Ch.57: Signs of the past – part 2
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On Xiao Jie1Xue Hua's original name’s birthday, he had come by in the evening.

“I’ve got a present, too”, he had said, unhappily staring at the small mountain of others presents from - let’s be honest - suitors of Xiao Jie. While the bird wasn’t looking, he conveniently threw some out of the window.

“Ooh”, Xiao Jie had just hummed without interest.

“It’s better than this stuff here”, Mingtian had declared, walking up to stand in Xiao Jie’s line of sight. The bird was taking care of his feathers and somewhat distractedly looking into the mirror, but he reacted when Mingtian appeared before him by raising his eyebrow at the beast.

Young and handsome, just a bit too arrogant and moody, a common description for Mingtian.

“Is that what you think?”, the bird had deliberately goaded Mingtian. “You know, I’ve got a robe made from seawater silk, I’ve got the scale of a siren, a night pearl the size of a fist…”

Mingtian’s face darkened and he pulled out a small casket, pushing it into Xiao Jie’s hands.

The bird had tilted his head, then opened it and laughed lightly at first. “A hairpin? As if my hair is suitable for styling it-”

As he spoke, he had lifted it up. The bells jingled sweetly, echoing in the quiet room, and Xiao Jie’s laughter got stuck in his throat. The smile slowly fell from his face as he stared at the pin in disbelief. Seconds passed in which Mingtian - openly smug, secretly rather nervous - just watched the pin.

“They’re fake”, the bird croaked out, then cleared his throat midway and continued to speak nonchalantly.

“They’re not”, Mingtian huffed.

Xiao Jie hummed, keeping his uninterested gaze, but his fingers were sliding over the phoenix engraving on the pin, all the way to the hanging bells. 

“I guess I can keep it”, he had said with a sigh, then placed it back into the casket, which he brought to the nightstand next to his bed.

The only present in the whole room that didn’t join the pile in the corner.

Now, dozens of years later, Mingtian numbly stared at the wooden hairpin, the engraving of a phoenix still visible and the jingle of the bells greeting him with the same pure sound from back then.

The whole scene was frozen with Mingtian staring at his hand and Xue Hua half reaching out as well, mouth opened to shout something.

The bells jingled, despite not being moved, and Mingtian felt a joyful laugh bubble up his chest. He swallowed it down, kept his lips as even as somehow possible, and turned to Xue Hua with his hand outstretched.

“There”, he said, like what he had just catched wasn’t the single and most meaningful present he had ever given Xue Hua and that had just flown out of the other’s sleeve.

Xue Hua stood rigid, his cheeks tinting blue. His lips quivered a bit as he opened and closed them, then his eyebrows lowered in a frown.

“I’ve kept it in case the fruits are real and precious”, he defended himself angrily, snatching the pin away, far too gently for it to have the impact he wanted.

“I understand”, Mingtian said, giving a tiny, happy ‘hehe’.

“Anyway, I’m busy, so I’m leaving”, Xue Hua declared in a mild panic, almost running away. His steps were uneven, leading him away from the pavilion in a hurry.

“Nie is kind of my father”, he heard Mingtian shout somewhere in the back. The blue on his cheeks spread. With his teeth grinding and eyes watery from the rushing embarrassment, he clutched the pin to his chest.

“I don’t care!”

Mingtian stood alone in the pavilion, lifting his hands to his mouth and giggling like a child. Would Xue Hua get mad if he sat here for a while? Probably not.

If he could, maybe he should try to find another bellflower fruit for Xue Hua’s next birthday. The thought would have never crossed his mind in the past dozen years, but…

Maybe he would accept them?

[Xiao Jie hadn’t even counted how many visitors had come by with the intention of courting him. It was annoying but he wasn’t allowed to send them away, so he spent the whole day without seeing the one he was looking forward to.

His bloodline was close to that of a phoenix, so his family wanted him to find a good mate to keep it strong. The females who had come by were all of similar type, to ensure that their children would have the same pure blood.

Over the years, his parents had begun considering to not find a wife for him, after all - a number of strong families had shown their interest in him, their children male. That wasn’t a bad deal, either. There were ways to have a male beast get pregnant and while it was terribly uncomfortable, it was for a strong bloodline, after all!2I will not, in any time or story, ever have a pregnant male. I find it uncomfortable. The method exists in the universe, but I won't be using it openly.

Xiao Jie didn’t like any of them. They were either boring or arrogant, didn’t suit his aesthetics, didn’t have anything in common… One way or another, he found something to complain about.

His parents knew - but ignored - that there was only one person he wasn’t constantly complaining about. Although, well, he did, but only directly to the person in question.

Xiao Jie knew that his parents didn’t like Wu Mingtian. He had no family to speak of and was an orphan that had been picked up. Added to that was the obvious fact that he was a crossbreed. Not only did his parents dislike the impure bloodline, they also worried that he would die early and leave Xiao Jie behind. Crossbreeds were often unhealthy and died early, so even if Wu Mingtian still looked very active, that could change any day.

That didn’t keep Xiao Jie from regularly meeting up with him. Wu Mingtian was interesting: He was moody and honest, never hid his opinions. He would do what he pleased and single-mindedly work to acquire what he wanted.

Xiao Jie adored him. His character was great, he was handsome and comfortable to be with. 

His absolutely greatest regret would be his inability to read the other. 

For the other beasts, he knew the behaviour patterns of their bloodline. He knew what it looked like when they were angry or happy or, well, when they were interested in someone. Regretfully, Wu Mingtian was a crossbreed, so who would possibly know how he was supposed to judge everything?!

Sure, the beast interacted with him the most, came over regularly, took him out to see interesting things and all that, but that might as well mean that he was just being seen as a close friend. It wasn’t like Wu Mingtian was overthrowing him with courting gifty. Actually, he had never gotten any gift from the other.

Stuck in his thoughts, Xiao Jie sat in front of the mirror to fix his hair for the hundredth time. The other had been gone for a week. He wouldn’t have forgotten his birthday? Definitely, he would come by to at least congratulate him.

When Wu Mingtian had come in, Xiao Jie was nothing short of jittery. Look, he hadn’t forgotten! He had come by! Couldn’t he have come earlier? His birthday would have been better if he had stayed the whole day, but he also felt unable to ask for it.

The other threw out some of the presents lying in the corner as he stepped in. If he had dared, Xiao Jie would have exclaimed that Wu Mingtian could feel free to just throw all of them out or burn them or whatever. Not that he cared.

Instead he continued to stare at the mirror, watching the beast in the background until he stepped in front of him.

Really, really handsome. A bit messy, but incredibly charming and attractive.

He couldn’t think that way, though. It was too dangerous if Wu Mingtian didn’t actually like him and he dreaded losing a friend. He didn’t admit to being overjoyed that Wu Mingtian had brought a present and just riled him up. 

Raw emotions suited Wu Mingtian the best. 

As he opened the casket, he was already thinking about how to use it. Sure, his hair was feathery and not easy to style, but it was possible. If it was a hairpin, he would use it. No matter what he had brought, he would use it.

Outwardly he laughed about it, but his heart was jumping wildly in his chest. A present, a present! It was the first present he had given him!

A hairpin with-

...Humans liked to tell it as a story because they didn’t believe it was true, but it was. Bells had become a loved gift by humans, but beasts were more careful. As a race that was picky with promising things and that took those words seriously, bells were scarcely, or rather, not at all, given, not in this form and colour.

And yet here it was, a hairpin with two tiny bells, shining in that abnormal colour and ringing out clearly.

He was stupefied.

“They’re fake”, he had somehow managed to say, as if wanting to test the other. Hey, are you aware of what you’re giving me? Do you know the meaning? Do you know what you promise if you hand them to me, what I promise by taking them?

But Wu Mingtian insisted. They’re real.

The bird wasn’t sure if the other had said anything else, because his ears were blocked by the ringing of the tiny bells. He was going to cry. He really was going to cry.

With shaking hands he brought the casket to his bedside, setting it down like the greatest treasure. He didn’t even want to wear it out of fear of it damaging, but he could look at it and be happy.

If only his stupid, habitual pride didn’t get in the way, he would have turned around and jumped into Wu Mingtian’s arms.]

You might want to reread chapter 16 if you forgot the story of the bellflower fruits~

Mingtian remembering everything and a factual flashback from Xue Hua's point of view :3 He was way too insecure to ask Mingtian out, which is funny, cause Mingtian's response is kind of like throwing an engagement ring at him. They're gonna have a more smooth-sailing relationship now, so much fluff to write~ MingMing found out~~