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Stay Up ‘Til Sunrise

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Around a month after his initial talk with Xiao Hei, Feng Xi set out for the outer bounds of the Long You City zone, stopping to wish Luo Zhu and Xiao Hei well before he left. He tried to do the same with Xu Huai and Tian Hu, but Xu Huai rebuffed him before he had gotten a single word out. “We’re coming with you,” he said in a tone that brokered no argument. “The only reason we stayed at that park was for you anyways.” With Tian Hu by Xu Huai’s side as he stared holes into Feng Xi with his eyes, Feng Xi hid both tears and smiles and allowed himself to agree. And so, Xu Huai had said as he locked down the hut they had spent more than a decade in, giving the remainder of their meager belongings to Tian Hu. They had never needed much anyway.

 

They took no human transportation, with Feng Xi preferring to feel the wind against his face as he ran through the forest in leaps and bounds, sometimes reverting to his true form of a black panther, other times remaining in his human skin. By night, they would count the stars next to the fire provided by Tian Hu, and come dawn, they would see the sun glimmer on Xu Huai’s school of spirit fish. As mature elfins, they had no need for material sustenance if there was abundant spiritual energy, and here, far away from the smog and clutter of the city, the spirits lit up the nights like the old days. With every day that passed, he was more grateful that some of his family had chosen to come with him, their presence familiar and dear.

 

Of course, not everything was the same as Feng Xi had remembered. Every now and then, a new human-constructed interstate cut across his intended path. There were way fewer animals than he could remember even from twenty years ago, and all throughout his travels, he met no elfins. Even in the pockets of space where the spirits were rich enough to form schools of spirit fish, Feng Xi did not see any signs of new elfins being born. Thoughts of how he had found Luo Zhu then Tian Hu’s tiny forms in the deep woods were frequent these days.

 

Such was how Feng Xi and his family traveled to the outermost bounds of the Long You City zone until they came across the town of Luo Quan. The settlement was located near the top of a mountain, and Feng Xi had counted less than a hundred buildings in the establishment total.

 

Luo Quan seemed almost untouched by time. Most of the people here still lived in the same way the people he had met over a hundred years ago did, making most of their living on their small farms and supplemented by the occasional visit to the city. Even their dress still resembled the old days – many people wore the same loose clothes and cloth shoes as Feng Xi. What caught Feng Xi’s attention most of all though, was how this tiny collective of a town had a public library. It was very small, a traditional wood building situated slightly further away from the rest of the town on the mountain slope. From a distance, it looked just like Wu Xian’s house in his spirit realm.

 

Perhaps compelled by familiarity, Feng Xi and his family more or less settled in the surrounding forest of the small human settlement, observing the people as they came and went. He would return to Long You City to see Luo Zhu and Xiao Hei, whenever the young elfin was in the area, and he also explored many other areas in the land the humans called Zhejiang, but he would always return to Luo Quan at the end of his most recent bout of travels. Almost as if it were home, though he could never quite bring himself to call it that. Xu Huai and Tian hu were by his side patiently all the while. To Feng Xi’s relief and endless gratitude, they never once asked him what they were doing now, or what his purpose for staying here was. He had not stopped thinking about those questions for one moment since he had parted ways with Wu Xian, and now, he felt that he was almost ready to give them an answer.

 

“I still want to restore our homeland,” he said to Xu Huai and Tian Hu one night by the fire. And before his brothers could interrupt, he added quickly, “I’m not going to try anything like last time ever again. Hurting one Xiao Hei was enough.”

 

Neither of his brothers seemed surprised, for which Feng Xi was infinitely grateful. Tian Hu simply blinked at him and nodded from the log he was settled upon, and Xu Huai said,

“We trusted that you wouldn’t want to go the same way.” Then, in a slightly louder voice, he asked, “I assume that you know what you want to do now?”

 

Feng Xi smiled a touch ruefully. “I know this world has changed. I can’t turn back the clock and I won’t ask you to join me again for that, but you both have seen what I’ve seen. There’s a few pieces of our land left, but that’s disappearing by the day too.”

 

He took a deep breath and his family’s eyes calmly as he continued, “I want someone to protect that land—it doesn’t matter if it’s the Guild or myself, but someone needs to make sure the last of it doesn’t disappear. And while what remains of our land is protected, I want the humans to make their lands more habitable for us as well. They took all that was ours to begin with—it’s only right they repay us somehow. Just because we can’t have our original home back doesn’t mean we can’t make what we have left of it better.”

 

“You know we’ll always support you,” Xu Huai said in the silence that followed his declaration. “No matter how long it takes. We’ll be with you.”

 

“Mm.” Tian Hu rumbled in assent. He looked toward Feng Xi with large, steadfast eyes. 

 

Feng Xi’s heart swelled upon hearing their immediate and unflinching declarations of support. “Thank you,” he murmured, “I know that what I want isn’t going to happen instantly, but after what happened in Long You…well. Let’s say I’m willing to wait longer for things to happen now. I’ll endure things a little more. But I won’t let you down again,” he finished, amethyst eyes ablaze with some new flame.

 

Yet, much to his surprise, his family replied almost immediately with a gentle rebuke. “Never mind us, Feng Xi,” his eldest brother said quietly. “What happened in Long You made us understand many things too. We love our homeland, yes, but we love you that much more. Whatever we support, we do so in the hope that it will bring you the most joy. So as long as you are doing what you truly want to do, you never have to worry about letting us down.”

 

“We want brother to be happy,” Tian Hu agreed, giving Feng Xi a meaningful look from under the brim of his wide hat.

 

All of his pre-prepared words caught in Feng Xi’s throat. For a moment, his heart felt like it was about to burst through his chest, splatter all of his emotions bright red onto the floor. “I do want to work for the things I just told you about,” he said at last, swallowing down the intensity of his feelings. “Restoring our home, demanding acknowledgment for what we lost, that had always been my motivation. I think I won’t be able to give that up for as long as I live as an elfin. But I’ve also changed,” he added, his voice softening as he thought of the long days and nights with Wu Xian in the human’s spirit realm. “I like to think that…I learned how to be a little kinder to myself too. So you both don’t have to worry.”

 

He looked up at his brothers and smiled, and something within his expression must have convinced them because both Xu Huai and Tian Hu seemed to visibly relax.

 

“I’m glad then,” Xu Huai said, his tone soft. “If you have things you want to do in the future, no need to ask us as well,” he added after a moment. “If it brings you happiness, then you have our full support.”

 

Tian Hu did not reply, but he smiled back at Feng Xi, which was enough of a response itself.

 

There’s nothing else I want, Feng Xi was about to tell them, but he stopped short when he remembered what he had just said out loud moments ago. I learned how to be a little kinder to myself too, he recalled, and inevitably, the person who had imparted him with that kindness came to mind as well.

 

He gazed at his brothers through the flickering firelight. His brothers gazed back. Their love and trust warmed him more than the flames, and in that moment, with all their support at his heel, he came to a decision. “Well then. Maybe there is one more thing I’d like to do,” he smiled, and his heart swooped softly in his chest, like a kite that had just been set free in the wind.

 

 

 

Five days later, Feng Xi found himself back in the heart of Long You city, but this time Xiao Hei was out of town, and he was not here to visit Luo Zhu either. This time, he strode past the familiar street of his brother’s flower shop, past even the park that took after his name, and he walked into the 6th floor of one of the city’s central skyscrapers, one of those man-made fortresses of steel and concrete that he had never deigned to enter before.

 

The location itself was bustling with activity—it was disguised as the office of a nonprofit that monitored the city’s housing affairs, but Feng Xi knew what it truly was. He opened the door with a confident hand, and all the activity in the place stopped at the sight of him. He ignored them all, parting the sea of stunned elfins in various forms of business casual dress as he marched up to the front desk, setting a singular white envelope before the gaping receptionist. “Please send this to the Guild’s headquarters in Long You,” he said politely.

 

When the receptionist finally took the envelope with a shaken nod, he thanked them just as nonchalantly then left the Long You Guild’s outpost at a measured pace, ignoring the flurry of stares and whispers that broke out in his wake.

 

 

**

 

 

Long You Guild, Communications Division

[street address redacted]

Long You City, Zhejiang Province

324400

 

To Wu Xian.

 

Hello.

 

I know it must be quite sudden to get a letter from me. It’s been a few months since we’ve last seen each other after all. When you dropped me off at my brothers’ doorstep, it was spring, and now the summer leaves are thick and green in the forest. I sent this letter to the Guild in the Long You branch and asked that they get it to you somehow. I still don’t trust the Guild much by any means, even though that may be ironic since I’ve trusted them with this letter to you. If you’re reading this, then I assume that they’ve succeeded in getting a hold of you.

 

After we went our separate ways, Xu Huai and Tian Hu had no problems with me going back to live with them for a while. I must admit that the humans did a decent job with that park that they named after me, and I found out from Xiao Hei that many of the elfins in Long You had pushed the Guild to preserve my tree in the first place. I do not know if you had anything to do with that, but if you did, thank you. If not, I still heard from Xiao Hei that you went to that place quite often. I suppose I should thank you for that as well.

 

Luo Zhu and Zi Luolan are doing well. I met them too not long after I first came back to Long You City. They were the ones who helped me reconnect with Xiao Hei as well. I know I have little right to comment on this, but you’ve raised him well, even though I want words with you about him being illiterate until after age 10. I am not fond of him having been in human schools all those years, but he’s told me about his human friends. I’ve even met his human girlfriend once, that girl who gave him his last name. I still cannot say I like people much overall, but she is perhaps one of the good ones. I can see why Xiao Hei wants to be with her, and he seems happy. That is all I can ask for, I suppose.

 

As for me…I have been doing a lot of thinking on my own. I left Long You City after around two months or so and went back to the mountains surrounding the city. There’s not that much left of them, and there’s much more human presence scattered throughout, but I still wanted to see them. I’ve been doing some traveling too, to see the homes of other elfins and find out what their states are like compared to mine.

 

I saw a lot of things on those travels. Some things I had already seen long before, and many things I thought I knew, but am now looking at with new eyes. When I had last come to Long You to take over this place and bring it back to what I thought it should be, I thought nothing in my heart could ever be changed again. I would die for what I believed in and I was okay with that.

 

But now I’m alive again. Only the living can change, and I’ve started to realize that being alive means that I will change, except it is my choice how and when that change happens. I still believe in the same things, the same goal, but…maybe the way I approach that goal can change. That’s what I have been thinking about all through my travels. I’m still tired and angry often, and I still want my home back—but I also don’t want to hurt anyone like I have hurt Xiao Hei anymore. I have been thinking about that quite a lot.

 

I’ve been around my family for a while now, and it’s the first time in many decades that I’ve actually sat down and listened to them when they talked to me. Even though we had been on the run together all those years, I had never actually spoken from the heart that much anymore, except a little with Xu Huai, but even he did not know everything. About my last promise to bring them all home…they told me what they really wanted was not have to be Long You exactly as it had been before, but to have us all be happy, and to have a place for that happiness to manifest. We don’t have the old Long You forest anymore, but we do still have a place among each other to call home.

 

That does not mean I’ve given up on bringing the forest back—I don’t think I will ever give up on that. It won’t be the same forest, I know that now, but I cannot rest knowing that something so vital was taken from us. I won’t ever give in on trying to restore our land. But talking to my family has made me think more about how I would go about making it happen. In other words, I think there’s something in this world now that I still have to—no, that I’d still like to try and do.

 

But I’m also certain now that there are still changes in this world that I still want to make. I don’t quite know how to start now, or how to go about making it happen, but I’ve been talking a lot with Xiao Hei after Luo Zhu and Zi Luolan helped us meet that first time, and he suggested that I ask you.

 

I know it has been months now since we last spoke, and I have no right to ask you to do anything more for me, not after everything you’ve already done. To be honest, I’m not sure even now as I’m writing this letter, but I figured it’s worth trying to ask, at least.

 

Perhaps I should have written to you sooner. I admit that even after talking to Xiao Hei about this, I was still reluctant to reach out to you. Perhaps I feared that what was said right before we parted was untrue somehow, or mere wishful imagination from me. That said, if you’re still reading this far in, I suppose that’s something to thank you for (there seems to be an increasing number of those things).

 

You should not feel any obligation to fulfill my selfish request, but should you want to…you can come to the library at the mountain top. I’ve included the address and a map in this letter, along with the name of the mountain. If you decide to come, I will be there. Please try not to find the wrong mountain.  

 

Sincerely,

Feng Xi

 

 

**

 

 

The Long You Guild grand hall had changed little since Wu Xian had last stepped into the premises a year ago. The last time he was here, it had been just after dropping off Feng Xi at the park, and he was the one who broke the news of his return to the Long You branch. The Guild headquarters had been put through quite a shock when he had mentioned the news the first time, and Wu Xian’s explanations had remained unwaveringly blunt and forward, as was his custom. Guild Hall Master Pan Jing had to step out of the room and come back inside before fully digesting the news.

 

“Master Wu Xian!” Various other Guild executors stopped to greet him with shining eyes, and some of the older elfins of Long You nodded at him as he passed by the halls. Other elfins saw him and immediately ducked away, their fervent whispers and mutterings only half reaching his ears, though there were fewer of those now than there were some years ago. He supposed he had Xiao Hei to thank for that. 

 

The small deer elfin at the reception desk took his request with quiet detachment. “There’s some letters for you in the system, Master Wu Xian,” they said, adjusting their glasses. “If you would wait just a moment, I will go retrieve them for you.”

 

When the deer elfin had returned, they handed Wu Xian a veritable stack of envelopes of various sizes. Wu Xian sorted through them as he walked through the Guild, making his way by heart over to the bulletin board of free executor missions (it was one of the only routes he knew reliably from memory). He tossed the various advertising junk mails aside, throwing out credit card applications, elfin targeted vehicular insurance ads, and a variety of district mall coupons. There were a few business letters from headquarters, which he tucked away, some spirited letters from Xiao Hei, which he put into his spirit realm for safekeeping, and…a plain white envelope, one of the cheap kinds that one would see for sale in boxes at any office store.

 

He flipped it over to view the sender and his heart stopped. His vision tunneled into a single line of neatly handwritten ink—From Feng Xi. Even after he had stared at them for several moments, the words did not fade or change. He drew a soft breath as he traced over the pen strokes of the characters with a fingertip, inscribing a growing sense of wonder within himself with every line.

 

Back when they had parted, Feng Xi had asked him if he would come visit, and he had agreed but not quite dared to believe the day would ever come. And now, after months of time, after t spring had already given way to deep, lush summer, his summons had finally arrived.

 

“Master Wu Xian? Are you alright?”

 

Wu Xian looked up sharply toward the direction of the voice, straight into the eyes of a concerned-looking elfin with actual circulating strands of water for hair. It was only then he realized that he had stopped right in the middle of the entryway to the Guild’s main hall, staring at the letter in his hands, and that several curious elfins were looking as they walked around him.

 

“I’m alright. Apologies,” he said to the kind elfin who had checked in on him. His fingers tightened briefly on the corner of the white envelope as he slipped it into a fold of his spirit realm, ready to be resummoned in an instant. It was good that he had snapped out of his reverie—now that he had his letter, this vast, open space in the Guild’s main business hall hardly seemed the ideal place to read it. He hurried out of the building and into the Guild’s garden labyrinth, its layers upon layers of greenery providing privacy to all and any.

 

He had hardly made his way into a sheltered grove before he had taken the letter out and freed it from its packaging, tucking the envelope away with care before he began to read, and time and space melted away between the lines of Feng Xi’s neat, intentional characters.

 

I’ll be waiting, Feng Xi had written, and Wu Xian turned over the sheaves of paper to find a map with a star and an address scrawled upon it in red pen. The town was in the mountains on the far eastern edge of Long You, in one of the many small villages that still existed in limbo on the urban city’s peripheries. Wu Xian wondered if it was one of the kinds of places Feng Xi might have loved when he was still young. Perhaps he had met a traveling troupe, went to his first festival, and met with his first humans there, long before they had met each other, way back when.

 

Wu Xian looked up at the flawless blue sky above. A single white cloud, white as the envelope that Feng Xi had addressed to him, drifted by on a lazy wind. He watched the cloud intently for several moments, lost in thought before he shook his head and turned to head back inside the Guild. He had no idea if that cloud was drifting eastward or not, and he got lost so often that it no longer hurt his pride to have to ask around for directions, especially not if it was for something like this.

 

He did not want to keep Feng Xi waiting too long, after all.

 

 

**

 

 

Feng Xi’s book sat idle in his lap in the tiny Luo Quan library. The small library did not lack for windows, and the warm breeze from the summer morning whistled through, rustling the pages. Other than bookshelves and a simple round clock on the wall, the space was scantly furnished. It all reminded him of the time he had spent in Wu Xian’s spirit realm in more ways than one.

 

While Xu Huai and Tian Hu busied themselves with exploring around the town, he would sit on the windowsill just as he had way back then, with one knee tucked up to his chin. These days, he found himself recalling those moments more often than not, and his gaze would wander from his books to drift out the window, toward the path that led to the entrance door.

 

It had been two weeks since he had marched into the Guild’s outpost in the city to deliver his invitation to Wu Xian. Had the human received his letter? And if he had read it…would he come?

 

He was caught up in the whirl of his thoughts that he nearly missed the moment when the human he had been anticipating came into his field of view. Wu Xian’s elegant figure of blue and white seemed to melt into being against the jade backdrop of the woods, like he had stepped right out of a painting from the old human dynasties. He still walked with his hands folded behind his back, his steps so smooth that he seemed to glide down the path toward the library.

 

“…Wu Xian,” the name slipped from Feng Xi’s tongue before he could think to stop himself, but it was his undoing. The mountain path was silent in these early morning hours, and the human had clearly heard his name. He looked over toward Feng Xi and the elfin could see the moment when the world seemed to pause, when Wu Xian’s eyes widen and his whole form stilled.

 

Feng Xi could never forget those eyes, green like the old forests of his home. The same eyes that made Feng Xi forget his breath even as his heart danced.

Wu Xian ended the standstill by veering off the path toward Feng Xi’s windowsill. He was not outright running, but his long tail of hair was trailing out behind him, a few strands flying loose from his hair tie as he hurried over, all elegant exteriors abandoned. Within those moments, he again became the Wu Xian that Feng Xi had grown to know over those long, eventful months, back when he had still been so angrydesperatelost, when he mistook kindness for denigration and viewed every outstretched hand as a threat. The warmth in his chest burned steady like an ember at the thought. Look how far things have come, he mused.

 

“Feng Xi…!” Wu Xian had not stopped until he was standing right before the windowsill where Feng Xi was, separated from the elfin by only a low wall and months of uncertain hope. Now that they were finally seeing one another in the flesh, Wu Xian now seemed almost at a loss for words. While they were essentially of the same height, the elevated floor of the library gave Feng Xi a boost, making him seem almost a head taller than the human, something that the elfin found more than amusing.

 

“You’ve grown shorter in just a couple of months,” Feng Xi said, the corners of his mouth flying upward.

 

Wu Xian blinked twice, clearly taken aback by Feng Xi’s chosen greeting. “No, it’s just the floor you’re standing on,” he replied when he finally recovered. His expression was utterly blank, and Feng Xi chuckled at his expense.

 

Of course Wu Xian would have a hard time responding, he thought to himself. After all, back while he was still inside Wu Xian’s spirit realm, he could not remember having ever joked so easily. Most of his good humor had been buried under layers of bitterness, and it was not until now that he felt that the last layer had been cleared away. Perhaps only now could he call himself truly reborn.

 

“Thanks for reading my letter and for coming all this way,” he sincerely, forgetting that Wu Xian was not even inside the building and that they were both talking through an open window. Even if he had remembered, he likely would not have cared. The one he wanted to see was here, and in that moment, that was all Feng Xi needed. “I asked you to come because, well. I told you when I left your realm that I needed some time for myself, and it’s been some time since then. I’ve had a lot of time to see more of this world and to speak to the ones I wished to see. I suppose a lot has happened. I…want to tell you about some of those things.”

 

And when Wu Xian nodded to show that he was listening, Feng Xi told Wu Xian in detail about the events he had written in his letter. About his reunion with Xu Huai and Tian Hu, then Luo Zhu; his conversations with Xiao Hei; his wanderings after they had left the city. About his goals, all the dreams that he still refused to let go of, about the decision he’s come to.

 

“You told me that this world has changed. Now that I’ve been out and about within it, I can see how you are right. But it’s still not enough for me,” he said, noting how Wu Xian visibly tensed upon those words. “I’ve seen some of the improvements that the Guild has attempted to make, and the efforts of some individual humans to address the crisis of mine and others’ homelands. But that’s not going to be enough. For what remains of my home to survive, I need much more to change with both the Guild and with the world. And I intend to make that happen.” At this, he paused and took a deep breath. His heart was in his throat with the words on the tip of his tongue.

 

“I need your help,” he said. His words fell like drops of water into a still pool.

 

The ripples were immediate. Wu Xian’s eyes widened. “How can I help?” His deep green eyes seemed to shed sparks as he spoke, and Feng Xi could not look away.

 

He swallowed his rapid heartbeats and said, “I need your influence in the Guild to help me guide their policies towards certain directions, and I need access to their networks so I can reach more elfins who are unsatisfied with the current state of the world. You told me of the new positions that the Guild has created, and I’ve done some asking about those myself. I…I’m still not quite sure I want to be directly involved in Guild affairs to that extent, but you have my word that I won’t do anything that could bring about a second Long You. I’m done hurting my own kind, and while I want the humans to repay us for what we’ve lost…I don’t wish injury upon them anymore, either.”

 

“Done,” Wu Xian said without hesitation. He squared his shoulders as he spoke, and all the words Feng Xi had prepared beforehand to further convince him died in his throat, leaving him floundering for a moment. Wu Xian had nothing to gain and everything to lose from agreeing to help him, and yet he had agreed without even a pause. Feng Xi had already known that he had fallen before, but now he was well and truly ruined. How could he ever look away from this man after this?

 

“…Thank you, for listening to me,” he said softly when he had finally gathered himself enough to speak again. “For this, and for everything else you’ve done for me,” he added, bowing his head. “I won’t forget this.”

 

“You’re not in my debt, Feng Xi,” Wu Xian replied, his expression serious. “I chose to do these things myself. You don’t owe me anything. I’m just…I’m just glad you stayed here. I knew it was your choice all along, and I’ve seen how much pain it caused you, but…I’m just glad you chose to stay. Even if that’s selfish of me.” The words and emotions seemed to pour out of him in a rush now, like the monsoon rains after the clouds had gathered for months, and Feng Xi felt almost inundated by the deluge. Wu Xian’s eyes were soft in a way that Feng Xi had never seen up close before, and a sudden burst of foolish, half-formed hope propelled his next words.

 

“Wu Xian, I…have a question for you. Why did you bring my tree cutting into your spirit realm in the first place? If you hadn’t done that, none of this would have happened.” Feng Xi’s heart was pounding against his ribcage as he spoke. He could scarcely draw enough breath to shape the words, and he had bit down hard on his lip to stop himself from doing more impulsive, stupid things. It was all he could do to keep from trembling as he waited for his answer.

 

Wu Xian seemed taken aback again, but then his expression turned thoughtful. The seconds drifted by as he appeared to ruminate on what to say. “It was not too long after Long You,” he finally said, his gaze far and away. “I had just taken on Xiao Hei as my apprentice, and by some unspoken agreement, we both came back to where the battle had happened. The Guild had already been working with the human government to try and preserve the place, so your tree was untouched. I cut a piece then and brought it back to the apartment Xiao Hei and I were staying at.”

 

“You bought an apartment in the city?” Feng Xi gaped at him, his anxiety momentarily forgotten. In his memory, Wu Xian had always been a wanderer, moving from place to place without a permanent place to call his own. That Wu Xian had settled down so quickly after picking up Xiao Hei was beyond news to him.

 

“No, it was a temporary stay in a location the Guild had already purchased a while back,” Wu Xian explained, dispelling the misunderstanding. “Xiao Hei and I were not there long, and when we left, I put it into my spirit realm on a whim.”

 

“So that’s how it was.” Feng Xi nodded once, hoping desperately that his motions still seemed natural. “Why didn’t you just leave it behind?” he asked, pushing his luck a little further. “It couldn’t have been worth that much to you then. You barely even knew me.”

 

“Ah, about that. I wasn’t quite sure back then either,” Wu Xian mused. There was a nostalgic sort of tenderness to his tone now, and Feng Xi could not help following after his every inflection, savoring the cadence. He had never imagined Wu Xian would use such a tone before. “I didn’t figure that out until much later, after I’d spoken with Luo Zhu. He told me that I shouldn’t feel guilty over your choices. He was right, but I still wondered. After I started to break free from that guilt, I…thought about many things. Some of those things were about the changes the Guild needed, things that you’d shown me that were broken, but I also just…thought. A lot. About you.”

 

Wu Xian paused. Feng Xi’s heart felt like it was beating in his throat—he could see the storm of emotions in Wu Xian’s eyes as he pondered how to continue, and Feng Xi had never known more agonizing a wait. “I thought a lot about you,” Wu Xian continued at last, “about your dreams, your determination, the way you lived your life like a burning match. You had all the long years of an elfin ahead of you, but you burned it all that day to become a part of the place you loved. You did terrible and beautiful things, sometimes both, and even after all those years had passed I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I suppose….” He drew a deep breath.

 

“…I suppose I didn’t want to forget,” he finally said, turning so that he was no longer quite meeting Feng Xi’s eyes. His voice, however, continued to sink into Feng Xi like rain into good soil. “I didn’t want to forget what this world was like when you were still in it. Or to forget you. And I still never do. Make of that what you will.”

 

Could he really mean it? Feng Xi thought, wide-eyed in the silence that followed after Wu Xian’s declaration. That half-formed hope that had first induced him to speak had now turned into a flame rushing through his whole bloodstream. Could he really mean what I think he means?

 

Before he could stop himself, he was already leaning forward out the open window, his fingers weaving into Wu Xian’s hair as he brought the human close—closer until their foreheads were touching and he could feel Wu Xian’s every startled breath. By that point it was too late to pull back and feign nonchalance—that flame of hope filled his heart with fire and his ears with static and he almost feared that he would cease to function. He had to speak up before this sudden emotional burst left him.

 

“Are you implying what I think you’re trying to say?” He could barely hear himself as he spoke. The words cottoned on his tongue like he was choking on them. He was an utter fool for making himself so vulnerable, his whole heart in his eyes for Wu Xian to see, yet all he cared about then was the human’s response, one that would decide if it was all worthwhile.

 

He heard Wu Xian’s answer as if it were coming from underwater. “…I am no scholar or great poet, but I’ve told you before that all the time I have in this world is yours, if you want it,” the human said, his voice soft as his breath that brushed past Feng Xi’s ear. “What else do you think I could mean?”

 

Feng Xi’s heart stopped for a few beats as he soaked in the words. When it finally resumed, the corner of his eyes were tingling, even as his face began to hurt from his smile. This must be what it felt like, to see the sun rise after a long, long night. “It’s—you're really okay with this?” he finally choked out, his voice almost breaking from the joy and the tears he was fighting to suppress. “All the time in your life…you won’t regret it? Is that a promise?”

 

“It is.”

 

“Then…then let me promise you the same.” Feng Xi took a deep breath. “I’ve been an oath-breaker in the past, and I know that my time and my life are not worth nearly as much as yours, but…it’s all yours, if you’ll have it,” he murmured.

 

“Your life is worth every bit as much as mine,” Wu Xian rebuked immediately. “Please never devalue yourself like this. I haven’t forgotten that a few years ago, you weren’t even here.” He was more earnest than Feng Xi had ever heard him. Up this close, Feng Xi could see every speck of color in Wu Xian’s irises—from the dark emeralds of grown oaks to the almost gold-green of spring leaves. He could see his whole reflection in Wu Xian’s eyes. He wanted this moment to end. He wanted it to last forever.

 

“You know what I meant though,” he breathed, “a life for a life, yours for mine. Will you…will you accept my offer?”

 

This time, Wu Xian did not keep him waiting. “Of course I accept,” he said simply, reaching up to tuck a long strand behind Feng Xi’s ear. “I’ll spend the rest of your life with you if you’ll do the same for mine. I promise.”

 

And Feng Xi knew that he believed him.