“Is that… really…”
Luo Zhu reached out before retracting his hand, looking down at the floor for a moment before once again looking back up. “... Feng Xi..?”
His voice sounded so small and broken, a tone that Feng Xi had never heard him use before, and it broke everything inside of him, as if his heart was being shredded from the inside. If he looked closely, Luo Zhu looked exhausted, as if he hasn’t had a peaceful sleep in far, far too long.
He didn’t know how to respond as words were caught in his throat, refusing to move, so Feng Xi smiled softly and nodded.
At that, it was as if any restraint Luo Zhu had broken within an instant, tossing the towel aside as he rushed to Feng Xi in desperation, hugging his arms around the other and clinging onto his back tightly.
Luo Zhu pressed his face against Feng Xi’s shoulder as he trembled with a flood of emotions, and Feng Xi found himself not being much better off as hot tears blurred his vision and he clung onto Luo Zhu just as tightly.
It was as if something within his heart finally managed to settle as Feng Xi held onto Luo Zhu tightly, the first one from his family he’d seen since he came back. During all this time, Feng Xi had forced himself not to miss them, telling himself he didn’t deserve to miss them, didn’t deserve to go and find them. He didn’t deserve this, he didn’t deserve to feel this slice of happiness and relief, but for a moment, Feng Xi allowed himself this.
He didn’t know just how much he had missed them, just how much the pain of not seeing them hurt, until he had Luo Zhu crying in his arms, and he allowed himself to cry as well.
Feng Xi could only remember one other time the both of them cried like this, and his chest swelled with unpleasant emotions full of desperation as he clung onto Luo Zhu tighter.
Any words he wanted to say were lodged in his throat, as the two of them held each other for an unknown amount of time, long since fallen to the floor as both of their legs gave out at the intensity of their emotions.
Luo Zhu sniffed, pulling away from Feng Xi just enough so he can look at his face, hands reaching up and placing them on either side of his face. “H-How,” his voice broke as his tear filled eyes frantically searched every part of him he could see, “are you back? You--They told us that you--Is it really you?”
Feng Xi smiled, one that looked both pained and overjoyed, as he once again nodded. “It’s really me, Luo Zhu,” he said, his own voice sounding tight and wet.
“How? I don’t--”
Both Luo Zhu and Feng Xi looked over and saw Zi Luolan standing there awkwardly, her apron off and draped across her forearm. “This seems like a really intense moment, so why don’t we go upstairs?”
Oh, right… They were in the middle of the flower shop, weren’t they?
Luo Zhu laughed wetly as he sniffed and nodded, rubbing at his face with the back of one of his hands. “Yeah, you’re-you’re right, sorry.”
Feng Xi helped the other elfin stand up before Zi Luolan lead the way after having Feng Xi take off his work apron, explaining to both of them that she closed up the shop for the day, and how they wouldn’t get many customers for the rest of the day anyways.
Following them up the stairs, Zi Luolan let them into the space she used to live above the flower shop. It was nicely decorated, with almost as many plants in it as the shop just below them. It didn’t feel as suffocating as Feng Xi’s own apartment felt to him, as it looked well taken care of and lived in.
“You two sit and talk, I’ll go make some tea,” Zi Luolan said, understanding at least that they would need some space before walking into a different room, leaving the two of them alone in the living room.
Luo Zhu wasted absolutely no time in grabbing onto Feng Xi’s forearms and dragging him over to sit on the couch. “You have to tell me everything,” he said, not letting go even after they were seated. Feng Xi knew this was Luo Zhu’s way of coping, of grounding and comforting himself. Having spent so long living together, Feng Xi of course didn’t mind the touching. “How did you come back? The guild told us that… that your soul had scattered…”
Feng Xi sighed. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know,” he said honestly.
He really didn’t know how he came back, even after all this time. All he had been told was that it was someone’s idea to attempt at bringing him back, but that was during the brief conversation he had with Pan Jing and the guild leader didn’t feel the need to elaborate on anything to him.
Opening his mouth, Luo Zhu was about to say something more but froze. He frowned and looked down in confusion as his hand touched the silver bracelet on Feng Xi’s wrist. That confusion was joined by shock as he grabbed both of Feng Xi’s arms and twisted them this way and that, looking at the bracelets from every angle.
“Feng Xi, what are…?”
“They’re bracelets that limit my spiritual powers and abilities. The guild put them on me before I even woke up.”
Luo Zhu didn’t say anything more as he continued to look at the bracelets, running his fingers over the smooth surface of one, down to his hand, until…
“What’s this ring on your hand then?”
Up until now, Feng Xi had pretty much forgotten it was there. It didn’t bother him and it didn’t play any significance as far as he was aware. It didn’t even cross his mind to take it off at any point either. “I woke up with that as well. I don’t know why it’s there though.”
“Why don’t you just… take it off then?” Luo Zhu asked in confusion.
He didn’t know how to explain that he didn’t feel the need to. It was almost soothing in a way. He may have forgotten about it, but at this point, taking it off would just feel wrong, especially since he’s gone this long wearing it. It was strange, and calming, and warm…
Instead of answering, Feng Xi smiled and placed his other hand on top of Luo Zhu’s, catching his attention to look up once more and forget the ring. “Tell me what you and the others have been up to, Luo Zhu.”
Luo Zhu then went on to explain that he’s been living in the city all this time, and has been working for Zi Luolan for almost just as long inside this little flower shop. He explained the deal that was made with the guild, about how he was pretty much allowed to do whatever he wanted within the city, to live how he wanted, with only the occasional check up from someone within the guild.
He explained that the guild gave them the option of either living within the city, or to basically become an Executor and work for the guild, both of which would eventually timeout after a few years and they would be allowed to go wherever they wanted, with or without the guild.
“So, where’s Xu Huai and Tian Hu then?” Feng Xi asked in confusion.
Uncharacteristically, Luo Zhu gently pulled his arms away from Feng Xi, leaving him grabbing onto nothing but the air as Luo Zhu instead wrapped his arms around himself, looking down. “Things got… really, really bad without you,” he said, his voice low and broken sounding.
Feng Xi frowned. Bad? What does that mean? Even without him, they were still a family, he was sure they would’ve stayed together no matter what.
Luo Zhu breathed in a trembling breath before continuing. “Tian Hu was told that if he chose to live in the city, he’d have to take on a human form, and he-he really didn’t want that so… So Tian Hu agreed to work for the guild. Then it was just Xu Huai and I, and… We stayed in the city for a while together, I had begged him to and he agreed… It was such a stupid, stupid idea,” he laughed, but it was completely void of any humor and full of only pain, as Feng Xi could see the tears forming in his eyes again.
“We fought a lot… We fought over a lot of things, some of it over really stupid things, but… But I couldn’t forgive him for holding me back that day. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t forgive him…”
Feng Xi, he… He didn’t know how to react. He would have never thought that any of them would turn against each other, they’ve been through so much together already, he was sure they would be able to pull through this together as well. “Luo Zhu…” He reached out, intending to comfort him like he’d always done, but Luo Zhu instead flinched away and refused to be touched, absolutely refusing to look up at him.
“I couldn’t forgive Xu Huai. He said that it was your choice to make, but he knew that doing so would lead to nothing good. He knew, and yet he still let you go through with it. Why? … Why would you do something like that without talking to us first?”
“Luo Zhu, I--”
“Weren’t we supposed to always look out for each other? Protect each other? We swore that, no matter how hard the guild looked for us and tried to separate us, that nothing would come between us. We were supposed to do everything together, we were supposed to understand and help each other. So tell me, why?”
Feng Xi found it was becoming harder and harder for him to breathe, as his mind started racing as he thought back to that day.
He remembered feeling utter desperation and hopelessness. They had only just lost the one place they were ready to call home, that small island in the middle of the ocean, completely out of the way, out of the guilds way.
It had been reckless to go out, he had known that the guild was searching for him more than the others, it would’ve been simpler to have sent Luo Zhu out, but…
But watching Xiao Hei struggle after losing his home to humans and wander aimlessly, Feng Xi found himself wanting to help the young elfin more than anything. He wanted to go to him personally and offer a place to stay, a home. So he went, and because of his impulsiveness, led the guild right to them before they could convince Xiao Hei to use Realm and seal it off.
He had caused them to fall right into the guilds hands.
Even worse, it had been Wuxian that came and destroyed it all. If it had been any other nameless Executor that he didn’t care for, Feng Xi wouldn’t have become as desperate as he did, but because it was…
He could hear Xiao Hei’s pained screams even now, the look of confusion and betrayal on the little elfins face moments before. He could hear Luo Zhu pleading with everything he could, voice going hoarse from his shouting, and yet Feng Xi didn’t listen. He couldn’t. He was responsible for them losing everything, and he needed to atone for it quickly, he needed to make up for it, he needed to give them a new home quickly.
He couldn’t answer Luo Zhu’s question because he didn’t know why, exactly, he did what he did. Whatever answer he gave, he knew it wouldn’t be good enough.
“You betrayed us,” Luo Zhu said, his voice snapping Feng Xi back to the present and making his head spin from the whiplash. “You practically betrayed us, and then left us alone to deal with your mess.”
“No,” Feng Xi shook his head. “That’s not what--”
“It doesn’t matter what you tried to do! You left us behind to deal with your fucking mess!”
Luo Zhu’s rage was something Feng Xi can’t remember ever seeing and it left him unable to think, unable to try and fix the situation because he didn’t know how. He thought he was doing what was best, that killing himself would be the best for everyone, he didn’t mean to--
Without warning, Luo Zhu stood up and, with his arms still wrapped around his own trembling body, he quickly left the room, his footsteps rapidly disappearing as he rushed down the stairs. It took a moment for Feng Xi’s mind to wrap around what was happening, but once it did, he wasted no time in following after, calling out his name and begging him to wait.
At the bottom of the stairs, Feng Xi watched as Luo Zhu threw open the door to the front of the store and rushed out into the rain, not looking back at all.
“LUO ZHU!!” Feng Xi shouted as he, too, ran outside, feeling the coldness of the rain and wind hitting him hard, but he was too numb to bother with it as he frantically scanned the street this way and that, trying to figure out where Luo Zhu had disappeared to.
No matter how much he shouted, there was no response other than the howling of the wind and the thrumming of the rain. He panted heavily from the rush of the emotions he felt in only a few minutes, making him feel out of breath, like he was being suffocated.
“Feng Xi, get back inside!” Zi Luolan called out before hurriedly entering the downpour as well, a coat protecting her from the rain. “Come on, let’s go,” she grabbed his arm and pulled, Feng Xi resisting a bit, but he soon gave into anguish and he could no longer fight.
He’d long since lost the will to fight.
“So you’re really going to Long You for the entire break?” Shanxin asked, raising her eyebrows a little bit in question. “You’ve never gone before, why now?”
Xiaobai smiled, feeling bad that she has to lie to her best friend, but Xiao Hei told her that no matter what, others can’t know about the existence of elfins. Xiaobai was already a rare case, simply because Argen was an elfin. “A relative of mine just moved there. Gege and I are going to greet them!”
“Why aren’t your parents going as well? Or your gramps?”
“Since when did you ask this many questions?”
“I’m simply an inquisitive person, but you’re right, I really don’t care about the details. You just better bring me back a souvenir of some kind.”
Luckily, it hadn’t been very hard to convince her parents to let her go to Long You. As soon as Xiaobai mentioned that she was going with Argen, they pretty much agreed right away, believing it had something to do with helping out with Yunfei.
Xiaobai really did feel bad for lying to so many people, but it was for a good cause. Xiao Hei really needed them for support, and she wasn’t about to let him face this alone. It was true, she may not understand entirely of what happened, but she could tell that this person meant a lot to Xiao Hei, so she was willing to do anything to help him, even if that meant telling a few white lies here and there.
Besides, she had Xiao Hei and Argen with her. If something were to happen, they would solve it without a problem!!
Ah, except for one problem…
Xiaobai looked over, and saw Xiao Hei being smothered by Huangshou. The grey cat wouldn’t catch a hit as he continued to rub himself against Xiao Hei, who could do no more than to try to keep the other off of him. She snickered, seeing the annoyance and desperation to get away clear on his face, regardless if he was in cat form. It wasn't that Xiao Hei hated Huangshou, but it was rather that the grey cat could be a little... overbearing at times...
“Xiaobai! Ready to go?!” she heard Argen call out.
“Coming!” Xiaobai responded before turning back to Xiao Hei and Huangshou. “Come on, Xiao Hei, it’s time to go!”
“Alright, come here,” Shanxin was Xiao Hei’s saving grace today, as she walked over and picked up her cat and held him securely in his arms. Somehow, it looked like he was pouting, being held like that and taken away so quickly.
As if he feared the grey cat would break free and jump on him again, Xiao Hei wasted no time in quickly rushing over to Xiaobai and climbing up onto her shoulders, using her pretty much as a shield between him and Huangshou.
It was amazing how Xiao Hei was an extremely powerful elfin, yet he was still defeated by Huangshou whenever they met!
The two humans gave their farewells and, after promising to video call at least once, parted ways. Xiaobai rushed over to the beaten and worn down truck, looking it over for a moment with skepticism.
“Are you sure this will get us there?” Xiao Hei asked, his voice holding the same doubt as Xiaobai felt. “It looks like trash.”
“Hey!” Argen shouted, his head popping up from the other side of the vehicle. “This truck here may not look like much, but it’s very reliable!” As he said that, he hit the side of it, and a large metallic noise sounded from it.
Both Xiaobai and Xiao Hei looked at him with raised eyebrows.
“You two hang out too much, you’re giving me the exact same look, hahaha it’s kind of scary… Come on, let’s get going!”
Argen wasted no time climbing into the driver's seat of the truck, and despite their skepticism, Xiaobai and Xiao Hei climbed in soon after, Xiaobai seated in the passenger seat with Xiao Hei on her lap. She looked around the interior of the vehicle as she buckled in, saying, “Did you borrow this from one of the uncles?”
“En! He was nice enough to lend it to us for a few days, I just have to be sure not to wreck it.”
As Xiaobai watched Argen buckle up and start the engine, a thought came to mind. “Gege…”
“Do you have your driver's license?”
“As long as we don’t get pulled over, it’ll be fine.”
“I would just be better off flying to Long You alone…”
With the morning sun steadily rising in the sky, they made their way out of Ling Xi together and started towards their destination.
Xiao Hei felt himself steadily growing more and more restless from a mixture of emotions. He felt terrible for betraying Wuxian like this, the guilt slowly eating away at him, but this needed to be done, he knew it had to be.
If he had to wait around any longer, he was sure he’d go crazy.
There were too many misunderstandings between them that he couldn’t let go on, it needed to be fixed. He needed answers more than anything. This was a second chance, and he wasn’t going to let it slip away.
He wasn’t going to hesitate.
“So, Xiao Hei, do you know where to find your friend?”
“..... I guess that’s a no.”