In this little village, built right next to a large and looming forest, there is a tale that goes around from one person to the next.
“Beware the forest,” they say in fearful, hushed voices, “for there are spirits in there that will snatch you away.”
Of course, not everyone believed in these tales, as most of the time, parents told it to their children to not have them wander off too far, and to keep them out of any trouble they could cause while inside the forest.
And there were those that swore up and down that the malevolent spirits of the forest did, in fact, exist. They would claim that whatever misfortune befell them, it was due to said spirits.
Although extremely young, Wuxian didn’t believe in these tales.
He thought the old man who claimed to have his wife stolen years ago by said spirits was out of his mind. That the kids who refused to step foot into just the outskirts of the forest were nothing but cowardly, and wanted only excuses. Whenever his parents warned him of the dangers of the forest spirits, Wuxian simply allowed their warnings to fall on deaf ears.
Wuxian was seen as a strange child for his over curiosity with the forest, and thus, he didn’t have many friends. Well, not that it bothered him anyways, if they were all just going to be scared of their own shadow constantly. That’s why, when the other kids of the village dared him to prove that the forest wasn’t as scary as the adults made it seem, Wuxian agreed without a second thought.
If there were such evil spirits living in the forest right next to their village, certainly they wouldn’t have let the village grow for so many years.
As he entered the forest, the chatter of the other kids dimed more and more, until he could no longer hear their voices. Instead, all Wuxian heard now was the voices of the forest.
The rustling of the trees. The soft birdsong that played overhead. The wind weaving past the trees. The crunching of the forest floor beneath his feet. With the thick trees that towered over such a small child, the forest was dark.
And yet, despite all of this, Wuxian still couldn’t find it in himself to be scared.
He kept walking, and walking, and walking, with no direction in mind or no idea where he was going. Eventually, he came to a small break in the large trees, where a small, shallow creek, and Wuxian stood and listened to the trickling of the water as he looked around. He still couldn’t understand what was so frightening about this forest, what made the adults claim that it was a place to be feared, when the child felt a strange feeling run down his spine.
Wuxian turned around, a frown on his face. He felt like he was being watched, but he couldn’t figure out why. Could it be that one of the other kids followed him into the forest?
No, they were all too cowardly to do such a thing. They wouldn’t dare go against their parents' warnings, either.
An animal then?
Yeah, it was an animal. That was the only thing it could be. Maybe it was one that was curious or startled by him walking around.
At this realization, Wuxian relaxed his shoulders and stopped frowning. Just as he was about to turn back towards the creek, out of the corner of his eye, he caught something rushing, getting bigger the closer it got to him.
Without being able to react, Wuxian felt himself get shoved by something, stumbling on his feet until he tripped, falling backwards into the creek.
Wuxian could feel his clothes soaking up water, and his forearms hurt from having landed on the rough rocks, but he couldn’t find it in himself to worry about those things right now, because there was a face too close to his.
With eyebrows scrunched up in a frown that was supposed to look angry, but instead just looked a bit ridiculous, Wuxian stared at a boy he’d never seen before.
“Leave!!” the boy barked, and it was enough to knock Wuxian out of his minor moment of shock.
“Why did you push me?” Wuxian asked, frowning in return before bringing up one of his arms and pushing at the boy's chest. “Get off me, my clothes are getting wet.”
Obviously ignoring what Wuxian was saying, the boy grabbed onto the collar of Wuxian’s clothes and shook him roughly. “Leave, now!!”
Growing frustrated, Wuxian struggled, attempting to push himself up and out of the water, and push this weird kid off him.
“Fine!!” Again, without much warning, Wuxian was once again shoved, this time resulting with his back entirely in the water, and the boy pushing against his face. “I’ll drown you!!!”
“This water is too shallow to drown in, idiot!!!”
He had been trying to remain polite, but now that it was obvious this boy was completely deranged, Wuxian started fighting back with all his might. The two of them tumbled and rolled around in the creek, and Wuxian was sure that the boy scratched him with surprisingly sharp nails across his cheek, but just as quickly the scuffle began, it ended with both of them out of energy.
Wuxian sat just on the other edge of the creek than when he had found it. By now, there was more than likely mud across his clothes as well. He was more than certainly going to get told off once he got home for making such a mess of himself.
“Geez, what’s your problem?!” Wuxian shouted, taking more of his future frustration out on the strange boy.
The boy made the same expression from earlier, and this time Wuxian noticed he scrunched up his nose a little as he did so, as if he was an animal about to bare his teeth. “You wandered into my home!!! You have the problem!!!”
Wuxian was sure that this forest was uninhabited by anyone. The next village that was around this forest was about four days South, he knew for sure he was nowhere near there.
“I’m nowhere near your stupid village,” Wuxian said with a huff. “You’re the one that got lost.”
“No village!! No humans!!” This time, the boy did actually bare his teeth.
The action made Wuxian pause for a moment.
This boy… He was really strange. Even the way that he was speaking, it sounded a bit off, as if the language he was speaking was one he was still learning, foreign to his own tongue. “You’re obviously human,” Wuxian said slowly, a bit of uncertainty seeping into his voice. What else could the boy be other than a human?
“Am not, humans gross,” the boy responded, shaking his head as he spoke and seeming to reel back a little in disgust as well, as if the thought alone was enough to make his nose scrunch up as if he smelled something vile.
“Then, what are you?”
“Spirit.” Saying this, the boy puffed out his chest and his eyes shone with pride in them. It was the first time this entire conversation that Wuxian had seen an expression on his face that wasn’t scrunched up.
Wuxian raised his eyebrows, looking the boy up and down from where he was still sitting in the grass. Either, this boy really was a spirit, or he was absolutely insane, like those back in his village that also believed in the existence of these forest spirits.
“Then why do you look human?”
This made the boy once again react negatively, as he seemed to fluff up much like an animal would, purple hair seeming to stick up. It reminded him of a cat. “Easier to move around!!”
“Don’t you find it weird to be saying that humans are gross while you look like one?” There was hardly any logic at all to it, and it just made Wuxian think that this boy was an idiot afterall.
Obviously, the boy also never thought of this, because he seemed to freeze for a moment, and slowly seemed to shrink into himself as he thought more and more about it, his expression changing from one of something fierce to one of general confusion.
Was this the spirit of the forest everyone was so afraid of? If so, Wuxian instantly thought even less of his fellow villagers. This was just pathetic. The one everyone was afraid of was said to be capable of stealing away humans, as where this one had just tried drowning Wuxian in a tiny creek. There was no way he could actually kill anyone.
Running off of this train of thought, Wuxian interrupted the boy's apparent existential crisis. “Are there other spirits here?” he asked.
Seeming having to take a moment to get his thoughts in order, the boy blinked before nodding his head.
“Any that can kill a human?”
“Me!!” The boy slapped his hand over his own chest.
Wuxian rolled his eyes and huffed silently. “Fine, other than you.”
This seemed to make the boy falter for a moment, hand lowering from his chest before shaking his head. “Used to,” he mumbled, looking down at the ground, a solemn expression now on his face. “No more…”
Well, at least the tales weren’t a complete lie then.
He noticed the rather sad expression on the others face, and decided it wasn’t his right to pry into it any more. Silently, Wuxian stood up and started to dust himself off the best he could, but the mud now on his clothes were stained through, and he’s sure to really be scolded once he gets home for ruining his clothes so much.
With this thought in mind, Wuxian started walking in the general area he thinks he entered from, walking past familiar trees and greenery, careful to watch his step as to not trip and fall on the rough terrain, all while feeling a pair of eyes never leaving his back.
It was fine for a while, but eventually, Wuxian became irritated with being constantly watched and followed. He stopped abruptly in his tracks, turning around, and unsurprisingly stood the purple hair boy a little ways away from him, hoping down from a rock with ease.
“Why’re you following me?” Wuxian snaps. It was a really irritating feeling, having someone practically staring you down and not leaving you alone.
“Leave!!” The boy exclaimed, once again scrunching up his nose in a way he thought would be menacing.
“I am, I’m going home, so stop following me!”
For a while more, Wuxian felt the sensation of being watched as he once again began walking, but after some time, the feeling went away, and he was once again left alone with the vastness of the forest, and a bit of an empty feeling inside of him.
Against his better judgement, Wuxian looked back a few times, to maybe catch a glimpse of the boy with purple hair once more, but every time he was met with emptiness, and by the time Wuxian reached his village, he realized that he never got to ask the boy for his name.
A few days passed by, and every day, Wuxian found himself thinking back to that boy in the forest.
To him, it actually didn’t matter if he had been some kind of spirit or not, overall Wuxian didn’t believe in that sort of thing anyways, but it was the strangeness of the boy that made Wuxian want to go see him again.
So, after those few days, Wuxian once again found himself wandering an aimless path through the forest. He didn’t know how to look for the boy, or if he even should, but he figured he would cross paths with him eventually.
Which is exactly what happened. Their paths crossed quite literally.
Meaning, Wuxian once again found himself being tackled to the ground, this time from behind, as his face was pushed against the dirt and a weight was now pressed against his back. He let out a huff at how ridiculous this situation was, to be once again attacked.
Ah yes, the oh so familiar word that Wuxian was convinced was this boy's first, and possibly favorite word.
“I didn’t do anything last time,” Wuxian said, his voice a bit muffled and odd sounding from where he was pushed against the earthy ground, “so why are you attacking me again?”
“All humans evil!! None can enter!!”
Wuxian started struggling, using his arms to push against the ground in order to get himself up, but struggled with the weight of another on top of him, hardly moving at all. “Get off of me!! Stop being so annoying!!”
Luckily, the boy only held Wuxian down for a few moments more before slowly and rather hesitantly proceeded to do what Wuxian asked, removing his hand from where he was holding his head down and moving so he was no longer sitting atop his back.
Once he was able to sit up, Wuxian looked down at his front, and frowned in irritation. Great, now there was a mess on more of his clothing. Getting scolded the first time was time enough, but now he was going to get another earful. “It’s really annoying when you attack me every time I enter the forest,” Wuxian grumbled in annoyance. “I haven’t even done anything!”
Sitting in front of him with his legs crossed, the boy said nothing, as he watched Wuxian intently, as if he was watching his every move and expecting him to actually do something hurtful.
Silently, Wuxian reached into the front of his now dirty robe and took out a small pouch. He inspected it for a moment, twisting it this way and that, before holding it out towards the boy, who flinched at the gesture and even made a noise that sounded something vaguely like a hiss.
The boy didn’t take it, instead looking at the pouch and Wuxian distrustingly.
Wuxian waited patiently, or as patiently as a child could muster, holding out the pouch for a few moments before the boy deemed it safe enough to slowly reach out and take it from Wuxian.
“What is?” the boy asked, looking at the pouch curiously now that it was in his own hands, though he still treated it like it was going to bite him at any moment.
“Tanghulu,” Wuxian answered, watching as the boy inspected the pouch before figuring out how to open it. “An uncle from my village recently returned from the capitol and he brought back some tanghulu for us. You looked sad last time I was here, so I thought this might cheer you up.”
Wuxian didn’t know if the boy had ever had tanghulu before, or if he even knew what it was, since he already seemed pretty unfamiliar with the pouch alone. In order to sneak it from his parents and others in the village, Wuxian had to remove them from their skewers and place them in the pouch.
Originally, he hadn’t planned on bringing the boy anything, but for some reason, he thought that he would enjoy the sweet treat. Most of the other kids in the village loved them, and Wuxian himself enjoyed them every now and again.
Watching the boy reach into the pouch and take one of the candied treats out, Wuxian saw that it was a little crushed from the impact of Wuxian falling, but the boy didn’t seem to know any better and didn’t comment on it. Instead, he smelled it hesitantly, giving a quick thought to if he should eat it or not, before going ahead and doing so.
It was pretty amusing to watch his face twist into so many expressions through an extremely short period of time, apparently not knowing how to properly react to such a thing. Wuxian couldn’t help himself, and he snicker before composing himself, his parents' words ringing through his mind. “What do you think?”
Currently, the boy's face was twisted in a way that his eyebrows were scrunched up, and it took him a moment to finally get around to answering Wuxian. “Weird.”
Right after saying that, the boy ate another piece, so weird couldn’t have meant anything bad at least. “You have a very strange way of talking,” Wuxian said, watching the other. “Who taught you?”
“I,” the boy said with his mouth full, so his words-- well, word-- sounded a little slurred.
“So how’d you learn?”
“Older spirits, and human talk.”
From what Wuxian could understand, the boy learned from hearing other humans talking to one another, and was probably taught by other spirits, maybe the one that had apparently been the reason for the supposed disappearances from his village.
“Can you read?”
The boy shook his head.
They sat in silence for a few moments, with the boy still eating at the tanghulu, his face no longer going through multiple expressions, so Wuxian figures that he likes them enough to keep eating, even though there aren't that many in the pouch to begin with. He’ll have to sneak some more next time.
“I can teach you,” Wuxian says after a while, having ran the idea through his mind a few times. Being one of the older kids in his village, he had already taught some of the younger ones a few times, so it was something he was used to doing anyway. Teaching one more wasn’t that big of a deal for him.
The boy looked at Wuxian for a moment, as if he didn’t quite understand what he had said at first, before his face twisted into something sour. “Why learn? No need for human words.”
Why learn, indeed. Wuxian thought of a reason for a moment, before finally coming up with one. “What’s your name?”
Apparently, asking this was a bad idea, because the boy scrunches up his nose a bit and hunkers down, looking like he was going to bare his teeth in a moment. With quick thinking, Wuxian twists and looks around himself before finding a small fallen twig on the ground. Reaching for it, he grabs it before using one of the ends to write in the dirt between them, his strokes careful and precise, just like he’d been taught.
In no time at all, there was a character written in the dirt, and Wuxian looked up to see that the boy was no longer hunkered and instead looked curious, staring at what was drawn in the dirt. “What’s my name. My name is Wuxian. If you tell me your name, I can write it out for you.”
The boy twists his head this way and that at the writing in the dirt, seemingly intrigued by it, before looking up at Wuxian with hesitation. “Feng Xi,” the boy says. “They call me Feng Xi.”
Finally, Wuxian had a name to call this boy. Feng Xi.
Keeping true to his word, Wuxian writes Feng Xi’s name out right next to his own in the dirt, fully aware of Feng Xi’s undivided attention as he watched Wuxian write it out.
“There, that’s you. That’s your name.”
Feng Xi twists his head in order to try and look at the writing better, but the angle was weird from where he was sitting across from Wuxian, so he moves to sit beside Wuxian and get a better view. His eyes trace over it carefully, before reaching a hand out and tracing over it with a finger, causing the writing to become a bit less elegant looking and a bit more rough.
Wuxian holds out the stick to Feng Xi. “Here,” he says, “you try writing it.”
With slow movements, Feng Xi takes the stick and frowns, looking back and forth between it and the writing in the dirt before taking up the challenge. His movement is much slower, but not in the precise way Wuxian had done it. His characters come out looking awkward and angled, practically illegible, but Feng Xi looked proud of himself, his eyes shining with satisfaction.
“I can come back and teach you, if you want,” Wuxian once again offers after having seen the happy expression on Feng Xi’s face, sure that his mind was made up now. “As long as you don’t attack me anymore.”
Feng Xi leans away from the characters written in the dirt to look at Wuxian, a frown that looks a bit more like a pout on his face. “Humans leave, forest is home.”
“You can’t keep attacking me every time I show up, though.” Not only was it irritating, it also meant that he would get scolded once he returned home if he looked like a mess, and there were only so many scoldings Wuxian could handle.
“Humans weak,” Feng Xi said with a roll of his eyes, however his expression changed quickly, as if he just thought of something, and he brightened up, smiling. “I teach you to fight!!!”
Being taught to fight?
He would be lying if he said he had no interest in such a thing, however, Wuxian thought about what his parents would think. They would probably hate the idea of Wuxian learning how to fight, would probably even go as far as to forbid him from learning such a thing, but what harm could it be in learning just a few things from Feng Xi?
If it was just for self defense, then there probably was nothing wrong with it.
Finally, after thinking it over a few times, Wuxian decided that this was the perfect deal, and he agreed to it.
Like this, months quickly passed by, with Wuxian sneaking to the forest every few days to teach Feng Xi how to speak, read and write, and Feng Xi in turn teaching Wuxian basic fighting techniques, once again mentioning those older spirits and how they had taught Feng Xi how to fight before they ended up leaving. Still, Wuxian didn’t feel it was his place to pry, so he never asked more than what Feng Xi was willing to tell him.
It wasn’t easy for either one of them with learning, as Feng Xi struggled to understand reading, and Wuxian was unused to such physical activities that his body ached a lot, but the both of them were stubborn once they got a goal and challenge to work towards.
One of the ways Wuxian helped Feng Xi with his reading and writing was lending Feng Xi books occasionally, ones that he was sure that his parents wouldn’t notice would go missing for a few days. At first, Feng Xi was very against reading them, saying that since they were written by humans, he wanted no part in them, but after some convincing, he finally gave in. Now, Feng Xi had actually grown a bit of an interest in these stories.
When Wuxian would return, Feng Xi would question him not just about the words he didn’t quite understand, but he would also question things such as the plot and its contents. Some days, like this, they wouldn’t even learn anything, instead they would just talk for hours about a book.
Wuxian would feel bad whenever he had to take a book away from Feng Xi that he seemed to particularly enjoy, especially since a lot of the time he didn’t get the chance to finish them, as Wuxian didn’t want his parents growing suspicious and questioning the books whereabouts.
Luckily, Wuxian found the perfect chance to get one for Feng Xi that he could keep.
He walked through the forest, walking the invisible path he was so familiar with now. They didn’t have an area to meet up in, but Feng Xi would always show up once Wuxian was deep into the trees and a good ways away from the village, where no one would find them easily.
Despite his constant scolding and telling him not to do it, Feng Xi still snuck up on Wuxian and would pounce on him, but at least Wuxian no longer fell to the ground helplessly. With Feng Xi’s teaching, this time when Feng Xi tried to tackle him to the ground from behind, Wuxian was able to counter it, moving so the momentum Feng Xi used to try and push him down was instead carried through, resulting in Feng Xi the one on the ground and Wuxian on top of him.
Surprisingly, he started laughing once his initial shock was gone. “You’ve gotten better!” Feng Xi said with a smile that showed off his sharp teeth, sharper than a humans. “I’ll have to find a new way to toss you off guard!!”
“You mean ‘catch you off guard’,” Wuxian corrected, standing so he was no longer on top of Feng Xi and held a hand out for the other boy to take, helping him to his feet.
“That’s what I said,” Feng Xi dusted himself off a little once standing before turning to Wuxian. “You’re early than normal.”
It was true, Wuxian normally didn’t come while the sun was still rising, as he normally had other things early in the day to tend to before making his way to visit Feng Xi. But today was a bit different. Wuxian looked back behind him, where the village was far beyond his sight.
“Is there a matter?” Feng Xi asked.
“What’s the matter?” is what he meant.
Wuxian shook his head, turning back to him.
“I was just thinking…” Wuxian found himself feeling a bit nervous at bringing this up, simply because he knew exactly what Feng Xi felt towards humans. He didn’t like them all that much, preferring to be on his own rather than near any of them. Well, the exception being Wuxian himself. “There’s a travelling market at my village today. I checked through the stalls, and there’s supposed to be one selling books. So, I was just wondering if maybe you’d like to go and I’d get you a book…”
His voice faltered and faded at the end. Wuxian had this habit of running his sentences on a little bit when nervous. He was working on fixing that, since his parents frowned upon it heavily, claiming that it was too annoying for him to do such a thing.
Feng Xi didn’t answer at first, but his smile dropped to where his expression was now blank.
This wasn’t really a bad sign, but it wasn’t a good one either. Feng Xi was very expressive through his face and body, so when he didn’t respond in either of these ways, it meant he was thinking. What he was thinking, Wuxian couldn’t ever tell, he just knew that the boy was thinking about something.
“My…” Feng Xi looked down, his expression turning to one of uncertainty, as his eyebrows scrunched together and he looked down a little. “My gege said not to leave the forest…”
“Have you ever left the forest before?” Wuxian asked, making sure not to ask about the other spirit Feng Xi was referring to, always careful not to pry more than needed.
Slowly, Feng Xi nodded, looking back up at Wuxian. “But I had gege with me then.”
Before he could think about it, Wuxian held out his hand to Feng Xi, palm facing up, waiting to be taken. “You’ll have me with you this time then.”
Feng Xi stared at the hand offered to him, seemingly wanting to take it instantly, but he hesitated, his nose scrunching up a little. “They’ll not like that I’m not human.”
“No one will notice,” Wuxian said with a shrug. “If you cover your pointy ears with your hair, no one will notice. There’s also more people there than normal, so you’ll blend in.”
He still looked a bit hesitant and disbelieving of this, but eventually, Feng Xi reached out and took Wuxian’s hand, and Wuxian could feel the warmth seeping from his skin, a stark contrast to the seasons that were now changing to colder weather.
As they walked in silence, with Wuxian leading the way, he was surprised that Feng Xi hadn’t thrown some kind of tantrum at the idea of going into a village full of just humans. He was sure that Feng Xi would’ve accused him of planning some sort of trap for him, and then would never want to talk to Wuxian ever again, but instead, he was rather calm about the situation. Maybe reading those books that Wuxian gave him made Feng Xi a bit more tolerant of humans.
Or maybe it was the promise of getting a book for all his own that convinced Feng Xi to go.
Either way, Wuxian found himself feeling a bit happy, regardless of Feng Xi’s reasoning for going, and soon enough, they were near the village enough to hear the distant murmur of voices and shouts become louder and louder.
Without a warning, Wuxian’s steps were forced to a stop, as a weight behind him kept him from walking. Looking back, he saw Feng Xi, who looked very conflicted about this idea. He waited a few moments, expecting Feng Xi to say something, but all that followed was silence.
“You don’t have to go, if you really don’t want to,” Wuxian reassured him. He couldn’t imagine how Feng Xi must be feeling. Whether or not he was truly a spirit, Wuxian at least could tell Feng Xi didn’t enjoy being around others very much.
“Am not scared.”
“I never said you were.”
“You thought it!!”
Wuxian frowned a little. “No I didn’t.”
Wuxian huffed as he rolled his eyes a little, moving so he was standing closer to the other boy now. He dropped Feng Xi’s hand in order to reach out and start moving his purple hair this way and that, saying, “Listen, you can go if you want, I’m not gonna force you, but don’t try to pick a fight just cause you’re nervous.”
Feng Xi’s face twisted and scrunched up a few times as Wuxian focused on moving his hair around until he was satisfied with it, making it so it properly covered Feng Xi’s ears. While they wouldn’t have been a dead giveaway, people would’ve certainly questioned the oddity of his pointed ears.
“We’ll just go to the stall selling books and then leave. Okay?”
He didn’t answer right away, but finally, Feng Xi gave a nod, and once again, Wuxian lead the way with their hands together.
It was rare to have a travelling market stop at their small village, as it didn’t hold enough people to warrant such a thing, but luckily, this one stopped by every year around this time, just before the weather turned cold enough to snow. With it, it also brought those of other surrounding villages, which made it more crowded and lively than it would be any other time of the year.
The reason why this market stopped here was because someone who was part of it once lived in this village some time ago, or something like that. Wuxian didn’t care too much about the details. All that mattered to him was being able to see a glimpse of the world that lay outside of this tiny village and his tiny life.
He enjoyed browsing through the stalls, regardless if he could buy anything, and wondered where everything came from, how it was made, who would buy something like this, and various other questions.
But for now, Wuxian led Feng Xi through the unusually busy village, careful to keep a hold on his hand so as to not lose him in the crowds.
It didn’t take very long to find the stall selling books, with its merchant standing proudly behind it, since Wuxian had already gone through the trouble earlier of finding it.
“Good morning, kids!” the merchant exclaimed with a smile on his face.
Wuxian bowed a little in greeting, making sure to use his manners. “Good morning. Can you tell us what kind of books you have for sale?” He knew Feng Xi would have some difficulties figuring it out for himself, and the merchant seemed to have no problem talking up his wares, as he did so with a wide smile on his face.
Feng Xi seemed to listen intently, even though he didn’t say a word the entire time. Wuxian could see some kind of spark in his eyes that made it obvious that he was listening and quite interested in what was being said.
After being told about the best books he had for sale, and what genres he had to offer, Feng Xi seemed to consider his option carefully, since this was something that would be his that he could actually keep to himself. Wuxian felt bad that he couldn’t buy Feng Xi more, but the money given to him by his parents that morning was enough to cover the cost of just one
“That one,” Feng Xi said to Wuxian once he picked out the one he wanted, his voice high enough only for Wuxian to hear since they were standing so close to one another. Wuxian was then able to get the merchants attention and pay for the book, handing it over to Feng Xi as he did so.
As Wuxian was getting his change, surprisingly, he heard Feng Xi speak up, asking, “What’s that?” Looking over, Wuxian saw Feng Xi pointing to some smaller books, ones that looked like they were more manuals than books that contained stories.
“Ah, those,” the merchant turned to Feng Xi, gesturing to the small stack of thin books. “They’re cultivation manuals! These ones are extremely rare, I’m afraid. I don’t think you children will be able to afford them.”
Wuxian raised his eyebrows.
He’d never actually seen cultivation manuals being sold here, though he knew they existed from adults talking about them. No one around here was particularly interested in cultivation, so Wuxian was never able to see one of these in person.
Feng Xi let out a scoffing noise as his nose scrunched a little in disgust. “Humans can’t cultivate,” he said. “They’re too idiot.”
Before the merchant could say anything, either by getting mad at them or questioning what Feng Xi meant, Wuxian grabbed Feng Xi’s arm and dragged him away quickly.
“Why’d you say that?!” Wuxian hissed at him, careful to keep his voice low enough that others wouldn’t overhear them.
Holding his book against his chest almost protectively, Feng Xi shook his head. “Only spirits can cultivate.”
“Humans can as well!”
“Cannot. Never seen a human cultivate.”
“Because you live in a forest!!”
Wuxian made a mental note to teach Feng Xi more about manners and how to be polite. He felt like he was going to be sick from the way that Feng Xi spoke to the older merchant, and then forced Wuxian himself to be impolite in order to get them out of that situation. He hoped that there had been no one around that would be able to tell his parents. It was mortifying, thinking of how they would react if they found out…
Blinking, he noticed a lack of purple in his vision, dragging himself out of his thoughts and looked around frantically, unable to find Feng Xi. Just as panic was about to set in, Wuxian caught a glimpse of the other boy across the way from him, the crowd having made him blend in almost flawlessly.
Letting out a sigh of relief, Wuxian quickly made his way over.
“Don’t just disappear like that,” Wuxian said, setting a hand down on Feng Xi’s shoulder.
When the other boy didn’t reply right away, he followed his line of sight, and finally saw what had caught Feng Xi’s attention.
This year, it turns out there was a stall selling tanghulu, the candy shining brightly in the sunlight. Honestly, it wasn’t all that surprising that Feng Xi would be drawn to this stall, as he would occasionally ask Wuxian about them after trying them for the first time.
Feng Xi startled a little, apparently not having noticed Wuxian appearing beside him, or even noticed that Wuxian had placed a hand on his shoulder earlier.
“You like these things, don’t you?” Wuxian asked Feng Xi, as he handed over the change he had left over from the book in exchange for the stick of candy.
Once Feng Xi nodded, Wuxian held it out for him. It was lucky that the book Feng Xi wanted was on the cheaper end and had just enough left to buy one.
“What about you? Don’t you want one?” Feng Xi asked, looking down at the one skewer he had gotten, looking conflicted about taking it or not.
Wuxian simply shrugged. “I don’t like them all that much. Also, they taste better when they’re fresh.”
With this, Feng Xi finally took the skewer from Wuxian’s hand, looking down at it with wide eyes. As the crowd around them grew thicker due to the popularity of tanghulu, Wuxian grabbed onto Feng Xi’s wrist holding his book and led them both out of the crowd, finding an area without as many people. By the time he turned back around to face Feng Xi, he had already finished off half of the candied treat, his eyes sparkling in interest as he ate.
It was a little amusing, but this time, Wuxian was able to hold down the laughter that wanted to bubble out, remembering to have control over his emotions. “Did you want to return to the forest now?” he asked, figuring that Feng Xi had had enough, being around so many humans at once.
Feng Xi slowly chewed on the tanghulu in his mouth, taking this time to apparently think about it, which was surprising on its own. Wuxian was sure he’d jump at the chance to return as soon as possible.
“Can we look about?” he asked, looking a bit sheepish.
“I can’t buy you anything else,” Wuxian was sure to emphasize. If Feng Xi just wanted to stay so Wuxian would buy him more things, it’s best to let him know now that it was out of the question.
“I don’t want things,” Feng Xi said, a small shake of his head. “There’s weird things here. I wanna see them.”
To Feng Xi, everything here could be considered weird, as a lot of it he’d probably never seen before. Honestly, Wuxian had been wanting to look around at the various stalls as well, so he had no problem agreeing to the idea, and he watched as Feng Xi smiled.
It was weird, seeing Feng Xi take some interest in human things, but Wuxian was a little happy about it either way.
They spent a good part of the day wandering between the stalls, looking at the wares they had to offer, with Wuxian answering as many questions he could that Feng Xi would ask him about each thing. It was actually really enjoyable, spending their time like this for once. Normally, it was just the two of them, tucked away in their own little corner of the world, completely hidden from any eyes and ears. Being out around others, getting lost in the crowds and the many sensations it had to offer, it was a good change of pace for once.
After they had passed by all the stalls and seen everything they could, it was time for Feng Xi to return to the forest. Not wanting to return home just yet, Wuxian made up his mind to walk with Feng Xi a distance in, already so used to the forest that it was rather comforting than it was scary to be inside of it.
However, right before they could enter into it, there was a call of Wuxian’s name, and it made him freeze.
“Wuxian?” Feng Xi asked, holding his new book to his chest.
With his shoulders hunched a little, Wuxian turned around, and instantly his shoulders relaxed.
A boy about the same age came running over, an arm waving in the air until he got close enough, where he bent over and rested his hands on his knees, breathing heavily. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” the boy said, voice winded.
“Sorry, Beihe,” Wuxian apologized.
Instinctively, Wuxian moved so he was blocking most of Feng Xi from Beihe’s view, hoping that the other boy would say what he had to and then leave, without questioning who Feng Xi was. But sadly, it didn’t work out that way, because when Beihe lifted his head and saw a glimpse of Feng Xi’s purple hair, he instantly moved so he could look at him from around Wuxian.
“Who’s this?” Beihe asked, not at all thwarted by Wuxian’s attempts to keep him away, moving around whenever Wuxian tried to pull him away.
Wuxian frowned in annoyance. “Some merchants kid.”
“What’re you two doing by the forest? Don’t you know it’s dangerous to go in there?”
“Yes, Beihe, I know.” It was hard to come up with some excuse. Wuxian really wasn’t the best at lying, and Beihe, being one of his few friends, knew this pretty well.
Luckily, Beihe had his own overactive imagination, and would jump to conclusions that weren’t at all true. He looked back and forth between Wuxian and Feng Xi a few times, his mind apparently churning something up, before he let out a gasp, giving Wuxian wide, surprised eyes. “Is this one of those one night things I’ve heard about? I read it in a book, though I wasn’t supposed to read it.”
Wuxian had no idea what he was talking about, but he did know that Beihe had gotten in trouble reading an adult book once. Whatever it was he was referencing, Wuxian knew it was no good automatically. “No, now stop messing around. Why were you looking for me?”
This got Beihe’s attention, once he remembered there was a reason for him being here. “Oh yeah! Your parents have been looking for you, they told me to come and find you.”
Wuxian felt himself tense up a bit, his blood turning a bit cold. He had been so busy with Feng Xi all day and having so much fun, that he had forgotten he was supposed to have lessons earlier that day. He had no idea how he was going to explain this to his parents.
With Beihe rattling on, he grabbed Wuxian's hand and started pulling him along, saying something about how Wuxian’s parents were angry with him being gone for so long. He was so lost in his own thoughts that Wuxian didn’t think about saying goodbye to Feng Xi, and when he turned around to catch a glimpse of the boy one last time, Feng Xi was gone.
No more than a few years passed by, where the children were soon to enter into their teenage years, and it was snowing.
Winter had arrived with a thick blanket of snow and bitter coldness to it that year, hardly letting up at all. However, even the weather needs a break every now and again, and when Wuxian woke up early that morning, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the sun was free to shine brightly down on the freshly fallen snow.
Having woken up far earlier than others were at this time, Wuxian made his way outside, instantly feeling the bite of the coldness on his skin. Silently, he watched his breath leave in puffs in the air, swirling this way and that until it completely disappeared.
He looked over towards the forest with a strange feeling of yearning.
Although the weather didn’t affect Feng Xi, it was established not too long ago that Wuxian wasn’t able to visit as much during the winter season, as it was much harder for him to sneak away, as well as being busier in general. Already, he has gone a few weeks without seeing Feng Xi, and he misses him.
It was just recently that Wuxian began to notice a change in his feelings towards Feng Xi, and while he couldn’t exactly figure out or understand what that feeling was, all he knew was he wanted to be with Feng Xi as much as he could.
While lost in thought, Wuxian felt something hit against his arm and break apart, startling him out of his thoughts. Looking down, he saw a splatter of white quickly melting against his clothes, and it didn’t take much searching for him to spot a bit of purple hidden amongst the neverending pure white.
He was careful to take a quick glance around, making sure there was no one about, and made his way into the forest, always so careful as to not leave a trace for anyone to find.
Somehow, amongst all the trees, the cold was harsher here, continuing to block out the warmth of the sun, as it did in the warmer days. Wuxian wrapped his arms around himself as he walked. As another snowball made its way toward him, Wuxian was able to dodge this time, bending so it splattered against a tree instead.
“I was sure I got you that time as well.”
Wuxian raised his eyebrows, looking over at the direction of the voice, and saw Feng Xi grinning widely, another snowball in hand that he tossed in the air lazily. “So you were trying to hit me.”
“Of course,” Feng Xi threw the other snowball in his hand directly at Wuxian, which he was able to dodge with ease once again. Jumping down from the tree branch he had been sitting on, he landed by Wuxian’s side, barely disrupting the snow beneath his feet. “I have a forest to protect, I can’t go and give you any special treatment.”
“You called me out here.”
“The reason doesn’t matter, I still have a job to do.”
“Then why did you call me out here?” Wuxian said with a hum.
This time, when Feng Xi smiled, there was a spark in his eyes, meaning there was something he was excited about, and for some reason, Wuxian felt his stomach do a strange flip, and he hoped his heart wasn’t as loud as it sounded in his ears when Feng Xi grabbed ahold of his hand, leading the way without answering Wuxian’s question.
Either way, his question was answered soon enough, as Feng Xi led him into a small clearing somewhere in the forest, and Wuxian had to take a moment for his eyes to adjust, as the sudden brightness from the sun shining down on the snow was too much.
Once he was able to see past the glare, Wuxian didn’t know how to react.
In the small clearing was a lopsided circle of ice, its surface reflecting against the sun. It was much too small to have been a pond, so it must’ve formed like this during the months it rained nonstop, catching and holding the water long enough for winter to take over and freeze it in place. By spring, it will melt and disappear.
“Ever slide across ice before?” Feng Xi asked as he stepped away from Wuxian, his hand leaving and making Wuxian’s skin feel cold.
Clearing his throat, Wuxian shook his head. “I have not.” He didn’t even know that was a thing, sliding across a body of water like this. He’s seen people from his village slip on ice and curse at it before, but no one ever did it on purpose.
“I already tested it out, so it’s safe.” He proved his word by placing a foot on the ice and sliding himself forward, towards what looked like the center of it before turning around to once again face Wuxian. “Don’t worry, if you fall, I’ll catch you!”
Hearing those words, Wuxian felt his face heating up for whatever reason. A part of him told him that would be a bad idea, so he made it his goal to avoid falling over at whatever the cost as he walked to the edge of the ice. He looked down at it for a moment, a bit hesitant at the idea, but when he looked back up at Feng Xi, who was waiting patiently for him, Wuxian swallowed down whatever hesitation he had and stepped onto the ice.
Instantly, Wuxian almost fell over, losing his balance and moving his arms to try and fix himself. He was able to right himself before falling, luckily. Looking back at Feng Xi, he saw that the other was a bit closer than before, with his arms somewhat held out, looking as if he was going to be true to his word and actually catch Wuxian.
After seeing Wuxian catch his balance, Feng Xi relaxed a little, dropping his arms back down.
Determined to not make a fool of himself, Wuxian used all his concentration into keeping himself upright, and to move across the ice very slowly.
“Wow, look at you go,” looking up, Wuxian saw that Feng Xi was actually doing circles around him, his hands behind his back and grinning. “You’re almost a natural at this.”
“Very funny,” Wuxian huffed, his voice sounding just a little strained even to himself. He didn’t appreciate being made fun of like this, not when there was the looming threat of him messing up.
“Relax, I’m not trying to mock you. Here.”
As Feng Xi placed his warm hands on Wuxian, one grabbing onto his hand and the other wrapping around his waist, Wuxian felt like his heart was going to explode all of a sudden. “Watch my feet.” Wuxian could feel the soft, hot puffs of his breath, and he found that like this, it was much, much harder to concentrate on anything, much less concentrate on trying to learn something.
Somehow, he manages to focus enough to learn how to move his feet and weight across the ice, and slowly, as Wuxian gets more comfortable with moving around, Feng Xi’s hold becomes less and less, no longer needing his support to stay upright. Feng Xi congratulates him by grabbing ahold of both of Wuxian’s hands, and the two of them spin around on the ice, smoothly gliding across it. Staring at Feng Xi’s smiling face and hearing his laughter, Wuxian feels something in his chest tighten up, and for the first time in a while, he completely let’s go of his composure. He smiles widely, feeling the harsh air hit his face as they spin, but inside, he feels nothing but warmth.
Feng Xi can’t help but to stare.
Slowly, their spinning comes to a stop, with the two of them face to face, hands still clasped together. It’s almost as if a spell had been cast over them, and time around them has stopped altogether. Like this, Wuxian noticed for the first time that, at some point within the recent years, Feng Xi had gotten just a bit taller than him.
Clearing his throat a bit, Feng Xi looks down from where they had been just staring at each other, moving so that their hands were no longer entwined. “Do you think you could beat me at a race now?” he asked, tilting his head a little bit in question.
“Probably not,” Wuxian shook his head. “That’d be a very unfair match anyways.”
“You’ve obviously done this before.”
With a loud laugh, Feng Xi nodded.
Wuxian moved to follow after Feng Xi, when suddenly, he felt one of his feet drop, and the momentum carried him forward, unable to move to right himself, Wuxian braced to hit against the ice.
Of course, the impact never came. Instead, he once again felt those warm hands on him, landing instead against Feng Xi’s shoulder, where he was leaned up against him.
“I meant to tell you about that hole in the ice there,” Feng Xi said with a breathy, nervous laughter that held no real humor in it. “Are you okay?”
Pushing away a little, and trying to keep his overly heated face out of sight, Wuxian nodded. “Yes, I’m--” he didn’t get to finish, however, as pain ran through his foot and up his ankle after trying to apply weight to it, making him wince and curl up a little.
Feng Xi didn’t need to be told that there was something wrong, as he instantly reacted, letting Wuxian lean his weight against him as the two of them slowly and carefully made their way off the ice and back onto solid ground. They find a place for Wuxian to sit in the snow, and Wuxian lets out a hiss in pain as he tries moving it.
He has no idea how he’s going to explain this to his parents, with no idea if it was broken or not, and quite frankly, he was too scared to know what state it was in.
“Can you move it at all?” Feng Xi asked, kneeling beside Wuxian in worry. When Wuxian shakes his head, he lets out a heavy sigh.
Wuxian sits there, feeling panic rising up in his chest, trying to figure out what he’s going to do, when he sees Feng Xi reach out and hovers his hand just above Wuxian’s ankle.
“Feng Xi, what’re you--”
“I can’t promise this will fix it completely,” Feng Xi said, cutting Wuxian off as his eyes close.
Nothing happens for a few short moments, with Wuxian watching and wondering what it was he was trying to do, when suddenly, Feng Xi’s palm began glowing a soft colour, and he watched as that same glow wrapped around his ankle, making it feel warm and numb for a bit. As silently as it happened, the glowing faded out, and all Wuxian could do was stare with wide eyes in wonder.
“There,” Feng Xi said as he opened his eyes, at first staring at Wuxian’s ankle before looking up at his face. “See if you can move it now.”
With very slow and cautious movements, Wuxian did as told, and was surprised to find that there was no more pain when he moved it. As Feng Xi helped him to his feet, it was almost as if he’d never hurt his ankle at all. Instead of the sharp, almost unbearable pain, all he felt was a slight ache if he placed all his weight on it.
He wanted to say something, but any and all words were stuck in his throat, opening and closing his mouth a few times before he finally found his voice. “What was that?”
“Spiritual energy, but you humans tend to call it cultivation.” Feng Xi rubbed the back of his neck a bit sheepishly. “I’m not that good with healing, I can only do simple things.”
Ah, Wuxian did remember Feng Xi mentioning something about it a few years ago, so early into their friendship, when they were talking to that one book merchant.
Never before had he seen it being used. It was mysterious and fascinating.
Wuxian looked up at Feng Xi, frowning, feeling determination. “Teach me how to cultivate.”
He knew what Feng Xi thought about humans learning even before he voiced it, watching as Feng Xi raised his eyebrows and shook his head. “I told you, humans can’t learn it.”
“You only said that because you’ve never seen one do so.”
Feng Xi opened his mouth to say something, but seemed to have frozen for a moment as he thought more on it, eyebrows scrunched up as he became lost in thought.
“Try to teach me, then,” Wuxian insisted, not giving up easily. “If I can’t learn after a couple of months, then I won’t ask about it ever again.”
“I don’t know how much I can teach you.”
“That’s fine, whatever you can is enough for me.”
Feng Xi thought about it for a few more moments, seeming to have to think over the idea a few times before coming to a decision. Finally, he let out a sigh and shook his head. “Alright, fine, I’ll teach you what I can.”
That same year, Wuxian learned to hate the passage of time. He dreaded for the coming months.
Even as he was currently following him through the forest, the sun setting beyond the horizon, just barely peeking out, Wuxian wondered how he was going to explain this to Feng Xi. He’d been putting it off for quite a few days, but now, with only a short time left before his departure, he needed to come clean.
“Ah, watch out for this spot,” Feng Xi said, as Wuxian watched him hop down gracefully from the ledge they were currently standing on, with a drop almost as tall as them, and he turned around with a smile on his face. “Here,” he held out his hand for Wuxian to take.
He knew that Wuxian would have no problem dropping from these sorts of heights on his own. Although it had been a long and difficult road, Wuxian was slowly learning cultivation, much to Feng Xi’s surprise. There was still so much that Wuxian couldn’t do, and so much he had to learn that Feng Xi wouldn’t be able to teach him, but regardless, Feng Xi still reached around to help Wuxian in whatever way that he could.
With this knowledge, it made Wuxian’s chest feel like it was tightening, and without any hesitation, he took the hand offered out.
Spring had only recently come, and the air was still cold, but no longer biting and painful, growing colder still as the sun slowly descended from the sky.
The forest felt like it was a world all on its own, as they walked through the little space only the two of them shared, the sky occasionally poking through the many branches and leaves of the towering trees above them. Wuxian had no idea how he was going to survive without coming here at least every other day. Even if he’s supposed to be away for only a few short months, just a day away felt like it will be torture, especially since he doesn’t want to go.
Hearing the calling of his name, Wuxian snapped back to reality, and was met with Feng Xi’s worried expression. He hadn’t realized he had stopped walking.
“Is everything okay?”
Just now, Wuxian realized how much better Feng Xi had gotten at speaking compared to when they first met, he remembered how much effort he had put into learning, even if he would get frustrated and complain about wanting to give up.
He couldn’t tell Feng Xi, not just yet, so Wuxian simply shook his head and walked in order to catch up. “I guess I am just a bit tired.”
Feng Xi continued walking alongside him, nodding in understanding. “Luckily, we’re almost there.”
The “there” Feng Xi was referring to was the area that Feng Xi had as the closest thing to a home. The entire forest here was his home, but he had admitted to having his own little area he frequented to, and where he slept. He also claimed it was a beautiful area to see the stars, and since there wasn’t a cloud in sight, Wuxian had asked to be taken there.
And, true to his word, it didn’t take much longer for them to get to the small clearing, not all that big, with the tree branches overhead creating a small patch to see the sky through. By now, the sun had set, and the world was dark, but the sky was bright. Compared to the rest of the forest, there wasn’t all that much difference, except for what looked like a fire pit in the center, and a large, twisted tree that looked hollowed out at its base with what looked something like a bed tucked inside of it.
It was extremely simple, but knowing that this was what Feng Xi considered to be his own little space, it felt special.
Walking over, Feng Xi waved his hand a bit over the pit, and instantly, a small fire ignited, lighting up the small area, and Wuxian could see the small smile on his face, one that looked almost a little nervous. “I know you humans have more extravagant living quarters than this.”
While that was true, this didn’t make it any less special. “This is perfect,” Wuxian said, giving him a reassuring smile as he walked over. He could feel the heat coming off of the fire, and was thankful for the bit of relief it provided from the night time chill.
They sat close to each other on the ground, close enough that Wuxian could feel the soft warmth given off by Feng Xi’s body, and for a little while, they talked about the stars that shined overhead. They shared stories about the stars, what humans generally thought of them and the legends passed down from the constellations, and Feng Xi telling him of the few stories he remembered his gege telling him.
It was no different from what they usually do, even though Wuxian felt his heart pounding and his stomach doing weird tricks, this felt comforting, normal. He wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world.
“I was thinking,” Wuxian said after a while, after their conversation about the stars had died off, “if you had been so against learning human languages, how did you talk with your gege?”
“Oh, I guess I never told you, huh?”
Wuxian shook his head.
“Us spirits have our own language that we know once we’re born.”
This was the first time Wuxian had ever heard something like this, not even the older villagers ever mentioned something like that. “Could you teach me?”
With a small laugh, Feng Xi shook his head. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to. It’s hard to explain, it’s just something that’s there. It blends in with the trees and all that grows. It’s carried on by the wind however far we need it to go, and sometimes, the animals speak with us in their own language. I guess the closest thing I can compare it to for you humans is singing.” to compare it to is singing for you humans.”
Just by that description, no matter how loose and hard to understand it was, Wuxian imagined it sounded eerily beautiful. He hopes that one day he’ll be able to hear it, even if he can’t understand the contents and what’s being said within the song.
Now, he’d put it off for too long. He really needed to come clean with Feng Xi, especially since there was a chance Wuxian wouldn’t be able to visit again before leaving.
“Feng Xi,” Wuxian said to catch the others attention, his voice not very loud, as he was afraid of speaking out, afraid that the moment he said it, it would become too real.
“What is it?”
Wuxian watched the flickering fire, as it softly cracked into the night air, trying to distract his mind, trying to pretend this wasn’t actually happening. “I have something to tell you.” He was stalling. He knew he was.
Feng Xi made a noise that sounded a bit like an amused scoff. “I could tell you had something on your mind for a while now. It must not be good, if you haven’t told me yet.”
It was so weird having someone who knew him better than he knew himself, and Wuxian couldn’t help but smile a bit at how obvious he was to Feng Xi. He should’ve known Feng Xi would’ve picked up on it. Wuxian wasn’t too good with words. “Is reading my mind one of your many spirit abilities?”
“I don’t need to read your mind to know what you’re thinking, and I wouldn’t break your trust like that if I could.”
He was always so considerate.
Sighing, Wuxian lost his smile, as he tried to find the right words. If only Feng Xi could really read his mind, then he wouldn’t actually need to say anything.
Well, he couldn’t hold this off any longer.
Wuxian took a deep breath. “I… am going away for a while.”
There was a pause, and then, softly, Feng Xi whispered an “oh.”
After that, there was silence, the only noise between them being the crackling of the fire.
“Where are you going?”
“To the capitol,” Wuxian answered, struggling to keep his voice even. “I won’t return until sometime in the summer.”
That was such a long, long time to be away from home. Away from Feng Xi.
“You really seem like you don’t want to go, so then why are you going?”
“My parents are sending me. Along with some other people my age, including Beihe, and myself, we are going to the capitol for study.”
Once he mentioned Beihe’s name, Wuxian noticed Feng Xi’s body shift. He always seemed to react whenever Beihe was mentioned, ever since that day when they met for a brief moment at the traveling market so long ago. He didn’t mention Beihe often, so Wuxian never thought to bring it up and ask about it.
It was probably safe to say Feng Xi didn’t have a good view on Beihe, simply because he was human, but he only reacted that way towards Beihe.
Once again, everything was silent, and Wuxian waited anxiously. He wasn’t sure what kind of reaction he wanted from Feng Xi, or if his reaction would even change anything. If he asked Wuxian to stay, would he dare go against his parents and deny going to the capitol? Honestly, Wuxian doesn’t think he has it in himself to do such a thing…
But what if Feng Xi doesn’t ask him to stay? Would that mean he actually doesn’t care about Wuxian? That would be completely insane, as Wuxian was sure Feng Xi cared for him, but… what if?
This was all so strange, and it made Wuxian feel confused and, quite frankly, pretty nauseous.
“Will you come back?”
The sudden question made Wuxian snap out of his thoughts, his mind couldn’t quite process the words that were asked, and he turned to look at Feng Xi. “What was that?”
“I asked if you would be coming back.”
“Of… Of course I will be.”
Wuxian watched as a smile slowly crept across Feng Xi’s face, and with the way he was looking at Wuxian so intensely, so surely, Wuxian felt as if the air was knocked out of his lungs. “Then that’s all I need.”
That wasn’t something Wuxian thought he would say. For some reason, this reaction didn’t cross his mind. But once Feng Xi said them, Wuxian felt as if his stomach stopped feeling nauseous, that this was the answer he wanted all along. And with the way Feng Xi said it, how he looked at Wuxian, his gaze turning soft as soon as Wuxian reassured him that he’d return, and the way his shoulders seem to sag just a little in relief, it all just made Wuxian’s heart pound loudly in his ears.
So maybe they’d be separated for a while, but they’d always find a way back to each other. That was a greater promise than trying to swear to never leave each other.
“Come on,” Feng Xi said, as he rose to his feet and held out a hand for Wuxian to take. “You shouldn’t be out this long. Let’s get you home.”
Wuxian felt like his mind and body were working in slow motion, still feeling breathless, as he reached up and was pulled effortlessly to his feet.
With another wave of his hand, the fire bubbled up and burnt out, leaving only the small pit in its wake, leaving behind not a single sign that anything had been burning there to begin with.
Since Feng Xi wasn’t considered human, he could see in the darkness of the forest much better than Wuxian could, and he held onto his hand tightly as he led the way, the two of them traversing the forest silently. Feng Xi’s hand, as always, was warm and secure, as if Wuxian had nothing to fear as long as he was around.
Much too quickly, they got to the forest's edge, and in front of them was the small village. At this time of night, hardly any signs of life were around, as everyone was sound asleep in their homes, waiting for the next day to begin. Wuxian had told his parents he would be helping Beihe with something, a lie they took in extremely easily, and therefore, knew not to wait up for him.
A part of him didn’t want to leave Feng Xi, not yet, not when this could be the last time he sees him for a while, but the promise of returning eased his heart just a little bit. Taking a few steps forward, he went towards the village that was separated from him by only a few trees, only to be stopped by something holding him back.
Turning his head, he saw that Feng Xi’s hand was still firmly holding his own. He looked up to ask what was wrong, but he didn’t get the chance to. Suddenly, he was being forcefully yanked backwards, twisting around and desperately trying not to trip.
Something sharp and painful hit his mouth, and he felt Feng Xi free his hand.
The two of them stumbled backwards, hissing in pain. Wuxian brought a hand up to his lips, and felt something warm and wet against them. Even in the darkness of night, he could see a bit of blood on his fingers, and when he looked up, Feng Xi had his entire face hidden behind his hands.
Did he just…
“Did you just try to kiss me?”
It was really hard to talk, as he felt the wound on his lips swelling a little, and his teeth really hurt.
The other didn’t answer, all he did was nod frantically, still refusing to remove his hands.
Slowly, Wuxian felt his face heating up more and more, to the point where he was sure it could catch fire at any moment.
Wuxian only ever saw adults kiss, and he knew it was a thing you did only when you liked someone.
Did it mean that…
“I’m sorry,” Feng Xi said through his hands, his voice coming out muffled, and cutting through Wuxian’s racing mind. “I know I should’ve asked first or something, that really didn’t go how I thought it would, and I--”
“It--It’s okay,” Wuxian said. Wow, his lips really hurt, and he could actually taste the blood on his lips at this point. He needed to get home in order to stop the bleeding, so sadly, he didn’t have much time to stay.
He turned around to leave, walking only a few steps before stopping. He could feel Feng Xi’s eyes on him, burning at his skin. He didn’t want this to disappear, he didn’t want to come back to them acting awkward and like nothing had ever happened. With a deep breath, over his shoulder, Wuxian said, “When I come back, I’ll show you what a real kiss is like.”
It had already been a few weeks now since Wuxian left the village, and the capitol was something much different than he imagined. It was much much bigger, and noisier. It reminded him of ants on their hill, how there were always people moving about with something to do, something to attend to.
Him and the other students here didn’t get much free time, but when they did, Wuxian just found himself watching people rush about here and there. It certainly was so much different than the quiet stillness back home. Time and time again, he wondered if Feng Xi would ever enjoy coming here, just for a visit. Sometimes he would join Wuxian at the traveling market when it stopped at the village, but obviously, this was much more packed.
It would probably be safe to say that Feng Xi wouldn’t enjoy it all too much, but the tanghulu here, he’d never get enough of. Because of Wuxian, Feng Xi had developed a sweet tooth, and Wuxian just felt bad that a lot of the sweets made had a short shelf life, as he would bring Feng Xi more if they lasted longer.
One day, he’d have to take Feng Xi to visit the capitol at least once. Even if he didn’t like the crowds or the noise, as Wuxian looked out at the capitol from where he sat on the railings of a balcony, he thinks that Feng Xi would enjoy the look of it at night, when things were more hushed, and there was a gentle glow to it.
The building they were studying at was just outside of the capitol, right outside of its walls, as since it was placed on a hill, you could just barely see over the high walls and to the paved walkways down below, where late night shops lit coloured lanterns to light the way.
So far, not a day has gone by where Wuxian didn’t think of Feng Xi, and his heart ached every time. He missed him more than he missed home. He missed his laughter and smile, he missed the way Feng Xi’s hand was so secure in his, making the world seem less scary, less dangerous, and he missed the way the forest was theirs, how it was like their own little bubble, and no one could ever break it.
He misses Feng Xi so much…
“There you are!!”
Wuxian looked over to the entrance, where Beihe was standing with his hands on his hips before walking over, leaning against the railing Wuxian was currently seated on. “I came to let you know that it’s time to turn in.”
Humming, Wuxian nodded, before turning his attention back out to the world before him.
The two were silent for a bit, a comfortable silence settling over them.
“So, have you found your long lost lover yet?”
Wuxian startled a little, blinking as he turned back to Beihe. “Excuse me?”
“That one merchant kid you were hanging with so many years ago!” Beihe exclaimed, laughing a little as he did so. “I figured they were from the capitol here, since so far, you’ve been more eager to look around than to focus on your studies.”
Oh, that. Wuxian stared at him for a moment before shaking his head. “I am taking my studies seriously.”
Beihe gave him a very weird expression that Wuxian knew meant he didn’t believe him one bit. “You really can’t fool me, especially not with the way you take every chance you can get to go into that creepy forest. Why do you go in there, anyways? Your parents will have a fit if they find out.”
“How… did you know I have gone into the forest?”
“I’m hurt,” Beihe put a hand over his chest, gripping at his robes a bit as if he was in pain. “You don’t remember your best friend being there that day you were dared to go in. Really, Wuxian, I knew you were cold, but not this cold to abandon me like this.”
Wuxian was used to his dramatics, letting Beihe act out whatever he wanted as he watched blankly, not bothering to reply at all. However, he was a little panicked by the knowledge that Beihe was at least aware of where Wuxian was sneaking off to. He trusted Beihe to not tell anyone, but did this mean that there were others who took notice of this?
He’d have to start being more careful.
“Have you been bewitched by the spirits of the forest?” Beihe asked, once again leaning against the railing and looking at Wuxian with raised eyes. “Just as long as you sacrifice me last to them, but make sure you give them that damned Jiang guy first.”
“Are doctors supposed to sacrifice others like this?”
Beihe waved his hand dismissively. “I’m not the one doing the sacrificing, so it’s fine, I can’t get in trouble for it.”
Once again, Beihe was allowing his imagination to run wild, something he didn’t grow out of after all these years, but maybe his claim wasn’t too far off. Wuxian was, infact, captivated by a spirit of the forest. One whom he wanted to return to as soon as possible.
It wasn’t long before Beihe gave his goodnights, once again reminding Wuxian that he needed to turn in soon or else he’d get in trouble if caught, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave the balcony quite yet.
With a soft sigh, Wuxian leaned his head back against the board he had been using to support himself with, and he closed his eyes. If he tried hard enough, he could imagine he was sitting beside Feng Xi in the forest, talking about this and that as the fire in front of them crackle and spit, providing a gentle warmth, even though the warmth of Feng Xi’s smile was more than enough.
If he listened closely, he could hear Feng Xi’s voice, his laughter, the way he spoke softly.
With slow but sudden realization, Wuxian opened his eyes.
He… could actually hear Feng Xi’s voice?
It was faint, and he had to hold his breath to listen as intently as he could, but it was Feng Xi’s voice, even though he could understand none of the words.
It took a moment more for Wuxian to realize this was the language of the spirits Feng Xi had told him about just before leaving. How it could carry through the wind and passed on through the trees.
The gentle melody made Wuxian’s heart clench as he froze to listen, bringing a hand up to gently touch his lips, where a scar had formed in place of the bleeding wound.
He wished he could understand the words and meaning behind this message, but in a way, he really didn’t need to. In his heart, he knew that Feng Xi was missing him just as much.
Soon, Wuxian thought. I’ll return home soon.
The journey back to the village was agony.
Wuxian felt restless, as if the trip was taking far too long.
He knew the moment he got there he would have to go greet his parents and those in the village, but that wasn’t what he was impatient for.
What he was impatient for was later on, when no one was demanding his attention except for the one he wanted to give it to the most, the one who was tucked and hidden away from the world to all except him.
It felt like an eternity when he was able to sneak away and into the familiar trees that felt more like a welcome home than the ones given to him by his parents.
For the first time in a while, Wuxian could drop the act. He didn’t have to be what everyone wanted and expected him to be here, so he took off running, jumping over rocks and down ledges, his heart pounding at the familiar thrill.
He followed the tugging at his heart and from the trees until he found the one he was looking for the most, the one he longed for this entire time.
Wuxian didn’t think twice, running down the hill until he was no longer running, feeling nothing beneath his feet as he had no fear of falling, not when Feng Xi turned around just in time to catch him in his arms, wrapping around him tightly and keeping them from falling.
“You were practicing this entire time, weren’t you?!” Feng Xi exclaimed with a laugh, referencing Wuxian’s practicing cultivation while away.
Normally, it was Feng Xi who found Wuxian, but this time, he returned the favor.
Wuxian nodded, burying his face against Feng Xi’s shoulder for a moment before pulling away.
Having spent so much time away, Wuxian noticed that now, they were once again almost the same height, with Wuxian himself now being the taller one.
In the end, however, that didn’t matter. It was the same person, the same heart, no matter how different he looked on the outside. It was the same person whom he called home, whom he had realized while away that he was fully, truly, helplessly in love with.
Without delaying any more, Wuxian took good on the words that he left Feng Xi with. Brushing Feng Xi’s hair from his face, Wuxian gently cupped his cheek before catching his lips in a gentle kiss, one much softer and sweeter than the first one.
Like this, Wuxian finally felt like he was home.
Even after the years of happiness and love that followed, they should’ve been more prepared for the day when it all would come falling apart.
With the way the village feared the forest for one reason or another, it would’ve been a matter of time before some sort of conflict across that led to everything being torn away.
A million thoughts and regrets ran through Wuxian’s mind on how he could’ve prevented this, how he should’ve prevented this. He should’ve worked harder, should’ve stayed home that day, should’ve done something, anything, differently, then maybe this entire thing would’ve gone different.
Instead, he was now staring in horror at the blazing inferno that took over the once beautiful forest, black smoke billowing into the air and blocking out the sun, making the world as dark and heavy as his heart felt. Even standing from where he was, he could feel the heat brought on by the raging fires.
He could hear people shouting and cheering, screaming whatever filthy language they could think of towards the forest, and he knew it was all directed at Feng Xi. Whatever happened made it so everyone was now aware of him, and they were burning it down to kill him.
Without a second thought, Wuxian started running towards the fire. If he stopped to think about it better with a clearer head, he would’ve thought of a better plan, but at the moment, only panic filled his mind, and the need to get to Feng Xi as soon as possible.
Before he could make it, however, he felt a tug against his arm, pulling him back.
Turning around, he saw Beihe staring at him with large eyes, ones that looked almost scared and confused.
“Beihe,” Wuxian said, “you have to let go of me.”
“No, you can’t go in there, that spirit, it’s--it’s a monster.”
“He’s not a monster!” Wuxian snapped. How dare Beihe call Feng Xi a monster?
“It killed people, Wuxian!!”
“No, no you’re lying.” He shook his head. “He’d never do something like that.”
“3 people, it killed 3 people. I don’t know how or why, but it killed 3 of our people, Wuxian. It’ll hurt you too, and I can’t let that happen.”
That didn’t make sense. Feng Xi didn’t like humans, yes, but he would never kill anyone. There must be some sort of misunderstanding, something must’ve happened to have provoked Feng Xi. He would never hurt anyone, not without reason.
Shaking his head, Wuxian couldn’t bring himself to care about those 3 people. Even if it turned out his own parents were casualties, he couldn’t truly bring himself to care, not with the way they treated him, with how they forced him to do things he didn’t want, how they wanted to one day sell him so they could make money off of him, claiming that was the only reason for having a child, or some other quick way to get rich.
Wuxian just couldn’t bring himself to care, as the fire raged on and all he could think about was Feng Xi.
“He won’t hurt me,” Wuxian said. He was sure of this. Feng Xi would never, ever hurt him.
“Wuxian,” Beihe pleaded, but whatever he was going to say next, Wuxian didn’t want to hear. Using what Feng Xi had taught him, Wuxian got out of his grip quickly, forcing Beihe’s grip on him to let go, and as he ran towards the forest once more, he could hear Beihe’s shouts behind him until they were drowned out by the rumbling of the fire.
Already, the fire had eaten away a lot of the land, with branches falling and crashing against the ground, and the trees themselves looking one step away from tumbling over. The smoke was worse here, making it so Wuxian could hardly see, could hardly breathe, as he inhaled a large amount of smoke and instantly felt like his lungs were on fire, coughing violently.
For a little while, he could use his cultivation to make it easier to breathe, but he had no idea how long that would last for.
“Feng Xi!!” Wuxian shouted as loudly as he could, trying to be heard through the noise of the dying forest around him.
He continued calling, hoping, begging, pleading that Feng Xi would answer, that he was safe. Wuxian had no idea how much of the forest was burnt away, if there was anywhere within it still safe, but no matter where he went, all there was, was fire.
It seemed as though time no longer existed.
Wuxian had no idea how long he had been searching and calling for. It felt like both a moment and an eternity.
It was agony.
His cultivation was giving out quickly, and he was exhausted. His legs didn’t want to move anymore, his lungs hurt, and he was burnt and charred, feeling the pain throughout his skin were ashes and embers burned through his robes.
He knew he couldn’t go on much longer.
With this in mind, Wuxian felt his foot catch on something, and he tumbled to the ground.
Ah, it really hurt too much to move now…
What if Feng Xi was already gone? If he was born from this forest, then would that mean it burning away would burn at his soul too? If too much of it was damaged, would Feng Xi disappear?
This thought hadn’t crossed his mind before until now, and with this in mind, Wuxian suddenly didn’t have the will to go on anymore. If there was a world without Feng Xi in it, then he didn’t want any part of that world. It would be one that was too cold, too empty.
With his vision blurring as he lay on the ground, with no more energy to get up, Wuxian accepted this as his fate. Truly, he would rather perish like this than live without Feng Xi.
Whether it was a trick of the mind, Wuxian could’ve sworn he felt those same arms around him, holding him close, and that same soft voice whispering, “I’m sorry,” before everything went dark.
A long, long time ago, one of the first things he remembered was a warning.
“Never let the humans know you exist.”
That was the warning he was given, as he stared at the body freshly impaled by ice, the blood still dripping, dripping, dripping.
He stared at the one who spoke, how their skin and hair reflected like ice and snow. “Do you have a name yet?” the stranger asked, and he shook his head.
At that time, there was a storm going on, the winds screaming through the trees and demanding to be heard. It was easy to make this body look like an accident. “You will be called Feng Xi. My name is Xu Huai.”
The day Xu Huai left, Feng Xi couldn’t understand at the time. Even years later, he struggled to understand why, except that he woke up one morning completely alone, days of searching ending in failure until he just eventually gave up, understanding that this was just how he would be. Alone.
Except, he wasn’t. Not long after Xu Huai’s disappearance, he met a human.
Xu Huai’s warning rang in his ears, how humans are to never know they exist, and he knew he would have to do to this human what he witnessed so long ago. Except, he couldn’t do it. Feng Xi couldn’t bring himself to end a life, and therefore, that was the day a human was aware of his existence for the first time.
And that day on, he was no longer alone.
Xu Huai had appeared not too long ago out of the blue.
He told the reason for his disappearance, how he went to find someplace better for them to live, away from humans, completely unbothered. It was hard to find, but he had done it, and told Feng Xi to come with him.
However, he was a few years too late with this news.
Feng Xi couldn’t leave. Not when he had Wuxian. He couldn’t leave Wuxian behind, and if Xu Huai wasn’t going to let Wuxian be with them, then he’d rather stay, right where he was.
He didn’t know that later on, this would have consequences.
That day, three drunk humans wandered into his forest, and they began disrespecting it and harassing the animals for no reason. Feng Xi so far had only been scaring away the humans, as that seemed to work quite well, they would hardly ever appear again after one time.
But that didn’t happen this time.
Instead, violence broke out.
Feng Xi felt pain, and the next thing he knew, three bodies were at his feet.
They would’ve been easy enough to fake the death of. Three drunkards were no problem to fake the deaths of, but when he turned to look to the side, Feng Xi saw Beihe.
And there was no denying that he saw everything.
Feng Xi couldn’t hurt someone so close to Wuxian, so he let Beihe get away.
And that was how everything escalated, with Beihe telling the village of the murderous spirit that lives in the forest, and they set it aflame.
No matter what, everything would’ve come to this eventually.
It was his punishment for going against Xu Huai, for not going with him when he came to get him. For putting Wuxian in harm's way by letting him visit again and again.
Maybe this is where his time was up.
But when he heard the frantic cries of his name, called by that familiar, beautiful voice, Feng Xi knew his time wasn’t up yet. As long as Wuxian was in this world, he couldn’t leave it. He refused to.
Ah, how selfish a thought that was, as he would only bring Wuxian harm and pain.
The flames hurt, burning at his skin faster than his cultivation could keep up, and his lungs ached so badly now that breathing was painful, but he pushed on, finding Wuxian, just as he always did.
Even knowing that it would hurt him, maybe even kill him, Feng Xi used whatever bit of his energy he could to heal and protect Wuxian. He felt immense guilt, as he carried Wuxian to safety, whispering an apology he was unsure of was heard.
Wuxian woke up to the chilliness of morning, the sun rising up over the trees, and he slowly blinked his eyes open, mind foggy and head pounding.
Slowly, he sat up, a hand on his head before looking around. He wasn’t too familiar with this area, but he’d been here once before, so finding his way wasn’t that hard with some thought.
However, he wished he hadn’t woken up the moment he saw the state everything was in.
What once was alive and glorious, was now dead and charred. The forest he once knew was no more, now only death and grey.
He couldn’t make a noise, too full of despair, as he continued walking, searching, hoping that all wasn’t as lost as he thought, but as he continued to travel through the ashes, that hope got crushed more and more, until he reached what once was the edge of the forest, and he looked out at what once had been his village.
Having gotten caught in the fires, it burned down with the forest in a twisted form of karma.
Strangely, Wuxian couldn’t feel any sadness over this.
It felt as though this was deserved for having raged against the earth and harmed it. What once had been homes were now piles of ashes and rubble. Wuxian had no idea if there were any survivors or if they had burned, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
Not when they had attempted to hurt the one he loved more than anything.
Wuxian’s vision blurred, and it was then that he realized he was crying, fat, hot tears running down his dirty face.
“Please,” Wuxian rasped, his voice and throat hoarse, but he begged, pleaded, hoped, “please give me a sign… Feng Xi…”
Just as he was about to give up all hope, Wuxian heard what sounded like a song, short and distant, and he at least could recognize this as the language of the spirits.
He couldn’t understand it, and he didn’t recognize the voice, but he knew in his heart it had something to do with Feng Xi.
Feng Xi was still alive.
Whether it was just crazy false hope or the truth, Wuxian wiped away his tears.
It was his turn to find Feng Xi once again.
No matter how long it took, as long as they returned to each other, Wuxian would find a way to immortality just to return to his side...