He’d been playing with the idea in his head for a while now, but now he was tired of it just being an idea. Now, he was tired of sitting by idle and not taking any action.
The brief confrontation he had with Wuxian a few days prior was proof enough that nothing was going to get done any time soon, Wuxian wasn’t going to take the first step, and he was tired of waiting. Waiting was the worst part. He didn’t like it.
Xiao Hei was seated on the roof of the tall apartment building, looking out over the city of Ling Xi. It was early morning, and Xiaobai would be leaving for school soon, meaning he’d be leaving with her in just a little bit, but his mind was racing as he overlooked the city.
He sighed, curling his tail around himself.
It was a lot to think about, and he’d be putting a lot on the line, but…
But he needs to do it.
Something needs to be done. Someone needs to take the first step, or this game would just continue until something disastrous happened.
He looked over, spotting Xiao Bai peaking over the edge of the roof and she smiled when their eyes met. “You ready to go?” she asked.
“En,” Xiao Hei said as he stood up and stretched, yawning loudly as he did so. He followed to the edge of the roof as Xiaobai climbed down and back onto the balcony, jumping onto her shoulder once she was back on stable ground.
“Are you okay?” she asked as she reached out and gently stroked his head and behind his ears, causing Xiao Hei to lean into the touch and close his eyes in comfort. It was calming. “You’re hardly ever up this early.”
He pulled away and looked at her with the best expression of un-amusement a cat could pull. “You make me sound like I do nothing but laze around and sleep all day.”
Xiaobai laughed, saying, “That’s because you DO! You’re such a lazy cat!”
Okay, he wasn’t THAT lazy! It was just nice to relax when he’s with Xiaobai and her family. Even though Xiaobai knows that he’s an elfin training to become and Executor, she doesn’t expect anything of him, doesn’t make him do anything. In fact, she pretty much treats him like he is a cat when he’s here, and it’s relaxing to be with her and her family.
Before meeting her and her family, Xiao Hei remembers always being on the move, either with or without Wuxian there with him. He’s Wuxian’s disciple, but Wuxian is an Executor for the guild, and some missions Xiao Hei wasn’t allowed to go with him on. There was no place for either of them to call home except for each other, and for the longest time, that was enough.
Now, knowing how much a place can feel safe and relaxing, Xiao Hei found himself wanting something like that as well. But no matter what, staying with Xiaobai’s family didn’t feel right to him. It didn’t feel like home exactly if Wuxian wasn’t there.
Xiaobai walked through her house, closing the door to the balcony as she collected her backpack and said her goodbyes to her parents before leaving the apartment, Xiao Hei remaining silent the entire time as he was deep in thought stretched across her shoulders.
“So will you tell me now what’s wrong?” Xiaobai said as she pressed the button for the elevator and waited for it to come up.
“I just have a lot on my mind lately, that’s all,” he sighed, ears laying back slightly.
“Is it about your shifu? You only get super secretive when it’s about him, unless you’re gushing about him.”
“I do not gush! And shifu is really really awesome, okay?!”
Xiaobai hummed as the elevator dinged, and she walked inside, pressing yet another button and the doors smoothly slide close as it began its descent. “You got into an argument with him, didn’t you?”
Xiao Hei startled a little, his ears laying completely flat as he looked away. She smiled and gently patted his cheek. “It’s a little obvious, honestly. There’s been building tension ever since you mentioned you friend coming back, and when you haven’t been out with him for the past few days. You’re not very good at hiding things from me, Xiao Hei.”
The elevator dinged once more as they arrived at the bottom floor and the doors opened up, Xiaobai walking out of the apartment and into the lightly chilled air of morning, the path to school one extremely familiar to her that she could walk it with her eyes closed at this point. Which she had tried before, two years back. It didn’t take very long for her to bump into someone, and Xiao Hei had to prevent her from walking out in front of a vehicle. She didn’t get very far with that little experiment.
As she walked, Xiaobai hummed a soft and familiar tune as she waited for Xiao Hei respond, knowing that he needed a moment to collect his thoughts and figure out what he wanted to say.
“We did get into a fight,” Xiao Hei muttered, his voice soft. It would’ve been difficult for Xiaobai to hear him if she couldn’t hear his voice directly in her head. “I think I.... I want to go to Long You and find him.”
“Oh, so you actually listened to gege?”
“Shifu obviously isn’t going to go any time soon, and I’m tired of sitting around and waiting. I don’t know everything that happened between them, but I’m not going to let their hesitation stop me.”
“So why haven’t you left yet?”
Her question went unanswered for a few moments, as Xiao Hei let out a sigh and lowered his head. His answer must be one he doesn’t want to admit, so she gives him time.
“I-... I don’t want to go alone. I haven’t been to Long You since-- well, all those years ago. It feels a little overwhelming if I were to go alone, but I know shifu won’t go with me.”
It was kinda ridiculous, wasn’t it?
Xiao Hei knew he wasn’t afraid of seeing Feng Xi, in fact, he was excited to see him again, after going so long that they’d never be able to, that Feng Xi was gone forever. He made a big show about not being scared and facing the past, but he found himself scared to face it if he was facing it all alone.
He gave Wuxian so much trouble for it, and yet he felt like a hypocrite for not being able to do the very thing he told Wuxian to do.
“What if gege and I were to go with you?”
“Huh?” Xiao Hei looked over to see Xiaobai giving him a soft smile.
“Gege and I can go with you to Long You.”
“But-- No, you have school, and--”
“I go on spring break next week, did you forget that?”
Xiao Hei doesn’t answer. Yes, he had honestly forgotten…
“And I’m sure gege knows someone who can take us to Long You. I’ve always wanted to go anyways! It’ll be like a fun little field trip!”
He didn’t know what to say. It crossed his mind to ask either Xiaobai or Argen if they’d go with him, but he had always quickly dismissed those wishful thoughts. This was something he didn’t need to drag them into, they didn’t need to worry about his problems and go out of their way for him. There was no way he could bring himself to ask.
But now, Xiaobai was offering to go with him, and although he felt a mixture of emotions, overall he felt really really happy.
In these last few years he’s known them, they’ve become close to him, and he could call them his best friends with ease. They gave him strength when he needed it and supported him. If it wasn’t Wuxian, then going with them was the next best thing.
Xiao Hei rubbed his head against her cheek, making the human giggle and comment briefly on how it tickled. “I would really like it if you guys came with me then! I can introduce you to him!”
“Okay, it’s settled then! We’ll find a way to get you to Long You and to reunite!”
There was still hesitance and anxiety, but overall, Xiao Hei was overwhelmed with happiness and excitement. He couldn’t wait to get to Long You now.
The little flower shop was located in a less busy part of Long You, but despite its location, it still dragged in a crowd and was more than well off.
There wasn’t much different about it from other big named flower shops except for one unique thing. In the back of the shop, closed off from the customers and only accessible to employees, was its own greenhouse that grew a small assortment of flowers that grew not just regionally, but from all over the world. With the help from the spiritual energy elfins working there would feed them, the flowers bloomed vibrantly all year round and even lasted a little longer than those grown by humans.
Of course, it kept up with the recent flower trends and what was considered popular at the time, but no matter what, customers were overjoyed with whatever they got. This is what allowed it to do so well despite being an independently owned business with this being the only location.
Even though Zi Luolan wasn’t the one who started the business, it was passed on to her by the previous owner, who had decided to give up the business in favor of travelling. Even though not many changes had been made from one owner to the next, Zi Luolan’s outgoing and bubbling personality made it so people came back twice as often and recommended the shop to everyone they knew.
It had only taken Feng Xi about 2 days before he asked Xing about the position. He thought of it over and over again, and every time his chest would feel heavy and something would tell him not to do it, but Feng Xi was tired of just spending his time locking himself up all day long. He didn’t even do that much either. Xing had tried to teach him how to use technology a few times, but it would always frustrate him too much.
Recently, she even tried to teach him how to use the touch screen phone the guild provided him with that had remained untouched to this point. She explained how it’s useful to have in case of an emergency and began explaining more in detail what they do, but Feng Xi had to interrupt her and tell her that he’d had a phone before, and knew how they worked, he just doesn’t like these newer models.
Xing had asked what kind of phone he previously owned, and when he went to explain how it looked since he didn’t know the name of it, for some reason, Xing burst out laughing and took her a good while to calm down…
(“You had a NOKIA?! A NOKIA?! HOW ON EARTH DID YOU MANAGE TO GET A NOKIA?!” She had to use the wall for support as tears gathered in her eyes from laughing so hard. Honestly, Feng Xi didn’t understand what was so funny about it…)
After pulling herself together, Xing taught him the basics of using the phone, forgoing any of the extra’s it provided like data and internet connection. She added Zi Luolan’s and her own number into his contacts, freezing for a moment to then add in Ruo Shui’s. She made him promise to take the phone with him whenever he went and to contact her if he ran into any troubles or needed something, and Feng Xi agreed.
Now, he sat in a quiet bus that was occupied by two others and the driver and watched out the window as the buildings and lights passed by. It was too early for the sun to rise, so the world was still covered in darkness, and not a lot of people were out at this time. It was a quietness in Long You he hadn’t experienced until now.
One of the other things Xing taught him and installed into his phone was music. She had shown him a wide variety of genres and artists until she determined that the kind he seemed to like most was soft, whimsical instrumentals. While handing back his phone after loading it up with a large list of music, Xing mentioned something about how music is therapeutic, it’ll help him to calm down if he finds himself overwhelmed by crowds, and can drown out the startling white noise caused by the city.
Feng Xi wasn’t sure he believed entirely that music would be able to do such things, but he had no reason to think that Xing was a liar.
Sitting on the silent bus, he took out the phone from his pocket as well as the earphones Xing provided him with. Putting the earbuds in, he was once again reminded of how uncomfortable it feels to wear them, but Xing told him about how he’d eventually get used to them. He struggled for a few moments as he forgot where to find the music, but once he found it, he pressed play.
Instantly, sound took over the quietness, yet it remained soft and soothing. As he listened, it helped to untangle the twist of anxiety within his chest, slowly but surely calming and relaxing his nerves. It was strange.
“So, how do you like it here so far?”
Feng Xi blinked, watching as Zi Luolan’s mouth moved, but not hearing a single thing she was saying. He took out his phone from the apron pocket and hit the pause button, giving an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you,” he said as he took the earbuds out and shoved them in his pocket, along with his phone.
Zi Luolan threw her head back and laughed, shoulders shaking from the force of it before setting down the flower pots she had carried into the greenhouse. “Don’t worry about it, it looks like you’re enjoying yourself! That’s all I care about.”
Nodding, he agreed. He didn’t think that he would be enjoying his time in the greenhouse as much as he was, but honestly, this was probably the best he was feeling in a while. He was left alone for the most part within the greenhouse except for the few times Zi Luolan entered to grab something, but she never stuck around too long, and the noises from the front end of the store were muffled by walls, making it so it wasn’t a loud, constant noise, but a dull humming. Though, that didn’t matter too much, because he’d been listening to music from his phone the entire time, helping him feel more comfortable and feel like as if he was truly alone.
Wiping her hands off on her apron, Zi Luolan walked around the greenhouse and looked at the flowers, inspecting them closely and making sure they were doing fine and were happy. After a few moments of silently checking, she turned to Feng Xi, wearing a smile. “I’ve never seen these flowers so vibrant before, and you haven’t even been here that long. Even with those bracelets, you must be extremely powerful.”
“You think so?” he said, but his voice showed how unconvinced he was about the entire thing.
Flowers weren’t his strong suit, but Feng Xi remembered a time where he could make an entire meadow bloom brilliantly with hardly any effort put into it. He could forest entire acres of land like it was nothing. Now, he would be lucky to get a leaf to sprout.
“Well, I at least think what you’re doing is amazing. This shop has never had such a powerful elfin in it before, even the previous owner couldn’t get these flowers to bloom like this. The only other person I know who can do this is--”
“ZI LUOLAAAN!! I’M BAAACK!!”
Even with the barrier of the walls in between them, the shouting voice was loud and easier to hear than previous voices that came into the shop.
Zi Luolan smiled, clapping her hands together and she smiled in excitement. “Oh! You haven’t met your coworker yet, have you? Come on, I’ll introduce you!” She waved for Feng Xi to follow her as she quickly left the greenhouse.
There was something out that voice that made Feng Xi apprehensive, but he knew he couldn’t put off meeting the other, so instead he just took his time to exit the greenhouse. He hadn’t realized it had been raining, as the soft thrumming of falling rain hit the building.
Once he exited the greenhouse, he could hear their voices much clearer, picking up on their conversation.
“Why’re you so drenched? Ah, you’re getting water everywhere!!”
“It started down pouring at one point, it’s not my fault!”
“Why didn’t you pull over and take shelter then? I’ve told you, you don’t have to ride around and make deliveries while it’s like this. Here, dry off.
“I was already close to the shop anyways-- Thank you!”
Walking out to the main part of the shop, Feng Xi looked around and realized there were currently no customers. Probably a lull in foot traffic due to the weather. He could see out through the large front windows to the street outside, and saw the large puddles of water rippling with each drop.
Whoever Zi Luolan was talking to, Feng Xi couldn’t see, as she was standing in front of them, blocking his view. Hearing him enter, she turned around and smiled. “There you are, now I can finally introduce you two!”
“Are you talking about the new worker?” The other said, their voice muffled into the towel over their head as they dried off their face.
“En! This is our newest member, Feng Xi! Feng Xi, this is--”
The other froze before knocking Zi Luolan’s hand off their shoulder and removed the towel.
Feng Xi felt like he had been punched in the face and took a step back.
“Feng… Feng Xi..?”
With his breath caught in his chest and hand clutching the towel as though it was a lifeline, Luo Zhu stood there, eyes wide in disbelief, pleading.