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With You on Rainy Days

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Rain falls, softly pattering against the hollow struts of the bamboo house. The quiet, blue-grey haze smeared across the sky is reflected in Shizun's dark pupils as he watches bamboo leaves bend under the weight of falling water.

Today is just like any other, and yet Binghe already knows it will be one of those days.

Shizun is slumped against the windowsill, impeccable posture foregone for chin propped in a slender hand and silky, black tresses allowed to breathe free of bindings for the day. Shizun stares out at the rain, and the blue-grey of the sky reflected in his pupils makes him appear lost, afloat in thoughts to which Binghe is not privy.

On days like these, his shizun is not Shizun, but someone else entirely.

On days like these, Binghe has a few choices. One is to strong-arm himself into Shizun's thoughts by calling immediately for his attention. Today, Binghe does not want to use this option, even if it is the quickest. Shizun will startle, and his face will change in a flash, shuttering like a trap door and showing nothing of what is going on beneath. Binghe's Shizun will come back, but whatever is troubling him will remain, left to fester till the next quiet, blue-grey day.

Today, Binghe silently prepares a pot of fragrant tea, pours a cup, and gently sets it on the table within his husband's reach.

He sits back to wait.

Sure enough, before the tea can lose its optimal temperature, a subtle shift occurs in Shizun's countenance. Like a beacon slowly piercing through a foggy forest, awareness returns to Shizun's eyes. He doesn't visibly move, but it is as if a thread of energy thrums through him, returning strength to his core and thawing stone-frozen limbs and fingers. He takes a steady, deep breath as if it is the first after a long, sunken sleep.

Jade-pale, slender fingers cup the ceramic tea vessel, and Shizun once again breathes in its heady scent before taking a measured sip. When his gaze returns to the overcast sky outside, his eyes are clear and his petal-pink lips part to speak.

"Binghe," Shizun says, tone as gentle as a spring breeze caress, a beckoning into a strange yet wonderful faraway land. "Would you like to hear a story?"

This is how Binghe knows he has played his cards right. When Shizun asks this, and Binghe says yes (he will always say yes), Shizun's face softens and his smile turns dreamy. He returns to his blue-grey space, but this time with happier thoughts in mind.

He tells Binghe of fantastical things too bizarre to be real. He describes metal carriages not drawn by horses, but by oil and heat. He speaks of giant hollow birds that can fly across the sky, ferrying humans to other lands within their bellies. Of palm-sized contraptions that can be used to speak to others across the world and can access an invisible web filled with any variety of knowledge you could imagine- home remedies, human anatomy, botany, and recipes, his shizun says.

At the word 'recipes,' Binghe perks up, and perhaps sensing his interest, Shizun turns to him and his dreamy smile widens into a fond quirk of the lips. "One of the most famous foods in that world is called ramen," he says. "The noodles can be dried into storable bricks and reheated with water and sauce packets to eat when convenient."

Binghe wrinkles his nose. To him, it does not sound appetizing in the slightest.

Shizun laughs quietly at this reaction. "Of course, Binghe's lamien is much better."

Binghe's invisible tail wags.

But he does not miss Shizun's wording. Shizun speaks as if he has tried this ramen. In fact, Shizun often lets slip such offhand comments that imply his existence in this world far removed from their home. His descriptions are painted so vividly that they cannot possibly be stories heard from word of mouth, but rather drawn from memory.

Binghe has always known that his shizun- in both beauty and intellect- is ethereal and otherworldly. At times, it is almost as if he is omniscient, like a god. It would not take much for Binghe to believe this fantastical world really exists and that Shizun had once existed within it.

Shizun's piercing gaze returns to the sky, where the rain has slowed and the clouds are beginning to part. Sunlight skewers from the heavens, backlighting the last few drops of precipitation and lending a soft glow across the dewy land. As the sun returns to the sky, so it seems Shizun returns to this world and this present with Binghe.

Binghe is thankful for it. He loves every part of and every moment with his shizun, but he loves it most when Shizun is here- really here- with him.

His husband's back straightens and he self-consciously fusses with a lock of hair, realizing it is not done up in the usual manner. Before he can move, Binghe fetches the comb and waits for his husband's permission to touch.

Shizun turns a fond look up at him and nods once. As Binghe's fingers slide through his silken locks, Shizun speaks up. "Thank you," he says.

"This disciple needs no thanks," Binghe's mouth replies reflexively.

Shizun huffs and shakes his head in disagreement, catching Binghe's wrist and twisting to look him in the eye. "Binghe. Thank you."

Warm, supple lips press against his, and then Shizun's face is gone, turned away, and all that is left is the back of his head, patiently waiting to be combed.

Binghe knows if he tries to peek at Shizun's face right now, he will be smacked or the fan will be snapped open in defense. Instead, he resumes combing, heart racing in recollection of his husband's shy kiss, the imprint of it left like petals on his lips.

It is only when his heart has calmed that he wonders why Shizun had thanked him. It is strange for his husband to be so insistent upon thanks for a favor so trivial as hair combing (a favor that is every bit as much a treat for Binghe).

Then, Binghe realizes, perhaps the thanks is something more. More to do with Shizun's other world, with his blue-grey days. More to do with waiting.

For what, he has no idea. But someday, Shizun will tell him.

Binghe presses a kiss into the crown of his husband's head. Shizun, predictably, stiffens and immediately whirls around, fan shielding his reddened face, to glare at him.

As Shizun admonishes him, Binghe smiles helplessly and thinks to himself, No matter how long it takes, I will wait for you.