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Whoever Brings the Night

Chapter Text

* * *

It was one of the stupidest things in the world he’d ever came up with – praying to a nonexistent Earth Master, who’d never been one in the first place. And yet…

“Ming-xiong, hey, Ming-xiong,” Shi Qingxuan stood in the small, ramshackle temple of Earth Master. He had only recently found this place, for he rarely ventured into this part of the city before, and found himself returning here again and again, “Long time no see, huh? Ha-ha… So, how have you been lately? Yeah, I know, I know it’s rather pathetic of me to talk to you like this, because I didn’t even know the real you, and even now I’m not talking to you, I mean, not the real you, but ‘the’ you, but…” he broke off and doubled over in a fit of coughing, “I can’t help thinking it was really you back there.” Shi Qingxuan shook his head, disheveled hair falling over his face.

“No, it was definitely you,” he whispered, “I’m sure of it, I recognized you,” as he spoke, he clutched the broken Wind Master’s fan closer to his chest.

Ever since that day, he wondered why, and couldn’t comprehend it.

“Never show yourself before me again, and I will pretend you’ve never existed in this world,” that person said. Then, during the battle… why did he, why would he… Could that have been Hua Cheng’s request? Even so, Shi Qingxuan somehow felt it was more to it than that.

He slid down the wall, weak and exhausted, his eyes fixed upon the statue of Ming Yi and the altar. The nights grew colder and, of course, Shi Qingxuan just had to catch a cold. Well, let it be, then. His head felt heavy and his throat swollen, making it difficult to swallow. Maybe he can fall asleep right here, without going back just yet? He is too tired anyway and won’t be able to hop and hobble all the way across the city.

“Ming-xiong,” he mouthed, almost instantly falling into a feverish slumber, “I think that I… might actually die after all.”

Before he fell into the blackness, it seemed he heard the very cold familiar “Dream on” from somewhere near.

When he came to, later, he was covered with a thin blanket, and there was a small bag with few long gone cold mantou and dried fruit on the floor right next to him.

 

* * *

“What the hell are you doing?”

Over the past few months, He Xuan had asked himself this question more than once, and yet he couldn’t stop. Nor could he find an answer.

During that battle, when he approached Shi Qingxuan, he justified himself by saying he had done so at Hua Cheng’s request. Except it was a lie. Yes, Crimson Rain Sought Flower had indeed asked him for a favor – to portray as his clone down there, but this whole idea with the Wind Master showtime was He Xuan’s own. What for? Well… because he… because…

Anything that followed those words would have been a lie, any reason at all. The only truth was that he missed Shi Qingxuan. And most of all he missed his bright, joyful and sincere smile – to the extent that it physically hurt.

And, of course, there was nothing he could do about it now. It was too late, the abyss between them too deep, and it was all his own doing.

“Even dead you still keep taking away what’s mine,” He Xuan thought with disgust, remembering Shi Wudu.

He continued to watch over Shi Qingxuan from time to time. Quietly, from the shadows, each time wearing a different disguise to remain unrecognized. However, He Xuan had never come so close to him before. He had noticed long ago that Shi Qingxuan was visiting the Earth Master’s temple, and to be honest, He Xuan was bitter about it. Everything was somehow more or less stable and good. Then Shi Qingxuan just had to catch a cold! He Xuan watched him with growing alarm, since Shi Qingxuan never cared about himself. He didn’t even try to find a medicine, he didn’t do anything to get well. The last time He Xuan had seen him, he had left him some necessities, but that cough didn’t seem to be getting any better, and now the fool was back at the temple, burning with fever, instead of resting and healing.

He Xuan clenched his fists.

This cannot go on like this.

 

* * *

“Ge ge, don’t you think I’m doing better?”

“Your style is becoming more expressive, yes.”

“Ge ge!”

Xie Lian laughed.

Hua Cheng lowered the brush and put his arm around Xie Lian’s shoulders, trying to look offended but still smiling. The Ghost City was in its usual cheerful state, and the two in the Qian Deng temple were practicing calligraphy again.

“Ge ge, can’t we do something more interesting?” Hua Cheng was eager to avoid more writing as usual, but Xie Lian was adamant.

“Not until you’ve written ten more lines.” Hua Cheng started to protest, but suddenly looked up into the distance and frowned, “What is it?” Xie Lian immediately asked.

“It appears we have uninvited guests,” Hua Cheng straightened up and his expression became grim, “You’d better stay here, ge ge.”

“San Lang…”

“Nothing serious. I just don’t want ge ge to be bothered by insignificant matters,” Hua Cheng disappeared through the temple doors. Xie Lian thought about it for a moment, sighed, and then followed him with a guilty half smile.

“…would’ve hoped you came by to pay me back.” Xie Lian froze, being cautious and amazed at the same time – before the doors of the temple stood Ship-Sinking Black Water himself, and in his arms there was Lord Wind Master! RuoYe fidgeted on his wrist, and Xie Lian automatically stroked it to calm it down. After all, nothing has happened yet? But why was Shi Qingxuan in this state, what had happened to him? The last time he had come to Puji Shrine, he had looked as usual.

“I need,” He Xuan halted, “He needs help.”

Hua Cheng lazily leaned against the outer wall and grinned while crossing his arms over his chest.

“Then why don’t you take him home with you? You too have your own castle and place to live.”

He Xuan hesitated for a moment. Then:

“…Too much humidity. Bad for his lungs.”

Xie Lian felt a drop of sweat trickle down his forehead. What kind of answer is that? Thinking, he suddenly understood. The last time Shi Qingxuan had been to the residence of Black Water, it had ended with his brother death and rather misfortunate events. Of course, if he wakes up to see he is there again, he can simply go crazy. It appears that He Xuan fully understood the matter and didn’t want to put Shi Qingxuan under that kind of stress. But why not say it out loud? Could it be that?..

Hua Cheng simply laughed at his words.

“If you stay here, there won’t be any food left in Ghost City by tomorrow night.”

He Xuan’s expression darkened.

“Won’t take a bite. Nor will I stay. Just help him.”

“You didn’t bother with that last time.”

“You didn’t either.”

“I was busy protecting ge ge.”

“Not a strand of hair fell from your ge ge’s head, as I promised, though he kept poking in where he shouldn’t.”

“Would it have fallen, you wouldn’t be standing here alive and well.”

Xie Lian awkwardly smiled and rubbed his forehead. These two… Obviously, time to take this matter into his own hands, otherwise those two will just stand there bickering until the end of time.

 

* * *

He Xuan had a good relationship with Crimson Rain Sought Flower. Well, you never know, both being Supremes, when a hand will be needed. Their territories did not overlap with each other, and each kept minding his own business. That is, whenever possible. Even then, while Hua Cheng knew everything from the beginning, he did not intend to disturb He Xuan’s plans for revenge. It just so happened that he had to, but in the end, it turned out the way it did. Other than that, the two demon kings didn’t cross paths with each other. Well, except it was for lending money from Hua Cheng. Speaking of…

“Why don’t you take him to some inn and call a doctor?”

“…No money.”

“How in the world do you live like this?” Hua Cheng was frankly amused. If not for feverish Shi Qingxuan in his arms, mayhap He Xuan would too be amused. Although unlikely.

“Stealing Earth Master’s offerings.” It seemed this answer struck Hua Cheng speechless. The funny thing was that it was the absolute truth. At that moment, Xie Lian appeared from the temple gates. When he had come here, He Xuan hoped he would be around, since it was only with him nearby that Hua Cheng became more or less bearable to deal with. Xie Lian walked over to both of them and cautiously smiled.

“Greetings, Ship-Sinking Black Water.”

“Your Highness the Crown Prince.”

Hua Cheng turned around.

“Ge ge, I asked you to…” Xie Lian stood on his tiptoes and whispered something to him. Hua Cheng’s face softened, “Only because ge ge wants to,” he turned back to He Xuan, “You know where my residence is. He’ll be taken care of there. Don’t even go near the kitchen. My staff is still in deep shock from the last time.”

He Xuan nodded and turned to leave.

“What happened to Lord Wind Master?” Xie Lian asked carefully.

He Xuan turned around.

“Caught a cold,” he replied shortly and looked into Xie Lian’s eyes, “Without my help, if that’s what you mean. Thank you, Your Highness the Crown Prince.” He nodded curtly to both of them, and hurried away.

Shi Qingxuan never woke up while in He Xuan’s arms, he was only breathing hard and hoarse, with effort. In the Paradise Manor he was accommodated in one of the spacious guest rooms. He Xuan fed him the medicine that Hua Cheng’s servants left, and sat on the edge of the bed. Shi Qingxuan can’t be permitted to return to those beggars. He can’t survive on the street on his own, he won’t last at all. And he must live. Not because of revenge, but because if Shi Qingxuan is gone, He Xuan doesn’t want to go on living either.

The conclusion it took He Xuan several months to come up with, and eventually he admitted his complete defeat. Especially looking at Crimson Rain Sought Flower and His Highness the Crown Prince together. If those two could, then why would not…

Shi Qingxuan’s face should have disgusted him. The problem was, it didn’t. Never.

Not since the beginning, not before he knew about the swapping of his fate, not then, not now. He Xuan hated, hates, and will always hate Shi Wudu, true enough. He never regretted ripping his arms and his damn smug head off. He deserved every bit of it! But Shi Qingxuan… Yes, it hurt when he chose his brother over and over again, no matter what. Still…

He Xuan reached forward, brushing the sweat-damp strands of hair from Shi Qingxuan’s face. He left him in the bloody capital! In plain sight! Why didn’t he ask Pei Ming for help? For someone’s help? He Xuan touched his forehead – it seemed as if the medicine had taken effect and the fever had subsided a bit.

When Shi Qingxuan recovers, he must wash him properly. And fix his hair. And… He Xuan covered his face with his hands. The Supreme demon king! Ship-Sinking Black Water! He’s no better than a clucking hen over chickens. What a shameful sight! Good thing that Hua Cheng had not yet come here to see. On the other hand, why wouldn’t He Xuan be worried about Shi Qingxuan? After all, long before it all happened, they were… He Xuan brought his face close to Shi Qingxuan’s, as if he wanted to say or do something. Shi Qingxuan suddenly stirred in his sleep and exhaled softly:

“Ge…”

He Xuan recoiled, his face twisted in silent agony, and he fled the room.

 

* * *

Xie Lian almost bumped into He Xuan, as he was coming out of the Wind Master’s chambers. It’s hard to say how Xie Lian felt about him after what he did to the Water Master, but… Not for him to judge and intervene, especially that Hua Cheng had already mentioned He Xuan sometimes visits Shi Qingxuan. It was easy to guess why. After Xie Lian saw him in the battle against Jun Wu and after He Xuan visited (albeit unnoticed) the opening ceremony of Puji Shrine, Xie Lian guessed his ulterior motives. Earlier, he had understood nothing; earlier there was no time to think about the actions and reasons of others. Now Hua Cheng was beside Xie Lian, looking at him the same way that He Xuan looked at Lord Wind Master.

“Is His Excellency any better?”

He Xuan’s expression grew sour.

“Hope so. Your Highness.”

“Yes?”

“Can you take care of him if I leave?”

“Naturally. But you’re not disturbing anyone. San Lang didn’t mean anything by it when he said earlier…”

“I’m not worried about Crimson Rain Sought Flower.” He Xuan’s eyes grew dim, “I just don’t think that… he’ll want to see me when he comes to. I apologize for the intrusion here, Your Highness.”

Xie Lian courteously bowed in return, and added:

“If you wish, Puji Shrine is always open to you and Lord Wind Master.”

He Xuan lowered his gaze, and then walked away.

“Ge ge, you’re too nice to him,” Hua Cheng remarked casually as he emerged from the next room.

“If San Lang wants to tell me that person is a dangerous unpredictable Supreme, then I know.” Xie Lian smiled, “But since I have quite the experience in dealing with dangerous unpredictable Supremes, I think this time the danger is somewhat exaggerated.”

Hua Cheng raised an eyebrow.

“If ge ge’s experience with the other Supremes goes beyond a certain point, I will be very, very unhappy.”

Xie Lian laughed and then turned serious.

“San Lang, those two…”

“No.”

“I haven’t even said it yet.”

Hua Cheng sighed wearily, “Why can’t you just stay away?”

“Because Lord Wind Master is my friend and he needs help,” Xie Lian firmly replied, “And because I saw the face of Ship-Sinking Black Water when he came out of the chamber.”

“And?..”

“If they go on like this, they’ll both go insane.”

Chapter Text

* * *

“Admit it, you like me looking like this – women are beautiful after all, hahaha!”

“…what a lewd sight.”

“Ming-xio-o-ong! Can’t you be just a little bit nicer to me?”

“What are you doing?”

“Don’t my lips feel softer this way, Ming-xiong? Don’t you like my kiss? Or you prefer me kissing you in a male form?”

“Who said I ever wanted to be kissed by you? So lewd!”

“Ming-xiong…” Shi Qingxuan woke up with that name on his lips. He blinked, dazed, looking around, “Where?..”

“Paradise Manor of the Ghost City, Lord Wind Master.”

Shi Qingxuan yelped, startled, and noticed a man clad in black offering him a cup of some dark liquid, “Your medicine.”

“Yin Yu?” Shi Qingxuan’s eyes widened, “Wait, what? How are you still?”

Yin Yu looked somewhat flushed.

“That… doesn’t matter. Are you feeling any better? And drink that up, please, will you?”

Shi Qingxuan accepted the cup and obediently drank it down, still looking puzzled. Then something dawned upon him, “Wait. Paradise Manor? Ghost City?! But how did I…”

Yin Yu stole a glance at the door, “I better call His Highness. He’ll explain it to you better than me.”

Yin Yu disappeared, and Shi Qingxuan shifted on the bed, trying to remember how he got here. The last thing he recalled was coming to the Earth Master’s temple, but afterwards everything was a blur.

“Lord Wind Master!” Shi Qingxuan turned towards the door and saw Xie Lian coming into the room, with a soft smile on his face, “I’m glad you look better.”

“Feel better too,” Shi Qingxuan smiled in return, “Thank you for going through the trouble of taking care of me. You really, really are so reliable, Your Highness! But how did I end up at your place?”

Xie Lian’s merry expression dropped a little.

“Well, to be honest… Black Water brought you to us.”

Shi Qingxuan jerked with his whole body, his hands instantly trembled.

“Ming-xio… Young Master He did… what… I… I… WHAT?!”

Xie Lian smiled wryly.

“Actually, I was also stunned seeing him here, and with you in his arms too.”

Shi Qingxuan took a deep breath, trying to calm the ruckus inside his head and heart. It was as if the hurricane suddenly stormed inside him, blowing all the sense and thoughts away. He Xuan… Why, why, why would he?

“Lord Wind Master,” Xie Lian softly called.

Shi Qingxuan only then noticed he gripped the blanket too tight and released his fingers, “Your Higness…”

“I know how this sounds to you, but you two will need to talk the next time you see each other.”

“…I know,” he replied quietly. It is only that the very thought of it was horrifying.

 

* * *

It was so quiet in Nether Water Manor last months. Silence overtook every corner of the place. All those laughing and crazy maniacs were long gone. He Xuan let them free – after his goal was completed, there was no longer need in keeping them. Heavenly officials took Earth Master’s skeleton too. Cold, ringing silence all around.

He Xuan glanced onto the door where Distance Shortening array was drawn upon, but then forced himself to look away.

“He won’t want to see you, so you might as well just go and drown,” he said to himself, and then actually did go to the shore.

The sea was calm, only his bony water dragons were playing in the distance.

“Useless trash” Crimson Rain Sought Flower deemed them. Well, he speaks that almost of everyone, so why take it to heart. Besides, those dragons were not useless at all, and, if nothing else, they were at least cute.

He Xuan slammed a palm across his face. These thoughts weren’t like him at all, this would suit his ‘Ming Yi’ mask or rather, Shi Qingxuan, so why did he come up with that observation so naturally?

There was a sudden splash and a cold, piercing feeling in his left boot. He Xuan backed few steps away, his expression both surprised and wary – it looked like a wave… reached out to grab for his ankle? What? He Xuan instantly scanned through the water, but didn’t find anything unusual. Nothing could sneak in his Black Water Demon Lair unnoticed, he was sure of it. He Xuan raised his hand, and the water obeyed his silent command, taking on various shapes – a dragon, a shovel, a pillar, a fan, a… He Xuan froze. Just now, that shape. The split second before the wave turned into a fan, that pillar formed itself into… No, no, that is impossible. He is just going crazy being stuck here all alone for too long. He Xuan turned around and fled for his Manor. He will go and visit Shi Qingxuan this very moment or at least take a walk for Puji Shrine or whatever. Anywhere but here!

The sea calmed down, waves soothingly caressing shore in tides. One wave came splashing onto the place where He Xuan stood moments ago. After it withdrew, three long curled lines were drawn upon the sand. Should He Xuan see, he would surely recognize them as watermarks of Water Master’s fan.

The next moment another wave came forward and washed them away.

 

* * *

Shi Qingxuan was limping down the street, smiling brightly as he went. He just got a fresh still warm mantou and even a piece of meat – some nice good woman treated him to the meal. The day was also sunny and warm, good for the walk. Shi Qingxuan munched onto the mantou, turning around a corner to the narrow passage that led for the temple he stayed at with other homeless beggars.

Just then, being halfway through the passage he suddenly halted. He licked his lips, feeling rather nervous, and lowered his head.

“Ming-xiong, you can come out,” he called quietly, “I know it’s you.”

He Xuan stepped out from the shadows. Shi Qingxuan knew somebody was following him, but still recoiled after that sudden appearance. Still clad in black, with those silvery waves embroidery onto fabric, but his hair tied up in a high ponytail that ‘Ming Yi’ usually wore before. His expression was dark and cold, but somehow Shi Qingxuan felt it is only because both of them didn’t know what to expect of one another.

“…”

“Ming-xio…” Shi Qingxuan shook his head, “I’m sorry, I really do have trouble getting used to your real name, please, don’t be mad with me over that. Young Master He, do you need something from me?”

He Xuan took a step closer, and Shi Qingxuan immediately stepped back. He didn’t want to, but his body reacted naturally so. His bad leg tripped over some rock and he began to fall backwards. Shi Qingxuan closed his eyes, preparing to feel the impact of the fall, and then widely opened them, his pupils shrank, as he felt he was caught by a pair of thin, yet strong arms.

He Xuan stared at him with the same flabbergasted expression, holding him steadily. Shi Qingxuan wriggled himself free and stood up, bowing madly and crying, “I’M SORRY! I’M SORRY! I DIDN’T MEAN TO CAUSE TROUBLE TO YOU, YOUNG MASTER HE! I’M SO SORRY!”

“Shut up!” He Xuan muttered in a perplexed tone, still looking stunned over his own reaction. He backed away from Shi Qingxuan too, and both were looking at each other with weird expressions.

“God, I wish His Highness was here,” Shi Qingxuan thought and then lowered his head again, not daring to look at He Xuan. After a while, he heard something shifting, like rustle of the clothes, and then suddenly a small fish skeleton of several inches came floating into his view. Shi Qingxuan gaped at it.

It was really small, but not mossy and rotten or poisonous like those dragons back in Black Water Demon Lair. It was clean and white, its bones delicate and tiny, but very flexible and agile. It glided through the air as if through water, waving its tail from side to side. It came to Shi Qingxuan’s side and rubbed itself over his chest. He mechanically extended an arm, and skeleton wrapped itself around his wrist so naturally, as if it has been only waiting to do just that!

“Name’s Min,” He Xuan stated, watching shocked to the core Shi Qingxuan, “Since you’re so bad with names and have a need to call somebody ‘Ming-xiong’, he’ll do as Min-xiong to you.”

“If you don’t want it, you can throw it away,” He Xuan added, after Shi Qingxuan was still standing speechless, and turned to leave. Then…

“You killed my brother,” a soft, quiet voice came.

“En.” He Xuan replied, not turning around.

“But you let me go unharmed, you fixed my fan and helped me out when I was sick.”

“…En.”

“…”

A gust of wind blew through the passage, rustling through the leaves of nearby trees, mixing with their hair.

“I must be a very bad person after all,” Shi Qingxuan said slowly, “Because even so… even so, I… still…” He drew a deep breath and forced himself to say it out loud at once, “I still miss you.”

There was a long silence on the other end. Then:

“…Me too.”

 

* * *

“YOUR HIGHNESS, ARE YOU HOME?”

Xie Lian turned from the bubbling stew he was cooking and smiled widely, “Lord Wind Master!” Sure enough, it was Shi Qingxuan, looking bright and joyful, that came to Puji Shrine. Xie Lian put the cover onto the pot and went to greet the very welcomed guest, but when he noticed the other person in the doorway, he stopped in his tracks, his eyes widened in wonder, “Lord Black Water? You’re here too?”

“You did say your shrine is opened to the both of us,” He Xuan reminded, wearing a cautious expression over his face and clearly searching for someone behind Xie Lian.

“San Lang is busy today,” Xie Lian said and seemed to hear a breath of relief from He Xuan, “And Puji Shrine is of course open, I just didn’t expect to see the two of you together.” Xie Lian wished he could ask Shi Qingxuan via spiritual communication array what is going on, but alas, the latter did not have any spiritual powers, so… It looked like Shi Qingxuan guessed what Xie Lian was thinking on his own. He smiled a bit shy and cleared his throat.

“Well, here we are,” he laughed awkwardly and scratched his head, “Oh, you’re cooking something?” He asked curiously, “Your skills have gone better since the last time?”

Xie Lian was taken aback by that remark, “Lord Wind Master… that is…”

“Hey, Min… He-xiong, wanna try?”

“And get knocked off for half a day again? I’ll pass.”

“You’re so mean! That is a rude thing to say to our noble host here, He-xiong!”

“Well, let me see you try then first. If his cooking can knock out the Supreme in an instant, let’s see what it’ll do to a mere mortal.”

“HE-XIONG, HONESTLY! Your Highness, I’m sorry…”

Xie Lian’s gaze jumped from one to another, and he felt more and more puzzled with each word they spoke. Those two looked almost like in the old days – almost like ‘Ming Yi’ and Lord Wind Master. But, how is that possible? Yet… was it his place to ask? After all, it didn’t look like Shi Qingxuan was doing this unwillingly, it actually looked quite the opposite. Same was for He Xuan.

“If you’re hungry, I have some fruits and groceries from the villagers left,” Xie Lian offered, already being used to the fact his cooking is good for Hua Cheng only.

“YES, PLEASE,” an eager reply came from the both, and Xie Lian once again felt a drop of sweat upon his forehead.

 

* * *

He Xuan was watching Xie Lian and Shi Qingxuan chattering carelessly, and for the first time in god knows how many days he felt at ease. So… cozy, somehow, this feeling was. As cozy as bickering over the food with Shi Qingxuan, as cozy as just sitting here, in a corner of Puji Shrine, munching onto his fruits. As if the other two did not know once again that he was the Black Demon Xuan, or rather that they did not care about it. It somehow felt warm on the inside.

“Hey,” Shi Qingxuan elbowed him on the side, “Don’t drift away?” He then suddenly realized he just hit He Xuan and his expression grew frightened. Before he managed to apologize, though, He Xuan already said calmly:

“I wasn’t.”

It will probably take a long time for Shi Qingxuan to stop recoiling from him, but… it was a start, wasn’t it? Being ‘He-xiong’ was something they mutually agreed upon, and it was fine, too. He Xuan noticed ‘little Min’ being at peace around Shi Qingxuan’s wrist and his lips curled up into a small smile.

There was still one thing he wanted to do though, that was bothering him for a while. When a bunch of villagers that came by to seek him for something distracted Xie Lian, He Xuan nodded for Shi Qingxuan to come at the back of the shrine with him. They stood for a while next to the creek, admiring landscape and sunset, and then He Xuan spoke:

“There is something I want to do with your permission.”

Shi Qingxuan’s gaze jerked up, immediately wary.

“Y-Yes?”

“You can do anything to me, because I deserve it,” He Xuan read from his gaze and tsked in annoyance. Never mind this, soon he’ll forget to think like that, it’ll just take time. Now, more important is…

“It will hurt, but only for a short while,” he warned.

Shi Qingxuan trembled and backed away, “He-xio… AAAAAAH!” He screamed, as He Xuan raised his hand, and dark, blackened mist enshrouded his broken arm and leg. He Xuan’s face twisted slightly, as he lowered his opened palm, fingers shaking barely noticeable. Shi Qingxuan had horror written across his face and tears streaming down his cheeks, but soon his expression changed into a puzzled one, “What did you?..” His pupils shrank, as he lifted his hands – both of them – to his face without any effort. He waved his hands, then took few steps forward, turned around, took few steps back, then jumped in one spot, his legs moving easily. Both, that is, as well as arms. Shi Qingxuan swallowed hard and raised his gaze to face He Xuan, “This…”

“Your bones were no good. Even breaking them to mend again wouldn’t do since they healed really badly. So I swapped them over with a few fish bones of mine,” He Xuan casually explained, “They are more fragile though, so please, be more careful from now on, and don’t break yourself like that again.”

Chapter Text

* * *

That moment Xie Lian came running to, seemingly attracted by that scream earlier, RuoYe ready to attack, “What happened?”

Shi Qingxuan wiped his tears away and shook his head.

“Sorry, Your Highness, my bad. Everything is fine.”

“Are you sure?” Xie Lian eyed He Xuan suspiciously, but both of them looked fine, just somewhat shaken.

Shi Qingxuan nodded again, and then looked at He Xuan, who was standing unmoving like a statue, his face expressionless.

“I… thank you.”

He Xuan rubbed his forearm and sighed, “I have to go. I have a feeling Crimson Rain Sought Flower will return soon, so… Thanks for the meal, Your Highness.”

“See you around, He-xiong!” Shi Qingxuan waved his hand vigorously. Only then have Xie Lian noticed his once again firm and just stance, and the fact he moved both of his hands.

“Lord Wind Master?!” He exclaimed with excitement.

Shi Qingxuan hahaed the way he always did when embarrassed, and shrugged guiltily, “Yeah… he fixed me,” he said plainly. Xie Lian stared in disbelief. He wanted to ask something, but heard a voice from behind, “Ge ge!” Hua Cheng came to his side, looking around with a frown, “What was that no-good sea-rat doing here?”

“It’s alright, I’ve invited him over,” Xie Lian explained.

“Ge ge, I told you not to meddle with him. Good evening, Lord Wind Master.”

“I’m sorry,” Shi Qingxuan bowed politely to Hua Cheng, “It was me who brought him along as a company, I didn’t mean to trouble you nor His Highness.”

“You didn’t.” Xie Lian firmly stated, “But are you sure you’re alright, Lord Wind Master?”

“I’m fine,” Shi Qingxuan said. Then suddenly his voice spoke right into Xie Lian’s ear without his lips moving, “Your Highness, it appears he’d also given me a bit of spiritual powers… to be frank, I’m at loss of what to think of it. And please, don’t let Crimson Rain Sought Flower look at me like he’s gonna butcher me on the spot, I feel rather uneasy?”

Xie Lian: “…”

 

* * *

He Xuan woke up because something was dripping on him. Water? From where? He looked up and his eyes snapped open. The next moment he rolled on the side and off the bed.

SLAM!

He Xuan crawled to his feet, his face grim and dark. Sharp and huge icicle that just hung on the ceiling above, collapsed down to the bed, piercing it through and shattering to pieces.

“What the?..” He Xuan whispered bewildered. This… was not supposed to be happening. Huh? Not inside his Nether Water Manor? What is going on at his very own territory, where his word supposed to be the upper law? Hello?

For decades, for hundreds of years it was he who made others shake in fear. As if the Reverend of Empty Words was not enough, Black Water Demon Xuan also was feared among the sailors most of all.

Yet now, perhaps for the very first time in his life, a trace of fear was placed in his heart instead. Because things that were happening here and now, were beyond normal. He Xuan was no longer impersonating god, and even if he would, Earth Master’s shovel was useless in this case. But who says he didn’t have a thing of his own? Sure enough, it is not as powerful as E-Ming, for no blood sacrifice was offered to make this, but… He Xuan slowly extended a long boney whip from his sleeve, emanating a dark chilling aura.

He snapped it once, getting ready, then thoroughly and carefully went to examine every single room of his Manor.

Nothing.

Dead silence. No trace of anything out of place.

If not for that icicle, he would think he is imagining it. Yet nothing was off in Nether Water Manor. He Xuan checked once more, and then went back to his bedroom. He froze the moment he opened the door, chill creeping down his spine.

“WRETCHED BEGINNING WRETCHED END” letters read all across the walls, written in hoarfrost. The moment he looked upon the letters, they melted all at once, splashing down in streams of water.

 

* * *

Last time He Xuan managed to persuade Shi Qingxuan stay over at Puji Shrine. Xie Lian confirmed he would be glad to host Lord Wind Master.

“Besides, I’m often gone to Ghost City and Qian Deng temple, so it will be convenient having a person here who’d look after the place.”

Therefore, Shi Qingxuan reluctantly relocated to Puji Shrine. It is not that he didn’t like it here – quite the opposite! It is just that he thought maybe this is somehow… wrong for him to be allowed to live like this. To once more have a warm place to sleep, a set of clean clothes, and all that. Besides…

“Won’t Crimson Rain Sought Flower be enraged with me living here?” Shi Qingxuan asked Xie Lian directly.

“No, he won’t.”

“But he’ll be angry with He-xiong coming over.”

“Nah,” Xie Lian waved off his hand, “San Lang – leave him to me and don’t worry about it. He is a good person, although is trying to show otherwise, but he is understanding and he knows we are friends. As for Black Water – as long as he doesn’t do anything out of place, he’s welcome. Also, do not forget that we had Qi Rong staying here for a very long time. That was way worse than having any of you over.”

Shi Qingxuan instantly remembered Green Goblin, “Ugh.”

Xie Lian smiled, “Exactly. So don’t worry.”

Two streams of tears of gratitude went down Shi Qingxuan’s cheeks, “Your Highness, you’re too kind.”

Xie Lian chuckled softly, but then grew serious, “Lord Wind Master.”

“Yes?”

“Are you really okay with Black Water being around you?”

Shi Qingxuan pondered over it carefully, “I… actually am. I mean, it’s not like it’s easy – for the both of us – and it’s not like we’re all good just like that at once, but… we are gradually coming there. Coming to terms with each other and all.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes, “Truth to be told, Your Highness, I felt much worse, when we were separated.”

“Because you were used to have ‘Ming Yi’ around?”

“Because I,” Shi Qingxuan halted, then laughed awkwardly, “How do I say it without sounding stupid and cheesy? Because I care about him a lot. That goes not for, eh, ‘Ming Yi’ or whatever… it doesn’t matter to me, it’s still him in the end, so… Yeah.”

“What matters is ‘you’ and not the state of you,” Hua Cheng’s voice echoed in Xie Lian’s mind, as he smiled at Shi Qingxuan.

“I understand,” he said gently, “Then, just follow your heart. After all, it’s not appropriate of me telling you to be careful around the Supreme, seeing as I’m married to one.”

Shi Qingxuan laughed at that, his laughter sounding almost as merry and carefree, as before.

 

* * *

“I’ll be straightforward. I don’t like you coming here.” Hua Cheng caught up with He Xuan as he was walking up the hill towards Puji Shrine.

“I know,” He Xuan stopped and looked at Hua Cheng’s grim expression.

“Then scram, please?” Maple trees were softly rustling around, from the village down there random voices of people were faintly heard. Hua Cheng was in his ‘happy farmer’s son’ attire with black outer clothes this time.

He Xuan rolled his eyes, “Your smile is too fake.” He sighed and crossed his arms before his chest, “I am not doing anything harmful to His Highness. Nor I plan to – I respect him and am grateful to him for taking care of Qingxuan. Thus I don’t see a problem with me coming over.”

“But you’re continuously coming to my territory and I really am not happy with a Supreme hanging around ge ge.”

“So?” He Xuan’s eyes flashed with anger, “Have I ever done anything bad or questionable to your reign here? Or you think that,” he took a step forward, “You’re the only one demon king who is allowed to love?” The next moment he realized just what he said, but has not lowered his gaze, looking straight into Hua Cheng’s eyes.

Hua Cheng was taken aback by his words. He blinked, and then a smirk appeared on his face, “Whoa. One wouldn’t think you are that serious over it.”

“I am.”

“You broke him to pieces and now just realized that…”

“This affair is none of your business. What’s done is done.”

Hua Cheng watched him. Then, “Are you alright?”

He Xuan’s face twitched, “Why ask?”

“You look strange.”

“Aren’t I always?”

“Not that much. Is something wrong?”

He Xuan hesitated, “I want to stay at Puji Shrine for a while. If not there, wherever you’re fine with. Want to throw me down to Ghost City dungeons – I’m good with that either.”

Hua Cheng studied him for a while, “Do not,” he accentuated each word, “Absolutely do not drag ge ge into something weird again.”

“That was never my intention.”

“I still don’t like you.”

“I’m aware, and the feeling is mutual. Thank you for tolerating my presence though.”

Hua Cheng snorted, “Since when are you this polite and patient?”

He Xuan rubbed his eyes tiredly, “What, I’m supposed to publicly sink entire fleet to be considered evil Black Demon Xuan again?”

“…Don’t.”

“Thought so.”

 

* * *

Shi Qingxuan brightened upon seeing him, “He-xiong!” He ran towards the entrance, and He Xuan’s heart lightened a bit, when he saw how easily Shi Qingxuan runs around again.

“Yo, ge ge!” Hua Cheng waved from behind He Xuan.

“You two came together?” Xie Lian wondered, hugging Hua Cheng tightly and smiling to him.

“Happened so. Ge ge, let’s go buy some groceries and leave these two for themselves for a bit?” Hua Cheng openly suggested.

Xie Lian agreed, “Alright,” and the two of them left. Shi Qingxuan immediately yanked He Xuan upon the sleeve inside the shrine.

“Come, come, come, He-xiong!”

Somehow, while Hua Cheng was around, it was easier. Now that he went away, He Xuan felt that same uneasiness creeping into his heart again, “He-xiong, it won’t stop.” His head jerked up, “What?” He watched Shi Qingxuan with a sharp gaze, “What did you say?”

Shi Qingxuan stepped away from him, seeing his expression, “I was saying those spiritual powers you lent me the last time when healing me – they are still not wasted? Just how much did you give me?”

Oh. That. Well, sooner or later he would notice, wouldn’t he?

“Those fishes were magical ones, besides, I don’t want you to be damsel in distress – in case if anything happens with those spiritual powers you’ll be able to call me via private communication array,” He Xuan grunted, “Password’s same.”

Shi Qingxuan touched his hand carefully, “You seem stressed out.”

“I am,” He Xuan admitted, “There is something extremely strange going on at my place and I have no idea of what it is.”

Shi Qingxuan even more carefully intertwined his fingers with He Xuan’s, “Then, shouldn’t we try to check it out and investigate?”

He Xuan lowered his gaze upon their hands joined together. His fingers twitched, but he didn’t retrieve his hand back, “I wouldn’t push you to go there again,” he said softly.

Shi Qingxuan nodded.

“I know. But,” he gathered up his courage, “I want to help you if I can somehow.”

“You’ll be scared.”

“I won’t. I promise. I’ve… changed since the last time.”

He Xuan smiled weakly, “You are the weirdest creature I’ve encountered over my whole life, Shi Qingxuan.”

 

* * *

Distance Shortening array brought them into the small fishermen hut on Southern Sea shore. Shi Qingxuan stepped out of the hut, looking over water. His heart was pounding on his chest crazily. Probably this was a mistake, going back to Nether Water Manor willingly. That place was not something he would remember gladly. Even so… He glanced to the side, towards He Xuan. His face was dark and collected, and he really seemed to be off, whether puzzled or irritated by something, or both. And Shi Qingxuan honestly wanted to help him out. Because.

“This time you aren’t drunk nor in your female form. Explain yourself.”

“It’s just the way it is, Ming-xiong. I want you. If you’re better with me being woman in process, then okay, I’ll just…”

“Don’t. It’s… fine this way.”

“We’ll have to swim for a bit to scan the waters,” He Xuan’s voice returned him to reality, “I want to start with that.” So that’s why he brought Shi Qingxuan here to the shore – of course, there was a way for He Xuan to teleport both of them directly into Nether Water Manor, but that wasn’t his intention.

“Won’t I drown?” Shi Qingxuan inquired.

He Xuan shook his head, “You’re with me. I’m dead. So even if you fall off into the water, I’ll make sure you’re fine.”

“Fall off what?” Shi Qingxuan eyed the grey skies and water suspiciously. Just then, waves arouse not so far from the shore, and He Xuan’s bone dragon emerged to the surface, wiggling his tail, obviously expecting them to come over.

Shi Qingxuan also felt movement from his wrist and lifted hand to his eyes – little Min untwined himself from him, chirped something merrily, and dove into the water, hurrying towards his ‘big brother’. “Let’s go,” He Xuan said, and they entered the black waters of Southern Sea together.

Chapter Text

* * *

He Xuan nurtured and carefully raised his revenge for hundreds of years. Not even once in those years he looked back on it, not even once he thought of letting go, forgive and forget.

Shi Wudu, that is.

Considering Shi Qingxuan, things became complicated at the certain point. Initially he wanted to bring both of the Shi brothers down. Initially he wanted to crush their existence from this world and finally satiate the hunger for being wronged so badly in his life. However recently he thought of leaving Shi Qingxuan out of it. But Shi Qingxuan made a grave mistake by seeking Xie Lian’s help, and thus He Xuan had to revert to his original plan, because things became like that and there was no way back anymore.

And yet, and yet… he couldn’t kill Shi Qingxuan in the end. He Xuan thought of letting him live on, wretched and shattered, out of hatred. He Xuan let him go unharmed out of another feeling that had been as far from hatred as heaven is from hell.

It was so wrong, and it felt so wrong – hating one brother until the depths of the deepest abyss, unable to forgive, yet loving another one, loving his innocence and his light so bad it hurt. At first, that innocence disgusted He Xuan. Why was Shi Qingxuan not allowed to know? Why was he allowed to think he ascended just like that and made it into a beautiful tale among the common people? Yet time changes some things, while others remain. He Xuan pushed himself through bringing his revenge into life until the every little detail of it. But it never brought him that satisfaction he longed for. In fact, it only made it worse, because he has lost yet another person dear to him.

That is why he dared to take a step forward that day, to come out in the open before Shi Qingxuan. Because he could not stand if… He needed to know is there a chance, as tiny as it was, to sort somehow things out between them.

The strangest thing about the whole situation was how easily and eagerly Shi Qingxuan accepted him back. They have not spoken of Shi Wudu not even once until now that they had to go back to Black Water Island. Even so, He Xuan was amazed by just how… needed? Welcomed? He was for Shi Qingxuan. There was a possibility Shi Qingxuan bears with him out of guilt, thinking that his life is worthless so why not let He Xuan do whatever he wants with it. He Xuan didn’t ask him of it directly. He hoped it is not like that but he never asked, never wishing to hear the answer. Perhaps he was afraid to learn the truth after all. How pitiful of him.

“Anything?” Shi Qingxuan’s voice sounded next to his ear, snapping him out of it.

He Xuan looked through the water, standing atop of his dragon, gliding peacefully through the waves.

“No. But last time I checked I didn’t sense anything strange either.”

 

* * *

Shi Qingxuan hummed and looked around, “He-xiong, but what exactly?..” He didn’t manage to finish. Both he and He Xuan suddenly felt there was nothing under their feet, as something abruptly pulled the dragon down to the depths.

“Hold on to me!” He Xuan immediately commanded, and Shi Qingxuan wrapped his arms around his waist, clutching onto the belt.

“He-xiong!” He cried, as they collapsed into the water.

“Don’t let go!” Shi Qingxuan would not let go for life, but the water – it was not like the last time, it felt different all of a sudden. Black water sank ships, true enough, and it was dark, nothing to be seen beneath the surface, leaving no chance for the living beings to escape. Now it was icy though, so cold Shi Qingxuan’s teeth immediately began to clatter, and its shade was blue rather than black, at least that of the water around them.

There was a movement on the side and Shi Qingxuan’s eyes bulged, as he saw He Xuan’s bony dragon resurface at once, trapped in a huge chunk of ice! He pointed at it wordlessly with a shaking finger. He Xuan’s face was gloomy and ominous as never before.

“Shi Qingxuan,” he began but trailed off. As Shi Qingxuan looked down, he suddenly saw a long twirling string of half-iced bluish water grabbing onto He Xuan’s ankle, yanking him down.

“HE-XIONG!” In the next moment, both were pulled beneath water surface.

He Xuan detached Shi Qingxuan’s hands off his waist the moment they were under water.

“Don’t panic. I’ll deal with it,” Shi Qingxuan heard his voice coming via spiritual communication array, “Let the waves carry you to the land, then wait.”

“He-xio…”

“No time! Go!” Shi Qingxuan felt He Xuan harshly pushed him away. He struggled to reach out to grab him again, but his hand only slid through the water. His mind already began to panic in spite of He Xuan’s order, but the next moment Shi Qingxuan resurfaced and gasped for air, feeling the current is carrying him away just as He Xuan said. Black water enveloped him from the sides, pushing the bluish one away, and both he and the dragon were speedily carried towards Black Water Island – the closest land there was around.

Once he collapsed onto the shore, soaked to the bone, Shi Qingxuan jumped to his feet and ran into the shallow, desperately staring to the distance.

“HE-XIONG!” He cried, “HE-XIONG, WHERE ARE YOU?”

“He-xiong?” He tried spiritual communication array as well.

Silence. Well, it is not as if he would have drowned, right? Just busy fighting off those currents, right?

The bony dragon that lay upon the shore along with Shi Qingxuan moved inside his ice cube. Cracks appeared all over its surface, and then with a roar he shattered that shell, fled into the sea, ready for battle, and dove down.

Shi Qingxuan was shaking from head to toe. Then he heard a clearly frightened chirp on the side and noticed little Min sprawled on the sand among the ice shards. Shi Qingxuan lifted it from the ground, and Min glued to his wrist once more, apparently never wanting to leave his side again.

 

* * *

His waters never disobeyed him, not even once. Water was his natural habitat and he controlled it with ease. It is only that these were not his waters. He Xuan could tell the difference the moment he felt that ice-cold current. He made sure Shi Qingxuan is on land, safe and sound, and only then his eyes snapped open, and hands moved to form a seal. Darkness exploded around him, pushing blue currents aside. Several ice arrows came onto him, rapidly gliding through the water. He Xuan shattered them with the whip, and fled for surface. He would not have drowned in any case, but he wanted to lurk out whomever it was in daylight to see.

Two small fish skeletons located themselves under his feet, allowing He Xuan to float in midair, as he waited. He saw Black Water Island in a distance and small figure of Shi Qingxuan upon the shore.

“Stay back,” he sent through spiritual communication array, “Don’t interfere. Get away from the water.”

“O-Okay,” a meek reply came and Shi Qingxuan did take a few steps back, further from the waterline.

The next moment several icy pillars emerged from the depths, all coming for He Xuan at once. He shattered them with the whip, but more came. He Xuan’s dragons came clashing with those pillars, roaring in rage and fighting alongside him. Skies grew dark and gray. There wasn’t any lightning or rain, but instead few snowflakes flew down – it began to snow.

“You…” He Xuan uttered with a deep, dark hatred. Truth is, the moment that current pulled him down, he already knew who it could be – the only one, in fact, who it could be. After all, the scene just now was also reversed – like those letters in his bedroom, like… that failed Heavenly Calamity.

“How dare you…”

A cold hoarse laughter rang in the air mixing in with the falling snow.

“Why wouldn’t I dare? Aren’t I doing the same thing you did to me the last time? Aren’t I ‘Water Tyrant’ after all and always doing things at my will?”

A person clad in white robes with blue ornaments appeared on the top of one of the pillars right in front of He Xuan. Back at the shore, Shi Qingxuan stared and covered his mouth in a shock.

“G-Ge?” He whispered.

 

* * *

Shi Wudu stood atop of the pillar, looking at He Xuan with open disdain across his face. The white fabric was covering his neck, and He Xuan could not see just how he attached his head back on. His arms though… they were made of ice from elbows down, ice and water, the way He Xuan saw it. Because he, well, burned Shi Wudu’s arms that day. Those damn arms that dared to strangle Shi Qingxuan. Until now, He Xuan would not bet for sure on the fact Shi Wudu would have stopped before Shi Qingxuan died for real.

“I should’ve burned and destroyed all of your ashes away. My bad.”

Shi Wudu laughed. His clothes fluttered on the wind, along with his hair. The only thing he missed for his appearance to be complete was his Water Master’s fan, but He Xuan reckoned he no longer needed it.

“Yes, you should have. But you’re a failure to begin with, a loser for life, so I’m not surprised.”

Last time He Xuan let those words provoke him. This time he was more cautious about it and said nothing. “Water Tyrant,” he asked instead, “Without going inside of Mount TongLu… how did you do it?”

“From what I heard, TongLu is the fastest way,” Shi Wudu shrugged nonchalantly, “But not the only one.”

“I see.” Should one look from the side, one would have thought it is just a casual chatter of old acquaintances. But every single word was weighed and measured before speaking, laced with deep loath on the both sides. He Xuan smirked bitterly, “I had a hunch you might’ve returned to come after me, but I’ve expected a ghost.”

“Impressed?”

“Quite so. To make it into a Supreme by oneself in such a short amount of time – as expected of high ranked god such as you’ve been, Water Tyrant.” Snowflakes were quietly falling around them, melting once they came to touch with the water beneath, “What do you want from me?”

Shi Wudu arched an eyebrow, “To make sure this time you die for real. To let you evolve into vengeful spirit and sneak up to heavens was my mistake,” with that, he charged forward.

 

* * *

Shi Qingxuan was watching their battle with growing horror. He could not utter a word from the shock, he just watched as his two most important people were mercilessly attacking each other right in front of him.

“Stop it…” He mouthed.

He heard Shi Wudu’s words. To think his brother who once was the second strongest god turned into the Supreme demon – that was already unbearable to him. Not that he had anything against the Supremes, knowing Hua Cheng and He Xuan for such a long time, but… not his brother like that too? Please, not his brother? He was a god, how can he be a demon now?

“Stop it, please…”

Now they… now they both are…

“Ge, what are you…”

Shi Qingxuan grieved over his brother’s death. Of course he did. He knew his brother deserved all of that for his hideous crime. He knew both of them deserved what they got. In fact, He Xuan went easy on… well, not on his brother certainly, but on him – yes, he went easy. Shi Qingxuan could not, could not just bring himself to hate He Xuan. Because he knew the other side of him. Because he knew, deep down inside he knew that ‘Ming-xiong’ was not entirely fake, that behind the harsh surface and ruthless words there was a heart. There always has been!

But his brother too was important to him, he loved him dearly, all of their lives they took care for each other. And Shi Qingxuan felt guilty in front of both of them. One – for robbing off his fate and divinity, making him go through hell on earth; another – for making commit atrocious sin for his sake.

“Both of you, I beg you…”

How, just how could he choose now between them? How could he even think of making a choice? They were equally dear to him, no matter what, and Shi Qingxuan choked on the words, overwhelmed with feelings bursting inside him, as he stood on the shore, all alone, and forced to watch his brother and his…

“And your what?” A small voice in the back of his head whispered, “Just who is he to you? Best friend? Lover? Or maybe a demon who took all of the good things you had in your life away?”

Shi Qingxuan closed his ears with his palms and panted.

“Shup up.”

There was something stirring inside him, like a wind slowly descending from the skies to connect with the ground and make it into a destructive tornado.

“You are so useless, Qingxuan, you’ve always been,” the voice continued, “Because you’re a fraud.”

“Shut up! I know that!”

Shi Qingxuan looked up just to see his brother delivering a devastating blow to He Xuan, who doubled over and coughed up blood. Something snapped in his mind and heart. Not even thinking of what is he doing, Shi Qingxuan raised both of his hands to the skies in a waving gesture.

“STOP IT, THE BOTH OF YOU JUST STOP IT!!!” He roared, and the wind, razor-like sharp wind rose from the ground and scattered both Shi Wudu and He Xuan away from each other.

The two ‘whams’ were heard, as they fell upon the sand on the both of Shi Qingxuan’s sides. Snow and storm immediately subsided and stopped. Shi Qingxuan’s hands trembled, and then he coughed up a mouthful of blood and collapsed down, his vision blurring.

Shi Wudu was the first one to recover from the hit.

“Qingxuan!” He exclaimed and rushed towards him, “Qingxuan!” He lifted his head into his lap, “It’s okay now, ge is here for you.”

“Get… away… from him!” He Xuan was crawling towards them from the other side, his left leg dragging behind at an unnatural angle.

“Get lost, you!” Shi Wudu raised his arm, and knocked He Xuan several feet away with a blast.

Shi Qingxuan’s lips moved, “Ge…” He whispered, and then lost his consciousness. Shi Wudu’s face jerked, he took Shi Qingxuan in his arms, and then suddenly dove down the sea, leaving He Xuan alone upon the shore.

 

* * *

Shi Wudu. Him again. Taking away Shi Qingxuan from him, destroying that fragile peace they managed to achieve.

And Qingxuan and his “ge”. Once again choosing his brother over him. Once again showing not a trace of doubt over the choice.

He Xuan’s hand twitched and grabbed a handful of sand, squeezing it to dust between his fingers. His heart filled with flames of rage and bitterness. Even if he pulls himself up right now, even if he goes after Shi Qingxuan… Will it not be futile? Will not Shi Qingxuan just tell him to go away and stay with his beloved brother?

He Xuan screamed with anger, sending water splashes at random, hissing through gritted teeth.

One could guess easily that Shi Wudu managed to raise some hideout or something down in the depths, perhaps at the bottom of the sea. It will not be that difficult for He Xuan, even in his current condition, to sneak inside. Question is… should he?

Just then, a black pair of boots with silver chains came into his view.

THUD

He Xuan’s pupils shrank, as Crescent Moon Earth Master’s Shovel was casually tossed to the ground next to him.

“The hell are you doing, lying there self-pitying?” Hua Cheng tsked and put his hands over his hips, “What a pitiful sight you are, Black Water. And to think I was hoping you’d deal with it yourself.”

Chapter Text

* * *

Once upon a time when he still was ‘Ming Yi’, He Xuan found himself clasped into a chair in Shi Qingxuan’s chamber at Wind Master’s palace.

“I love your hair, Ming-xiong!” Shi Qingxuan happily declared, “So I’m gonna do it for you now!” Before he could protest or let out a word, He Xuan found himself staring at Shi Qingxuan’s reflection in the mirror and feeling a comb softly passing through his hair. The feeling and that scene made him freeze in the chair, eyes widely opened, as he watched Shi Qingxuan. Because… in that another life, hundreds of years ago, it was his sister who had done his hair. His little sister, who loved him and loved to take care of him. Shi Qingxuan happily moved the comb, humming a tune, while He Xuan was screaming inside. He looked so happy, so carefree and… so much like her that moment.

“Sheng-lao, I’ll do it for you!”

“Sheng-lao, you look so pretty today!”

“Sheng-lao, you’ll make it this time for sure!”

“Sheng-lao, please, smile, it’ll be alright, I promise!”

It was not alright. It was never alright afterwards. Oh, god, it was never alright.

He Xuan’s hands trembled. Shi Qingxuan stopped, frowning slightly, “Ming-xiong?”

He Xuan suddenly stood up and fled, unable to utter any word, afraid that all of his mask, everything is going to fall apart the moment he opens his mouth. Everything he has been building up so hard for all these years would thus be destroyed.

“Ming-xiong, if you hate my skills so much, you should’ve at least told me!” Shi Qingxuan was going after him, “Besides, I’m not all that horrible, come on!”

I don’t hate it. I love it too much, and that is why it hurts so bad.

“Don’t come!” He snarled back, locking himself in one of the rooms, collapsing to his knees. It hurt. It hurt so much inside, it made him twist over in pain, as if he was in that prison again, almost the same pain as of starvation pierced through his body, making him sob aloud. For he longed so bad for this, for this feeling of warmness and coziness. For someone to take care of him, for someone to merely comb his hair.

Sister… it’s all their fault, sister, all their fault. I can never forget. Never forget, never forget, neverforgetneverforgetneverforgive…

“Ming-xiong!” Shi Qingxuan’s voice filled with an honest worry, “Are you alright? What’s wrong?”

My name is wrong. Everything is wrong. You are wrong. You and your bloody brother made this all wrong. I hate you both.

“Nothing,” He Xuan managed to choke, “Not feeling well.”

“I told you not to eat too much at the feast yesterday!”

I hate you. It hurts. Please, go away.

“Get lost,” he grunted, silently screaming with all of his might. In that moment, He Xuan was this close to breaking apart and… what? Going insane? Killing Shi Qingxuan on the spot? He did not know. All he knew in that moment of agony was that…

I hate you so much because… I actually… like you. So please… GO AWAY.

 

* * *

“Oi, Black Water, are you even listening?” For a moment there, He Xuan thought Hua Cheng was actually going to kick him with his boot. He rolled over and climbed to his feet. He slapped a hand over his left leg, his face twisting for a second, then relaxed and dusted off sand, standing straight once more.

“Crimson Rain Sought Flower. What an honour.” He Xuan eyed the shovel, leaned down then picked it up, “What for?”

Hua Cheng shrugged, “It’s your trophy toy after all.”

“Hmph.”

“You are not this weak,” Hua Cheng was studying his appearance, “So what happened?”

“Shi Wudu is back as the Supreme.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“You! Then why ask?”

“I asked for a different thing,” Hua Cheng came closer, peering into his face, “The last time you had him cooked and served at your plate with ease. What happened now?”

He Xuan averted his gaze, “He’s too strong?” He offered.

“Bullshit. What’s wrong with your spiritual powers? Your level should be higher than this, even if he’s been a god once.”

“…I know.”

Hua Cheng was going to say more, but in the end changed his mind and glanced at the sea instead, “Not going after your boyfriend?”

He Xuan fell silent for a while. Then: “Is there a point? He reunited with his precious brother. Happy ending for everybody once again.”

Hua Cheng sighed, “I kind of thought you’d be less dense on this.”

“On what?”

“You’re really starting to piss me off, Black Water. Do I need to spell it out for you? Well then: if I listened to whatever people were saying about His Highness instead of listening to His Highness himself, I would have given up centuries ago.”

“Qingxuan reached for him,” He Xuan hissed, “He spoke his name in his sleep when he was ill, he is always thinking about him, and now too he just gladly went down with him! It’s always him, always Shi Wudu whom Qingxuan chooses over me! No matter what I do, I’ll never be equal in his eyes, I’ll never overshadow his magnificent almighty brother!”

Hua Cheng let out another sigh, “Remember when I hit you because you endangered His Highness?”

He Xuan: “…”

Hua Cheng: “I’m about to do the same again. Get digging, you pitiful jerk. You know where his temporal residence is, right?”

He Xuan clutched the shovel, his face unreadable, “Not so far from here there’s an underwater cliff with caves. I reckon he might’ve used it to his purposes.”

“A sea’s bottom is still a bottom and there’s ground beneath,” Hua Cheng nodded towards the shovel, “So there.”

“Why are you here, Hua Cheng?” He Xuan asked tiredly, for the first time using the latter’s name instead of the title, “You told me to back off and not involve His Highness, and yet you yourself…”

“I’m okay with the current master of the seas,” Hua Cheng replied coldly, “Don’t want getting used to Water Tyrant. So please, do me a favor, and settle your personal life already, once and for good of us all?”

…He Xuan set to digging.

 

* * *

When Shi Qingxuan came to his senses, he was lying on the bed. It all brought him a strong sense of déjà vu, as his arms and legs were tied with silk tapes just like that time in heavens. He lifted his head, and his eyes widened at once, “Ge!”

Shi Wudu raised his head and looked at him, then smiled, “Qingxuan. How are you feeling?”

“Ge, where are we?”’ Shi Qingxuan looked around – it seemed that all the walls and ceilings of this place were made of… ice?

“It’s just something I came up with,” Shi Wudu answered patiently, “We’re underwater, but I made this impenetrable to water, so it’s okay for you to be here.”

“Ge,” Shi Qingxuan’s lips trembled, “How did you become like this? Where is He-xi...” he trailed off, seeing Shi Wudu’s expression and corrected himself, “Where is Black Water?”

“Who cares?” Shi Wudu twisted his face in disgust, “Can’t believe I once lost to this pathetic piece of junk.”

Shi Qingxuan closed his eyes, feeling a tear sliding down his cheek, “He’s not like that…” Of course, he wouldn’t say it out loud in front of Shi Wudu.

“Qingxuan.”

“Yes?”

“What has he done to you? Why were you with him?”

Shi Qingxuan swallowed, “I was… We were… there was something off with his place, so we went to check it out…”

“There was something wrong, yes,” Shi Wudu nodded, “I was there. But you know what I meant. ‘We’ went to check? Since when are you all good with him? Is it because you feel guilty in front of him for his fate?” He asked bluntly, “Then don’t, because it has nothing to do with you, it was mine and mine only decision to make at the time.”

Only it had everything to do with him, actually. Every little bit of it. Shi Qingxuan lowered his gaze, “You tied me up.”

“I was afraid you’d run again. The last time you did, that did not go too well. Want me to untie you?”

“Please do. I won’t run, promise.” Shi Wudu came to his side, untied his legs first, and then left arm. At his right arm he halted, “What is this piece of trash?” Shi Qingxuan’s pupils shrank. Min-xiong!

“No, don’t!” He cried, but Shi Wudu already jerked Min off his wrist and crushed it under his foot! A lone desperate chirp was heard, and Shi Qingxuan threw himself on the floor, biting back tears, as he looked at scattered and crushed tiny bones, “Ge, why would you kill Min-xiong?! Why would you?! It was a gift!” Shi Qingxuan had never felt so lost and miserable in his life before. He never meant to… this was not even supposed to be happening! Why? Why everything had to go wrong again, just as it started to be alright?

Shi Wudu was taken aback first, but then he frowned. Through tears, Shi Qingxuan vaguely noticed he has put on long white gloves. The fabric around his neck loosened a little, and Shi Qingxuan saw piece of the long dark reddish scar. Shi Wudu’s eyes lit up in rage, “So my guess wasn’t wrong,” he said darkly, “He’s somehow manipulating you, isn’t he? What has he done?”

“Ge, it’s nothing like that!” Shi Qingxuan exclaimed, “He-xiong never did…” Oops. Too late.

“‘He-xiong’?” Shi Wudu’s voice was as cold as the ice this place was made of, “Shi Qingxuan, are you out of your mind? Is this the same person we are talking about? The Black Water Demon Xuan, who took my life in front of you and what he did to you after that, I can’t even imagine…”

“I know!” Shi Qingxuan pressed the collected remains of Min to his chest, “I know what he’s done, you don’t need to remind me! I have been missing you with every bit of my whole being every day, wishing to die as well! But, ge, this is… it’s not what it seems like! Young Master He is not like…” Shi Qingxuan halted. He is not like… what? Just what can he say to Shi Wudu about it? He Xuan killed him, he won’t hear any explanation or anything at all. Has he… has he gone crazy maybe? Shi Qingxuan remembered his brother’s last words, how he purposely provoked He Xuan. He did it to protect Shi Qingxuan from committing murder, yes, but nonetheless those were such awful things to say. No, no. His brother is not mad, he has never been. But, but…

“Some things have changed, ge,” Shi Qingxuan said quietly, his hair covering his face.

Shi Wudu looked at him from above, “I’ve never thought you’d be so immature, Qingxuan. To trust blindly to your enemy – just what did he have to say to you to make you fall into his embrace after he killed me, your brother? You are… disappointing me,” Qingxuan flinched at his words, but did not object anything, “I have something to do here, so stay put for a while. After we’ll talk seriously,” Shi Wudu turned away from him and left.

Shi Qingxuan, seeing his brother leave, finally let himself go, and wept on his knees, still squeezing Min’s remnants in his hands, “Ge,” he sobbed barely audible, “Why are you like this, ge? Weren’t you the one who wronged He-xiong in the first place? So why are you still?..”

Shi Qingxuan didn’t notice how fresh light breeze ruffled his hair coming through this underwater ice palace – a place breeze was never supposed to blow into at all.

 

* * *

“Ling Wen… I’m afraid something’s happened.”

Silence on the other end of spiritual communication array made Xie Lian doubt his spiritual powers – so long it lasted. Then: “Your Highness. Not again?”

“It’s about the Water Master.”

“…Wait right there, Your Highness.”

“Alright,” it’s not that he was planning into going anywhere today, since Hua Cheng warned him to stay in Puji Shrine and wait for him. Apparently, something big was going on among the Supremes and Hua Cheng was worried. But the feeling went both ways! Xie Lian was worried about him too, and actually missed him already…

The next moment Xie Lian blinked in surprise – both Ling Wen and Pei Ming appeared before the gates of Puji Shrine.

“What about Shui-shixiong?” Pei Ming immediately demanded. Ling Wen was in her usual female form, but looking rather grim and clearly not expecting any good news.

Xie Lian smiled guiltily, “San Lang met with Lord Black Water recently,” he reported, “It appears that… Lord Water Master has returned, but as a demon. A Supreme one.”

Ling Wen and Pei Ming looked at each other, “No way,” they spoke in unison.

“Mount TongLu is locked,” Ling Wen shook her head, “Impossible. And even if – we would have known? Crimson Rain Sought Flower would have known? Or he purposely kept that information away from us?”

“No, no, it’s nothing like that,” Xie Lian waved his hands, “San Lang only found out today and he informed me to update you on that matter.”

“Why would he suddenly be willing to assist heavens?” Pei Ming asked.

Xie Lian’s polite smile faded, “Because Lord Water Master fought a battle with Lord Black Water and took away Lord Wind Master in a process,” he briefly explained.

“…Shui-shixiong… did… what?” Pei Ming muttered, stunned. Ling Wen simply covered her face with her hands and exhaled, cursing silently.

“San Lang is now with Lord Black Water,” Xie Lian further explained, “I don’t really know what they both are planning on, but…”

Pei Ming’s face darkened even more, “They won’t be hurting Shui-shixiong again, would they?”

“San Lang never did hurt him, actually,” Xie Lian said, feeling rather awkward in this situation, “Moreover, Lord Wind Master is currently mortal and I’m afraid now that he’s been dragged into that matter something could’ve happened to him as well. As for Mount TongLu,” he slightly bowed towards Ling Wen, “San Lang told me it truly is the fastest way to cultivate into a Supreme, but there are other ways too. Seeing Lord Water Master becoming one so fast… Well, I would say it is because he was a god, and the second strongest one, too. So naturally he made it.”

“Your Highness,” Ling Wen knit her brows, “Have you heard anything more?”

“No,” Xie Lian shook his head, “This is all San Lang told me.”

“I see. Thank you, Your Highness.”

“My Lords, what are you going to do about it?”

They’ve exchanged looks. Ling Wen raised her hands and massaged her temples, “I wish I knew, Your Highness,” she said listlessly, “I wish I knew.”

Chapter Text

* * *

Last time He Xuan was digging like this to get through to Shi Qingxuan in order to take him away for his lair and lurk out Shi Wudu. That did not all go as planned, thanks to Xie Lian and Hua Cheng.

This time He Xuan was digging… He stopped for a moment. Because Hua Cheng told him to? Unlikely. But… Qingxuan… Shi Qingxuan. It is all about Shi Qingxuan. Why does it have to be so complicated? For so many years, he was alone, endured all alone, and it seemed to be fine. However, when it came to the real thing, He Xuan was unable to bear it without Shi Qingxuan. Somehow, through the years side by side he grew attached to him in the end. Even though Shi Qingxuan himself was, perhaps, still attached to that ‘Ming Yi’ person rather than He Xuan. He did not get to know the real He Xuan well just yet. They have spent too little time together before Shi Wudu appeared to mess things up again.

“Black Water,” threatening voice came from behind, followed by several silver butterflies providing faint light underground, “Keep digging faster or I swear I’ll kick you. I’ve also got someone waiting for me.”

“Then you shouldn’t have come!” He Xuan snapped back.

Hua Cheng was leisurely walking behind, seemingly unconcerned about the possible threat ahead. Well, it is not as if He Xuan counted on him, should there be another battle. Hua Cheng will not protect anyone but his ge ge, so it’s useless to rely on him. Why he was still here though, puzzled He Xuan.

After a while, he stopped and looked above. Shi Qingxuan supposed to be there – He Xuan was now bound to him and felt his presence clearly. Well, at least one useful effect from his deed. Perhaps, the only effect that is useful to him personally.

“I’ll wait here. Hurry up, you,” Hua Cheng grunted.

He Xuan glanced at him, but said nothing, digging upwards instead.

 

* * *

Shi Qingxuan was sitting on the floor next to bed, his face buried in his knees. Hearing something rustle, he raised his head and almost yelped, seeing a hole appearing in the floor, but stopped himself in time. His heart was racing rapidly.

“Not again,” the thought was faint, but still brought him a sense of dread. Shi Qingxuan silently watched, as He Xuan climbed out of the hole with the Earth Master’s shovel. For a while, the two of them quietly watched each other.

“Have I come in vain?” He Xuan asked.

Shi Qingxuan blinked, shaking off his stiffness, and stirred, “What… what do you mean, He-xiong? Are you alright? Did I hurt you back on the shore?”

He Xuan answered none of this, just kept watching him. Then, “I just want to know, Shi Qingxuan. This time… will you choose your brother over me again? If so, I’ll take my leave.”

Shi Qingxuan’s eyes widened, “He-xiong?”

He Xuan stood there, leaning at the shovel, his appearance all messed up and gloomy. There was something in his eyes Shi Qingxuan could not comprehend, that expression… Hearing no answer, He Xuan whipped around, “I see,” he said softly, almost… sadly, “Well, then…” He trailed off and looked at his sleeve. Shi Qingxuan jumped to his feet and grabbed the still wet dark fabric with both of his hands.

“Don’t go,” he pleaded in whisper, “Please, don’t go.”

He Xuan’s face twitched, then, suddenly, his expression softened somewhat, “Are you sure?”

Shi Qingxuan still held him by one arm, another tucked in his own sleeve and took Min’s bones out, “Can you fix him?”

He Xuan pursed his lips.

“Shi Wudu,” he spat with deep, hidden rage.

Shi Qingxuan nodded.

“Not all things can be repaired easily.” Shi Qingxuan’s hand upon his sleeve trembled, “But I’ll give it a try once this mess is over,” He Xuan added.

“I’m cold, He-xiong,” Shi Qingxuan quietly said, still not letting him go, as if he was afraid the moment he loosens his grip, He Xuan would disappear.

He Xuan undressed his outer robe and wrapped it around Shi Qingxuan’s shoulders, “It’s wet though,” he said, “But so if yours. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought you along.”

“No,” Shi Qingxuan shook his head, “It is all the better you let me see for myself.”

He Xuan closed his eyes for a moment. It felt so much more difficult and painful than he has expected, “Let’s go before you catch another cold, Qingxuan,” he said, and jumped into the hole with Shi Qingxuan following him closely behind.

 

* * *

Silvery light surprised Shi Qingxuan even more than Earth Master’s shovel, “Crimson Rain Sought Flower, you’re here too?” He exclaimed, seeing Hua Cheng inside of the tunnel.

“Let us say I’m concerned about the balance between the Supremes in our underworld,” Hua Cheng smiled emptily.

He Xuan gave away a weird sound – half-snort, half-laugh, while digging back to the shore, but in this gloom, Shi Qingxuan could not see his expression.

“Everyone… I’m sorry for the trouble,” Shi Qingxuan said, “I never thought that ge… I… I’m sorry.”

“There is nothing you should be apologizing for,” He Xuan retorted harshly, “Him being such a…” he halted, glanced at Shi Qingxuan and continued, “Anyway, his character is not your fault.”

“But everything else is.”

“Qingxuan,” He Xuan stopped digging and turned around to face him, “Would you, please, not take every single decision another person made as your fault? If anyone is to blame in the whole situation – it is Shi Wudu and I. Not you. It has never been you.”

“But I was allowed to be happy and unaware of anything. You said it yourself back then.”

“Yes. I did. Well,” He Xuan shrugged and turned away, “I have come to the conclusion it is not a bad thing after all?”

“My god, Black Water,” Hua Cheng remarked from behind, “If you behave like this with everyone, no wonder you’ve been alone for hundreds of years and have no friends.”

“As if you have plenty,” He Xuan replied coldly.

“Even if it’s only ge ge, it’s still more than you’ll ever…”

“Crimson Rain Sought Flower!”

“Tell me I’m wrong. Yes, do tell me, I’m eager to hear.”

“You!”

Shi Qingxuan scratched the back of his head and could not suppress an awkward laugh. These two, really… Nobody noticed how faint draft passed through the tunnel, as if embracing them from the sides.

Once they have all climbed up the shore and the hole closed behind, they looked around. The skies and sea were usual calm and grim, soft breeze was blowing along the coastline.

“So… what now?” Hua Cheng asked.

“Nether Water Manor,” He Xuan answered, “Distance Shortening array. You better report everything to His Highness and have him pass it on directly to heavens. After all, Shi Wudu is supposed to be their headache, not ours.”

“As you wish,” Hua Cheng smirked at He Xuan and went towards the forest, “Your pets better not sneak up on me,” he called from among the trees, “Or you’ll have to find new ones!”

He Xuan rolled his eyes, “My, my, how I fright.”

Shi Qingxuan chuckled, “You two really get along well, I had no idea.”

“Ugh,” He Xuan hid Earth Master’s shovel and twisted his face in annoyance, “He is such a…” As he took a step forward, however, he did not manage to finish. Thick wall of ice emerged from the ground at once, separating him from Hua Cheng, trapping him and Shi Qingxuan on the shore.

“Where do you think you’re going with my brother again?” Shi Wudu hissed, stepping onto the sand, his eyes glaring, “Black Water Demon Xuan! You and I aren’t finished yet!”

 

* * *

“Ge,” Shi Qingxuan began.

“Stay out of it!” Shi Wudu commanded, as he was walking closer and closer to He Xuan, “I’ve had enough of you, Black Water. Why won’t you just die at once?!”

He Xuan pushed Shi Qingxuan behind him, “Stay away. Don’t endanger yourself.” He looked at Shi Wudu and smirked, “Maybe, because I’m already dead? Do not forget, Shi Wudu – you may be a creation of my miscalculation, but as much as you are mine creation, I am yours. You made me into this to begin with, it was your own doing!”

“Will you two fight again?” Shi Qingxuan asked both of them hopelessly. In this moment, he hated to be mortal, unable to do anything. Just earlier, how did he manage to call forth the wind? Could he do it again? Could he do something at all?

“What am I supposed to do, throw a feast in his honour?” Shi Wudu retorted and without further ado directed ice arrows at He Xuan.

He Xuan avoided those, and once again extended his whip, coming at Shi Wudu, who has put out a sword made of unbreakable ice. They engaged in a close combat fight this time, but Shi Qingxuan could clearly see how wrong things were going. He noticed it back at the tunnel yet – that He Xuan was limping slightly on his left foot and his stance was a bit lame. Shi Qingxuan clenched his fists, feeling his heart tearing into pieces.

Because he could not choose between them. He would not choose between them! Shi Qingxuan thought about it again, and again, and again, and there was no possible chance for him to choose anybody from the two. In his eyes both Shi Wudu and He Xuan were equally precious to him, albeit in different ways.

“What happened?” Shi Wudu teased, sword clashing with He Xuan’s whip, “Lost your strength all of a sudden? And to think you were all high and mighty, huh?”

He Xuan did not utter a reply. He had a hard time defending himself. Shi Wudu was incredibly fast, nothing like the last time when he was alive. The thought made He Xuan’s lips jerk up in a regretful smirk, “You were weaker alive,” he commented, “Death suits you well, Shi Wudu.”

“Same goes for you, He Xuan.”

In one moment, He Xuan tripped with his left foot, and before he could regain his stance, Shi Wudu’s ice sword came swinging down.

Drip. Drip, drip, drip.

Shi Qingxuan screamed in horror, when he saw He Xuan’s right arm falling to the ground, cut off his shoulder. Shi Wudu extended his palm forward and set it ablaze with bluish flames. He Xuan staggered backwards, blood dripping over the sand.

“Fish bones?” Shi Wudu laughed, looking at the arm vanishing in flames, “Well, it’s alright, you are fish in a way. An arm for an arm,” he made a courtesy bow, mockingly. Then he sent a blast from his palm, kicking He Xuan into that ice wall around the coast.

“GE, STOP IT!” Shi Qingxuan cried at the top of his lungs. He watched, terrified, as more blood was slowly dripping down from the corner of He Xuan’s mouth and from his shoulder.

“Stay… away!” He Xuan coughed and picked up his whip with the remaining left hand.

Looking at them fight was unbearable as it was. But the thing his brother casually remarked just now, made Shi Qingxuan freeze in a horrifying guess. Fish bones. Fish bones? Aren’t those… supposed to be… inside of him? Not inside of He Xuan? He looked upon He Xuan’s face. He Xuan returned the look and Shi Qingxuan saw an answer in his eyes all too clear. Then He Xuan snapped his whip and charged once more towards Shi Wudu.

“Why did you… He-xiong… WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO YOURSELF?!” Shi Qingxuan cried in despair. Just then, Shi Wudu too went into an attack.

Shi Qingxuan’s eyes flashed and he ran forward in between the two, the wind making a swishing sound going alongside him. He Xuan’s eyes widened as he saw Shi Qingxuan coming their way. Shi Wudu’s face twisted as well – both were going in speed onto each other with their weapons bared… He Xuan purposely made a turn, opening himself before Shi Wudu, but shielding Shi Qingxuan in the process. Shi Wudu abruptly closed his palm, and He Xuan felt several icicles piercing through his body. He did not utter a scream, but his face twisted in agony, as he collapsed onto the ground, unmoving.

“HE-XIONG!” Shi Qingxuan made a step towards him, the wind now swooshing around in an uncontrollable storm.

But several things happened at once, as that second a lightning suddenly struck down from heavens with a roaring sound! Heavenly Calamity?! But…

Shi Wudu’s pupils shrank, hair on the back of his head electrified.

“He-xio…” Shi Qingxuan breathed, and the next moment he was being pulled up… into an ascention!

 

* * *

Once Shi Qingxuan was gone, the storm calmed at once. Just then, Shi Wudu saw his ice wall shattering, smashed into dust by thousands of silver butterflies. Hua Cheng stepped forward, collected and somber.

“Being you, I’d hurry up upstairs,” he remarked absently.

“What for?” Shi Wudu prepared for a trap.

“Because your brother is there, and he is about to do something he shouldn’t. He is about to jump back down, denying his divinity in order to stop you two from killing each other. In case you think I’m lying – His Highness is there and he has just reported it to me.”

Shi Wudu’s face dropped, “Qingxuan…” he mouthed. Hua Cheng tossed couple of dice to him, and Shi Wudu caught them with his hand.

“Go for that room in Nether Water Manor with Distance Shortening array,” Hua Cheng advised, “Then toss a dice. Whatever it will be doesn’t matter – it will bring you to His Highness’ palace in heavens. Stop your brother from making a mistake that will cost him too much.”

Shi Wudu hesitated, looking at Hua Cheng, then at lifeless He Xuan’s form on the sand, “Why would I trust you?”

“Because your brother is going to make the same thing I did eight hundred years ago,” Hua Cheng looked in Shi Wudu’s eyes, “In his case I’d be really worried about that choice, for there is no turning back.”

Shi Wudu was astonished, “So that rumor about you being a god was true?!”

Hua Cheng did not bother to answer. Shi Wudu clutched the dice in his fist, and then fled towards the forest.

The moment Shi Wudu disappeared from the sight Hua Cheng came to He Xuan and knelt beside him. He carefully turned him over and placed his head in his lap, one by one pulling those icicles from his body.

“Black Water, jokes aside,” Hua Cheng said quietly, looking both serious and frightening at the same time, “Tell me, what in the name of the three realms have you actually done to yourself?”

Chapter Text

* * *

He Xuan’s eyelashes fluttered, and he opened his eyes, “Qingxuan’s broken bones,” he was speaking barely audible, with an effort, pausing almost after each word, “I replaced them with mine. We are about the same height, so I figured it would work. I took fish bones for myself.”

“But there is more to it than that?” Hua Cheng demanded. True, by doing that, He Xuan weakened himself already, but that alone should not be such a menace and would not have decreased considerably his amount of spiritual powers. Unless…

“In order to add to his protection and to connect us so that I can tell how is he and where he is, I have injected those bones with my ashes.”

Hua Cheng closed his eye. So that was it. Ashes is demon’s weak spot, be it a Supreme or low-leveled ghost. To do so – to connect one’s ashes to a living being – that would make demon be dependable of that living being. Shi Qingxuan’s mind and heart were both in disarray, naturally, he would be weak right now, and so was He Xuan.

“Why?” Hua Cheng asked.

He Xuan smiled, “I think you should know the answer,” he lowered his lashes, “Should that person cease to exist, I have no point in living either.”

Blood and wounds covered He Xuan’s face and robes, and yet he was smiling, and that smile – its honesty and sincerity – was what amazed Hua Cheng the most. He has never seen He Xuan like this before, and they knew each other for hundreds of years.

“You stupid copycat,” he tsked.

He Xuan’s eyes widened, as the realization dawned on him, “You… Crimson Rain Sought Flower, you?..”

Hua Cheng did not answer, but the corners of his lips went down. He Xuan suddenly smirked, “You do realize that we, the almighty Supremes, just admitted to each other where our ashes lie?”

He Xuan and Hua Cheng glared at each other for a while, each reading, “Don’t even think about it” in another’s gaze. Then both gave it a small chuckle and turned their heads away. A splash of waves upon the sand sounded soothing in spite of everything going so wrong right now.

“Shi Wudu might have guessed too,” Hua Cheng then said, looking at the sea, “He could have sensed the darkness inside Lord Wind Master.”

He Xuan licked his bloodied lips, “Yes. He probably knows.”

Hua Cheng: “And you are alright with that?”

“You think he will go as far as to rip his brother’s limbs off to end me?”

“From what ge ge told me, he almost went as far as killing him once.”

He Xuan blinked, “Soul Shifting spell? Qingxuan never said that he was not alone at that time. I see… So that was how he knew I wasn’t ‘Ming Yi’.”

“I pulled ge ge back,” Hua Cheng replied dryly, “But not before he saw you tearing off Water Tyrant’s head.”

“Well, then,” He Xuan looked calm about it, “I cannot change anything back now. But in order to kill me, Shi Wudu will have to kill Qingxuan first.”

“Nice insurance policy.”

He Xuan slowly shook his head, “I did not do it because of that.”

“I know,” Hua Cheng said, “But Lord Wind Master doesn’t.”

“…En.”

“Can you walk?” Hua Cheng inquired.

“With a help, yes,” He Xuan studied his shoulder wound, expressionless, as if not caring about it at all. Icicles also pierced his chest, left leg and abdomen, but Hua Cheng knew he would not die of those wounds.

“Water Tyrant missed your heart by a thread,” Hua Cheng remarked, as he entwined He Xuan’s remaining arm around his neck, supporting his waist with his right hand, “Black Water, after this is over, your debt to me will increase to such heights you might as well just become my slave for eternity.”

“This ancestor will do whatever di di says,” He Xuan stated humbly. True, he was older when he died than Hua Cheng, but nonetheless, a drop of sweat formed upon Hua Cheng’s brow.

He tripped and almost fell together with He Xuan, “What did you call me just now? Have you completely lost your mind?” For a moment there, he thought he is hallucinating for real, because never before Hua Cheng saw He Xuan laughing as merrily as now, in spite of his wounds and situation at hand.

 

* * *

“Lord Wind Master, please, I beg you to calm down,” Xie Lian firmly held Shi Qingxuan by his shoulders, as the latter was panting deeply with his fists clenched, ready to run away back down from heavens despite the fact he has just passed through his Heavenly Calamity. They were at the main street of Heavenly Capital, and the welcoming bell stopped ringing just a few moments ago.

“How can I calm, Your Highness? Just tell me, how?! They will both…”

“…be fine, because San Lang is also there,” Xie Lian smiled reassuringly.

“They won’t,” Shi Qingxuan covered his face with his hands, “Ge won’t stop, ge is just like that. I can’t believe I ascended in that kind of situation. Why did I even ascend, I’m not worthy, it is got to be some mistake!”

“It is going to be alright,” Xie Lian repeated and stroked Shi Qingxuan’s back, “It is going to be alright. I promise,” he held an unshakable belief in Hua Cheng, and Hua Cheng told him to stay where he is and watch over Lord Wind Master.

Ling Wen and Pei Ming appeared at the end of the street, going towards them – they must have heard a bell and, of course, they have already known albeit not all about the situation down below.

“Shi Qingxuan!” Pei Ming exclaimed upon seeing him, “You have returned to us!”

“Yeah, so you can tell me I lack manners again,” Shi Qingxuan snapped back automatically, still concerned with another matters.

Pei Ming was taken aback, but before he could answer, Ling Wen smacked him with a book over his head to shut up, and nodded to Xie Lian, “Your Highness. What is going on?”

“Lord Wind Master has ascended.”

“That I see. Welcome back,” she bowed politely to Shi Qingxuan, “But down there…”

Xie Lian then noticed a person clad in white with blue ornaments at the end of the street coming their direction, “Lord Wind Master, Ling Wen, General Pei,” he quietly pointed towards him, “Look.”

Shi Qingxuan drew a sharp breath. Pei Ming and Ling Wen also looked around, and their faces dropped.

“Shui-shixiong?” Pei Ming uttered. Ling Wen silently watched him approach, her eyes big and wide.

“Qingxuan!” Shi Wudu yelled the moment he came closer, “Don’t you dare to think about jumping back down!”

“What have you done to He-xiong?” Shi Qingxuan demanded, “Where is he?”

Shi Wudu stopped, looking at all of them. He frowned, “What’s with these looks, you two?” He shot at Pei Ming and Ling Wen. Both shook their heads, still unable to say anything.

“Shui-shi…” Pei Ming choked on his words, overwhelmed with feelings. Ling Wen was also pale and clearly shaken. Shi Wudu turned away from them, facing Shi Qingxuan and Xie Lian.

“Qingxuan, since when are you this disobedient to me?”

Shi Qingxuan bit his lip, “Ge…”

Just then, Xie Lian saw another pair showing up at the end of the street. He exhaled with relief and patted Shi Qingxuan on the shoulder, “Here they are. I told you it is fine.”

Hua Cheng’s pace still managed to look lazy and leisure somehow, even though he was practically carrying He Xuan on his shoulders, “Ge ge,” he brightened upon seeing Xie Lian, “San Lang has been missing you.”

Xie Lian blushed slightly and cleared his throat, “Um…”

Before he continued, Ling Wen blurted in, “My lords!” She exclaimed sounding distressed, “Could you, the Supremes, please stop strolling Heavenly Capital as if it is your own back yard? This is outrageous!”

The three Supremes gloomily looked at each other. Hua Cheng supported He Xuan, but otherwise was unconcerned with the whole ordeal. Shi Wudu and He Xuan, however, studied each other faces with an open disgust. Before they could speak, though…

“This has to stop,” the quiet and somber voice Shi Qingxuan spoke in sounded so unlike him, that Shi Wudu frowned.

“What do you mean?”

Shi Qingxuan turned to Xie Lian and squeezed his hand gently, “It is okay, Your Highness. I’ll manage from here on. Thank you.” He went forward to the group of the three Supremes, his head held high. He Xuan watched from under his hair covering his face, leaning against Hua Cheng. “This has to stop,” Shi Qingxuan repeated, “Both of you have to stop. Because…” he halted, drew a breath, and continued, “Because if you will keep on fighting over me, out of hatred for one another, and all this, I’ll end myself here and now. I cannot choose between you two. And I refuse to,” he added quietly, “So, unless you cease the enmity between yourselves… I will have myself killed rather than watch either of you disappear. It is too much for me, I cannot bear it any longer.”

 

* * *

Shi Wudu’s eyes met He Xuan’s gaze. He Xuan still thought of him low. He still hated him. And he will hate, that was just something way out of control. Every single misfortune encountered in his life was this man’s fault, so how could he possibly forgive? But then there was Shi Qingxuan standing right there, with his face twisted in pain looking at them, clearly scared of what is about to come. He Xuan figured it would be like this after all. Because it was true what Shi Qingxuan had said – he would not choose between them, and it was really simple – either He Xuan accepts that and goes along with it, or he loses Shi Qingxuan this time forever, because he will not forgive his brother’s second death.

It has been so long since He Xuan was alone. It has been so long since he longed for warmth beside him. Could he afford make yet another mistake? Hardly.

For Shi Qingxuan the choice was impossible, but for He Xuan it was all too obvious, albeit painful.

He Xuan slowly raised his head and looked at the heavenly officials in front of him, “I have already carried out my revenge,” he said simply, “If ripping Water Tyrant’s head off once did not help for him to gain at least some sense of remorse,” he nodded towards Shi Wudu, “Well, then, it’s just a truly hopeless case. But… I see no point in trying to do anything further. If I may also point it out – right now I have been acting solely out of self-defense.” He Xuan once again glanced at Shi Wudu.

“Water Tyrant missed your heart by a thread,” Hua Cheng said, but He Xuan knew better. Shi Wudu could not have missed and would not have missed if he wanted to. If so, then there could be only one conclusion why.

Shi Wudu’s face twitched at his words, and he turned away, looking as smug and full of himself as ever. However, Shi Qingxuan still waited for his answer: “Ge?”

Shi Wudu gritted his teeth, “How can you expect of me to?..”

Shi Qingxuan stomped his leg against the ground, “Because you are my brother! I have loved you and admired you for my entire life! And I know you have been taking care of me and the hideous things you have done were all for me, but…” with a sheer determination, Shi Qingxuan marched right up to He Xuan, then cupped his face and kissed him deeply in front of everybody.

Xie Lian: “…”

Ling Wen: “…”

Pei Ming: “…”

Shi Wudu: “…!”

Shi Qingxuan, with his face now red to the ears, turned to Shi Wudu again, “Yes, you are my big brother and forever will be one. But He-xiong is my beloved,” both He Xuan and Shi Wudu’s eyes widened at that, “And you will have to accept that, ge!”

Hua Cheng then muttered, “…and Black Water finally gets some.”

He Xuan was stunned, “Shut up!” True, they used to kiss, and even more, but that was before, back when he was ‘Ming Yi’ and, of course, Shi Qingxuan never did it so bluntly in front of everybody.

Shi Qingxuan clutched at his dirty, blood-soaked inner robes, still wearing He Xuan’s black outer robes. Shi Wudu just now seemed to pay attention at that too. Displeasure flew across his face, but he did not say anything, turning away. He pondered over it for a long time. Then, “If it is for you, Qingxuan, then…” He let go a sigh and threw back his head, looking at the stars that showed up in the evening sky. There was a long silence. Then he addressed to He Xuan, “Keep yourself away from me as far as possible, will you?”

“You said it yourself,” He Xuan retorted, “‘Well waters don’t interfere with rivers, we’ve ruled over our own domains.’” He cited with a chilling precision, “I still hate you, you know.”

Shi Wudu hmphed, “As if I like you.”

“Good.”

“Great.”

Shi Qingxuan’s gaze jumped from one to another. After both fell silent, he carefully asked, “So… have we all made a truce?”

“I suppose?” Shi Wudu said sourly.

Shi Qingxuan nodded, studied faces of everybody, then cleared his throat, “Ling Wen Zhen Jun, General Pei, Your Highness… does any of you have any sort of medicine for He-xiong, please?”

Surprisingly enough, Ling Wen first reacted to his request. She reached into her sleeve and held out a bottle, “It will not return his arm, though,” she noted.

“I’m aware,” He Xuan watched her carefully, “Thank you.” Shi Qingxuan helped him drink down the medicine. Hua Cheng then passed the supporting duty onto Shi Qingxuan and left for Xie Lian’s side.

“Crimson Rain Sought Flower,” Shi Wudu called.

“M-m-m?” Hua Cheng caught the dice that were thrown back to him.

“Thank you.” Shi Wudu watched him closely. Hua Cheng nodded and tucked the dice away. Shi Wudu turned to Shi Qingxuan, avoiding looking at He Xuan, “Qingxuan, you need a new fan now that you are Wind Master again.”

However, Shi Qingxuan shook his head.

“What is it?” Shi Wudu asked, worried.

Shi Qingxuan bit his lip.

“I don’t think I should be Lord Wind Master,” he said softly.

“But you have ascended!” Shi Wudu said.

“What are you saying?” He Xuan was puzzled as well.

Shi Qingxuan smiled guiltily, “But… I did not have any spiritual powers. It is all yours, He-xiong, so… I just don’t want to be a fraud again and have something that is not mine from the start.”

Chapter Text

* * *

“It’s not,” He Xuan said, looking at Shi Qingxuan.

“What’s not?” the latter asked, studying He Xuan’s face. It seemed like Ling Wen’s medicine worked – He Xuan looked much better, and Shi Qingxuan could tell he is not leaning on him with his whole weight anymore. Shi Qingxuan carefully moved strands of hair from his face and blushed slightly seeing He Xuan’s bemused look, “Why are you this amazed, He-xiong, it’s not like I didn’t do this before…” Of course, with Shi Wudu nearby he would not say this one aloud.

“It’s not mine – that spiritual power,” He Xuan explained, “Qingxuan, it is true that I have given you some, but in case you forgot, the wind was never, ever under my command. It would not have listened to me, and yet it came to you – the wind recognized you as its master. Therefore, the fact that you are here and you have ascended – it is your own merit. You did it by yourself.”

Shi Qingxuan straightened up. He squeezed He Xuan’s hand that entwined his neck, “He-xiong. Are you telling me the truth?” No wonder he is Black Water Demon. One could drown in his eyes too easily. Shi Qingxuan wanted to slap himself to snap out of it. As if he had never kissed He Xuan before, why this particular one shook him to the core? Perhaps because this was the first time they kissed each other’s true forms – not ‘Ming Yi’, not Lady Wind Master, but He Xuan and Shi Qingxuan? “I’ve never thought true love is this complicated,” Shi Qingxuan mused to himself, “But at the same time so strong and desired.”

“I am.”

Shi Qingxuan licked his lips nervously, “But… I… was never meant to be a god…”

“Maybe… fates can change by themselves after all,” He Xuan said quietly, “For the better or for the worse, but they can.”

Shi Qingxuan trembled, and then buried his face against his chest, feeling hot tears sliding down his cheeks. He Xuan hugged him with his hand and whispered something to him. Shi Qingxuan nodded, wiped his tears and looked around, “Sorry, everyone,” he said in a hoarse voice, “I’ve given you all a lot of trouble.”

“It was no trouble at all,” Xie Lian smiled at him, and that smile held all the understanding in the world. Shi Qingxuan was grateful to Xie Lian for all he has done for him, “Is everything alright now, Lord Wind Master?”

Shi Qingxuan nodded reluctantly. He was clutching at He Xuan as if never wanting to separate from him again. Shi Wudu had a complicated face expression looking at that, but eventually he closed his eyes and seemed to let it go.

“Qingxuan,” he fixed the fabric on his neck, pulling it tighter and said, “Let’s go check how is your palace doing, and make a new fan for you, and there is nothing to discuss about it anymore.”

Ling Wen coughed from behind. “What?” Shi Wudu whipped around.

“Shi Wudu,” she remarked, “This is no longer your realm so why giving orders around?”

“But it might as well become one again, Noble Jie!” Pei Ming frowned.

“He is a demon now, ol’ Pei,” Ling Wen stated dryly, “In case you haven’t noticed.”

“So what?” Pei Ming snorted and folded his arms, “We had Crimson Rain Sought Flower helping us out last time and he did more than any of heavenly officials. Also,” he turned to Shi Wudu and laughed awkwardly, “Shui-shixiong, you know, we kind of… well, that is to say – we still lack Water Master.”

Shi Wudu arched an eyebrow, “You would appoint me – a Supreme – back on duty in heaven?” He asked, accentuating each word.

Ling Wen rubbed her forehead, “Well, actually, when put it this way – yes, why not? You all are coming here every now and then anyway, so at least, please do something useful?”

Shi Wudu: “…”

Pei Ming: “There are temples down there being built in his honor,” he pointed at Hua Cheng, “So why not?”

“Speaking of which,” Ling Wen looked at He Xuan, “We also don’t have Earth Master.”

“I refuse,” He Xuan answered instantly, looking flabbergasted.

Shi Qingxuan suddenly remembered something, smirked widely, and the next moment transformed into his female form. Everyone gaped at it, while Shi Qingxuan rubbed his chest along He Xuan’s side in a seductive manner, “But, He-xio-o-ong,” he pleaded, not even trying to look decent, “It will be fu-u-un! Look, we can both transform again!”

He Xuan searched for Hua Cheng with his gaze growing desperate, “Help?” He mouthed.

Hua Cheng smirked, “I’ve got some garments down in Ghost City that will suit your style just fine, Black Water,” he stated, as he tightened his embrace over Xie Lian.

 

* * *

The four obsidian black urns stood upon the altar in Nether Water Manor, as they stood for hundreds of years. He Xuan knelt before them and lowered his head. He wanted to put his hands together in prayer, but remembered he is missing right arm. A small wry smirk appeared on his lips and he put his left hand back to his knees.

“We are going to open another stall when we marry, and enlarge your father’s one too. It will be great.”

“Don’t work late again, you have to rest too, Sheng-lao!”

“A-Sheng, come, eat, I made your favorites!”

“You’re a good son, He Sheng. I’m counting on you.”

He Xuan clenched his fist. Sometimes… he wished he could cry. Maybe it would dull the pain still throbbing on the inside.

“I let you all down in so many ways,” he whispered, “In so many ways… I’m so sorry.”

He sat like this for a long-long time, unmoving. The voices of his family echoed through his mind, mixing along with those from the recent past: “Prostrate,” “Fine,” “Ge…” He Xuan’s look saddened.

“I made a mistake, everyone,” he said barely audible, “And it had cost me dear. However, what I learned from it is that I do not want to lose yet another person that has become very important to me. So… I hope you all will forgive me, if I let myself… perhaps… be at least a little happy… again,” he forced himself to say.

The urns remained silent, but suddenly his heart felt lighter somehow. He Xuan closed his eyes, and after a while, he felt another’s presence. A whiff of fresh air flew beside him, as Shi Qingxuan quietly kneeled by his side. He Xuan turned his head slightly and watched, as Shi Qingxuan put his whisk and newly made fan aside on the floor. His robes were white and clean, with greenish ornaments, his hair properly done and decorated. Shi Qingxuan threw a wary glance at He Xuan, “May I?” He asked shyly.

He Xuan nodded. They kowtowed together several times, and then prayed together in silence. When they finished, Shi Qingxuan jumped to his feet first, and then extended a hand to help He Xuan up, “Are you angry with me for coming?”

He Xuan hesitated, but then accepted his hand and pulled himself up, “No. It is… fine.”

“Thank you. And… I’m sorry.”

He Xuan shook his head, “It is not your fault, Qingxuan. But do tell me, please,” his face twisted in annoyance, “What is that person doing here, especially after asking me to keep away from him?”

Shi Qingxuan awkwardly laughed and scratched the back of his head with his Wind Master fan, “Well… that is… um…”

“I wouldn’t let Qingxuan go alone here, what do you think? And he was so stubborn about coming to your place, so I had to tag along,” Shi Wudu said sharply from behind, “But I’m not up to anything,” he added in a grumpy tone, “So consider me as good as gone.”

“…Then get lost for real, please?” He Xuan didn’t want to even look at him.

“Qingxuan?”

“It’s okay, ge. Wait on the shore?”

“Yeah, play with the dragons,” He Xuan muttered, already sending them proper command to welcome their guest.

“Be quick,” with that, Shi Wudu left, albeit hesitantly.

Shi Qingxuan touched He Xuan’s hand, “I’m sorry, I just wanted to see you really bad, and ge would not have me go here on my own.”

“I figured. It’s alright.”

“For real?”

“For real. My dragons were bored and hungry, he is right on time for lunch.”

“He-xiong!” Shi Qingxuan smacked him with his fan.

He Xuan bit back a smile.

“Sister… I think this is what you have always wanted for me, right?” The distant thought passed through his mind, as He Xuan wrapped his arm around outraged Shi Qingxuan leading him away from the altar.

 

* * *

Shi Qingxuan smiled widely seeing He Xuan coming to his chambers at Wind Master’s palace, “He-xiong!” He twirled around and rose his head proudly, “How do I look?” It was Mid Autumn Festival that day, and Shi Qingxuan did his best to shine – the pure white robes, delicate hair decorations and all those little details he loved so much. He Xuan smiled back to him. This suited Shi Qingxuan better than being a beggar – so much better, it was incomparable, “In this form – great. But I presume you will be changing into your female form, and that one will be lewd for sure.”

“He-xiong, you’re so mean!” Shi Qingxuan laughed, “You’re going too, aren’t you?” He frowned a bit, studying He Xuan’s simple appearance – his usual black garments with waves, an empty right sleeve tucked beneath his belt, “You absolutely have to go, I heard Crimson Rain Sought Flower will be present as well, everybody is in shock already, hahaha!”

“All the more reason for me not to come,” He Xuan snorted.

“Nonsense!” Shi Qingxuan waved his hand, “But you’re dressed too simple, I would ha…” He stopped when He Xuan sat in the chair near mirror and looked at him. Somehow, Shi Qingxuan guessed right away, what he wanted, “But you said you hated the way I do it?” He asked uncertainly.

He Xuan looked aside, “I have never hated it,” he admitted. Shi Qingxuan came to him and looked at their reflections together. He Xuan did the same.

White and black. Light and dark.

So different, yet linked with their fates intertwined and messed up forever.

“Oh,” Shi Qingxuan then said, and searched for a comb.

He Xuan was watching him. Then, “I’m sorry,” he said softly, “For everything I’ve ever done. I’m sorry.”

“He-xiong, it is ge and I who should be apologizing to you.”

“Even so. To be honest,” He Xuan looked in his eyes in the reflection, “I… wanted for you to choose me that time. To at least once for you to choose me over him. Yes, I know how it sounds and looks like. Still, I wanted it so badly. For that I am sorry – I know now that was impossible from the start.”

Shi Qingxuan shook his head disapprovingly, “You fool,” he then put a hand over his cheek, bent over and kissed him – lightly, gently, “It’s true that I could not make the right choice or whatever, but… you were never unimportant to me. You were never a nobody, you have always had a special place in my heart,” Shi Qingxuan passed a hand through He Xuan’s hair, stroking it, admiring its silkiness. He was right after all – He Xuan even being ‘Ming Yi’ was not fake. It was he all along, and that became clear for Shi Qingxuan after getting to know him better. Gloomy, peculiar, sometimes grumpy, sometimes cruel, indifferent on the outside, but deep inside caring, loving and passionate.

He Xuan stirred under his touch and put out a small pouch upon the desk, “Open it.”

Shi Qingxuan reached inside and exclaimed happily, “You did it!” Little Min was lying on the soft fabric of the pouch, his bones being all fixed and stuck together again, “But he is not moving?”

“That is because he has not been revived just yet,” He Xuan turned to Shi Qingxuan, his face grew serious, “I want you to do it by yourself.”

“How?” Shi Qingxuan wondered.

“By using my spiritual powers in you,” Shi Qingxuan flinched and his eyes immediately ran to the side. He Xuan wouldn’t bet on it who exactly said to Shi Qingxuan about bones and ashes – was it Hua Cheng or Shi Wudu himself, - but after He Xuan healed from his wounds, Shi Qingxuan directly confronted him about it. He Xuan was adamant in having things the way they were, and Shi Qingxuan gave up on his pleas to take the ashes somewhere more safe.

“To me there is no safer place in the world,” He Xuan shrugged, “So keep it.”

Shi Qingxuan exhaled nervously, “Uh, how do I even do it,” he muttered under his breath, then took Min in his palms and directed his spiritual power into the skeleton. There was a light silverfish glow around the bones, and then Min suddenly chirped and hung into the air, looking around curiously. He seemed to recognize Shi Qingxuan, as he let go a squeal and hurriedly stuck to his wrist once again. Shi Qingxuan smiled, as he stroked Min with his other hand, and looked at He Xuan, “Thank you.”

“Better keep the poor thing away from the Water Tyrant,” He Xuan hmphed and turned to the mirror again.

“He-xiong, is it really alright for me to do your hair?” Shi Qingxuan asked.

“En.”

“And… dress you up properly?”

“…But I am dressed up?”

“I’d add a few things,” Shi Qingxuan was critically studying him, “Here and there. May I?”

“En.”

Shi Qingxuan picked a comb and cleared his throat, “Well, then, how would you like it? Ponytail or just let loose? Oh, or I can make it half loose and a small bun on the back, yeah, that would be rather pretty,” he mused aloud.

“I…” Before He Xuan could finish, the door flew open, and Shi Wudu showed up at the entrance.

“What are you doing, Qingxuan?” He demanded.

“I am going to make He-xiong’s hair,” Shi Qingxuan explained, “Since he’s missing an arm, so…”

“Technically speaking, I am missing both arms,” Shi Wudu threw himself into a chair next to He Xuan, “So do me first,” he ordered.

He Xuan’s eye began to twitch, “You really want to die again, Shi Wudu?” He asked in a threatening tone.

Shi Qingxuan unfroze from the initial shock and began to fan himself, “I… um… ge, that is… ONE BY ONE, PLEASE, THANK YOU?” He clearly did not know of what to do. In that moment…

“SHUI-SHIXIONG, IT’S ALRIGHT, I’LL DO IT FOR YOU!” Pei Ming’s voice came, and the next moment he barged into the room, actually carrying a comb in his hands.

Shi Wudu’s face dropped, “You… Stay away from me, you pervert!” He shouted, running away from Pei Ming. The latter chased after him, crying, “Don’t let him escape, Noble Jie! Shui-shixiong, come on, let me do your hair, why are you so mean to us, your best pals!”

“GET AWAY, THE BOTH OF YOU!” Shi Wudu’s voice came, followed by the sound of something shattering. Ice arrows? Or some things from the palace? Shi Qingxuan began to fan himself crazily, going faster and faster.

He Xuan took a glass of water from the table, his face expressionless, but choked on it and spat it out hearing Ling Wen’s yell coming from the hall: “Shi Wudu, hold it right there! We too want our personal domestic Supreme, seeing it’s trendy in heaven nowadays!”

“Yeah, we most certainly do!” Pei Ming confirmed.

He Xuan looked at Shi Qingxuan, whose neatly done hair went all disheveled now from the fanning.

“Hahaha,” Shi Qingxuan laughed, his face reading ‘just what in the name of heaven is going on right now?!’, “It has become so lively here, now that we have the Supremes roaming Heavenly Capital freely, hasn’t it, He-xiong?”

He Xuan regretted deeply there was nothing to eat at Shi Qingxuan’s place so he could munch on it and pretend to hear nothing.

“‘Personal domestic Supreme’,” Shi Qingxuan then continued, pondering over it, “I like how it sounds!” Little Min chirped affirmatively from his wrist. He Xuan covered his face with his hand in defeat.

Chapter Text

* * *

Heavenly officials were all overexcited but also extremely cautious and perplexed at having three Supreme demon kings attend this year’s Mid Autumn Festival. Murmurs and looks were coming from all the directions. Hua Cheng didn’t care about anybody, sitting with his arm wrapped around Xie Lian’s shoulders, chatting about something with him. Two tables from them Shi Wudu sat together with Ling Wen and Pei Ming, the latter wearing big bruise under his eye. Shi Wudu avoided looking at them at all, his face being annoyed and icy at the same time. In the corner next to the wall of the great hall, there was a table with Lord Wind Master and Black Water Demon Xuan. While Shi Qingxuan waved at everybody and greeted him or her cheerfully, He Xuan was radiating the air of gloom, as he gulped down his soup.

Then, it began. The Drummed Flower Passing game. It was rather fun to watch this year – the first cup ended up at Ling Wen, the second at Feng Xin, but the third one landed in front of Shi Qingxuan. He shrugged and drank it down, “Well, if it’s another thing about ge and I, I’ll just… have to watch because I still have too little merits!” He chuckled carelessly. True, it was not as easy as before with merits and believers for Water and Wind Masters, since both were absent for a long time and did not answer prayers. Nevertheless, little by little things got better. While Shi Wudu no longer depended on the amount of believers, Shi Qingxuan did, and so he was not yet as strong as before, but getting there gradually.

“Ah, Your Highness, now I know – albeit not entire way through, but still, - how to be in your skin,” Shi Qingxuan said to Xie Lian while complaining about believers the other day, “People are truly mean at times!”

“But there are good ones too, Lord Wind Master,” Xie Lian remarked.

“Of course!” Shi Qingxuan nodded, “I know, that. This Wind Master will try hard and make no mistakes this time,” he proclaimed solemnly.

And so, Shi Qingxuan worked really hard by attending to the prayers and trying his best, refusing both Shi Wudu’s and He Xuan’s help (albeit not company), but he was now far from being able to just throw out one hundred thousand of merits at a whim.

He Xuan looked up at the stage, when the play began… and choked on the soup, coughing violently. Across couple of tables, Shi Wudu straightened up, his look going simply frightening, temperature around him dropping rapidly.

“What the?..” He muttered. The play depicted, of course, the husband, Water Master, and wife, the Wind Master. However, the content of the play was this time… rather… questionable…

“…but the Water is treacherous,” the voice of the narrator dramatically announced, “And does not often flow the same direction as the wind blows! Lord Water Master fell in love with a beautiful, but dangerous Queen of Black Waters, abandoning his lovely wife for her! But the Black Water Queen’s heart had yet to be won over, for she was independent and proud! And so, Lady Wind Master ended up all alone at first! But then, in order to return her husband…”

There were actors on the stage, black, white and blue, battle going on between them, but in such an intimate and passionate manner, one would have thought it is not quite about the battle at all.

“I will… never… transform… into the woman… again,” He Xuan coughed out, “How in the world have they come up with this nonsense?”

“Um… Shui-shixiong, you are freezing over our table, please stop?” Pei Ming asked in a small voice, as the thin layer of ice spread from Shi Wudu’s figure all around.

“…Lord Water Master already consummated his marriage to the Black Water Queen, and…”

Shi Qingxuan’s fan was going in such a speed it was barely visible, “HAHAHAHA, WHAT AN AMAZINGLY MADE UP PLAY, HAHAHAHA, WHEN I FIND THE ONE WHO WROTE IT I SWEAR I’LL TOSS HUNDRED THOUSAND OF MERITS TO HIM AT THE SAME TIME WHEN I’LL TOSS HIM OR HER OUT OF THE WINDOW!” He said in one breath with a crazy smile and glint in his eyes.

He Xuan looked at Hua Cheng, “Crimson Rain Sought Flower, please, end my pitiful existence from this world.”

Hua Cheng, who was obviously enjoying the play excessively much, tossed E-Ming over to him.

“Do it yourself, you miserable sea-rat, I’m busy here with ge ge,” then he changed his mind and called E-Ming back, “Sorry, forgot one thing – you’re my slave now, so not until you pay me back fully,” he smiled at He Xuan and turned to watch the play again.

He Xuan groaned and collapsed onto the table face down, the last words of the play still ringing in his ears: “…And the three of them have ruled over the seas all together and until the ends of time.”

Chapter Text

* * *

“YOUR HIGHNESS, HELP!”

Xie Lian jolted at the yell and rushed out the door before he even fully awakened. His eyes went wide at the sight of Shi Qingxuan by the Puji Shrine at this hour, “Lord Wind Master!” He exclaimed, “What happened?”

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO,” Shi Qingxuan pulled his hair randomly, “IT’S HE-XIONG’S BIRTHDAY IN TWO DAYS AND I STILL HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO GIVE TO HIM!”

Xie Lian: “…”

Shi Qingxuan stared at him, panic in his eyes.

“Wait,” Xie Lian raised his hand, “So this is all about the birthday gift for Lord Black Water?”

“Yes!”

“…”

Shi Qingxuan seemed to finally understand how the situation looked like. He blushed and let go an awkward laugh, “I know, Your Highness, haha… it’s all just too sudden for you and hahaha, and I just…” Shi Qingxuan sighed and lowered his head, “I just remembered how you were asking what to give to Crimson Rain Sought Flower back then, and figured that you might have any ideas about He-xiong… I’m sorry I disturbed you.”

He turned to leave, but Xie Lian caught his shoulder, “Lord Wind Master, stop being so impulsive,” he chided and smiled at Shi Qingxuan, “Let’s go inside and talk about it.”

“Sure?” Shi Qingxuan was looking at him with big puppy eyes.

Xie Lian nodded, “By the way,” he said, as he was settling Shi Qingxuan at the table and hurriedly making tea, “If Lord Black Water’s birthday is in two days, doesn’t that mean yours is too?”

Shi Qingxuan sighed heavily, “Yes, but that is really not important. What is important about it all – you see, Your Highness, this would be the very first time that I would actually congratulate He-xiong at the right date… I would always wish him happy birthday before at the wrong date, at the real Earth Master’s date of birth, and I do not think he liked it, so… This time I want to make it special for him.”

“If your brother will be there – and there is no chance he would miss your birthday – then it will be special in any case,” Xie Lian mused aloud.

Shi Qingxuan groaned, “I know, and that is another headache of mine. I have no idea how ge will behave, oh god… I’m sure that He-xiong no matter what will restrain from anything, but I don’t want for him to remember his special day as a bad one again because of us…”

This was turning rather curious. Xie Lian fell into thoughts, and then hummed before suggesting, “What about spiritual device that would make his control over water even better?”

Shi Qingxuan nodded, “Thought of it. But ge will think I’m playing up against him in that one then.”

“Oh my god,” Xie Lian thought. This was not going to be easy considering Water Tyrant’s nature.

“Actually I had an idea to make him a new set of clothes,” Shi Qingxuan said slowly, “Black, naturally, but with a set of decorations and little details – I like those and I’m quite good in picking those too, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to pull it off alone.”

“I’m no good in sewing though,” Xie Lian guiltily shook his head, remembering the pathetic belt he made for Hua Cheng. Too shameful to even look at it, yet Hua Cheng would still treasure it as something special… Xie Lian was ashamed of that, while at the same time, it warmed his heart, “But you could ask Mu Qing for help?”

“General Xuan Zhen?” Shi Qingxuan looked up in surprise, “But will he even bother to…” He fell into thoughts, and then bit his lip, “You know, I’ll give it a try. Thank you, Your Highness!”

Shi Qingxuan hurriedly left, leaving Xie Lian to his thoughts, because he had no idea of what to give to the ‘both Xuans’ now!

 

* * *

“Hmm? Really?” Hua Cheng stretched and lazily rolled over to the other side, “It’s that sea-rat’s birthday?”

Xie Lian nodded, “And I don’t know what to give to him and to Shi Qingxuan,” he complained.

“About sea-rat I know just a good thing, and it can be said from the both of us, because why not,” Hua Cheng said with some dark pleasure in his tone it made Xie Lian suspicious, “But for the Wind Master you’ll have to think, ge ge, I do not know much about the guy.”

“I was going to offer a bottle of a good wine,” Xie Lian smiled to Hua Cheng, “But I wanted to ask for San Lang’s help about where I can find really good one, worthy of such an occasion.”

“Not a problem at all,” Hua Cheng’s eye turned crescent, “Helping ge ge is my pleasure.”

“Thank you,” Xie Lian hugged him and then squinted, peering into his face, “But, San Lang, what is that gift you are thinking about? You will make sure it is nothing offending Lord Black Water, won’t you?”

Hua Cheng laughed at that, “Ah, ge ge, you’ll see. I would not even come over, but I crave to see the show off between the Water Tyrant and Black Water, so I will come by,” he sneered.

“I actually offered to Lord Wind Master to hold a celebration in Puji Shrine,” Xie Lian said humbly, “So you won’t have to go to heavens.”

Hua Cheng raised an eyebrow, “Because you did not want me to shock Heavenly Capital with my presence again?”

Xie Lian shook his head, “Nothing of the sort. It’s just that Ling Wen mentioned to me that renovation of Puji Shrine is way cheaper than renovation of the whole Heavenly Capital, and she actually will take all the expenses should the need arise, because since Water Master Wudu and Lord Black Water will both be present at the celebration, well…”

As Hua Cheng laughed, Xie Lian suddenly heard a message coming to him through his private communication array, “Your Highness,” he recognized the gloomy voice of He Xuan, “Will you cook for celebration party?”

Xie Lian felt a sweat drop forming over his brow, “Uh, I… would rather… not, I guess?”

“Too bad,” the reply came, and there was a mocking note to He Xuan’s voice now, “I wanted to see what effect your dishes would have over Shi Wudu. Sorry for the unexpected intrusion – in case Crimson Rain Sought Flower wonders – it was Qingxuan, who gave me your password. Thank you,” with that, He Xuan’s voice faded.

“What is it, ge ge?” Hua Cheng asked, seeing his long face.

“Nothing!” Xie Lian’s eye began to twitch, “I just thought we should go buy the food for everyone…”

“Speaking of which, how many people do you expect?”

“Lesser than during Puji Shrine’s opening, I hope, but I’m not sure. Lord Wind Master did mention he wanted to keep it a private party this time, but…”

“Okay. I’ll call over my people for help then,” Hua Cheng stretched and yawned, “Let’s go to the village market then, ge ge?”

“En,” Xie Lian smiled.

 

* * *

“Lord Wind Master, why is there so many people?” Xie Lian whispered to Shi Qingxuan, dragging him to the side to talk, “I didn’t expect so many?”

“It was not my fault either, Your Highness,” Shi Qingxuan whispered back, “But heavens even took bets for how long will it be before He-xiong and ge take each other out, so…”

Xie Lian slammed a palm across his face.

“I know right…” Shi Qingxuan smiled sourly, “Ge didn’t even come yet… I don’t know will he come,” he somehow sounded lost over that and Xie Lian patted his shoulder for comfort.

“Of course he will,” he reassured.

Puji Shrine’s yard and insides were overcrowded. Lucky, Xie Lian predicted something like this would happen and set up many tables and chairs together with Hua Cheng, so there were enough chairs and enough food for everyone. At least for now. Xie Lian glanced at He Xuan silently piling up the food on his plate. For one-handed, he handled everything pretty well. Xie Lian noticed his hair was neatly done up in a ponytail with the few braids on the side – obviously Shi Qingxuan’s doing. And Black Water would actually allow that? Xie Lian was impressed.

Obviously, heaven officials thought of this celebration as a perfect excuse for a free meal and rest, so everyone was having a good time chatting between themselves. There was a pile of presents too at the corner of the shrine – most of them were meant for both of Shi Qingxuan and He Xuan at the same time.

“Oh, that,” Shi Qingxuan waved his fan casually and smiled brightly, “After Your Highness and Crimson Rain Sought Flower we are considered the second married couple in heavens consisting of a heavenly god and a Supreme Demon King, so naturally people give us things for our family life.”

Xie Lian tripped in his step and almost fell over, “And you are okay with that, Lord Wind Master?”

“But of course!” Shi Qingxuan beamed, “He-xiong and I live together anyway, so why not? It’s all useful too!”

Xie Lian coughed and muttered something incoherently.

As day went by, the celebration went on surprisingly peaceful and pleasant to everybody. All the dishes were praised, and the Ghost City mob once again doing their best in the kitchen was overjoyed. Closer to the evening most of the heavenly officials left, and there was but a small company of Hua Cheng, Xie Lian, Shi Qingxuan and He Xuan left at the tables. Xie Lian noticed the look Shi Qingxuan was throwing at the doors of the shrine, and reached for him via private communication array, “He will come. I reckon he just did not want to make a show of your birthday for everyone to stare at.”

“You sure?” Shi Qingxuan asked sadly.

“I’m sure.”

Shi Qingxuan only sighed at that. Hua Cheng took out a folded and nicely decorated piece of expensive paper and solemnly presented it over to He Xuan, “Our gift for you, Black Water,” he smirked widely.

He Xuan put down his wine cup and accepted the gift. Shi Qingxuan shifted over to help him unfold the paper. He Xuan looked at the letters written in the ugliest writing he has ever seen and raised his gaze upon Hua Cheng. The latter shone the fakest of smiles at He Xuan.

“How generous of you,” He Xuan then said, his face never changing from indifferent expression.

“What is it, He-xiong?” Shi Qingxuan took the paper, but his face became confused, “I, uh, can’t read it? Is it some of your demon-language or something?”

Xie Lian coughed and covered his face with his hand, not even looking at still smiling Hua Cheng.

“No,” He Xuan said impassively, “It is just that Crimson Rain Sought Flower has very… unique writing style.”

“What does it say?”

“‘By ge ge’s official heavenly blessing, I hereby forgive you one quarter of your debt. Live long and prosper, Black Water’,” He Xuan cited, his eyes stuck at Hua Cheng’s face.

Shi Qingxuan sputtered his drink and stared too, “Your Highness?” He asked dumbfounded.

Xie Lian shook his head vigorously and pointed at Hua Cheng, “This was definitely not my idea!”

Just then, He Xuan suddenly jerked up and looked towards the entrance, where a lone figure clad in white showed up.

“And here I was hoping…” he muttered and scornfully turned away from Shi Wudu.

 

* * *

“Ge!” Shi Qingxuan exclaimed happily. He jolted up and ran to Shi Wudu, hugging him tightly, “I thought you wouldn’t come!”

“It’s your birthday,” Shi Wudu gently hugged him back, “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

He came closer, the light from the lanterns giving some color to his face, “Your Highness,” he greeted Xie Lian, “Crimson Rain Sought Flower.” Both of them bowed politely in return.

Without any warning, Shi Wudu threw a little box to He Xuan. He caught it with his left hand and glared at Shi Wudu.

“Open up, what are you waiting for?” Shi Wudu grumbled, giving Shi Qingxuan similarly looking box.

He Xuan exchanged looks with Shi Qingxuan and both opened their boxes. There were two identical Longevity Locks inside, made exquisitely, with tiny details carved into the material – in He Xuan’s case there were tiny skeleton fishes and waves, and Shi Qingxuan’s Lock had tree leaves flying in the wind. There were crystal decorations too – clearly expensive and neatly done work.

“Ge, it’s beautiful!” Shi Qingxuan awed. Little Min rose up his head from his wrist and chirped affirmatively, sniffing the Lock. Shi Qingxuan stroked him and took the Lock out of the box to put on.

He Xuan looked at his Lock uncertainly, expecting a trap.

“There is nothing malicious there,” Shi Wudu admitted reluctantly, looking at He Xuan, “It is just… well. Similar to those I had with Qingxuan. With this you can tell where he is and his current state of health.”

He Xuan ran his finger over the fishes, “There is a catch, isn’t it?”

Shi Wudu smirked, “A minor one,” he answered nonchalantly, and held out a third Lock from his sleeve, decorated by waves and snowflakes, “I’ll know too.”

He Xuan’s face twisted, he sighed, and… actually put the Lock on around his neck! Shi Qingxuan – albeit his was already on from the moment he opened the box – stared in disbelief.

“What?” He Xuan snorted and averted his gaze aside, “It’s not like I completely hate it, I have a sense of style too, and this is a great work with a lot of effort put in it.”

“Wow,” Hua Cheng commented, “All those heavenly idiots would lose their bets today.”

Shi Wudu then was about to leave, but Shi Qingxuan yanked him over to the table, “There is food still left, so stay with us, ge!”

He Xuan shifted his gaze over to Shi Wudu’s face, “Thank you,” he said then quietly, while everyone else stared in the silent awe and disbelief.

“It’s nothing,” Shi Wudu replied and settled at the table.

“Welcome to our family of the Supremes,” Hua Cheng cheered with his glass of wine to Shi Wudu.

Shi Qingxuan laughed and fanned himself, blushing slightly, while He Xuan clinked his glass with Hua Cheng’s and drank the wine down.

Xie Lian smiled, looking at all of them. This birthday certainly was going to be special to both Shi Qingxuan and He Xuan – and that was a good thing, worthy of every trouble.