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Unconditional

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When Quan Yizhen had been young, he never walked outside right after it had rained.  Rain made the soil wet, and wet soil meant the worms couldn’t breathe.  To save themselves from drowning, the worms would leave the ground and try to find high ground.  Most of the time they’d end up in the grass, slimy, wriggly…squishy.

Quan Yizhen hated them.

The way they felt under his bare feet made chills run up his spine.

Not that he ran around barefoot anymore.  He’d been a god for several centuries, and he and his shixiong had been living together for decades.  Shixiong didn’t let him go out barefoot.

But sometimes, they’d be walking about, only for Quan Yizhen to realize there were worms in front of him, worms behind him, worms on either side.

“Shixiong,” he said, hair standing on end.  “Shixiong, we’re trapped.”

“Ignore the worms.  Just step around them.”

How was he supposed to step around them if he was ignoring them?  He did his best to do both, but, oh, he just stepped on one.  He shuddered.  Even with boots on, he could feel the little creature squishing under him.

“Out of all he things to be afraid of,” Yin Yu sighed when they got home.

“They’re gross.”

“They’re just worms!”

Quan Yizhen pushed his lower lip out.  “They should disappear.  I don’t like them.”

Yin Yu sighed and went about his nightly routine.  Quan Yizhen watched him with quiet fondness.  Yin Yu always took his belt off before he rinsed his mouth out, then finished taking off his robes.  They settled into bed together, and suddenly Quan Yizhen had a thought.

“Shixiong, even if you were a worm, I’d still love you.”

Yin Yu blinked at him, then he made a very strange face, then he scratched at his nose.  “Why would I be a worm?  Go to sleep, Yizhen.”  He gave Quan Yizhen a peck on the forehead, then blew out the last candle.  Quan Yizhen stared at his silhouette until they fell asleep.

When he woke up the next morning, Yin Yu had already left bed.  This was not unusual, since Quan Yizhen hated mornings almost as much as he hated worms.  Quan Yizhen stretched out his legs then rolled to Yin Yu’s side of the bed to bury his face in his pillow. It was still a little warm on that side, so Yin Yu hadn’t been gone long.  He only had a moment to savor that warmth before he felt something wet move against his leg.  His eyes flew open.

He slapped at his leg, but the sensation didn’t go away, so he tore the sheets back.

“Worm,” he said.  “There’s…”

With a low groan, he kicked the pallet until the worm flopped onto the floor.

“Shixiong, there’s a worm in the bed.”  His whole body felt sticky and gross, and a phantom of the worm’s pulsating, squiggling body clung to his leg.  “Shixiong.”

No one answered for a long time.  That was weird.  Yin Yu always answered if he heard Quan Yizhen.  He said it was polite to answer when called.  Quan Yizhen called to him a few more times, but there was still no answer.  He even got out of bed and wandered around their home, but he still couldn’t find him.

“Shixiong, where are you?”

He went back to their room and saw the worm there, lying on the floor.  He thought about smashing it with his boot, but then he remembered what he’d said last night.  He got on the floor and inspected the worm closely.

“Shixiong, is that you?”

The worm, of course, did not answer.

“Shixiong, if it’s you, wiggle twice.”  He poked the worm and it spasmed twice against his fingernail.  Quan Yizhen huffed and sat up.  How had his shixiong turned into a worm?  Was it some kind of ghost thing?  Maybe Mount Tonglu had opened?  A qi deviation?

Gingerly, Quan Yizhen took one end of the worm between his thumb and forefinger, cringing as it flailed about.  “Shixiong, stop, I’ll drop you.”

He placed his shixiong in his other hand and gagged as the slimy thing touched him.  Once it was safely in Quan Yizhen’s hand, he said, “I said I’d love Shixiong, even if he was a worm, and I meant it.  I’ll…I’ll make sure no birds eat you. I’ll give you a pot of good dirt to live in.  I’ll bring you fresh manure every week.  I love Shixiong no matter what.”

He shut his eyes and pursed his lips.  He leaned down to put his lips on the worm even though he really, really didn’t want to.

“Yizhen, what are you doing?”

Quan Yizhen startled before he could kiss the worm, but that was definitely his Shixiong’s voice!

“I’m giving you your good morning kiss.  I can’t start the day unless I do.”

“How can you give me a good morning kiss like that?”

“Like what?”  Did Shixiong not want kisses as a worm?  Was he already slimy enough?

“You can’t kiss me if you’re over there kneeling by the bed.”

Quan Yizhen furrowed his brow and looked at his shixiong. “Would it be better if I stood?”

“Yizhen, come here, won’t you?”

“I’m right here.”

“You won’t even look at me?”

“I’m looking right at you.”

“Turn around!”

Quan Yizhen turned around and saw Yin Yu standing at the door with a cup of soy milk and a late of pastries in his hands.

“Shixiong!”

“I thought you’d sleep longer, so I went out to get breakfast.  What are you doing over there?”

Quan Yizhen glanced back at the worm in his hand, watched it’s segmented body twitch, then threw it to the floor in disgust.

“Shixiong, I thought you were a worm!”

“Huh?!  Yizhen, wake up before you open your eyes.  I’m not a worm.”

Quan Yizhen raced over to him and kissed him several times on the face.

“Careful, careful!  You’ll spill the soy milk!”

Quan Yizhen didn’t care; he just kissed his shixiong harder.  “I’d love you anyway, but I’m so glad you’re not a worm.”