Mu Qing first has the idea when he's in the mortal realm.
He had just finished taking care of a case in his territory, and instead of going straight back to the Heavenly Realm, he decided to linger in town for a bit. Strolling through the bustling marketplace in disguise, he browsed the stalls aimlessly. He wasn't particularly interested in buying anything, letting the villagers and vendors’ chatter serve as white noise for his walk. He was about to turn a corner when a shout caught his attention.
"Matching couple jewelry! The finest you'll ever see! Come buy one for you and your special someone!"
Mu Qing paused. Normally he wouldn't have cared at all about such things but that was before…
Well, before he had a special someone, he supposed.
Before he knew it, his feet had carried him over to the stall. The vendor perked up, obviously pleased by a prospective customer.
"Mister! A handsome young man like you certainly has a lovely girl! Buy her one of these and she'll certainly love you forever!"
Mu Qing gave the man a cool glance. "I don't have such a person," he said, inwardly shuddering at the idea that Feng Xin was anything like some soft-spoken girl. The vendor's smile twitched and Mu Qing rolled his eyes, turning his attention back to the stall's wares.
There was a wide assortment of rings, bracelets, and combs laid out on the table. Off to the side were hairpins, each situated in its own box. There was a variety of design and color options, and upon closer inspection, Mu Qing realized that it was possible to mix and match the jewelry. A man next to him had chosen a ring and a necklace with matching blue stones, grinning as he paid for his purchase. Another customer who walked up picked out a ring and a bracelet with matching engravings on them.
Mu Qing picked up a bracelet engraved with small flower designs and its matching ring. As he held up the ring and examined it, he entertained the thought of Feng Xin wearing that bracelet during court meetings while he wore the matching counterpart. Officials would notice when they talked to them, Heavenly Officials were always taking notice of their fellow gods, sizing them up, and making assumptions.
"That design on your ring General Xuan Zhen, it seems very familiar! I think I recall seeing the same design on General Nan Yang's bracelet that he always wears, am I correct?"
"You would be correct," Mu Qing would respond, "The two are a set."
Just like me and him are.
Mu Qing flushed furiously and quickly set the jewelry down, hurrying away from the stall. How shameless could he be? Indulging in the idea that he and Feng Xin were some sort of inseparable pair, as if they were something that couldn't exist without each other. They weren't attached at the hip like His Highness and Crimson Rain Sought Flower. Sure he and Feng Xin were together, but at least they had enough shame not to shamelessly flaunt their relationship in public.
Even after he and Feng Xin had confessed their feelings for each other, their relationship hadn't changed a great deal. It wasn't a surprise to Mu Qing. After all, eight hundred years of arguing and fighting wouldn't magically turn into sappiness and puppy-eyed devotion. Mu Qing nearly gagged at the thought.
While their relationship wasn't a secret, it's not as if they made a great deal of effort to let everyone know they were together. He and Feng Xin rarely held hands while they were in the Heavenly Realm or even touched each other. They still argued and fought, though the arguments were more like petty squabbles and the fights stopped becoming explosive. Perhaps the Heavenly Officials were more relieved that Mu Qing and Feng Xin stopped causing mass property damage than curious about what happened between them to cause such a change.
And even if they did appear together all the time, they were both martial gods of the South, so it wasn't all that unusual. Not unusual enough that one would jump to the conclusion that the two of them were in each other's company because they loved each other.
No, their relationship was not as much of a public thing as it was private. Private in the way where Feng Xin would slip into the Palace of Xuan Zhen at night and leave unnoticed by the junior officials in the morning. Private in the way where they'd hold hands as they walked to visit Puji Shrine before letting go when Xie Lian opened the door. Private in the way where Mu Qing would get up from bed in the morning and kiss Feng Xin on the cheek before Feng Xin left to deal with a disturbance in his territory. Their love had always been a quiet thing, a secret hidden in plain sight.
So why was it that whenever Mu Qing thought about them wearing matching jewelry, displaying them brazenly, his heart would twist uncomfortably?
No, it wasn't truly discomfort. It was more like… want.
Maybe it's because their love has been so quiet that Mu Qing wants to give it a chance to cry out. A chance for it to pipe up and say, "Look! These two are in love with each other!"
Crimson Rain Sought Flower and His Highness' love was as loud as the clanging of bells. Surely it wouldn't hurt if his and Feng Xin's love were to chime just a bit too.
That's how he found himself leaning against Feng Xin, the two of them enjoying the shade of a tree. Feng Xin had thrown his arm over Mu Qing's shoulders, a pleasant warm weight. His hand played with the end of Mu Qing's ponytail, absent-mindedly combing through the strands and twisting the hair around his fingers. Their picnic, if a box of plain steamed buns could be called a picnic, laid half-eaten in the grass, attracting the attention of a colony of ants. Fent Xin's bow and armor laid nearby, the golden metal glinting in the sunlight. They had hopped down into this area in the mortal realm for some relaxing time together, away from any village and away from the eyes of any other gods.
It's private. As it always is.
Mu Qing bit the inside of his cheek.
"Hm?" Feng Xin's voice was low, as if he was on the cusp of falling asleep.
"What… what do you think about wearing matching jewelry?"
Mu Qing felt Feng Xin's body still.
"What?" His voice was more clear, more awake.
Mu Qing rolled his eyes. "I'm right next to you. Unless you've gone deaf in the past minute you know perfectly well what I said."
Feng Xin blinked and scratched his head. "Yeah I know, I'm just… Why are you asking?"
"You can't answer my question with a question."
"The fuck? Don't be so defensive, I'm just asking."
"Answer my question first and I'll answer yours."
Feng Xin threw his arm up in exasperation. "Alright, fine! I don't know! In my opinion it just seems… I don't know, dumb? Tacky? He scratched the side of his face. "I'm not really a jewelry person anyways."
Mu Qing's eye twitched.
"Oh. I see."
Feng Xin stared at him. Mu Qing pointedly looked away. After a moment, Feng Xin gaped.
Mu Qing scowled. "What's up with that expression? You look stupid."
"You...want to wear matching jewelry?"
"What the fuck? No!"
"You totally do! That's why you asked! You're even blushing right now!"
Mu Qing slapped a hand over his cheek. Sure enough, his traitorous face was warm with heat. He couldn't even imagine how red it looked. "F-fuck off!" He scrambled to get back up on his feet, but Feng Xin used the arm he had around his shoulders to pull him closer.
"No way, I answered your question, now you have to answer mine. Why do you ask?" Mu Qing tilted his head up and saw the biggest shit-eating grin on Feng Xin's face. He scowled harder and tried to get out of Feng Xin's hold, but Feng Xin was most certainly using spiritual power because all Mu Qing was able to do was writhe and squirm unsuccessfully.
He stopped struggling and fell back against Feng Xin's stupidly broad chest. Feng Xin looked at him expectedly, lips quirked.
Mu Qing huffed. "Matching couple jewelry seemed… popular in the mortal realm. It's popular with the mortals." He thinks back to that one man who looked so happy as he purchased the matching necklace and ring at the stall.
Feng Xin laughed. "Mu Qing, we aren't mortals."
Mu Qing felt like his face was on fire. “I know that,” he hissed, wrenching himself free from Feng Xin’s grasp. He stood up and snatched the box of buns off the ground. Feng Xin was still laughing, the usually pleasing sound now setting off Mu Qing’s fight or flight instinct.
He nearly tripped in his haste to flee the situation. "I’m heading back up!"
“Eh? What— hey! Mu Qing! Are you seriously running away?”
“You two can go down and deal with the ghost. According to reports, it’s relatively low class. Should be a fast job.”
“Just the two of us, General Xuan Zhen?”
Mu Qing glowered at his junior officials. “I wasn’t aware that we’d need an entire army to deal with a single ghost,” he said coolly. “Nor was I aware that my own officials would be incompetent. Do I need to personally escort you down and hold your hands?”
His officials shrank back. “Of course not, General Xuan Zhen. We’ll be on our way immediately.” They bowed quickly before scurrying away. As they made their escape, Mu Qing overheard one of them hiss, “General Xuan Zhen seems crabbier than usual, don’t you think?”
Mu Qing had half a mind to go after them for badmouthing him but his attention shifted immediately when he heard something slam into the wall behind him. The building trembled under the assault, the ground shaking a bit as well. Feng Xin’s shadow cast over him, the archer’s body hovering over his.
“You’ve been avoiding me.”
“I have not.” Mu Qing’s eyes flicked to the hand by his head. Feng Xin had slammed into the wall with such force that there were cracks. Pieces of stone crumbled off and fell to the ground. “You’re paying for that, by the way.”
Feng Xin didn’t look guilty at all for causing property damage, simply removing his hand and shaking it. Dust from the damage swirled around them in clouds. “You’ve been avoiding me,” he repeated. “For days now, actually.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“Bullshit. You’ve been pushing off all your work on your junior officials. And I know that for a fact because they complained to my junior officials about how much they had to do while you’ve been sulking around your palace.”
Mu Qing made a mental note to hold a meeting with his junior officials and go over more ground rules. No insulting your general and no fraternizing with those from the Palace of Nan Yang would be the key highlights.
“I didn’t realize that you encourage those who work under you to gossip about others. Highly unprofessional, if you ask me.” He turned on his heel, his ponytail whipping around and hitting Feng Xin in the face as it always did. “Now unlike some people, I have actual work to do and can’t waste time harassing others.”
He only made it a few steps before Feng Xin spoke again.
“You’re mad at me.”
Mu Qing paused. It was a statement, not a question. Feng Xin’s voice had lost the irritation it previously had and now sounded resigned. And though it was barely noticeable, there was a flicker of hurt underneath it all.
Mu Qing hated how his heart throbbed with discomfort.
He and Feng Xin have exchanged nastier words and even nastier blows with each other. They’ve “been mad at each other” for almost eight hundred years. He’s been able to grow a thick skin against anything Feng Xin has ever thrown at him but now…
Things were different between them now. And now, Mu Qing can’t just ignore that Feng Xin sounds like a kicked puppy.
Who knew that being in love with Feng Xin would be so annoying? Mu Qing wants to kick his past self in the ribs.
He sighed and turned around, walking back to Feng Xin. He gave him a single placating pat on the cheek. “I’m not mad at you,” he said. And it wasn’t a lie, Mu Qing wasn’t angry at Feng Xin. At least not at the moment.
Feng Xin’s brow furrowed and he stared at Mu Qing, gaze never wavering. Mu Qing held the gaze steadfastly, refusing to be the first one to look away. They stood there staring at each other, probably for much longer than what was normal as a few questioning glances were thrown their way by passerby, obviously wondering what the two Southern martial gods were doing. Finally Feng Xin blinked, eyes lighting up in realization.
“Are you still upset about the whole couple jewelry thing?”
The flames of embarrassment began to heat up again as Mu Qing recalled the day where his idea got gracelessly shot down. “Are you still on about that? Of course not. You rarely use your brain yet when you do you come up with the most idiotic ideas. In that case, you’re better off not using it at all.” The flames had already climbed to a steady fire, and Mu Qing could feel his blush become more visible as he spoke. Cursing his thin face, he whipped around and made his exit as fast as possible. Feng Xin called out for him as he left.
“Are you sure it’s not that? We can do it if you really want-”
“Are you certain?”
But Mu Qing had disappeared, and Feng Xin never got a response.
After that confrontation, Feng Xin left him alone. Mu Qing first takes note of this when he realizes he’s been spending less time avoiding Feng Xin and more time scanning the Heavenly Realm for any sign of him. He’s tempted to ask His Highness if he’s seen him, but then he imagines a) running into Crimson Rain Sought Flower, or b) His Highness’s dumb grin, eyes sparkling as he laments about “how nice it was that he and Feng Xin were getting along”. Both options are deterring enough that he instead stays in his palace and catches up on work instead.
He considered asking one of the junior officials to go to the Palace of Nan Yang to scope things out under the guise of a paperwork error, but then remembered that he gathered all his junior officials up and basically ordered them from ever speaking to anyone associated with General Nan Yang, so that was a bust too. It’s too early to go back on his word, so instead he stays seated at his table, sorting through scrolls.
His juniors are still as gossipy as usual, unfortunately, and once in a while he’ll catch the tail end of a conversation and they talked about “how moody General Xuan Zhen is” and how he “must be moping around because he hasn’t seen General Nan Yang for a while.”
Ridiculous, Mu Qing thought as he furiously ground his ink stick into the inkstone. The black liquid sloshed around dangerously, almost spilling out. He wasn’t some clingy maiden who couldn’t bear being parted from their significant other. Feng Xin was the clingy one out of them, if he was being honest. Once like a loyal dog to His Highness, and now like a lovesick puppy to Mu Qing, frequently popping in to see what he was up to or following him whenever he went down to the mortal realm.
He’s been so used to having a puppy trailing behind him that when he could finally walk without his heels getting nipped, he felt unsettled.
Well, no matter. Feng Xin wouldn’t stay away forever. And when he came back, he'd know exactly where to find Mu Qing.
It was still early in the morning when he heard a knock of the door of his bedchamber. Mu Qing groaned at the sound, rolling over in the bed. He didn’t even bother opening his eyes. “What?” he called out, voice hoarse with sleep.
“General Xuan Zhen, General Nan Yang is outside. He’s asking for you.”
Mu Qing’s eyes snapped open. It had been two weeks since he had last seen Feng Xin. He quickly got out of bed, grabbing an outer robe and haphazardly got dressed. When he deemed himself as somewhat presentable, he hurried out the door, rushing past the junior official. He tried to keep his pace at a respectable speed because he was most definitely not excited by Feng Xin making his presence known. The knowing smirk on his junior’s face proved his attempt futile, however. He inwardly sighed, knowing that they were all going to have a field day with this.
He threw open the front door with a great deal of force, surprising both him and the person on the other side. “Feng Xin,” he greeted, hoping that he didn’t sound like he had dashed over at the mere mention of his presence.
“Hi.” He took stock of Mu Qing’s disheveled appearance. “Sorry for coming so early, I’m pretty sure you were still sleeping.”
Realizing how he must look, Mu Qing began to adjust his attire subtly. “I was, actually. But considering how no one’s seen you for a while, I thought it best to sacrifice my rest and see for myself that you were still alive.” He hadn’t meant it to, but his words tasted bitter as he spoke. “So. Why are you here? It better be good.”
Feng Xin grinned, eyes twinkling. “Actually I do have a good reason for being here. Besides being your boyfriend, of course.” Mu Qing rolled his eyes but blinked in surprise as a box was shoved into his hands. He ran a hand over the smooth wood of the exterior. A box for jewelry? Hope flickered in his heart. Had Feng Xin…?
Feng Xin waved his hand in a “go on” gesture. “Open it,” he said, anticipation evident in his voice. Mu Qing batted his hand away and eagerly took the top of the box off. He froze.
Feng Xin smiled, giving a nonchalant shrug. “I know you said that you weren’t upset about what I said, but I know you better. You never just say what you mean, it’s frustrating as hell, you know? I took all that time looking for the perfect matching jewelry set and I finally made up my mind. Pretty good, r-”
“...Is this you not saying what you mean again?”
Mu Qing shook his head. “No, I’m saying exactly what I mean. These are the most hideous pieces of jewelry I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Feng Xin’s smile dropped. “Are you fucking serious right now?”
Mu Qing turned the box around and shook it, causing the contents to rattle around. “What made you think I would like this?”
Inside the box were a golden hairpin and comb, decorated in matching adornments. Bright blue and red jewels littered across the body of the comb, their shine so sickening that it scorched his eyes. Poised in the comb’s center was a large gaudy flower, made of cut pink jewels, the facets glittering in the light. The hairpin was no better with its matching floral ornament dangling from the end, large and ostentatious.
Mu Qing was certain that if anyone was to wear these in direct sunlight, they would blind everyone in the nearby vicinity, if not from the sheer ugliness of the hair ornaments then from the intense amount of light that reflected off it.
The idea that Feng Xin had looked at these two travesties of hair accessories and thought, “Ah yes, Mu Qing would certainly enjoy this,” had his lips curling in both horror and disgust.
“I thought it looked pretty!” Feng Xin cried, offended. “You like pretty things!” He reached over and picked up the hair comb, turning it over in his hand. Mu Qing squinted on reflex as the overly extravagant ornament made another assault on his retinas. “See? Look how pretty it is.”
“I would love to, but unfortunately I’ve been blinded,” Mu Qing said dryly. He snatched the comb out of Feng Xin’s grasp and tossed it back into the box, closing the lid with a snap. He shoved the box back into Feng Xin’s hands. “Go return it. I don’t even wear hair combs.”
“You could start.”
Feng Xin scowled. “Un- fucking- believable. You spend weeks moping around because you wanted to match stupid jewelry, and now that I’ve bought you stupid matching jewelry, you don’t want it.”
Mu Qing sneered. “Maybe if you didn’t buy something so awful looking I would have wanted it.”
He watched as Feng Xin’s face darkened. Feng Xin let out a scoff, sharp with disbelief. “You really are unbelievable.” Cracks formed on the outside of the box where Feng Xin’s fingers were digging into the wood. He shook his head and turned around, beginning his descent down the palace steps. “I give up.”
Mu Qing said nothing as he watched Feng Xin leave. Watched the light glint off the metal of his shoulder plates as his form got smaller and smaller the further away he got. Then he was gone.
Mu Qing turned around and went back home.
“Was it really that bad?”
“It was absolutely hideous. I can’t even imagine any woman who would want to wear what he bought, much less a man.”
“Hm.” Xie Lian frowned and raised his tea cup to his lips.
The two of them were seated at a table in the garden of Xuan Zhen Palace, enjoying the gentle breeze that rustled the grass. Mu Qing had invited Xie Lian for lunch, but it was more of an excuse to fill him in on the utter travesty of affection that Feng Xin had tried to bestow upon him.
“You really wouldn’t believe how gaudy it was,” Mu Qing griped. “I can’t even begin to understand what he was thinking.”
“Well,” Xie Lian said, setting down his cup, “I think I can.”
Mu Qing shot him a questioning look. “What do you mean?”
Xie Lian coughed lightly into his fist. “Well. Feng Xin stopped by Puji Shrine a while back to ask for...advice. On what to get you. Since he said you were upset.”
“I wasn’t upset,” Mu Qing snapped.
Xie Lian waved his hand. “Regardless. I’ll admit I’m not well versed in what qualifies as ‘nice’ looking jewelry since it’s been so long since I’ve worn anything of the sort, so when I was telling him what to get, I had San Lang in mind.” Xie Lian laughed nervously. “In retrospect, I should have accounted for the fact that you two would probably have very different tastes.”
Mu Qing fixed him with a glare. “Your Highness, you really based your opinions on jewelry on what Crimson Rain Sought Flower wears? The same person who wears the gaudiest statement necklaces on a normal basis?”
Xie Lian gaped. “Well I don’t think that San Lang’s tastes are gaudy!”
Mu Qing rolled his eyes. “Doesn’t matter if you don’t think it, it’s the truth. He had no shame wearing that belt you made him; that just goes to show how much he cares about accessories.”
Red bloomed in Xie Lian’s cheeks as he recalled his homemade birthday gift for his husband. “San Lang said it was very nice.”
He says the same thing about your cooking, you don’t believe that, do you? “Better buy him a second eyepatch then, he’s going blind.”
Xie Lian let out an exasperated sigh. “Mu Qing, if you had just told Feng Xin what you wanted in the first place, I think you would have been much happier with the results.”
A scowl tugged at Mu Qing’s lips. “He’s my partner. He’s known me this long and he can’t figure out what I like? That’s on him, not me.” Xie Lian laughed at his declaration, the sound tinkling in the breeze.
“He may be your partner, but he’s not a mind reader, Mu Qing. Even when we were younger, he had a hard time figuring out what you were thinking. I can’t imagine him being any different now.” Xie Lian tilted his head. “I think you should just talk to him. If this really means that much to you, you should speak clearly, so there’s no misunderstandings.”
Xie Lian leaned forward to give Mu Qing’s hand an affirming pat. Mu Qing raised his eyebrow at the sudden contact, but didn’t draw away. Xie Lian smiled at him.
“I think you two have had enough misunderstandings for a lifetime, don’t you?”
Emotions bubbled in Mu Qing’s chest, uncomfortable and sticky. He had kept his feelings under lock and key for so long, hidden behind a blank face and cool words. A lifetime of constantly being misinterpreted, what good was it to speak clearly if others were quick to dirty and twist his words? He had enough of that.
When he and Feng Xin got together, things were supposed to be easier. Now, at least one person would make the effort to understand him, to read between the lines when he spoke.
Or so he thought.
Thinking back to their fight in front of his palace, Mu Qing wondered if things were slipping back to the way they used to be. Arguing. Assuming. Accusing. It made him feel sick.
He must have looked deep in contemplation, because Xie Lian didn’t press any further. He removed his hand from Mu Qing’s and turned to look out into the garden. Xie Lian made a small noise of surprise.
“Ah, are those trees new? I don’t think I remember seeing them last time I was here. Same for those flowers over there.”
Taking advantage of Xie Lian’s attempt to steer the conversation away from his relationship troubles, Mu Qing rolled his eyes. “Of course they’re new. I had to level the entire garden after you and Crimson Rain pulled that stunt of yours with your statues.” He shuddered visibly, and Xie Lian flushed bright red.
“Mu Qing! We don’t need to bring that up again, we really don’t!”
“Why are you the one freaking out? You changed the topic, don’t blame me for staying on it.”
“Let’s talk about something else! Anything else!”
A few days later, Mu Qing saw Feng Xin again. They had avoided each other prior, and even now during this conference, they avoided looking at each other and sat as far away as possible.
Of course, that didn’t stop Mu Qing from sneaking glances at Feng Xin once in a while. Quietly hoping that maybe he’d catch Feng Xin looking back. He would scowl if they caught each other’s gazes, as if to say Why are you looking at me?, before rolling his eyes and turning his attention away.
But that never happened. Every time Mu Qing inconspicuously looked over at Feng Xin, he wouldn’t be greeted with the sight of those brown eyes staring back into his. Instead he was greeted with his profile as Feng Xin stared straight ahead, or with the nape of his neck as he turned to whisper to the person on his right.
He never once looked over at Mu Qing.
Mu Qing was not disappointed by this at all. Not a bit.
Though when the conference wrapped up and Mu Qing made his way over to where Feng Xin was, he was significantly more nervous. It wouldn’t have been as bad if he at least had some reassurance that Feng Xin maybe missed him and maybe wanted to grab his attention too. But it seemed like only Mu Qing was the one feeling these things.
Well. No matter.
He came to a stop behind Feng Xin and cleared his throat. Feng Xin stiffened at the noise, shoulders tensing. A visible acknowledgment. At least Mu Qing wouldn’t have to go through the embarrassing ordeal of clearing his throat even louder, trying to attract Feng Xin’s attention just in case he didn’t hear the first time.
There was a long pause as both of them stood there. Mu Qing made no further attempt to speak, waiting for Feng Xin to turn around, and Feng Xin made no sign of turning around to look at him.
Stubborn, Mu Qing thought, thoroughly annoyed. A sudden realization hit him. Wouldn’t it be more embarrassing if even after knowing that Feng Xin had heard him, he just walked away? General Xuan Zhen, completely ignored by General Nan Yang in his attempt to hold a conversation!
Well if Feng Xin was going to be like that, then he refused to let Feng Xin humiliate him by walking away before he could even speak.
“Rings.” Mu Qing blurted out. “I like rings. They’re s-small. Not flashy. B-but noticeable. People notice rings.” He clamped his lips shut after his sudden outburst.
At this point, they were the only ones left in the room, save for a few straggling officials and their disciples. Good. Let it be known that if he walked away now, General Nan Yang was plainly and rudely ignoring his fellow martial god.
Wait but isn’t that humiliating as well? For people to think that General Nan Yang really has that little respect for me?
“Why are you telling me this?”
Mu Qing was so absorbed in his inner turmoil that he was caught off guard by Feng Xin’s voice cutting through the air. Feng Xin had turned around, eyes staring directly at him.
Those eyes did not hold the warmth they did when Feng Xin had first given him that jewelry box, eager to see his reaction. They did not hold the annoyance or coldness that Mu Qing would have expected to see if he had caught Feng Xin stealing glances at him during the conference.
In fact there was nothing in them at all, at least no emotion that Mu Qing could decipher. For someone who wore his heart on his sleeve, emotions all out on display for the world to see, it was the most uneasy expression Mu Qing had witnessed from Feng Xin.
The uncomfortable, sticky feeling in his chest rose up again, clinging to his ribs and squeezing around his heart. He fought through it, opening his mouth and forcing his words out.
“I just thought you should know.” The words were out in the air, and his throat closed up again, as if clogged with cotton.
Feng Xin’s eyebrow twitched. It was the only reaction he got before Feng Xin turned and walked out of the room. The sound of his boots hitting the floor echoed through the slowly emptying room, pounding into Mu Qing’s skull.
They’ve been doing a lot of walking away from each other recently, haven’t they?
Mu Qing let that uncomfortable, sticky feeling swallow him whole.
“General Xuan Zhen is sulking again?”
“When hasn’t he been? Don’t you remember the whole fiasco with General Nan Yang a few weeks ago?”
“Keep your voices down, he might hear you!”
Mu Qing scowled and rolled over in his bed. Idiots. When you speak that loudly outside my bedchamber, how can I not hear you?
Though normally he would be upset at the accusation of sulking, Mu Qing gave this time a pass because this time, he really was sulking. Though, Mu Qing thought he earned the right to sulk. Anyone who’s ruined their relationship and was now miserably waiting for their partner to deliver the break up speech deserved to wallow in sadness for a little bit.
Since the conference, Mu Qing had practically locked himself up in his bedchamber. He used his private communication array to dole out responsibilities to a handful of junior officials, then proceeded to ignore said junior officials as they tried to respond back.
It was honestly pitiful, and frankly Mu Qing was disgusted with the way he was acting. Heartbreak certainly was a peculiar thing.
Well, it wouldn’t be fair to call it heartbreak just yet. After all, Feng Xin hadn’t come up to tell him “This isn’t going to work out.” But the way Feng Xin acted after the conference was enough of a rejection. Mu Qing’s heart was already precariously cracked, it just needed the final blow from Feng Xin to break it cleanly apart. Similar to how Mu Qing had broken that bell that almost fell on him, all that time ago.
A voice floated into his private communication array.
“General Xuan Zhen.”
“Hello, Ling Wen.”
“I have been trying to reach both you and General Nan Yang concerning matters about your territories, yet I’ve only been able to talk to your junior officials. I didn’t expect your lovers’ spat to render the both of you incompetent.”
“My junior officials can take care of any situation. Just leave it to them for now.”
“So it’s true. General Xuan Zhen is sulking around, waiting to be broken up with.”
“Who said that?” Mu Qing snarled.
“Your junior officials, of course. Considering how much work you’ve thrown onto them, I trust their judgment.”
So his junior officials haven’t learned anything from his “don’t talk bad about your general” meeting. Unsurprising. His temper flared and he growled, “I’ll have you know that if anyone’s being broken up with, it's General Nan Yang. As if I’d let Feng Xin break my heart.”
“It sounds to me like he already did.”
“I’ll give the assignments to your junior officials then, General Xuan Zhen.”
Ling Wen exited his private communication array, and Mu Qing buried his face into his sheets.
Not that long after Ling Wen left, another voice piped up.
Mu Qing groaned.
“Yes, Your Highness?”
“Are you doing all right?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well I heard about some things from Feng Xin and - “
Mu Qing’s heart clenched. Feng Xin had talked to His Highness? About what?
Probably about his plan to shatter your heart like he’s breaking a stone over his chest.
Well if Mu Qing was going to be broken up with, he definitely didn’t want to hear about it from His Highness.
“I don’t want to talk about Feng Xin,” he snapped.
“Mu Qing -”
“Goodbye, Your Highness.”
Mu Qing booted Xie Lian out of his private communication array.
Silence finally fell over him and he sighed in relief. He rubbed his temple, feeling the stirrings of a headache. It would be great, he thought bitterly, if everyone could leave him alone and let him emotionally prepare himself for the great turmoil he was bound to suffer soon.
He shut his eyes tightly and exhaled deeply. A nap would do good. It wasn’t possible to feel emotions while unconscious.
The pounding in his head had slowly subsided and Mu Qing could feel his muscles relaxing as he began to drift off. Just as he was about to slip into sleep, he felt his head throb again, a sign that someone had once again entered his private communication array.
Eyes snapping open, Mu Qing let out an audible growl of frustration. He jabbed his fingers into his temple, rage bubbling viciously in his chest.
“WHAT IS IT NOW ?” he roared.
The rage was doused quickly, cooling into clammy anxiety.
Mu Qing froze.
A small pause. Then, “Please.”
“I’ll be there.”
He felt Feng Xin leave his communication array. Mu Qing lowered his fingers from his temple, dropping his hand to his side. He got up from his bed slowly, stopping in front of the bronze mirror to fix his hair.
If Feng Xin was going to break his heart, then he was at least going to look damn good while it happened.
Word seemed to have spread throughout his palace that General Nan Yang had returned, and Mu Qing watched as his junior officials tried to look casual as they leaned by pillars that were located very well within earshot of the front door. Mu Qing rolled his eyes at their lack of subtlety, but then snapped back to focus. He was wearing one of his nicer robes, and he had chosen a prettier crown to keep his hair up in his signature ponytail. He schooled his expression into one of passiveness, as if his body wasn’t trembling with anxiety. He refused to look anything besides the picture of collected grace in front of Feng Xin.
When he finally reached the front door of his palace, he stopped to take a deep breath. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his junior officials scurrying into their hiding places, no doubt waiting with bated breath to eavesdrop. He exhaled, partly to calm his nerves and partly out of exasperation.
He opened the door.
Feng Xin stood right outside.
The sun lit him up from the back, a halo of light illuminating him from behind. His tanned skin glowed warmer, cheeks lighting up from where the light bounced off from the metal of his armor. A soft breeze caused his hair ribbon to dance in the wind. He used a longer ribbon this time, Mu Qing noticed, watching the ends of the fabric flap around his shoulders. Here, basking in the glow of the sun, he looked every bit like the god he was.
Mu Qing wondered if this was the last time he’d get to see Feng Xin in this light. The last time he could look at Feng Xin and think, Yes, this is my lover.
Once they were over, Mu Qing mused, he probably wouldn’t be able to look at Feng Xin with that kind of awe anymore. Only sadness and regret.
He was too busy drinking in the sight of Feng Xin that he barely registered him pushing something into his hands. At the lack of response, Feng Xin’s expression warped into a frown.
What an ugly expression, Feng Xin. I’m soaking in my last positive memory of you, and you decide to look like that?
“Hey.” Fingers snapped in front of Mu Qing’s face and he startled. “Mu Qing,” he barked.
Mu Qing blinked. “What?”
The frown left Feng Xin’s face, leaving only tired exasperation. “What the hell’s up with you? Open your gift.”
Gift? Mu Qing didn’t know people gave each other gifts when they were declaring the relationship over. Then again, Feng Xin was his first relationship.
And your last, he thought bitterly.
The fingers returned, snapping in front of his eyes. “Did you hit your head? Open your gift, damn it.” Feng Xin’s voice was snappy.
(Or was it antsy? But what did he have to be antsy about?)
Mu Qing finally jolted out of his stupor and smacked Feng Xin’s hand away. “Awfully rude to talk to your gift recipient like that,” he said, the retort sliding off his tongue as he slipped into their natural banter. Banter was easy.
He looked down at the gift Feng Xin gave him and his breath hitched. It was another jewelry box. His hands trembled minutely as removed the lid, holding his breath as the contents were revealed.
Seated inside the box on a silk cushion were two silver rings. Not overly shiny, but they sparkled just the right amount in the afternoon sunlight. Inconspicuous, but noticeable when they glinted, a sharp cry of attention. Upon a closer look, Mu Qing realized that both rings had tiny, complex designs engraved into them. One ring sported the engraving of a bow with an arrow nocked into it, the other sported the unquestionable engraving of a saber. There was no doubt who the matching rings were meant to represent.
Such intricate and precise designs must have taken a long time to carve into the small metal surface. Mu Qing’s throat bobbed.
Feng Xin cleared his throat, a loud, nervous sound. “I decided that something bought from a vendor would never be the right thing you wanted, so I melted down my own arrowheads to make the rings.” Mu Qing’s head shot up, eyes widening. Feng Xin scratched his head. “To make it more. Personal. Or some shit.” He sniffed and met Mu Qing’s gaze.
“Do you like it?” he asked softly. Nervously.
Mu Qing scrambled to get his emotions in check as he tried to form a coherent response. He picked up one of the rings, turning it over with his fingers and admiring the way it shined in the soft glow of the setting sun.
“It’s alright, I guess.” Mu Qing managed to choke out.
Feng Xin beamed wildly. “Knowing you, that’s as good as I’m going to get,” he said, voice coated in fond exasperation. He picked up the remaining ring in the box, the one with the engraved bow and arrow, and slipped it onto Mu Qing’s finger. Mu Qing stilled, processing the new accessory adorning his finger. Feng Xin took advantage of his state of surprise and plucked the ring Mu Qing was holding, slipping it onto his own finger. He turned the ring so that the saber engraving was facing outwards.
“There. Now we match.” He waggled his fingers mischievously in front of Mu Qing’s face. “Are you happy now?”
When Mu Qing failed to give a response, Feng Xin’s brows furrowed in concern again. “You...you are happy right? Is it about the engravings? I didn’t personally do them myself, my hands are too big, I had to ask someone else to do it is that oka-”
“I’m happy,” Mu Qing said, cutting off Feng Xin’s rambling. “I’m just…You didn’t come over to break up with me.”
Feng Xin spluttered. “What? What the hell, why would I break up with you?”
Mu Qing looked away. “You were mad. After I told you to return your first gift. And after the conference.”
Feng Xin laughed. “Ha! If we broke up every time one of us got mad at one another I don’t think we’d even have a relationship.” He took the jewelry box from Mu Qing’s hands and set it on the floor. Snaking an arm around Mu Qing’s waist, he pulled him closer. Mu Qing inhaled at the contact. Feng Xin tsked disapprovingly. “Look at you, always assuming the worst.” Mu Qing scowled.
Feng Xin studied Mu Qing’s face, seeming to take great enjoyment in his reactions. “Yeah, I was pissed at you at first. But then at the end of the conference you came up and tried to say what you meant. Your cute stutter even came out again,” he teased. Mu Qing flushed, cheeks pinking at the reminder of his unfortunate speech impediment. “How can I deny my boyfriend what he wants when he tried so hard to fight through his emotional constipation?”
Mu Qing spluttered. “Y-You!” He beat his fists against Feng Xin’s chest trying to wriggle out of his grasp. “You absolute fucker, I can’t bel -”
His retort was cut off as Feng Xin crashed his lips against his, forceful at first to shut the other up, before softening into something gentler. When they parted, Feng Xin grinned at Mu Qing’s burning face. “Cute.”
Mu Qing scowled harder. “Bastard,” he said, no heat behind his words.
Feng Xin hummed at the insult and nipped Mu Qing’s nose. He then raised his head, looking behind Mu Qing and into his palace. “Enjoying the show?” he asked, voice booming throughout the building.
Mu Qing craned his neck and watched as his junior officials scattered in different directions, like mice after being hit with a broom. He rolled his eyes, and mentally planned another meeting on appropriate work conduct. Feng Xin drew his attention again, planting kisses on his neck all the way up to his ear. He pulled away, breath puffing against Mu Qing’s earlobe.
“I sent all my junior officials out on assignments. My palace is empty.” His voice was low, rumbling. Mu Qing shivered, and leaned in closer to Feng Xin’s face.
“Well then, what are you waiting for, oh great General Ju Yang?”
“Now if anyone has any further questions, please ask before I move on to the next topic...”
Ling Wen’s voice droned on, slowly muffling into background noise. Mu Qing looked around uninterestedly. This conference had already gone on for what, two, three hours? And he was fairly certain than half of the information they were covering didn’t pertain to him at all, so even his presence was unnecessary.
He saw Feng Xin on the opposite side, very obviously fighting back a yawn. They made eye contact, and Feng Xin visibly perked up. He lifted his hand and waggled his fingers, causing the ring on his finger to sparkle in the light of the conference hall. Mu Qing rolled his eyes at the childish action and turned away, a grin tugging at his lips.
Suddenly, Feng Xin stood up, fingers on his temple. "Apologies, Ling Wen Zhenjun. His Highness has urgently requested assistance from both me and General Xuan Zhen.” He paused, and then added, “His Highness is currently waiting with Crimson Rain Sought Flower.”
At the mention of the ghost king, the Heavenly Officials murmured nervously, muttering “Go, go quickly,” as if worried that any further delay would bring upon Crimson Rain’s wrath.
Mu Qing stood up as well and after Ling Wen dismissed them, he hurried outside to meet up with Feng Xin. “What’s the situation?” he asked.
Feng Xin hummed and clasped Mu Qing’s hand in his. “No situation,” he replied. He led them out onto Martial Deity Avenue. “Do you want to go down to the mortal realm and get lunch?”
Confused, Mu Qing stopped in his tracks. “You were lying?”
Feng Qin quirked his eyebrow. “What, you wanted to stay in that boring meeting?”
Mu Qing rolled his eyes. “Of course not. I just didn’t expect General Nan Yang to be so bold as to lie to an entire court of Heavenly Officials.”
“Seems like I’m always doing ridiculous things for you, hm?” Feng Xin raised their entwined hands to his lips and kissed his ring, lips brushing over the bow engraving. Mu Qing made an indignant noise and batted Feng Xin’s head away with his free hand.
Feng Xin laughed, giving Mu Qing’s hand a firm squeeze. “So, lunch?”
Mu Qing huffed, and gently squeezed back. “Lunch sounds good.”
They descended to the mortal realm together, hand in hand.