Did you hear?
Grand Marshall of the Heavenly Armies, Gu Yun has been sent down to the moral realm as punishment!
What? On what charges?
Attempted rebellion! Can you believe it?
What of his personal troops? The Black Iron Camp?
Turn to crows, every last one of them!
But when will the punishment be over?
What do you think? If the charge is true, then who would let him back? And if it's not...aiya. All I can say is, being loyal isn't a guarantee for anything!
Do you really think--
Shh! Are you going to question the Jade Emperor's decision? Don't ask anymore unnecessary questions!
From birth, Gu Shiliu's ears and eyes weren't very reliable. It was unfortunate and inconvenient but at least it wasn't to the point of being completely blind or deaf. Living the sort of life he did, herding the two old cows he had. When he was younger, they had had many more, but with his eyes and ears like this, his parents hadn't felt it was a good idea to keep as many when it became obvious that their son would be living on his own. In the end, many of them had been sold off, leaving Gu Shiliu to live a comfortable if humble life.
That was fine. Living this far from the capital, what did he even need? The sky above his head, the ground below his feet and a house with a warm hearth and time enough to waste practising calligraphy and to wander into the nearby village to smile at the girls who looked away with a blush and a giggle...it was a little boring but that was fine.
Besides, he can find his own entertainment. Like playing his flute as he walked the cows...or listening as some local "young master" (Shiliu's mother had come from the capital. Compared to her this nobody who's name he can't even remember isn't anything but a bully whose father happens to have a little money but can barely read couldn't really carry such a title) as he mentioned to a friend or two how he was going to bring home a celestial for a wife.
To be honest, Gu Shiliu was only listening half-heartedly because it sounded like nonsense. Something about his family's old cow tell him there will be a celestial bathing at the river and if he stole her clothes she won't be able to return and as long as he hid the clothes she would have to marry him.
He lounged in the trees and thought, what an idiot.
If marrying a celestial was as easy as that then wouldn't everyone be descendants of the Heavens? Besides which, didn't they have magic and spells? A self-respecting mortal woman would probably sooner slap a man stealing her clothes rather than marry them.
His peach blossom eyes crinkled in amusement.
Surely, this fake young master wouldn't think he was so handsome that the celestial would fall in love with him at first sight?
Well, Gu Shiliu thought, maybe if he were even half as handsome as himself, it may be possible.
Still, when the young man sent his friends away, Gu Shiliu jumped down from the tree and followed in the manner of someone who was there to watch a good show.
Who knew, as they neared the river, the young man actually froze. Even if Gu Shiliu strained his ears, he knew he wouldn't be able to hear if there was anything splashing in the river but there was a lot to be read from the way the young man reacted.
There was something.
He thought, maybe it was a mountain pig.
But then a few steps later, the young man crouched down and reached through the long grass, pulling out from there a set of yellow robes. Even though his eyes weren't good and unable to pick out details from this far away, he could see the colour and he had never seen anything like it, warm and almost glowing, like the light trapped in the clouds at sunset.
It seemed there really was someone in the river. Whether or not it was a celestial was another matter. Still, it didn't matter, he supposed.
Forgoing stealth, he stepped closer.
From birth, Gu Shiliu's ears and eyes had been unreliable, but using them as an excuse to ignore the people and things he didn't want to deal with, many people thought it was worse than it actually was.
Regardless, no one else could beat him in a fight either.
After sending the young man from who even cares which family running with his metaphorical tail between his legs, Gu Shiliu had the robes in his hands. This close he could see clearly that it wasn't just the colour that was different. Under his fingers the fabric was sturdy but fine, light as air but doesn't feel flimsy.
He wasn't rubbing it between his fingers because it could be the clothes of a lady and he wasn't some common pervert but when he picked it up he immediately noticed it: where there should have been seams it was completely smooth.
He considers his options for a moment before walking out from behind the grass like he had nothing to hide (which, to be fair, he didn't).
The person standing in the river was no maiden though Gu Shiliu could believe they were a celestial.
He was also not naked, though his hair was wet and the water soaked into the white under robe leaving wet patches around the shoulders and collar.
His eyes, framed by long, dark lashes widened minutely and though he seemed calm in the second when Gu Shiliu first came into view he quickly clutched at his robes like a shy maiden.
"You..." Then he trailed off as if he had words that had to be swallowed back. Would it really be so bad for him to speak his mind without over-thinking every little thing?
"Me." Gu Shiliu said easily, picking up where he left off, then held out the yellow robes. "I believe these are yours." He handed them to the celestial who accepted it with a word of thanks. Their fingers briefly touched and suddenly, as if he'd been burnt, the celestial pulled back.
Up close, he could see the celestial's features more clearly and Gu Shiliu was certain he had never seen anyone quite so lovely.
Gu Shiliu said, "how about you follow me?" Which wasn't at all what he meant to say but after a heartbeat he smiled, lazy and shameless as if he had.
To which the celestial paused. There was no surprise on his expression but his fingers, in the midst of tying his robes shut faltered for a fraction of a second. The way he stared at Gu Shiliu made the skin at the back of his neck prickle, for a fleeting moment feeling like he was standing before a hungry wolf.
Finally, the celestial finished tying his clothes. "...asking that after meeting for the first time. How shameless can you be?"
Even having said that, the celestial, whose name was Li Min followed him home anyway.
His home was modest but very clean. Especially the kitchen since he didn't bother with it much.
Li Min saw it and immediately frowned. "Where do you get your food?" What he didn't say was, 'don't tell me you you eat grass alongside the cows'.
"A man's place isn't in the kitchen." He said lazily with a grin. "I go into the village and the women there are more than happy to give me food for free for a smile."
What Li Min doesn't say is, how does that make you any better than a beggar? Instead, he only sighs. "I'll make something."
Gu Shiliu, who knew very well there was nothing in the kitchen only laughed a little.
But in the end, a celestial is still a celestial. Somehow, despite there being nothing in the kitchen Li Min is able to pull together four dishes and a soup, all of them smelled great. Only...
"Why are there so many vegetables?"
Li Min picked up some greens with his chopsticks and placed it on Gu Shiliu's bowl of rice. "Vegetables are good for you." He said plainly, frowning when the vegetables were quickly placed back on his own bowl.
"If it's so good for you then you eat it." He said without a single hint that he realized how childish it was. "Also, couldn't you have magicked up some wine?"
"Alcohol is bad for your health. Drink some warm tea instead."
Apart from when their eyes met at the river, Li Min's manner could only be described as calm and mild even as he put up with Gu Shiliu's teasing it hadn't changed even the slightest. It wasn't until Gu Shiliu pulled him along into the bed room that he showed a hint of a troubled expression, stopped short at the doorway.
"What is it?"
Li Min hesitated. "This is your bedroom."
Gu Shiliu scoffed. "Do I look like I need you to remind me?"
Truly, Li Min didn't know if he wanted to laugh or cry. "Are there no other rooms?" He asked and then immediately realized how stupid that was. Such a small house...upon coming inside he could already see everything. A kitchen outside...a space with a table in the main area and a single door leading to a bedroom...unless the way into the other room is through a hidden door in the wall where would he find another one? On the roof? Or is there a hidden room below ground?
Instead, Li Min pulled his hand back. "I'll sleep in the barn."
Gu Shiliu lets go, only to reach out suddenly and grab this man by the crook of his elbow. "What's so good about sleeping with the animals?" He said, amused above all else, he lowers his lashes in a perfectly cultivated, smoldering look that makes Li Min flush. "It's fine, aren't we both men? What is there to be shy about?"
In the end, Li Min stalked out to sleep in the barn. The only reason he wouldn't describe it as 'stormed out' was simply because he didn't act overtly angry. Still, even if he hid it well, Gu Shiliu was certain he was upset.
Gu Shiliu was a little put out about this. Were he a less confident man, he might have wondered if beauties lovelier than him were common in the Heavenly Court. Honestly, why was this kid always so difficult to understand?
He grimaced, rubbing the bridge of his nose against the budding migraine. Then moved over to the cabinet in the corner.
What he needed right now was a drink.
Chang Geng wasn't very picky about where he slept, but at the same time he didn't exactly like sleeping with barn animals.
Still, it was the only way he could be sure he won't act worse than an animal.
He lay down on the clean hay then raised his arms to cover his eyes with a sigh.
What a disaster. He hadn't expected to see Gu Yun so soon, but that wasn't even the problem. He had been prepared for Gu Yun not remembering, in fact, wouldn't it have been stranger if he did remember? He had already prepared himself for that possibility. What he hadn't been prepared for is for Gu Yun to start flirting with him.
He pressed his mouth into a thin line then he lowered his arms and stared up at the ceiling.
This was...really dangerous, wasn't it? If he couldn't control himself then it'd be better to leave now before he made a mistake that would cause Gu Yun to hate him later...before he did something unforgivable.
He sat up, the motion wasn't abrupt though his stomach felt weighed down with dread. It wasn't too late. He'd technically accomplished what he set out to do...at least. Well enough that he could work with it.
There wasn't anything to pack so he left with only the clothes on his back, but when he pushed open the door, his exit was blocked by the very person he was hoping he wouldn't run into.
Gu Yun was sitting under the only tree in the yard, a jar of wine in his hand. He looked up and smiled when he spotted Chang Geng. "Beauty." He called out as he stood and walked over with only the slightest sway. For one hysterical moment Chang Geng thought, if he ran now he could probably out-run this drunk.
Yet when he stumbled even if it were only slightly Chang Geng knew he couldn't possibly do that.
Chang Geng sighed, reaching out to steady Gu Yun and help him back into the home and to his bed, fully intent on laying him down and then leaving.
...right after he pulls the blanket up and makes sure Gu Yun won't catch a chill. But when he had the blanket pulled up to Gu Yun's shoulders, his arm was grabbed and he himself ended up being pulled down, falling on top of Gu Yun.
"You--!" Chang Geng tried to get up, but Gu Yun wrapped his arms around his shoulders and Chang Geng found himself trapped.
"Darling," Gu Yun's eyes were a little hazy as he looked up at him, obviously drunk as he ran a hand over Chang Geng's cheek. "Stay."
Chang Geng scoffed even as pink tinted his cheeks. "You're drunk." He said bluntly but not urgently. He reached out to extricate himself from Gu Yun's grip when the man sighed.
The name made him freeze.
As if he couldn't believe it, he said, "What did you just say?"
But Gu Yun made a noise of protest before trying to pull him closer. "Chang Geng."
Chang Geng's heart trembled. This wasn't what he thought it was. He didn't remember...he didn't...
Still, his arms went boneless as Gu Yun pulled him down. "Don't go."
In the end, Chang Geng couldn't resist but he told himself...just this once.
Even so, when he slipped into bed beside Gu Yun, he made sure to keep his hands to himself...even if he doesn't stop Gu Yun from holding him close.
The next morning, Gu Yun woke up with a beauty in his arms without any memory of how this came to be.
So of course, he smiled. "Oh? When did you crawl into my bed? Didn't I already say, what's the point of sleeping with animals?"
And, to Chang Geng's eternal embarrassment, the man went and squeezed his ass.
That was the last straw and this time, Chang Geng did storm of the room.
After that Li Min stubbornly refused to sleep anywhere except the barn.
It was troubling and left Gu Shiliu feeling mulish for reasons he couldn't quite name. Why was he sleeping there? wasn't there a perfectly good bed right here?
He turned to the side before getting up.
"Tch. What's so good about sleeping in the barn? Do the cows smell good?"
It had to be that he was upset because it's like someone has chosen the cows over him!
He left the house, running a hand through his hair. Even this early, his dog nose could catch the faint, mouth-watering smells of breakfast wafting from the kitchen. The smell brought with it a familiar sense of warmth. When he pushed open the door, he paused for a moment.
Li Min was sitting outside, his handsome profile was distracting enough but between his fingers was a thin glowing thread of white that he was separating it into seven strands ranging from red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple with gentle, deft twists of his fingers.
The motions only paused briefly when he looked up. "Breakfast isn't ready yet."
"Mm." Gu Shiliu said before moving over, dropping onto the other chair, reaching out to pick at the pile of green thread. For which Li Min gave him an unreadable look but didn't actually tell him to stop. "What are you doing?"
"Pulling threads." Li Min returned to what he was doing. But even though his gaze was turned back to the white thread he was picking apart into different coloured threads, his attention was divided as he continued to speak, "yesterday's ingredients came from a local spirit. This is for the payment."
"Threads?" He said with a smile as he twisted the green thread around his fingers. It had a faint glow at certain angles not dissimilar to Li Min's robes.
"Clothes." Li Min answered without missing a beat as he reached out to pluck the threads from Gu Shiliu's fingers. "You'll tangle them." He said a little distractedly.
It wasn't anything close to a scolding but the entire thing left a sour taste in his mouth.
"Weren't you going to make me something first?"
It was easy to believe that Li Min was from the Heavens. Besides his ethereally handsome looks and his clothes, he also had an air like one of those celestials, as if he weren't touched by the smoke and fires of the human realm with his mild, elegant bearings that only broke once or twice so far.
Like right now as he caught Li Min staring at him, his fingers paused mid motion, his expression seemed genuinely surprised. "Why do you say that?"
Why did he say that?
Gu Shiliu wasn't sure, in fact. Still, when he thought about it, wasn't it obvious?
He scoffed. "You're living under my roof are you not? And using my kitchen. If you owed anyone payment shouldn't it be me?"
(And Chang Geng thought, for whose sake did I get that food? Wasn't it yours?
In the end, what he said was,) "It's hard to get a large amount of good quality thread if I'm just pulling threads by hand."
He finished pulling apart the white thread about the same time breakfast was done and he placed all of it into a pouch before he left.
While he was gone, Gu Shiliu reached into the pouch and took the skein of green thread and pocketed it.
Things carried on in this manner for a few days as Li Min made a small robe as if it were for a doll. Gu Shiliu watched him sometimes and found himself staring at the deft way his fingers moved both elegant but oddly familiar.
Whenever he was caught staring, Li Min would wear a look as if there were a thousand words and a million phrases that he couldn't find a voice for.
Knowing somehow that this person wouldn't speak up unless pushed he finally said, "What is it? Always staring at me and saying nothing...it makes me nervous."
Li Min doesn't accuse him of being the one who was staring first but there's a flatness to his expression that certainly implies it. Then he turns back to his work but the way he twists the threads seems distracted though there was no saying why he knew that.
He rubbed at the bridge of his nose against an oncoming headache...only to find hands touching his face, pressing against his temple. When he opened his eyes, Li Min was right in front of him. There was a subtle frown on his face.
Gu Shiliu let his hand drop as he let Li Min rub his head in soothing circles, before they left, taking him by the arm and pulling him up. "You should go lie down."
They end up on the bed, with Gu Shiliu's head on Li Min's lap as he worked his fingers over his head, moving from his temples to a spot further back. He wasn't adverse to being close to others but this sort of intimacy was rare in his life. It felt like it should be unsettling.
It wasn't. Instead there was something almost...
He opened his eyes and stared at the person leaning over him.
"Did we know each other from a previous life?"
The fingers on him stuttered in their motions for a breath but resumed so quickly it was easy to mistake for nothing. "...why do you ask?"
Which was not an answer but there were many questions Li Min didn't answer. Perhaps it was some sort of rule. Gu Shiliu himself had become embarrassed by the question almost as soon as he'd asked it so he huffed and masked all of that by doing what he did best.
Which was to spout nonsense.
"If we knew each other we must have been lovers. After all," He said with a grin, peach blossom eyes glimmering, "I'm so beautiful, what man or woman could resist me?"
Li Min made a sound of agreement as he took his hands away...before covering Gu Shiliu's eyes with one hand.
"Did you consider that maybe it was one-sided? Perhaps...I had been the only one in love."
Those words made something in his chest constrict but he laughed it off. "Are you fishing for compliments? How shameless!" But there's only silence as an answer. He raised his hand, literally blindly, reaching for Li Min's face, manages to brush his fingertips over his cheek. "Ah, it's not like I said I wouldn't love you." He cajoled, thinking that he must have made this person mad again. "You're being so good to me, even if I travelled all the way to the capital there's no saying I'd find a wife better than you."
There's a sigh above him, a little helpless but not angry, at least. Then the hand was removed from his eyes and he blinked against the sudden light.
"It's late." Li Min said, his hand brushing over Gu Shiliu's hair. "If your head is feeling better then go to sleep." He made to move Gu Shiliu off him and stand up. He was allowed that but quick as a snake striking at its prey, Gu Shiliu took Li Min's hand.
"Haven't I already told you not to sleep in the stables?" He grumbled.
Li Min startled, squeezing the hand in his tightly. "What?"
"I said," Gu Shiliu said with a scoff, "you shouldn't sleep in the barn. You're starting to smell like the animals." Then he tugged Li Min onto the bed (which Chang Geng allowed because his surprise dulled his reactions).
"Sleep." He said, pulling the blanket up. "I won't do anything." When Li Min only stared, he scoffed again. "What, do I need to put something between us?" But the way he settles on his side, his head propped up by an arm seemed to indicate he wasn't inclined to get up.
Finally, Li Min said, "...no, that won't be necessary."
Long after Gu Yun fell asleep, Chang Geng reached out tentatively, his fingers stopping short of touching that familiar face.
He held his breath, fearing that if he exhaled it would set free all the things he kept locked up inside.
His fingertips trembled before he closed his hand back into a fist and let it fall into the space between them.
Then, in a whisper soft as the beat of moth wings, "Zi Xi...how much do you remember?"
"Have you considered getting more cows?" Chang Geng asked because it had been bothering him for a while. The two cows Gu Yun has were mild tempered, willing to put up with his playing his flute as they graze but they were old as well.
Gu Yun laughed. "No, these two are old friends. If I got more won't they become jealous that they need to share my attention."
But Chang Geng knew, it was because Gu Yun in this life had bad eye-sight. How would he take care of more animals? He had enough money to live comfortably enough and he was able to get free food from the smitten young ladies in town...
...which, if Chang Geng were being honest with himself, he didn't like at all. But in the moments where he acknowledges it he also rebukes himself. Would you rather he starves? It's not as if you can stay by his side and take care of him.
Chang Geng leaves for a little while one day, leaving behind a boxed lunch as well as a note that he'd be back before dinner.
When Chang Geng returned, he had at his side two medium sized dogs with easy gaits and bright, intelligent eyes.
In the village, the Huang family kept a dog. It was a scraggly thing that was cute enough but bad mannered, barking at every stranger who passes and jumping on the people from the family it belonged to.
The dogs Chang Geng picked were well-behaved but playful and it's clear from how Gu Yun smiled at them that he liked them already.
"What are their names?"
Chang Geng hadn't thought very long about it so he shrugged. "They're for you. You can name them."
Gu Yun hmphed! but he seemed pleased by the prospect.
"They're spirit animals." He explained as he whistled and got the dogs to respond immediately. "So they're more intelligent than the average animal. With them helping you things should be easier."
Gu Yun spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying giving those dogs all sorts of commands and Chang Geng was just idly enjoying the whole thing.
Chang Geng was aware that the time they had was limited, but of all the ways he expected for things to come to a head, he never expected to hear Gu Yun shout, "Shen Jiping!"
His hand jerks and the delicate thread between his fingers snapped. Then he looked up and there was a crow sitting on top of the gate. Gu Yun started to talk about the bird as if it were a normal crow, how it came by sometimes but never ate anything Gu Yun tried to feed him, the picky bastard.
But Chang Geng only needed to take one look to know...that was indeed General Shen.
After Gu Yun falls asleep, Chang Geng gently removed himself from the bed. The dogs both raised their heads, but a gesture from Chang Geng and they settled again.
He closed the door behind him and turned to the crow sitting on the scrawny tree in the small yard. He held out his arm and Shen Yi flapped his wings and perched on it.
"General Shen." Chang Geng had had time since he'd recognized Shen Yi earlier to put his thoughts into order. "How long have you known he was here?"
Shen Yi shuffled a little. "Replying to Your Highness, it's been a number of years since I found the Marshal."
"I see." Chang Geng didn't need to ask why Shen Yi had never said anything. In the whole of the Three Realms, there was only one person who could swear this person to silence. But even so, he still had to ask, "Did Zi Xi tell you not to tell me?"
Though that begged the question...did Gu Yun remember after all?
Shen Yi's feathers had been ruffled a little when he heard Chang Geng call him 'Zi Xi' when he's only ever heard him call Gu Yun 'Royal Uncle'. Still, centuries of friendship with Gu Yun had taught him how to roll with unexpected developments. "He said not to let you know before he was sent to the mortal realm."
Chang Geng only nodded.
Shen Yi was silent for a moment as he internally fretted. What was that reaction? He didn't seem angry but...
He shuffled a little on Chang Geng's arm. "Did Your Highness know he was nearby?"
"I did." Chang Geng said, moving to sit at the table in the small courtyard. "Some birds were complaining about a man who played the flute for his cows."
The two of them shared a look and Shen Yi finally covered his face with his wing.
The next day, the sky was a dull grey but there didn't seem to be many clouds at the same time and, as Chang Geng expected, their time was up.
"Odd sky." Gu Yun said with a squint as the dogs circled him with happy, wagging tails.
"Mm." Chang Geng said before giving him his lunch and sending him off. Though at the last moment, before Gu Yun pass the threshold past the gate, he stopped and looked back.
Meeting that frown with an opaque smile, Chang Geng asked, "is something the matter?"
"...no." Gu Yun said finally as if he didn't believe it himself. Then he turned around to take Chang Geng's hands. "Come with me today."
And some part of Chang Geng wanted to so badly. To just go together and pretend for a little while longer that this life was a possibility.
He tightened the grip of his hands...then lets go.
"There are things I need to take care of." And, for the first time in his life, he lied out-right to Gu Yun, "I'll see you when you come back."
Once Gu Yun has left with the dogs herding the cows, Chang Geng set about cleaning up and preparing dinner, touching the plates he'd used to cover the dishes and casting a spell to keep them warm and fresh.
Then he leaves, closing the gate behind him and heads for the same riverside where he had met Gu Yun again.
He's not surprised to find Hu Ge Er already waiting there.
"Royal Mother." He greeted without inflection, hiding his hands in his wide sleeves.
Hu Ge Er's cold eyes held nothing but contempt.
"Neglecting your duties and having an affair with a mortal...you will face your punishment when we return to the Heavenly Realm." And there Chang Geng could only accept.
(Gu Shiliu found his way to the same riverside later on, after coming home to an empty house, but Chang Geng had been long gone at that point.)
When he went to sleep that night, there was a man in his dreams.
He looked severe but, like with Li Min, there was a certain familiarity to this stranger the moment he laid eyes on him. A memory just out of focus like an object just out of where his eyesight can see clearly.
He's dreaming but his head hurt like a bitch.
The man said, "brat. How long do you intend to forget?"
He felt, instinctively, that he doesn't want to show weakness in front of this person so he grit his teeth and straightened his back like a soldier.
"If you're so impatient then show me what I've forgotten."
There is a child sleeping in the stables.
Gu Yun realized this after returning from a late night ride out among the stars. He'd found a strange shape in the flickering shadows when he raised the lamp in his hand and found a child up in the higher area where the clean hay was kept.
The child looked no older than a mortal equivalent of eight years old. Gu Yun moved closer and nudged him with his foot. The child curled in on himself a little more before blinking open his eyes and looking up.
The entire effect resembled that of a sleepy puppy which made Gu Yun laugh a little.
All at once the child sat up straighter, looking embarrassed as dusted the hay clinging to his shoulders before standing up hastily. "Marshal Gu." He said with perfect seriousness all of a sudden (like a doll, Gu Yun thought) that was only ruined by the piece of hay still stuck in his hair and the way he still sounded a little sleepy.
From the way he dressed, it was clear this was one of the sons of the Jade Emperor used for him and the only prince this young had to be...the youngest prince, His Royal Highness Yan Wang, the Sky Weaver.
He reached out to pluck the stray piece of hay from his royal hair and couldn't help but tease him.
"What is our Little Yan Wang doing sleeping in the stables?"
Little Yan Wang looked up then away. "I've been locked out." He said simply.
Gu Yun laughed. "Does our little prince not know how to climb walls? Shall your royal uncle show you?" Royal Uncle was a meaningless moniker some of the princes had taken to using with him. In truth, they were only disantly related but though Gu Yun was only a little older than most of them it pleased him to be remind that he was, by a technicality, a whole generation ahead.
Little Yan Wang bit bis lip before shaking his head. "I wouldn't want to bother Marquis from resting."
"Nonsense." Gu Yun said in the tone of voice of someone who was absolutely up to mischief. Then he leaned over to scoop this serious faced little prince up and throws him over his shoulders and promptly ignores the protests that gets him. "What kind of subject would I be if I left you to sleep with the horses?"
It was late so there was no one to witness Gu Yun's actions that on the surfaced looked like a kidnapper taking a child away from his home. Still, he moved jauntily as if he had no awareness of how this looked or how angry Little Yan Wang was as he reminded him very seriously that he can, in fact, walk.
Ignoring him, Gu Yun carried him to his place of residence. Gu Yun had never been to Yan Hui Palace, but he'd make a poor Marshall if he didn't have a map of the Heavenly Court in his head...that and such things had been useful when he had been a child making mischief with Shen Yi.
Still, he was surprised when he actually arrived at the gates of Yan Hui Palace. Gu Yun had originally assumed Yan Wang was only embarrassed to be caught sneaking out.
But no, there's an array surrounding the entirety of the building including the outer walls.
"Don't touch it." Little Yan Wang said from where he's slung over Gu Yun's shoulder, still. "It'll burn you."
Gu Yun let him down then, taking hold of his hands, and, just as he'd remembered, there were no burns there. His eyes were no longer smiling.
"This has happened before."
Little Yan Wang didn't look up as he tugged his hands back. "Curfew is after sundown but threads collected at sunset and sunrise give the best red colour as well as all the pale pinks and purples."
There's silence between them for a moment as Gu Yun observes this little prince. If you know you'll be locked out then why go so far? And in the first place, why have such a ridiculous curfew for someone whose responsibilities involved going out late? He had always had a protective streak and, looking at those small shoulders, remembering how they had been hunched over while sleeping in the stables, he couldn't help but feel a stab of sudden protectiveness.
He reached out to touch the array onto to find his hand grabbed by small hands.
"Didn't I just tell you not to touch it!?"
Their eyes locked for a moment and Gu Yun noticed Little Yan Wang's lashes were really long. Then he raised a brow that made the little prince blush as if realizing how stupid it was to try to protect the Marshall of the Heaven's Armies from a little array meant to keep out children.
To make matters worse, Gu Yun only smiled, "If you wanted to hold my hand you only needed to ask."
"You--" In a matter of moments, Little Yan Wang's doll-like face went from embarrassed to flustered to annoyed. It was kind of cute. When he tried to retract his hand, Gu Yun caught it.
This array was troublesome. For someone like the little prince breaking it would certainly end up hurting him. But for someone like the Marquis of Order it is nothing but childsplay.
Still, he takes Little Yan Wang's hand and pulled him away from Yan Hui Palace and the smaller child could only stumble along.
"Where are we going?"
"An Ding Palace." Gu Yun looked to the side, meeting Little Yan Wang's wide eyes. "Your name is Chang Geng, isn't it?"
Little Yan Wang hesitated, then nodded.
"All right. Chang Geng," He said like it was a command, "From now on you're not allowed to sleep in the stables. If you're locked out then come stay at An Ding Palace. And another thing, call me Royal Uncle from now on."
Gu Yun pulled on the reins of his steed and the rest of the Black Iron Camp followed him and stopped, allowing Chang Geng the chance to catch up.
Gu Yun knew he'd been working on something over night, but it's not rare for Chang Geng to burn the candles at both ends, so to speak. Yet, he didn't look exhausted but still bore that youthful handsomeness that have begun to turn heads around the Heavenly Court. He was a far cry from the small child that used to sleep in the stables, certainly.
The two of them didn't bother to stand on formalities with each other. They basically lived under the same roof at this point to do so would be such a bother.
Chang Geng held out the bundle in his arms, a beautiful cloak with a subtle pattern weaved into the green fabric like an offering. "They say it gets cold in the Northern territories."
In fact, it was for that very reason that the Emperor had presented him with a foxfur cloak but Gu Yun doesn't mention it and accepted the gift. With a flourish, he wears it, feeling it settle, warm and weighted over his shoulders. He gives a teasing grin.
Chang Geng hid his hands in his sleeve and looks away, shy all of a sudden. "It looks good."
"It looks good? That's all you have to say?"
"...what else do you want me to say?" He sounded exasperated as he stepped back. But then he started again, "One day..." Chang Geng said, hesitating before he seems to collect himself and stand straighter. "I'll collect all the most beautiful thread and then I'll make you a robe from it."
Gu Yun wanted to laugh. That sounds hideous. But Chang Geng was looking at him like that and he felt if he said it this little ancestor will just leave in a huff. Normally that'd be funny but it could be a few mortal years before he got to see this silly, overly serious child again.
"All right." Then he reached out to ruffle Chang Geng's head and that earned him an affronted look.
"I have feelings for you. The kind you would have for a lover."
Gu Yun was still trying to wrap his mind around this revelation. Chang Geng was...in love with him? Had he done something wrong? At this point, Chang Geng had lived under his roof longer than he had lived under any other. If he had some sort of confused feelings then surely it's because Gu Yun as his uncle had crossed some line that wasn't supposed to be crossed?
Though when could that be? In all this time, hadn't Gu Yun spent more times dealing with problems with the Demon Realm over these last centuries than he had at home.
...was that the problem?
The silence between them is heavy, finally broken when Chang Geng sighed, looking exhausted.
"You were never supposed to find out. I intended to keep this to myself for the rest of time. But since it has come to this..." " Chang Geng continued, and his expression tugged at Gu Yun's heartstrings, making it hard to breathe for how heart-breakingly resigned it was. "You don't need to do answer anything. If you want me to leave you only have to say the word and I will never appear before you again. If you want things to remain the same, I won't breathe another word about this. Royal Uncle, whatever you wish for, I will do my best to make it happen." Then he stood up, taking the piece he'd finished weaving earlier with him as he headed for the exit.
"Please do not think on it anymore. Royal Uncle only needs to worry about returning home safe."
Gu Yun strode up to the closed gates of Yan Hui Palace. Still dressed in his armour, he cut a intimidating image...and his gaze made that image into something threatening enough that the guards at the door stood straighter.
"Open the gates."
"Marshal--" His mouth snapped shut at the cold look Gu Yun shot him that warned him against making him ask again and, sweating he did as he was told.
Gu Yun hadn't often stepped foot into this place, it occurs to him all of a sudden. Whenever he'd needed to find Chang Geng the kid could be reliably found in the same few spots. At specific times of days he could be found at the same specific spots to collect certain threads. Though normally, Gu Yun wouldn't even have to try that hard. More often than not, if Gu Yun were coming to him, Chang Geng would be waiting for him at An Ding Palace as if that were his home instead.
Yan Hui Palace was elegant and beautiful as expected as a place meant for a son of the Jade Emperor, but in his heart, it wasn't the place where Chang Geng belonged.
Chang Geng looked up from the loom he was sitting at, operating the machine with movements that seemed elegant and practised to the servants. "I had been wondering who got the guards to open the gates...I should have guessed it could only be Royal Uncle." He smiled, his features far more mature now. It feels like each time he left on a campaign and returned from the moral realm, Chang Geng was different, getting further and further from that small child he had found in the stables.
The young man who dared to tease him with such a mild manner was almost a stranger except that he was still Chang Geng and no matter how old he got or how much he changed Gu Yun would always know him.
Which was why he could see clearly that his fingers were unsteady as he tucked them back into his sleeve, that his face was paler than it should.
"Where are you hurt?"
Chang Geng's eyes showed no surprise but when Gu Yun reached for him, he pulled back. "Royal Uncle, you cannot be here."
Which only served to light a fire in Gu Yun whose heart had already been in disarray when he had returned to learn that Yan Wang had been confined to Yan Hui Palace.
"Who did this?"
Chang Geng tried to push himself up to standing, but at the faintest grimace, Gu Yun reached out to help him up. Beneath the fabric wasn't the supple give of skin but something that felt like thick bandages. Pulling up the sleeve only confirmed it. He had to question how far the bandages go. His expression was thunderous as he pulled Chang Geng with him, heading for the still open gate. The action broke no arguments but it was also oddly gentle. This person is injured and Gu Yun couldn't bear to cause him more pain.
"Zi Xi, wait!"
The walk to the gate was short but by the time they reached the exit there was already someone there. The Heavenly Empress's maid stood there, looking at them coldly. The ever calm Yan Wang's grip on Gu Yun's hand tightened and for a moment, Gu Yun thought of the array around Yan Hui Palace, the strangely early curfew for someone who often had to go out late in the evening as part of their responsibilities...neither things a younger Gu Yun, still only a child himself had considered.
"Marquis of Order, the prince is being confined."
"On what grounds is he being punished?"
"For neglecting his duties." She said as if that wasn't the least believable lie in the entire universe. "The Empress has said that if he acts as he should he could be permitted to visit the Marquis once every seven days."
Perhaps. Gu Yun knew exactly what sort of 'perhaps' that sounded like. It was such a stupid thing he couldn't even bring himself to smile.
Especially since he could feel Chang Geng trembling behind him. "His Highness is injured. I'm taking him to see a healer."
As he pulled Chang Geng towards the gate, the maid sputtered. "You dare go against the command of the Empress??"
He paused only briefly right before he would pass her, meeting her gaze head on. "I do." Then he pulled Chang Geng closer, wrapping a proprietary arm around his waist. "Tell the Empress, as long as this Gu is Marshal of the Heavenly Armies, I won't allow anyone to lay a single hand on the prince."
Chang Geng knelt in front of the bars, looking as if someone had run him through with a blade. Which Gu Yun truly hoped wasn't the case. It had been painful enough to see the extent of the injuries Chang Geng had suffered during his confinement.
He reached through the gaps, touching Gu Yun's face with fingers that trembled. "Zi Xi, how could you be so foolish? I'm not worth it."
"If you say that again I will break your legs." He said even though both of them knew he wouldn't do such a thing. If he could be so hard-hearted, he wouldn't be in this position to begin with. Though now...who would there be to protect Chang Geng? Apart from his worries about his brothers in the Black Iron Camp this is his greatest regret.
He truly hadn't expected the Jade Emperor to go this far. The Jade Emperor was a mild-mannered man, surely he would agree that his own flesh and blood shouldn't be treated this way.
But Chang Geng had said, hadn't he?
Since I was a child, as long as my hands are left untouched everyone just pretends not to see it.
While he was considering that, Chang Geng framed his face with his hands. In all the years they'd known each other, he'd seen Chang Geng wear a variety of expressions before he learned to hide everything behind a calm mask. Right now, he looked devastated, but there's also a glint of something more than that. Gu Yun had seen that look before, on men standing on a battlefield, as the enemy advanced. The moment where any decision could be made but instead of escape they decide to stand their ground.
Then he leaned in and Gu Yun knew, he shouldn't allow this but instead of leaning away he leaned in, answering Chang Geng's desperate kiss. When he pulled back, Chang Geng's eye were like flint.
"I'll always be on your side, Zi Xi. Wait for me, I'll fix this."
But there was also:
"Shen Jiping, if you end up finding me, don't let Chang Geng know. Being sent down to the mortal realm as punishment...no way would I be living a comfortable life. I don't want him to see that."
In the morning, Gu Yun opened his eyes and the first thing he did was curse.
When Shen Yi returned, the first thing Gu Yun said to him was, "Shen Jiping, you crow mouth, what did you say to Chang Geng?"
It was infuriating enough to know that Chang Geng had disappeared due to a misunderstanding, it was even worse to hear that he had been brought back to the Heavenly Court by the Empress.
His mind jumped to the state he'd found Chang Geng in when he'd last been confined, pale and in pain, his hand trembling just from seeing the servant of that woman.
"We're going to find him. Follow me."
And while Shen Yi didn't know how Gu Yun could get to the Heavenly Realm, on some instinctive level he believed that if Gu Yun said it would be done then he'd fine a way to make it happen.
Though he hadn't considered that getting to the Heavenly Realm would involve stealing a cow. When he made a complaint about it, Gu Yun only said, "You're not even doing anything."
Before Shen Yi could retort that he was also doing nothing except waiting for the dogs (where did his highness get find two such high quality spirit beasts, anyway!?) to do the actual stealing, Gu Yun reached over and pinched his beak shut, leaving Shen Yi to shuffle to show his displeasure with the way things are going.
It wasn't long before the dogs returned, herding an cow that was complaining with actual words. It was enough to surprise Shen Yi into falling quiet.
One of the dogs growled and nipped at the cow's heel.
"I'm walking! Stop that!" But the kick it aimed at the dog was deftly dodged as both canines ran back to Gu Yun's side.
The cow narrowed its eyes. "Shiliu?" He looked between the spirit beasts and the crow and cows cannot grow pale but even without that tell-tale reaction its unease was easy enough to see. "Who are you?"
Gu Yun smiled coldly. "Who I am doesn't matter right now. Do you know the person in the river you sent the spineless young master of this household after is one of the sons of the Jade Emperor? What do you think will happen to you if anyone finds out?"
The cow made a sound of distress. "But the prince was the one who asked me to do it!" Which only made the cow shy away more because Gu Yun's expression upon hearing that was murderous.
"You dare to suggest such a thing? Do you think that would clear your name? When the Jade Emperor finds out he'll turn you into ground beef!"
A cow's body wasn't very good for prostrating but it did its best. "Mercy! It really had been the prince who told me to do it! I'd lost my divinity years ago and since then I haven't stepped a single toe out of line!"
No one said, you don't even have any toes but the silence only made the cow panic even more (Shen Yi thought, whoever this cow had been before they're clearly not someone who did big things).
"Go ask the prince! He can vouch for me!"
"Oh?" Gu Yun finally said, "Do you have a way to return to the Heavenly Realm?"
They arrived by the boat that had been created from the horn of the cow, stepping off at the edge of a wide river, the currents so strong the water looked almost white, the currents almost masking the glitter of stars beneath the waters.
Shen Yi's wings shifted as he stepped onto Gu Yun's arm. "Shouldn't we be at Yan Hui Palace?"
"If we can't find him here then we'll look."
Inside An Ding Palace, Chang Geng sat at the loom he'd set up out in the courtyard. His actions are mechanical as he worked the loom. After centuries of doing this it was now mindless work. It was a good excuse to focus on the slide of the shuttle and colour of the sky tomorrow rather than what had happened.
The future, not the past.
Except eventually the future would involve Gu Yun remembering and he'd already decided he didn't want Chang Geng in his life but he'd gone and ruined things.
The shuttle slides between the threads and clatters to the ground when Chang Geng failed to catch it.
His hand twitched then closed into a fist as he stared unseeingly at the loom.
He should have left when he saw Gu Yun step out from the grass.
A flap of wings has him looking up.
"General Shen?" He held out his arm for Shen Yi to land on. "What's wrong? Did something happen to Royal Uncle?"
Shen Yi looked at Chang Geng's worried gaze couldn't help but think these two really were the same.
For as long as they'd known each other, Chang Geng had never been scared of Gu Yun.
This was probably the first time he'd felt trepidation at the prospect. Shen Yi had said, Gu Yun remembered everything. Then that meant...the end has come sooner than Chang Geng expected.
Even so, if he said he didn't want to see Gu Yun then that was a lie. So even though his heart trembled he still went to the riverside.
The river between them was too great a distance but Chang Geng is thankful for it. He puts his hands together and bowed, a formality the two of them had done away with years ago. "Royal Uncle."
Gu Yun said, "Acting this way after disappearing without a word, is this how you treat someone after sharing a bed with them?"
Which wasn't at all what Chang Geng had been expecting, and he's thrown off enough by this turn in the conversation that his head snaps up again and he stares.
"I--" He fumbled for words, something he hadn't done since many years ago. "I apologize. Royal Uncle--"
"Before, weren't you brazenly calling me by name? Why is it suddenly Royal Uncle this and Royal Uncle that again?" He scoffed, feeling glad for a moment that Chang Geng seems to be in good health. Given how things had gone the last time he'd been taken away by that woman, Gu Yun had been worried. But the relief that swept away his worries temporarily also left behind a vacuum into which his displeasure fit neatly into. He had a stomach full of grievances to air and he only wished they were closer so he didn't have to shout them over the rush of the river between them. "Having asked you to marry me and then let you into my bed...why are you still calling me uncle?"
On the other side, Chang Geng couldn't make sense of this conversation, feeling it had gotten so far from what he could have imagined that he had no idea what the correct way to reply would be. "You were only joking and you didn't recognize me at the time."
He had seen Gu Yun's smile flirtatiously at many women over the years, he could easily imagine the tilt of his head, the glint in those peach blossom eyes easily...he'd just never dreamed that that gaze would ever been directed at him. He felt his face heat and that, in turn, made Gu Yun chuckle.
"When have I been unable to recognize you?" But, as fun as teasing Chang Geng was, some things needed to be said. His head hurt from all the memories that had just been stuffed back into it and he would be happiest if he could just lay down for a while and not deal with anything.
But that wasn't something he could do right now.
Right now, Chang Geng was hurting and he would only be hurt more if Gu Yun didn't make his stance clear.
Perhaps, he had already been on the cusp of making this decision. Perhaps if disaster hadn't struck this is something he would have said a hundred times over.
Gu Yun didn't want to think he wouldn't have been able to see his own feelings clearly if he hadn't had the chance to meet Chang Geng without his memories. What face would he have left if that were the case?
And yet, those soft feelings...Gu Yun doesn't know how to give voice to them. Those sticky words are lodge in his throat, unable to move up or down. Gu Yun had always believed that words were petty and worthless. In these situations, isn't it more worthwhile to show rather than tell? But there's a river's distance between them...
Suddenly, Chang Geng to the side at something in the sky. Gu Yun's ears catch the sound a moment later.
When he turned as well, there's a cloud of black birds flying towards them. Rather than landing on the ground they flew over the river.
The crows formed a bridge between them and though Chang Geng became frozen on the other end. It was Gu Yun who walked over. If he moved quickly, it is only so he wasn't stepping on the back of his brothers from the Black Iron Camp for as long. (That's his story and no one can make him admit otherwise.)
He hesitates for a moment but the look in Chang Geng's eyes has him pulling him into an embrace.
"This old and you still don't understand?" He said with as much exasperation he could manage. "Did I say you could leave? Weren't you the one who said you'd remain at my side unless I sent you away? I haven't even gotten the chance to send you away and now you've left?"
Finally, as if having waited for a lifetime, Chang Geng reaches up tentatively to return the embrace. "I was wrong."
Only then, does Gu Yun feel the knot in his chest loosen even if his arms did the exact opposite. "What did you do wrong? Was it leaving without saying anything?" Some of the playfulness left his voice for a moment, "Or was it trying to marry a mortal pervert?"
Chang Geng slowly looked up at him, looking like he'd been wronged. "That..."
He could have said, I thought you didn't want to see me. Or he could have said, They were going to marry me to the Wolf Tribe and the only way to get out of it was to have a scandalous affair with a mortal.
But he got the sense, looking at Gu Yun that explaining wouldn't help. So instead, he cast his eyes down and played at looking sorry by all definitions of word, "All of it was wrong." Then he moved his hand to tug on Gu Yun's sleeve. "Zi Xi, don't be mad?"
Chang Geng's lashes were long. Despite being taller, that feature softened his gaze when he tilted his head just a little, as if gazing up at him through dark lashes. When Gu Yun didn't answer right away he tugged on his sleeve again...which made Gu Yun laugh.
He huffed. "Already kissed me and slept in my bed, even giving me two children...and then you turn around and leave...and then tell me not to be mad!"
Chang Geng, who, despite putting up with this man's teasing had never had to put up with this particular variety of teasing, became flustered. "Zi Xi!"
Gu Yun couldn't help but feel he'd squandered too many opportunities and was intent on making up for it as quickly as possible. So he gave Chang Geng a look of deep longing and pulled him closer. "All right, all right. I'll stop being mad but..." There's a mischievous edge to his smile, "only if you let me make an honest man of you. Since we're already at the point where the grains have been made into rice--"
At that Chang Geng wasn't even sure if he should laugh or cry. What grains have been made into rice? Hadn't they only shared a bed without even touching each other? Like this, Gu Yun sounded less like the Marshal of the Heavenly Armies and more like a bandit forcing a woman to marry him!
Chang Geng had never been able to tell when Gu Yun was serious or just speaking nonsense so had decided to just take everything he said seriously.
"...I'll marry you." He said and the words felt a little rushed, not at all measured like they'd normally be. He tried to regain his equilibrium and forged on before Gu Yun can continue teasing. "But not right now. Zi Xi, give me a year."
"Oh?" Gu Yun asked in the tone of voice of someone waiting for the punchline of a joke, "What will happen in a year? Are you collecting a dowry?"
But Chang Geng meets that with utmost sincerity and levity. He said, "In a year, I will restore your position as Marshal of the Heavenly Army."
And that made Gu Yun start...as well as the regiment of Black Crows turned into literal black crows behind them and all of a sudden, Gu Yun realized they still had an audience.
Bastards, what are you still hanging around for?
He pulled back and the more pressing question is...
"Chang Geng, you..."
But Chang Geng reached out to grab his hand in both of his. "I can do it. Zi Xi, believe me. In a year's time, I will have you and the rest of the Black Iron Camp return to the Heavenly Court with full honours.
Gu Yun had considered taking Chang Geng with him and they could elope. If they couldn't hide in the Mortal Realm then they could go to the Demon Realm. Regardless, leaving Chang Geng here by himself hadn't been an option. Even now, he wanted to tell Chang Geng that what he was saying was impossible without great sacrifice and he wanted to protect Chang Geng from that no matter what. And even though he wanted to help his brothers in the Black Iron Camp was it right to put that on Chang Geng's shoulders?
But looking into Chang Geng's eyes right now, seeing the determination there he couldn't bring himself to say it.
Hurting the person he cared about in the name of protecting them...was that selfless or just selfish?
So he swallowed those words back instead.
"If it's too hard, don't try to bear it on your own. I may be a mortal now but I was still the Marshal of the Heavenly Armies for centuries."
"Of course." Chang Geng said. Then his gaze lowered again. "You should go before anyone notices."
Which was the logical thing to do and yet...no matter how many times they had said goodbye it felt harder this time.
But they both knew, it must be done.
Gu Yun let go...only to reach up to take Chang Geng's face between his hands. Then he kissed him.
"Don't be scared." He whispered, "I'll always be on your side."
Returning to the Mortal Realm was odd. The house was the same one he'd lived in for the entirety of this life but the world felt all of a sudden smaller after remembering how it had once felt to ride through the stars.
The world was the same, but Gu Yun was not.
There was no helping it in the end, but the loneliness was made easier when the first letter came from Chang Geng a month later.
They spent the next year communicating this way, through letters delivered by crows.
It was easy to know when a letter was arriving because the dogs would perk up right before one of their messenger birds arrived. It was also a chance for him to speak to one of his brothers.
These visits were a highlight in an otherwise simple and repetitive life. He didn't hate this lifestyle, but knowing that somewhere in the Heavenly Court, Chang Geng was fighting in his own way made these days seem to move sluggishly. But there was always a letter to look forward to.
The letters came infrequently but there'd usually be two a month.
However, by the time the seventh month came around again after nearly two months of nothing Gu Yun wasn't sure if what he felt was anticipation or uneasiness.
Seven days after the first day of the seventh month, the dogs were herding the cows back into the barn when they looked up in attention. They were a little too far for Gu Yun to see clearly but even he could see the way they changed from racing blurs to blurs that stood still.
Noticing that, Gu Yun didn't waste his breath saying anything resembling, "what's wrong?"
He only stood from where he'd been sitting under a tree, holding his hands behind his back as the dogs raced from where they'd been to sit at either side of him.
Looking up, there's some sort of black blur heading towards them but since neither of the spirit beasts at his feet are reacting he could only assume whoever is coming isn't here to cause trouble.
When they landed he recognized the style of the armour and Gu Yun realized all at once not just who they were but also that he shouldn't have been able to see them that clearly from this distance. Seeing them like this...it made the tightness in his chest relax. After all this time, all of them were finally...
Still, he hid those feelings away and only said, "Shen Jiping, you're late."
He only pretended he couldn't see the way Shen Yi rolled his eyes at him.
The rest of the soldiers knelt. "Marshal."
"At ease." The power of his station had been the least of what he'd missed but he fell back into command as if he'd never left.
The soldiers stood then parted as someone hailed the arrival of the Jade Emperor...but the person who stepped out of the carriage wasn't the old emperor.
It was Chang Geng.
The space between the carriage and him wasn't far, but Gu Yun felt the sudden urge to run towards Chang Geng, to close that distances as quickly as possible to make sure he's all right. Waiting during the last year had been hard and yet waiting for Chang Geng to close the last few steps to be within reach seemed impossible.
Even for Chang Geng it must have been hard because his steps were a little wider and a little quicker as they got closer. He couldn't be sure which one of them reached out first only that before Chang Geng had stopped properly, their arms had already been raised and their hands were touching. Chang Geng smiled, soft and affectionate and letters really hadn't been enough to sate the desire to see this person. It was a poor replacement for the warmth of his touch and Gu Yun was almost dizzy with how much he wanted.
"I brought you clothes to change into as well as your armour." Chang Geng confessed in a private sort of voice and even though he was still dressed in the robes of the Jade Emperor, he was suddenly more like the darling he'd left behind. A gesture and someone brought a small box and held it out for Chang Geng to take. "When Zi Xi returns, everyone should see the Marshal of the Heavenly Army in nothing less than his full splendor."
They entered the courtyard then the house. Gu Yun thought, a little sentimentally, he'll miss this place. If they fix it up a little, maybe make it a little bigger he could keep it as a sort of vacation residence in the mortal realm.
"Stay." Chang Geng said to the two dogs that were still following them, at the threshold between outside and in. Then he shut the door behind him.
It was only in the privacy of this house that Gu Yun asked, "What about the Old Emperor?" Gu Yun's feelings about the Old Emperor were complicated. The man had never treated him unkindly until the end...and yet he had also stood by and allowed cruelty to happen. He had made his stance clear long ago, no matter what, he'd be on Chang Geng's side.
And yet...feelings do not disappear so easily.
Chang Geng, who had more or less expected this question said mildly, "I sent him to be reincarnated in the mortal realm." Chang Geng placed the box on the table to pull a full outfit out of it that really shouldn't have fit inside. "Zi Xi doesn't need to worry. Even though things had become like this, he had given you a life here that wasn't terrible. I won't treat him worse than what was done to you."
Gu Yun nodded and, with that done with began to strip as Chang Geng laid out his new clothes.
Since Chang Geng was deliberately not looking at him, Gu Yun sauntered over in nothing but his trousers, and tilted Chang Geng's face towards him.
Chang Geng, expecting to be teased was surprised by the soft look in those peach blossom eyes as Gu Yun stroked a thumb over the swell of his cheek.
"It's been hard, hasn't it?"
There was no mention of such things in his letters but Gu Yun knew even if the sky were falling Chang Geng probably wouldn't mention it just as how, when he'd had the chance to send messages home from the warfront he would only mention the good news and never the bad.
Still, Chang Geng only shook his head, covering Gu Yun's hand with his own. "It wasn't." Then he smiled. "If it's for Zi Xi then nothing is too hard."
"Who taught you to speak like this?" He grumbled even though, in truth, his heart was weak to such sweet words. "I better not find any new injuries on you later." And then he pulled away, reaching for the robes but Chang Geng beat him to it.
Chang Geng helped him slide on the new robes, tying it properly as Gu Yun took a closer look at the fabric.
It was dark blue like the sky near midnight and in certain lights it reflected subtle patterns in the green light above the sun at sunset, the blue as a high autumn sky and the fading purple at the edge of sunrise, each there at certain angles but never together. It was interesting, but as he turned the sleeve this way and that, spotting even the pale, rusty orange of light caught in clouds he noticed there was a lot fewer of that and the warm yellow of fading sunlight than the others and that there was one colour missing entirely.
"What does Zi Xi think?" Chang Geng said, when he finished tying off Gu Yun's belt, his hands lingering near Gu Yun's hands, as if he wanted to hold them but didn't dare.
So Gu Yun reached out to take those hands in his. "Naturally, anything my darling makes is beautiful. But didn't you promise to put threads from all the colours in this robe?"
Chang Geng smiled a little, with a hint of slyness. "Of course, the red and a lot of the orange and yellows, I have saved for a special occasion."
"Oh?" He asked despite already knowing the answer. What else did you do with red fabric? Gu Yun raised their joined hands to press a kiss to Chang Geng's knuckles. "Did my darling make one for himself as well? Surely you are smart enough to know not to just make wedding clothes for someone else."
"That depends." Chang Geng said, stepping closer, "has Zi Xi changed his mind about marrying me?"
"Ah, if I didn't marry you the two little ones will cry." He said, bringing a hand up to touch Chang Geng's chin, tilting his head for a proper kiss, his other arm sliding in a proprietary way around Chang Geng's waist. When they broke apart again, Gu Yun said idly, "I still have to check you for new injuries." Which was as proper as the way his hand groped Chang Geng's ass wasn't.
Chang Geng flushed, but rather than moving away, moved closer. "Zi Xi..."
But then there's the sound of barking as well as someone knocking on the door followed by some playuful barking and Shen Yi saying something to the dogs that can't be heared about the racket they were making.
And that reminded Gu Yun abruptly that there were people right outside and he steps back with a cough.
Chang Geng, on the other hand, was frowning in the direction of the door.
"Later." Gu Yun said but Chang Geng snagged his sleeve in his hand with a spoiled expression.
"Can I have a kiss first?"
And really, how could Gu Yun resist?