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I’m fair with everyone else but you

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Mu Qing should have known better. Honestly, they both should have. When did a so-called “simple mission” ever turn out to be just that? If the entire heavenly court hadn’t made promises to treat the palace of Ling Wen better, Mu Qing would have been swearing more than he already was. 

The sharp glint of a silver blade swung in front of him. With each cut, he was rewarded with the thwack of a thick, grimy vine. When he was informed that this temple would be ancient, Mu Qing didn’t think it would be true. 

He’d been alive for hundreds of years. People tended to exaggerate things. 

Right after removing a decaying leaf from his hair, he was treated to another vine. This time, it hit him right in the face. 

“What are you, twelve? Learn how to cut better!” Mu Qing shoved an arm out, causing his partner on this mission to stumble. The moment of clumsiness gave Mu Qing a burst of satisfaction.

“Watch it!” Feng Xin swung around, shaking the knife in front of Mu Qing’s face. “I’m the one doing all the hard work clearing the path.” 

Mu Qing folded his arms, giving a toss of his silver hair. “Is that what you’re calling it?”

Even though it was very dark in the temple, the one light talisman between them was enough to see Feng Xin’s glare. “Do you have a problem?”

“You’re cutting the vines to hit me in my face on purpose.”

“Why would I do that?” Feng Xin scoffed. “Once again, you’re throwing around all these accusations carelessly.”

Mu Qing clenched his fist, wishing that he could grab the handle of that knife Feng Xin was so fond of waving about and hit the man over the head with it for his ineptitude. 

It was ridiculous how often Mu Qing was paired on missions with Feng Xin these days. 

There were a lot of changes after the rebuilding of heaven. Old truths were brought to light, new rules were put in place, and grievances were dropping left and right. In truth, Mu Qing was hoping that something would have happened to change his bitter rivalry with Feng Xin. 

Inklings of hope came when requests for the assistance of both generals started coming in. Problems plaguing both their devotees created a temporary truce between their palaces back on the mortal world. Their followers seemed to be able to set aside their swords and band together in the face of adversity. No such sentiments carried over into heaven. 

On their first mission to defeat a beast that was terrorizing several villages, Feng Xin tripped during a complex attack and let the monster escape. Mu Qing swore he did it on purpose in order to show off. As soon as the first insult was lobbed- Mu Qing already forgot who said it- all hopes of reconciliation were dashed. They were right back to how they were from the day they met. 

All that brought them to today, where the same thing was happening. Mu Qing would have thought he was stuck in a time loop with how repetitive his fights with Feng Xin were. 

“-and your petty nature continues to ruin the entire day and efficiency of completing the mission. As always .”

Mu Qing blinked. He missed the first part of Feng Xin’s yelling. The words didn’t really matter. His mouth began a retort before his brain could comprehend what he was going to say. 

As Feng Xin swung a fist against the wall, Mu Qing wondered why it took him so long to get tired of arguing. Maybe he had been tired of it the whole time.

While he was having his thoughts, something opened up underneath them and, suddenly, the two of them were swallowed by darkness. They both cried in alarm as the opening shot them down in some kind of chute. Feng Xin landed first with Mu Qing falling atop him not long after. 

Mu Qing heard stone grinding above him. When he tried to stand up, he hit his head on the ceiling. He rubbed his head, cursing and huffing. “We’re trapped.”

“Excellent observation.” Feng Xin sounded anything but congratulatory. 

Taking stock of his surroundings, what little of it there was, Mu Qing concluded that he and Feng Xin were shoved in a hollow cube of stone. There wasn’t enough room for their legs to stretch out. Their arms fumbled all over the place, trying to occupy what little floor space there was to prop themselves up. Try as they might, there was no escaping the difficult position they were in. 

“This is your fault!” Both of them shouted at the same time.

What happened next, Mu Qing could only describe as unfortunately natural. Once their screaming match was over, followed by a couple minutes of fuming silence, they alerted the higher authorities about their situation and were left to wait it out. Feng Xin slouched with his head against one wall and back on the floor while Mu Qing propped himself above in a firm plank.

Of course, it wasn’t ideal to hold himself up with his hands digging into rough stone. It reminded him too much of running drills after being punished back when he was studying martial arts with His Highness. 

Just his luck that the only thing left from those times was the asshole under him. Mu Qing began to fumble around. “Move over! I’m so cramped.”

“Do you see where we are right now?” Feng Xing sounded incredulous. “There’s nowhere to move!”

“Then switch places with me! My arms are going to break.” 

Feng Xin moved, but continued to speak. “What, so you’d rather I break my arms instead?”

There really was nowhere left to go. In their attempts at repositioning, Mu Qing ended up collapsing on Feng Xin’s chest. Feng Xin’s arms came over his back. They were both too tired to find a better solution. Silently resigning himself to this fate, Mu Qing tried to close his eyes and concentrate on anything else.

Fingers brushed against his sides, and suddenly Mu Qing couldn’t think anymore.

His stomach twisted strangely. Feng Xin was still moving, trying to get comfortable, but each time he moved Mu Qing felt the bundle in his chest grow heavier. He wanted to get away, but with nowhere to go, he also began to shift about.

Mu Qing tried to reach down and try to prop himself up again, but his holding slipped. Right before he could fall, however, he felt an arm catch around him to soften the impact. 

A sad sound left him. The sudden feeling of Feng Xin all around him caused his muscles to relax and tense in a self-defeating cycle. Feng Xin was muttering under his breath about how Mu Qing should stop squirming and trying to make light of this awkward situation by getting even angrier, but Mu Qing failed to counter the general’s quips. 

Feng Xin eventually shut up, which would have normally been the highlight of Mu Qing’s day, but now they were left with the weirdness of unchartered territory. 

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Feng Xin’s words weren’t an insult. Mu Qing knew it as a genuine question.

One that Mu Qing didn’t know the answer to. “Nothing! Shut up!” 

Mu Qing tried to move, but he only succeeded in further brushing up against Feng Xin’s hand. Again, the same sound escaped his lips and he wanted to die. The instinct to hide combined with the small space they fell into caused Mu Qing to bury part of his face in Feng Xin’s shoulder. 

As soon as he inhaled, Mu Qing’s head went light and he gasped to finish his breath. He forced his head back up with a choked grunt. Feng Xin was heard grumbling something about how weird Mu Qing was acting.

Once again, Mu Qing failed to tell him off.

“Are you-” Feng Xin’s fingers twitched against Mu Qing’s side. He stumbled over his words, but something must have struck him. “Did you just want a fucking hug this whole time?” 

“You don’t have to make it sound so pathetic!” Mu Qing lifted his hand to hit Feng Xin, but there wasn’t any room to give weight to his punches. Mu Qing could only grab at Feng Xin’s clothes, inadvertently bringing them closer together. 

He expected Feng Xin to react with disgust. Maybe even push him off, even though it was terribly impossible to do so. But wasn’t that always how they worked? Crashing together and forcing themselves back, over and over, like waves against jagged cliffside rocks. 

But Mu Qing wasn’t the ocean. He didn’t leave beautiful traces of white foam behind for the poets to marvel at. There wasn’t an expanse of endless blue waters to welcome him back, folding neatly into himself before rising up again. He could only keep throwing himself against the rocks for so long. One day, he would give out. One day, the ocean will dry and there will be nothing to brush up against the rocks anymore. 

And Feng Xin… how long would he tolerate Mu Qing chasing after him like this? How long until he realized there was no point in arguing anymore? If there was nothing to fight over, then there wouldn’t be anyone left to fight with. There would be no more reason to keep Mu Qing around. 

It wasn’t like Mu Qing wanted to argue all the time either. 

Pei Ming liked to make fun of him for it, in the way that Pei Ming likes to poke fun of everyone, speculating that Mu Qing’s fantasies were drier than a desert and staler than rice left out in the sun. 

If only they knew that part of it was true. It wasn’t boring to Mu Qing, to wonder how his teenage years would have turned out if he didn’t spend so much time yelling in circles. If Feng Xin looked at him with soft, wide eyes rather than vicious glares. How different would the wind feel if they sat next to each other under a ginkgo tree? 

“Mu Qing?” Feng Xin stopped fidgeting. Since when were the two of them ever this still when they were so close together? 

Mu Qing was still a bit lost in his own thoughts. His hands loosened their grip on Feng Xin’s shirt, but Feng Xin didn’t retract his arm. 

If someone were to ask the Mu Qing of ten minutes ago whether his rival would rather hug him or painstakingly lift his arm midair in a show of arrogant strength, the latter option would’ve been chosen in a heartbeat. 

But now, when Feng Xin didn’t so much as let out a noise of protest while resting his whole arm against Mu Qing’s back, the answer turned out to be the opposite. 

After another moment of silence, Feng Xin scoffed. Even as he did so, his arm pushed Mu Qing a little bit closer so that his head was tucked under the archer’s chin. “Feeling better?”

“Don’t!” The taunting undertone in Feng Xin’s voice caused Mu Qing’s old fury to return. The rage always burned him to an uncomfortable degree, yet the discomfort was the easiest thing to slip into when he seldom felt anything else. “I don’t need your fucking benevolence.”

Feng Xin grabbed his sides a little tighter. “I thought you wanted a fucking hug?” 

“Not-” Mu Qing choked. Not like this… He hated this. Hated how all the words he could find were hateful and filled with exaggerated resentment. 

Feng Xin let out a tired laugh. He retracted his arm, though the walls prevented him from letting go completely. “I get it. Not from me, right? Well when we get out of here why don’t you go find His Highness and ask for a hug from him. Or Crimson Rain. Hell, go hug a fierce corpse for all I care!”

Mu Qing wasn’t sure if he’d rather smash his own head into the wall or grab at Feng Xin’s. “Why the hell would I hug a fierce corpse? You always blow things out of proportion!” 

“You don’t have to get so pissy! It’s not like I asked you to start sobbing on me out of nowhere!” 

“It’s not out of nowhere you fucking asshole! ” If any sentence were to echo in such a small enclosed space, that was the one. 

Mu Qing bit down on his lip to prevent himself from saying anything to worsen his situation. He wasn’t able to hide his true self. It was hard enough as it was and it was impossible when he was pressed right up against Feng Xin. 

Whether it was an involuntary reaction or to tease him on purpose, Feng Xin wrapped his other arm around Mu Qing. 

“What the fuck are you doing?” Mu Qing hissed.

“I’m not gonna sit on my arm until the bones turn to dust, dumbass.” Feng Xin huffed. He seemed to hesitate for another moment, fingers tapping an unconscious pattern on Mu Qing’s spine. “Did no one… Am I… Is this your first hug in eight hundred years?” 

Mu Qing clenched his fist. He can’t cry. He can’t. “Who the fuck was I supposed to hug? Jun Wu?” 

The name brought back memories of an earlier, equally embarrassing moment of vulnerability from Mu Qing. He wanted to smack himself, but the event was already brought up and renewed in both their minds. 

“I didn’t-” The rebuttal died on Feng Xin’s lips. Another uneasy silence filled what little space there was. “It’s mine too.”


“Do I look married to you? I said this is also my first hug in eight hundred years!” 

It was one of the rare instances where insulting the other ended up insulting them both. Mu Qing’s first instinct was to laugh at Feng Xin, taking him down for the fall. But something about his admission was too honest to scoff at. Not for the first time, Mu Qing found himself cursing their similarities. 

“...No retort?” Feng Xin was clearly expecting the same thing. 

“Are you asking me to insult you?” Mu Qing spat instead.

“No!” Feng Xin huffed. “I just… isn’t that what we always do?”

It was. Mu Qing knew that. Feng Xin knew that Mu Qing knew that. “My earlier question still stands. I don’t always have to do what you tell me to!” 

Feng Xin didn’t respond. Again, his hands curled in a way that skirted the line between a push and a pull. “I get sick of arguing too.”

The box around them felt smaller than ever before, even though there was no rumble of moving stone and Feng Xin didn’t get any closer. The knowledge of how to breathe escaped Mu Qing as he drew in a ragged breath. Up and down sensations tore at his lungs and made his eyes squeeze shut. 

Was he really so twisted, so besotted with the anguish of longing that he felt pain even when he was supposed to feel happy? This was his dream, wasn’t it? The hope that a sudden epiphany would strike one or the other, maybe both. That dust would clear from the battlefield, brought in by a nameless wind. A bow and a saber would hit the ground at the same time and the curse would be lifted. 

Here Feng Xin was, two hands supporting his back, laying out a new path. The road that Mu Qing thought he’d take in a heartbeat if given the chance. But now, just like when he faced His Highness all those years ago in that cave, the idea of taking the right way out brought the same amount of pain, if not more, than going back down the wrong path. 

Mu Qing couldn’t help it. He shook with his uneven breaths and haphazard overthinking. 

Feng Xin, the bastard, actually started to move his hands. Mu Qing wanted to chew him out. His limbs were charged with the command to flail and hit. A scathing bark was already on the tip of his tongue when Feng Xin changed course again. 

What came out of Mu Qing’s mouth was a garbled cry cut short. His bones lost their momentum. He was rendered weak as his skin reacted to the movement of Feng Xin’s hands. He was drawing circles on his back, a mindless route going around and around like how one would handle a newborn or a… a lover.

The thought made Mu Qing grit his teeth. He squeezed his eyes shut to where he began to give himself a headache. 

Feng Xin moved his head a little above him. “Just cry. It’s fine.” 

A droplet hit Mu Qing’s face and it was enough to make his eyes snap open. He blinked, even though it never got any brighter. The tears weren’t his. He blinked again, and another drop wet his cheek. Tuning out his own breathing, he heard a poorly hidden gasp and a sniffle from the one above him. 

Was Feng Xin crying because… because… 

“Why are you crying?” The question was without malice.

There was a stutter in Feng Xin’s hands. Mu Qing wasn’t able to put words together in his mind to describe the vague disappointment he felt. One of Feng Xin’s hands went up, wiping at where Mu Qing’s tears should have been. 

Feng Xin’s voice was hoarse. “You’re not.”

What an astute observation. Mu Qing pulled the other’s hand away from his face. He hadn’t any idea of where else it should go. Taking too long to decide, Feng Xin interpreted another meaning (the real one, Mu Qing realized) and laced their fingers together. 

“You’re not crying.” Feng Xin said again. Was he shocked? Angry? Mu Qing didn’t know, but if he had to guess he’d say it was confusion. 

“I want to.” It was the only explanation Mu Qing could provide. 

Feng Xin’s fingers buried themselves in Mu Qing’s knuckles and made a home in the valleys of his skin. Mu Qing’s face was pressed between Feng Xin’s shoulder and neck as the archer sobbed out everything Mu Qing couldn’t. 

It was warm: the heat on his face, the tears Feng Xin shed, the arm clinging onto his back. Like on a summer’s evening, Mu Qing’s eyelids grew heavy. The gasping sobs of Feng Xin was a strange sort of lullaby that sent returning shocks into Mu Qing’s body- the only thing that balanced out his own uncontrollable shivers. A strange time to fall asleep atop the strangest person Mu Qing’s ever met, but out of everything, Feng Xin was the last thing from a stranger. 

When Mu Qing awoke, he almost thought they were still trapped. Beneath his eyelids, he was able to see spheres of orange and yellow that disproved his initial thoughts. If he was no longer in that dark box anymore, then why was it still so warm? And Feng Xin…

He gasped, opening his eyes. Panic filled him as he took in the sight of a palace bedroom near identical to his. Almost the exact same, but with the slightest of differences. And he was laying in almost the exact same position he fell asleep in, being supported by the exact same person.

“Are-are you awake?” Feng Xin’s voice was never this soft. “You know I can tell when you’re-”

Mu Qing’s arm shot out, and this time there wasn’t anything stopping him. He flung himself off of Feng Xin. 

“What the hell?” Feng Xing rubbed the spot on his neck where Mu Qing hit him, a familiar glare on his face. “I was just asking a question!”

“Why the fuck am I here?” Mu Qing gasped out. He took in deep breaths to filter the adrenaline out of his system. 

Feng Xin looked incredulous. He lifted his other hand up. Mu Qing didn’t even realize he was still holding onto it, their fingers still intertwined. “You wouldn’t let go, idiot.”

Mu Qing began sputtering, not once considering that it might be appropriate to let go. “Well- I was asleep! You can’t just take me into your palace and-”

“Well, maybe I didn’t want to let go either! It isn’t always about you, you fucking idiot!” Feng Xin’s face paled, then burned. 

The sight caused Mu Qing to flush as well. “I never said it was!”

Two generals, askew on the bed and redder than the sunset. Mu Qing drew his knees closer to him, counting each crease on the blanket to avoid the one sitting beside him. When he braved a glance over, he saw their hands mere threads apart. When Feng Xin’s fingers stretched out, Mu Qing’s retracted. 

He looked away again and bit back an insult. He didn’t want to hold Feng Xin’s stupid hand. He also didn’t not want to hold it. He was afraid that his hand was filled with the other’s, he wouldn’t want to have it empty ever again.

Feng Xin let out a sigh. Frustration? Disappointment? Mu Qing was so unused to guessing Feng Xin’s intentions, always expecting something sinister, that now it struck him that over these centuries perhaps he’s been reading the signs all wrong.

Mu Qing closed his eyes and thought of something to ground him. Normal procedure dictates that he recite some lines of poetry or clear his mind of all worldly troubles for a moment of clarity. 

Instead, what he saw was a spring day in Xian Le.

Distant laughter of disciples goofing around on a rare day off accompanied the sounds of birds in the trees. There was a clearing near the back of the mountains where flower trees bloomed. Mu Qing liked to go there to clear his head- a safe haven for when he needed to get away from the privilege of everyone else. 

He could see His Highness practicing martial arts formations with his sword, interrupted only by the falling petals of the plum blossom tree where Mu Qing sat under. 

The grass was soft, a bit dewy. He slid his hands through the green sprouts, stretching out until his fingers slotted into another’s. There was a stutter in his heart as his eyes slowly followed the trail from his hand, up the arm, to the face of Feng Xin smiling back at him.

Rather than the typical uptight bun and plethora of armor that Mu Qing was now used to seeing, Feng Xin’s hair was loose. Not down entirely, but relaxed enough to let the dark strands brush over his face. In his eyes was a warmth unseen for the past few hundred years. 

Mu Qing was shocked out of his dazed stupor at the feeling of a squeeze against his side. His eyes snapped open. He was holding hands with Feng Xin. Each finger crossed over the other, like in his daydream. 

And Feng Xin didn’t move away. 

Looking back up to the man’s face, Mu Qing discovered that Feng Xin wasn’t quite smiling. That was asking for too much. Still, as their eyes met, the same warmness as that imaginary spring day shone unabashedly before him.

It was all too much. Daydreams weren’t supposed to come true. They hadn’t before, so there was no logical reason for it to start happening now. 

Rather than risk the look turning sour, Mu Qing turned away again to scan the room. 

Why did Feng Xin’s room have to look so similar to his own? Some of the colors were different, but spending the better half of their youth together meant that they developed similar tastes. Even what they kept on their bedside stand was the same, right down to the pieces of cloth they used for sewing.

Except Feng Xin didn’t sew. 

Unless Mu Qing was really not paying attention for the last few hundred years, and he always was, it was impossible for Feng Xin to have picked up sewing under the other’s nose.

Especially since, if he knew, it would no doubt turn into another point of competition for them.

Mu Qing eyed the white cloth. Picking it up, the material was familiar. 

“That’s-” Feng Xin’s voice cracked.

Mu Qing turned the cloth over and found exactly what he expected. “Mine,” he finished. His head whipped around, though he wasn’t sure what expression he was wearing. Only that Feng Xin looked as guilty as Mu Qing presumed he felt. “This was a failed embroidery project of mine from three weeks ago. Why do you have it?”

Feng Xin looked like he wanted to take the fabric back, but Mu Qing pulled it out of his reach. “I-”

“Were you spying on me? Or are you so bored as to start digging through my trash for fun?” Mu Qing found it difficult to keep up the hostility in his voice. His breathing came in shallow, and his heart failed to ease itself.

“Mu Qing, calm down!” Feng Xin grasped the hand holding the cloth, crumpling the white fabric between their palms. “I-I liked it, okay? I saw you throwing it out so I kept it because of course you would waste a perfectly good piece of cloth over some minor mistake!”

Mu Qing felt wearier than he would after a battle. His arm wilted back down to the blankets with Feng Xin still holding on. 

“I liked it.” Feng Xin admitted. Mu Qing was back to staring into empty space. Feng Xin scooted closer to him. “I liked it. I like y-”

Mu Qing squeezed his hands too hard. “Don’t finish that sentence.”

Feng Xin obliged him. Instead, he asked, “Is that so hard for you to believe?”

It was. In fact, Mu Qing thought it near impossible. Feng Xin, the mighty general of the Southwest, milling about his rival’s palace, happening to catch Mu Qing toss his work away in a fit of frustration, and salvaging it? 

Feng Xin kept Mu Qing’s sewing beside his table. Feng Xin thought about him. Feng Xin brought Mu Qing back to his own palace. Feng Xin didn’t want to let go. 

Feng Xin liked him.

“You… you like me.” When Mu Qing looked back up, Feng Xin looked closer to his usual self. 

Except his usual self didn’t hold hands or look back with any kindness. So this couldn’t be his usual self. Maybe that was a good thing?

Feng Xin snorted. “So you can say it but I can’t? That doesn’t seem fair.”

Mu Qing shook his head. “Have you liked me this whole time?”

“Have you hated me this whole time?”

“No.” The answer came to him immediately. “No, I-I didn’t.”

The revelation didn’t crash on them in the way that Mu Qing often heard. Neither of them fancied themselves to be the kinds of people to collapse into an embrace or share a passionate kiss out of nowhere. 

The least of the reasons being that both of them were rather inexperienced in such matters. In some ways, though, they were beyond such dramatic displays. After centuries of tearing down each other’s palace walls, there was nothing left to protect or hide from. 

Was that what the other heavenly officials saw? Two stubborn generals, with nothing but hollow pride to defend, sitting cross-armed and spitting poison because that was all they knew how to do. 

But after what passed between them in that dark solitude, it was clear they were both capable of something more. The tide receded, revealing a message etched deep into the memories of the sand. 

In a feat of bravery that surpassed even his greatest battle, Mu Qing leaned into Feng Xin’s side and wrapped an arm around his waist. 

“Are you-” Feng Xin stopped upon seeing Mu Qing’s heatless glare, turning his words into an awkward cough before wrapping the silver-haired general in his arms.

 Having initiated the contact this time, the contact was less threatening than it seemed the first time. No ragged breaths or tugging heartstrings. Like he was sitting under that plum blossom tree, he was content. 

It was a feeling he wouldn’t mind getting familiar with. Content, to rest against Feng Xin’s chest. 

Not exactly the picture of success he imagined for himself in the past, but it was good. For once, it felt like enough.

“Consider this the second.” Mu Qing hummed, trying to find words so that he wouldn’t end up dozing off. 

Feng Xin replied in an equally dazed tone, “Second what?”

Mu Qing readjusted his position so that they both wouldn’t be talking to the air. Feng Xin’s arms tensed for a moment, unsure of where to go as Mu Qing sat up straighter. 

Mu Qing rolled his eyes, linking their hands once more. “You really don’t know what to do without me reacting to it, huh?”

Feng Xin shrugged. “Well, you weren’t ever not there to react to it. What do you expect?”

The brashness of their words made them both avoid looking at one another for too long. 

Was this what those poets were on about when saying their partners were like the sun? Because looking at Feng Xin created a heat that was unbearable. Mu Qing wanted to learn how to adjust to the light. 

“You still never answered my question.” Feng Xin bumped their shoulders. He always did that whenever Mu Qing’s thoughts were running away from him. “The second what?”

Mu Qing rolled his shoulders back, repossessing some of his former haughtiness. “Isn’t it obvious? You were the one who brought it up after all. Your second hug.”

Feng Xin laughed, nudging his shoulder a little rougher. “You asshole, don’t think you can take the upper hand like this. This would also be your second hug after all these years.”

“Well then I guess it’s lucky that you have me-” Feng Xin cocked his brow, and Mu Qing relented with a huff- “that we have each other, I mean, to remedy that unfortunate fact about ourselves.”

Feng Xin tugged Mu Qing back into his chest. “Well, here’s the third. We can stop counting now.” 

Mu Qing wasn’t quite satisfied with ending it there. “Well then what else are we going to count?” His current seat prevented him from looking directly at Feng Xin, but his abandoned sewing project was still buried under the blankets. 

He picked it up and smoothed it over his hand, tracing over the embroidery. It was supposed to be of the tree that grew in front of the Nan Yang Palace, but Mu Qing was utterly unsatisfied with how his process was going and figured it would be best to restart the whole thing over. 

His thumb stopped partway through its journey along the branch of a tree at a sudden pressure against his cheek.

Feng Xin pulled his lips back and hid his face in Mu Qing’s hair. “That’s one.”

“Y-you…” The white cloth recrumpled. 

The cloth was pried from his hand and held up to the light. Feng Xin shook his head. “You’re too hard on yourself. It looks fine.”

“It’s a mess,” Mu Qing insisted. “I’ll make you a better one.”

The room stopped for a beat. He felt Feng Xin’s smile. One day, Mu Qing will be able to see it and give one in return. “That’d be nice. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Even if it wasn’t the first time they said those words to each other, it felt like it was the first time they each meant it. 

One day, those words won’t feel so weighty. Mu Qing won’t feel unsure of himself when he’s beside Feng Xin. They will get used to holding hands in public. Their statues might be put together in one temple instead of separate ones. 

One day, Mu Qing will find it in himself to tell Feng Xin that he loves him. He’ll say it so much they’ll both get sick of it. 

Glancing up, though Feng Xin’s expression was still half-hidden, it seemed those days might be sooner than Mu Qing was prepared for. 

This time, Mu Qing leaned up first and pressed a tentative kiss against Feng Xin’s lips. His partner gasped, but matched its softness. They were good at that- matching each other one for one. 

He thought again of the tree, the once etched in the fabric Feng Xin kept beside his bed, the same one growing in the front of the palace. It produced no flowers, but maybe it would be nice to sit under it together all the same.