Chapter 1: first meeting
Shi Qingxuan was born with thoughts of retribution in his head.
In truth, it had started when he was in kindergarten. Or maybe he just began to notice it in kindergarten.
He had overheard one of his classmates cracking an unkind joke about another classmate. Not even a minute had passed before Shi Qingxuan had kicked his rude classmate onto the dirt of the playground.
As he grew older, he began to realize he couldn’t just deliver retribution whenever he felt like it. For instance, if you see someone being awful to a retail worker, you aren’t allowed to beat them up. That’s illegal.
To stretch that further, it’s also a bit dangerous to go beating up people who rob convenience stores at gunpoint. Shi Qingxuan learns that he can’t carry out all retribution.
And, as Shi Qingxuan grows even older, he realizes it isn’t retribution he’s obsessed with. It’s getting what you deserve, ending up exactly where you’re supposed to be based on your merits and actions.
When Shi Qingxuan sees someone who has done no wrong, made no other person unhappy, he bends over backwards for them. He lends them his phone, his car, his homework, and on one occasion, he even lent someone his credit card for a weekend.
When Shi Qingxuan sees someone who has done wrong, he… in truth, he does nothing. His days of beating up playground bullies are over, and now all he does is glare at them condescendingly and conjure up resentful thoughts about them. He realizes that he’s in no place to punish people for their wrongdoings.
Shi Qingxuan thinks of himself as a working part of fate itself. He is less a human being and more a cog in the big machine that delegates punishments and rewards.
And all of this, all of this convoluted ideal that Shi Qingxuan has, is because deep down, a part of him believes that he’s done something terrible in his past life.
He must atone for it with this one.
“Shi Qingxuan, are you sure? We have plenty of snacks left over. Just take one!”
Shi Qingxuan shakes his head.
He doesn’t deserve food. And even if he did, someone else probably deserves it more. He’d be stealing if he took it. It’s destiny for the snack to end up somewhere else.
Yes, Shi Qingxuan’s obsession with karmic destiny really does run that deep.
He leaves his friend’s house at eleven, bone tired but glad his friends had a good time. Maybe he did, too, but he doesn’t really remember much of the night, and he’s too tired right now to even feel any semblance of happiness.
He walks over to where his car is parked and climbs in, ready to drive home and instantly collapse on his bed. Oh, but not before he re-checks his messages. He had promised someone kind, someone who had never hurt another human being, that he would watch their dog tomorrow. He had to confirm when he would have to arrive at their house.
Ah, shit, he has to make sure his little bro’s asleep, too. His little brother gets nightmares a lot, so Shi Qingxuan might not actually be able to sleep if he has to take care of his little bro.
He starts his car and drives off. He’s halfway home when suddenly, everything in his car flickers off for a split second, and the car makes a couple loud, angry noises before everything shuts down.
Shi Qingxuan runs a hand over his face. He is so, so tired.
He pulls out his phone and begins trying to find any car maintenance place he can call that’s open at this hour. He does find someone, actually. His eyes, blurry from tiredness, finally land on a name. Black Water Mechanic.
He clumsily hits the call button and waits.
“Hello, how can I help you?”
The voice on the other end of the phone sounds about as happy and energized as he is, which is, oddly, comforting.
“My car broke down. I’m at North Street.”
And the other guy promptly hangs up.
Shi Qingxuan spends ten minutes talking to the guy he promised to dog-sit for until the mechanic arrives.
He can hear the mechanic knocking on his car window.
He turns to lower the window.
And stares right into the face of the mechanic, who, in turn, looks like he’s just seen a ghost.
Well. Shi Qingxuan probably does look awful right now.
“So, uh, can you fix my car?”
The mechanic is frozen for a second before he seems to snap back into reality. He nods vigorously. “Yes, I can. I’ll get right on it.”
The mechanic is done surprisingly fast. It had only been another ten minutes when the mechanic walked back into Shi Qingxuan’s sight. He stares intently at Shi Qingxuan.
Shi Qingxuan decides to defuse the situation before it gets too awkward. “Uh, thanks-”
The mechanic interrupts him. “What’s your name?”
Shi Qingxuan is taken back by that. This is not the most forward a stranger has ever been to him, but it’s a bit odd coming from this guy, who seems to radiate “get away from me” energy.
Shi Qingxuan doesn’t see a downside to answering, though. This guy doesn’t seem too dangerous. “Shi Qingxuan. And yours?”
The mechanic bites his lip, almost looking like he’s contemplating his answer. “Um.... Ming- Ming Yi.”
Shi Qingxuan now finds this mechanic guy even odder. But, the name is a likeable quality. “Huh. That’s pretty cool. My little bro’s name is Ming Yi, too.”
The mechanic looks like he’s just been punched in the face. “Ah… cool.”
The awkward situation that Shi Qingxuan had been trying to avoid has arrived.
The mechanic- no, Ming Yi speaks again. “Um, I hope this doesn’t sound too forward of me, but do you want my number? Your car seems quite old, so if it breaks down again, I’ll be more likely to answer if you, uh…”
Shi Qingxuan is seeing so many red flags in this situation. But…
This guy might be upset if he says no, and he couldn’t handle that.
What’s the hurt in giving out his number? He can always block someone if it becomes dangerous.
This guys name is Ming Yi. That at least has to mean something. Shi Qingxuan is a believer in fate and destiny, after all.
“Alright,” Shi Qingxuan says, and hands his number over.
The relief that appears on the other man’s face is puzzling, but welcome.
Shi Qingxuan has not hurt another human being.
Shi Qingxuan has done right, just for today.
Chapter 2: second + third meeting
ming yi meets shi qingxuan again.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Shi Qingxuan awakes to the sound of screaming. He doesn’t even take a second to process it - he immediately reacts, jumping out of bed and sprinting over to his younger brother’s room.
Ming Yi had had nightmares ever since he could talk. Shi Qingxuan can’t understand it, but his brother, in his fits of fear and hysteria, constantly whispers to him about the skeletons of fishes and murky dark seas and the silhouette of a man with long, flowing hair. Shi Qingxuan brings Ming Yi to a therapist every week, but the nightmares haven’t gone away in the slightest, even now that Ming Yi is nearly twelve years old and his classmates are all moving on from their childhood fears.
Shi Qingxuan feels it is so unfair. Ming Yi has never hurt a soul in his life.
(An awful part of him speculates that maybe Ming Yi had done something in a past life to deserve it. It’s not true, not in the slightest, but Shi Qingxuan’s addled, obsessed brain can’t help but think.)
And now, Shi Qingxuan is by Ming Yi’s bedside again, cuddling him like the scared, vulnerable child he is.
Ming Yi is asleep before an hour passes, but Shi Qingxuan stays awake for the rest of the night.
Maybe his presence will help scare the monsters away.
Shi Qingxuan wakes up still cuddled up with Ming Yi.
He looks over at the clock. It’s eight in the morning.
He has to go dog-sit at nine.
So, with a sigh, he gets up and dresses himself. He cooks a meal for Ming Yi and leaves a note for him on the fridge, letting him know that food is there when he wants it.
He tiredly steps into his car, and the hazy memory of a mechanic from last night crosses his mind, but he doesn’t pay it much attention.
He arrives at the house he needs to dog-sit at. His texts tell him the key is under the mat. He grabs it and opens the door.
The next couple hours are… nothing extraordinary. Shi Qingxuan has always been good with animals - they like him, and he likes them because they rarely cause any harm on purpose. Animals are simpler than humans, in a nicer way.
But there’s still not much interesting about watching a dog for a day. Shi Qingxuan checks the time. It’s almost noon.
Should he go out and get food? He looks over at the dog. The dog’s already eaten, but Shi Qingxuan doesn’t want to leave it alone. If he did, he wouldn’t be fulfilling his job, and also, the dog would be lonely, which would mean he did bad to the dog.
Should he bring the dog out? The dog would get exercise, and he could get food. But would the dog disrupt anyone?
But right now his responsibility was the dog.
Fuck it. If he kept thinking, he was never going to get anything done. He gathered up an instant’s worth of resolve and got up to get the dog leash.
He’s finally gotten to the nearest grocery store when, in a moment of carelessness, he bumps into someone.
He hopes he didn’t ruin their day or anything.
But when he looks up, it isn’t some random stranger who’s about to berate him for dirtying their shirt or whatever. It’s the mechanic.
The mechanic who is, right now, staring at his face with an expression of panic.
Oh dear. Well, Shi Qingxuan could salvage this.
“Ah, excuse me! I’m really sorry for bumping into you like that.” He puts on his cheeriest, most casual tone.
The mechanic (Ming Yi, Shi Qingxuan remembers) snaps out of his trance. “Ah, yeah, um. It was my bad too.”
They keep staring at each other. Oh, come on, isn’t this usually when the awkward situation diffuses? Why does it feel like the tension is building more and more with each second?
Something seems to flash in Ming Yi’s eyes, and he straightens himself. “Yeah, I wasn’t looking where I was going. Sorry about that. But, ah, sorry if this is a bit out of the blue, but would you like to hang out sometime? Maybe just at a coffee shop or something?”
Wow, Shi Qingxuan was right. This guy was probably the most forward person he’d ever met. Even thinking this, though, he knew he’d already made the decision. There was no way he was going to turn him down and ruin his day. So he smiles.
“Sure! What day?”
Shi Qingxuan is pretty Ming Yi’s face is the ultimate embodiment of relief right now. “Oh, um. Thursday works. Are you busy?”
Thursday, Thursday. What did Shi Qingxuan have? Work, but he got off at four. He didn’t have any plans that day, other than the usual routines he went through when he had nothing else to do. It would ultimately do more direct good and be a better use of his time if he accepted.
“No, not at all! That works!”
Ming Yi’s lips curved into a soft smile, one that Shi Qingxuan thinks should be reserved for someone important, like a childhood friend or a lover, but he doesn’t point it out. It seems rude.
“Well, I’ll see you then,” Ming Yi says.
Shi Qingxuan nods. “See you then.”
He leaves the grocery story thinking about what to do on Thursday. Only when he gets back to the house later does he realize that he’d forgotten to actually buy anything.
Thursday comes surprisingly fast. Work speeds by, and before he knows it it’s nearly four-thirty in the evening and he’s standing in front of a small, quaint coffee shop not far from his house, umbrella in hand. He’s barely waited a minute when he sees Ming Yi stride up to the store.
He puts his cheery smile back on. “Hey! You’re here early!”
Ming Yi gives Shi Qingxuan a curious expression. “Yeah, but you’re early too.”
It was true. In case the other party arrived early, Shi Qingxuan always got to the location around ten minutes before it was required. It tended to reassure people that he was a good, responsible person, which was good. He didn’t want to be causing people any trouble.
He smiles at Ming Yi. “Ah, well, it’s only polite, right?”
Ming Yi is still holding onto that curious expression. Shi Qingxuan can’t decide if that’s a good thing or not.
The coffeeshop bell rings as they walk in. Ming Yi holds the door. Ah, so he’s the gentlemanly type. That’s nice to know.
They sit down by the window. There’s a little good luck cat waving it’s paws beside a potted plant of some kind. Shi Qingxuan looks over at Ming Yi, who seems incredibly interested in the rain streaking down the window all of the sudden.
For the first ten minutes or so, they don’t talk. Shi Qingxuan finds it calming at first, before steadily growing more and more nervous. Has he made Ming Yi upset somehow? After all, he did have that weird expression on his face earlier. Maybe it was something he said. Or maybe he dressed wrong for the occasion. What even was the occasion? Maybe Shi Qingxuan had miscalculated. He’d fucked up and now Ming Yi was angry and-
“Is the rain pretty?”
Shi Qingxuan snaps out of it. Ming Yi is now staring at him, a complicated expression on his face. It looks like a cross between longing and forlorn, though Shi Qingxuan can’t imagine why. Maybe he had just broken up with a girlfriend? Lost a family member?
Shi Qingxuan realizes that he’s been staring blankly too long. He tries to save the moment, and pretends to act flustered for a second. “Ah, sorry, Ming Yi. I got lost there for a second. Um, may I ask, does Ming Yi find the rain pretty?”
Ming Yi still has the same expression. He answers, slowly. “I do. Or at least, I do right now. The rain is only beautiful when I’m watching it with someone by my side.”
Shi Qingxuan breathes a sigh of relief. Ah, he had saved the moment after all. He continues the conversation. “Well, I’m glad I could be that person!”
The look still doesn’t come off Ming Yi’s face. Shi Qingxuan wishes he could wipe it off, but every time he tries to save the conversation again, it seems to get worse. Shi Qingxuan quits trying to talk to him. At this rate, the gaping feeling of doing wrong, wrong, wrong is just going to eat him alive.
If he could ignore that, though, it was pretty relaxing watching the rain with Ming Yi. He could get used to this. Maybe once a week, so it becomes a routine. He doesn’t even have to get the coffee. Just sitting here is pretty nice in itself.
When they get up to leave a little after five, Ming Yi holds the door for Shi Qingxuan once more. Shi Qingxuan says his goodbyes, and he’s about to leave when-
“And please, Qingxuan. Call me Ming-xiong.”
And then he goes, leaving Shi Qingxuan with a bewildered expression on his face. This man was really going to be the death of him.
The rain continues to drizzle down. The cat in the coffeeshop window waves. Shi Qingxuan stands alone.
some more notes on the au world + some responses to the comments on the last chapter!!
- this is set in modern china, if you want the exact city probably either shenyang or dalian because those r the only two cities i've been too lol. shenyang is a more central "capital" city, there's a city area and a rural area, it's pretty neat, dalian is a seaside city, overall it's pretty great, it has the feel of a medium-sized city. please help me decide
- shi wudu isn't absent from shi qingxuan's life, dw!!! they're still siblings it's just that shi wudu's in the College Cool Kid Club and also always kind of a billion steps ahead of shi qingxuan, so they grew kind of out of contact when shi wudu went to college. i'm def gonna write about him at some point though because he's one of my all-time fave tgcf characters and i feel like his "MY DESTINY IS MY OWN!" mindset would be good for shi qingxuan
- shi qingxuan probably works either as like, part time writer/artist and part time retail idk i haven't really decided yet
also TYSM for the comments on the last chapter i swear i read them every time i needed encouragement to keep writing this or smth bc really i did not expect so many people to read this. i was like "oh ooga booga modern shuangxuan who's gonna read this" and BAM 3 whole nice comments and i know that doesn't sound like much but i was wowed away so thank you guys and i'm gonna update sometime idk cya