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"Zichen..." A ghost of a voice billows around Song Lan, warm, familiar…  home . Images of crystal skin, dark, gentle eyes, glowing white robes fill the gaping hole in his soul. A faint presence caresses his face, sweeping along the edge of his jaw, and an inexplicable warmth permeates from his chest, contentment trickling through his veins until it almost masks the ache of yearning. The presence leans in, breath dusting over Song Lan's nose, and the scent of woody caramel envelopes him. Fingers where there are none thread through his hair, leaving tingling trails in their wake. Sweet breath now lingers across his lips as another hand slips around his and laces through his fingers, firm and grounding, yet so soft the feeling could dissipate instantly. His fingers twitch with longing. If he reached out, it's almost as if…

 

Song Lan sits up with a jolt, the cold emptiness around him hitting him in the face. Dawn light filters in through the windows of the inn.  Xingchen...  Song Lan counts the days since they last saw each other, the years never easing the dull loneliness that hangs over him. He has vowed to travel to the end of time to find him. How could he tell him that they never needed to see each other again?  Stupid.  He was such an idiot. The sun crests over distant mountains, casting the clouds pastel shades of rose and blurring the world around the edges. The image stirs buried memories.

 

 

White robes billow in the wind as Xiao Xingchen leads Song Lan through winding trees, morning dew glistening on the grass. He could stare at his back forever, Song Lan thinks, as his eyes trace across Xiao Xingchen’s graceful composure, ink black hair spilling across his shoulders. They come across a flat expanse of rocks, colourful plants poking up in between the cracks. Xingchen turns around and  smiles  at him - a mere tug at the corners of his lips, but its warmth reaches his eyes. Song Lan melts into his gaze.  

“Zichen?” Xingchen is looking at him gently, and is that a hint of red dusting his cheeks?

“Ah - um, sorry,” Song lan breathes.  

A tinkling laugh leaves Xingchen’s lips. “Look.” He turns to nod at a group of wild rabbits huddled next to them, reaching out a hand. One of them sniffs at it, inching closer at the soft, elegant fingers. They stroke against the rabbit’s ears, and it closes its eyes in contentment. Such an endearing image could break even Song Lan’s cold, serious mask, but when he reaches to put his hand over Xingchen’s, the rabbit withdraws immediately, bounding across the forest.  

A strange feeling of childishness bubbles up inside him. “Wha- Hey!” Song Lan stumbles in its direction, his prestigious cultivator legs clumsy and out of place chasing something so small and delicate. He trips over multiple other balls of fluff as they swarm around his feet, sprawling onto his hands and knees.  

Xingchen is immediately at his side, almost embracing him as he steadies him, but his voice is full of mirth. “Respected cultivator Song, reduced to being tripped up by small cute things. I didn’t think you had it in you.” Xingchen’s face is centimeters from his own, amusement written all over it.  

Song Lan’s icy perfection has been dislodged. A smile tugging at his lips, he surges forward, pressing into the warmth of Xingchen’s chest, smothering him into the ground. Xingchen exhales in surprise.

“Respected cultivator Xiao Xingchen, allowing yourself to be pinned underneath someone like this…”

Xingchen’s startled gaze and parted lips almost draws Song Lan in for… for what? The sight of Song Lan’s equally startled face as he looms over Xingchen makes him pull him down so that their faces rest in the crooks of each other’s necks. Xingchen’s breath is warm against his ear.

“It’s alright if it’s you…”

 

 

Song Lan gathers his things and creaks across the wooden floorboards, setting out once again to chase his endless yearning. 

The gates of Yi Cheng loom above him, the quiet bustle of villagers and shopkeepers leaking through the thin mist that surrounds the entire area. Xingchen would be drawn to these nondescript places. Song Lan wanders the streets until he comes across a relatively lively restaurant - a likely place for tidbits of gossip and information. He half listens to the background chatter as he eats, the reflection of his face in his cup of tea still startling him. Xingchen’s eyes stare back at him.  Those eyes. He doesn’t deserve them.

 

A light breeze sends ripples across the lake of Baixue temple. Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen are sitting on a pavillion that overlooks the peaceful water, reflecting the enchanting expanse of the night sky.  

“Zichen.” Xingchen’s voice is as light as the wind.

“Yes?”  

Xingchen let’s out a breathy laugh, eyes crinkling around the edges. “It’s nothing.” He shuffles closer to Song Lan, leaning his head against his shoulder.

The warmth of Xingchen pressed against him stirs a deep contentment within Song Lan. Instead of responding, he takes Xingchen’s hand, running his fingers over his knuckles. He traces over the bumps in Xingchen’s fingers and lines etched into his palm - too gentle - like the rest of him.

“The stars are beautiful today,” Xingchen murmurs.

They draw patterns in the sky, spanning the night far, far into the distance. Song Lan peers into Xinchen’s eyes, where endless clarity lies, and stars that the heavens would be jealous of twinkle.

“Mn.” Indeed they are.

Xingchen returns his gaze, amused. “Are you sure we’re talking about the same thing here?”

Song Lan’s eyes widen, and he can feel a light heat dusting his ears. Xingchen only presses closer, raising a hand to cup his cheek and turn his head in the direction of the sky.

“Let’s enjoy this view while we can.”

 

Song Lan finishes his tea and gets up to leave. His feet follow the road down rows of  unassuming houses. Other than the quiet, nothing catches his attention. Until -

- blood? Song Lan follows the unpleasant tang into a backyard. The scent intensifies, tainting the air with cold omen. An unmoving figure is laid on the ground, the faint rise and fall of his chest barely detectable. Black robes catch the corner of Song Lan’s eye, darkened with splatters of crimson. His gaze trails to the man’s face as a cold stone of dread situates itself within his gut. Horrifically familiar features are ashen with exhaustion.  Xue Yang.  Suddenly, the chaos of Baxue temple is fresh in Song Lan’s mind. Licking flames, rivers of blood - neverending red.  Xingchen’s eyes.  A dark rage swirls within Song Lan. How did he end up here? It doesn’t matter. Now, now is the time to erase him once and for all. The glare of Fuxue seems to bring Xue Yang back to consciousness. His eyes flash with recognition as he turns to Song Lan. Though weakened and dull, they still glint with maliciousness. He trembles with the effort to speak.

“So...Song Lan…” Fuxue is angled directly at his heart. “Are...you looking for Xiao Xingchen…?” 

“Where is he?” Song Lan’s voice is laced with cold fury.

A rapsing laugh escapes Xue Yang’s lips. “What…fools. Chasing each other around trying… haah…  to save the world? ... What was it you said to him? ‘There’s no need for us to se-” Fuxue goes through his chest.

Xue yang’s eyes widen with the shock of the impact, then go dull again. “Hah…” He coughs up a mouthful of blood. “See… you… in      your next life,            Song                 Zi                           Chen.”

Then, his entire body goes limp, eyes half open, mouth still leaking blood, he goes still.

 

 

Song Lan is jolted alert as a small figure knocks into him.

“Ah! Sorry.” Before Song Lan can reply, the girl hastily continues. “But I’m blind you know, I can’t help it! So you can’t get mad! You kn-”

“I’m not mad.” Song Lan peers at her face - a young, almost childlike maiden, if not for her milky white irises.

“Huh? Oh, sorry then.” She moves to walk away.

“Wait.” He gently grasps her wrist. “Do you know of a blind, respected cultivator around here?”

She stares at him suspiciously. “Perhaps, perhaps not. Who are you?”

Song Lan opens his mouth to answer, but is interrupted by another voice. Robes shuffle around the corner.  “A-Qing?”

 

Fuxue clatters to the ground. 

 

“Daozhang!” The young maiden - A-Qing - waves at  him.  Whole and well, the years never wearing him away.  Xingchen.

Song Lan feels himself trembling with - with what? Happiness, relief, regret?

A-Qing turns back to him. “Do you know this other respected cultivator?”

“Other respected cultivator…?”

Song Lan’s throat goes dry. “Xingchen…”

“Zichen?” Xingchen’s features morph into shock, then joy as he rushes towards Song Lan.

Painfully familiar hands clasp his own. “Zichen…? Zichen is it really you?” His voice is laced with hope, hesitation, desperation even.

Song Lan’s words are stuck in his throat. “Xingchen…” 

Fingers cup his face frantically, tracing out the shape of his nose and lips, and he wants them to stay there forever. An emptiness fills him as they begin to move away, and without realising, he grasps them tightly, holding Xingchen’s hand against his face.

Xingchen’s face is strung between delight and pain. “I’m sor-”

“No.” Song Lan is surprised by the lack of tremble in his voice. He pulls Xingchen against him, reveling in the way he fits against his arms. “ I’m  sorry.” He runs his hand through Xingchen’s hair, wanting to drink in the entirety of his being. “I’ve missed you so much. I travelled for  years  to find you. Baixue temple… it wasn’t your fault. I’m such an  idiot .” His voice finally cracks.“I-I-”

It takes him a moment to notice the blurring in his vision as long overdue tears fall from his eyes.  Xingchen’s eyes.

“Zichen.” Xingchen is the one holding him up now. His voice curls around Song Lan’s ears like heavenly clouds. “It’s alright… it’s alright now. I’m so glad you’re alright.” 

“Xingchen.” Song Lan reaches to gently cup his jaw. “Just now, I encountered Xue Yang.”

Xingchen immediately goes stiff, hands searching for wounds. “What happened? Are you injured?”

“I killed him.”

Xingchen sighs, as if chiding him for not holding a proper trial first.

“It had to be done.”

Xingchen really was too kind. The world was undeserving. Just then, Song Lan understood why BaoShan SanRen hid her disciples up on that mountain, and he wanted to shield Xingchen’s all-too-soft heart from the world. Song Lan lowers his head against Xingchen’s ear. “Xingchen?”

“Yes?” 

“If you’d allow me, I want to be with you for the rest of my life.”

“Yes.” Xingchen’s breath dusts across his lips, and his voice is filled with pure, tender, happiness.

Song Lan takes in Xiao Xingchen’s face. His pale, glowing skin, the elegant carve of his jawline, the gentle slope of his nose, and the soft, soft curve of his lips. The tension in his heart that he has grown so used to finally unravels, and he laughs - a long, full laugh - until the breeze carries it away.

“What is it?” Xingchen tilts his head at him, fondness still softening his features.

“Nothing.” Song Lan leans in, lips barely brushing against Xingchen’s, but as he feels the tender pressure of Xingchen’s lips against his own, a sudden joy overflows from within his soul. Xingchen gasps, then presses back, and Song Lan thinks he could do this forever.