"Wow, thanks a lot. You jerk." Chase only stares at the way her voice gives way for displeasure and amused annoyance.

Longyou doesn't say or whisper a thing this time around. But the weight of watching and knowing weighs heavy.

Memories of conflicted feelings surge through his head with every movement. Images continue to merge with one another. The war wages on and on. All without the consent of either party.

Unlike the first time they tried to bond, there isn't a crushing almost clerical power overwhelming all of his senses. Instead, the air burns the more he spends away from her gravitation. The lines between what he's dreamt and what Longyou remembers, what Chase experienced and what Longyou had lived becomes more and more blurred. What he hears and what he's heard runs one on top of each other.

This time there is no entity reinforcing the lines between the two.

Longyou becomes less and less active the more the experiences infuse together. Begins to seep into the background, begins to make himself known less and less. The man stops stepping into the life that was his until the part of the soul that was his existence was reawakened.

What remains are the memories. An endless flow that Chase is loathed to admit he cannot control.

All of the girl Longyou loved. All of Xiaoman.

All superimposed over the existence of Kimiko Tohomiko.

But Nüwa- destiny- their string of fate- never was one straight line.

Somewhere in the mix are memories that make his chest lunge. Ones that hurt more by presence alone. Ones that Chase knows don't fit with the memory of Xiaoman and Kimiko Tohomiko.

Chase Young is a man of control.

"Chase." The way the wind cracks between the leaves hanging over their heads resounds painfully with something within him. The way she stares at him now, all accepting without the malice and anger garnered from all the years of fighting, feels wrong wrong wrong.

The girl turns to him, turning her entire body towards him. A smile spreading across her dollish features, her eyes sparkle at having finally caught him distracted. He scoffs. Her teammates look on.

A grunt is all he allows himself. Even now he's lost track of his own chronology.

Hannibal is gone. Wuya fallen. The Heylin and Xiaolin energies are one once again.

The monks were on some kind of loan to him, having tolerated each other's presences for long enough to form some form of trust between the two formerly feuding sides. To train was what the logical side of Chase supplied.

To inspire a new strain of migraine medication was the other explanation.

"Wider stance. Tiger not crane."

"I'd show you crane."

"Rai!"

The air surrounding the temple stagnates all around them, filled only with the sounds of their tired grunts and battle cries as the dragons of wind and earth spar against one another. Beside him, Omi is slipping into a deep meditative trance while Tohomiko looks on blatantly ignoring his instructions.

She's long learned that he tends to be softer on her than with the other monks; it's an edge she takes advantage of whenever her teammates mess around.

He compensates by adding another hour to her meditation quota.

As it is, his head pounds just at the sound of her reprimanding Pedrosa and Bailey. His fingers itch to grab onto something the more his world shakes with every sound she adds to the world- a new word in a voice that belonged to an old place.

He lets out a growl and immediately she shrinks back to her pillow, folding herself back into lotus position like a scolded child.

If the heart pounding in his chest lunged at the sight, then it was at the thought that in another world she would've acted differently that made it do so.

The routine continues on just like this.

The energies are balanced, the Shen Gong Wu all collected. There is no need to continue on with the purposeless masquerade of the Heylin-Xiaolin conflict. The world continues to spin on its axis and Chase Young finds new ways to occupy his time that doesn't involve plunging the world into eternal darkness.

In this new world, the last remnants of Longyou's residual power resonate with the consonance of the Earth. They bind with Chase in staccato beats. Warily the monks would mutter about Chase growing more and more powerful by the day, his power rolling off him in waves whenever he lets himself fall to his own distraction. None would understand that if anything, each day felt like a new religious experience to the man.

Like adding the finishing touches to his being.

While the monks would describe it as a gradual raise in power- Chase preferred to view it as fulfillment.

Each day brought him closer to the power first promised to him all those centuries ago. Like being given back something he'd lost after years of searching in vain.

On those days, he'd meditate to ward away any unnecessary company. The Jungle Warriors would wander about, the monks would sing praises for the break in their training. The silence will wrap all around him. The energies will merge and connect.

Inspiring the memories and inspiring Longyou to stir.

On those days, the person he wanted to avoid the most became the same person who cleared the fog and silenced the conflicting memories in his head.

"No armor this time?" She'd say, wandering in and joining him from his place under the shade of the old cypress tree. A smile evident in the amused tone she'd take as he'd sigh and make room for her.

"I thought I told you monks to go clean the yard."

"Jack came by." The young woman said, stretching her limbs and laughing at the annoyed noise Chase unintentionally let out. He didn't need to say that it was enough of an answer and yet she still continued on with her explanation, "the boys will just make a bigger mess out of the yard anyways. So why bother?"

Chase let out another long sigh as he resumed his meditation; uncaring for the fact that the both of them knew he wasn't going to actually go back to meditating until long after she left.

It was routine after all. A routine that they'd establish that was all entirely their own- one that was entirely Chase's and one that was without the interruption of the memories that plagued his judgment following the elimination of Hannibal Bean.

"So, when are you going to show me how to make some douhua?" She'd ask mindlessly after jokingly trying to sync her breaths with his. Letting out a loud laugh whenever he'd crack open an eye and halfheartedly snarl at her.

"Doesn't that little box of yours show you how?" He'd retort back once the two of them grew close enough to exchange such jokes. The pleased grin decorating her face showed that he knew exactly what her PDA did and just what she thought of his teasing.

Each playful huff lined up with each percussion orchestrating his heartbeat.

"Have you been stealing my food?" He'd ask after a long moment of silence. Cracking open an eye and smirking when he saw the blush running across her cheeks.

"It's not my fault that all we've ever seen you eat was the Soup." The words were barely even comprehensible but Chase had gotten used to her muttered snips and had let loose a chuckle at the notion.

"That's not my fault either."

"Yeah. Well, It was good so I'm not apologizing."

"Shameless." He proclaimed softly, finally giving up the facade and tossing his head back. A wide smile spread over his features, traveling across his muscles as he began to relax in her presence.

Often he'd come back to this moment. Reliving every giggle, every statement, every twitch, and every breath. He'd ignore influence and wonder just how it was that he let them become like this.

Chase Young is above all else a man of control.

But around Kimiko Tohomiko, he is anything but.

This situation was anything but.

As he laid there, bleeding out in the arms of the girl who'd haunted him all his life, he thought back to the bitterness that plagued his soul. To the injustice that kept Longyou living past his own legacy, to the righteous rage that prompted him to sell his soul to the one being that cursed it in the first place. Living through years chasing after a fake goal, a fake power, a fake sense of being.

Corruption had always tempted him in ways the purity preached by the monks couldn't.

The fine lines of his existence were all filled out; he was full in every sense. Every memory, every emotion, every element that were the Netherworld King Longyou were now traits that Chase embodied. The lines to every dysfunction were left to fate, what was once Longyou was now Chase's, the power that had once stung now hummed beneath his skin.

He was finally the warrior that he was promised to be.

And he was finally dying as time had come to see.

"Come on, wake up. Get up. Do something! Anything!"

Rough calloused fingers traced her cheek, leaving behind a line of blood and grime. A deep chuckle raced through his throat, floating empty between him as he gushed and gushed and gushed.

The details blurred into one shape; his focus lying solely on this one person. Her small shaky fingers wrapping themselves around his worn hands, stopping them from wrecking the perfect profile she wore. Wrapped in reds and purples and creams, her hair trailing all around them in braids, and him in robes of blue.

He wasn't even sure who he was in that moment.

"Get up. Get up. Get up." The words came urgently, tugging and praying. Something warm jolted his system, burning through flesh and healing but not enough to stop the bleeding. Each motion was desperate, mindlessly going through the processes waiting for him to get back up as he always has. "Please. Please. Not this again. Please, don't leave me. Get up!"

He could see years reflecting through her words, searched through memories not meant to be his own and watching her cycle through love after love. A hint of agelessness seeping through every sob, lighting something inside of him into a false flame.

He coughed, she cried louder.

"You." The words barely filtered through his mind before escaping out his traitorous mouth. Beyond the ash, he could see the Earth Goddess waiting in all her brilliance. The Wheel looming just over their heads like a remainder of his now mortal life. Blocking out the sun. The relief only grew in his chest, the elation fueling the flames. He hoped that he could feel it too as he looked into her eyes in those final moments.

The dirt kicked up, the air stagnant. Rain began to plummet all around them in a cruel reenactment of that torrential rain all those millennia ago.

"Maybe next time," he promised under his breath, recalling the words he said to her before the dams broke and the worlds sealed shut on both sides. "I can take you away."

This existence seemed like it was doomed to make promises it knew it could never keep. Always promising more than the man could give, always driving for a second chance despite the consequences. Fooling itself thinking it could ever keep the happiness that kept it lit for so long.

A cruel smile leaped over his features, fingers grasping tightly in hers.

"Next time." He promised as he watched her features contort. His final breath capturing the last sound of her choking cry.

Chase Young reentered the Cycle, never hearing the words whispered in the arms of Kimiko Tohomiko. Silenced by the open air and crouching in the dirt of an old mountain, surrounded by ruins that told another tale.

"抽龙幽." She sobbed into the ground, having nothing left to support her fallen frame. "Stupid Longyou- Stupid Chase."

.

.

.

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It would be a long time until someone found her crying to the open breeze; whispering of love she never showed until the man once her enemy cheated death with his last breath.