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Ye Xiu never does anything by halves. Once he sets his mind to something, he sees it through to the end. 

It makes sense then, that when he falls in love with Su Muqiu, he falls hard. Every fibre of his being is consumed by the unquenchable fire that ignites his soul; this irreplaceable feeling that he drowns himself in with abandon.

But then, Su Muqiu dies.

--

He tries to move on, to mend the black hole that threatens to consume him from the inside out. When he finally meets Desert Dust in person, he thinks that maybe beyond having found a worthy opponent, he has also found a friend, a partner. Han Wenqing is just as straightforward, unyielding, and devoted to Glory as Ye Xiu is. It’s no wonder they fall into an easy rhythm together offstage.

But no matter how hard Ye Xiu tries to open up, every touch, every embrace feels wrong against his skin. He teeters on the edge of something that he can’t put into words, and how is he supposed to face something he can’t even name?

A few months into whatever it is they have, Han Wenqing rests a feather-light hand on Ye Xiu’s shoulder and walks out the door. He doesn’t have to say anything; they both know it’s a good-bye. 

They never speak of it again. What is there to say? They were only ever working with borrowed time.

--

When Blue Rain debuts in Season 4, they catch everyone’s attention, on the stage and off. Blue Rain’s vice-captain is a force to be reckoned with, his trash talk rendering him larger than life. 

Huang Shaotian is intrigued by the 3-time champion, the undisputed Battle God that everyone admires. He follows Ye Xiu around backstage, repeatedly pestering him for a PK despite always being turned down. His teammates try to hold him back, try to tell him the mysterious masked man just isn't interested.

But it’s just the opposite. Ye Xiu is interested, a little too much so, but for all the wrong reasons. When he looks at the 18-year-old blonde in front of him, a different one flashes across his mind’s eye, a reminder of days gone by. 

And so he refuses, just so Huang Shaotian will keep asking. At least then, the ghost that lurks in his eyes will always come back to Ye Xiu, a comforting and familiar presence.

Su Muqiu is never coming back, so Ye Xiu will take what he can get.

--

Blue Rain isn’t done haunting him just yet. After they fall short during the Season 4 playoffs, their captain reaches out to Ye Xiu on QQ to ask for advice. Yu Wenzhou is polite and soft-spoken, everything Huang Shaotian is not, and while his hands are slow, his mind is fast, so impossibly fast.

What starts off as tactics discussions slowly becomes something more. For the first time in ages, Ye Xiu feels lighter, the wilted flower in his heart slowly blooming again under the soft sunlight that radiates from Yu Wenzhou.

He should have known better than to get too comfortable. When it all comes crashing down around him, just like everything before, he has only himself to blame.

One night during their summer break, Ye Xiu wanders into the Blue Rain training room in search of Yu Wenzhou. He finds him there, slumped over pages and pages of diagrams and notes, fast asleep. 

In the blink of an eye, Ye Xiu is transported back into the past, the raven-haired man in front of him replaced by one with bright gold hair, a peaceful picture frozen in time. 

He should know better than to approach the mirage in front of him, but he is weak, and he never could refuse Su Muqiu anything. As he walks towards the desk, his eye catches on the title of one of the pages, spelled out in a neat yet unfamiliar script: Season 6 Unspecialized?

He freezes, and just like that, he is snapped back into reality, the image in front of him shattering into a million pieces, along with his heart.

Yu Wenzhou wakes up just in time to see Ye Xiu’s retreating figure slip out the door.

During Season 6, Ye Xiu watches every single Blue Rain match obsessively. Only when he hears their captain lament the impossibility of an unspecialized character does he finally let out the breath he doesn’t even know he's been holding.

--

In Season 7, Excellent Era begins to crumble. A thousand miles away in Kunming, Hundred Blossoms does as well.

Zhang Jiale and Ye Xiu are alike in so many ways. As they struggle to hold together the teams that made them who they are, they find solace in each other's company.

What they don't talk about is how they are also desperately trying to fill a void in their hearts left by another, the shape of the person in their arms not quite lining up with what they imagine. 

Zhang Jiale always reaches up a little too far when he goes to touch Ye Xiu, expecting someone taller, broader. When Ye Xiu runs his hands through Zhang Jiale's hair, he finds himself thinking that it should be shorter, lighter.

Zhang Jiale looks at Ye Xiu and sees his atonement. Ye Xiu looks at Zhang Jiale and sees his salvation. They both know that they will never be what the other truly wants. 

Despite all the talk of gods and legacies, they are still only human.

So it makes sense that when Season 7 ends, they go their separate ways. Ye Xiu retires, and there's nothing left for Zhang Jiale in the Alliance anymore. He follows shortly afterwards.

--

During the Season 10 Finals, Ye Xiu finally arrives at an unassailable truth.

How do you compete with a dead man?

You can’t.

Zhou Zekai's Cloud Piercer steps up to Lord Grim, both guns blazing in a perfect rendition of Gun Fu. The Gunner God, they call him.

He is 10 years too late.

Ye Xiu knows how this battle will end. He’s known ever since that summer he was 15, fresh off a bus from Beijing, PKing a stranger in a run-down internet cafe in Hangzhou. A stranger who would carve out a home in Ye Xiu’s heart, then leave it empty for the next 10 years. 

And so when Cloud Piercer finally falls and Lord Grim stands alone on the battlefield, victorious, Ye Xiu feels no joy, only a weary sense of déjà vu.

Even though his shaking fingers can barely hold up the trophy, it’s still lighter than the leaden weight bearing down on his soul.

--

At the ripe old age of 29, Ye Xiu retires from the Glory pro scene.

At the tender young age of 29, Ye Xiu, unable to outrun his ghosts, decides to join them instead.

But when he sees Su Muqiu standing there waiting for him, eyes shining and smile wide, he thinks maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.