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The Turn of Events in Life

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  Mo Huaiyang is as much of an arrogant bastard as he’d been before, the wily old fox’s eyes flitting over the disciples of Siji Manor with a sneer.  Fan Huai Kong stood beside him, a far more amiable expression on his face, hands clasped as he bowed and made the introductions.

  Zhou Zishu kept the grin off his face as he spotted Cao Weining.  The boy was just as immediately besotted by the pretty girl in purple and pink as he’d been the first time, his eyes never leaving her figure as she stood slightly behind Wen Kexing.

  Everyone from Siji Manor were dressed in their best.  Jiuxiao, Han Ying, Chengling and the other disciples were all in shades of pale blue and grey, Siji colours.  Luo Fumeng and Qianqiao had abandoned their usual colours for more muted robes in similar shades to match.  The girls of the Buoqing Bu were now dressed as demure maidens.  Wen Kexing was in a pale blue with deeper blue accents throughout, while Zhou Zishu was in deep blue and white, trimmed in fur.

  Ye Baiyi and Xie Jie Liubo were out of sight, but no doubt keeping watch somewhere.

  Ostensibly the meeting was one of strengthening ties, but Zhou Zishu and Wen Kexing had hopes that Gu Xiang would be as intrigued by Cao Weining as she’d been before.  Though she had denied it as long as possible last time, the way she had let Cao Weining trail around after her had been enough for Zhou Zishu to know they would be a pair before long and that had borne out.

  He flicked his eyes back to see how she was reacting.  He bit back a smile, disinterest on her face, yet her eyes found the young rabbit time and time again.  He gripped Wen Kexing’s hand for a moment, squeezing.  The attraction was there.

  Mo Weixu nudged Cao Weining, keeping his eyes on his father so he wouldn’t notice them, a teasing smile on his lips as he noted Cao Weining’s attention had been taken entirely by the young woman in purple.  Cao Weining ducked his head, nudging Weixu right back, but it wasn’t long before his gaze sought out Gu Xiang again.

  Wen Kexing was stiff, his hand in Zhou Zishu’s tightly gripping, flexing as he tried so hard not to glare at  Mo Huaiyang.  He tipped his head to Zhou Zishu’s, “I want to kill him, can I, please?”

  Zhou Zishu actually considered it.  The man was nothing but a judgemental asshole.  Fan Huai Kong was a much more temperate individual as was Mo Weixu.  Perhaps the Qing Feng would benefit from new leadership.  Not having to deal with the man regularly was also an incentive.  A rather large one.

  Zhou Zishu closed his eyes, breathing in and out slowly.  “Stop tempting me, Lao Wen.  We’re trying to be good people, remember?’ he hissed out the side of his mouth.

  A disgruntled snort came from beside him, Wen Kexing clearly finding that a stupid reason to let the man live.  “Would it not be doing the world a service, A-Xu?”

  Again, Zhou Zishu thought about it.  Mo Huaiyang’s face was one that irritated him, arrogant, convinced of his own self importance, looking down at everyone else.  How Cao Weining had come from such an environment, he didn’t know.  Fan Huai Kong and Mo Weixu must have had far more to do with the little rabbit’s education than Mo Huaiyang.  

  “Probably,” he conceded.  “But we aren’t going to kill him unless he does something bad.”  He peered at Wen Kexing out of the corner of his eyes, “and that doesn't mean you get to provoke him.”

  Wen Kexing’s fan came up to hide his mouth from view as he leaned close to Zhou Zishu, eyes still trained on Mo Huaiyang.  “He’s a very detestable man, A-Xu.  I am sure he is incapable of being agreeable for long.  You see the way he is looking down on us.”

  It didn’t matter that the leader of the Qing Feng had been present at the down fall of Zhao Jing, had been witness to the part Wen Kexing and Zhou Zishu, to a lesser degree, had played in that.  He’d witnessed the revelations and yet he was still sneering at them from behind a mask of polite indifference.

  Perhaps he could prevail upon Gao Chong to smooth things over?

  He grimaced, hiding it quickly lest Mo Huaiyang see the indiscrete expression.  No, he and Wen Kexing should handle it.  They were the Zhuangzhu’s of Siji Manor.  It was their responsibility and no-one else’s.  

  “Let’s get everyone inside, maybe he’s more palatable with a bit of drink in him,” Zhou Zishu murmured to an amused Wen Kexing.  “Remember why we are doing this, Lao Wen,” he prompted with a quick glance to where Gu Xiang was studiously not looking at Cao Weining.

  “Oh, I remember,” Wen Kexing muttered darkly, Zhou Zishu mildly alarmed by the tone.  His mouth was pursed in a grim line.

 

  Wen Kexing had quickly grown bored of the whole affair, Gu Xiang was obviously just as enamoured as she had been the first time and if anything, Cao Weining was worse, positively fawning over her.  Mo Huaiyang had settled somewhat and that had bored Wen Kexing.

  Zhou Zishu only worried more.

  A bored Wen Kexing was akin to a mischievous cat in a room full of delicate pottery.  A recipe for disaster.

  With Han Ying, Jiuxiao, and Mo Weixu playing chaperones for Gu Xiang and Cao Weining, Chengling flitting back and forth, reporting on progress for Wen Kexing, they had nothing to be particularly vigilant about.  With Fan Huai Kong tentatively pleased with a possible marriage alliance between their sects, Zhou Zishu was no longer as concerned about Mo Huaiyang, so he’d become a little less observant of the social niceties and let his more natural snarkiness show.

  Consequently, every time Mo Huaiyang glared at them for being affectionate, Zhou Zishu encouraged Wen Kexing into more scandalous behaviour.  Fan Huai Kong appeared amused by it all.

  He raised his brows as Chengling stuttered to a stop before them, bowing hastily.

  “Shifu, Shishu,” he said, breathless.  “Ye-qianbei and Xie Daren are coming in.”

  Zhou Zishu fought to contain his grin.  If Mo Huaiyang thought he and Wen Kexing were bad, he couldn’t wait to see what he thought of the Immortal and his husband.  Wen Kexing huffed beside him, obviously gleaning his thoughts, deliberately slipping his hand higher up Zhou Zishu’s thigh.

  “Old Monster,” he proclaimed loudly, watching Mo Huaiyang’s reaction from the corner of his eye, a startled blink.  “He’ll eat us out of all our stores as usual,” he added as an aside to Zhou Zishu.

  The casual nature of the comment, the lack of deference for someone so clearly higher in status than anyone else in attendance, the familiarity had Mo Huaiyang a little flustered, his complexion paling as Ye Baiyi strolled in, Xie Jie Liubo on his arm and commandeered a place for them without so much as glancing in Mo Huaiyang’s direction.

  “Brat,” he greeted Zhou Zishu.  “Other brat,” was directed at Wen Kexing.  Xie Jie Liubo rolled his eyes and swatted Ye Baiyi’s arm in admonishment.  Ye Baiyi scowled, “what?  I didn’t smack anyone with my sword, isn’t that enough?”

  Xie Jie Liubo sighed, eyes rolling heavenward like a long suffering wife, which Zhou Zishu supposed he was.  “You said you would be on your best behaviour, Yiyi.”

  Ye Baiyi pouted, “again, no swords.  I’m behaving, wǒ de ài.”

  With a far more polite bow, Xie Jie Liubo greeted Zhou Zishu and Wen Kexing, “I did try, but you know how he is.”

  Zhou Zishu chuckled, signaling for more wine and then sent a servant scurrying to the kitchens for more dishes for Ye Baiyi.  “Nevermind, Liubo-Di.  Ye-qianbei is like part of the furniture.”  He leaned close to Xie Jie Liubo, “I am glad you came in, I have just about convinced Lao Wen not to kill our guest, but now I’m considering it.”

  Hiding a laugh behind his hand, Xie Jie Liubo’s eyes flicked to Mo Huaiyang briefly.  “He looks rather sour, a poor guest.”

  Zhou Zishu raised his cup, covering his mouth as he whispered, “hates cutsleeves evidently.”

  Astute eyes picked out Wen Kexing’s hand, a smile tugging at Xie Jie Liubo’s lips, knowing and a little smug as he patted Ye Baiyi’s arm fondly, “well, this should be an interesting evening.”  He chuckled as he gazed about the room, noting Jing Beiyuan and Wu Xi, “he really has picked the wrong company if he detests cutsleeves so much.”

  Zhou Zishu snorted into his wine.

  Ye Baiyi leaned forward, chopsticks halfway to his mouth, “who hates cutsleeves?”

  Oh no.

  Zhou Zishu shook his head desperately, trying to convey to Xie Jie Liubo that it would not be the best idea to unleash Ye Baiyi on Mo Huaiyang directly.

  It was one thing for Wen Kexing to blatantly feel him up under the cover of the table, a completely different kettle of stinky fish for Ye Baiyi to become involved beyond his usual flirting with Xie Jie Liubo.

  “Mo Huaiyang,” Xie Jie Liubo told the Immortal with a tiny giggle in Zhou Zishu’s direction.

  Shit.  Too late.

  “You did that on purpose,” Zhou Zishu hissed, Xie Jie Liubo shrugging nonchalantly.  He rolled his eyes, wanting to drown himself in his wine.  He wasn’t truly upset with Xie Jie Liubo, more he was annoyed with Mo Huaiyang.

  “Him?” Ye Baiyi snorted derisively.  “Probably drinking vinegar,” he announced, loudly.  “In my experience, it’s the men who want dick and are too cowardly to go out and get it that bellyache about cutsleeves the most.”

  Mo Huaiyang’s face turned the colour of a ripe plum.  Wen Kexing choked on his wine and Zhou Zishu wanted to vanish through the floor.  He glared at a thoroughly unrepentant Ye Baiyi, knowing he couldn’t apologise to Mo Huaiyang for the Immortal’s comment, as that would imply that he was the type of man Ye Baiyi had spoken of.  But then, Mo Huaiyang could not openly complain either for the same reason.  Ye Baiyi started to smirk at him, seeing him realise Mo Huaiyang’s dilemma.  Clever bastard.

  Beiyuan down the table chuckled behind his hand, clearly coming to the same conclusion as Zhou Zishu.

  In fact, everyone, except Mo Huaiyang, in the vicinity of Ye Baiyi was chuckling or struggling to hide laughter.  Even Fan Huai Kong.  Zhou Zishu watched avidly as Mo Huaiyang began to realise he was very much in the wrong place to be acting as he was, scowling and staring down at his wine.  Fan Huai Kong patted him on the shoulder, murmuring to him and Zhou Zishu saw the scowl carefully set aside, replaced with a blank, pleasant expression.

  He admired his resilience and the man obviously had enough intelligence to admit defeat.  

  

  Beiyuan sat across from Zhou Zishu and Wen Kexing, Wu Xi at his side, the pair exhibiting a stillness and gravity he’d never quite experienced from them.  Wu Xi, he was more accustomed to seeing with a serious expression, but Bieuyan was another thing entirely.

  It was discomforting.

  “You asked me some time ago how it was that we knew there was something different about you, and then there was that time you were curious about how I knew of the Meng Po,” Beiyuan began, his whole demeanor making Zhou Zishu cringe internally.  “I told you I would explain another time, and now that everything is settled, I feel that perhaps that conversation can be held now.”

  Zhou Zishu cleared his throat, “we need not talk of it if it is such a private thing, Beiyuan.  I do not need to know.”  Wen Kexing nodded his agreement, looking between the somber pair.

  Beiyuan sighed, “I appreciate that, Zishu, but it is something I do wish to explain, as it may clear up some of my behaviour from our time in Jin.”  He paused, glancing at his husband, Wu Xi gripping his hand.  “In my first life, I was...hopelessly obsessed with Helian Yi.  It did not go well, not really.”

  Zhou Zishu choked, blinking rapidly at his friend.  “W...what?  First life…”

  Another deep sigh from Beiyuan as he nodded, “yes, my first life, this life now, is my seventh incarnation.  I know of the Meng Po because when I died in that first life, I was offered it and refused it so I was not reincarnated as a human.  I have been...an insect, a dog, a jasmine plant, a fox...those lives do not matter, it is this one, how I came to be here again that matters.  Bai Wuchang, the Soul Reaper, instructed one of the Ghost Officials, Hu Jia, to move me on, tell me it was time.  He had told me so himself, many times, explaining he had reaped the wrong soul and that I was doomed to separation and longing for a love I would not have.  I am afraid I was a little rude to Hu Jia,” he said with a soft smile at Wu Xi.  “Bai Wuchang told me then, that once I was done with this seventh incarnation, my destiny with Helian Yi would finally come to an end and we would no longer be entangled with each other.”

  Zhou Zishu frowned, recalling that while Helian Yi had been rather obsessed with Beiyuan, the feeling hadn’t been mutual.  As he knew it.  Beiyuan nodded at him with a tiny smile curling his lips.

  “After I was the white fox, I was offered the Meng Po again, and this time I drank.  Three cups I drank, and yet...I remembered things I was meant to forget and forgot those I should remember.  I refused to go back, sitting by the Three Life Stone.  Sixty three years I sat by that stone, waiting.  When it was time again, Bu Wuchang performed a spell as I entered the pool.”  He shook his head ruefully, “he said to me as I went under the water ‘ It was my fault that your fate became incomplete and full of suffering. There is nothing I can do to make it up to you but this; giving up all of my cultivation to trade for one lifetime where you can have black hair again.’”

  “Was it you that he reaped by mistake?” Zhou Zishu asked softly.

  Beiyuan shook his head, “no, but...it caused Helian Yi and I to become enemies instead of great lovers.”  Again, he glanced at Wu Xi, “when I woke, he had sent me back to the first life in a fashion, similar to what happened to you two.  I remembered everything, but I was a child.”

  “Too knowing,” Zhou Zishu muttered.

  “Yes,” Beiyuan said.  “Too knowing.  I too felt that I could change things.  I made the decision that while I knew Helian Yi, he would never truly know me.  And I met Wu Xi.”  He caressed his husband’s face fondly, “I am a much better man for knowing him.”

  “And I am better for finding you,” Wu Xi said with a gentle smile.

  “Finding,” Wen Kexing whispered, peering at Wu Xi curiously.  “Bai Wuchang gave up his cultivation to send Beiyuan back.  What happened to him?”

  Wu Xi actually chuckled.  “I once had a dream where I saw Beiyuan, a head of white hair, sitting by a large rock.  He ignored me when I tried to talk to him.”

  “I don’t ignore you now, my little Toxin,” Beiyuan murmured, thumb sweeping over Wu Xi’s cheek tenderly.

  Zhou Zishu stared at them both in astonishment, “well, fuck.”  He pointed at Wu Xi, “you...you’re…”

  Wu Xi shook his head, “don’t think on it too much, Zishu.  It is a subject that can lead the mind in circles.”  He quirked his lips in a wry smile, “I am Wu Xi, nothing more.”

  “Besides, do we or do we not we have another wedding to plan,” Beiyuan interjected with a clap of his hands, deftly changing the subject and mood.  He grinned at Wen Kexing, “you seem pleased this particular pig is nibbling your cabbage, Kexing.”

  With a raised brow at the new informal address from Beiyuan, Wen Kexing shrugged, “the benefit of knowing things, I suppose.  The fool will be good for her, if his bastard shifu does not get in the way.”  His fist clenched and Zhou Zishu patted it soothingly.

  “Well, I am far from opposed to a good scheme, you can rely on me if you need another mind on the problem of Mo Huaiyang,” Beiyuan said with a wide grin.

 

  “We’re leaving,” Ye Baiyi announced, apropos to nothing one afternoon while Zhou Zishu was supervising his disciples training.  Wen Kexing leaned forward to look around his husband with a raised brow.

  “Our kitchens will thank you for that,” he commented snidely.

  Xie Jie Liubo snickered, “we will visit, Kexing-ge.”

   Wen Kexing scowled, but it held no real heat to it and would have been useless if it had, Ye Baiyi ignoring it regardless.

  “Where are you going, Ye-qianbei?” Zhou Zishu asked.

  “Back to Changming for a time, but Xie Xiao purchased a property, so we will go there after.”  He rubbed his hand over Xie Jie Liubo’s back, “he has many ideas.”

   “Oh?”  Zhou Zishu tilted his head to one side.  “Planning your garden, Liubo-Di?”

  Xie Jie Liubo grinned, “yes, Da Wu gave me an idea some time ago, I thought to make a beginning on it.  He told me that I possibly have a propensity for healing as I know so much about poisons and plants.”  He bit his lip, looking a little shy, yet proud at the same time.  “I also like to decorate, so I will be refurbishing the house once we settle there.”

  Wen Kexing beamed at him, “I knew you had a little flair, Liubo-Di, I look forward to seeing it.  We will have to visit.  With you in charge it won’t be the hovel the Old Monster would decorate.”

  Xie Jie Liubo shot Ye Baiyi an apologetic glance, “you will not have far to go, Kexing-ge.  It is down in the valley.”  He leaned close to Zhou Zishu and Wen Kexing conspiratorily, “it took a great deal of cajoling to get Yiyi to agree.”

  “I’m sure the deciding factor was the fact he could wander up the hill any time he likes to plunder our kitchens,” Wen Kexing groused.

  “Ignore him,” Zhou Zishu said, elbowing Wen Kexing.  “It will be good to have you both so close.  With Beiyuan and Wu Xi leaving for home sooner or later, Siji will feel their absence, and yours.  We have enjoyed having you here.”  His sharp eyes noted something off in Chengling’s motions.  “Jiuxiao, have Chengling practise that form for two hours, he’s looking like a lumbering bear still.”

  Jiuxiao grimaced, shooting Chengling a sympathetic glance.

  “Shifu!”  Chengling moaned, pouting with wide eyes.  “My limbs will fall off.”

  Ye Baiyi snorted, “I’m not getting you a new one if you kill him.”

  Wen Kexing and Zhou Zishu burst into laughter at that.  Chengling looked like he thought he’d managed to escape his punishment, but he was soon abused of that notion.

  “Make it three hours,” he barked, glowering at Chengling.

  Wen Kexing leaned into him, “A-Xu, surely he can have a break.”

  Zhou Zishu raised one brow, narrowing his eyes at his wife, “don’t think I am not aware of the fact you let him off already this morning.”

 

  A few days later, Zhou Zishu and Wen Kexing came across Jiuxiao in the garden, fixated upon a small piece of cherry wood in his hands.  Zhou Zishu’s heart clenched in his chest.  He stopped a short distance from his shidi, watching him carve the hairpin he remembered so vividly.  Wen Kexing halted with him, peering at him curiously, eyes widening as Zhou Zishu smiled.  Wen Kexing’s eyes flitted to the hairpin and he mouthed a soft ‘ahh’ in recognition.

  Jiuxiao lifted his head, cheeks colouring as he noticed the pair, hiding the hairpin in his sleeves, averting his eyes in embarrassment.

  “Shidi,” Zhou Zishu said, stepping closer.  “Who is she?”  Even though he already knew, he wanted Jiuxiao to be able to tell him this time.  He wished his shidi had been able to tell him before, but now he could make up for the teasing and indifference.  

  Jiuxiao scowled, fidgeting with his fingers.  “I hate you.”

  Zhou Zishu sat beside him, “no, you don’t.”  He patted Jiuxiao’s knee, still smiling.  “I can’t broker a marriage for you if you don’t tell me who she is.”

  “Aiya, you’re so annoying,” Jiuxiao huffed.  He flicked his eyes to Zhou Zishu, then back to his hands, eventually pulling the hairpin out of his sleeve to toy with it.  “Military Governor Li’s daughter.  Sinking fish, falling goose, hiding the moon, shaming the flowers .”

 Zhou Zishu struggled to hide his laugh at that.  Jiuxiao was completely and utterly in love with her.  His mooning expression as he recited was something he never thought he’d get to see.  One should always think their spouse, or spouse to be, was the most beautiful in the world, he certainly did of his own.

  Wen Kexing lowered himself to the bench on the other side of him, holding his hand out for the hairpin to examine it.  “It’s a pretty piece, Jiuxiao.  It will mean more being carved by you personally, rather than simply buying one.”

  Jiuxiao blinked at them both, swiveling his head from side to side.  “Do you think so?” he asked timidly.  “It’s not very good.”  He stared down at it when Wen Kexing delivered it back to his hand.  His fingers curled around it protectively.

  “Lao Wen is right, Shidi,” Zhou Zishu assured him.  “Princess Jing An will cherish it all the more because you made it for her.”  He nodded when Jiuxiao turned wide, pleading eyes on him.  “Does she know?”

  Jiuxiao bit his lip, nodding again, cheeks colouring.   “I know she is above my station…”

  Zhou Zishu stopped him, taking his hand, “no, it would be a good match, Jiuxiao.  I will speak to Governor Li for you, I am sure he’ll be amenable.  He is a righteous and sensible man.  I do not think he would deny his daughter her happiness.”  He squeezed Jiuxiao’s hand gently, reassuring.  “I will give you some advice, Shidi.  Don’t hide how you feel, always tell her how you feel about her, let her see it.  Don’t get lost in pride and indecision.  Let her know you.”

  Jiuxiao stared at him, mouth open.  Then he shook his head ruefully, “when you told me what happened to you, Zishu, I did not expect such a change in you as a result.  You are again the Zishu I knew as a child, but more...open.  Wiser, more playful too.”  He smiled at them both, “I hope I can be as happy as you are.”

  “So do I, Jiuxiao,” Zhou Zishu told him.

  “Ge, Ge,” Gu Xiang shouted, racing in, dragging Cao Weining behind her, a chuckling Han Ying following at a more sedate pace.  “Ge, Zishu-ge, Mo Huaiyang said no, so A-Ning left, can he stay with us?”  She stopped in front of them, hair swinging as her gaze shifted between the three sitting on the bench, “Fan Bo Bo says he’ll work on the old man, but A-Ning left saying he would follow me anywhere.”  She blushed a little, biting her lip, “please, can he join us?  He likes it here.”  Cao Weining nodded, looking hopeful.

  Wen Kexing blinked, turning to look at Zhou Zishu with a bewildered expression.

  Zhou Zishu laughed, joyous.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  Mostly.