“Thanks, Brother Jin!”
“Hey Jin, play with us!”
“Jin, tonight, come have a drink!”
It was no trouble. Come on, you little brats! Of course! I wouldn't miss it!
Maybe I was just fooling myself. Maybe they didn’t really like me, or maybe they just liked me because I was useful. But seeing people brighten up as I came rolling into town, calling out to me with grins on their faces? The kids following me around like little duckies?
That was one hell of a good feeling, let me tell you.
I had only really known Hong Yaowu for a year, but it already felt like I was part of the big, extended family.
I had given pops a hug, and then immediately set off to work. They had a bit of the planting left to go, and I thought Meimei needed a bit of alone time with pops.
Gou Ren and Yun Ren had immediately gone off to hunt. They had glanced at me to see if I had wanted to come… but I had waved them off too.
Sibling time was important. The world and people’s relationships don’t need to revolve around me. I don’t need to butt in everywhere, and be a part of everything, no matter how strong that urge was at times.
Besides, we had plenty of time in the future to hang out and have fun. And I really, really liked hanging out with people. Fuck, my hermit days were dumb. Why the hells did I think that was a good idea?
Oh, yeah, the panic that I had just arrived in bullshitville, and entirely too many crappily translated Xianxia novels.
So here I was, getting chased around the village by a pack of kids, and they were throwing lengths of cloth around me, and trying to tie me up.
See, the thing about the little ones is that you gotta make them work for it. Hand them an easy victory, and they forget it immediately, and are disappointed.
My advice? Be Gary Oak. Or Blue, if you prefer. “Ha! That's the best you’ve got?! You’ll never be able to Seal this Grand Demon with your paltry strength! I am an immortal who can shake the heavens! And you are all WEAK! HAHAHAHAHA!”
Just a little bit of asshole and gloating gets them all riled up, and even more into it. And then when they finally managed to beat you, they would remember it for the rest of their lives.
Like I remembered doing to my dad. Except it was toilet paper instead of cloth. That was a birthday to remember. Hunting your father down with a pack of your fellow six year olds. Thinking back on it, my old man in the before was really, really good at keeping kids entertained.
I strived to follow his example.
And these kids were actually really damn good. They were strong, and fast, and when one of them threw the rope, it curled around itself like a snake, trying to loop around limbs. They were even trying to set up traps.
Xianxia land. Even the farmer kids are hardcore.
Eventually, I “lost”. I purposely ran into a rope clothesline, and then was tackled and trussed up like a turkey.
The kids whooped and cheered, while the adults looked on with amusement. One pair of feet stopped just above my head, and I looked up, grinning at the only person who it could be.
“Your reunion good, darlin’?” I asked her. Meimei’s amethyst eyes were soft and warm. Amusement and something deeper danced in their depths.
“Yeah.” It was a simple word, but a good one. No tears, no tenseness, just peace. She turned to the kids, sitting on my back. “Come on, off you all get, you’ve defeated the great demon lord and sealed him, now I need my husband back.” The kidlets obeyed, knowing better than to get in the real demon’s way.
Little Miss Thistle still had a reputation.
My wife “rescued” me from their clutches, and untied the ropes. You had to keep at least a little bit of an illusion going.
“You’re going to be at the head table with the elders. Father wants to drink with you, and I have to go speak with the women about my...wifely duties.” She sighed at the interrogation to come.
“...you could just..not?” I asked her.
Meiling’s eyes narrowed. “And miss my chance to gloat? I heard Ty An say I was a concubine, and that you’ve taken Xiulan as your wife instead. Was making noises about you ‘taking care of a flower instead of a thistle.’ Miserable little brat. I’m barely gone, and she starts trying to throw her weight around? I, her mother, will educate her properly.”
She said all this with her nose pointed in the air, like she was some kind of nobe lady.
I snorted with amusement. Somebody was going to be getting a tongue lashing.
Mortals were so…. Xiulan would not say strange. There were more of them than there were cultivators, after all. Perhaps she was the strange one? They touched each other so much. They clapped each other on the back, they threw mud at each other, and engaged in all sorts of rowdy, rough behaviour.
And Master Jin joined in right along with them. He pushed and shoved the other men around, and they shoved back.
He looked so unreservedly happy. They all did. Happy with a simple life.
It stirred something. Something that she remembered from the stories her mother and father had used to tell her, about how the righteous would prevail and defeat the wicked.
The happiness that was worth protecting.
She understood, just a bit, why Master Jin acted like he did. The irreverence, the amusement, the joy.
‘Speak with him. Do you really think he would be angry over such a thing?’ Senior Sister asked, an eyebrow raised.
No. No he would not. But… she must have courage, first. It was difficult to talk about these things, but it was getting easier.
She looked up at the sky, careful that none of her new “decorations” would come off. One of the smaller girls had refused to take part in Master Jin’s rowdy game, and instead had decided that Xiulan needed flower crowns. Multiple. She had six of them resting on her head, and enough bracelets to cover both of her forearms.
Skilled with her hands, that little one. Though not very talkative. She hadn’t said a word, while Xiulan contemplated the lives of the farmers.
There was a shriek of outrage, and peals of laughter from the kitchens. She had originally meant to go with Senior Sister, but Sister Meiling had just shook her head when the gaggle of other women had come to claim her.
She was rather glad she did. The questions Sister Meiling was getting asked were downright scandalous. Who dared to ask such questions about what she did with her husband! All of them were so crass! She expected that from bandits, not wives and mothers! There was no real subtlety here, no veiled words, or poison perfume. They were blunt as a hammer to the skull, and just as crude.
The men she could understand. Their camaraderie was something she wished for. She had read stories of sworn siblings. Though such stories were nearly always about men. A set of companions who she could trust without reservation. Senior Sister was fast becoming one of those companions. She had bared all of her weakness to Sister Meiling, her unsteady heart.
She was not met with scorn and rebuke, but a healer’s eyes, as she tried to help. It was quite nice.
There was more laughter and jeers. A young woman, barely into her teens, slammed open the door and fled. She took one look at Xiulan, and her face flushed crimson.
She continued her flight, chased all the way by more insults and rebukes. Senior Sister watched her go with amusement. She made eye contact with Xiulan and smirked.
“Ha! ‘And finally, you’re bonier than I am’?! Youse ain’t so boney no more, Meimei!” A cheerful voice sounded, and a hand slapped down onto Senior Sister’s rump, squeezing. The other hand pulled up the top of her robe, exposing her side, and pinching her hip. “Your boy has fed you up good!” Senior Sister rolled her eyes, as more cackling laughter sounded out.
Disciple Gou Ren’s mother had a very strange accent.
Xiulan idly wondered if she should go to the kitchens to help, but decided against it. She was still an outsider right now, and well, she barely knew how to cook. Others did that for her. She could boil rice, and make simple rations, but food like this was beyond her.
She took a breath, and let it go, trying to drain the tension from her shoulders. Deep calming breaths.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow, she would interact more with the mortals.
And probably learn how to cook. Even if it was just so she could make that ice cream stuff later.
“Thanks, Brother Jin!”
“Hey Jin, play with us!”
“Jin, tonight, come have a drink!”
Hungry eyes stared at the memories. They absorbed them, consumed them. They warmed his spirit, as weak as it still was. Respect. Friendship. Things he had wanted Strived for, back when he was… well, back when he was still alone here.
He glared at his left foot, and where it....connected, before turning back to the images.
He watched the drinking, his… their place of respect at the head table.
Snuggling into bed, a boy who was suddenly his younger sibling squeezing between them.
Warm amethyst eyes, as she leaned in for a kiss that he so happily returned.
“Our wife is a beauty, ain’t she?” There was a snap and a hiss as a “can” opened, and a sweet memory played across their tongue, along with a long loud sluuuurrrrp that the other guy knew annoyed him, and did it anyway.
“...that doesn’t taste like tea at all.” He grunted, but did not rebut the argument. She was pretty. And kind. And…. well, everything he could have wanted in a wife. He remembered his own mother’s fire, and zest for life, before.. Before…
It still galled him though. Why did they have to like the same things?
He frowned at the other part of himself. Cracks and rents ran through him. Missing an arm, missing an eye… and he knew that the same damage was repeated on his half. Connected by their mirrored feet. The only part they were currently connected by, at the moment.
“Awww, come off it, Iced tea is great.” The weird accent was strange, coming out of his mouth. So were the memories of the other place.
“...I still say it was a rash decision, leaving the sect like that.” He said, retreading an argument that they had been having ever since they could have arguments.
Jin raised a middle finger at Rou.
“And I still say that staying in that place, with the people who killed us would be stupid. Why the hells wouldn’t you leave? Stay around to get kicked and beat up? At least I kind of had a plan.”
A devious grin spread across his face.
“And I’m stronger than you got.”
A low blow. But another that Rou could barely refute.
“By accident.” He shot back. Jin shrugged. Bastard. “You know I’m not good at cultivating anyway. Gramps always said I was shit. That I should have been faster and better.”
“You started at twelve, didn’t you?”
Rou shrugged. “Gramps said no excuses. I started late, so I have to try even harder, even if I never measure up.”
He looked through the memories, as they lapsed into silence again. The sensations. The things he always wanted.
He supposed it could be worse.
A hand, reaching out, and dragging his dying spirit back. Two halves of himself. Or someone else?
One of them was “in control” so to speak, but…. He never let him feel too left out. And their talks were… well, he hated them, and treasured them at the same time.
So he said something that was certain to annoy himself. “I still say that we could get with Xiulan.”
“Fuck, this again man? We’re married.” His other part snarled, glaring.
“Yes, shes hot. That doesn’t matter.”
“Gramps said every true man should have some Dao Companions.”
Jin rolled his eyes, and raised his middle finger again.
Rou personally thought that it could happen, if his other half wasn’t so deadset on ignoring every other flower.
There was a twinge.
The ruined portions of their arms attached. Two spirits of the same man pulled together into something that could generously be called a whole.
Rou felt his eyes drooping, as they connected again.
“....sucks that I can’t remember most of these dreams when I’m awake.” Jin said, as their eyes drifted shut.
“Mmm. At least try to remember this. Do the stretches more. And the punch. Like Master Bruce Lee said. One punch a thousand times. It was good advice. We want something we can swing with if something does go wrong.”
“.....yeah. I’ll try, but you know how this goes. G’night, me. Ya wanker.”
There was a snap hiss, and he chugged the rest of the can.
It was delicious. How annoying.