It was certainly more trouble than Feng Xin thought it would be.
It, being both his task and Mu Qing.
Someone had been destroying his temples and harassing his followers when they had come to pray, so Feng Xin had visited the mortal realm. For some reason, Mu Qing had followed him down, accompanying him with stony silence and eye rolls. Feng Xin had wished he hadn’t come, until he had found himself in the middle of a fight.
It had been a pair of Wrath level demons, choosing to take revenge on Feng Xin for a battle he had fought in three hundred years ago. They had been difficult to destroy, but with Mu Qing’s help, they had won.
At a cost.
Feng Xin ignored the screaming in his left arm to hoist Mu Qing closer, half-carrying the other god to a nearby inn. He didn’t have enough strength to take them both back to heaven or call the communication array; hopefully with rest, they would both recover quickly.
Feng Xin tried to quell the rising panic in his stomach. Mu Qing’s voice was annoying, but he would give anything to hear a dry remark right now. “One room, two beds.”
“We only have one room left, and it has one bed,” the innkeeper said, apologetically.
Hissing, Feng Xin nodded, tossing whatever sum of money he had down on the table and following the innkeeper down the hall. Feng Xin shivered as soon as he stepped inside, jostling Mu Qing. “Sorry, sorry,” he whispered, dragging him over to the bed.
Bed was generous. It was a thin mattress with a few blankets off to the side, and a single lamp. Feng Xin knelt down, sliding Mu Qing onto the bed, before asking the innkeeper for some water.
He reached forward to undo Mu Qing’s armour –
“You’re bleeding,” Feng Xin said. “Let me help you.”
“Why would you – ” Mu Qing jerked violently, sitting up and coughing. Feng Xin put a hand on his back, steadying him. Mu Qing pulled his hand back from his mouth. It was stained red; Feng Xin closed his eyes in a futile effort to not panic. “Why would you help me?”
“Is the injury messing with your head or are you always this stupid?”
“You are the expert on stupidity,” Mu Qing hissed, rolling his eyes.
“Don’t be a dick. Then again, that requires you to have an off switch.”
Mu Qing’s eyes blazed. “You – hey!”
While he was distracted, Feng Xin had pulled his armour off and was working on the buttons of his tunic. “Let me help you.”
“...fine,” Mu Qing finally muttered, teeth gritted. “Oh, shit.”
There was an ugly gash along his stomach, cutting diagonally from lower right side up to the middle of his chest. It wasn’t near anything too vital and was bleeding slowly, but Feng Xin couldn’t stop the worry swirling in his chest, somewhere low and deep, the same place where he stored the few fragile memories of Mu Qing’s laugh, of his touch.
Forcing himself to focus, he all but ran to the door when he heard the knock. Bandages and water, along with a pot of medicine, were passed to him, and he rushed back to the bedside. Mu Qing hadn’t moved, breaths shallow in the cold air.
Feng Xin was not good with medicine at all, but he would have to try. “Let me know if it hurts,” he whispered, softly.
Mu Qing winced as Feng Xin ran a wet cloth over the injury. “Sorry, sorry.”
His skin was soft around the scar, over the muscles underneath. Feng Xin’s mouth went dry at of his hip bones, the slenderness of his waist, the strength in him. Mu Qing was a little bit smaller than Feng Xin despite being just as strong (at least, according to the stone in his palace, still cracked from one of their fights (Feng Xin wondered how brain-dead he had to be, considering that he was fond of the memory)).
Mu Qing shivered, and Feng Xin put his hand on his hip to steady him, ignoring the shock of pain in his arm. Mu Qing was warm underneath his fingers, solid.
The lamplight reflected in the silver of Mu Qing’s hair, their quiet breaths shaking slightly from the cold, Feng Xin’s hand on Mu Qing’s waist, Mu Qing’s fingers digging into the sheets. Feng Xin hated that he was hurting him, but it had to be done.
When did it become like this? When did Mu Qing’s sharp remarks cause warmth to blossom in his chest, bring laughter bubbling up his throat? When did his heart start to race at the thought of him, at the thought of being gentle, soft whispers and softer smiles? When had Feng Xin last let his walls down for someone? When had Mu Qing – had he ever?
Feng Xin wanted to break those walls.
Mu Qing would never let him. Mu Qing hated him, despite everything, despite the stirring, pounding beat in Feng Xin’s heart. Mu Qing was only allowing this because he was hurt, because he needed Feng Xin now – not because he wanted him.
“Idiot,” Mu Qing growled. “Your arm.”
“Oh,” Feng Xin looked down. “Don’t worry about that. Let me finish with your bandages.”
Mu Qing glared, but let Feng Xin finish bandaging him. As soon as he had finished, Mu Qing reached for Feng Xin’s wrist. “Let me see.”
“It’s just broken,” Feng Xin said, lightly. “Nothing we can do about it now. When my powers replenish, it will heal itself.”
“ Broken? And you carried me all the way here? You really are an idiot,” Mu Qing hissed. “There’s no saving you.”
“What was I supposed to do?” Feng Xin said, fighting to keep his voice even, failing. “Leave you there?”
“Why not?” Mu Qing yelled, challenging.
“I – ”
“I don’t understand you.” Mu Qing huffed, flopping back down. Cute , Feng Xin thought, and immediately wanted to break his other arm. Blinking, he moved to stand up.
Mu Qing cleared his throat. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“You should sleep.”
“So should you.”
Feng Xin sighed, “You first, then.”
“Just...” Mu Qing groaned. “Why are you so dense? Get over here.”
Feng Xin’s heart dropped into his shoes.
“You don’t have to.”
“And you call me stupid,” Mu Qing said, fast and angry. “Go the fuck to sleep somewhere else, then. I’ll see you in heaven.”
Why did it always come to this? Feng Xin pushed down the irritation rising in his throat, breathing out softly, reading between the lines. Mu Qing had offered to share a bed, thought he had been rejected, and was lashing out. “You aren’t getting rid of me that easily,” he said, lightly, teasing. Mu Qing’s eyebrows shot up comically (very cutely, he was so cute when he wasn’t a dick (who was he kidding, Mu Qing was cute all the time)). “Move over.”
Mu Qing grumbled, but shifted over. Feng Xin slid next to him, shivering. The floor was freezing, and the mattress didn’t offer much warmth. Feng Xin tugged the second blanket over Mu Qing, tucking it underneath him.
Mu Qing rolled his eyes in the darkness. “You’ll get sick. We should just share the blankets.”
Logical. Very logical, and very bad for Feng Xin’s wellbeing.
Even with the carelessness of his words, nighttime made Mu Qing’s voice softer, gentler, wrapping Feng Xin’s heart in wire. When the darkness would leave, so would the atmosphere, so would the tenderness, washed away by the blazing sun. He was only brave enough to fall in love in the dark.
Mu Qing was trembling quietly, on his back as to not aggravate his wounds. Feng Xin wrapped his unbroken arm around his shoulders, tugging him closer, heart bleeding. “You okay?”
“Better,” he said, pressing his face into Feng Xin’s shoulder. “Warmer.”
“Get some rest.”
Despite his insistence, Mu Qing fell asleep within five minutes. Feng Xin closed his eyes, tried to sleep; his blood was rushing too fast, his brain and his heart racing against each other. Mu Qing’s breaths were soft, puffs of air against Feng Xin’s shoulder. He had turned slightly on his side, pressed into Feng Xin’s body, head resting precariously on his chest. Feng Xin gently pulled him closer, and Mu Qing hummed sleepily.
Feng Xin could never lie in a bed again; it would hurt too much. He would have to learn how to sleep upright or some bullshit – anything to forget that he would never have this again.
His arm burned, but his heart burned hotter. Without noticing, his left thumb was rubbing circles into Mu Qing’s bare shoulder.
Feng Xin resigned himself to a long night.
He woke up to silver.
Blinking, he made out Mu Qing darting back quickly. Feng Xin squinted, “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Mu Qing said, voice a little hoarse, a little high. “How’s your arm?”
Feng Xin shifted, “It doesn’t hurt. I’ve got enough energy for the communication array now – ”
“I already called,” Mu Qing hummed. “We should head up. There’s some issue or another.”
“There always is.” Feng Xin sat up, popping his neck. Mu Qing had put his tunic back on, unbuttoned and draped loosely around his shoulders. He was beautiful in the orange light streaming in from the window, bathed in sunbeams.
He was beautiful in the darkness, and beautiful in the light – night or day, quiet or loud. Feng Xin hated it, hated him (hated Mu Qing or hated himself, or hated both?). Eight hundred years and he couldn’t get over it; eight hundred years of forgotten feelings festering, bubbling and boiling over.
After they rose to heaven, with an awkward nod and them heading their separate ways, it became clear that Mu Qing was avoiding him.
Which was fine, because it wasn’t like Feng Xin wanted to see him anyways.
(He could lie to himself for now, for as long as it would take).
The nights were so, so cold. Feng Xin piled himself with blankets, but nothing worked. Nothing was quite like Mu Qing in his arms. He missed him. The first night should have been the worst, but it declined until Feng Xin refused to sleep in his bed, choosing to curl up in a chair, just so he wouldn’t think about Mu Qing.
This was so, so ridiculous. Feng Xin was a martial god with hundreds of temples to his name. He had more important things to do than linger on memories of Mu Qing’s apple-scented hair and his fond smile when Feng Xin wasn’t being too insufferable.
He hadn’t talked to Xie Lian about it, exactly, but the other man knew . Xie Lian had always known about his secret soft spot for Mu Qing; never approved of his brashness. There had been a while where he had tried to set them up in the past, but Mu Qing only grew colder, and Feng Xin had begged him to stop.
Xie Lian had told him to talk to Mu Qing. How could he do that? It wasn’t like Mu Qing was Hua Cheng, whose affections were ever present and unyielding. Mu Qing, maybe, didn’t hate him. There was no way they could ever –
Feng Xin shot an arrow at the target in front of him. There was no way anything could come of his feelings.
He drew another arrow, nocking his bow and letting it fly. Center, as always.
Feng Xin jumped.
“Whoa,” Mu Qing put his hands up, “Don’t shoot me.”
Feng Xin huffed, lowering his bow. “What’re you doing here?” Mu Qing was never at the archery range, ever, unless he was looking for a fight. Feng Xin hadn’t slept in two days and was definitely too tired for a fight – he would be tossed around like a ragdoll (the thought of being manhandled in the right context was somewhat appealing, but Feng Xin would jump into lava before he would admit that).
“Xie Lian told me you wanted to talk to me.” Mu Qing tilted his foot, sticking his toe in the mud. He looked beautiful in the dying light. “Why didn’t you come do it yourself?”
“I – ” Feng Xin would punch Xie Lian if Hua Cheng weren’t there to murder him right after. “Um – ”
“Well, what is it?”
“Have you been sleeping well?” Feng Xin blurted, before he could lose his nerve.
Mu Qing frowned, “My injury healed.”
“No, I mean … ”
“Alone,” Mu Qing hissed, chuckling self-deprecatingly under his breath. “Of course that bastard would tell you.”
Feng Xin tilted his head, “Tell me what?”
Mu Qing’s eyes blazed. “Is your ego that big? Fine! I haven’t been sleeping well because you’re not there with me! Idiot!”
“Stupid,” Feng Xin said on reflex, eyes widening when Mu Qing took a step back. “No, wait – me too.”
Feng Xin pulled out every last bit of courage from inside him, “I miss you.”
“Hm,” Mu Qing huffed.
“Hm indeed.” That wasn’t...a no. He hadn’t been punched.
“Shut up,” he said, lightly. “What – what does this mean?”
“Whatever you want it to mean,” Feng Xin said, heart heavy, heart light. Hope burned in his chest.
“Why does it have to be you, of all people,” Mu Qing muttered. “Well, what do you want?”
Don’t get me started , Feng Xin thought. It was now or never, now or nothing. No regrets. It has to be you . “I like you.”
Feng Xin leaned forward. The other man looked like he had stepped into an anthill. “Mu Qing?”
“Yeah,” the other man said, throat cracking. “Yeah, okay. Me too. You.”
Feng Xin’s heart sang . “Very articulate.”
“Do you ever shut up?”
He grinned, “Are you going to make me?”
Mu Qing turned a spectacular shade of red. “DUMBASS!”
“Come here,” Feng Xin murmured, taking a step forward and opening his arms. Part of him believed it to be some sort of cruel joke; that Mu Qing would step forward and stab him.
Mu Qing did not stab him. He returned the hug, head resting lightly on Feng Xin’s shoulder. He smelled like apples. Feng Xin buried his face into Mu Qing’s neck, smiling against his pulse. “Sleep at mine tonight, okay?”
“Yeah.” Mu Qing smiled, and Feng Xin’s knees went weak. He pressed their foreheads together, heart breaking out of his ribs.
If that was what Mu Qing wanted, Feng Xin would wake up every morning next to him, spend their days and nights together, make sure Mu Qing never slept in a cold bed again.