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when you smile i fall apart

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Xie Lian was resting in a hollow tree by the river when he heard the prayer. It had been so long, so many centuries he almost did not recognize it in his half-daze. It was not even a full prayer or one directed at him, an echo of one more than anything that tugged lightly at the thin strand of divinity that remained woven to Xie Lian. A small whisper at the edge of his mind that could almost be dismissed as the vagaries of dreams.

 

Please, protect him.

 

It was enough though.

 

More than enough to catch the attention of one who has heard nothing for centuries. A young woman’s voice, rough and edged with a desperate feeling that made Xie Lian’s heart pull in sympathy. 

 

He opened his eyes and pulled himself from the hollow, ignoring how the freezing air bit mercilessly and the wind cut through his white robes. His eyes darted over the chilled landscape before him. The riverbank freshly coated with a light dusting of snow and gleaming with frost. The river itself was broken by small sheets of ice but still flowing mostly uninterrupted. He could not see anything obvious yet in the early morning light. He took up his hat and left his small shelter behind following the weak distant tug.

 

It only took a few moments of walking to find the source. At a bend in the river a tree had half-fallen in, its branches bracketing the turn like a natural net. Within them a small wooden basin bobbed, unable to pass through. Xie Lian could feel the aura of regret hanging over it like an invisible shroud. He approached, stepping on a smooth river rock to get close enough to peer inside.

 

His breath caught in surprise as he did. 

 

Inside the basin, swaddled in a white and yellow cloth was an infant so small they could be nothing but a newborn.

 

The cloak of regret and prayer seemed to be clearer now with a tinge of love and deep grief that made the edge of Xie Lian’s eyes burn. He hesitated though even with the pleading of who could only be the child’s mother tugging at him over and over.

 

Please, protect him.

 

My son. 

 

If there are gods, please.

 

Please.

 

Save him.

 

Xie Lian looked around, but the morning light revealed no one else. The winter cold bit him painfully and the basin thumped against the branches attempting to push through. All the while the child slept peacefully unaware of the grief that accompanied his birth and that a god of misfortune hung over too scared of himself to reach out.

 

There was no one else though. Would be no one else for hours at least, maybe days at the isolated river bend. 

 

The town. 

 

Xie Lian could breathe as the thought struck him. A town he’d been winding his way towards, visited once years before and remembered for the oddly generous people he’d met. Kind even to an old broken thing like himself. There, he’d be able to find someone, anyone to take the child in, or at least point him to someone who could.

 

Slowly, not quite sure how to do such an unfamiliar task, Xie Lian reached out and pulled the child up, tucking the cloth around him securely. The mother’s voice hung in the air the echo of her spirit seeming to sigh as it faded. It took him a moment to find a comfortable grip, not used to holding a baby. The little boy turned curling deeper into his makeshift blankets, closer to Xie Lian, never opening his eyes.

 

It made something shiver in his heart that he ignored. He pulled his own robes open, tucking the child within to keep him from the wind.