back home! came the message. FINISHED. same old address, come by whenever. i’ll finally introduce you to fogbow.
During his studies abroad, Fang Shiqian had probably sent more pictures of his pet cat than he had of himself. In the image that speedily followed, a cat was gazing coolly at the camera lens: its silver-tipped fur glinted under dim lights and its pale copper eyes glowed like stars, but this striking visual was rather ruined by the cat’s squashed face, which seemed the result of some unfortunate, youthful run-in with a thrust-open door. Its right eye was reduced to a permanent squint, its sight a broken symmetry.
What an honor, Wang Jiexi promptly returned. It was simple for him to gloss over the involuntary twitch of his lips, and the reflexive twinge in his heart. Congratulations, welcome back.
Fang Shiqian’s reply rushed in as swift as the wind: what’s with that tone, am i a fucking reporter??
Wang Jiexi: [zhou zekai’s answer roulette.gif]
After the end of Season 7 and Tiny Herb’s second championship, Wang Jiexi heard only every once in a while from Fang Shiqian. The retired God of Healing was eyeballs-deep in his university work, several time zones off, and though Wang Jiexi might be overcome by the impulse to ask Fang Shiqian how the tea was in London, he was also quick to shut it away. He needed to cultivate his successor; he needed to address management concerns; he needed to see Tiny Herb through this time of flux to firmer footing. Wang Jiexi couldn’t afford to miss anything, though he understood that surely he had—
—and that sometimes, still, there were those he couldn’t help but miss. For the Magician too was human.
Four years later, August in Beijing was as ever its usual self, weighing heavy upon the masses with the promise of rain. Wang Jiexi looked out through the windows of Fang Shiqian’s apartment, taking in a deceptively bright sky, and said, “I thought your place would be neater.”
“Pffft.” Fang Shiqian was lying on the couch with one arm flung over his face. “Jet lag, so what? I still had to wrap up some lab work after graduation, and then there’s my new job, so my neatness goes to that instead. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. There’s watermelon in the fridge if you want it.”
Wang Jiexi turned to look at him. “What about you?”
“I said there’s watermelon in the fridge.”
With a huff of laughter, Wang Jiexi went to investigate. He found half a watermelon already sliced and laid out on a platter, which he carried back and put on the table. During his flash of absence, Fang Shiqian still hadn’t moved, but Fang Shiqian’s cat had emerged from some discreet hiding place to perch on the arm of the couch like a small but muscular bodyguard.
Wang Jiexi looked at Fogbow; Fogbow looked at Wang Jiexi. Then the cat reached out with a languid paw, and batted at Fang Shiqian’s hair.
“Oh, you,” grumbled Fang Shiqian. He uncovered his face and looked up into Fogbow’s eyes.
“I see your cat’s reminding you to be a better host,” Wang Jiexi said, as he sat down across.
“Fuck, you’re both ganging up on me.” Fang Shiqian heaved himself up and snatched a slice of watermelon, looking disgruntled. “This is like some new double Witch trick, huh.”
“Mm. You never told me you’ve been watching Tiny Herb’s recent matches.”
“Just a few. The kid’s doing pretty well! But it’s not like I’ve had much time to play Glory, either. So I set up a new account and looked more into the English League for a bit, but.... school’s a killer.”
“What’s your account name?”
Fang Shiqian pointed to his cat.
“... I thought you’d pick something more hideous. You always had a fondness for Aweto.”
“Hey! This is being cultured, Wang Jiexi. Or would you prefer I write up a report on the English League? Are you gonna eat?”
“I’d be happy to see your report on the English League,” Wang Jiexi said: melon-less, for he was still, and still looking at Fang Shiqian. He’d seen him briefly a year ago, in Zurich, but that year was enough to turn Fang Shiqian into a newly unfamiliar sight once again, like a statue that easily tarnished with time. But just smooth a hand over the patina and it’d gleam beautiful as ever, though changed with age.
“Oh, you—” Fang Shiqian snorted. “So you’re already thinking about the next World Invitational.”
Wang Jiexi noted, “It’s biennial. That’s what the off-year is for.” The line of his mouth trembled faintly with amusement.
He only got a scowl in return. “You’re fucking with me, aren’t you? Dammit, just release the Magician and sweep everyone into the trash bin.” Fang Shiqian leaned forward and nudged a watermelon slice at him.
“Meow,” said Fogbow, and burrowed into Fang Shiqian’s side as if his pet human were a particularly cozy hot water bottle.
Fang Shiqian crowed, “Look, even my cat agrees with me!” Then, to Fogbow: “You little shit, look at all the room you’ve got here on the couch, and you want my place? Are you insane?! Now just wait a minute—”
The couch creaked. Wang Jiexi had taken the other seat. Wriggling between them, Fogbow leapt onto the table and narrowly missed the platter of fruit, his tail raised like a flag, before skidding off the edge.
Fang Shiqian hissed.
“Meow,” said Fogbow, and trotted out of the room.
Wang Jiexi couldn’t help but smile. “What a good cat,” he mused. “Bring him by Tiny Herb sometime. The locals are a bit temperamental, but I think he’ll do fine by them.”
Fang Shiqian flung his head back and sighed loudly. “Are you so short on training supervisors that you want to bring me in? I can terrorize the kids as much as you need.”
Wang Jiexi leaned back too, so his line of sight caught Fang Shiqian’s. “You know… Gao Yingjie’s the same age now as you were then, when you forgave me and told me I had to win a championship. In that respect, he’s a much sweeter kid than you ever were.”
“Wang Jiexi,” muttered his old vice-captain, “do you really want me to sweet-talk you?”
“No need,” he replied. “I can think of much better ways to show devotion to Glory.”
All of a sudden, Fang Shiqian angled himself to face Wang Jiexi. His hair was mussed and falling into his eyes—yet his gaze flew like a flaming arrow, an arrow that flew true. Wang Jiexi could feel the heat flare in his heart, the frissons darting down his body, up his neck, along the shells of his ears, as he replayed the echoes of his own words and glimpsed a memory in his mind of their half-tidied past, separated from here and now by years and miles—all collapsing, at once, to this pinpoint of time. Or perhaps this was more truly their half-past and half-present, still summing up to one whole future. The math works, he thought. Even if it was crude, and all in his mind.
“For the club, huh,” Fang Shiqian said hoarsely.
“Would you prefer if I say for myself?” Wang Jiexi kept his voice level. “... Senior Fang.”
“Fuck.” Fang Shiqian groaned, coloring violently, and dragged his hand over his face. “You really are the goddamn Magician. My work schedule’s going to be packed, all right?”
“That’s all right,” Wang Jiexi murmured as he leaned in. I don’t mind. “Mine too.”
When he kissed Fang Shiqian again, after the years and miles apart, he could still taste the sweetness of watermelon, which lingered on the tip of his tongue like the last sigh of summer. Beyond the windows there came a rumble of thunder, heralding the promise of August now kept, and with it the first few drops of rain—but that was elsewhere: not here, inside, past the panes of glass, where all he could hear was the beat of his heart.