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The Chaos After the Storm

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Wushanju was a hive of activity, three bodies flitting between its antiques as they hurried about, one more gracefully than the others. A loud voice boomed from the small kitchen lean-to where Pangzi bustled around, his trusty pink apron already stained as he pulled utensils from hooks, shelves, and cupboards, their clatter making the tiny kitchen even louder. Outside Wu Xie and Xiao-Ge paused on their way through the courtyard as Pangzi poked his head out of the kitchen.

“We need more rice wine!” he bellowed, far louder than necessary.

Wu Xie pulled a scrap of paper and pen from his pocket and quickly scribbled the new ingredient at the end of the list, leaning on Xiao-Ge, who stood patiently as Wu Xie used him as a writing support. Satisfied his cooking could continue with the addition of the rice wine to the shopping list, Pangzi retreated back into the kitchen, whistling jovially as he began to prepare the plethora of ingredients they didn’t need to buy.

Stuffing the shopping list back into his pocket, Wu Xie smiled at the man next to him and nodded towards the front gates, “shall we? Before he thinks of something else for us to buy.”

Xiao-Ge nodded, and the two men quickly vanished through the front gates, leaving the third member of their trio to clatter around in peace. They wandered down the street, Wu Xie chattering happily about the murals the trio, plus KanJian and Liu Sang had found in the tomb they had all recently returned from. Xiao-Ge listened quietly, his hood up and partially obscuring his face until a wild gesture Wu Xie was making was cut short, the younger man wincing and his hand whipping to his shoulder.

Immediately Xiao-Ge’s attention snapped to him, worry creasing his brow, “Wu Xie?”

“I’m fine, Xiao-Ge. I just moved it a bit too sharply, don’t worry,” Wu Xie soothed, gently patting Xiao-Ge’s arm as he carefully rolled the offending shoulder.

As per usual, when Wu Xie was involved, the raid had gone wrong quickly, Wu Xie and KanJian ending up separated from the others, and a collapsing floor had led to Wu Xie landing awkwardly on his shoulder as they had all tried to meet up again. Neither KanJian nor Wu Xie had been allowed out of sight of their boyfriends after they had been found. Wu Xie ending up all but smothered by a worried Pangzi for the rest of the trip.

Xiao-Ge dropped the subject, knowing how stubborn his lover could be; however, he kept a close eye on the injured man for the rest of the trip. Said trip ended up taking longer than planned, Wu Xie becoming distracted by fairy lights and insisting on buying several sets to decorate the courtyard.

The two returned to a dozen delicious smells wafting from Wushanju’s kitchen. Hearing the gates close, Pangzi ran out of the kitchen, snatching the bags of ingredients before vanishing once again. There was more clattering swiftly followed by the rhythmic chopping of a knife as Pangzi descended on the new ingredients. Wu Xie snorted at the whirlwind of pink and blue inside the kitchen before wandering over to a nearby pillar, his boxes of fairy lights at hand.

Winding the lights around the pillars proved no challenge; however, when it came to hanging them along the makeshift lean-tos that sheltered the larger antiques, it turned into a very different story. Wu Xie huffed as he tried tossing the lights up onto the metal roof, only for them to slide right back off again.

He turned to Xiao-Ge, who had settled in to watch him, eyes crinkling slightly in amusement as he leaned against one of the fairy light-wrapped pillars.

“Xiao-Ge! Don’t just stand there! Help me out!” Wu Xie whined, giving the silent man his best pout, blinking his big brown eyes prettily.

Wu Xie’s pout had proven to be Xiao-Ge’s biggest and only weakness over the years, and moments later, the man landed almost silently on the rickety metal roof. It was a precarious job, Xiao-Ge having to catch himself several times as the rusty old shelters shifted and swayed under his weight, but eventually, Wu Xie stepped back and nodded, seemingly pleased with the arrangement of the lights before hurrying off to turn the battery packs on. He barely heard Xiao-Ge land next to him as he inspected their work.

“See? Didn’t I say lights would make it even better?” Wu Xie crowed proudly, smiling over at the man next to him, who simply nodded, allowing his lips to twitch into the soft smile Wu Xie loved so much.

Satisfied that Xiao-Ge liked the decorations, the two dared to venture into the kitchen to find Pangzi still cooking up a storm. Every flat surface was covered in plates and chopping boards and pans, ready to start cooking. Wu Xie peered over Pangzi’s shoulder at a vegetable dish the man was currently frying up.

“Tianzhen, don’t even think about it. There’s nothing left for you to steal,” Pangzi warned, defensively raising the ladle he was using to pour sauce over the vegetables as they cooked.

Wu Xie laughed and pecked Pangzi on the cheek before backing off, “we’re here to help, old man. We’re finished outside.”

The next hour saw the three men squeezed into the tiny kitchen, shuffling around each other and reaching over and around every which way as they followed Pangzi’s strict instructions, small touches, and brief kisses sneaking into the chaos. There was a moment of panic as Wu Xie accidentally knocked an empty plate off the overcrowded countertop; however, Xiao-Ge reached over in a flash, catching it before it could hit the ground, much to everyone’s relief.

“Nicely done, Xiao-Ge! Tianzhen, why can’t you be more like our Xiao-Ge, huh? Causing trouble wherever you go,” Pangzi grumbled playfully.

“Damn Pangzi, if you hadn’t filled the place with so much food, I wouldn’t have knocked it. This isn’t New Year. We’re just having Liu Sang and KanJian over-”

Wu Xie was cut off by a yelp from Pangzi before the man turned on Wi Xie and slapped him with a tea towel.

“What?! What did I do?” Wu Xie yelped from under the barrage of blows.

Suddenly a hand slapped him on the ass, and he let out a yelp of his own; the two men paused their bickering to look at XiaoGe, who had been busily shuffling back and forth behind them, moving plates and preparing them to be taken outside. The older man blinked at them innocently before taking several dishes out to the table that had been set up earlier that day. Both men watched, flabbergasted at the oldest member of their trio as he vanished.

“Xiao-Ge! You sly fox!” Pangzi shouted after him, raising the ladle once again before thinking better of it and lowering it.

It was dark by the time Liu Sang and KanJian wandered through the front gates, not even bothering to announce their arrival. It was KanJian’s delighted laughs at the fairy lights that caught the Iron Triangle’s attention and pulled them from the still crowded kitchen.

“Laoban!” KanJian shouted joyfully, waving madly as the two men crossed the courtyard.

Wu Xie waved back from his spot, leaning out of the kitchen before vanishing again and reappearing as he balanced multiple plates on a tray. The old stone table had been dragged from the corner at sat in the centre of the courtyard, already half-covered in plates upon plates of food which were quickly added to by the ones Wu Xie hurried over with, Xiao-Ge following behind, bringing the all-important beer.

Pangzi brought the last tray of food, and the old table practically groaned under the weight of the meal. Wu Xie hurriedly herded KanJian and Liu Sang into the chairs set out for everyone before taking his place between his two lovers. Delicious smelling beef appeared quickly in his bowl, and he smiled over at Xiao-Ge, who was now reaching over to place some in Pangzi’s bowl as the man wrestled with a bottle opener.

Beers were passed around, and immediately the sound of Pangzi and Liu Sang’s semi-serious bickering filled the courtyard.

“Damn Pangzi,” Liu Sang spat, picking up several strips of chicken from his bowl and pausing, looking down in surprise at the unexpected food and then over to the man next to him.

KanJian beamed and piled more into the bowl, pecking the prickly man’s cheek before opening another two beers for them.

Midnight found the group piled into Wushanju’s already cramped living room, Wu Xie on the sofa, a sleeping Xiao-Ge in his lap, and a soon-to-be sleeping Pangzi drifting off on his shoulder. The movie they had chosen ended up being thoroughly ignored, fading into background noise as Wu Xie gently ran his fingers through Xiao-Ge’s dark locks. On his shoulder, Pangzi snuffled and jerked himself awake for the third time in five minutes. KanJian and Liu Sang sat squashed into the lone armchair, Liu Sang draped over his boyfriend as the two nodded off, leaning into each other.

Pangzi grumbled as Wu Xie poked him and gestured to the two younger men. He blinked sleepily for a moment and stood up, going over to them as Wu Xie carefully extricated himself from under the soundly sleeping Xiao-Ge, replacing his lap with a pillow grabbed from the floor. It took a moment for him and Pangzi to untangle the two men in their armchair and sling them over tired shoulders before they began the slow shuffle to the guest room.

Liu Sang hissed from his spot on Pangzi’s shoulder, claws ready to start lashing out even half-asleep. Too tired to bicker again, Pangzi merely grumbled and continued hauling his hissing cargo down the corridor, followed closely by Wu Xie, who was dealing with a KanJian determined to do his best koala impression. It was a close call, legs uncoordinated thanks to alcohol and sleepiness almost tangling several times and tripping their owners. However, finally, the guest room was reached in one piece.

Pangzi ungracefully deposited Liu Sang on the bed, earning a flurry of slurred curses from the man. Wu Xie, on the other hand, was forced to spend several minutes untangling himself from KanJian, who had graduated from koala to octopus sometime during the trek from the living room. Finally freed of their burdens Wu Xie and Pangzi quietly padded out of the room, leaving KanJian to wrap himself around his now sleeping boyfriend.

The final challenge of the night was to wake up Xiao-Ge. When the man felt safe, he slept like the dead; he probably wouldn’t even remember waking up to go to bed in the morning.

“Xiao-Ge? Xiao-Ge, wake up. You should sleep in bed,” Wu Xie coaxed, gently shaking the older man’s shoulder.

There was a quiet huff, and Xiao-Ge cracked an eye open, blearily blinking up at Wu Xie. Slowly Wu Xie pulled the man upright and then onto his feet, carefully walking backwards as he towed Xiao-Ge to their bedroom. Pangzi was already inside, piling extra pillows on the bed and depositing painkillers on the side table in preparation for the incoming hangovers.

No one bothered to change, Wu Xie only unzipping Xiao-Ge’s hoodie and carefully helping him shrug it off. Xiao-Ge was steered towards the bed where he lay down immediately and was quickly joined by the other two, Pangzi pulling both of his men close as they surrendered to sleep for the night.